The Wendigo (also Windigo, Wiindigoo, and numerous other variants, since the word appears in many different Native American languages and dialects) is a spirit in Anishinaabe mythology. It has also become a stock horror character much like the vampire or werewolf, although these fictional depictions often do not bear much resemblance to the original mythology.
The word “Wendigo” (pronounced wehn-dee-go) comes from the Native American Algonquian language, meaning “evil spirit that devours mankind.”
Other names include Windigo, Witiko, Weedigo, Weeghtako, Weeghteko, Weendigo, Wee-Tee-Go, Weetigo, Wehndigo, Wehtigo, Wendago, Wenigo, Wentigo, Wentiko, Wetigo, Whit-Te-Co, Whittico, Wiendigo, Wihtigo, Wiitiko, Windago, Windiga (possibly a female version), Windagoe, Windagoo, Windego, Wi’ndigo, Windikouk, Wintego, Wintigo, Wi’ntsigo, Wintsigo, Wi’tigo, Wittako, Wittikka, and Wihtikow (seeing any similarities here?). Tribal names for the creature include Atcen, Atschen, Cheno, Djenu, Ithaqua, Kokodje, Kokotsche, Outiko, and Vindiko.
The Wendigo is a terrifying beast. But because they are so swift, it is extremely difficult to get a good look at the monster. Most are tall, have long limbs, and are extremely thin (because they are always hungry). Most have no hair at all, but those that dwell in extremely cold climates can sometimes be found with snow-white, gore-stained fur or matted, bloody hair. Its maw is filled with sharp yellowed fangs, and its hands and feet end in razorlike talons. The Wendigo’s twisted lips are flecked with blood, and their long tongues are a disgusting dark blue. Its eyes are one of its most frightening aspects, which range in color from glowing red to bright yellow.
The lore on this beast is enormously diverse, all of which emphasize its size. The Wendigo is so big that the human mind is unable to fully comprehend it, and the beast’s sheer size is enough to make the human heart stop. The Wendigo is a hideous, abhorrent beast. Its gigantic maw is filled with needlelike teeth, made all the more disturbing by its lack of lips (some say that the creature’s hunger is so great that it devoured its own lips!)
Although vaguely human in appearance, it is nonetheless what most would call terribly deformed. Its enormous eyes are yellow and protuberant like an owl’s (although some say that the eyes are pushed deep into the sockets, and all that one can see is the terrible yellow glow). They are far larger than human eyes, and are said to roll about in blood. It has massive, pawlike hands that end in talons that are a foot long, while the beast’s feet are said to be three foot in length and have but a single toe, tipped with a daggerlike nail. These the Wendigo uses to slash and tear at its victims. Some legends say that the Wendigo may be missing toes, due perhaps to frostbite.
The Wendigo is a purely anthropophagous beast, hungering for human flesh. It will go to any lengths to procure this food, no matter the risk or possibility of injury. The Wendigo craves human flesh and is constantly starving for it (indicated by the beast’s lean, wiry frame). The Wendigo is known to have its preferences: the sweet fat of children, the soft skin of women, the course muscles of men (especially warriors and hunters), or the brittle bones of the elderly. In preparation for long winters (when few travelers are out and about), the Wendigo will stash away large pots filled to the rim with human remains in the highest tree branches. On rare occasions, it will take humans alive and hide them away in its lair, allowing the beast to feed whenever it wants. The Wendigo is more intelligent than many humans, and thus understands the value of storing and saving its food. However, it will only resort to this when food is scarce and it becomes desperate.
Since the Wendigo constantly hungers for human flesh, it wreaks destruction in its pursuit of its chosen prey. It crashes through the forests, all the while uprooting trees, causing game animals to stampede, and causing whirlwinds. The monster is often thought to be the cause of ice storms, tornadoes, and violent winds. All of these weather-related phenomena are believed to signal the Wendigo’s presence.
When the Wendigo hunts, it stalks the victim for long periods. The chosen victim only has a dreadful feeling of being followed. However, the Wendigo has a sadistic streak. It prefers to terrify its victims before moving in for the kill. When it has had enough of stalking the victim, it lets out a growl or a shriek, which resonates through the forest and terrifies the beast’s prey. They panic, firing weapons haphazardly into the brush as the dense forest closes in on them. Eventually, the intended victim succumbs to insanity, running wildly into the forest with abandon. In such a state, they are easy prey for the Wendigo.
