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The Wendigo


Wendigo (/ˈwɛndɪɡoʊ/) is a mythological creature or evil spirit originating from the folklore of Plains and Great Lakes Natives as well as some First Nations. It is based in and around the East Coast forests of Canada, the Great Plains region of the United States, and the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, grouped in modern ethnology as speakers of Algonquian-family languages. The wendigo is often said to be a malevolent spirit, sometimes depicted as a creature with human-like characteristics, which possesses human beings. The wendigo is said to invoke feelings of insatiable greed/hunger, the desire to cannibalize other humans, and the propensity to commit murder in those that fall under its influence.[1]




The Wendigo



In some representations the wendigo is described as a giant humanoid with a heart of ice; a foul stench or sudden, unseasonable chill might precede its approach.[2] Possibly because of longtime identification by European-Americans with their own myths about werewolves,[3] for example as mentioned in The Jesuit Relations below, Hollywood film representations often label human/beast hybrids featuring antlers or horns with the "wendigo" name, but such animal features do not appear in the original indigenous stories.[2]


In modern psychiatry the wendigo lends its name to a form of psychosis known as "Wendigo psychosis", which is characterized by symptoms such as an intense craving for human flesh and an intense fear of becoming a cannibal.[4][5] Wendigo psychosis is described as a culture-bound syndrome. In some First Nations communities other symptoms such as insatiable greed and destruction of the environment are also thought to be symptoms of Wendigo psychosis.[4]


The wendigo is part of the traditional belief system of a number of Algonquin-speaking peoples, including the Ojibwe, the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Naskapi, and the Innu.[12] Although descriptions can vary somewhat, common to all these cultures is the view that the wendigo is a malevolent, cannibalistic, supernatural being.[13] They were strongly associated with winter, the north, coldness, famine, and starvation.[14]


In Ojibwe, Eastern Cree, Westmain Swampy Cree, Naskapi, and Innu lore, wendigos are often described as giants that are many times larger than human beings, a characteristic absent from myths in other Algonquian cultures.[16] Whenever a wendigo ate another person, it would grow in proportion to the meal it had just eaten, so it could never be full.[17] Therefore, wendigos are portrayed as simultaneously gluttonous and extremely thin due to starvation.


A wendigo need not lose the human's powers of cognition or speech and in some depictions may clearly communicate with its prospective victims or even threaten or taunt them. A specimen of folk story collected in the early 20th century by Lottie Chicogquaw Marsden, an ethnographer of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, in which a wendigo also exhibits tool use, an ability to survive partial dismemberment, and autocannibalism, reads:[19]


In some traditions, humans overpowered by greed could turn into wendigos; the myth thus served as a method of encouraging cooperation and moderation. Other sources say wendigos were created when a human resorted to cannibalism to survive. Humans could also turn into wendigos by being in contact with them for too long.[20]


Among the Assiniboine, the Cree, and the Ojibwe, a satirical ceremonial dance is sometimes performed during times of famine to reinforce the seriousness of the wendigo taboo.[clarification needed] The ceremony, known as wiindigookaanzhimowin, was performed during times of famine, and involved wearing masks and dancing backward around a drum.[21] The last known wendigo ceremony conducted in the United States was at Lake Windigo of Star Island of Cass Lake, within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.[when?][22][failed verification]


In historical accounts of retroactively diagnosed Wendigo psychosis, it has been reported that humans became possessed by the wendigo spirit, after being in a situation of needing food and having no other choice besides cannibalism. In 1661, The Jesuit Relations reported:.mw-parser-output .verse_translation .translatedpadding-left:2em!important@media only screen and (max-width:43.75em).mw-parser-output .verse_translation.wrap_when_small tddisplay:block;padding-left:0.5em.mw-parser-output .verse_translation.wrap_when_small .translatedpadding-left:0.5em!important


Another well-known case involving Wendigo psychosis was that of Jack Fiddler, an Oji-Cree chief and medicine man known for his powers at defeating wendigos. In some cases, this entailed killing people with Wendigo psychosis. As a result, in 1907, Fiddler and his brother Joseph were arrested by the Canadian authorities for homicide. Jack committed suicide, but Joseph was tried and sentenced to life in prison. He ultimately was granted a pardon but died three days later in jail before receiving the news of this pardon.[30]


