The Wendigo is a mythical creature that has been reported in many different forms. The legend of the Wendigo stems from Native American folklore, primarily in Algonquian-speaking tribes located in south and southeastern Canada, the Great Lakes Region, and northeastern United States. The cannibalistic forest creature is known for allegedly appearing in harsh winter conditions and cold seasons, preying upon humans in an attempt to satisfy its never-ending hunger for human flesh.
Origins of the Wendigo Legend
The legend of the Wendigo is common folklore amongst Algonquian-speaking tribes and also resembles other creatures in Native American folklore, such as the Kee-wakw and Chenoo which are described as cannibalistic monsters. Isolation caused by harsh winter conditions created fear amongst people in the northern region of the U.S. and in Canada which led to people resorting to cannibalism in order to prevent death by starvation.
There are many names for the creature, such as Windigo, Witigo, and Witiko. All names of the Wendigo translate to “evil spirit that devours mankind”. The Chippewa, Algonquian peoples, and Cree tribes are often associated with the legend as these tribes lived in the areas where Wendigo sightings have been reported, with stories of the Wendigo being passed down for generations.
The tribes would perform a ceremonial dance during harsh weather conditions and times of famine, which reinforces the seriousness of the Wendigo folklore legend. There is little information of the exact origins of the monstrous creature and stories about the Wendigo vary.
Characteristics of the Wendigo
The Wendigo has been described in various ways, with traditional descriptions of the creature slightly differing from modern-day interpretations. Traditionally, Wendigos are described as emaciated corpse-like figures with skin so tight that it creates a translucent layer of flesh and bones clearly visible. Some legends claim that the Wendigo also never stops growing and will get bigger each time it eats.
Modern interpretations often depict the monster as a tall, man-like figure with a stag head or skull with antlers and a decomposing flesh body, sometimes covered in hair. Both traditional and modern descriptions indicate that the Wendigo also has glowing eyes, yellow fangs, and a long tongue.
The most common characteristic of the Wendigo is that it is an insatiably greedy creature and Native American legends claim that one can turn Wendigo themselves if they are selfish or greedy. This comes from the fact that Wendigos are always starving and constantly in search of human flesh as they are never full no matter how much they eat. Wendigos are cursed with never-ending hunger, which is why they always look emaciated.
Wendigos are known to have powerful abilities that get stronger as they get older. The creature is described as the perfect hunter with heightened senses, swift movements, and knowing and covering all of their territory. Some legends claim the Wendigo can manipulate the weather and control forest creatures to help them attack victims. Other legends say they can regenerate their body and are unaffected by harsh weather conditions.
Wendigo psychosis is a syndrome for humans that fear they are turning Wendigo or have culminated an intense hunger for human flesh. The condition often develops in the harsh winters of the north when heavy snowfalls isolate individuals for long periods of time. Wendigo psychosis symptoms are often associated with delusions of turning into a monstrous Wendigo, poor appetite, fear of or becoming cannibalistic, and nausea and vomiting.
Individuals who feared that they were becoming Wendigo would often turn to traditional native healers in an attempt to be saved. If an individual could not be saved and turned violent to those around them, they would be executed as death is seen as the only way to treat Wendigo if one became possessed and could not be healed.
Reports of Wendigo Psychosis
There are a few reports on Wendigo encounters that date back to the 17th century. There is a document from the Jesuit Relations that claims French missionaries stumbled upon individuals with an unknown condition to them, Wendigo psychosis. The missionaries described the condition as an “ailment” that was a combination of lunacy and frenzy. The men they were supposed to meet became possessed by Wendigo and claimed to be ravenous for human flesh and would attack children, women, and men. The Jesuit men claimed they had to execute the men in order to slain the Wendigo monster that possessed them.
In 1879, a Plains Cree trapper that also served as a guide for the North West Mounted Police, known as Swift Runner, fell victim to Wendigo psychosis when he went camping in the northern woods with his wife and 6 children. Swift Runner returned a year later after the trip and claimed that his family had died of starvation. Upon investigation of the campsite, police found human carcasses picked clean and confronted Swift Runner about it. The trapper confessed to killing and eating his family and was executed by authorities.
One of the latest stories of Wendigo encounters was in the early 20th century when a man named Jack Fiddler and his brother were arrested for killing 14 people who apparently had turned Wendigo. Canadian authorities arrested Fiddler and his brother, but shortly after Fiddler committed suicide and his brother died in jail after a few days.
Sightings of the Wendigo are not nearly as common as they were prior to the 20th century, but there are still reports of encountering Wendigos in the northeastern states of the U.S. and Canada. Many people in the regions where the Wendigo legends were most popular still believe that Wendigos roam the dark forests, waiting to prey on their next victim.
Pop Culture References to the Wendigo
The Wendigo beast appears in many films, books, and video games. Famous American author Stephen King is known for his horror and supernatural stories. King includes the Wendigo in two of his novels, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Pet Sematary. A teen named Trish in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is faced with being hunted down by a creature of the forest depicted as a Wendigo. The Wendigo is the antagonist of the story and stalks Trish throughout the novel. The curse of the Wendigo appears in the book Pet Sematary and also makes a slight appearance in the movie Pet Sematary that recreated the story in 2019.
Wendigo Video Games
The Wendigo appears in Borderlands 3 released in 2019 during a mission called “The Horror in the Woods”. The video game recreates the abilities of the Wendigo by making it extremely fast and an excellent climber with antlers and a body made up of muscle tendons. The player meets the Wendigo at a cave and must fight off the Wendigo boss in order to complete the mission.
A flesh-eating monster appears in the video game Fallout 76 and has 3 different subspecies and the characteristics of the Wendigo monster that the player faces depends upon where they are in the game. The main purpose of the Wendigo in the game is to attack and eat the player if they do not have the proper weapons and armor to protect themselves.
Until Dawn is a video game where the player can control up to 8 different characters that are trapped on Blackwood Mountain. The backstory of the game relates to the syndrome of Wendigo psychosis as the miners got trapped in a mine and had to resort to cannibalism to prevent starvation, which is how the antagonistic monsters appeared on the mountain. The player has to fight off ravenous Wendigos trying to devour the characters in the game.
Seeking Evil: The Wendigo is a video game that captures the stealthiness and intelligence of the Wendigo. In the beginning of the game, the player is stranded in the darkness of a North American forest and requires strategic planning to outwit the Wendigo. The player must survive the Wendigo and get rid of the curse in order to beat the game.
Overview: What Is the Wendigo and How It Came to Be
The legends of the Wendigo are associated with the times of harsh weather conditions in the cold seasons when isolation from heavy snowfall is most common. Due to isolation, severe hunger often took a toll on many victims of the northern forests of North America. Wendigo beasts are said to possess humans, where they become trapped near the heart, and the only way to kill the Wendigo is to try to un-possess the human trapped inside or to execute both the Wendigo and the human.
Wendigo reports and sightings are most common in areas where Chippewa, Cree, and other Algonquian-speaking Native American tribes were located. Individuals who turned to cannibalism or one who was insatiably greedy would fall victim to the Wendigo possession or psychosis. The legend of the Wendigo is still very alive in some parts of the Great Lakes region and the forests of Canada. Reports of Wendigo encounters are not as common today, but people still claim the Wendigo lurks around in the dark forests waiting to prey on its next victim.