Legends of the Chindi
The chindi is almost always considered to be an evil force, avenging some form of offense to the person. The Navajo believe that contacting such a spirit can cause illness (Ghost Sickness), or death. It is also believed that a chindi can be used to cause harm upon someone else. Dust devils (desert small tornadoes) are referred to as chiindii and are said to be these spirits. Clockwise dust devils are good spirits and counterclockwise are bad.
The most famous account of the chindi is the account of the Long Salt family. In the August-September 1967 issue of the magazine Frontier Times, John R. Winslowe wrote of his 1925 encounter with Alice Long Salt, a slender teenage girl. In the periodical, she described the reason for the Long Salts’ demise. She believed that after two members of the tribe deceived a blind medicine man, he sent a chindi to destroy the Long Salts. Each member of the family was stricken with an incurable illness, and eventually died.
Curiously, anyone marrying into the family met the same fate as a blood Long Salt. Alice’s mother died when the girl reached seven and she was attending the Tuba City boarding school at the Indian agency. Alice’s father became skin and bones, dying two years later… The remaining three Long Salts [Alice’s two uncles and an aunt] were ill, crippled, and helpless. Friends cared for them, watching them fade into nothing before their eyes.
In the winter of 1928, Alice Long Salt was found dead three miles from the trading post on Red Mesa.
▪ Steiger, Brad. “The Chindi.” The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. 1st ed. 1999.
▪ Wyman, Leland, W. W. Hill, and Iva Osanai. “Navajo Eschatology.” American Anthropologist 45(1943): 461-463.
Mai-cob are witches in wolf’s clothing in the folklore of the Navajo people.
The navajo word mai-cob for wolf (animal) is a synonym for a witch.
The chindi is a Navajo shapeshifter that acts as a kind of avenging angel to those people that disrespect any of the Earth Mother’s creatures. According to Navajo artist David Little Turtle, “it can assume any shape, or, perhaps more accurately, it can inhabit any living thing. Almost any traditional Navajo has at least one chindi story to tell. He or she will tell you about coming home at night and seeing a coyote walking on its hind legs.” You may automatically assume that seeing wolf walking upright like a human would make it a werewolf, but according to Navajo tradition, it’s probably a chindi. Another way to identify a chindi is by the eyes, they will appear dead. If your headlights hit the animal’s eyes and they do not reflect the light, then you know it’s a chindi.
Should you worry about the chindi coming after you? Well, it depends on your attitude toward the Earth Mother and whether or not you have a good heart.
Now, if a chindi is set against you, the only way you can stop it is to draw a medicine circle around you and sing or say a prayer for protection. Little Turtle says, “It need not be a Navajo chant. Sing or say aloud any prayer you know. The important thing is your attitude. If the chindi sees that you have a good heart, the evil energy will boomerang and return to the one that set it upon you.”
But what if you don’t know how to draw a medicine circle for protection? What if you panic and can’t think of a prayer? Can you instead stop the chindi with a silver bullet? Well, Little Turtle says that no bullet can stop a chindi. “If you kill the host animal, the chindi will simply enter another animal. And another and another… until it has worked its vengeance upon you.”
So what have we learned today? That a strange-acting wolf may not be a werewolf, but instead a chindi. And, that you should always show respect for the earth and its creatures – otherwise a chindi may come after you.
Ghost beads, made from cedar berries, are supposed to protect against these evil spirits. The beads are made by allowing ants to eat away the inside of the berry, leaving on the shell, which is then punched through on the other end and strung together on necklaces or bracelets. Turquoise was also thought to keep the Chindi at bay, and was often used with the “ghost beads” to form talismans against the ghosts.
In fact, some Chindi become dust devils (known as “chiindii”), with the clockwise rotating funnels being “good” and the counterclockwise containing “evil”. If, on the other hand, the Chindi is released inside a home or lodge, it must be abandoned or ritually cleansed to remove the spirit.
A common belief is that Navajo witches and medicine men can infect people with the disease carried by the Chindi. This “ghost sickness” produces nausea, fever, fatigue and sometimes a sense of being suffocated or drowned. The Chindi themselves can visit this upon a victim or hiding a piece of a corpse on an individual can bring about the same illness.
The Navajo skinwalker legend is one of the more complex and terrifying stories, steeped in mystery and evil intent.
Many Navajos believe firmly in the existence of skinwalkers and refuse to discuss them publicly for fear of retribution. They believe skinwalkers walk freely among the tribe and secretly transform under the cover of night. The term yee naaldooshii literally translates to “with it, he goes on all fours.” According to Navajo legend, a skinwalker is a medicine man or which who has attained the highest level of priesthood in the tribe, but chose to use his or her power for evil by taking the form of an animal to inflict pain and suffering on others.
To become a skinwalker requires the most evil of deeds, the killing of a close family member. They literally become humans who have acquired immense supernatural power, including the ability to transform into animals and other people.
According to the Navajo skinwalker legend, these evil witches are typically seen in the form of a coyote, owl, fox, wolf or crow – although they do have the ability to turn into any animal they choose.
