Are Skinwalkers Real? The TikTok Buzz on Sightings in Appalachia

an ai generated image of a skinwalker

Despite alleged "sightings" on social media, it is extremely unlikely that skinwalkers are real (AI-generated Image)

A Smoky Mountain man addresses alleged skinwalker sightings, currently trending on social media

As someone who has lived in and around the Appalachian Mountains for most of the last 35 years, I have had the opportunity to fly over the mountains on several occasions, usually on a commercial flight but sometimes on a smaller private plane. The bird’s eye view is a unique way to take in the Smokies and the only way to get an appreciation of the vast swaths of uninhabited land that make up the mountains. And occasionally when I’ve been way up in the clouds above the Smokies, I’ve allowed my mind to wander a bit. Who or what could be in the deep, dark hollows – the places off the trails where even the hikers don’t go.

Could we find the rare species thought extinct – like they sometimes do in the rainforests of Brazil or the jungles of Madagascar?  Could something – or someone – more sinister be hiding deep in the forests? Something like Bigfoot? Or wild people? Or skinwalkers? The answer I always tell myself is no. There couldn’t be. But I have just enough imagination that I can’t entirely close the door. This brings us to the topic of skinwalkers.

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a skinwalker in the woods
According to the lore, a skinwalker is an evil shapeshifting witch who can possess or turn into a wild animal (AI-generated image)

What are skinwalkers?

I’ve heard – and read – the term skinwalker bouncing around the internet and – thanks to the History Channel’s The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch – on my television but honestly, for a long time thought it was some kind of zombie thing – like a Walking Dead spinoff or something. But then – on TikTok – I began seeing the term turn up in association with the Appalachian skinwalkers. I don’t know what made the algorithm start serving them up, but it was enough to get my attention.

Skinwalkers are a legend chiefly associated with the Navajo nation – a native American tribe in the Southwestern part of the country. In the Navajo culture, a skinwalker is an evil witch – a shapeshifter – who can possess or turn into a wild animal. But is there a culture of Skinwalkers in Cherokee lore? Not that I can tell. It appears that the legend of the skinwalker isn’t ubiquitous across native cultures and is identified as being of Navajo origin.

But if Skinwalkers are part of Navajo legend, native to the Southwestern United States, why are people talking about Appalachian skinwalkers? Welcome to the internet, it is a strange place. There is a subculture of TikTok videos and Reddit posts devoted to sightings and encounters as well as rules developed by the “mountain people” to avoid encounters with these mysterious cryptids. For the record, either these rules are entirely made up – very likely – or the mountain people I know all my life don’t care if I live or die because they ain’t never told me any of these rules.

What are the rules?

  1. Don’t go into the woods at night: Skinwalkers or no, this isn’t a terrible rule. I mean, I’ve been in the woods after dark dozens of times and never did I come upon a shape-shifting witch out to devour my mortal soul. But once the sun sets, the mountains are more dangerous. It’s easier to get lost or hurt.
  2. Never leave the marked trail. It’s marked for a reason: Yes, it is. It’s so you don’t get lost. These mountains are big. You can’t just go trailblazing and trust your innate sense of direction to get you back to the car.
  3. If you hear voices close to you, they’re far away. But if the voices are far away, then they’re near: What? It can be surprisingly noisy – especially up in the high mountains where the wind makes it especially hard to hear. I’ve been in all kinds of places back in the woods and never heard voices.
  4. Do not whistle or sing in the woods: The idea is this attracts the skinwalkers to your position. If you hear a noise – especially a noise that sounds like a voice or a cry – you’re supposed to ignore it. Did I hear something just then? Oh no, you didn’t. Move along.
  5. Never look too hard into the trees: It is better – per these rules of engagement – to be oblivious, ignorant of the presence of the skinwalkers. Apparently, making eye contact is a real no-no in the skinwalker book of etiquette. 
an ai generated image of a zombie like figure
The internet is littered with alleged skinwalker sightings, but most have been obviously staged, altered, or generated with artificial intelligence (AI-generated image)

Alleged skinwalker sightings

Are the any sighting videos online? Yes, there are. Search Appalachian Skinwalkers and prepare to fall down the rabbit hole. Wait, was that even really a rabbit because there’s a video where some horses are too spooked to pass a rabbit on the trail and the internet believes that rabbit is a skinwalker and the horses aren’t fooled. But I’ll say this: the videos do creep me out. Like, I understand what’s happening with the blurry footage and dramatic music cues but they still get me. I’ve always been too gullible.

For instance, the video “Why you should never whistle (sic) at skinwalkers” starts with a creature in the distance across a brightly lit sunny field on a fine summerish day. The man in the video whistles – Rule No. 4! – and the alleged skinwalker freaks out and charges across the field while the man and his girlfriend rush to the house. They try to hustle downstairs to lock the basement door, but too late. The skinwalker is in the basement – like Marv the Wet Bandit in Home Alone – and the couple barely makes it back upstairs to lock the kitchen door. Did this video at all seem “real”? Nope. But it worked almost as well for me as the movie “Signs”.

@stojanovic05 if you are in this situaction just run #scary #paranormal #creepy #skinwalker #fyp #foryoupage ♬ original sound – urban_exploring
an ai generated image of a not deer
Not deer are creatures that look exactly like deer but when you encounter them, they behave oddly (AI-generated image)

“Not deer” sightings

Now let’s talk about the “not deer” videos. “Not deer” are creatures that look exactly like deer but when you encounter them, they act in decidedly non-deer-like fashion. The inference is these are skinwalkers in the form of deer. In the videos, the deer don’t seem to be afraid of people and they give a vibe that something is off. Maybe these deer seem smarter than your average deer and they might move oddly. I’ve seen some suggestions that these “not deer” are regular deer infected with Chronic Wasting Disease – a deer affliction that does affect animals in Tennessee.  

The most affecting videos, however, are the ones at night where you hear strange sounds in the distance. Sometimes the sounds are like screams, other times they are voices – possibly the voices of the skinwalkers’ last victim but also possibly somebody arguing loudly at the next campsite over.

an ai skinwalker
Skinwalkers are not real (AI-generated image)

Are skinwalkers real?

Are there any videos of actual sightings? There are – “something is lurking in the woods” – jumps to mind. They are usually of some kind of animal acting less than normal – a dog or horse – and the idea is a skinwalker has been caught in the process of shape-shifting. There are others with humanoid creatures in the background, fleeting glimpses, eyes glowing in the darkness, that sort of thing. Nothing definitive, of course. 

Are skinwalkers real? No. I mean, I’d like to leave a little ambiguity and say probably not but I can’t. No, there is no such thing as skinwalkers. There are no feral humans in the mountains, either.

I wish there was a monster in Loch Ness. I’d love to see a Bigfoot. I’d be extremely interested if someone proved magic was real centuries-old witches were running around the mountains shape-shifting (our entries on hiking tips for the Smokies would probably need some heavy editing, if so). But ultimately? As much as we’d like to believe in goblins and witches and things that go “wooo” in the night, I’ve been on this Earth too long to be suckered into a TikTok video with blurry footage and overly dramatic music. 

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