A spooky Navajo legend has TikTok shaking in its boots.
People on social media have taken a special interest in skinwalkers. The shape-shifting creatures of folklore have become central to memes, jokes and stories on TikTok. While the myth has been a part of the Navajo culture for centuries, it isn’t entirely understood outside of the Native American community. Cherokee Nation author and academic Adrienne Keene warned that when outsiders misunderstand and misuse the history of the legend, it can be appropriative.
What is a skinwalker?
In the Navajo tradition, a skinwalker or yee naaldlooshii is a mythological creature that is able to shape-shift into or possess an animal. Skinwalkers are sometimes referred to as witches.
In the lore, a witch, who is also often a medicine person or high-ranking priest, can become a yee naaldlooshii by gaining supernatural powers through nefarious acts like murder, seduction or corruption. In the Navajo language, yee naaldlooshii translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours.”
The sci-fi series The X-Files popularized the skinwalker legend outside of the Navajo community with its 1994 episode “Shapes.” In the episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a murder on a Native American reservation and discover a skinwalker.
In the 2010s, skinwalkers became the topic of numerous online communities on Reddit, 4Chan and YouTube. But it wasn’t until 2021 that the skinwalker legend became widely popular on TikTok. The hashtag #skinwalker currently has 821.3 million views.
Skinwalker folklore takes over TikTok
“I thought skinwalkers aren’t really?!” @dannytumia said. “Explain this to me then.”
Special Offer for YouBloomingdale's Friends & Family sale is on now — Save 25%!
More from In The Know: