If you are a fan of urban legends or scary stories that raise the hairs on the back of your neck, you must have heard of the wendigo. A monster straight out of your worst nightmares, this creature has been the subject of many horror stories ever since the 14th century.
With its roots in Native American folklore, this creature has found a place in many modern horror media ranging from movies to video games. What makes this creation so frighteningly popular? Well, it is common knowledge that people like to be scared. It is a feeling that we cannot quite describe, but getting that jolt of adrenaline, while scary, can also be very addictive.
What could scare you better than a flesh-eating monster with the skull of a deer, sharp claws, and unmatchable speed? That is not a creature that anyone would like to meet in a dark alley!
With plenty of stories about wendigo sightings in recent history, could there be more to this scary creature than just the myths of ancient folk?
What Is A Wendigo?
Stories about the wendigo date back to Native American legends. They are common in the traditions of the native cultures of North America (the US and Canada), particularly in colder climates.
In these stories, a wendigo is described as a cannibalistic creature that preys on humans lost in the snow-covered forests. It has the body of a starved deer, with its limbs elongated to the point of looking horrific and ending with sharpened claws. Its skull is that of a deer, with empty eye sockets and large antlers. With rows of sharp teeth in its skeletal jaw, it is a creature straight out of nightmares.
Wendigo is often described as a gaunt-looking, malnourished creature, and there is a reason for this. As it is associated with starvation, it is considered that the wendigo often appears when harsh winters make finding food scarce. In such conditions, people are driven to desperation, turning even to cannibalism.
Yes, you read that right. This creation could have been a human once. In cold conditions, weakened by hunger, isolation, and fear, a person may succumb to wendigo psychosis or fever and turn into this nightmarish monster.
But these are just stories, of course.
According to many legends, it's nearly impossible to escape this creature. When a person is possessed by a spirit and turned into a wendigo, they turn into a vicious hunter. They are extremely fast and allow nothing to get in the way of their never-ending hunger. Even if you could escape physical damage, the very fact that you'd encountered an otherworldly wendigo would leave you mentally vacant.
These beings stealthily stalk victims for extended periods, and thanks to their supernatural speed, endurance, and heightened senses, they can pick up on panicked heartbeats from miles away. What sort of weakness do wendigos have then?
They are not found easily. According to the legends and lore, a wendigo simply regenerates if wounded. It would take a lot of gun power to bring it down. Though surely, with a lot of bullets, anything can be destroyed, even a cannibalistic monster.
Wendigo Origin – How Did This Monster Come To Be?
The name wendigo, or windigo, first appeared in the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations in North America. In their histories, wendigos are described as powerful monsters that have a desire to kill and eat their victims.
There are various spellings and pronunciations of the word wendigo. Some of them are windigo, wheetigo, windikouk, wi'ntsigo, wi'tigo, and wittikka. They are all alternative versions of the same term. There are other names of this creature in the Native American languages: atchen, chenoo, and kewok. They also refer to the same folklore monster.
As mentioned before, the legends speak of humans transforming into wendigos because of their weakness or vulnerability. However, this can be caused by greed as well.
The wendigo origin is filled with tales of evil spirits that prey on humans once they are at their weakest, eventually overtaking them. Once a spirit takes over the body of a human that has been weakened by cold and hunger, they twist their minds and bones, turning them into vicious killers.
One Algonquian legend describes the wendigo as:
"a giant with a heart of ice; sometimes it is thought to be entirely made of ice. Its body is skeletal and deformed, with missing lips and toes."
Another Ojibwa legend describes it as:
"It was a large creature, as tall as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth. Its breath was a strange hiss, its footprints full of blood, and it ate any man, woman or child who ventured into its territory. And those were the lucky ones. Sometimes, the Wendigo chose to possess a person instead, and then the luckless individual became a Wendigo himself, hunting down those he had once loved and feasting upon their flesh."
A 1661 Jesuit Relations document states:
"This devilish woman…added that [the wendigo] had eaten some Attikamegoukin — these are the tribes that live north of the River that is called Three Rivers — and that he would eat a great many more of them if he were not called elsewhere. But that Atchen (sort of a werewolf) would come in his place to devour them… even up to the French Fort; that he would slaughter the French themselves."
There is a common thread in all the legends and documents about the wendigo. These monsters are considered dangerous because of their thirst for blood and their ability to infect otherwise healthy people or communities with evil, according to the Native American legends. Wendigo legends are, in most cases, cautionary tales about isolation and selfishness and the importance of community.
The Scariest Wendigo Stories And Legends
While stories of these folklore monsters served as cautionary tales in the 14th century, they became more elaborate scary stories in recent history.
Originally made to deter those who might be tempted to dine on their family members or neighbors during long winters without food, they are now transformed into urban legends.
In most of these stories, wendigo's cannibalistic behavior is similar to a vampire, zombie, or werewolf. Like a vampire, it feasts on flesh and blood. In some stories, like a werewolf, it could change shape at will. Sometimes even it may scare its victim to death, reminiscent of a Medusa.
