Northern US and Canadian Amerindian Tribes, including the Ojibwa, Cree, Saulteaux, Naskapi, Innu, and Montagnais, believe that the Wendigo (also called Windigo) is a real creature that stalks the forests and prairies. It’s a malevolent cannibalistic monster that can possess people and turn them into Wendigos.
Wendingos are said to have different appearances, but they are most commonly described as garish in appearance, with glowing sunken eyes and sharp yellowish fangs. They can be as tall as fifteen feet, emit a putrid odor and have a ravenous appetite for human flesh. These entities have a close affinity with the forest’s predatory animals. It's said that they travel together and Wendigos share their kills with other carnivores. Kenora, Canada has the dubious distinction of being the Wendigo Capitol of the World.
Wendigos: Four Sightings
Wendigos were often considered death omens for someone in the community. Allegedly, a Wendigo made appearances in Roseau County, Minnesota, from the late 1800s to the 1920s. Each time a sighting was reported, an unexpected death followed.
Jesse Nelson and his sister, Edna, reportedly encountered a Wendingo in spring, 1904. They were thinking about spring and its pleasures as they skipped through the forest. Edna screamed when she saw a giant creature, garbed in white, with a star etched on his forehead. Jesse saw it and yelled that it was a Wendigo. They raced through the woods to school. Edna told their schoolmates and teacher what they saw. Three days later, a young, healthy Amerindian brave unexpectedly died. A month later, they saw the Wendigo in the same place. There was another unexpected death.
Their father, Jake, discussed their recent sightings with Sam Mickinock, a member of the Mandan Tribe. They remembered something that happened years before when the Wendigo appeared and there were also two unexpected deaths.
In 1898, Mrs. Mickinock’s grandmother became very ill. She asked her granddaughter, Anna, to help her walk into the yard. While they and their guests were seated outside, Anna stood up and said her grandmother was going to die. She and others saw the Wendigo. The grandmother died the next day.
In 1899, Sam killed a moose while the family was on a hunting trip to Canada. His wife built a fire to dry the meat. Suddenly, she felt dry and parched. She went to a nearby spring, splashed water on her face and drank water. On the third day after their hunting trip, Jake was alone in the Mickinock’s yard and saw the Wendigo. Mrs. Mickinock died the next day.
Wendigos and Other Paranormal Terrors
This creature’s European kin is Black Shuck also called the Barghest, written about in Spectral Hounds, Legends, and a True Account. They and other spectral phantom hounds, referred to as devil and black dogs, are death omens for the person who encounters them or someone in the community.
Skin-Walkers are the Navajo and Norse counterparts to Wendigos. Navajos believe that the Skin-Walker, Yenaldooshi, is an evil human being who has the supernatural power to shift-shape into the forms of animals by killing a close relative. They’re most often described as nocturnal nomads who wear only an animal’s pelt and roam communities, creating misery and ruin. Norse lore holds that Skin-Walkers can travel in animals’ shapes to learn secrets and acquire desired animalistic characteristics.
Protection against Wendigos
According to lore, the single way to be safe from these creatures is to kill them. Wendigos can only be executed by silver, iron, and steel. The creature’s hunters must keep fires ablaze at all times. Using amulets, protective spells, charms, and fetishes are advised because they have power over the beast. Earplugs are employed to block the monsters’ shrieks. Firearms with silver bullets or a stake, sword, axe, knife, and arrows dipped in silver can be used to dispatch a Wendigo. The body should be burned to ashes or thrown into deep water or a well.
Wendigo Murder Trials
These hearings happened in Canada during the early 20th century. The most notable was, most likely, that of the Cree, Jack Fiddler, who claimed to have killed at least fourteen Wendigos, the last one being when he was eighty-seven. In October 1907, Fiddler and son Joseph were tried for murdering a Cree woman. They plead guilty, but their defense that she was possessed by a Wendigo’s spirit and was transforming into one. According to their defense, she had to be killed before she murdered other tribal members.
Windigo Sickness and Psychosis
According to some psychological anthropologists, there is the Windigo Sickness – a Psychic Disorder: Caused by Egotistical Abuse of Psychic Powers or Abilities. Anthropologist Morton Teicher described the alleged mental condition of people believing they are or will be Wendigos, that he dubbed the Windigo Psychosis. This has been reported in the Northern Algonkian Tribes living around the Great Lakes. It usually happens in winter when people are isolated and have little food. Initial symptoms are, generally, a poor appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Then, victims develop a delusion of being transformed into a Windigo or fear becoming one. They feel intense anxiety and sometimes attempt suicide. Windigo sickness is caused by the egotistical abuse of personal power.
What Might Wendigos not Be?
I was about eleven when I first read about the Wendigo, featured in a comic book. It was depicted as a very scary “thing.” Something told me that this wasn’t just fiction.
I was curious that some people theorized that Wendigos were cryptids, a type of Big Foot. Cryptids are unknown animals who have been sighted, photographed, heard, left tracks and/or scat, but haven’t been proved to exist by being captured or killed. Wendigos have only been sighted and haven’t been described as hairy bipeds.
Currently, Wendigos are still enigmas that have defied scientific definition.
"The Wendigo" Urban Legend Profile
- Beth Scott and Michael Norman, Haunted Heartland, Warner Books, 1985.
- Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Facts on File, Inc.,1992.
- Sam D. Gill & Irene Sullivan, Dictionary of Native American Mythology, Oxford University Press, 1992.