According to legend, the Wendigo, a beast with an insatiable hunger, is cursed to wander the lands for eternity.

Sara B
Photo byBy Henry Letham/Adobe

The Wendigo is an Algonquin native legend and has taken on many forms in other native tribes, such as the Eastern Cree, Saulteaux, Westmain Swampy Cree, Naskapi, and Innu Peoples. It goes by several names, Witigo, Witiko, and Windigo, another spelling.

Yet, whichever spelling you prefer, it still translates to ¨the evil spirit that devours mankind¨—evoking feelings of insatiable greed, hunger, and the need to cannibalize and commit murder to those who fall under a spell, possessing the human to do its dirty work. The legend began amongst the tribes who had to resort to cannibalism to survive, especially during the long cold winters when supplies and food sources were no longer available; this is how the Wendigo was created.

The Wendigo is said to inhabit the Great Lakes region and the east coast forests of Canada. An evil spirit, sometimes depicted as a creature with human-like characteristics, is believed to have once been a human but transformed into an evil spirit when it took up the practice of cannibalism—cursed to wander the land, eternally seeking to fill its appetite for human flesh.

A giant with glowing eyes, long yellowed fangs, and a longer than average tongue, sallow yellowish skin; however, others say it is matted with hair, tall and slim. Its stealth-like movements make it the perfect hunter, able to control the weather with dark magic and mimic the human voice to lure prey. With superhuman speed and strength, that is powered by consuming human flesh.

The Algonquian legend describes the Wendigo as:

"a giant with a heart of ice; sometimes, it is thought to be entirely made of ice. Its body is skeletal and deformed, with missing lips and toes."

Basil H. Johnston, an Ojibwe scholar, describes the Wendigo as:

¨The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation; its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets; the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody ... Unclean and suffering from suppuration of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption¨

The Wendigo is never satisfied, glutenous, greedy, and constantly searching for new victims; however, was this myth created for those to be thankful for what they have and not always searching for something?

Psychiatrists state this is a diagnosis for people with an intense craving for human flesh and fear of becoming a cannibal. It usually occurs in the people living in the Great Lakes, Canada, and the US regions, more commonly in the winter months. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, a poor appetite, and a delusion of being transformed into a Wendigo.

The legend believes this is because the Wendigo has possessed their body; modern-day psychiatrists call it, ¨Wendigo Psychosis¨.

In cases of wendigo psychosis, the Cree folklore recommends treatment by eating fatty animal meats or drinking animal grease; they will vomit, eliminating the spirit that has taken over the human body, creating the need for cannibalism. However, many who suffered from wendigo psychosis have also been killed to prevent them individually from becoming a cannibal.

One such instance of wendigo psychosis involved a trapper from Alberta named Swift Runner. In the winter of 1878, he and his family were starving, and his oldest son died. He and his family lived 25 miles from the emergency food supply, and Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five children. Some say he was so near to the food supply he did not resort to cannibalism as a last resort but because he had wendigo psychosis. He confessed and was later executed.

The frequency of ¨Wendigo Psychosis¨ decreased in the 20th century when people began living closer to each other and developing more western ideologies. However, in the 2004 treaties Revenge of the Windigo, James B. Waldrom wrote in regards to Wendigo Psychosis:

¨ No cases of windigo psychosis have ever been studied, and Lou Marano's scathing critique in 1985 should have killed off the cannibal monster within the psychiatric annals. The windigo, however, continues to seek revenge for this attempted scholarly execution by periodically duping unsuspecting passers-by, like psychiatrists, into believing that windigo psychosis not only exists but that a psychiatrist could conceivably encounter a patient suffering from this disorder in his or her practice today! Windigo psychosis may well be the most perfect example of the construction of an Aboriginal mental disorder by the scholarly professions, and its persistence dramatically underscores how constructions of the Aboriginal by these professions have, like Frankenstein's monster, taken on a life of their own.¨

Some questioned the syndrome's legitimacy claiming to have invented cases to justify the victim's ostracism or execution. They had nothing to do with the Wendigo and only a justification for their actions. Really who knows what goes through someone's head or if the Wendigo possesses them?

Ontario, Canada, has been named the Wendigo Capital of the world because so many sightings have been reported. In northern Ontario, there lies Cave of the Wendigo, and reports of spotting the Wendigo have continued until this day, roaming the woods.

All legends began from someone seeing something, and for it to last the test of time makes me wonder if the Wendigo is sitting out there waiting for its next victim to fulfill its insatiable hunger.

Comments / 21

Published by

I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news.

Pasadena, CA

More from Sara B

Comments / 0