Jump to content
Join the Unexplained Mysteries community today! It's free and setting up an account only takes a moment.
- Sign In or Create Account -

Native American Shapeshifting Myths


atrainguy60

Recommended Posts

Hi, I was wondering about shapeshifting myths in Native tribes of the USA recently.  Of course the Navajo skinwalker has become quite mainstream thanks to pop culture, and I've heard of the Seminole Stikini, but I was wondering what else there is out there?  There are so many tribes and cultures, I'd imagine there'd have to be quite a few more obscure shapeshifter myths out there.  I'm particularly interested if there are many that resemble the European werewolf in any way (it's kinda cool seeing parallels in mythologies separated by vast distances), but I'm curious about shapeshifting legends in general as well.  Also, it seems when I see mention about Skinwalkers and Stikinis, they're regarded as evil.  Are there any shapeshifting legends that have a more benign role, or is shapeshifting generally considered representative of evil in most native american cultures? 

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 
30 minutes ago, atrainguy60 said:

Hi, I was wondering about shapeshifting myths in Native tribes of the USA recently.  Of course the Navajo skinwalker has become quite mainstream thanks to pop culture, and I've heard of the Seminole Stikini, but I was wondering what else there is out there?  There are so many tribes and cultures, I'd imagine there'd have to be quite a few more obscure shapeshifter myths out there.  I'm particularly interested if there are many that resemble the European werewolf in any way (it's kinda cool seeing parallels in mythologies separated by vast distances), but I'm curious about shapeshifting legends in general as well.  Also, it seems when I see mention about Skinwalkers and Stikinis, they're regarded as evil.  Are there any shapeshifting legends that have a more benign role, or is shapeshifting generally considered representative of evil in most native american cultures? 

In the few legit examples I know of - from the Northwest Coast Tribes (Haida, Tlingit, Salish), the shapeshifters are generally NOT benign.  They belong to a class that might best be described as "monsters."  

Some heroes and "deities" (calling Coyote, etc, a "deity" is not correct but we don't really have a good English term that describes what they are) DO transform themselves into other beings to achieve a goal.  In the case of Coyote, it's almost always involved in harm or mischief.  

There's the occasional "animal bride" or "bride of an animal" story in recorded Native American traditions, but they're not common.

The Pitt Folklore index is a good place to explore: https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html#a

In Central America (Costa Rica is the one place I know... but take this as a very small nibble) they do believe in shamans who can transform (generally while asleep; so in the dream realm) into certain animals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagual  and in tourist shops there are necklaces with shamanic figures on them that are half human and half animal.  When we were in San Jose many years ago, I tried to track down information on a figure known as "El Gran Chaman" (the Great Shaman... and I hope I spelled the Spanish name correctly) but what they had at the time was very fragmentary.

You will also run into some cultural blocks here.  Native Americans are very tired of seeing their culture compromised and rewritten by everyone else.  The elders will often refuse to talk and refuse to tell stores; those who tell the secrets are often "plastic shamans"; people who are in it for the money (one can't blame them, given how poor the people of the reservations are) but they generally don't have original cultural information.

 

Still... interesting topic.  I'm surer @Piney will have some better suggestions on this.

Edited by Kenemet
  • Like 5
  • Thanks 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, Piney said:

Among the Southern Unami (Lenape) you have the Kiimochnii (Nightwalker) who use animal aspects in their practices. They were considered "witches" and evil thanks to Christian influence but they are more or a spiritual "policeman". They can be male of female and can turn into owls, wolves, pumas.

I find these cultural beliefs so interesting. 

Are they the same Lenape that lived in northern NJ?

  • Like 4
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Antigonos said:

I find these cultural beliefs so interesting. 

Are they the same Lenape that lived in northern NJ?

 No that's the Ramapough but we swapped some heavy DNA with them thanks to decades of Lenape Confederation gatherings and I have relatives among them.

 Sundance's 'The Red Road' was based on both the Nanticoke-Lenape and the Ramapough smashed together and Phillip Kopus was partially based on me while making me look evil. 

  • Like 7
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, Kenemet said:

In the few legit examples I know of - from the Northwest Coast Tribes (Haida, Tlingit, Salish), the shapeshifters are generally NOT benign.  They belong to a class that might best be described as "monsters."  

Some heroes and "deities" (calling Coyote, etc, a "deity" is not correct but we don't really have a good English term that describes what they are) DO transform themselves into other beings to achieve a goal.  In the case of Coyote, it's almost always involved in harm or mischief.  

There's the occasional "animal bride" or "bride of an animal" story in recorded Native American traditions, but they're not common.

The Pitt Folklore index is a good place to explore: https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html#a

In Central America (Costa Rica is the one place I know... but take this as a very small nibble) they do believe in shamans who can transform (generally while asleep; so in the dream realm) into certain animals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagual  and in tourist shops there are necklaces with shamanic figures on them that are half human and half animal.  When we were in San Jose many years ago, I tried to track down information on a figure known as "El Gran Chaman" (the Great Shaman... and I hope I spelled the Spanish name correctly) but what they had at the time was very fragmentary.