In addition to denoting a cannibalistic monster from certain traditional folklore, some Native Americans also understand the wendigo conceptually. As a concept, the wendigo can apply to any person, idea, or movement infected by a corrosive drive toward self-aggrandizing greed and excessive consumption, traits that sow disharmony and destruction if left unchecked. Ojibwe scholar Brady DeSanti asserts that the wendigo "can be understood as a marker indicating... a person... imbalanced both internally and toward the larger community of human and spiritual beings around them."[36] Out of equilibrium and estranged by their communities, individuals thought to be afflicted by the wendigo spirit unravel and destroy the ecological balance around them. Chippewa author Louise Erdrich's novel The Round House, winner of the National Book Award, depicts a situation where an individual person becomes a wendigo. The novel describes its primary antagonist, a rapist whose violent crimes desecrate a sacred site, as a wendigo who must be killed because he threatens the reservation's safety.


In addition to characterizing individual people who exhibit destructive tendencies, the wendigo can also describe movements and events with similarly negative effects. According to Professor Chris Schedler, the figure of the wendigo represents "consuming forms of exclusion and assimilation" through which groups dominate other groups."[37] This application allows Native Americans to describe colonialism and its agents as wendigos since the process of colonialism ejected natives from their land and threw the natural world out of balance. DeSanti points to the 1999 horror film Ravenous as an illustration of this argument equating "the cannibal monster" to "American colonialism and manifest destiny". This movie features a character who articulates that expansion brings displacement and destruction as side effects, explaining that "manifest destiny" and "western expansion" will bring "thousands of gold-hungry Americans... over the mountains in search of new lives... This country is seeking to be whole... Stretching out its arms... and consuming all it can. And we merely follow".[38]


As a concept, wendigo can apply to situations other than some Native American-European relations. It can serve as a metaphor explaining any pattern of domination by which groups subjugate and dominate or violently destroy and displace. Joe Lockhard, English professor at Arizona State University, argues that wendigos are agents of "social cannibalism" who know "no provincial or national borders; all human cultures have been visited by shape-shifting wendigos. Their visitations speak to the inseparability of human experience... National identity is irrelevant to this borderless horror."[39] Lockhard's ideas explain that wendigos are an expression of a dark aspect of human nature: the drive toward greed, consumption, and disregard for other life in the pursuit of self-aggrandizement.


Romantic scholar and documentarian Emily Zarka, also a professor at Arizona State University, observes that two commonalities among the indigenous cultures of Algonquian language family speakers are that they are situated in climes where harsh winters are frequent and may be accompanied by starvation. She states that the wendigo symbolically represents three major concepts: it is the incarnation of winter, the embodiment of hunger, and the personification of selfishness.[2]


Although distinct from how it appears in the traditional lore, one of the first appearances of a character inspired by, or named after, a wendigo in non-Indigenous literature is Algernon Blackwood's 1910 novella The Wendigo.[40][41] Joe Nazare wrote that Blackwood's "subtly-demonizing rhetoric transforms the Wendigo from a native myth into a descriptive template for the Indian savage."[42]


In 1973 a character inspired by the wendigo appeared in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by the writer Steve Englehart and artist Herb Trimpe, the monster is the result of a curse that afflicts those who commit acts of cannibalism. It first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #162 (April 1973), and again in the October 1974 issue.[44]


Contemporary Indigenous works that explore the legend include the 1995 novel Solar Storms, by author and poet Linda K. Hogan (Chickasaw), which explores the stories of the wendigo and incorporates the creatures as a device to interrogate issues of independence, spirituality, politics, an individual's relationship to the family, and as a metaphor for corporate voracity, exploitation, and power - all viewed as a form of cannibalism.[45] Wrist, the 2016 debut novel by First Nations horror fiction writer Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler (Lac Des Milles Lacs Anishinaabe),[46] combines the traditional Ojibwe legend with the author's ideas inspired by non-Indigenous writers like Anne Rice and Tim Powers.[47]


Other creatures based on the legend, or named for it, appear in various films and television shows, including Dark Was the Night, Ravenous , The Lone Ranger (2013),[48] and the 2021 film Antlers by Scott Cooper, where the wendigo is portrayed as a deer-like creature with a glowing heart that moves from person to person with a never ending hunger. Guillermo del Toro, producer of the film, developed the wendigo on the basis that the more the creature eats, the more it gets hungry and the more it gets hungry, the weaker it becomes.[49][50] In the 2021 film The Inhuman (L'Inhumain) the arrival of a wendigo symbolizes inner turmoil after a character turns his back on his Indigenous heritage in the pursuit of material success.[51] 041b061a72


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