For the Navajo people, witchcraft is just another part of their spirituality and one of the “Ways” of their religion. The Navajo are have a close relationship with nature and believe that there are two different kinds of people, Earth people who are mortals and Holy people that are unseen spiritual beings or guides. The Navajo believe that being ill and going through difficulties is a sign of someone’s life in “disorder” or being out of sync with the universe, but that their illness or problems can be healed during ceremonies with herbs, prayer and songs that are usually guided by medicine men.
While medicine men seek to heal, there are those who seek cause harm or misfortune to others using Navajo witchcraft. The term witchcraft is used loosely when referring to this aspect of Navajo spiritually because it bears very little resemblance to European witchcraft. This aspect of Navajo spirituality isn’t practiced by everyone, but it is practiced by some and is considered one of the Navajo Ways.
The Types of Navajo Witchcraft
The Navajo believe there are places where the powers of both good and evil are present and that those powers can be used either for good, such as healing people, or for evil. They believe that there is only a thin line that separates good from evil or the medicine man from the witch. There are four different Ways in Navajo witchcraft.
The Witchery Way - During their rituals, Navajo practitioners of witchcraft focus on corpses.
The Sorcery Way – During ceremonies, the victims’ have their personal objects or body parts, such as hair, buried.
The Wizardry Way – Foreign objects like poison or cursed darts are injected into the victim.
The Frenzy Way - Charms are used that influence victims’ mental or emotional states.
The Witchery Way is the best known form of Navajo witchcraft and, much like other Ways, it is handed down by the elders of the tribe to those who want to learn it. Each form of witchcraft is based on death, with the Witchery Way focused on corpses.
The most well known Navajo witches are called Skinwalkers. They practice the Witchery Way form of witchcraft and they are said to transform into animals. The Skinwalkers then take on the characteristics and skills of the animal whose form they take. The ceremonies are similar to other Navajo ceremonies, but with dark connotations.