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What is a Wendigo? The wendigo (also called windigo, wheetigo, windikouk, wi'ntsigo, wi'tigo and wittikka, with the plural form wendigoag) is a horrific man-eating creature of North American folklore, most specifically of the First Nations Algonquian tribes. What is a Wendigo?  It is described as a monster that possesses some human characteristics but has been possessed by a demonic being or entity, causing it to become monstrous.

What is a Wendigo? According to the legends, the wendigoag dwell in the north woods of Minnesota, the forests of the Great Lake Region, and the central regions of Canada. They are often associated with acts of murder and cannibalism as well as an insatiable appetite. The name itself, “wendigo,” roughly translates to “the evil spirit that devours mankind,” and the wendigoag certainly live up to it. No matter how much flesh they consume, they still won’t be sated and would still need more.

The Monster That Devours Flesh

What is a Wendigo? The appearance of wendigoag is said to be reflection of this all-consuming hunger. In most tales, they look like emaciated beasts, their frames so thin you could see their bones. And yet despite this gauntness, they still stand tall, with the Algonquians describing them as “giants with a heart of ice.”

This association with ice is not accidental. Indeed, there is said to be a strong link between the wendigoag and winter. They are said to be creatures of the north and of extreme cold, associated with hunger and famine.

What is a Wendigo? Additionally, though there are differences in many accounts, most agree that the wendigoag have ash-colored skin, giving off a sense of decay and death. Their lips are tattered and bloody, and their teeth are extremely sharp and pointy. Some are said to have terrible long claws and long tongues, along with a horribly bad breath. In yet other depictions, wendigoag are covered with matted hair or possess antlers or horns like a ram.   

How Did the Wendigoag Came To Be?

What is a Wendigo? As with most creatures of lore, there are various accounts of how the wendigoag first appeared. But the most common is that they were once human beings who become monsters because they resorted to monstrous acts for survival, specifically cannibalism. It most often happens when tribesmen find themselves stranded in the bitter snow with no way of getting food. Sometimes, they have no choice but to consume the flesh of the fallen, if only to prevent the same fate. But such a taboo act has far more dire consequences, and those who partake in become overcome by evil spirits and turn into actual grotesque monsters.

Perfect Predators

The wendigoag are said to be the perfect predators as they are fast and stealthy. What’s more, they possess deep knowledge of the lands on which they roam, knowing each crook and corner and thus understanding how to capture their prey easily. Their stamina is high and they are said to be as fast as the wind, allowing them to chase their prey without struggle. If that isn’t terrifying enough, they are said to also be able to control the weather through the dark magic imbued in them.

The Wendigo Psychosis

What is a Wendigo? Aside from being the stuff of legend, the wendigo also lends its name to a historical phenomenon known as the wendigo psychosis. Humans were reportedly possessed by the wendigo spirit and were led to perform the atrocious act of cannibalism in order to survive.

One of the most well-known cases of wendigo psychosis happened in the winter of 1878 in Alberta, Canada. There was a Plains Cree trapper named Swift Runner who slayed and devoured his own wife and five remaining children. Not sated, he even proceeded to eat the remains of all those present. Such excess meant that it is not a case of mere cannibalism as a last resort but of wendigo psychosis. What makes it all more tragic and horrifying is that Swift Runner and his family were only 25 miles away from the emergency food supplies at a Hudson’s Bay Company post. Eventually, Swift Runner confessed his crimes and the authorities at Fort Saskatchewan executed him.

Behind the Folklore

What is a Wendigo? The wendigo is more than just a myth, especially for the Native Americans who have been telling their stories for a long time. The concept of the wendigo can be applied to more than just greed and hunger for human flesh. It could also be any selfish greed that leads to destructive consequences, often at the expense of the community, infecting its people to consume and consume some more.

The presence of the wendigo indicates disharmony and imbalance with the environment surrounding it. There is chaos, there is exclusion, and there is assimilation. Through the Native American lens, the wendigo could even be interpreted as colonialism made flesh. As such, the wendigo acts as a powerful metaphor where a being uses its powers to consume all that it can.



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