Investigating paranormal phenomenon is something I have enjoyed doing ever since I was a kid. My friends and I were like kids in a candy store in New Orleans because there are a never-ending number of haunted places to explore. One of my favorite investigations we did this year was in the summer in Iowa City. I was contacted by a couple of people who indicated they were in dire need of a consultation. They were clearly freaked out so I set aside some time to meet with them in person. When we met, they proceeded to tell me that they had been confronted by a skinwalker. Knowing my heritage and background in Native American spiritual phenomenon, they felt I would be able to help them.
My first thought was...a skinwalker in Iowa? This is not the most common occurrence in the Midwest, that is for sure. It intrigued me. So I agreed to investigate further.
First, let me give you a little background in skinwalkers so you have an idea of what I am talking about. Speaking about skinwalkers is a sensitive subject and I don't do so lightly. It is not something that is typically discussed outside of native society, and I have attempted to approach the subject with the utmost respect.
A skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshii as they are called in Navajo (meaning "he goes on all fours" or something to that effect), is a person who has the ability to shapeshift into animal form. Specifically, the Navajo believe that a skinwalker is a type of witch who uses their supernatural power to transform into animals for the purpose of cursing someone else, for escaping from enemies, or for getting from one place to the other very quickly. Skinwalkers are feared in Navajo society and are sometimes blamed for any number of maladies and even the deaths of community members.
Although skinwalkers are most frequently seen as coyotes, wolves, owls, foxes, or crows, the yee naaldlooshii is said to have the power to assume the form of any animal they choose, depending on the specific ability needed.
It is worthwhile noting that witches and witchcraft are viewed differently in Navajo tradition than in the European tradition. Whereas witches in the European tradition are differentiated as practitioners of black, white, or grey magick, witches in Navajo society are frowned upon because they represent evil, pure and simple. As such, they are greatly feared. The most common type of Navajo witchcraft centers around the ritual called the Witchery Way or Corpse-poison Way. The Witchery Way is believed to have been invented by First Man and First Woman and is accounted for in the Navajo Creation Story.
Skinwalkers usually learn their art from a parent, grandparent, or spouse. Most of the time, they are men. Women are only believed to be witches if they are old and childless. The initiation into the Witchery Way involves murdering a close relative, such as a sibling, and engaging in other cultural taboos such necrophilia, grave-robbing, and incest.
The medicine of Witchery Way centers around powdered corpses, known as "corpse poison". The best sources for this bad medicine are the fingerprints and the skull bones from corpses of children, especially twins. This Corpse Poison is said to look like the corn pollen used in blessing ceremonies; however, it is used to curse and harm, as opposed to bless and sanctify.
The effect of the Witchery Way is illness caused by curse. A person who has ingested corpse poison will immediately display symptoms like fainting, swelling of the tongue, or lockjaw. Sometimes, the victims experience a slow and miserable wasting away from what seems to be a normal disease. When the disease does not respond to conventional medicine or traditional ceremonials, it is believed to have been caused by a witch.
Skinwalkers practice their own ceremonies, spells and rituals. They typically gather somewhere in a secluded spot and are hard to locate by conventional means. They operate in absolute secrecy. They travel to and from their meeting places in shapeshift form, and resume their human form when they return. In what is reminiscent of a Black Mass, the witches' ceremonies parody the good sing as they sit in a circle, naked except for masks, jewelry, and paint like that used in normal ceremonies, and surrounded by their supply of corpse-flesh and ash.
Sometimes skinwalkers are tracked and eliminated. A medicine man and good friend of mine taught me how to identify their footprints. One time, I found a set of footprints near our home on the reservation that seemed to resemble the prints of a witch in transition. There was the heel of a bare human foot and the toes of a large coyote. Sometimes their shadows can be seen wandering around the desert. Other times, they attend community functions in full human form, although it is apparent that they are more than merely human. Skinwalkers are a fascinating, albeit dangerous cultural phenomenon.
Interestingly, it is believed that geese are excellent guardians against skinwalkers.
Now, onto our investigation into an encounter with a skinwalker in the Heartland.
Two women (we will call them Lilly and Mary) called after a close encounter with what they believed to be a skinwalker. They felt the entity had attached itself to them and needed my assistance.
One day they discussed going out at spirit hour as a bit of adventure. At the last minute, they decided to go for a walk on a path in Iowa City near a bean field, a walking path.
According to Lilly:
"So then we smudged at about 2:40 am and this time the smudging felt a little uneasy. My walk was hastened like I had a destination although there wasn’t really a destination it was just a journey. We walked a ways and Mary asked what am I in a hurry for and I said I had no idea. I was trying to consciously slow my pace but it took great effort to do so. We are walking down the path, the moon was very bright, trying to look around as I have never been on this path before. I looked around and saw some strange sculptures that looked like they were made of iron. As we walked down the path I could hear the flowing of the creek, and we walked to a crossroads where there was a bench so we sat down at the bench which is just after the crossroads just listening to the sounds and watching the little creatures, seeing the reflection of the moon in their eyes.
