The Wendigo is a cannibalistic beast from Native American folklore and legend.
The word wendigo (pronounced wehn-dee-go) comes from the Native American Algonquian language, meaning “evil spirit that devours mankind.”
The Wendigo is known by many First Nations people across the United States and Canada, and there are at least forty known (although not all of them are listed here). Other names that the beast is known by 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 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.
The Wendigo's territory is vast, ranging 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.
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 is a purely anthropophagous beast, hungering for human flesh constantly. It will go to any lengths to procure this food, no matter the risk or possibility of injury.
It cannot be emphasized enough that the Wendigo constantly hungers for human flesh, and no matter how much it eats, it always feels as if it is starving to death. So powerful is this hunger that the Wendigo goes forth crashing through the forests and 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 weather. All of these weather-related events are believed to be signs of the creature's presence.Aside from its never-ending hunger for human flesh, the Wendigo's dirt is quite varied. It eats rotten wood, mushrooms, lichen, moss, and other plants. The beast may also hunt wild game like deer, wild boar, rodents, reptiles, birds, fish, and other animals. Like an animal, the monster always eats its food raw. However, the aforementioned foods only serve as appetizers: the Wendigo constantly craves human flesh, and it can never have enough.
The Wendigo is a terrifying beast. But because the beast is 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 razor-sharp talons. The Wendigo’s twisted lips are flecked with blood, and their long tongues are a disgusting dark blue.
The lore on the Wendigo is incredibly diverse, but all emphasize the sheer size of the beast. The beast is said to be anywhere from eight to fifteen feet in height, but the Wendigo's size alone cannot be comprehended by the human mind, and the creature's staggering size is enough to cause cardiac arrest in a healthy, full-grown man. In addition, the monster is unrelenting and the sheer rage of the beast is unending. In proportion to its great size and weight, the beast also has superhuman strength.
Regarding appearances, the Wendigo is a hideous, abhorrent creature that is extremely tall, gaunt, and skeletal in appearance, and its complexion is said to be an ashy-grey color. Its eyes are said to glow red or yellow, and are pushed deeply into their sockets. In some stories, the creature grows larger with each victim it consumes. In this way, the Wendigo is cursed never to know the satisfaction of a full stomach. Its gigantic maw is filled with long, needlelike teeth, made all the more apparent by its lack of lips, a disturbing feature that some say were lost to the Wendigo's own hunger! Through its mouth comes an evil hissing that rivals storms in volume and is said to be able to be heard for miles. The Wendigo breathes forth a cloud of odor that reeks of rancid meat and decay, causing people to flee in panic, while those who cannot escape (a very low number indeed) pass out and are devoured by the beast. This is yet another sign that the Wendigo is once again on the hunt.Although vaguely human in appearance, the Wendigo is nonetheless terribly disfigured. Its eyes are yellow and protuberant like an owl's, but they are much larger and roll about in blood (although some say that the eyes are pushed deep into the sockets, and all that one can see is the terrible yellow glow). Its body is said to be muscular, yet emaciated from its constant hunger. The beast has massive pawlike hands that end in talons that are a foot or more in length, while the creature's feet are said to be three feet long, ending with a single toe tipped with a long, daggerlike nail, which the Wendigo uses to slash and tear at its prey. Some legends state that the Wendigo has been seen to be missing some toes, perhaps due to frostbite.
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.
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, besides having a taste for cannibalism and wanton murder, is usually held to be responsible for any and all possible misfortunes and disasters that could possibly befall a man. If a hunter freezes to death, if a family starves, a young man or a woman disappears on a vision quest, or one falls victim to an animal attack, the Wendigo is blamed. If a normally healthy and energetic individual suddenly becomes depressed, demented, starts to hallucinate, or even becomes senile, the Wendigo’s influences are thought to be the cause. The beast is also blamed for cold spells, bad weather, a lack of game, famine, disease, or any other natural disasters, including tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, thunderstorms, or a sudden frost.
Although the Wendigo can be either male or female, it is predominantly male, displaying traits that are usually considered to be masculine: anger, physical aggression, and large size. The Wendigo is a solitary, fiercely territorial beast, and the Wendigo does not like to share its territory at all, even with a female. In fact, if a male and a female should actually ever meet, a brutal fight ensues, and the winner devours the loser. Either that, or the loser is burned, the icy heart is pounded into pieces, and the remains are melted in a fire.
According to some legends, it is said that the Wendigo sometimes hunts in packs with others of its kind. If so, this is only on the rarest occasion, since the Wendigo is fiercely territorial and insanely violent. Most likely, this is a trait of the once-human Wendigo, and not the beast of legend. It is said that these creatures even enjoy playing kickball...with the skulls of their victims.
The Wendigo tends to be more active during the winter, having a tendency for going on seasonal rampages. Those in the beast's presence may feel chills, and oftentimes the Wendigo's arrival is preceded by blizzards.
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.
Perhaps due to its sheer size, bestial rage, and supernatural nature, the Wendigo possesses supernatural strength, which is described as “prodigious, superhuman, and irresistible.” The Ojibwe describe the beast’s strength as “omnipotent and fierce.” The creature can literally disembowel a grown man with one swipe of its clawed hand, a frequent occurrence according to those Native Americans who have encountered the Wendigo and lived to tell the tale. It devours horses, tall men, and grizzly bears in a single gulp. When the Wendigo walks through the forest, its fury and bloodlust are so powerful that, as it lashes out, tree trunks are ripped asunder, thick branches snap, and great gashes are torn through the earth, leaving behind a path of destruction not unlike a tornado.
