Meet the Wendigo

The monstrous creature which stalks the forests, hunting humans and devouring their flesh, was once human itself.

Illustration originally published at jemhast.com

In the Great Lakes region of Canada and North America, a fearsome hunter stalks its quarry through the shade of the forest. The wendigo is a carnivorous beast with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Its strength, speed and intelligence make it a dangerous foe, and few escape its hungry clutches.

Origin

Tales of wendigoag began in the legends of the Algonquian peoples, a grouping of Native American people who speak Algonquian languages. The name wendigo roughly translates to “the evil spirit that devours mankind,” but is also simplified to mean “cannibal.”

There are two ways in which people are said to become a wendigo. The first is to commit an act of cannibalism, which leaves the human susceptible to possession by the evil wendigo spirit. The spirit of the wendigo would drive the human mad with cravings for flesh. The second is also a result of cannibalism, but rather than being possessed, the cannibal is physically transformed into a beast. The presence of a physical creature is more popular in modern lore and is the commonly accepted representation of a wendigo.

Wendigoag are cursed to feel an unending hunger. No matter how much they consume, they are constantly on the brink of starvation and hunting for their next meal. Some versions of the legend attribute this to a wendigo growing in relation to the size of its prey. They are preoccupied solely with feeding on humans, and are gifted with supernatural hunting abilities.

Abilities

Wendigoag tend to bear some features of original human form. They are usually described as extremely tall, thin or gaunt and humanoid, often bearing a striking resemblance to zombies. However, it is here where the myths diverge, as different Algonquian tribes had variations in their tales.

Most agree that they have knife-like fangs and long tongues. Their eyes can glow ominously, like a predatory cat’s, or be unnaturally pale and corpse-like. Some have sallow, yellowing skin, some are decaying like the flesh of a corpse, and some are covered in matted hair much like that of a werewolf. Their skin is usually stretched tight over prominent bones, a physical manifestation of their unending hunger.

Wendigoag can be depicted on a scale ranging from a decaying, elongated human to a toothy, bipedal, stag zombie. They are often shown with gnarled antlers and a skull-like face. If you picture something along the lines of an antlered zombie, werewolf, you’re on the right track. Again, sources vary, but a wendigo can stand anywhere between six and fifteen feet tall.

Some modern iterations of the wendigo claim they have the ability to mimic human voices. Wendigo are said to grow in power as they age, and some very old ones are able to take on human form to lure in their prey. Be wary of those you meet in the forest.

Appetite

The wendigo is cursed with an insatiable desire to consume human flesh. No matter how much they devour, nothing can sate their hunger. This is the driving force behind wendigoag. Their hunger is reflected in their thin, gaunt appearance and their specialised hunting abilities.

This is widely considered a punishment for those who resorted to eating human flesh. In bitter winters, those living in the harsh climates could struggle to find food. In extreme cases, a person’s survival may have depended on eating a fellow human. Regardless of the circumstances, the taboo act of cannibalism is what leads to the wendigo transformation. The hunger consuming them in that moment of weakness becomes the ruling force of the rest of their existence.

The threat of the wendigo taboo is often interpreted as a warning against cannibalism. During harsh winters and famines, the wendigo lurked in the back of everyone’s minds as a terrifying cautionary tale.

Hunting Prowess

As a creature which feeds on humans, the global apex predator, the wendigo must be a skilled hunter to catch its prey. They have far greater physical capabilities than any mortal creature, including enhanced speed, strength and endurance. This allows them to continue chasing their prey long after it’s exhausted. Wendigoag are suited to cold, snowy terrain and are able to move through the environment efficiently.

They also have heightened senses, particularly after dark. Their sense of smell and hearing are extremely powerful, allowing them to pick up on the presence of humans from a significant distance. Though they are consumed with the desire to eat, they retain much of their human intelligence. Hiding places and cheap tricks can do little to deter them. They are dextrous enough to open doors or windows and get at the people hiding in their homes.

Should its prey ever choose to fight back, the wendigo is equipped with an impressive regeneration ability. As long as the majority of their central nervous system remains intact, they are able to heal almost any wound. The safest way to destroy a wendigo is to stab it through the heart, dismember it and burn the pieces. The exact extent of its healing abilities are unknown, and anything less than this may result in a vengeful resurrected wendigo on your trail.

The oldest and most powerful wendigo are said to be able to influence the weather and the other creatures in the forest. They may summon icy winds or snow to trap or hinder their prey, or cause the forest animals to stampede.

No wendigo is completely infallible, but they are very difficult to escape from and even harder to kill.

Sightings

The stories of wendigo were shared long before white men stepped onto American shores, and continue to appear even now. Many people inhabiting the Great Lakes region, white settlers and Native American peoples alike, have reported sightings of the creature into the 20th century. However, nowadays cases of Wendigo psychosis and cannibalism are on the decline.

In the 21st century, you’re far more likely to encounter a wendigo in pop culture than in the forest. Starvation and famine have decreased drastically, providing far less chances for opportunistic wendigoag. Advancements in technology make it far safer for humans to traverse the land in the dark or the cold. The legends say that wendigo are very capable hibernators, and can disappear for years at a time.

Despite this, fictional cases of wendigo have boomed. The lore of the wendigo has been popularized through films, television shows and even video games. A quick online search will direct you to extensive lists of media which contain wendigoag. There is something intriguing about the tall, gangly monster which preys on humanity from the shadows.

Whether you choose to believe the stories or not, it would be unwise to wander the forest at night. 

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