The Algonquin Wendigo
Native American myths are persistent and difficult to debunk. The Navajo Skinwalker is one such myth. Traditionalist Navajos will not talk about the Skinwalker. They believe that to do so will attract its attention. The story goes that a Skinwalker is an evil medicine man that wants power. Power to be a shapeshifter and transform into any animal they wanted. That power involves the sacrifice of a close family member.
The Skinwalker is a scary, evil creature that causes only sadness and death. It is a human that chooses to be evil.
The Algonquin Wendigo is another Native American myth that is scary. There is controversy about the Wendigo, whether it is human or spirit. The Wendigo myth is prevalent among the tribes of the Northeastern United States and Canada. The Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes of Kansas also believe in this creature. What is fascinating is the story each tribe tells how the Wendigo came to be. The tale of the Wendigo is so ancient no one knows the origin.
Each tribe has had its own experiences with this monster over time. The stories differ based on those personal experiences. Called the Wendigo, its name roughly translates to “the evil spirit that devours mankind.” Each tribe spells Wendigo differently depending on the tribe. Wendigo, Witigo, Witiko, or Wee-Tee-Go are a few of the different spellings. Some believe the Windigo is an evil spirit that possesses men who do evil deeds. Others believe that the Wendigo is a creature that hunts humans.
The one thing that all the tribes agree on is that the Wendigo is cannibalistic. The monster is also associated with murder, insatiable greed, and cultural taboos against such behavior.
Winters are rough in the Northeast and Canada, with long, cold days and lots of snow. It isn’t unusual for the plains tribes to suffer from cold, starvation, and lack of game. It is during these challenging times the Wendigo makes its appearance.
If you believe that Wendigo is an evil spirit that possesses a human. That it causes humans to kill and eat other humans; then you will love Swift Runner’s story. Swift Runner was a popular Plains Cree trapper from Alberta.
In the winter of 1878, Swift Runner moved his entire family into the woods. His wife, six children, mother-in-law, and brother disappeared into the surrounding forest. In the spring, Swift Runner told the priests of a Catholic mission they were all dead.
His story was that he was unable to hunt, so his entire family starved to death.
I have an issue with this story. Granted, Swift Runner was the family provider. Couldn’t his brother help with the hunting?
The priests didn’t buy Swift Runner’s story because he looked healthy and well-fed. If his family starved to death, why did he alone survive? Why didn’t he look hungry?
Swift Runner had horrifying dreams, and he woke up screaming. It was like his actions in the woods were torturing him. He finally led the authorities to his campsite. The horror of what they discovered is still talked about today.
There were bones everywhere, and some broken in half with the marrow sucked out. Shocked by the ghastly sight, they tried and judged Swift Runner immediately. His only defense was that the Wendigo possessed him. The jury didn’t believe him and sentenced him to hang.
Some experts are labeling this phenomenon as the “Wendigo Psychosis.” This study states that Wendigo Psychosis is “an endemic psychiatric disorder associated with culture. It manifests through compulsive, strong cannibalistic behaviors.”
There have been reports of Native Americans falling to this psychosis. Caught in cannibalistic acts, they blame the Wendigo for their horrific actions. The psychosis is people who commit terrible acts cannot live with those decisions. They blame their acts on the Wendigo. Is the Wendigo a spirit that possesses people with weak characters? Is it an excuse, or is there a Wendigo spirit?
Then you have sightings of a horrific creature described as wolflike. Emaciated with huge claws and owl-like eyes, it feeds on humans. Other descriptions state it is a large lipless creature with jagged teeth and glowing eyes. It loves to play with its victims, letting them think they escaped. It is then they pounce on their helpless prey with supernatural speed.
The most recent sighting was in November 2017 by a young lady, Evelyn. Not surprising, she wants to keep her anonymity. She and her brother were at Coal Miner’s Park, Michigan, when they heard something. Evelyn didn’t see much except for a pale tail, but her brother was scared speechless by what he saw. He described it as a pale, emaciated human with giant blue eyes, a flat nose, and thin lips. It looked down at him, blinked, and moved so fast it disappeared.
Evelyn submitted the scary encounter to the Pine Barrens Institute. The Institute is an online cryptozoological, Midwest folklore, and historic newspaper reference site based out of Janesville, Wisconsin. It records and collects data on suspected cryptids.
Even creepier is the audio a couple captured while grouse hunting in Ontario, Canada. A known location for the Wendigo to be haunting. I listened to the video, and the sounds were spooky. I have never heard a sound like that. It lends to the credence that there is something in the Canadian woods. Is it Bigfoot, or is it the Wendigo?
The Wendigo is impossible to kill and can regenerate itself when hurt. It is a shapeshifter that can transform from a physical being into a spiritual being. It can attack you, or it can enter a body possessing the person.
The tribes say the Windigo is responsible for dozens of disappearances.
The Ojibwa stories say that a Windigo is born whenever a human resorts to cannibalism. If this is true, Swift Runner didn’t become a Windigo until he decided to eat his family. Did the dark spirit enter him after his first victim? Or did it take him when he was starving, causing him to eat his family?
Stories tell of situations where heavy snowstorms strand Indians and settlers. The Donner Party is such a documented case of settlers stranded in the Sierra Madre mountains. The party caught in an early blizzard were forced to weather the winter. The story is one party member killed two people and ate them. Then members killed the Native American guides and ate them too.
Could the members of the donner party have suffered from “The Windigo Psychosis,” as well?
Some tribes believe that the Windigo is similar to the Irish Banshee. In Irish mythology, the Banshee would let out a wail that heralded death. Some of the plains tribes believe that seeing a Windigo predicted death.
The Wendigo terrorized the Citizens of Rosesu in Northern Minnesota. The town reported seeing the creature from the 1800s to the early 1920s. Each time it appeared, someone died until one day, the Wendigo stopped visiting
The sightings support the idea that the Wendigo is like the Banshee. That the Wendigo like the Banshee is a harbinger of bad news. People have reported physical sightings of the Wendigo, where people died soon after. There are stories of people possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo. Then you have tales of the Wendigo created by the terrible actions of people.
Whatever you believe, the Wendigo is an ancient myth. A myth steeped in history and lore. A tale with no indication of ever dying. The Wendigo is an enduring urban tale that suggests there are kernels of truth in the stories.
If you do take a trip to the Eastern United States and Canada? I would be careful and avoid meeting the Wendigo by not traveling during winter.