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Skin Walker

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A Skin Walker, also known as a yee naaldlooshii (Navajo for "by means of it, he/she/it walks around on four legs") is usually a person with the supernatural ability to change their form into either an animal or another human being.

Being superficially werewolves and other paranormal shape changers, the closest approximate Western counterpart of the medieval witch or warlock. Most skin walkers' abilities are largely powered by dark ritual, and the breaking of native taboos (such as cannibalism, incest, and murder, especially of family members) or are heralded to create them. Each nation's version differs in detail. Most Skinwalkers are differentiated from their brethren by being able to take multiple shapes but are not free-form shapeshifters. The myths usually describe them as humans who wear only an animal skin, or an abomination of human and animal forms.

Primarily detailed in many Native American tales, these entities are sometimes portrayed as either practicing witches, aspects of the Trickster God Coyote, or something worse, from the shared mythology of many indigenous American peoples. Skinwalkers are considered one of the most fearsome monsters from Native American Mythology. In those myths, they have a few extra powers, including Telepathy, Voice Changeling (mimicking animal and human sounds) and the creation of poisonous/disease ridden "Witch Powder" or the Magical Eye. Some cannot fully shift into their animal forms and have a deformity (awkward gait, over-sized feet, etc.) revealing their true nature.

Killing one is either simplified to accusing the creature in public while in human form (which robs it of power and it dies in 3 days) or an involved, lengthy ritual.

Related to Voluntary Shapeshifting, Magical Native American. Compare Wendigo, another monster produced by breaking an extreme taboo from further north. See also Our Werebeasts Are Different. Of late, it's been connected to Berserkers and more often than not, used as a shorthand by writers for "American Werewolf".

It is worth noting that actual information about these beings from Native Americans is incredibly sparse; they refuse to speak about it to outsiders for various reasons. Discussions about it even among Native Americans exclusively is rare. In some cultures, such as the Navajo, it's outright seen as taboo to even refer to these monsters by name. The information often applied to the entities in popular interpretation is effectively just extrapolation and exaggeration of the few known traits. In short, take what's known here and portrayed in popular culture with a grain of salt in terms of how "true" it is to the as-of-yet unknown parts of the wider mythology. Much as with wendigos for Algonquian nations, skin-walkers' depictions are typically not met with much gusto on the part of Navajo audiences, so creative discretion is advised. Many an author have mistakenly used the term "Skin Walker" for a very modern, Hollywood inspired werewolf with a dash of First Nation exoticism, or a feral Humanoid Abomination. Such examples often come off as eyeroll inducingly badly researched, to downright offensive.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • John Manuelito from the Alexandra Quick series is a fairly well-researched depiction of this.
  • In For Love of Magic Harry goes to America specifically to hunt down and talk to a Skinwalker so that he can learn his unique magic.
  • In Codex Equus, Skin Walkers are noted as distinct from Werewolves and Werebeasts and more accurate to the actual legends. They're extremely powerful monsters who won the Superpower Lottery, with shapeshifting being only one of their abilities, and are among the most feared supernatural horrors known to Equus. They can only be killed by being stabbed through the head or neck by something dipped in white ash. They're most feared, however, for being Always Chaotic Evil, as the ritual to become one requires doing such horrific, monstrous things, even many evil aligned beings are utterly disgusted. The first one to be featured, Severed Strings, is so dangerous and powerful he's capable of easily wiping entire towns off the map if he so desires (and does so once every hundred years) and even a powerful Equestrian Vampire like Vinyl Scratch is terrified of him.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Beorn, in The Hobbit, is a "skin-changer" who dislikes (most) dwarfs, but hates orcs/goblins. As a man, he can be reasoned with, but not as a bear. He's not a Magical Native American, and seems more derived from Scandinavian berserker folklore, though there is a good deal of overlap. He's also the only character in any of the Middle Earth movies not to speak with a British or Irish accent, keeping his actor's native Swedish accent.
  • Skinwalker Ranch is a Found Footage film about a Paranormal Investigation team that investigates a ranch not unlike the real-life Sherman Ranch, where much of the modern Skinwalker myth originates from. While the film ultimately veers more towards the Alien Invasion angle, it still retains some elements more reminiscent of the skinwalker, including a giant wolf and a beast-like humanoid that are implied to be such creatures.
  • Skinwalkers (2006) is about two warring werewolf packs.
  • Werewolf (1996) (1996) purports to be a skinwalker, instead of "the white man's werewolf." No, it's the white man's werewolf, complete with silver bullets. What's weird is that, aside from really badly mispronouncing "yee naaldlooshii", they actually get quite a few things right about skinwalkers in the Infodump, only to throw it all away.

  • The Dresden Files:
    • A skinwalker appears in the novel Turn Coat. While it was mentioned that the term can refer to the classic version, the human witch, the synonymous term "Naagloshii" formally refers to the entities which teach them the trade: quasi-divine beings that effortlessly shapeshift, grow more powerful the more they are feared, and have an innate ability to know how to cause the maximum suffering in their victims. "Shagnasty", the Naagloshii who shows up in that book gets into a Shapeshifter Showdown with Listens-to-Wind at the end of the book.
      • Morgan, a veteran Warden, mentions that he also fought one in his time, though he had to use an alternative method to bring it down. He had to resort to luring it into a nuclear testing ground, and give the Skinwalker the slip by opening a portal right before a bomb test.
    • The TV Show also had a Skinwalker — which literally stole skins to assume its new forms.
    • Cold Days revealed that there are at least six more skinwalkers currently imprisoned in the minimum security level of the supernatural prison under the Demonreach island — and that whatever else is imprisoned below them is even worse.
    • Skin Game has Goodman Grey, who is part-skinwalker (apparently on his father's side). Unlike the one seen in ''Turn Coat', Grey is at least trying to be a decent person, as is shown by his helping Dresden make it out of the underworld for the massive sum of one dollar.
  • Averted in Harry Potter's extra materials, which specifically state that skinwalkers aren't real; Native American Muggles just made them up to defame their magical colleagues, particularly those who were also Animagi. This led to some backlash, since some felt that writing off a real Native American belief so casually was insulting... though the bit where it's suggested Muggle medicine workers spread the myth because they were jealous of the Animagi who could do magic probably didn't help.
  • The Invisible Library features one of those, but doesn't use the name. However, since he actually skins his victims, and uses their skin as disguise, there's little else one could call that ...
  • Two skinwalkers are the primary antagonists for the fourth book in the Iron Druid Chronicles. The protagonist is tricked into dealing with them by Coyote, who doesn't want to risk dealing with them himself in case he fails and they get hold of his skin.
  • The protagonist of the Jane Yellowrock series is a skinwalker of Cherokee descent. The first book is, appropriately enough, called Skinwalker.
  • Mentioned, but never seen, in the Mercy Thompson novels. They are evil shamans who wear the skin of an animal to assume its form, and spread disease and death. They can also Kill and Replace anyone, extending their lives and gaining the knowledge and magic of their victims. They can only be permanently killed by a shaman's magic or burning the corpse. One shows up as the villain in Burn Bright, initially looking for a werewolf it had tried to control a century ago for his power, but then gets the idea of replacing Bran.
  • The Outsider (2018): What the Outsider is is never fully explained, but it comes very close to the historical description of the infamous Native American skinwalker. He's a manipulative demonic shapechanger with the capacity for telepathy.
  • Part of the Navajo cultural background of some of Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn & Chee mysteries, particularly the novel Skinwalkers.
  • Featured as the main antagonists in Preston and Child's Thunderhead. However, it ends up being a case of Doing In the Wizard as the skinwalkers gain their powers from creative use of poison and drugs.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • The Hobbit: Beorn is a rare heroic example, drawing on Slavic myth rather than Navajo folklore like most of the more recent forms of shape-shifter myth. Beorn's "skin-swapping" ability to changing into bear and back into human is under his conscious control, and he retains at least enough human mentality to rescue Thorin after he falls in battle. The power seems to run in his bloodline, since some of the Beornings after his time share the ability.
    • Beren and Lúthien: Sauron's vampiric courier Thuringwethil can change shapes between humanoid and iron-clawed giant bat. When she dies and her hide is found by the heroes, Lúthien can use it to transform herself into a vampire and sneak into the Big Bad's stronghold.
  • Whateley Universe: A mutant at the Academy has this power, only he can move his consciousness into an animal and take it over. He can do the same to any person he sees. He even uses the codename 'Skinwalker'. His dormmates had to devise a protocol to keep him from doing this to any of them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Haven has a Serial Killer known as the Bolt Gun Killer, who has the ability to wear other people's skins after killing them and then transform into that person. The main characters suspect that the Native American legends of the Skinwalker may have been based on the Bolt Gun Killer's ancestors, as Trouble abilities are hereditary. This is despite Haven and its hub of Troubles being in, well, Maine, not known from its native Navajo.
  • Mountain Monsters has the creatures as antagonists in the Spearfinger arc.
  • Lost Tapes devotes an episode to it, and it is both chilling and surprisingly accurate to the legend.
  • An episode of Smallville has another Wolf-shifter named after these creatures, but...yeah. Not really.
  • Skinwalkers also show up on Supernatural as people who can turn into various dogs and can be killed by silver.
  • Skinwalkers are brought up in True Blood among the "Shifters" who can change into animals they have touched. True Blood skinwalkers are shifters who have killed an immediate family member. From then on, they can take on the appearance of other people, but using this ability more than a few times is invariably fatal.
  • An early episode of The X-Files titled "Shapes" features a Native American werewolf which, during its transformation, sheds its skin in a snake-like manner. Had the episode been made today, it seems likely that the monster would be called a skinwalker, but the writer instead called the beast a Manitou. This is a case of Sadly Mythtaken, as a Manitou is a class of Algonquin nature spirit, while the episode treats the term as referring specifically to a lycanthrope.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In a bizarre case of things looping back around, as many pop cultural depictions of skinwalkers rather sloppily make them like the modern Hollywood depiction of werewolves, the most common central and eastern medieval European idea of a werewolf vaguely aligns closer to the Navajo skinwalker than it does its typical modern media incarnation. Medieval European tales of werewolves often described vile, evil persons committing horrid taboos to gain dark magical powers; making them effectively one in the same with a witch or warlock. These included using a wolf skin to take on the form of a wolf as they went about their grim deeds of cursing, inflicting plagues, attacking, and cannibalizing people. In the European witch hunts, werewolves were considered witches/warlocks who'd used their magic to turn into wolves, usually to attack and devour livestock or humans (while of course to become a witch required a Deal with the Devil by their conception). Werewolf trials were a subset of witch trials. It's only much later that the idea of a werewolf being instead an involuntary, infectious curse took hold (long after witch hunts ended).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech fiction, there's the 17th Recon Regiment, formed from planets settled by people from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. One thoroughly sociopathic pilot of Navajo heritage, Bobby Begay, named his Humongous Mecha "Skinwalker" and took on the Nom de Guerre "Navajo Wolf" himself, both as a reference to this myth. However, doing so has earned him the considerable disgust of the rest of the regiment—it's so overtly and intentionally offensive that they consider it the equal of a pilot from a Christian denomination naming their 'Mech "Baby-Eating Satan Worshipper."
  • Pathfinder has an undead creature called an "Ecorché'', named after a drawing of a skinless person. They're able to steal a persons skin and wear it to look like them. There's also a playable race of skinwalkers, who are a Little Bit Beastly people with some lycanthrope blood (there are different subraces linked to specific lycanthrope types, like werewolves, werebears, werecrocodiles, and the like). Most of the art shows the default skinwalker as looking somewhat Native American, and they're said to be most common on the continent of Arcadia, which is the setting's equivalent to North America.
  • Savage Worlds has a horror campaign, Skinwalker based on this mythology
  • Changeling: The Dreaming includes a Skinwalker Kith among the Thallain, where it serves as a dark counterpart to the Nunnehi, American indigenous fae. Keeping close to details of Navajo folklore, their Chrysalis usually involves acts of utter, murderous depravity, and they can transform into an animal form by harvesting a token from a creature they slaughtered.

