The Wendigo, brought to us courtesy of Algonquian folklore, is a malevolent, supernatural cannibalistic monster who stands between six and twelve feet, is emaciated to the point of being a gaunt skeleton with ashen skin pulled tightly over its bones, and smells like death and decay. It has deep-set eyes and sharp, crooked fangs that can easily puncture a human skull. Its tongue is dark blue. Its gore-stained fur is matted, and is missing chunks of flesh. It has razor-sharp claws on its hands that can disembowel or decapitate a human, and a single toe with a dagger-like nail on its foot, the better to rip you to shreds.
SCARY ENOUGH FOR YA?
The Wendigo is thought to be either a monster with some human characteristics, or an evil spirit who has possessed a human being and turned them into a murderous cannibal with an insatiable appetite. This happens when the Wendigo invades the person’s sleep, causing a horrible nightmare.
NIGHTMARE ON YOUR STREET
Before long, the Wendigo takes over the mind and body of its victim. A strange scent emmanates from the victim’s pores, and sleep becomes a study in terror-filled nightmares. He awakes with burning pain in his lower extremities that becomes so intense, the victim screams insanely and runs off, discarding his clothing, which feels like it is burning his skin.
ALMOST LIKE SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION
At this point, the Wendigo will burst through the person’s flesh.
Parts of the Algonquian culture believe that when a Wendigo eats someone, it grows proportionally and so can never be full, which accounts for its voracious appetite. So it’s a gluttonous, emaciated skeleton constantly on the lookout for its next meal…
The word itself means “the evil that devours.” Once a human being, Wendigos are created when they first taste human flesh, usually during a harsh winter when they are cut off from food and supplies and turn to cannibalism to survive.
Once they transform into a Wendigo, they crave human flesh constantly, refusing to feed on anything else. It’s able to hibernate for years at a time, so you can imagine its hunger drive upon awakening. It is a solitary predator that will frequently hunt humans and store them alive in dark, isolated areas so that it can feed whenever it wants. It lives in the freezing cold of Northern Canada, Michigan and Minnesota.
COLD ENOUGH FOR YA?
The Wendigo is a mostly nocturnal hunter who prefers to feed on its prey during the day.
WENDIGO HUNTS AT NIGHT
So there is no time of day that is safe from attack, especially in the woods and mountains. Its favorite meals are the sweet fat of children, the soft skin of women, the heavy muscles of men, or the brittle bones of the elderly.
It has the predatory instincts of an animal with the intelligence and cunning of man, greatly enhanced senses of smell and hearing, and can see in near total darkness. It will stalk its victims for hours on end, and has been known to enter cabins, slaughter and devour the inhabitants, then convert the cabin into its own lair.
KILLING THE WENDIGO
It is nearly impossible to kill or even harm a Wendigo. You may be able to protect yourself by drawing a protective circle with special Anasazi symbols, but once you leave the circle, all bets are off.
CIRCLE OF ANASAZI PROTECTION
The Wendigo is invulnerable to conventional weaponry, and any wounds inflicted are quickly healed, although those caused by silver tend to heal very slowly.
It is sensitive to heat, which explains why it lives where it does, so they steer clear of fire. Which means the only way to kill one is to burn it. But I get ahead of myself.
You must drive a silver stake through the Wendigo’s heart of ice and shatter it. The shards must then be locked in a silver box and buried in consecrated ground like a cemetery or churchyard.
BURY YOUR WENDIGO IN CONSECRATED LAND
The body must be dismembered with a silver-plated ax, and each piece has to be salted and burned to ashes. The ashes should then be scattered to the wind.
I WOULD SCATTER WENDIGO ASHES IN SEVERAL PLACES
If you don’t follow this procedure, the Wendigo will rise and seek slow, painful, extremely bloody vengeance before it pops your meat into its mouth and savors the taste.
There is an 1878 story of Swift Runner, a Cree trapper from Alberta Canada. It was a harsh winter, and he lost his oldest son to starvation. Although only twenty-five miles from a Hudson’s Bay Company post, Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five remaining children. Swift Runner eventually confessed and was executed.
SWIFT RUNNER. CANNIBAL OR MENTALLY ILL?
People who study these types of things call this a case of Wendigo psychosis, wherein a human being, after having no choice but to resort to cannibalism due to lack of food, is possessed by the Wendigo spirit.
But we know better, don’t we?
The bravest of the brave Cree Indians actively hunted Wendigos. Jack Fiddler claimed he’d killed fourteen. In 1907, he and his son were tried for the murder of a woman said to be possessed by a Wendigo. As she began to transform, they killed her with a silver bullet before she could turn on the tribe. They were found guilty by the all-white jury.
JACK FIDDLER, WENDIGO HUNTER AND CONVICTED MURDERER
Years before, in 1893, European settlors arrived in Northern Canada, eager to make their fortune in mining. They mined for tin and radium. Unsatisfied, they mined deeper and according to Cree legend, the mountain cried out and the Wendigo spirits were released. There doesn’t seem to be a record of what exactly happened, but the spirits apparently returned to the mountain, and it wasn’t until a 1952 cave-in trapped thirty miners for twenty-three days. That single disaster woke up the spirits.
There were only twelve survivors. The rest were apparently eaten.
When the survivors began to display…unusual…physical characteristics, they were confined to Blackwood Sanatorium for “observation.”
BLACKWOOD SANATORIUM HOUSED TWELVE WENDIGOS
Billy Bates, known as Patient 9 in the Sanatorium records, transformed while being strapped into a restraining chair.
BILLY BATES IN HAPPIER TIMES
The resulting Wendigo broke free and crawled up a wall, hiding there until a nurse came to check on him. Upon seeing him, the nurse screamed and ran away.
According to Sanatorium records, the incubation period is at least four days, progressing rapidly for the next eight until total transformation takes place. All humanity is lost.
The survivors all became Wendigos and slaughtered the Sanatorium staff by stripping away their skin and eating the internal organs while the living victims watched in agony. After eating their fill, they escaped and apparently were never heard from again.
WENDIGOS IN POP CULTURE
Algernon Blackwood (was he affiliated with the Blackwood Sanatorium? I wonder…) wrote a novella in 1910 called, of all things, The Wendigo. It is this story that to this day influences depictions of the Wendigo in horror fiction, including The Incredible Hulk #162 comic book; films like the black comedy Ravenous, whose tag line was “You Are Who You Eat,” and The Descent, which encouraged you to “Face Your Deepest Fears”; and episodic TV shows like Supernatural, Charmed, and Grimm.
WINCHESTER BOYS PIPER PRE-WENDIGO GRIMM’S VERSION
I’m told it even inspired the hideous grinning creature with yellow-grey eyes, ram’s horns, and a decaying yellow tongue in Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Sematary.
CHURCH TURNED WENDIGO?
Personally, I’m not sure about these creatures. Do they really exist? I guess you’d have to travel to Northwestern Ontario, particularly the Cave of the Wendigo, near Mameigwass Lake or any other area named after the Wendigo, such as Wendigo River or Wendigo Lake and try to find one to know for sure.
But do you really want to do that?
Tune in next week when we’ll learn about the legendary Chupracabra.
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