Chapter 2: The Origins of Stikini & Werewolves
Skinwalkers or “werewolves” are part of the lore of many Native American tribes. They have become an eccentricity of Hollywood’s imagination and our culture on a whole. Is there truth to this phenomenon? Do humans shift into animal form to feed their carnal desires?
ORIGINS is written and produced by award-winning author Jaimie Engle.
Imagine a family camping in the cool of autumn. The winds are still, crickets chirp lullabies, an owl hoots as the family sleeps soundly on the forest floor. Now, imagine you are in this family and while you dream, your chest begins to ache as your breathing stalls. Your eyes shoot open and you are face to face with an owl, one who rips your beating heart through your own mouth; to eat it. The Stikini, a were-owl or witch owl of Seminole legend.
According to ancient Seminole legend, these horrible creatures prowl Florida at night to consume the hearts and lungs of their victims. But first, they must vomit up their organs and hang them on tree branches or hide them so animals can’t devour them. Once a Stikini or “Man Owl” has their fill, they swallow their organs, allowing them to shift back into their other form: that of human.
Yes, the Stikini are shifters, were-animals, or Skinwalkers. It’s said that the mere mention of their name can cause you to become one, and hearing their cry is an omen of approaching death. These powerful witches are best defeated when in animal form—usually an owl—by finding and destroying their internal organs. Weapons, such as arrows decorated with owl feathers and ritualistically dressed with sacred herbs, can kill a Stikini and sunlight is fatal if the beast has not shifted to human form.
Sounds a lot like another famous shifter, doesn’t it?
The Skinwalker or “werewolf” is part of the lore of many Native American tribes, and has become an eccentricity of Hollywood’s imagination and our culture on a whole. Skinwalkers are pure evil, much more so than the lore of the Stikini, who seem to be driven by their animal instinct to eat, even if it is in an unconventional way. The Skinwalker, on the other hand, is born from performing heinous, taboo acts, such as rape or murder of one’s family or even cannibalism. Mostly male, they wear magical pelts or skins at night that transform them into animals, usually wolves. The shift doesn’t end there. Some can possess or even transform into other humans.
Skinwalkers’ transformations allow them to drive out the life force of their prey then greedily consume it. They are known to stalk their target prior to attack by staring into windows, chasing vehicles, and harassing families. And while they don’t always attack on the first meeting, they will most assuredly steal something to use in their black magic, such as fingernail clippings or strands of hair. Makes you want to double bolt your doors and put up hurricane shutters, just in case. The most awful part is the more terror they can produce, the more energy released from their prey. So imagine the fear of being chased down the street by a monstrous wolf with beady red eyes, hackles drawn, and fangs dripping saliva. It pounces on your back, knocking you to the road where you slide across the asphalt like it’s made of ice. Your back is sliced open from the beast’s claws and the rest of you is raw meat from the road rash. But Teen Wolf isn’t finished with you yet. It seeks ultimate fear. So it grabs your legs, yanks you back; flips you over to rake its claws across your chest. Your screams are seasoning to its meal: you. Until it finally finishes marinating with terror and ends the attack.
No, thank you.
Like dogs and regular wolves, these monsters live in underground communal lairs filled with the bones of their victims. They are said to hold nocturnal meetings, and I’m curious to see how those minutes would read: “Old business, scare and eat more people. New business, scare and eat more people.”
If it isn’t enough that they are super strong, huge, and ridiculously fast, even in human form, Skinwalkers have the gift of mind control, telepathy, and many harbor a great deal of black magic. Plus, they’re immune to most weapons that would hurt just about everything else. Like Medusa, you should never look a Skinwalker in the eyes, which I imagine would be difficult whether it was in human or animal form. The truth is Skinwalkers imitate other animals, and we all know imitations are never quite the real thing. In this lore, there will always be something just slightly off to give you the indication that these animals are imposters, like being bigger than they should or walking with a weird gait.
The best thing you can do is pay attention to the animals you come across to determine if they are Skinwalkers or if regular animals reacting to one. Be observant. And, if you’re so lucky, some bullets or other weapons blessed by medicine men with holy ash, could be worth their weight in gold…or silver, as the story goes.
Interestingly enough there is another correlation between werewolves and wereowls—Skinwalkers and Stikini. They are both witches. Between 1428 and 1447, the Valais Witch Trials of Switerzerland were underway, the ORIGIN of many accusations and deaths in Europe. Not only accused of witchcraft and wizardry, many were also suspect of being werewolves. The need for only three people to agree that someone had practiced witchcraft was enough to have them arrested. Any of the following accusations were acceptable:
- Curing by Sorcery
- Black Magic
- Conspiracy against Christianity
- Meeting with the Devil
A confession granted you death as a heretic; which meant being burned at the stake. Those who didn’t confess, were tortured until they did. Within less than two years, nearly 200 people had been burned to death as a witch or werewolf, or both. Limited documentation has left us craving more, although Johannes Fründ was kind enough to chronicle some:
“There were even those who killed their own children and fired and cooked them and took them to their company to eat them, and carried mischief and other things to church, so that everyone believed them to be children. But they had left their children at home and ate them later, when they so chose.”
Peter Stumpp’s case in 1598 led to increased accusations of lycanthropy, mixed with wolf-riding or wolf-charming. In the 17th century, werewolf trials had reached Estonia, eventually becoming the most common form for that country’s witch trials. Bavaria and Austria held onto this practice for the longest, with trials and especially wolf-charming persecution into even the 18th century. Ironically, the Pagan rooted Baltic Estonia and Livonia didn’t believe in Satan, but they strongly believed in black magic and werewolves. If someone shifted into a wolf through conducting magic and caused damage to property or lives, they would be tried in accordance with the European witchcraft model of “confess now or get tortured and confess later.”
