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Monday, December 15, 2008


Shapeshifting has often been related to witchcraft. According to the basic, European legends surrounding witches, a witch often performed a summonings ceremony to call forth a familiar. According to the culture and region, the witch was either able to see through the familiar's eyes and access its other senses in various fashions, or literally shapeshift into its form. But American folklore brings its own twist to this belief: that of the slip-skin.

According to much folklore, American witches are able to "slip-skin" - that is, remove their skin to reveal an animal beneath, thought to be their "true form." Most witches did this at night - some even used spinning wheels to accomplish the task - largely so they could go about, causing mischief.

As witches were killed with silver and this was young America, silver bullets were the usual manner of dispatch in these tales. In several, a strange creature, or domesticated animal acting strangely, is shot but survives. Shortly thereafter, a woman bearing the animal's same wound(s) comes to light.

The slip-skin belief seems to be isolated to America; European folklore leans more heavily toward witches' associations with their familiars. It may have its roots in American Indian beliefs in shapeshifters, which also used the slip-skin method to change form. Shapeshifters were prevalent in American Indians' beliefs.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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