; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Friday, December 17, 2021

Large Raven, Possible Skinwalker, Curses Researcher at Navajo Reservation

A graduate student, working at the Dine Navajo reservation, recalls his professor's possible encounter with a Skinwalker (A raven). He became very ill and was healed by a tribe spiritual leader.

The following account was recently forwarded to me:

"In 2010, I was working for a large university while completing a graduate degree in public health. My research considered the intersectionality of cultural beliefs and their impact on allopathic medicine (modern medial care), and I was testing a hypothesis that, concerning large reservations, if public health workers weaved in tribal or native medicine into their approach to modern medicine, we would see a decrease in healthcare hesitancy for individuals that resided on reservations (healthcare means different things to different cultures, I was exploring how to blend the two). The large university I was partnered with had a cultural anthropology program that was able to provide access to some very rural areas of reservation land in northwestern New Mexico (The Dine Navajo Nation). Thus, I buddied up with the anthropology students in order to complete my qualitative research regarding healthcare choices for individuals that resided in this part of the state.

It was actually wonderful research; public health and anthropology (notably the ethnologists) have a shared interest in working with peoples that defy access or seek to 'live off the grid.' While the anthropology researchers had a painstaking task of surveying how thousands of years of belief shaped current culture, I had a simple mission of working with reservation based healthcare clinics to define how the residents of the reservation created access to services. Through the course of my research, I became friends with 'Dr. J' (real name redacted), and he allowed me to tag along on their research investigations. I would spend my days at rural health clinics while the anthropology grad students and post docs spent their days in the field surveying residents and land. We would meet up whatever motel we were staying at in the evenings to drink, tell stories and engage in general university level shenanigans while on project (we were staying in a city/large town that did not have a night life, unless you drove to the casino...which none of us could afford on graduate assistant or post doc salaries).

One particular evening (in June), the anthropology students and Dr. J shared a story of a gigantic raven that plagued the research team throughout the day (they said it even followed their van). They said the enormous bird would screech and run at the researchers, and they all recalled the bird being very aggressive and somewhat scary. They all had pictures of the bird on their phone, which I did see. Now, there was nothing of scale to compare the bird too (it was either on a dirt road or in flight), but no less than 6 researchers recalled stories of the enormity of the bird and how it followed the van. We laughed about it and the anthropology team made jokes about the bird being a new mascot for their research. It was also not hard to fathom that a raven, living somewhere with little human intervention, might grow to huge proportions.

After our parking lot revelry, we headed to our rooms (I shared a room with Dr. J). During the night, Dr. J became quite ill. He was pale, sweaty and said he felt terrible. He could not describe exactly how he was feeling, just that he felt "off" and was unable to sleep. The next morning, Dr. J had deteriorated so much so that he asked me to take him to Albuquerque to be seen at the ER (which was about a 2-hour drive). In fact, he felt so bad he had his graduate student pack his bags for him while I drove him back to civilization at about 5 am. I drove him to the regional academic medical center, and after a battery of tests, the medical team could find nothing wrong.

A few weeks later, I was back on the reservation, and again performing my research at local health clinics. I bumped into a local spiritual healer that would frequent the clinics and he asked me about Dr. J. I told him about how he had felt ill and had been unable to return to the research site. I will never forget his response. This spiritual healer looked at me and said, "He is in grave danger" (which made my blood run cold), and he immediately got in contact with Dr. J. I thought the remark was startling, but went about my research.

A few days later, I met Dr. J and his wife for dinner in Albuquerque. He told me that the spiritual healer came to perform a healing ceremony on him and said he had been in proximity of a shapeshifter that had cursed him. He said that after the ceremony he was well, and that the events that unfolded changed his perception of spiritual health and healers that live on the reservation. Now, I am an empiricist, so I think there are lots of variables at play here. But what I do know is that the anthropology research team did see something odd (a gigantic raven, of which they pictures they deleted at the advice of the healer that came to see Dr. J), Dr. J was visibly ill and was, subsequently, visibly well after his visit with the healer. In fact, Dr. J tells this story to his new grad students to this day to illustrate the necessity of observing local custom and the impact(s) of local belief systems.

Dr. J and I still keep in touch. He now works for a different university system, but when he comes to town we still get beer and tacos and reminisce about our research endeavors in New Mexico. I am not sure if he encountered a Skinwalker, but he is TOTALLY CONVINCED he was affected by a form of old magic while working in New Mexico. I do not have a theory as to his illness or the encounter with the large bird, but I do (now) work with local elders while on reservation land to gain consent before conducting research or setting up a public heath initiative. It was very strange...and I think about this event often." DZ

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Thanks. Lon Strickler

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