In America, deeply rooted in the folklore of the indigenous Algonquian tribe, there lies a daemonic spirit, a cannibalistic monster out for human flesh. Its hunger never satisfied, ancient evil hunting those guilty of greed and jealousy. Gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones, bones pushing at the skin from within. Its complexion the colour of ash, with eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, a gaunt skeleton risen from the grave. Its lips tattered and bloody, an unclean beast with suppurations of the flesh. Oozing a strange and eerie odour, one of decay and decomposition, of corruption and death…
Legends say the Wendigo were once human beings, formed whenever someone resorted to cannibalism, even if done in the name of survival. Overcome by evil spirits. Some believe the fearsome creature continues to live inside the human, specifically where the heart once was. The embodiment of excess and gluttony. Some even say the human can still be saved, but most say that death is the only way to free the human screaming inside…
‘What caused us greater concern was the intelligence that met us upon entering the Lake, namely, that the men deputed by our Conductor for the purpose of summoning the Nations to the North Sea… had met their death the previous Winter in a very strange manner,’ the Jesuit Relations reported in 1661. ‘Those poor men… were seized with ailment unknown to us, but not very unusual among the people we were seeking,’ they continued. ‘They are afflicted with neither lunacy, hypochondria, nor frenzy; but have a combination of all these species of disease, which affects their imaginations and causes them a more than canine hunger. This makes them so ravenous for human flesh that they pounce upon women, children, and even upon men… devour[ing] them voraciously, without being able to appease of glut their appetite… as death is the sole remedy among these simple people… they were slain in order to stay the course of their madness.’
In 1878, a Cree man named Swift Runner was 25 miles away from Hudson Bay Company’s supply post when he was overcome with the need to butcher and eat his entire family. He cooked and ate their flesh, some of the mutilated remains of Runner’s wife and five children found later on. He blamed his actions on the Wendigo, suffering the grand delusions and cannibalistic impulses one often finds associated with the beast. He was hanged by the authorities at Fort Saskatchewan in December, 1879.
The Wendigo are believed to roam around the forests where the Algonquians lived, with the disappearance of many forest dwellers over the years blamed on the Wendigo. Between the late 1800s and the early 1920s, many claim to have seen this spirit near a town named Roseau in northern Minnesota. Every time someone reported a sighting, it wasn’t long before a mysterious and unexplained death followed. Sightings, however, soon dwindled, but the fear never did.
In 1907, Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow or Jack Fiddler, an 87-year-old Oji-Cree chief, was arrested and tried, along with his brother, for the murder of a Cree woman. He pleaded guilty to the crime, but his defence confounded the experts. He said he did it because the woman was on the verge of transforming into a Wendigo, possessed by the evil spirit. Her murder was to ‘stop the Wendigo murdering the other members of the tribe.’ Fiddler went on to say it wasn’t the first time he did so, slaying at least 13 other Wendigo during his life.
The authorities were quick to label this as mental illness or superstition, but the incidents kept on coming. More and more accounts of people ‘turning Wendigo’ were reported, with wide scale human flesh eating documented. Fiddler was a man of great reputation in his community, considered to have great powers capable of stopping the Wendigo. Fiddler escaped his captivity during a walk outside. He was found dead later the same day. He had hanged himself.
Tribes have become more and more influenced by the cultures that surround them, and, as such, sightings of the Wendigo have declined over the years. Can such evil be real? Or was it just a story warning against cannibalism? Was it influenced by greater and more notable stories of cryptids from around the world, your Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster? We know the early settlers believed the Wendigo was real. It became engrained in their very cultures. Everything was blamed on this fear, a fear very much real. They saw it as the signal of death, the harbinger of destruction, a one-monster war against the world.
Still there are stories told of the Wendigo in tribes today, and still, people do report sightings. Many believe it still roams the woods and the prairies of North America. A story like many others, around since the dawn of humankind. The very name translates as ‘the evil spirit that devours mankind,’ and, regardless of the true nature of this particular beast, as is the way with many evil spirits, the legend will never die…
So I’ll give this cryptid a 79 on my patented Cryptid-o-Meter, putting it 54th in the list of 61, with the Pope Lick Monster still bottom and Beast of Gévauden still holding top spot.
The Wendigo. A fascinating cryptid indeed.
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