Appearing in myths from the Great Lakes and regions north and west, told by the Cree, Algonquin, Ojibwe, and Mi’kmaq peoples, among others, the nature of the Wendigo varies wildly. However there are two common threads Cold and Hunger.
The Wendigo, a supernatural being from the forests of the Northern United States and Canada, it’s said to be half specter, half beast, and to prey on humans, especially children.
As the line of the American Frontier (i.e., contrasting region at the edge of a European-American line of settlement) was pushed westward in the 1700s a curious legend slipped through the cracks, and the attempts to hunt down and capture this legend go on today. While this creature is considered by many to be the creation of horror writer Algernon Blackwood in his classic horror tale “The Wendigo”, that is far from the truth, for many legends and stories existed, even before the arrival of European settlers, about a mysterious man-eating creature who was encountered by inhabitants of the shadowy forests of the upper regions of the United States.
“Called Wendigo, Windigo, Whitiko, Atchen, Chenoo, or a host of other names by different peoples, the legend of the cannibal spirit who brings snow and hunger with its cloven gait was just as terrifying to settlers as it was to natives. The people and the places that created the Wendigo are colonized now –mapped and measured— a thousand cultures swallowed up by trading posts and concrete roads. But the memory of the Wendigo and all it represents haunts the collective imagination of America, as a howling reminder of colonial dispossession.”
-Jackson Eflin, Incursion Into Wendigo Territory, 2014-
Appearing in myths from the Great Lakes and regions north and west, told by the Cree, Algonquin, Ojibwe, and Mi’kmaq peoples, amongst others, the nature of the Wendigo varies wildly. However there are two common threads Cold and Hunger.
In all the stories, a tribe’s village will often be having trouble feeding itself due to the scarcity of game or other machinations of a Wendigo in the area, for a Wendigo will use many tricks –from vanishing the meat off of living game to mimicking the face or voice of a hunter— to lure its prey/victims away from home where it will eat or possess them, turning them into Wendigo themselves.
In these stories, the killing of the Wendigo –usually by destroying its icy heart— signals the end of starvation, and in some cases the end of winter and the coming of summer.
The spirit was said to have a voracious appetite for human flesh and the many forest dwellers who disappeared over the years were said to be victims of the monster. In one variation of the story, the creature could only be seen if it faced head-on, because it was so thin that it could not be seen from the side.
The Native Americans have many tales of the Wendigo. The Inuit Indians called the creature by various names, including Witigo, Witiko and Wee-Tee-Go but each of them is roughly translated to mean "the evil spirit that devours mankind."
Native American versions of the creature spoke of a gigantic spirit that had once been human but had been transformed by the use of magic. Though all of the descriptions of the creature vary slightly, the Wendigo is generally said to have hollow eyes, long yellowed fangs and an overly long tongue. They are tall and lanky and are driven by a horrible hunger.
Even into the last century, Native Americans actively believed in and searched for the Wendigo. One of the most famous Wendigo hunters was a Cree Indian named Jack Fiddler. He claimed to kill at least 14 of the creatures in his lifetime, although the last murder resulted in his imprisonment at the age of 87. In October 1907, Fiddler and his son, Joseph, were tried for the murder of a Cree Indian woman. They both pleaded guilty to the crime but defended themselves by stating that the woman had been possessed by the spirit of a Wendigo and was on the verge of transforming into one entirely. According to their defense, she had to be killed before she murdered other members of the tribe.
There are still many stories told of Wendigos that have been seen in northern Ontario, near the Cave of the Wendigo, and around the town of Kenora, where a creature has been spotted by traders, trackers, and trappers for decades. There are also many who still believe that the Wendigo roams the woods and the prairies of northern Minnesota and Canada.
-Eflin, J. 2014. Incursion Into Wendigo Territory. Digital Literature Review 9, Ball State University.
-Blackman, W. Haden - Field Guide to North American Monsters (1998)
-Guiley, Rosemary Ellen - Atlas of the Mysterious in North America (1995)