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Horror Mystery and Lore

The Insatiable Hunger of the Wendigo

Forever Wasting Away

Buck staring menacingly
Photography by Paul Johnston

Once during a brutally cold winter, there was a lost hunter whose intense hunger drove him to the unforgivable act of cannibalism; this taste of human flesh he was transformed into an insane bestial man, doomed to wander the forests awaiting his next meal. This is the story of the wendigo who is derived from the folklore of the Native Algonquian Tribes, but like any good story that came from an oral story tradition, the details vary based on who you ask and where you are—there are even those who say the Wendigo is related to Bigfoot, but most agree that the Wendigo is closer to a Werewolf. The Wendigo is said to be more of a cold-weather creature, having been sighted primarily in Canada and parts of the Northern United States, where many of the unsolved disappearances would be blamed on this beast’s cannibalistic tendencies.

This insatiable predator is certainly a sight to see—although you wouldn’t ever want to see him—despite being nearly fifteen feet tall, he appears as a hybrid between a buck and a human male, who is gaunt, emaciated, and rotting. Don’t let this fool you though, he’s incredibly dangerous with his sharp teeth and claws—nothing will save you from his obsession for finding his next meal. Forever wasting away, it’s an insatiable hunger that drives his need to kill and consume.

“The Wendigo” by Algernon Blackwood (audiobook)

More Than an Urban Legend

https://soundcloud.com/backstory/where-the-windigos-are

During the turn of the twentieth century, the Algonquian people say that numerous members of their tribe simply disappeared—they attributed these disappearances to the Wendigo. Unfortunately, this can also be associated with the legend that the Wendigo has the ability to curse humans as the Wendigo by possessing them, gradually imparting his own lust for human flesh that makes this monster so frighteningly compelling. The most famous case of this happening is that of Swift Runner; during the winter of 1879, this Native American man murdered and consumed his entire family. When questioned for his crimes, Swift Runner told the authorities that he had been possessed by a Wendigo’s spirit during the murder and cannibalism. Regardless of his claims, he was found guilty and he was sentenced to hang. Swift Runner’s case was not an abnormality amongst the tribal communities that inhabited the regions of Northern Quebec all the way to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado—so it makes us wonder whether or not the Wendigo is more than just an urban legend.

Does the Wendigo Still Exist?

There is always the potential for a Wendigo to come into existence—since the plague of this creature is that his form is a form of punishment for dishonorable or taboo activities—like chomping down on your fellow man if you’re starving to death. It makes a person wonder about the tragedy that befell the Donner party, did any Wendigos spawn from that horror story? According to the Author of Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth and History, “[the Wendigo] was a means of defining moral and social behavior, which could serve as a warning against greed and selfishness.” Other ways a Wendigo could come into being is if a medicine man or shaman cast a curse upon the man, or if the man had dreamt of the Wendigo—it was often an explanation used for mental illnesses and other afflictions before they were fully understood.

Antlers (2020)
Antlers (2020)

The real concern about the Wendigo is whether or not it actually exists in this day and age—since no one in their right mind would ever seek out such an unstoppable creature, it’s fair to say that it would be best to avoid an encounter entirely. Thankfully, a majority of sightings happened between the 1800s and the 1920s, with very few of them having had occurred since—those brave enough to seek this monster out would be more likely to catch a glimpse of the Wendigo if they look through the forests that Wendigos inhabit during the colder months of the year. Then again, tromping through the forest in the middle of winter in the harsh climate that the Wendigo is said to frequent isn’t the sanest thing a person could do.

So what do you think? Would you ever go into the blistering cold forest in search of a monster from whom there is no escape? Or would you leave his existence a mystery?

Movies Referencing the Wendigo

Wendigo

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.

Name

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”.

Physical Description

The Wendigo
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

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.

Origin

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

Windigo of the Ojibwe First Nation’s People, Retold by S. E. Schlosser

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

Movies

Television Series



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