I looked over and saw a little animal about ten feet away, couldn’t tell what it was, couldn’t tell what it was because its movement wasn’t like a squirrel or rabbit and didn’t move like either which was rather odd. The other thing that was odd was that its eyes were black…no reflection like all the other animals. At that time the clouds began to cover the moon. Right before we saw the creature, Mary changed her stance from casual and comfortable to guarded and protective, and Mary turned towards me side ways sort of straddling the bench. I was sitting facing the path as she turned facing me.
So then we see this creature, and Mary said it was a spirit animal and began explaining to me about spirit animals. Not creatures we see every day. Mary saw somebody coming down the path and I looked; I see him way down the path and I turn back and I said that’s weird but then we said “yeah but we’re here” and then I turn to look again and he was about 20 feet away, dressed all in black. He had a black front brimmed hat, and was wearing big huge black or very dark brown sunglasses. His pants made a swishing sound, very baggy jogging pants, with a jacket just below the waist, baggy, zipped closed with a collar, no neck because of a collar, couldn’t see a face, saw skater style shoes like vans, like baggy clothes on a skeleton, flat soles on shoes. Hair coming out of the bottom of the hat curled out from under the hat all around from nape to sides. His hair looked greasy.
Then I watched him as he was pretty damn close and went from 30 feet to 10 feet in a in a split second. Got really terrified. I said “what is that?” He had been walking in a straight line and once about 10 feet away he came directly towards us with his “non eyes” fixed on us. Changed direction without changing speed, stayed completely perpendicular to the ground while he changed course."
According to the women, Lilly dove into Mary with her head down. Mary was still looking and he came within 6 inches of them and they felt a very cold breeze. His footwork was not altered, actually the footwork was a shuffle. Then, he arcs right back out to the path and going parallel into a shuffle run, his feet were moving like an old man but his feet didn’t lift from the ground and he was moving in lightening speed. He came from the crossroads. He did his speed shuffle away, they watched him go and Mary couldn’t look back, as she was too frightened. Lilly looked back and saw him moving away going away from the crossroads. They got up and left walking back towards the crossroads in the direction of the car.
They kept walking back down the path chanting “Imagine yourself being surrounded by white light, we are being protected, we are surrounded by light.” Lilly is demanding to know what it was, Mary wouldn’t tell her, they stopped at a lilac bush and smelled them for comfort.
They got to the car and Lilly asked again what was that? Mary finally told her what she thought it was, that it was a skinwalker. What is a skinwalker?
They get back to Mary's, felt the need to smudge, still had goosebumps, and had the extreme urge to change clothes immediately because it felt like it was clinging onto everything. Smudging up into clothes and pants trying to warm up because they were freezing cold despite it being a mild spring evening. The entity attached itself to them and the following day is when I got the phone call for help. They wanted to know: How to get rid of this skinwalker?
I asked Mary and Lilly if they would take me to the place where this happened. They agreed but wanted to know what I was going to do to keep them safe.
We agreed to go to the same place at 3:00 in the morning. I told them I was going to petition Papa Legba who is the guardian of the crossroads and ask him for help. It was lightly raining the entire time we were there and the wind was blowing very hard, which made creating a veve out of cornmeal nearly impossible...
After the ritual, my son saw a black figure cross the path. He said he felt uneasy…not scared, just extra aware of a presence. My assistant Barbara also felt a strong presence of Legba in particular.
After the ritual, we walked back down the path towards the car. I noticed a black figure in the field that looked like maybe a medium sized animal that was watching us as it seemed to be moving. My assistant also saw the figure and I tried to photograph the figure but nothing showed up. We couldn’t see its eyes. When I tried to photograph the figure all I got was this:
I couldn’t capture the black figure, but then this appeared:
My assistant asked Ogun who is her guardian loa (spirit) if we could go closer and see it. I have to admit I wanted to try to get a closer shot, but then my camera died. So we got our answer. Damn…then we left.
This is the basic story which does not really capture the intensity of the emotions and experiences of the people involved.
There is a lot to be said about skinwalkers. I was not convinced that it was a skinwalker because the people involved were not Navajo, although Mary was adopted and taught the way of the sacred pipe which is one of the sacred rites of the Lakota, and Lilly is of Cherokee ancestry. My son is half Navajo, I am Creole (Spanish, French and Indian) and was married to a full blooded Navajo, lived and worked in Gallup New Mexico and learned a lot about their religion and spirituality. That is why I wanted to see if I could draw the spirit back out and see for myself. The last spirit I could capture on film that evening was an orb (no, it is not the moon):
While in New Mexico, I learned a lot about skinwalkers from several medicine people. They usually wear animal skins and can morph into the skin of the animal it is wearing, often they are just shadows. Only once did I ever see a skinwalker as a man dressed in black similar to what Mary and Lilly described. It is extremely rare to see which is one reason why this case is so intriguing. Skinwalkers are not born skinwalkers. They are considered pratictitioners of witchcraft and taught the skill of skinwalking.
So, no skinwalkers that night which didn't really surprise me. But there was plenty of other cool spiritual phenomenon going on and the experience was well worth the while. I prescribed some spiritual baths for the two women and prayed prayers of protection over them. I am happy to report that they immediately felt released from the negative energy that had attached itself to them once these rituals were performed.
Image creditsBeast of Gévaudan,, 1764 18th-Century depiction of an inordinately woolly-fleeced Beast - a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing! (public domain)
All other photos copyright Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide.