The Elusive Wendigo

"An old Indian healer once shared with me the tale;
Of the Wendigo, a creature tall, hairless, and pale.

It walks like a man and is as thin as a blade of grass.
It has eyes of red fire and sagging skin the color of ash.

The creature was once a man, who in a lean winter ate his brother.
According to the decrees of the gods no man should eat another.

Death is a part of life’s mystical circle, this is how our spirits are freed.
The man should have bravely accepted his fate, his sin was greed.

Gaunt and lean as a starving wolf in the dead chill of a long winter.
The creatures’ twisted features are hardly as thick as a splinter.

The creatures’ extreme emaciation is caused by an insatiable lust.
This endless hunger is a punishment for gluttony both fitting and just.

Possession by a Wendigo, makes the proudest of men most humble.
A raging tempest of pain, the creatures’ mind is an unbalanced jumble.

A voracious glutton, reeking of death, full of corruption and sin.
This was the old Indians’ warning of the trouble that cannibals get in.

"

The Wendigo

, John Drydin

This poem by American poet, John Drydin, is based on the Algonquin legend of the Wendigo. This mythical creature was believed by some tribes, to be an evil spirit that possesses cannibals, the word Wendigo means "evil spirit that devours mankind" (Hanaran, 2005). This myth was created by the Algonquian people to enforce the taboo of cannibalism. They used the idea a terrifying supernatural being to keep tribes from devouring each other during times of famine. The rituals and ceremonies performed by the great lakes tribes were a necessary means of survival in a harsh climate (The Sacred, 1977). The Wendigo has even attained a place modern American pop-culture horror films and literature. Not only does the creature live on in the entertainment industry, it has endured in the legends of the native tribes of the north eastern United States.

The creature’s name is pronounced different in different cultures, the term Wendigo comes from the Algonquian Objibwe tribe.(Wendigo-monstropidiea, 2010) in most cultures the Wendigo is a malevolent spirit that possesses cannibalistic humans, and some believe it to be a supernatural creature known as the skin walker. There are even tribes who believed that in times of dire need a mighty warrior could become a Wendigo, by offering his flesh to another Wendigo, to save his tribe. Most native cultures believe that death is a natural part of life, and that willfully eating another human is an unforgivable taboo. Many tribes have annual ceremonies in autumn to ward away evil Wendigo spirits. Legends of the creature’s appearance, and supernatural powers would be enough to terrify the most hardened of men.

According to the legends these ghastly creatures are difficult to find, but hard to miss when a person does manage to track one down. While individual tribes have differing descriptions, and definitions of wendigo, they all agree that the monsters are gigantic in stature. Most cultures also agree that Wendigo are mostly hairless, with a grey ashy skin tone. The creatures are said to be thin to the point of emaciation. This seems to be tied to the belief that these brutish creatures are bound by an insatiable hunger, as part of their punishment for eating human flesh. The cultures that believe the Wendigo to be a living thing, tend to paint it as a mixture of animal and man, similar to the European werewolf. While most tribes believe the Wendigo to be an earth bound being, some believe it to be of a more spiritual nature.

Some tribes believe the Wendigo to be an evil spirit capable of possessing men, and transforming them into horrifying monsters. Other tribes believe it to be a giant with a heart of ice that grows with every human it eats(Monstropedia, 2010). The creatures’ sunken fiery eyes seem to be concurrent in all descriptions of the Wendigo, suggesting a strong connection to the world of spirits. Some tribes believe that the spirit of the Wendigo possesses men guilty of some form of immorality, in their sleep. Whether the creature is part of the physical world or an escaped spirit, the creatures’ legacy lives on in modern American culture.

The Wendigo, by Algeron Blackwood, is the first novel written about the Algonquin man eater. The story is about a small group of white trappers and their native guide, who venture too deep into the forests of the north east. Modern author, Stephen King, wrote a book called Pet Cemetery, in which the Wendigo is an antagonizing spirit. In Kings’ book, a man who disturbs the sanctity of an Indian burial ground is beset by the avenging spirit of the Wendigo. Many popular TV shows, and even a comic book line have featured the Wendigo (usually as the villain). The Wendigo has even spawned some rare mental disorders.

Wendigo-psychosis is the name given to a mental disorder characterized by a belief that one has become a Wendigo. This disorder seems to be similar to another disorder called Lycanthropy, when a person believes they are a werewolf. All documented cases of both disorders are "culture bound", meaning that they are experienced by people of the race from which the legend comes. Another form of Wendigo-psychosis is the belief that one is a "hunter" of Wendigo. The last documented case of this disorder was the 1907 slaying of an Algonquin woman by Jack and Joseph Fiddler (Monstropedia, 2010). Jack Fiddler was an Algonquin "healer" who claimed to have killed fourteen Wendigo, some of which he enlisted the help of his son Joseph. As rare as this culture bound disorder is, sightings of the actual creature are even rarer. Most are reported in and around the Great Lakes region of North America. It seems strange to me that such a curious creature could be so obscure in modern culture.

It was not easy to find factual information on the Wendigo, most of the knowledge on the creature is locked in the memory of an ancient people. What facts I have found are almost as interesting as the legends of the Algonquians. The story of the Wendigo has fascinated me for quite some time, and I thought that this obscure myth should by brought into the light of day. What I have found in my research reinforces my belief that aboriginal people world wide share similar origins.

The religious aspect of the Wendigo is still alive in the autumn rituals performed by the tribes of the north east. It seems to me that the Wendigo myth was essential to the survival of the people who created it. Our text The Sacred, expounds on the importance of ritual and drama in the day-to-day lives of native American people. The myth of the Wendigo not only reinforced the cannibalism taboo, but it also served as a means of ensuring morality. Without a moral code no culture can advance to higher stages of enlightenment. An old teacher of mine, named Running Rabbit, once told that religion is what keeps men tied to their creator. Through my research, and the studies in this class I can now see that the Mojave elder was right.

Bibliography

Beck, Peggy V., and Anna Lee Walters. The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College, 1977. Print

Blackwood, Algernon. Wendigo. [S.l.]: General, 2010. Print

Hanrahan, Gareth. Monster Encyclopedia. Swindon: Mongoose., 2005. Print

King, Stephen. Pet Cemetery. New York: Pocket, 2001. Print

"Wendigo - Monstropedia - the Largest Encyclopedia about Monsters." Main Page - Monstropedia - the Largest Encyclopedia about Monsters. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <

http://www.monstropedia.org/index.php?title=Wendigo >.


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Synopsis
A brief report on one of America's most elusive mythological beings, the Algonquain Wendigo
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