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The Wendigo (also Windigo, Windago, Windiga, Witiko, Wihtikow, and numerous other variants)[1] is a mythical creature appearing in the mythology of the Algonquin people, who inhabited present-day Quebec. It is a malevolent cannibalistic spirit into which humans could transform, or which could possess humans. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk, and the legend appears to have reinforced this practice as taboo.

Windigo Psychosis is a culture-bound disorder which involves an intense craving for human flesh and the fear that one will turn into a cannibal. This once occurred frequently among Algonquian Indian cultures, though has declined with the Native American urbanization.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Recently the Wendigo has also become a horror entity of contemporary literature and film, much like the vampire, werewolf, or zombie, although these fictional depictions often bear little resemblance to the original entity.

In Algonquian mythologyEdit

The Wendigo is part of the traditional belief systems of various Algonquian-speaking tribes in the northern United States and Canada, most notably the Ojibwa/Saulteaux, the Cree, and the Innu/Naskapi/Montagnais.[2] Though descriptions varied somewhat, common to all these cultures was the conception of Wendigos as malevolent, cannibalistic supernatural beings (manitous) of great spiritual power.[3] They were strongly associated with the Winter, the North, and coldness, as well as with famine and starvation.[4] Basil Johnston, an Ojibwa teacher and scholar from Ontario, gives one description of how Wendigos were viewed:[5]

The Weendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Weendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disenterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody [....] Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Weendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.

At the same time, Wendigos were embodiments of gluttony, greed, and excess; never satisfied after killing and consuming one person, they were constantly searching for new victims. In some traditions, humans who became overpowered by greed could turn into Wendigos; the Wendigo myth thus served as a method of encouraging cooperation and moderation.[6]

Among the Ojibwa, Eastern Cree, Westmain Swampy Cree, and Innu/Naskapi/Montagnais, Wendigos were said to be giants, many times larger than human beings (a characteristic absent from the Wendigo myth in the other Algonquian cultures).[7] Whenever a Wendigo ate another person, they would grow larger, in proportion to the meal they had just eaten, so that they could never be full.[8] Wendigos were thus simultaneously constantly gorging themselves and emaciated from starvation.

Human WendigosEdit

All cultures in which the Wendigo myth appeared shared the belief that human beings could turn into Wendigos if they ever resorted to cannibalism[9] or, alternately, become possessed by the demonic spirit of a Wendigo, often in a dream. Once transformed, a person would become violent and obsessed with eating human flesh. The most frequent cause of transformation into a Wendigo was if a person had resorted to cannibalism, consuming the body of another human in order to keep from starving to death during a time of extreme hardship or famine.[10]

Among northern Algonquian cultures, cannibalism, even to save one's own life, was viewed as a serious taboo; the proper response to famine was suicide or resignation to death.[11] On one level, the Wendigo myth thus worked as a deterrent and a warning against resorting to cannibalism; those who did would become Wendigo monsters themselves.

Wendigo ceremonyEdit

Among the Assiniboine, the Cree and the Ojibwa, a satirical ceremonial dance was originally performed during times of famine to reinforce the seriousness of the Wendigo taboo. The ceremonial dance, known as a wiindigookaanzhimowin in Ojibwe and today performed as part of the last day activities of the Sun dance, involves wearing a mask and dancing about the drum backwards.[12] The last known Wendigo Ceremony conducted in the United States was at Windigo Lake of Star Island of Cass Lake, located within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.[13]

Windigo PsychosisEdit

"Windigo Psychosis" (also spelled many other ways, including "Wendigo Psychosis" and "Witiko Psychosis") refers to a condition in which sufferers developed an insatiable desire to eat human flesh even when other food sources were readily available,[14] often as a result of prior famine cannibalism;[15] Windigo Psychosis is identified by Western psychologists as a culture-bound syndrome, though members of the aboriginal communities in which it existed believed cases literally involved individuals turning into Wendigos. Such individuals generally recognized these symptoms as meaning that they were turning into Wendigos, and often requested to be executed before they could harm others.[16] The most common response when someone began suffering from Windigo Psychosis was curing attempts by traditional native healers or Western doctors. In the unusual cases when these attempts failed, and the Wendigo began either to threaten those around them or to act violently or anti-socially, they were then generally executed.[17] Cases of Windigo Psychosis, though real, were relatively rare, and it was even rarer for them to actually culminate in the execution of the sufferer.[17]

One of the more famous cases of Windigo Psychosis involved a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta, named Swift Runner.[18] During the winter of 1878, Swift Runner and his family were starving, and his eldest son died. Within just 25 miles of emergency food supplies at a Hudson's Bay Company post, Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five remaining children.[19] Given that he resorted to cannibalism so near to food supplies, and that he killed and consumed the remains of all those present, it was revealed that Swift Runner's was not a case of pure cannibalism as a last resort to avoid starvation, but rather a man suffering from Windigo Psychosis.[19] He eventually confessed, and was executed by authorities at Fort Saskatchewan.[20] Another well-known case involving Windigo Psychosis was that of Jack Fiddler, an Oji-Cree chief and shaman, known for his powers at defeating Wendigos. In some cases this entailed euthanizing people suffering from Windigo Psychosis; as a result, in 1907, Fiddler and his brother Joseph were arrested by the Canadian authorities for murder. Jack committed suicide, but Joseph was tried and put to death.[21]

Fascination with Windigo Psychosis among Western ethnographers, psychologists, and anthropologists led to a hotly debated controversy in the 1980s over the historicity of this phenomenon. Some researchers argued that Windigo Psychosis was essentially a fabrication, the result of naive anthropologists taking stories related to them at face value.[22] Others, however, pointed to a number of credible eyewitness accounts, both by Algonquians and by Westerners, as proof that Windigo Psychosis was a factual historical phenomenon.[23]

The frequency of Windigo Psychosis cases decreased sharply in the 20th century as boreal Algonquian people came in to greater and greater contact with Western ideologies and more sedentary, less rural lifestyles.[24] While there is substantive evidence to suggest that Windigo Psychosis did exist, a number of questions concerning the condition remain unanswered.