At the age of eighteen, a boy named Hans was tried for being a werewolf after he confessed to have hunted as one, for more than two years. Hans the Werewolf swore that he found large marks from canine teeth on his leg one day, transforming him into a Skinwalker, a part of lore that has stuck with us to this day. Hans was sentenced to death in 1651 for his part in witchcraft, as he must have undergone a magical transformation when the dog, or whatever it was, bit him.
My favorite story is about an eight year old boy in 1692 Livonia who confessed to not only being a werewolf, but running with a pack of other boy werewolves three times a year to hell and back to fight with the witches and wizards of Satan. Why? All to ensure a bountiful harvest for his people. Luckily, he only got a good whipping. Not a very fair punishment for someone trying to help his community, if you ask me. But a darn good premise for a short story I might have to write.
During the four year Amersfoort och Utrecht witch trials, Fokert Dirks, his daughter, and his four sons were turned in by the confession of one of the sons named Elbert, age thirteen. He witnessed the family turn into cats and dogs on Satan’s command, a fact I’m sure he would find difficult to prove, although the committee seemed unconcerned about facts in these cases. Elbert watched in stunned silence as others in town gathered and danced in a frenzy of twisting bodies, shapeshifting, and killing animals with their bare hands. His father forced Elbert and his siblings to shift into werewolves and run upon herds of cattle to attack, an event that Elbert found agonizing. Eventually, his father confessed after a torturous jogging of his memory. So did
Elbert’s siblings, who admitted to attending the witches’ Sabbath in the form of wolves.
What could cause humanity to allow such terror, such panic to take hold of common sense and common law in order to execute so many unjustly accused? Immediately, I think of Salem and Nazi Germany and even the McCarthy Trials. Hysteria takes hold and the sheep turn into wolves.
But if this power is so easily churned, could there be more to it? Is it possible that a part of us wishes to believe there is more to the myth; and there’s a place in which Shifters exist where we might become one of them? Let’s take a look at some case studies from the twentieth century.
In 1975, the Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal released several cases of lycanthropy where individuals were studied and treated for their belief that they were werewolves.
While serving his post in the US Army, a twenty-year-old drug-user hiked into a European forest to ingest LSD and a deadly poison known as strychnine (stick-neen). Knowing similar potions have been used in the past to turn humans into shifters, he downed the disgusting concoction and waited. Within minutes, course fur grew on the backs of his hands and from the pores on his face. His ears perked, and he heard the soft scamper of rabbit feet in a nearby field. The pull so strong, he bounded deeper into the woods to chase after and devour those rabbits alive, not stopping for several days, until the tonic wore off. He returned to base and received treatment for nine months, but during that time, he began to hear voices, disembodied voices, and to see Satanic visions. He claimed to be possessed by the Devil, stopped treatment, left the clinic, never to be seen again.
A thirty-seven year old man slept in cemeteries and howled at the full moon. His hair grew out past his shoulders in matted clumps that wove into a long beard reaching his chest. The man laid in the center of the highway and behaved as a ten year old child. In his case, he was not a werewolf, but rather a disturbed individual with what’s known as “Walnut Brain.” Although, you have to wonder why his psych of choice was to become a Skinwalker.
Here’s a good one: Imagine being married for twenty years, when suddenly your wife begins to act like a wolf. In 1977, a woman admitted her true identity to her husband. While she held the façade of normalcy, just beneath her skin lurked an appetite for blood and bestial desires. She daydreamed of erotic polymorphous orgies with women and wolves, hot breath on her bare neck, claws tenderly tearing her skin. The mesmerizing stare of golden eyes and bloodlust eventually convinced her of her destiny as a she-wolf. The woman had held back her feelings for long enough. Once on a family outing, she suddenly began to pant and growl, threw off her clothes, and poised in a sexual wolf posture…to her own mother! Then, the next night, after making love to her husband (who I guess wasn’t at that family outing?), she clawed and gnawed the bedframe for two hours, overwhelmed by her wolf passion, swearing that the devil came into her body and made her an animal. She exclaimed by day she was a woman, but at night a she-wolf with claws, teeth, and fangs roaming the earth in search of death and anguish in prey, powerless to the spirit inside her. One day, while gazing in the mirror, she saw the head of a wolf on top of her shoulders. Her transformation now complete, she spoke through unintelligible grunts and animal-like noises instead of words, howling at the full moon, and seeking the graveyard each night for a tall dark stranger.
What we don’t understand, we fear. Our nightmares come to life not when we think there are witches and wolves prowling the land, but when the monster inside rises up to accuse and distort the truth we dislike in others. Perhaps Skinwalkers exist for no other reason than to give us something scarier than our own humanity in which to be afraid.
I’m Jaimie Engle, and you’ve just discovered ORIGINS.
ORIGINS is a bi-weekly podcast that shares the story behind legends and lore, where myth and science meet; written and produced by award-winning author Jaimie Engle of The Write Engle. If you like supernatural stories, you can head over to The Write Engle and check out the collection under the books tab. If you like shifters and werewolves, start with Dreadlands: Wolf Moon. A sample is featured in this week’s podcast produced by Beacon Audiobooks. Please review on iTunes & subscribe.
Music: by Ben Sound.