The Wendigo has been known to enter cabins and other dwelling, unlocking them from the outside and slaughtering the inhabitants, then proceeding to convert the cabin into its own lair. The Wendigo tends to hibernate for long periods, ranging in length from a few months to years at a time. Once they awaken, they go into a feeding frenzy, and after having eaten enough humans, it retreats to its lair and falls back into hibernation once again.
The Wendigo inhabits the forests of the Great Lakes and Canada. The dreaded Wendigo King lives near the Windigo River in Quebec. Kenora, Ontario is thought to be the “Wendigo Capital of the World” because so many sightings and incidents have taken place there, and it attracted Wendigoes originally because it used to be tribal grounds, with many Native American settlements scattered throughout the area. Most caves, gullies, and canyons in central Canada will provide shelter for the Wendigo.
A Wendigo is rumored to live in the Cave of the Wendigo, near Mameigwass Lake in northern Ontario. Any other area named after the Wendigo, such as Windigo River and Windigo Lake in Ontario, is bound to be inhabited by this monster as well.
The Wendigo’s territory is vast, stretching from the Canadian Rockies and the Arctic Circle in the north, to the Great Lakes regions and the Dakotas. It reigns supreme across the whole of Canada.
The Wendigo is a supernatural entity of enormous power, the embodiment of insatiable hunger, gluttony, unbridled evil, and the savage predator. Befitting its bestial nature, the Wendigo possesses supernatural strength, speed, endurance, and senses. The beast is able to rip a human apart with little effort, and the Wendigo moves so quickly that it cannot be seen by the human eye. Any wounds that are inflicted on the Wendigo’s body are healed very quickly, although wounds caused by silver tend to heal very slowly. It is invulnerable to most conventional weapons, excluding arms incorporating pure silver. The Wendigo thrives in even the harshest climates, immune to extremes of cold.
The Wendigo’s senses of sight, smell, and hearing are greatly enhanced, comparable to those of many predatory animals. The Wendigo can see clearly in total darkness, and it may have some kind of infrared vision, enabling it to see its prey by detecting its bodily heat emanations. Once the Wendigo has its prey’s scent, it is able to follow it swiftly and precisely, no matter how far away the victim may be. It’s hearing is so keen that it can hear the pounding of its fear-filled victim’s heart, which causes the beast’s own heart to pound with joy and anticipation.
Besides sheer strength and animalistic ferocity, the Wendigo is armed with formidable array of weaponry: its dreaded claws and fangs. The beast’s claws have been described as icicles, reflecting its utter dominion over its freezing territory. These talons are designed for ripping through flesh with the slightest touch, and one swipe from the Wendigo’s powerful claws can disembowel or decapitate a human. The beast’s mouth is filled with long, needle-sharp fangs, made for slicing through flesh and sinew, as well as for breaking bones. The Wendigo’s fangs can easily puncture a human skull. Far from being a stupid beast, the Wendigo has a man’s intelligence and cunning, as well as the predatory instincts of an animal. It is mystically attuned to every single tree, bush, rock, hill, or cave within its territory (which can be considerably vast). The Wendigo uses this advantage to stalk its victims for hours on end, never being seen or heard unless the monster chooses to reveal itself by means of a growl or a shriek. There is no way to hide from the Wendigo, and it will not stop hunting until the victim’s broken, mutilated body lies at its clawed feet.
The Wendigo excels in stealth, and it is said that the Wendigo moves on the wind and breezes in utter silence. It can fill the air with an eerie, haunting siren by forcing the air through its blood-flecked lips. The Wendigo is able to mimic human voices, which are most often cries for help. The beast’s roar is utterly terrifying, and the fear it inspires cuts to the bone. When the freezing winds rise, it is said that the Wendigo’s howls can be distinguished from the moan of the wind, letting people nearby know that a monster lurks in their midst. For its prey, these warnings occur far too late to make any appreciable difference.
Among the Wendigo’s host of supernatural abilities, the Wendigo Fever is perhaps the most feared. It is a terrible curse, overtaking the mind and body of the unfortunate victim. The first symptom of the curse is a strange scent, detectable only to the intended victim. After absorbing this disturbing odor, the victim experiences a long night of weeping and horrifying nightmares. Upon awakening, the victim experiences a burning pain in the legs and feet, which becomes so intense that the victim runs into the forest, shrieking like a maniac, and discarding clothing and shoes all the while. Most of the curse’s victims never return, although those who do return are irrevocably insane from their experiences of the curse and the Wendigo itself. It is thought that most of the curse’s victims are devoured by the Wendigo.
The Wendigo, although a dire threat to mankind, shares a close kinship with the forest’s wildlife, mainly predatory animals (such as the wolf, bear, raven, or eagle). The beast willingly shares its kills with these companions, and these animals have been known to travel with the Wendigo.
