Navajo Witchcraft: Guide to the Mysterious Practice

Longhorn skulls on Navajo

Little is known about Navajo witchcraft. This spiritual practice is a closely-held tradition among those of the Navajo Nation. However, there is some information about it, such as how it ties in to the legend of the Skinwalker.

What Is Navajo Witchcraft?

Navajo witchcraft is intertwined with Navajo (or Diné) spirituality; the two are not separate things, but two parts of a whole belief system. It's a form of mysticism, and one of the "Four Ways" of Navajo religion.

The Navajo believe illness and life problems are "disorder" within one's life that can be remedied or balanced with herbs, prayer, songs, and ceremonies.

However, while medicine men learn the Navajo Ways to heal and aid those who are afflicted, there are others who practice some aspects of Navajo witchcraft and seek to direct spiritual forces to cause harm or misfortune to others.

Navajo Medicine Man and Navajo Boys

The Four Ways of Navajo Witchcraft

The Diné (Navajo) believe there are natural places where powers for both good and evil are concentrated, and that those sacred powers can be harnessed for good (healing) or evil (harm). Navajo witches also believe objects, such as hair or personal items, can be used for good or evil.

Within Navajo spirituality, the supernatural and the physical worlds are tightly intertwined, so pieces of physical objects like bone, hair, or other items hold strong supernatural properties that can be manipulated. For the most part, only a thin line separates the living from the dead, and the good from the evil.

In his 1944 book Navajo Witchcraft, anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn lists the four "Ways" of the Navajo witch as follows.

  • Witchery Way focuses on corpses in all of their rituals and ceremonies.
  • Sorcery Way involves burying a victims' personal objects or body parts (like hair) during ceremonies.
  • Wizardry Way focuses on injecting foreign objects, such as poison or cursed darts, into the victim.
  • Frenzy Way is focused on using charms that influence the emotional or mental state of others.

Witchery Way and the Skinwalker

The Witchery Way is the best known form of Navajo witchcraft. Those who practice the Witchery Way, like all Navajo traditions, learn it from the elders of their family.

Navajo medicine men assist a man in a ritual sweat

Very little is actually known about those who practice the Witchery Way, as very few Navajo are actually willing to speak about it. Every form of this witchcraft is based on death, and the Witchery Way focuses on corpses.

During these gatherings, they perform ceremonies similar to other Navajo ceremonies that involve rituals, dance, and sand-painting. However, they perform these ceremonies with some dark alterations, such as using ash instead of sand, or modifying other Navajo rituals.

Skinwalkers Are Navajo Witches

Skinwalkers are the famous Navajo witches who follow the Witchery Way and transform into animal form in order to take advantage of the unique characteristics and special powers of those animals.

The Skinwalker is the most famous Navajo witch throughout western culture, due to recent books and movies. The accuracy and truth of these stories can only be judged by the Navajo who live as neighbors to the real world Skinwalkers in Navajo Nation. Witness sightings of strange creatures and odd phenomenon are common throughout this part of the country.

Indigenous American Spirituality

While there are many articles, books, and even movies about this aspect of Navajo spirituality, most Indigenous Americans living within the massive land called "Navajo Nation" would likely scoff at the western world's version of their religion. Within Navajo spirituality, both good and evil coexist, and both are considered natural parts of the world, made by the Creator. The Navajo have accepted the reality of both the good and bad phenomenon that exist in this world, and they incorporate that reality into their daily lives and their spiritual beliefs.

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Navajo Witchcraft: Guide to the Mysterious Practice