What is Wendigo?
Wendigo is the monster of Native American lore. It reflects Native Americans spiritual beliefs and social values. It has three major symbolic interpretations-
- The incarnation of winter
- The desperation of hunger
- The personification of selfishness
According to legend, the wendigo is a physical being, a hideous monster that stalks the northern woods, desperate to hunger.
Different stories have different definitions of the wendigo. In the modern interpretation, it has the head of a stag or the head of an antler. But no such appearance of wendigo is found in the traditional Algonquian folklore.
In other stories, the wendigo is a malevolent spirit that takes control of man’s bodies cursing them with an incurable need to consume human flesh. It is believed that whenever wendigo eats flesh it grows in proportion to the meal so the bigger the meal, the bigger they grew and this describes their insatiable hunger for flesh.
History and origin of Wendigo
The wendigo legend originates from the Algonquian language family.
The Algonquian language family is one of the largest native groups of North America. Because of its widespread distribution wendigo has different names, spelling and stories. All the communities which share wendigo stories have long harsh winters with heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures. They have limited resources and have fear of starvation.
According to them, the wendigo is a giant, fast, tall human cannibal. They have sharp teeth and claws and lips are often cracked or completely destroyed. They have a heart of ice with an unending hunger for human flesh. They can run across trees. With their presence comes a foul smell and a sudden blizzard.
It is believed that almost all wendigo begins as human and later transformed with no gender identification. But how does one become a wendigo?
The most common myth is that wendigo are made by eating human flesh. But there are other beliefs also like one can become wendigo by dreaming about them or by the curse of the shaman. Someone who is not having inner peace might be at risk of becoming one. Some communities believe that it can also be caused by a spiritual imbalance or by choosing the self over the community. There was also a time when famine was so bad that people resort to cannibalism for their survival.
Algonquian people shared this lore through oral tradition. There are several variations of the wendigo. But the origin of the legends began with the indigenous tribe inhabiting the northern woodlands, Atlantic coast and Great lakes region.
There were numerous cases where people committed horrible crimes and claimed that they were possessed by the wendigo. In 1978 a Native American man named Swift Runner butchered and ate his whole family. He claimed that he was possessed by an evil spirit called wendigo. These types of cases led the people to believe that it might be a serious mental issue.
Wendigo showed up in psychiatry. In the 1920s and 30s, “wendigo psychosis”, a cultural bound mental illness said to be a disorder that drove people to cannibalism or cannibalistic thoughts. But no subjects have been found with the supposed condition. Today most scholars reject this theory.
It is featured in novels like Rick Yancy’s The Curse of the Wendigo and Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery.
They also appear in many films, television shows (Supernatural), comics (Marvel’s Wendigo), even in the cartoon My Little Pony and video games.
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There is no doubt that the wendigo myth has changed and evolved. How the wendigo manifests itself totally depends on the individual’s belief. Like all monsters, we need to find its original purpose.
Wendigo attacks lonely humans. For many, wendigo serves as a reminder to live in communities, not in isolation and one should never eat other humans.
Nowadays wendigo has gained a lot of popularity through the internet. There are many videos are available on the internet which claims the presence of wendigo in the woods.
Wendigos may not be real. They are actually normal humans who have been affected by eating human flesh. But if they are real then there is a need for more research to prove their presence.