The general belief is that a person under the influence of an evil spirit called the wendigo influence undergoes a metamorphosis from human to monster. In some stories, their shape never changes back to human, while in rarer stories, it does. This is similar to the origin of the werewolf. That is why Métis and French Canadian voyageurs called them the Loup-Garou, French for the werewolf. Despite resemblances to other members of the monster pantheon, the wendigo is a distinguished folklore monster unique to the Indigenous peoples of North America.
Starting in 1907, with Algernon Blackwood's wrote a short story called The Wendigo, the stories grew scarier. Within its pages, he recounted a hunting party venturing into the Canadian backwoods and returning profoundly changed by an encounter with a wendigo.
As the story goes, the first-ever wendigo was once a lost hunter. This happened during a brutally cold winter when the man's intense hunger drove him to cannibalism. After tasting another human's flesh, he transformed into a crazed monster, wandering the forest in search of more people to eat.
In another version of the story, the first wendigo is said to have been a warrior who made a deal with the devil. To save his tribe, he gave up his soul and was transformed into a monster. When peace continued, there was no need for such a fearsome creature, and the warrior was banished from his tribe.
There is one story that is based on actual history. It is the story of Swift Runner, a Native American man who murdered and ate his whole family during the winter of 1879. Apparently, Swift Runner claimed to be possessed by a wendigo spirit at the time of the murders.
It didn't help him escape his execution.
Wendigo In Popular Media
With its frightening appearance and its superhuman abilities, it is no wonder that the wendigo would become a subject of many horror media. It is often represented in comics, games, and movies. Here are the most notable wendigo representations in modern media.
Until Dawn's Wendigo – They are the main antagonists in this game. They are victims of an ancient curse placed on Blackwood Mountain, where the game takes place. Wendigos in Until Dawn are humans possessed and transformed by the Native American spirit. This is a result of the humans having resorted to cannibalism while living on the Mountain.
They are shown quite differently than in Native American folklore. Their bodies resemble humans more than deer. The wendigos' heads are humanoid, with sharp teeth and dislocated jaws. Their limbs are elongated, spider-like, and their skin pale and ragged. They are stealthy and rarely seen before they attack. And they seem to favor the most brutal way to murder the protagonists, making this version of the wendigo a sadistic creature rather than a hunter.
Marvel's Wendigo – According to Marvel, the wendigo is a result of an ancient curse. It transforms any person who eats the flesh of another human into a large, fur-covered humanoid. They have claws and razor-sharp claws, but they resemble a werewolf more than a deer. In Marvel's version, these monsters are large, white-furred creatures of enormous strength and invulnerability. They prowl the Canadian wilderness and seek humans and animals to eat.
Supernatural Wendigo – The closest to the ancient folklore, the wendigos in Supernatural were once humans. After being forced to devour human flesh, they are transformed into monsters, retaining little of the human features. Once they are turned, they become cannibals. They are rarely seen out of Minnesota or the north of Michigan. In addition, they can keep their victims in the dark and isolated places, storing them for later.
Where Are The Wendigos? Could This Monster Really Be Out There?
Native Americans still to this day actively believe in the wendigo. Some even result in searching for this folklore monster. Then, it comes as no surprise that there have been many famous wendigo hunters in Native American history.
One such hunter was a Cree Indian by the name of Jack Fiddler. According to his claims, he killed at least 14 wendigos in his lifetime. In October 1907, Fiddler and his son Joseph were both tried for the murder of a Cree Indian woman. They didn't hesitate pleading guilty to the crime as they believed that the woman was a wendigo. Apparently, she was on the verge of transforming before they shot her!
Their defense was based on their claim that she had to be killed before she transformed into a wendigo. Otherwise, the disaster would be terrible. Could there be any truth to this, or was it just plain murder?
There are other stories that well of wendigo sightings in northern Ontario - near the Cave of the Wendigo, aptly named, and around the town of Kenora. Apparently, this was the place where a creature was spotted roaming the woods and prairies. It is unsure what the wendigo might seek because it is yet to attack anyone, resorting to only stalking those that come through this area.
In the 20th century, the term wendigo became widely known due to an event that happened among the Cree community. In the 1920s, the term made it into the Western medical vocabulary, used to describe persons with a mental condition leading to cannibalistic desires. This was spurred by a woman who claimed that strangers wanted to kill and eat her. The woman was diagnosed with psychoneurosis, and over time this affliction become known as wendigo psychosis.
Whether it is a real condition or not is still a highly disputed discussion in the medical community.
Another wendigo encounter happened more recently. David W. and his wife apparently encountered a wendigo on their hunt in the woods of Wisconsin. They were hunting in Two Rivers when they saw a monster ten feet tall, with long, gangly arms. David says they watched the monster, unsure what to do before it took three large steps and disappeared into the woods.
Whether you think these encounters were real or not, remember that the legends of this folklore monster have been around since before the colonization. You know what they say. There is a bit of truth in every legend.