References in popular cultureEdit

File:WindigoPiper.JPG

Recently, Wendigos have become something of a stock character in horror and fantasy films, along the lines of werewolves and vampires, usually bearing very little resemblance to the Algonquian spirit. They appear as characters in a number of computer and video games, including Final Fantasy,[25] Hexen, and the Warcraft Universe,[26] as well as role-playing games such as Fallout 2 and Dungeons & Dragons.[27]. They appear as yeti type beasts in World of Warcraft. "Wendigo" is also a fictional character in Marvel Comics universe.[28] There is a champion-level Digimon named Wendigomon that also appears in one of the series' films.

While Wendigos have been referenced in literature for many decades (including as one of the principal monsters in Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary,[29] though most notably in Algernon Blackwood's 1910 story The Wendigo, which introduced the legend to horror fiction,[30] recently the Wendigo mythology has been referenced quite often in movies and television, including the movies Wendigo,[31] Ravenous,[32] Ginger Snaps Back,[33] and Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo,[34] and in episodes of the television series Charmed,[35] Supernatural,[36] and Blood Ties[37] (see Wendigo (Supernatural) and The Wendigo).

NotesEdit

  1. The name is Wiindigoo in the Ojibwe language (the source of the English word [Brightman 1988:344]), Wìdjigò in the Algonquin language, and Wīhtikōw in the Cree language; the Proto-Algonquian term was *wi·nteko·wa, which probably originally meant "owl" (Goddard 1969, cited in Brightman 1988:340).
  2. Brightman (1988:359, 362); Parker (1960:603)
  3. Brightman (1988:337, 339)
  4. Brightman (1988:362)
  5. Johnston (2001:221)
  6. Johnston (2001:222-225); Johnston (1990:167)
  7. Brightman (1988:344)
  8. Johnston (2001:222, 226); Johnston (1990:166); Schwarz (1969:11)
  9. Brightman (1988:337, 339, 343, 364)
  10. Brightman (1988:343, 364)
  11. Brightman (1988:365-6)
  12. (February 1976). The Mask Dance. Saskatchewan Indian 5 (2): 45.
  13. Warren, William W. History of the Ojibway People. Borealis Books (St. Paul, MN: 1984).
  14. Brightman (1988:351-2, 365)
  15. Brightman (1988:343, 346, 347); Parker (1960:603)
  16. Brightman (1988:348, 349)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Brightman (1988:357-8)
  18. Brightman (1988:352-3)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Brightman (1988:353, 373)
  20. Brightman (1988:352)
  21. Fiddler, Thomas and James R. Stevens (1985). Killing the Shamen. Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press
  22. Brightman (1988:355)
  23. Brightman (1988:361)
  24. Brightman (1988:337-8, 374)
  25. Bestiary: Enemies S-Z. Final Fantasy VIII. Final Fantasy Online. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  26. Wendigos. Warcraft III Strategy Guide. Battle.net. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  27. Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition Index: Monsters: by Subtype. (PDF) Dungeons & Dragons and the d20-System. Crystal Keep. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  28. Wendigo. Marvel Universe. Marvel.com. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  29. Heller, Terry. Love and Death in Stephen King's Pet Sematary. URL accessed on 2007-05-14.
  30. "The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood, available freely at Project Gutenberg
  31. Wendigo (2001). IMDB. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  32. Ravenous (1999). IMDB. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  33. Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004). The World's Greatest Critic. URL accessed on 2007-06-08.
  34. Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo (1996). IMDB. URL accessed on 2007-12-07.
  35. Charmed: The Wendigo (1999). IMDB. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  36. Supernatural: Wendigo (2005). IMDB. URL accessed on 2007-03-18.
  37. Blood Ties: Heart of Ice (2007). TV.com. URL accessed on 2007-04-19.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Brightman, Robert A. (1988). The Windigo in the Material World. Ethnohistory 35 (4): 337-379.
  • Colombo, J.R. ed. Wendigo. Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon: 1982.
  • Goddard, Ives (1969). Owls and Cannibals: Two Algonquian Etymologies. Paper presented at the Second Algonquian Conference, St. John's, Newfoundland.
  • Johnston, Basil (1990 [1976]). Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • ———— (2001 [1995]). The Manitous. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
  • Parker, Seymour (1960). The Wiitiko Psychosis in the Context of Ojibwa Personality and Culture. American Anthropologist 62 (4): 603-623.
  • Schwarz, Herbert T. (1969). Windigo and Other Tales of the Ojibways, illustrated by Norval Morrisseau. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited.
  • Teicher, Morton I. (1961). "Windigo Psychosis: A Study of Relationship between Belief and Behaviour among the Indians of Northeastern Canada." In Proceedings of the 1960 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Verne P. Ray. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

External linksEdit


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