Date of Discovery
While the Wendigo existed in Algonquian oral traditions for many centuries before the Europeans arrived in North America, the first written account of the Wendigo was in a letter from Paul Le Jeune in 1636.
Alternative spellings for the Wendigo are Wiindigoo, Windigo, Weendigo, Windego, Wiindgoo, Windgo, Weendigo, Wiindigoo, Windago, Windiga, Wendego, Windagoo, Widjigo, Wiijigoo, Wijigo, Weejigo, Wìdjigò, Wintigo, Wentigo, Wehndigo, Wentiko, Windgoe, Windgo, Wintsigo. Windigoag is a plural form (also spelled Windegoag, Wiindigooag, or Windikouk.)
In the Native Algonquian language, Wendigo translates to, “evil spirit,” or “cannibal spirit”.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly which version of the Wendigo is more authentic–some portrayals of this beast simply call him a formerly human, but now a frozen monster. Artistic depictions of this version generally present an inhuman, gray-sallow skinned creature with a ghastly mouth full of sharp teeth, long jagged claws, as well as a set of large, dark, sunken eyes. Other characterizations of the Wendigo show him as a monstrous malformed buck, whose head is mostly just a skull with bits of fur and flesh rotting and falling off.
The Wendigo is most famously known as being from the Algonquian Native American tribe, but it’s also known to be in the legends of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes as well.
Mythology and Lore
The storm lasted so long that they thought they would starve. Finally, when the wind and swirling snow had died away to just a memory, the father, who was a brave warrior, ventured outside. The next storm was already on the horizon, but if food was not found soon, the family would starve.
Keeping his knife and spear close, he ventured out upon the most-frequently-used game trail, watching intently for some sign, in the newly-fallen snow, of animal footprints or movement of any kind. The forest lay deep and oddly silent under its gleaming coating of ice and snow. Every creature of sense lay deep within its burrow and slept. Still, the warrior hunted, knowing how desperate his family had become.
As he moved through the eerie stillness, broken only by the soft caress of the wind, he heard a strange hissing noise. It came from everywhere and nowhere at once. The warrior stopped, his heart pounding. That was when he saw the blood-soaked footprints appearing on the path in front of him. He gripped his knife tightly, knowing that somewhere, watching him, was a Windigo.
He had learned about the Windigo at his father’s knee. It was a large creature, as tall as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth. Its breath was a strange hiss, its footprints full of blood, and it ate any man, woman or child who ventured into its territory. And those were the lucky ones. Sometimes, the Windigo chose to possess a person instead, and then the luckless individual became a Windigo himself, hunting down those he had once loved and feasting upon their flesh.
The warrior knew he would have just one chance to prevail over the Windigo. After that, he would die. Or… the thought was too terrible to complete.
Slowly, he backed away from the bloody footprints, listening to the hissing sound. Was it stronger in one direction? He gripped spear in one hand, knife in the other. Then the snowbank to his left erupted as a creature as tall as a tree leaped out at him. He dove to one side, rolling into the snow so that his clothing was covered and he became hard to see in the gray twilight of the approaching storm
The Windigo whirled its massive frame and the warrior threw the spear. It struck the creature’s chest, but the Windigo just shook it off as if it were a toy. The warrior crouched behind a small tree as the creature searched the torn-up snow for a trace of him. Perhaps one more chance.
The Windigo loomed over his hiding place, its sharp eyes seeing the outline of him against the tree. It bent down, long arms reaching. The warrior leaped forward as if to embrace the creature and thrust his knife into its fathomless black eye. The Windigo howled in pain as the blade of the knife sliced into its brain cavity. It tried to pull him off of its chest, but the warrior clung to the creature, stabbing it again and again in the eyes, the head.
The Windigo collapsed to the ground, bleeding profusely, almost crushing the warrior beneath its bulk. He pulled himself loose and stared at the creature, which blended in with its white surroundings so well that he would not have seen it save for the blood pouring from its eyes and ears and scalp. Then the outline of the creature grew misty and it vanished, leaving only a pool of blood to indicate where it had fallen.
Shaken, the warrior, heart pounding with fear and fatigue, turned for home. He was weakened by lack of food but knew that the storm would break soon and he would die if he did not seek shelter.
At the edge of the wood, he found himself face to face with a red fox. It was a fat old creature, its muzzle lined with gray. The creature stood still as if it had been brought to him as a reward for killing the Windigo. With a prayer of thanksgiving, the warrior killed the fox and took it home to his starving family. The meat lasted for many days until the final storm had blown itself out and the warrior could safely hunt once more.
Modern Pop-Culture References
Books & Literature
- Pet Sematary (1983)
- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)
- The Curse of the Wendigo (2010)
- Wendigo: A Thriller (2018)
- Wendigo Road (2018)
- The Wendigo (2020)
- The Manitou (1978)
- Wendigo (1978)
- Pet Sematary (1989)
- Ravenous (1999)
- Wendigo (2001)
- Pet Sematary (2019)
- Antlers (2020)
Is there anything we missed about the Wendigo? Let us know in the comments section below!
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.