Because it is believed that skinwalkers wear the skins of the animals they transform into, it is considered taboo to wear the pelt of any animal. In fact, the Navajo are only known to wear two hides, sheepskin and buckskin, both of which are only used for ceremonial purposes.
Those who have talked of their encounters with these evil beings describe a number of ways in which a skinwalker will try to inflict harm. Some describe hearing knocks on the window or banging on the walls.
Others have spotted an animal-like figure peering in through a window. According to Navajo skinwalker legend, they are seldom caught. Those who do track a skinwalker and learn of their true identity must pronounce the name of the evil one in full. Once this happens, the skinwalker will get sick or die for the wrongs they have inflicted against others.
My Own Encounter With A Skinwalker
A part of me has always lived between worlds. Seeing what others cannot or do not see, hearing things that last shared this plane long ago, smelling the smells left behind by lives that had moved on. I have seen many terrifying things in the course of my life, but none of them scared me as much as the encounter I am about to share with you. It scares me enough that I will not speak of it or write about it after dark. And I love the dark and night; so, this should aid you in understanding how profoundly the experience rocked my world.
When I was 20, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, especially since I had not expected to live to be 21. I lived hard and many of my friends had met their ends along the way, so it was a reasonable estimation of my longevity. I had enrolled in college the year before and quickly discovered I was sick of school and people who could not see anything but the known and the boring or they refused to see it. So, when I made a friend who shared a deep spiritual connection with the Earth and could see and feel what I did, it was kismet.
Genevieve or Genee as she called herself was full-blooded Navajo, and one the most interesting people I had ever encountered. She loved to go searching in the dark forgotten places around our southern New Mexico college for ghosts, ghouls, wraiths, or anything else we might find. She liked hanging out in cemeteries and driving down dark, twisting roads that seemed to stretch straight into Hell. So, when she invited me to spend Spring Break with her and I invited her to spend it with me, we set out in my little car. First we would go to Bloomfield and visit her family and then we continue on over to Colorado and visit mine.
The minute we left I-25 for I-40, I could feel the change in the atmosphere. It felt ancient and menacing. Every hair on my body stood at attention, ready to run away at the first sign that we were in danger. Genee pointed out where this friend or that cousin had died horribly in a car accident, which was not unusual because at the time New Mexico had the highest teenage traffic fatality rate in the nation. She also pointed to areas where La Llorona appeared in this part of New Mexico. As we went around a twist in the road, she pointed to some small houses on a hill and she said her cousins lived in them. And that one night a Chindi had come calling, trying to lure them away into the night. My skin goose-pimpled and I got a chill as she said that the next morning one of her cousins who was young and healthy fell ill and by nightfall was dead. That her family all believed it was what she called “Ghost Sickness.”
After dinner with her parents that night, she asked me if I wanted to see where she and her friends had partied when they where in high school. I said sure. And we jumped into my car and headed off into the hills. There was little moon and it shifted in and out of the clouds that hung low in the night sky. She had me turn onto this narrow dirt road, one where only cars going in the same direction in a single line could fit on. I shivered, but I turned and followed her directions to the top of a small mesa. We got out and she climbed on the hood of my car and started reminiscing about all the amazingly good times she had in this place. I was wondering how anyone could have a good time in this place, it felt awful, heavy, and malevolent.
After a while I told her I wanted to go, she looked puzzled but she got in the car and we started to make a u-turn so we could go back down the road. The clouds cleared for a moment and I saw a man standing in the road, blocking the way down from the mesa. Even though there was some light from the moon in that moment, he was totally dark. He lifted his arm and the light reflected off clawed nails on the ends of his abnormally long arms. Genee told me to stop, lock the doors, and pray, that if we were lucky and he knew we meant no harm he would leave us in peace. That sounded like a really bad idea to me, so I kept going. As I got closer the moon when back behind the clouds, but in the instant, before it did his eyes glowed a malignant, yellowish-green color out of a face that seemed to have no features. I said out aloud, what my Grandmother had always taught me to say in such situations, “Jesus!” I started chanting it and I floored it. I had no concern that I was about to hit a man, because I knew that was not a man blocking the only way down from this place. Genee screamed as we started to ram into him. The car went right through. I looked in the rear view mirror as I continued down the road and the man was standing there, his glowing eyes watching us, until we took a turn in the road and could no longer see him.
I asked Genee what we had just seen and she looked stricken, she whispered, “Chindhi” the word had three syllables the way she said it. She quietly told me about the legends and how we were very fortunate to be alive. And we still might die of the Ghost Sickness the way her cousin had, when they had heard the Chindi calling to them, the night before.
For many months after that visit, I dreamed of the chindi, it stalked me in my sleep; it hovered in the darkness when I woke sweaty from my nightmares. And even now telling the story, I have the chills, and it has been almost thirty years since that night. You do not have to believe the story, many will not, but I believe it and wherever the Chindi might be, he believes it. That is more than enough for me.