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. Its 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.
Another signature trait of the Wendigo is its deafening voice, said to be louder than thunder. The beast's roars are ear-splitting in volume, especially when the creature is on the hunt. While stalking its prey, the Wendigo makes long growls and shrieks that frighten its prey, causing them to panic and flee wildly into the forest. The winds howl, the earth shakes, and animals go mad with fear. The monster literally tears up the earth with a single bellow.
The Wendigo is virtually indestructible and, regardless of the weather, next to nothing can stop or slow the beast down. It glides over the surfaces of lakes and rivers without sinking, and if the beast chooses to dive, it may stay underwater for hours on end without having to resurface for air. The Wendigo’s fury creates waves of tremendous size and strength, swamping and overturning boats that are miles away. On another note, the Wendigo is reputed to be a prodigious shapeshifter, able to assume the form of any animal it desires (quite possibly, this could also include human form).
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 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.
Protection from the Wendigo
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. Throwing feces may also distract the Wendigo, perhaps allowing time to escape from the beast, if only temporarily. It may also avert possession by the Wendigo's spirit.
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).
Slaying the Wendigo
One of the Wendigo’s most prominent traits in Native American lore is that the creature’s heart is made of pure ice, but according to some variations of the legend, the beast’s entire body is composed of ice. In fact, the only way to kill the beast is to shatter or otherwise destroy the creature’s heart. This is best done by piercing the heart with a blade of pure silver (however, some stories say that the beast may be slain by driving a copper rod through the heart). The heart may be excised and melted over a fire as well. Either way, the Wendigo’s head must be cut off (easier said than done), and the body must be dismembered. These parts must then be burnt to ashes, and the ashes scattered to the wind. Throwing feces may also distract the Wendigo, perhaps allowing time to escape from the beast, if only temporarily.
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.
Becoming a Wendigo
As far as becoming a Wendigo, it is surmised that most of these beasts which now stalk the dark forests were once human. It isn’t difficult to “turn Wendigo,” as the Native Americans say. There are, as far as any can tell, two types of Wendigo: there is the beast itself, and then there is a human that has been possessed by the Wendigo’s spirit. The latter variety is more common than the spirit-beast that is so feared by the Native Americans. Once possessed, the individual grows larger, becomes stronger, and the victim's visage becomes hideously ugly. In addition, the possessed individual develops powerful cannibalistic urges, even going so far as to prey and feed on it's own former friends and family. Furthermore, the individual becomes feral in appearance and stares maniacally at potential prey. Finally, the heart freezes completely. The individual is now no longer human, developing preternatural strength and speed, and gains the cunning of an animal. At this point, the gnawing cravings for human flesh become irrepressible, and the Wendigo must now hunt and feed, or perish from the eternal starvation that defines the Wendigo. Some victims, having become this beast themselves, retained enough of their human conscience to know that what they are doing is a terrible sin, and in moments of sanity, they have wished for nothing more than death to put an end to their eternal misery.
At this point, the Wendigo-possessed man must be forcefully subdued by ten strong men, bound tightly, and hung over a fire, as it is believed that the smoke will exorcise the evil spirit. If this doesn't work, the creature must be killed immediately. In this way, everyone is kept safe from the beast's depredations (the Native Americans, like many cultures around the world, find cannibalism to be a disgusting taboo).Some legends say that the Wendigo was once an Indian who was transformed by dark magic or the gnawing pains of starvation. In addition to this, a heinous act that is the moral equivalent of cannibalism can turn a man into a monster. This includes the unprovoked killing of a fellow tribesman, violating a religious taboo, incest, premeditated murder within the tribe, or even a fleeting cannibalistic thought. Even an innocent person who dreams of the Wendigo or encounters the beast's spirit in a vision will become an anthropophagous monster upon awakening. It may also occur during a vision quest, and if the youth doesn't reject the Wendigo's spirit forcefully enough, he will become a Wendigo himself.Starvation, if it persists long enough to cause one's moral views to blur, may cause a person to become a Wendigo. Eating another part of a person (i.e. fingernail clippings, pieces of skin, feces, or hair) will induce a cannibalistic hunger for human flesh in the individual, who will most likely transform soon afterwards. A man may also become a Wendigo due to enemy sorcery, and in this way, entire families can be affected and turned.
According to Native American culture, there are numerous ways among the Native American people in which a person might assume the form of the Wendigo, 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). Humans may also become Wendigos by making physical contact with the monster or by being attacked or bitten by the beast and managing to survive.
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.
Nobody knows how old the Wendigo truly is, nor from whence it came. The Indians say that the Wendigo has always walked among humans, a timeless spirit of eternal winter. However, folklorists believe that the beast’s origins lie in the ancient past. The Cree believe that the Wendigo came into being when the first humans arose, and was instructed by the Great Spirit to rule over the wilderness and the wild beasts of the forest. Many have come to associate the monster with the “olden days,” before the coming of the white man and even before the Indians themselves, perhaps dating back to prehistoric, primordial times. Like God and the spirits of the earth, the Wendigo itself is eternal.
The Native Americans once (and still do) feared 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.
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