You will also run into some cultural blocks here.  Native Americans are very tired of seeing their culture compromised and rewritten by everyone else.  The elders will often refuse to talk and refuse to tell stores; those who tell the secrets are often "plastic shamans"; people who are in it for the money (one can't blame them, given how poor the people of the reservations are) but they generally don't have original cultural information.

 

Still... interesting topic.  I'm surer @Piney will have some better suggestions on this.

The most recent example is the lie or story that the skinwalker ranch in Utah was an area cursed by the navajo, and the claim is that the Ute believe that.   The Navajo take a very bad rap for nonsense that was started by Joseph Smith and his cronies by stealing native children to use as slaves, and paying the Ute tribe leader to steal Navajo children to keep his own tribe's children from being stolen.  If there was a curse it was for good reason, however I know a lot of Navajo and doubt seriously that that curse ever happened.   Their skinwalker is similar to Loki and Pan, a trickster that can shapeshift and is never a good experience.

I have heard of something called Wendigo from the eastern tribes but I only know what Hollywood tells about it which is of course, incorrect at the very least.

Any non native that wants to understand anything about native beliefs needs to go directly to the natives willing to learn their language in order to actually get a clue (only a clue because we are from a roman "take and break all" culture and they are from a nature culture)

Edited by Desertrat56
  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks so much for the replies!  That's understandable about the hesitancy to share these beliefs.  I really appreciate what I can find though.

3 hours ago, Piney said:

Among the Southern Unami (Lenape) you have the Kiimochnii (Nightwalker) who use animal aspects in their practices. They were considered "witches" and evil thanks to Christian influence but they are more or a spiritual "policeman". They can be male of female and can turn into owls, wolves, pumas.

Interesting, when I do a Google search for the Kiimochnii, I mostly get a bunch of unrelated results, especially Japan related.  I just probably need to keep digging deeper, but is there a way to get more info on this?  Or is it a bit more guarded, like the reasons Desertrat detailed above? 

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 minute ago, atrainguy60 said:

Thanks so much for the replies!  That's understandable about the hesitancy to share these beliefs.  I really appreciate what I can find though.

Interesting, when I do a Google search for the Kiimochnii, I mostly get a bunch of unrelated results, especially Japan related.  I just probably need to keep digging deeper, but is there a way to get more info on this?  Or is it a bit more guarded, like the reasons Desertrat detailed above? 

Like Mel and Rat said, You won't. We keep our spirituality off the net where it can't be stolen by Newage culture vultures.

Look what happened with Lakota spirituality. 

  • Like 7
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Desertrat56 said:

we are from a roman "take and break all" culture and they are from a nature culture)

The Romans taught the rest of Europe well. The Greeks sent trading colonists. The Romans sent their army.  

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 minutes ago, Piney said:

Like Mel and Rat said, You won't. We keep our spirituality off the net where it can't be stolen by Newage culture vultures.

Look what happened with Lakota spirituality. 

Ahh ok.  I'm not of indigenous descent, so I can only imagine the frustration of having these personal beliefs taken and warped and misrepresented to the outside world.  Thanks again for what info was given though, I really appreciate it!  

  • Like 6
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, atrainguy60 said:

Thanks so much for the replies!  That's understandable about the hesitancy to share these beliefs.  I really appreciate what I can find though.

Interesting, when I do a Google search for the Kiimochnii, I mostly get a bunch of unrelated results, especially Japan related.  I just probably need to keep digging deeper, but is there a way to get more info on this?  Or is it a bit more guarded, like the reasons Desertrat detailed above? 

Greetings.  You seem to have encountered one of the limitations of the internet and human knowledge in general.  Not everybody is anxious to write down everything they know.  The ones that do often know the least  and are the most eager to make a buck off of it.  Sometimes people just get tired of having their culture twisted into unrecognizable forms by charlatans pretending they have the real sacred knowledge.  

Don't get sucked into the Internet clickbait, with tag lines like "Forbidden Knowledge" or "You were not supposed to know this"   

I am not indigenous either, I just had the luck to become friends with some Indians a couple of decades ago and found we have some common interests, lifestyle and work.   Friends are friends and so not being an ethnographer, we did things friends do to help each other like cut and haul wood,  clear brush, offer hospitality, and build sheds.  I heard a lot of good stories, and learned some songs. Being quiet by nature, I listened mostly and never did ask many questions.  I've heard a few stories from a Warm Springs auntie about Stick Indians who are tricksters with a malicious bent and some Lakota stories about little people,  who mostly seem benevolent. I also heard a few stories about bad people who do anything for power, and have some unusual powers, but never anything about Skinwalkers.  All of those were generic stories not personal experiences from the teller.

