Around 17,500 years ago, a dramatically abrupt period of warming brought about the end of the last Ice Age. For centuries, this allowed people to travel from what is now Siberia to Alaska. Hopeful Native Americans then settled from coast to coast. However, about 12,800 years ago, a period of rapid cooling began in the late Pleistocene. The seemingly endless winter that this brought on lasted until about 11,500 years ago, and during that harsh time, many of the indigenous tribes encountered something nearly unspeakable. According to ancient Native American folklore the “Wiindigoo”, “Windigo”, or “Wendigo” is a mythical man-eating creature/evil spirit, native to the northern forests of the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Region of the US and Canada.
Although the Wendigo has been spotted in many different places, there is a place in Ontario called the “Cave of the Wendigo” on lake Mameigwess that is very active. Along with this, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, there were dozens and dozens of sightings in Minnesota. Each time it was seen strange deaths in the community would follow. Typically speaking, the Wendigo appears as a monster with some of the more basic characteristics of a human or as a kind of demon who has possessed someone and then made them become monstrous. It is traditionally associated with cannibalism and corruption. In some current tribes, invasive colonization, environmental destruction, and capitalistic greed are also seen as manifestations of the Wendigo. This being is also part of a larger class of malicious cannibalistic entities, which includes the Wechuge in the myths of the Athabaskan people of the Northwest Pacific Coast. Of course, it’s considered to be enlightened with ancestral insights, and not completely insane like the Wendigo. Apparently, having to resort to eating each other was less taboo on the west coast than on the east coast of the continent.
Regardless, nowadays, there are basically two distinct versions of what the Wendigo actually looks like. According to modern urban legend, the Wendigo has the head of a stag, sometimes only in skull form. These contemporary cryptids supposedly roam the wilderness on cold, dark nights in search of human prey. This version of the Wendigo seems to be the result of some kind of relatively recent animistic atavism, which seems to be far more Eurocentric in nature and origin. This is the version that was made use of on the TV show “Hannibal”, which features a well-known fictitious cannibal killer. It is more akin to the kind of thing that one finds in modern-day supernatural fiction, like the monster that Algernon Blackwood alluded to in his 1910 novella “The Wendigo”.
In contrast to this, according to traditional ancient tribal folklore, the Wendigo is incredibly gaunt to the point of emaciation, with its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. Supposedly, its complexion is the ash-gray of death, and its eyes are pushed way back deep into their sockets. Essentially, this classic version of the Wendigo looked like a giant skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. These evil unclean monsters also suffer from suppuration of the flesh. So, it is said that the Wendigo gives off a noxious odor of decay and decomposition. The Wendigo is absolutely hideous with jagged teeth and an overly long tongue. The only thing that I don’t like about the image below is that the Wendigo isn’t supposed to have lips or toes of any kind.
The old “spirit of lonely places” is a vicious beast with an insatiable appetite for human flesh, and it is said to grow larger with each person that it consumes. Plus, the bigger they get, the hungrier they become. The artist rendering above shows the Wendigo hunched over. This is because they tower over their victims, so in some cases, a person might only be the size of one of the beast’s fingers. The point is that these giant ghouls are just ghastly. This otherworldly entity is altogether evil and capable of the most despicable acts of cruelty. It is believed that the Wendigo can telepathically control woodland creatures and that it enters the mind of a human in order to slowly plague their thoughts.
During the winter of 1878, a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta named Swift Runner committed a series of heinous crimes that have become legendary. The man and his family were starving, and his eldest son eventually died. Then, Swift Runner secretly ate some of his son’s body and quickly developed a taste for human flesh. Although they were only 25 miles from a supply post, which wouldn’t have really been all that far to them, Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five remaining children. So, given that he resorted to cannibalism so near to food supplies, and that he killed and consumed the remains of all those present, it was revealed that Swift Runner had really succumbed to what was known as “Wendigo psychosis”. Nonetheless, even though he had probably been possessed by an evil spirit, Swift Runner eventually confessed and was summarily executed by the authorities at Fort Saskatchewan.
What do you think? Was Swift Runner just driven crazy by hunger or was he actually guided by the sinister will of the Wendigo? Is it really all just the same thing? Think about it. Is the Wendigo just a metaphor for greed, or is it a myth about some nightmarish supernatural dark force, or is it a real-life blood-thirsty monster? The way I see it, no matter what it is or isn’t, I hope to never encounter one. Whether this is just basically some kind of Lovecraftian cosmic horror or not, I can’t imagine ever wanting to meet the Wendigo in real life. Still, if it should ever happen to you, be mindful of two important things. Whenever the Wendigo is encountered in physical form they say that it can be harmed by fire, and whenever it is encountered in a metaphysical form then you must never give in to the terrible voices in your head. The bottom line is that if you ever become isolated and desperate, beware of the Wendigo.