Skinwalkers – What Are They?
With skinwalkers becoming the subjects of popular books and recently, movies, it is fair to ask about their origins. In August 1996, a team of scientists arrived on a remote ranch in NE Utah to investigate a bizarre litany of phenomena; including unidentified flying objects, animal mutilations, paranormal and poltergeist occurrences that appeared to erupt almost on a nightly basis. The list went on and on. The first piece of information the team learned from local people was that the ranch lay “on the path of the skinwalker”. Was the skinwalker responsible for the weird happenings on this ranch? What followed was a multi-year odyssey into the dark unknown as the science team tried to pursue, measure and photograph the elusive “skinwalker”. The complete account of the unprecedented research project is published in the book “Hunt for the Skinwalker”.
In the religion and cultural lore of Southwestern tribes, there are witches known as skinwalkers who can alter their shapes at will to assume the characteristics of certain animals. Most of the world’s cultures have their own shapeshifter legends. The best known is the werewolf, popularized by dozens of Hollywood movies. European legends as far back as the 1500’s tell stories about werewolves. (The modern psychiatric term for humans who believe they are wolves is lycanthropy.) The people of India have a were- tiger legend. Africans have stories of were-leopards and were- jackals. Egyptians tell of were-hyenas.
In the American Southwest, the Navajo, Hopi, Utes, and other tribes each have their own version of the skinwalker story, but basically they boil down to the same thing–a malevolent witch capable of transforming itself into a wolf, coyote, bear, bird, or any other animal. The witch might wear the hide or skin of the animal identity it wants to assume, and when the transformation is complete, the human witch inherits the speed, strength, or cunning of the animal whose shape it has taken.
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