July 18, 2012

Skinwalker - Yee Naaldlooshii - He Who Walks on Four Legs

A skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshiiSkinwalkers are ancient Navajo monsters who use black magic to turn into animal form and use that ability for evil. They are men and rarely women who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo.

A shaman gains the power of a skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshii in the Navajo language, by renouncing the traditional ways of Navajo magic and adopting the teachings of the Witchery Way. At the highest level of priesthood, he or she must then make the final sacrifice of murdering a blood relative: a parent, a sibling, or a child. With this destruction of their humanity, they have gained the evil power inherent to the yee naaldlooshii.

A skinwalker can take the form, speed and strength of any animal it wishes, depending on what abilities it needs. Many Navajo believe it can even steal the skin, or body, of a human being; locking eyes with a skinwalker allows it to immerse itself into your body.

Some say skinwalkers are easy to recognize in animal form, as they are unable to move entirely naturally, and some Navajo describe them as distorted and mutated forms of the animals they are emulating. Furthermore, a skinwalker’s eyes glow like an animal’s when in human form and appear human when in the form of an animal.

Many Navajo can tell stories of encounters with skinwalkers. They will sometimes try to break inside homes to attack the residents, and will often bang on the walls, climb onto the roofs and peer inside through windows in strange, animal-like forms. Skinwalkers are also known to attack cars and cause accidents. And that's not all; the yee naaldlooshii are also believed to be graverobbers and necrophiliacs.

The yee naaldlooshii can use magic to curse people and cause suffering and death. They use a mixture called corpse powder which they blow into their victim’s face. Soon after, the victim’s tongue turns black, they go into convulsions, and eventually die. They can also use spit, hair and old clothes to send a curse at a particular person. Because of this, many Navajo never spit and make sure to destroy any hair or nail clippings.

Skinwalkers are agile and fast enough to easily keep up with a speeding car. Some believe they can read thoughts and make any animal or human noise they want, using tricks like the cry of an infant to lure victims out of the safety of their homes.

Killing a skinwalker is very difficult due to their great power. Often people attempting to shoot one find their guns jammed, and if the rounds do fire, they have no effect. While the Navajo have magical protections against the yee naaldlooshii, there is only one certain way to defeat them: if you see a skinwalker and call it by its true name, it will die.

Skinwalker lore is no mere children’s tales to the Navajo people. The subject is not open to discussion, even today, and the Navajo are reluctant to talk about it to outsiders. After all, a stranger asking questions about skinwalkers just might be one himself.

July 3, 2012

Kuchisake Onna - The Slit-Mouth Woman

Kuchisake Onna, or the Slit-Mouth Woman
A long time ago in Japan, there lived a beautiful and vain woman who was married to a jealous and violent man, a samurai in most stories. The woman was unfaithful to her husband and, after discovering her infidelity, the man took a sword and slashed her mouth from ear to ear, asking “Who will think you are beautiful now?”

Now her vengeful spirit wanders the streets of Japan, hiding her mutilated face and seeking to take her misfortune out on anyone unlucky enough to come across her. So the legend of Kuchisake Onna, the slit-mouth woman, was born.

In the 1970s, stories began appearing in Japan about a woman with a surgical mask covering the lower half of her face (not uncommon in Japan) who appeared to people at night. She would ask the traveler if they thought she was beautiful (“Watashi kirei?”). If they answered in the negative, she would immediately kill them with a long pair of scissors.

Due to her unearthly beauty, the victim would usually say yes. The woman would then rip off her mask, revealing the horrible, gaping wounds marring her face. “How about now,” she would ask the horrified traveler.

Saying no resulted in death by scissors, as you would expect. However, the terrified victim would hardly want to offend this nightmarish creature, and most would assure her of her beauty. But it would not save them. The Kuchisake Onna would slit their mouth from ear to ear, making them look just like her.

The only way to be saved was to answer the second question with “so-so” or “average”. This would confuse the Kuchisake Onna, giving the victim time to escape while she was lost in thought. Trying to run without this distraction was pointless – the spirit would simply reappear in front of them.

Rumors and sightings of the Kuchisake Onna chasing children first began to spread in 1979, which caused real scares in many towns. Police patrols were increased in some places, and some schools began sending children home in groups escorted by teachers.

The legend seems to have a basis in reality. In 2007, a coroner found records about a woman with a torn mouth chasing children. She was hit by a car and killed during one such chase. This woman was likely the origin of the 1979 panic.

The legend of Kuchisake Onna has survived to the the 21st century, with many variations popping up in Japan and other countries. For example, in South Korea she appears with a blood red face mask.

The Kuchisake Onna appears in film in Carved aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman aka Kuchisake-onna (2007) and its prequel Carved 2 aka Kuchisake-Onna 2: The Scissors Massacre aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman 2 aka Kuchisake-onna 2 (2008).

Image by Netjeret