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Wendigo – Native Americans’ Legendary Terrifying Beast

by Sankalan Baidya
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Wendigo – Native Americans' Legendary Terrifying Beast

Every culture has a legend or two that is outright bone-chilling and terrifying. The Wendigo is one such legend of the Native Americans. The legend has been passed down from generation to generation. Algonquian people primarily living in North America are the ones who believe more in the Wendigo (Windigo or Windego) story. Apart from the Algonquian tribe, similar stories can also be found among other Native American tribes such as the Iroquois. Iroquois people have a separate version of Wendigo which is known as Stonecast. However, the two creatures – Wendigo and Stonecast share uncanny resemblance with each other and are considered to terrifying beasts that are hellbent on devouring the mankind.

About Wendigo – Meaning, Appearance and Legend

Meaning:

Okay, we know that Wendigo is a beast in Native American legends. However, one question that we can ask is, ‘what is the meaning of Wendigo?’ The question comes naturally because legends are based on either real-life incidents or are simply the manifestations of man’s attempt to differentiate and give a face to what he usually considers evil or good.

Wendigo is no different. This legendary beast is nothing more than an evil spirit that is hellbent on devouring the mankind. Of course the concept of God and Evil comes in but it worth noticing that some people even manage to come up with alternative explanations. For instance, in 1860 a German explorer ended up stating that Wendigoag (plural of Wendigo) are nothing but cannibals that have this insatiable hunger for human flesh. The explorer explained that no matter how much of human meat the eat, they will always remain hungry.

Appearance:

As far as the appearance of the beast is concerned, there is a widespread notion that Wendigoag are very thin. This physical form, according to the believers, is an outcome of their insatiable hunger. However, despite being thin, Wendigoag are described as large monsters that are described to be very tall – as tall as 14.8 feet or 4.5 meters. They are also described to have long tongue, long and yellow fangs and glowing eyes. Some say that they have rotting skin which others say that they have matte hair covering their entire bodies. Slight variations may be found among Algonquian people but more or less, all descriptions eventually paint the image of a terrifying animal-looking beast.

Legend:

Now a very logical question is, ‘where do the Wendigoag come from?’ This is where cannibalism and evil are clubbed together. It is widely believed that the Wendigoag were actually humans but they transformed into this terrifying beast after they resorted to cannibalism. As per this version of the legend, whenever a person gets involved in cannibalism and eats the flesh of another human being, even if such a move is just an outcome of survival instinct, the evil spirit takes control of the cannibalistic person and transforms him or her into a Wendigo.

The Legend of a Warrior Turned Wendigo – The Deal With the Devil

Deal with the Devil is kind of a common cross-cultural notion that has been floating around in thin ether for ages. Someone brave and courageous and honest at heart will make a deal with the Devil and give his soul in exchange of superpowers that will help the person to save his people. A similar legend is also associated with the tale of the terrifying beast.

It is said that there was once a very brave and courageous warrior who had to make such a deal with the Devil to eventually help his own tribe. According to the deal, the Devil transformed the warrior into a Wendigo and in return of his soul. The Wendigo then defeated those forces that tried to annihilate his tribe and restored peace. When peace prevailed, the tribe forced the warrior to live as an outcast by banishing him from the tribe because they didn’t feel the need for having a terrifying creature around.

Human Inside a Wendigo

According to popular belief, the human who is eventually transformed into Wendigo, still remains inside the body of the beast. The human remains in a frozen state in the place where the beast’s heart is supposed to be. This led to the belief that for killing this terrifying beast, one needs to kill the frozen human inside the body of the beast. There are some legends which says that it is possible to actually rescue the human by taking him out of the beast’s body but in most cases, the only way to save a person is to kill him along with the beast.

Where Does a Wendigo Live?

It is popularly believed that Wendigoag live in forests and those people who get lost in forest and never return are all eaten up by this terrifying beast. However, the are not found in all forests but are confined to those forests where the Algonquian people once lived. Not just Native Americans, many white settlers have also reported Wendigo sightings over time. Several such sightings were reported between late 19th and early 20th century where the terrifying beast reportedly wandered out near a northern Minnesota town known as Roseau.

Words spread quickly that every time a Wendigo was sighted, there was an unexpected and unusual death but such sightings gradually came to an end over the years and no more deaths were attributed to Wendigo.

Wendigo In Popular Culture

It is not unusual to find people enacting legends in various forms like dance or stage acts. Wendigo is no different. The Cree people have something called Wihtikokansimoowin – a traditional dance. Wihtikokansimoowin simply means Wendigo-like dance where a dancers will satirically portray Wendigoag. Some natives may even portray themselves as hunters trying to kill Wendigo.

Wendigo as an Excuse for Murder

A Cree man named Jack Fiddler was tried for murdering his wife in early 1990s. The 87-year-old Fiddler tried defending himself stating that his wife was about to transform into a Wendigo and hence, he had to kill her to ensure that other tribe members remain safe. During the trial he also ended up with a claim of having slayed 13 Wendigoag (apart from his wife) during his humble lifetime.

Sources:

Sasketchewan Indian , 1976. The Mask Dance. Accessed Online

ParaResearchers Of Ontario, 2016. The Wendigo. Accessed Online

Dove, L. L., 2016. How Wendigoes Work. Accessed Online

www.u-s-history.com, 2016. The Algonquians. Accessed Online

www.native-languages.org, 2015. Legendary Native American Figures: Windigo (Wendigo, Windego). Accessed Online

Taylor, T., 2002. The Wendigo. Accessed Online

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