Somebody did tell me once that when you have a special personal experience, you keep it to yourself for the most part, because it was meant for you.  When you repeat an experience  to many people, it becomes diluted, the meaning  goes away, and you lose the message you were given.

Good luck to you, stay safe.  

 

 

  • Like 5
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

36 minutes ago, atrainguy60 said:

Ahh ok.  I'm not of indigenous descent, so I can only imagine the frustration of having these personal beliefs taken and warped and misrepresented to the outside world.  Thanks again for what info was given though, I really appreciate it!  

I'm not even allowed to tell you what I have according to tribal and AIM law. But I do to p*** them off. Let them come get some. 

I have more.

Google "Adena wolf shaman". You should find something and I'll fill in the blanks for you. The Adena were the ancestors of my tribe, the Nanticoke-Lenape and most other Southern and Central Algonquians. 

  • Like 5
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

Some interesting knowledge for you:  https://newcriterion.com/article/the-way-of-the-masks/

So some of the transformations we know about involve sacred masks (and here a transformation is akin (somewhat) to an actor becoming so immersed in a role that they BECOME that character) and certain ceremonies.  Anthropologist Franz Boas (who did some unethical things and some brilliant things) recorded many of these masks and traditions in the late 1800's/early 1900's.  

This is a PDF of his book on social organization and secret societies (which have these transformation masks) of the Kwakiutl: https://dn790007.ca.archive.org/0/items/cihm_14300/cihm_14300.pdf  

And here's a pretty reasonable page on the wendigo: https://backstoryradio.org/blog/the-mythology-and-misrepresentation-of-the-windigo/  I think it makes a pretty good guess in that we moderns further confound the real meaning and symbolism of the indigenous shapeshifters by trying to couch them in terms that we understand -- "Hollywood-ifying" them, if you will.

 

And just for fun, the cannibal shapeshifting otters called Kushtaka: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushtaka  (I learned about these on a trip to Alaska and hunted up a very nice book on them)

Edited by Kenemet
  • Like 2
  • Thanks 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, Piney said:

I'm not even allowed to tell you what I have according to tribal and AIM law.

It made my day imagining somebody shaking their finger at you and  telling you that you are not allowed to do a thing.  I don't think it would have the desired effect.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Kenemet said:

And just for fun, the cannibal shapeshifting otters called Kushtaka: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushtaka  (I learned about these on a trip to Alaska and hunted up a very nice book on them)

  Were I a lost and forlorn fisherman, I might happily trade my opposable thumbs for the life of an otter.  You have a warm coat, plenty of fish, you can swim like the dickens and there is endless play. No  doubt otter women are loving and their pups are as cute as anything. Might be a pretty good life.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, Tatetopa said:

It made my day imagining somebody shaking their finger at you and  telling you that you are not allowed to do a thing.  I don't think it would have the desired effect.

Crow Dog and the Tayacs want me dead Leksi, but with nothing but powwow dancers turned braids and shades Dog Soldiers good luck with that.

No actual warrior has any respect for AIM, but they do have political power in the tribes. 

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Piney said:

Crow Dog and the Tayacs want me dead Leksi, but with nothing but powwow dancers turned braids and shades Dog Soldiers good luck with that.

No actual warrior has any respect for AIM, but they do have political power in the tribes. 

I have met a few AIM people, some can be jerks  I have heard much of Crow Dog but never travelled to visit him at his circus.  Some people love him. Others have run afoul of him or some of his followers. I think a friend and I got on the bad side of one of them,   a self-important player  pretending to be Heyoka    That year, my friend died in a motorcycle accident, and I was involved in a car wreck.  I wrote it off to coincidence and my own careless stupidity.  Some of my friends who knew both of us thought otherwise, and I think that is how stories start and we give people more power than they deserve.  

Still, there are some evil people in this world and when they want power, whether they have spiritual chops or not, they can be dangerous.  You know that better than I do. Be careful nephew. You are a better man than any of them I have met.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks so much guys!  The links on transformation masks were definitely helpful, and I found some good info on the Adena shamans on Google.  Really intriguing stuff.  

p.s. didn't realize the idea of shapeshifting otters was so creepy until I just learned of it, lol, especially the part about imitating screaming women to lure you.  Got some new nightmare fuel.   

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 6/11/2024 at 9:34 PM, atrainguy60 said:

Thanks so much guys!  The links on transformation masks were definitely helpful, and I found some good info on the Adena shamans on Google.  Really intriguing stuff.  

p.s. didn't realize the idea of shapeshifting otters was so creepy until I just learned of it, lol, especially the part about imitating screaming women to lure you.  Got some new nightmare fuel.   

The Adena Wolf Society was apparently driven out of the Ohio Valley.  2 of them were found in New Jersey and they are probably the originators of the Southern Unami and Nanticoke Wolf clans. The Nanticoke language is also related to Central Algonquian. Not Coastal Algonquian so they were probably Adena who came "en-masse" to the area during the Hopewell Horizon.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.