Updated: Nov 24, 2020
There are several legends of monsters that pique my interest, and one from Native American lore is the Wendigo. This cryptid did not appear in the realm of my curiosity until after I saw the episode “Wendigo” on the TV show Supernatural. I wanted to know if it was real or at least based in fact, so I started researching. It was not too far off in the realm of reality from the show, which was surprising. I suppose that was when my interest in cryptids was truly born.
Now for those of you who may not know what a Wendigo is let’s discuss it.
“The Wendigo is a creature or evil spirit from the folklore of the First Nations Algonquian tribes based in the northern forests of Nova Scotia, the East Coast of Canada, and the Great Lakes Regions of Canada and the United States.” – Wikipedia.
According to the lore of the Algonquin-speaking tribes, this creature is described as a giant or much larger than normal human beings. The tribes associated with these legends include the Ojibwe, the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Naskapi, and the Innu. Though descriptions can vary a bit the Wendigo is often considered to be a malevolent, cannibalistic, supernatural being that is associated with the north, winter, and famine.
How did the Wendigo come into existence?
According to the tribal legends, the malevolent spirit appears whenever a human resorts to cannibalism to survive. Legends spoke of a gigantic entity that stood over fifteen feet tall that had once been human. It is believed that the actual Wendigo spirit possessed the human to have a physical form, and the human had been transformed by the use of magic.
According to Basil H. Johnston, an Ojibwe teacher and scholar from Ontario,
“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.”
It is also said this creature has unparalleled hunting skills including stealth, knowing every inch of its territory. It can control the weather through dark magic and is said to be a near-perfect hunter.
Wendigos are said to be cursed to wander the land, eternally seeking to fulfill their gluttonous appetite for human flesh and if there is nothing left to eat, it will starve to death. The question remains does the spirit of the Wendigo die or does it seek out another host?
Yet, there is another possible explanation for these creatures, psychosis. This is where I find the story turns from an intriguing one to a sad one. There are many accounts of people being “possessed” by the spirit of a Wendigo, consuming human flesh, then returning to civilization. These are known as the controversial modern medical term, Wendigo psychosis, described by psychiatrists as a culture-bound syndrome with symptoms such as an intense craving for human flesh and fear of becoming a cannibal. Does this explain the phenomenon and what people do see in the woods? I am not sure. It does pose another question, could a person expel the possessing spirit much as we have heard in cases of demonic possession? Again, I am not sure.
When it comes to the legends of the Wendigo, much like any cryptid, I am left with more questions than answers. For instance, why is the spirit of the Wendigo only associated with North America? Or is it like we have seen with the Fae where these spirits are everywhere but known by another name? The only thing I do know is a lot more research is needed into this creature.