Wendigos intersect many of the stories of America’s strangest places. But what is the folklore behind these strange creatures? Although Wendigos exist in several different Native American tribes, the most infamous of these stories seem to hail from the Great Lakes Region, all the way up to central Canada. Although the stories paint the Wendigo in different ways, there always seems to be one similarity: they represent what happens when you break society’s taboos.
According to some legends of the Wendigo...they don’t exist outside of humans. In fact, becoming a Wendigo is the punishment for very human failings...failings so intense that they fundamentally make humans inhuman. It is believed that a Wendigo is created whenever a human being consumes human flesh. The act of consuming human flesh creates an insatiable hunger for human flesh and Wendigos then are compelled to hunt humans.
These creatures are incredibly malevolent, terrifying creatures. They are usually associated with greed, murder, and cannibalism. It makes sense that one of the most horrific creatures in Native American folklore focuses on these three traits, especially given the difficult winters the Great Lakes Region is known for. A single person displaying these traits could have the power to bring down an entire hunting party or even an entire community.
Physically, the creatures are quite revolting. They are said to be humanoid creatures with some animal-like features, like long yellow fangs, claws, and lolling tongues. Wendigos are always depicted as being bigger than an average human but woefully underweight, which is a nod to their constant state of never being sated with enough human flesh. Their eyes also purportedly glow red, which makes them easy to identify in the dead of night. But their eyes are their only hindrance in hunting humans. They are said to be stealthy, have excellent tracking skills, and, in some cases, can even use dark magic in their hunt for humans.
If one becomes a Wendigo, or if people suspect someone is in the process of turning into a Wendigo there is only one answer: to kill the Wendigo. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a reverse to the curse of becoming a Wendigo. However, the bit of person that remains inside the horrendous body of the Wendigo does have a chance to have their soul saved. It is believed that by ritually killing a Wendigo, you can save the human soul that resides within it.
Although it is not always heavily discussed or represented in art regarding Wendigos, they are often believed to be coated in ice. In particular, their human heart would be displayed in ice - the only reminder that this beast was once a person.
Ultimately, the Wendigo myth seems to promote community and urge others to avoid gluttony, murder, and cannibalism even in the face of a cold winter.
Thanks to Brandon W for the suggestion for this blogstonishing topic!
This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Attribution: Paul LaRocque. It is of Wendigo Lake.