Featured on Episode 7
Mentioned in Fantastic Beasts: NO
Reported Locations: North America
First Reported: Navajo/Native American Belief
Known Abilities: Shapeshifting; Make people/animals sick; control minds; supernatural strength
Skinwalkers are a witch or wizard with the ability to shift into the shape of an animal. They possess supernatural strength and are often believed to be pure evil. They are said to make people sick, kill livestock, murder, and commit many other evil acts. They have been said to start out as normal magical people or medicine men who begin to learn the dark arts. At some point the individual becomes corrupted, and through the murder of a blood relative, becomes a Skinwalker.
ACCORDING TO POTTERMORE
In the Native American community, some witches and wizards were accepted and even lauded within their tribes, gaining reputations for healing as medicine men, or outstanding hunters. However, others were stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits.
The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.
ACCORDING TO NAVAJO BELIEF
Dan Benyshek, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas anthropologist, who specializes in the study of Native Americans of the Southwest, gives the following general description.
Skinwalkers are purely evil in intent. I’m not expert on it, but the general view is that skinwalkers do all sorts of terrible things — they make people sick, they commit murders. They are graverobbers and necrophiliacs. They are greedy and evil people who must kill a sibling or other relative to be initiated as a skinwalkers. They supposedly can turn into were-animals and can travel in supernatural ways.
Adrienne Keene, an American and Native American writer and activist, says the belief of Skinwalkers has a “deep and powerful place in Navajo understandings of the world.” She believes that Rowling’s use of Skinwalkers is a concerning example of cultural appropriation and colonialism. Keene, and other Native American voices, believe in-depth knowledge of Skinwalkers does not belong outside of Navajo/Native American culture and that the tradition of the Skinwalkers belongs to them alone.