Skinwalkers

This time I’m going to talk about something that gets misinterpreted (and frankly overused) a lot – and that’s the legend of the skinwalker.

Today, the term “skinwalker” has, in popular culture, become practically synonymous with “werewolf.” There isn’t really a good place to begin as to why this is bad. I’ll kick off with some background.

The skinwalker (or skin-walker) is properly known as the yee naaldlooshii, meaning “by means of it, [he or she] goes on all fours.” It is from Navajo belief. Today, we turn them into werewolves. Generally, from what we know, they may be much closer to witches that steal and possess the bodies of animals and people (some sources say that they do it via direct eye contact). And they may or may not be more attracted to you (in a bad way) the more you talk about them.

You’ve probably heard a lot of other things, too. Specific association with coyotes, maybe. That they’re shapeshifters instead of possessors, things like that. I’ve found no way to really base any of those in proper research. I do my best to only relate the things I know for sure are well-researched and grounded in history and folklore here, from reputable sources.

Whatever the case, they have nothing to do with werewolves at all.

However, all of this should really be taken with a grain of salt, because we don’t actually know a whole lot about what the Navajo’s skinwalkers are really like.

And yet, today, we have the term “skinwalker” being thrown around willy-nilly. We have atrocious, cheap werewolf movies with the name, we have monsters in various fantasy and paranormal settings/series/games/etc., and we have an entire race in the tabletop system Pathfinder.

And yet almost all of those things that I mentioned, that use the term skinwalker? They could just as easily use “werewolf.” Why don’t they? Some desire to try to be unique? Because they feel like werewolves are “cheesy” and “overdone?” Because we have a bad case of “our werewolves are different” syndrome?

I hate all those situations, by the way. There is nothing at all wrong with the term “werewolf.”

As an aside, I could throw some criticism at the skinwalker race in Pathfinder (ugh), in terms of lore and mechanics… I could only play as one after my GM kindly let me rework then from practically the ground up. I’ll try to restrain myself for the sake of this post, though.

So next time you run into something called a skinwalker, or next time you’re trying to decide what to call your own werewolves if you’re making a setting, please consider just using “werewolf” instead, or at the very least “skinchanger,” which is the same difference anyway (except it makes more sense in context).