Halloween has come and gone, but spooky stories about things that go bump in the night linger on ... especially on TikTok. One of the most recent hashtags to pick up steam on the video-sharing social network is #skinwalker.
In Navajo culture, skinwalkers are a kind of witch-like people who can turn into or disguise themselves as animals. Yee naaldlooshii, which directly translates to “with it, he goes on all fours,” are said to travel in secret and harm the innocent. Traditionally, Navajos don’t discuss them or other types of witchcraft with non-Navajos.
Nevertheless, when John Soto — @that1cowboy on TikTok – posted a video of a supposed encounter with one on Oct. 3, it went viral. (As of our writing this, it had been viewed 7.7 million times.)
In the video, Soto is riding a horse down a dirt road at sunset. Birds perch on some nearby trees and Soto looks around. As he approaches an intersection, someone (or something) off camera with the voice of woman or child says, “Hey.” This spooks the heck out of the horse which spins around as if to get out of there. And the video ends.
Soto posted a number of videos in which he talks about his suspicion that there is a skinwalker on his property, but the Oct. 3 video is the first one in which it makes an appearance, so to speak, and that seems to have made all the difference. Since then, hundreds of videos have been posted with the hashtag, by both Navajo and non-Navajo users, accounting for over 39 million views of videos with the hashtag.
That latter group is pretty far-ranging, and their videos are usually just vaguely eerie. They describe random sounds at night; shadowy, barely-seen things behind rocks and trees in the wilderness; and finding dubious evidence of creatures outdoors. If you switched out #skinwalker with #bigfoot, #skunkape, #werewolf, #ghost, or #thealienfromSignsbyMNightShyamalan, the videos would be otherwise completely unchanged. It seems pretty plausible that many of the video-makers are just clout-chasing, attention-starved Gen Z-ers. (We’re going to take a shot in the dark and suggest that if you see something weird in a cornfield in Nebraska, it’s not a skinwalker.)
Soto, on the other hand, seems pretty convinced that a mysterious force is haunting him. He had a Navajo and Apache upbringing, and his ranch looks to be somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona – he definitely has javelinas on his property. But he told Dazed magazine that the noises he has heard could not be, as commenters have suggested, goats or mountain lions because they don’t live anywhere near him. He also said that he had a medicine man bless his home, which resulted in the creepy things retreating to the outskirts of his property. The evil presence still has it in for him, though, and may be after his newborn baby.
Will the rise in skinwalker videos on TikTok lead to incontrovertible evidence that they exist, or will the trend amount to little more than a mild form of cultural appropriation among ghost-story loving teens? Only time — and social media — will tell.