Monster of the Week: The Wendigo

“Wendigo” by Carver Edlund

The Wendigo, “Spirit of the Lonely Places,” is a monster of the forests of the Eastern United States and Canada—areas of North America with long, cold winters. The Wendigo is said by the Algonquian peoples to be a wild anthropophagic creature created by a human having been possessed by a demonic Manitou spirit. (The name “wendigo” may apply to either the evil spirit or the inhabited physical creature.) Legends state that a person becomes a Wendigo by the consumption of human flesh. Other stories tell of people “going Wendigo” through dark shamanic magic or by being bitten by one (as with werewolves), but survival of a Wendigo attack is rare, and a gradual transformation due to cannibalism, whether out of desperation or choice, is the most commonly cited cause of infection.

Written mentions of the Wendigo can be found in reports of sightings from seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries and in the early eighteenth-century diaries of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Court records of Eastern Canadian provinces in the early twentieth century include many trials of shamans and others who killed people suspected of carrying the infection.

The Wendigo (plural: Windigowag) is vaguely humanoid, yet of great height, with an emaciated body, glowing eyes and a look of ghoulish decay about it. Though always remaining gaunt and lanky, the Wendigo grows larger every time it feeds, so its hunger for human flesh is unending. Some tribes say that the Wendigo has a literal heart of ice, making fire a valuable weapon when facing one, and the burning of a bested Wendigo a common precaution.

Defense Against the Wendigo

The Wendigo is said to be susceptible to weapons of silver, but Windigowag have also been depicted in Native American stories as having been dispatched by repeated stabs to the head by a normal blade. Another tale tells of a woman able to thwart a Wendigo attack at her home by throwing a bucket of water outside her front door to make the approach icy as night fell. Then, after lying in wait through the night until the Wendigo came for her, she hacked at it with an axe when it slipped on the ice. Windigowag may also be tricked by clever potential victims into leaving them alone, but don’t count on this tactic: the Wendigo is a wily and agile hunter, and unlike most other fearsome forest-dwelling creatures, it is able to use human speech to lure or mislead its prey.  Descriptions of the voice of the Wendigo range from a wind-like whisper to a shrill and terrifying yowl. The sound of the Wendigo’s voice has been known to disorient and frighten those that hear it to the point of madness and even death.

Another approach to dealing with a Wendigo is for a medicine man to attempt to cure the infected person, especially one who has not yet completely changed. Unlike some other monstrous human transformations like vampirism and lycanthropy, “wendigoism” is a curable affliction in its early stages. Exorcism may also be attempted through performance of Jiisakiiwin, the shamanic “shaking tent” ceremony.

The Wendigo in Literature and Popular Culture

The Wendigo is mentioned in American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha as well as being the title character in a story by British writer Algernon Blackwood, and appears in Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary.

The Incredible Hulk #162, April 1973

The Incredible Hulk #162, April 1973

Wendigo (or Wen-Di-Go) is a Canadian monster borne of a supernatural curse that has come up against Marvel comics heroes The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine, amongst others. In the Marvel universe, Wendigo is white and fur-covered, but otherwise has traits similar to those of traditional representations of the Wendigo.

In the popular Dungeons & Dragons modification Pathfinder, the Wendigo is a chaotic evil, elk-like humanoid monster with great antlers and blackened stumps where feet should be.

TeenWolfWendy

Sean the Wendigo on Teen Wolf

Season 4, episode 3 (“Muted”) of Teen Wolf features a Wendigo family with a meat locker full of frozen corpses. Dr. Deaton captures a Wendigo in Season 4, episode 11, “A Promise to the Dead,” before the Wendigo is able to eat its latest victim. The Wendigo creatures of Teen Wolf appear human, but during a shapeshift their eyes glow and teeth sharpen.

The ghostly windigo of  MLP:FiM

The ghostly windigo of MLP:FiM

The eleventh episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Season 2, “Hearth’s Warming Eve,” describes “windigos” as malevolent winter spirits. They are equine in shape, but spectral. They appear in a pageant play about the founding of Equestria with themes of cooperation in the face of starvation. In the play, the windigos are defeated when they are burned by the Fire of Friendship.

Ben's wendigo Halloween mask

Ben’s wendigo Halloween mask

“Wendigo” is the title of the second episode of Supernatural, and the Wendigo is mentioned in several other episodes. In the Season 1 episode “Wendigo,” the Winchesters attempt to protect themselves from a Wendigo that has captured some young campers by using Anasazi symbols (unusually, the creature in the episode resides in Colorado), but Dean is nevertheless snatched up. He leaves a trail of peanut M&Ms to help the others track him. The boys eventually destroy the creature through creative use of a flare gun. (When a Wendigo appeared on the 12th episode of Season 1 of Charmed, that monster was also eventually killed with a flare gun.)

So if you find yourself in the forests of subarctic Canada during a dark winter, we suggest carefully avoiding the eating of human flesh whenever possible, and keeping an axe and a flare gun on hand, just in case.


A Wendigo Tale

Read “The Wendigos and the Bone-Dwarf


Further reading:

Blackwood, Algernon. The Willows, the Wendigo, and Other Horrors. Original story published in 1910.
Coleman, Loren. “Songs Long Ago of the Wendigo.” Cryptomundo, 2009.
Hibbard, Chris. “The Many Faces of the Wendigo.” 2008.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Song of Hiawatha. 1855.
Schwartz, Alvin (Ed.) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. 1981.

9 thoughts on “Monster of the Week: The Wendigo

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