Wendigo (or Windigo)
Wendigo (or Windigo)
A creature of the forests featured in the mythology of many North American and Canadian native peoples. Algonquin tribes believe that a hunter lost in the bush without food may become a Wendigo, seeking other human beings in order to eat their flesh. Members of the Ojibwa tribe use the term "Windigo" to denote a ferocious ogre who will take away children if they do not behave properly.
A powerful horror story called The Wendigo was written by novelist Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951). It was first published in The Lost Valley and Other Stories, London, 1910. It was probably drawn from legends encountered by the author during his own travels in the Canadian backwoods.
In 1982 John Colombo assembled a comprehensive compilation of accounts (both traditional and modern) on the Wendigo. He observed:
"Windigo has been described as the phantom of hunger which stalks the forests of the north in search of lone Indians, halfbreeds, or white men to consume. It may take the form of a cannibalistic Indian who breathes flames. Or it may assume the guise of a supernatural spirit with a heart of ice that flies through the night skies in search of a victim to satisfy its craving for human flesh. Like the vampire, it feasts on flesh and blood. Like the werewolf, it shape-changes at will."
Colombo lists some 37 variant forms of the word "Windigo" or "Wendigo" and states that the first appearance of the word in print appears to be in an account by the French traveler Bacqueville de la Potherie in 1722, when it appeared as "Onaouientagos." The word derives from the Algonquian Indian root witiku meaning "evil spirit" or "cannibal." Legends of the Wendigo are current among the Algoquian tribes in the Northwest Territories of Canada and the northern regions of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
The Wendigo is said to inhabit a large territory bounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Arctic Ocean in the north, and the Rocky Mountains in the west. According to Algonquian belief, a human being may "turn Windigo" through an act of cannibalism, being in the presence of the demon, or the sorcery of a shaman. Such transformation has much in common with legends of the vampire and werewolf.
Colombo, John R., ed. Windigo: An Anthology of Facts and Fantastic Fiction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.