As the Wendigo grows older, its powers over nature increase exponentially. The beast becomes a shaman, extremely adept in the dark arts. With this power, the Wendigo can manipulate the weather, creating storms of terrifying strength, and the beast can summon the midnight darkness hours before sunset. The Wendigo may summon dangerous beasts from the deepest, darkest reaches of the forest and command them to attack its enemies, traverse enormous distances in the blink of an eye, and heal any wounds instantaneously (although injuries inflicted by silver may take longer to heal).
Despite the beast’s immeasurable amount of power, there are ways to protect oneself from the Wendigo. If one is hunting this creature, a fire must be kept burning at all times. This will deter the Wendigo from attacking, but only for so long. If burned, the wounds will quickly heal and will only make the beast angry.
Any means of mystical protection should be employed (amulets, protective spells, fetishes, and charms), as these things hold power over the Wendigo. Headphones or earplugs must be used to block out the beast’s maddening shrieks. However, one’s surest defense and greatest chance of survival during the Wendigo’s attack is a firearm loaded with silver bullets, and a silvered blade (such as a sword or a knife).
The Wendigo cannot be hurt or killed by conventional methods or weapons, including blades or firearms. However, silver is lethal to the Wendigo. Silver bullets or a pure silver blade (or silvered steel) can cause the Wendigo great pain and can even kill the beast.
In order to permanently destroy the Wendigo, one must first find the beast. The Great Lakes region and the forests of Canada are prime Wendigo territory. Beware, for the hunter may soon become the hunted. After finding and incapacitating the beast (no easy task, be assured), a silver stake must be driven through the Wendigo’s heart of ice, therefore shattering it. The shards of the Wendigo’s heart must be securely locked in a silver box and buried in consecrated ground (such as a churchyard or a cemetery).
The Wendigo’s body must then be dismembered with a silver-plated axe, and each piece of the body must be salted and burned to ashes (which must then be scattered to the four winds), or each piece must be hidden in some remote, inaccessible location (i.e. the bottom of a lake, a chasm, the sea floor, or a well). Failure to follow these procedures exactly will inevitably result in the Wendigo’s resurrection, followed by its bloody vengeance. It will hunt down its killer, relishing and anticipating the taste of the hunter’s blood in every single moment. Rest assured, the death that follows will be both slow and painful. The Wendigo will take great pleasure in every single bit of agony it inflicts on its killer before finishing the job and devouring the remains. Beware, as according to some legends, the Wendigo is indestructible.
Exactly how and when the first Wendigo came to be is lost to history and legend. But ever since that time, the Wendigo has haunted the Great Lakes woodland and the cold forests of Canada for hundreds of years. Among all creatures in Native American legend, the Wendigo is the most feared and powerful. The Wendigo was once a man that broke a tribal taboo and ate human flesh. A malignant spirit possesses the cannibal, and the Wendigo is born.
How does one become the Wendigo? There are numerous ways among the Native American people, but the most common method is for a man to willingly engage in cannibalism. Hunters, campers, and hikers (not necessarily Native Americans) most often travel with a companion, someone with whom they are good friends and are able to trust. Although a rarity, when these people become hopelessly lost and eventually run out of supplies, they inevitably turn on each other. Morality has no part of nature’s law. In the end, only the strongest live and kills the other. The victor then feasts on the flesh of the corpse. This heinous, blasphemous act is all that is needed to summon a malevolent spirit of the forest.
The spirit forcibly possesses the cannibal’s body, forcing the human soul out. The moment the cannibal is touched by supernatural forces, he is overcome by extreme nausea and pain. He starts vomiting uncontrollably, for hours at a time. Eventually, the cannibal loses enormous quantities of blood, and inevitably dies. However, the body undergoes a terrifying transformation. The body grows in strength and height, growing a thick coat of white fur. The human’s strength and weight increases greatly, gaining supernatural powers in the process. The head takes on the features of a predatory beast, including the growth of prominent fangs and sharp teeth. The fingernails and toenails grow into sharpened talons, completing the transformation. The cannibal is then resurrected by the evil spirit, no longer a man, but a bloodlusting beast known as the Wendigo.
Although cannibalism is the most common and potent method, one can become the Wendigo through other means as well. Another common means is when a tribe is faced with a dire threat, a brave warrior prays to an evil spirit of the forest. The spirit agrees, possessing the warrior and transforming him into the Wendigo. This new form possesses more than enough power to deal with the threat, and after eliminating it, the warrior-turned-monster flees into the forest, never to be seen again.
