A Wendigo (also known as windigo, weendigo, windago, windiga, witiko, wihtikow, and numerous other
variants including manaha) is a half-beast creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian peoples along the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of both the United States and Canada. The creature or spirit could either possess characteristics of a human or a monster that had physically transformed from a person. It is particularly associated with cannibalism. The Algonquian believed those who indulged in eating human flesh were at particular risk; the legend appears to have reinforced the taboo against the practice of cannibalism. It is often described in Algonquian mythology as a balance of nature.
The legend lends its name to the disputed modern medical term Wendigo psychosis. This is supposed to be a culture-bound disorder that features symptoms such as an intense craving for human flesh and a fear the sufferer is a cannibal. This condition was alleged to have occurred among Algonquian native cultures, but remains disputed.
The Wendigo legend has inspired a number of derived characters commonly found in modern horror fiction.
From Ojibwe wiindigoo. Originally from Proto-Algonquian *wi·nteko·wa ("owl").
Compare Cree wihtikow ("greedy person; cannibal; giant man-eating monster").
Alternative spellings: windigo, wiindigoo, windago.
Folk History Edit
The Wendigo is part of the traditional belief systems of various Buffalo people in the northern United States and Canada, most notably the Ojibwe and Saulteaux, theCree, the Naskapi, and the Innu people. Although descriptions varied somewhat, common to all these cultures was the conception of Wendigos as malevolent,cannibalistic, supernatural beings (manitous) of great spiritual power. They were strongly associated with the winter, the north, and coldness, as well as with famineand starvation.
At the same time, Wendigos were embodiments of gluttony, greed, and excess: never satisfied after killing and consuming one person, they were constantly searching for new victims. In some traditions, humans who became overpowered by greed could turn into Wendigos; the Wendigo myth thus served as a method of encouraging cooperation and moderation.
Among the Ojibwe, Eastern Cree, Westmain Swampy Cree, Naskapi, and Innu, Wendigos were said to be giants, many times larger than human beings (a characteristic absent from the Wendigo myth in the other Algonquian cultures). Whenever a Wendigo ate another person, it would grow in proportion to the meal it had just eaten, so that it could never be full. Therefore, Wendigos were portrayed as simultaneously gluttonous and emaciated from starvation.
Human Wendigos Edit
All cultures in which the Wendigo myth appeared shared the belief that human beings could turn into Wendigos if they ever resorted to cannibalism, or, alternatively, become possessed by the demonic spirit of a Wendigo, often in a dream. Once transformed, a person would become violent and obsessed with eating human flesh. The most frequent cause of transformation into a Wendigo was if a person had resorted to cannibalism, consuming the body of another human in order to keep from starving to death during a time of extreme hardship, for example in hard winters, or famine.
Among northern Algonquian cultures, cannibalism, even to save one's own life, was viewed as a serious taboo; the proper response to famine was suicide or resignation to death. On one level, the Wendigo myth thus worked as a deterrent and a warning against resorting to cannibalism; those who did would become wendigo monsters themselves.
List of Texts/Media Edit
- In the long-running TV series Supernatural , the brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, the main protagonists, find a Wendigo in the middle of the woods that is preying on a group of campers. They track it to its den, where they attempt to bring it down. Even when shot with a rifle, they only succeed in aggravating it. Dean, however, is able to kill it using a flare gun.