    Video Games 
  • Otter Island: It's implied the creature might be this, given its ability to change into other people. It's not confirmed though and Mizzen (the game's creator) is also vague on the creature's exact identity.
  • There is a videogame created using RPG Maker called Skinwalker about the eponymous creature. A let's play of it (and link to its download location) can be found here.
  • Skinwalker Hunt: The game is about hunting the titular monster in various forests around the world. The creature itself is bipedal, with long limbs, and may either have a deer skull for a head, or wears a deer skull on its head.
  • The Hag in Thief: Deadly Shadows.

  • They appear briefly in Bad Moon Rising, being exterminated by Hunter Madsion and Born-Werewolf Chloe.

    Web Original 
  • Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel)
    • The first mention of the creature is the Skinwalker Ranch two-parter. Despite the name, most of the episode focuses on aliens tormenting the Sherman family as well as a group of scientists intent on studying them. However, the first unusual encounter by the aforementioned family, a giant wolf, is heavily implied to be a Skinwalker, given that it's Immune to Bullets, and magically disappears without a trace after being chased away. Unlike most other cases, this one appears to be a Non-Malicious Monster, given that it refused to attack the Shermans and was clearly at unease about the area, and was even heavily implied to be warning them to leave.
    • "Scourge of the Skinwalker" delves into the titular cryptids in detail. Unlike the wolf from Skinwalker Ranch, the creatures featured in this episode, including three other wolves, are far more malicious.
  • Several Creepypastas have accounts of people being stalked by abnormally big coyotes who can keep pace with their cars going 60-100 MPH. Others have encounters with animals with Glowing Eyes of Doom and a single human feature (often the face). These are purported to be encounters with skinwalkers, and usually require a meeting with the local shaman (when they can't shoot them with ash-caked bullets from an ash-caked gun or say their real name out loud) in order to counter the whammy the skinwalker's put on them.
  • Gemini Home Entertainment's take on skinwalkers is more akin to a Flesh Golem than its original source, but still horrifying. They are giant horrors (Even though we never see one in full, they're clearly around the size of a multi-story building) that absorb humans and animals within itself. The end result is a visceral amalgamation of countless bodies surrounding a monstrous core. It is not something that walks in skins as much as it is a walker made of skins.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-2750 is the collective designation for skinwalkers, who still live a pre-Columbian hunter-gatherer lifestyle and shun modern society. Thanks to the superstitions of Navajo Muggles and the political motivations of a Foundation predecessor group, SCP-2750 was nearly wiped out in the 19th century, and now suffers from inbreeding and loss of hunting grounds.

    Western Animation 
  • When a werewolf-like alien appears on a reservation in Ben 10, the "Yenaldooshi" is mentioned repeatedly.