The Wendigo’s spirit has been known to jump from body to body as its own body wears out, and possessing an individual causes them to become the beast. Dreaming of the Wendigo is another method, probably caused by possession during the night. Like other supernatural beings, the Wendigo is able to infect humans by biting them, causing the victim to become another Wendigo. A sorcerer’s curse will bring the transformation on as well.
However, there are depraved individuals who are willing to become monsters. They start by fasting for days at a time, and then journey into the forest. There, they offer their flesh to the Wendigo. Instead of devouring them, the Wendigo may decide to adopt the human as one of its own children. Over time, they become hairy, start to grow claws and fangs, develop a craving for raw human flesh, gain supernatural abilities, and become a Wendigo themselves (although these individuals are weaker than the monster that adopted them).
The Native Americans once feared (and still do) the Wendigo so much that small groups of brave, armed men once actively hunted the beast in the past. One, a Cree Indian by the name of Jack Fiddler, had claimed to have killed fourteen Wendigoes during his lifetime. He and his son, Joseph, were tried for the murder of a Wendigo-possessed woman on October 7, 1907. Both men pleaded guilty for the crime, explaining that the unfortunate woman had been possessed by the Wendigo’s spirit. On the verge of completing the transformation, the Fiddlers killed her with silver bullets, which they said had to be done before she turned on the tribe. As one can imagine, the judge and the jury were probably more than a little skeptical of the idea of the alleged “possession” of the woman.
In the end, the Wendigo is notoriously difficult to destroy, nearly impossible to escape, and will sooner or later devour its chosen victim. Its howl echoes throughout the surrounding area for miles, turning the blood of those who hear the Wendigo’s cry into ice. Not a monster that one could encounter and hope to survive.
The Wendigo in Native American mythology
In the mythology of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of Native Americans, the Wendigo is a malevolent supernatural creature. It is usually described as a giant with a heart of ice; sometimes it is thought to be entirely made of ice. Its body is skeletal and deformed, with missing lips and toes. According to Native American mythology, it can be killed by shattering its heart of ice.
The Wendigo was usually presumed to have once been human. Different origins of the Wendigo are described in variations of the myth. A hunter may become the Wendigo when encountering it in the forest at night, or when becoming possessed by its spirit in a dream. When the cannibalistic element of the myth is stressed, it is assumed that anyone who eats corpses in a famine becomes a Wendigo as a result. The only way to destroy a Wendigo is to melt its heart of ice. In recent times, it has been identified with Sasquatch or Bigfoot by cryptozoologists, but there is little evidence in the indigenous folklore for it being a similar creature.
Perhaps this myth was used as a deterrent and cautionary tale among northern tribes whose winters were long and bitter and whose hunting parties often were trapped in storms with no recourse but to consume members of their own party. It could be indicative of starvation that the Wendigo is said to consume moss and other unpalatable food when human flesh is unavailable. Its physical deformities are suggestive of starvation and frostbite, so the Wendigo may be a myth based on a personification of the hardships of winter and the taboo of cannibalism.
Actual Wendigo murder trials took place in Canada around the beginning of the 20th century. The anthropologist Morton Teicher has described the alleged clinical condition of believing oneself to be a Wendigo, which he calls Windigo Psychosis (note the spelling in this context: Windigo, rather than Wendigo).
In some stories a Wendigo will follow a lone wanderer for a long time. When the prey becomes suspicious and turns around the Wendigo always manages to get out of sight by hiding behind a tree. After a while the followed person starts to become hysterical and runs until he makes an error. The Wendigo then strikes. If someone actually survives a Wendigo attack they get the Wendigo-fever: after a night of nightmares and pain in their legs, Wendigo-fevered people strip themselves naked and run into the forest screaming.
In Cree mythology, the Windigo was a man-eating monster that was killed by the trickster hero Wesakechak and an ermine which he persuaded to help him.
Windigo Psychosis is the medical term given to those people presumed "windigo" (cannibalistic). The term applies to the Algonquin Ojibway, as well as Cree (Witigo). It is hard to pin down any real biological causes, as hunger seems to be the only one. Rather it is more likely that windigo psychosis was a cultural disease. The most commonly known cure for windigo psychosis is bear fat or bear grease.
The Wendigo in literature
However, Blackwood's Wendigo is not a former human, but a primordial pre-human spirit, in keeping with Blackwood's private nature mysticism.
As Canadian author Margaret Atwood points out, Nash's description is only partly true to the legend, since the Wendigo does not have blubbery lips, much less tentacles.
The Wendigo in film and television