We’re going to be touching on some monsters throughout the month. I was trying for obscure ones, but the first one is probably known by others. If you’ve been a fan of Wolverine comics or ‘Supernatural’, you’ve heard of:
These creatures are from Native American folklore, specifically the Algonquin-speaking people such as the Cree and Ojibwe. This means there are some variations on what the Wendigo looks like and acts, but there are the following commonalities:
- Evil supernatural being
- Connected to winter and the cold
- Connected to famine and starvation
I think the last one is why Wendigo are cannibals and many imagine them to be gaunt. A lack of food could drive someone to eat another person. These beings are almost skeletal and corpse-like, which is similar to how a person would look if they starved to death. A few descriptions give them bloody lips like they are dehydrated. Some of the tribes had it that a Wendigo would grow in proportion to the person it ate, which meant it would remain hungry. This is why they are still gaunt even if they are eating people at a terrifying rate. It’s this aspect that also makes them a symbol of gluttony.
I’ve found 3 origins for the Wendigo:
- Just a malevolent wind spirit that comes out during the winter. Not sure if this is genuine lore or modern fiction.
- A human turns into a Wendigo if they are driven to the point of cannibalism. Since it is from the northern regions of America, it stems from the threat of being trapped in the snow. People may give in to the urge to eat those who have already died if they have been left without food for so long. Key point there is that they don’t eat the living, but the dead to transform.
- A human who demonstrates extreme gluttony and greed will turn into a Wendigo. In this scenario, it is a tale to promote cooperation and sharing. Cannibalism comes after the change.
Wendigo tend to be giants, but European influence has created a version that is human-sized and bestial like a werewolf. The original lore had them as giants with glowing eyes, long tongues, sharp teeth, and sharp claws. Those are the only things were common while the rest of their description changed by culture. Powers were varied too with some having weather control and perfect stealth. The point of a Wendigo was to be scary and prevent people from committing cannibalism and general gluttony. So, they may have been built to fit whatever local fears and threats people had, which explains the variety.
Finally, there is something called Wendigo Psychosis, which is up for debate and currently considered a culture-specific disorder. The reason for the debate is that some people think this was created by anthropologists misunderstanding things, but there are others who think the syndrome is real. Basically, a person develops a craving for human flesh and fears becoming a cannibal. Some think this is when a person is possessed by a Wendigo spirit. This isn’t as common as it was prior to the 20th century, which is another reason there are debates on if it’s real or not.