If you’re a fan of Stephen King, horror movies, science fiction novels, or the show Supernatural, there is a pretty good chance you’ve heard of the windigo. But do you know where–or more importantly, from whom– this story originated?
The wendigo is a mythological creature which is said to have devoured the Native Americans who dared to go into the forests of the Great Lakes Region but the wendigo is not a mere legend.
It responds to a fascinating anthropological system, which articulated the values of the Angloquian tribes, the first inhabitants of the forests of Canada and the United States.
For millennia, oral tradition has kept the wendigo alive, and popular culture continues to feed it. Who or what is the wendigo? How do you escape from it, if at all?
According to Algonquin legends, the wendigo haunts the northern forests of the United States and Canada, always looking for people to eat.
The windigo, sometimes spelled wendigo or weendigo, is believed to be the spirit of winter and a symbol of the dangers of selfishness. Although beliefs vary, the windigo is generally considered a horrifying entity with an insatiable taste for human flesh. Anyone who encounters a windigo risks being devoured or even being turned into a windigo.
As the tale goes, the wendigo was once a lost hunter. During a brutally cold winter, this man’s intense hunger drove him to cannibalism. After feasting on another human’s flesh, he transformed into a crazed man-beast, roaming the forest in search of more people to eat.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Algonquian tribes blamed many unsolved disappearances of people on wendigo attacks.
What Does The Wendigo Look Like?
For being an insatiable predator, the wendigo is definitely not the largest or most muscular beast out there. Though he is said to be almost 15 feet tall, his body is often described as emaciated.
Perhaps this can be attributed to the notion that he is never satisfied with his cannibalistic urges. Obsessed with hunting for new victims, he is forever hungry until he’s eating another person.
According to ethnohistorian Nathan Carlson, it’s also been said that the wendigo has large, sharp claws and massive eyes like an owl. However, some other people simply describe the wendigo as a skeleton-like figure with ash-toned skin.
Unlike other terrifying carnivores, the wendigo doesn’t rely on pursuing his prey in order to capture and eat it. Rather, one of his creepiest traits is his ability to mimic human voices. He uses this skill to lure people in and draw them away from civilization. Once they’re isolated in the desolate depths of the wilderness, he attacks them and then feasts on them.
The Algonquian people say that during the turn of the 20th century, a large number of their people went missing. The tribes attributed many of the mysterious disappearances to the wendigo, thus calling him the “spirit of lonely places.”
Once he has infiltrated their minds, he can turn them into wendigos as well, instilling upon them a similar lust for human flesh.
One of the most infamous cases is the story of Swift Runner, a Native American man who murdered and ate his whole family during the winter of 1879. According to Animal Planet, Swift Runner claimed to be possessed by a “windigo spirit” at the time of the murders. Still, he was hanged for his crime.
popular depictions of the windigo as a ravenous animal have also displaced the original emphasis that Indigenous people placed on the windigo as a lesson on human greed
Is The “Real” Wendigo Still Out There Today?
The vast majority of supposed wendigo sightings happened between the 1800s and 1920s. Few reports of the creature have surfaced since then.
But every so often, an alleged sighting emerges. Most recently in 2019, mysterious howls in the Canadian wilderness led some to question whether they were caused by the infamous man-beast.
One hiker who was present said, “I’ve heard many different animals in the wild but nothing like this.”
Today, the windigo has become a fixture in North American popular culture and is a frequent subject in film and literature all over the world. It is featured in novels such as Rick Yancy’s The Curse of the Windigo and Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. The windigo also appears in Marvel comics, video games, and even the cartoon My Little Pony. Non-Native writers seem to be fascinated by the windigo.
However, their depictions of the windigo vary considerably from those presented by Indigenous authors. These differences speak volumes about how non-Native people tend to simplify Indigenous beliefs and often strip them of cultural context in the process.