Monday, December 26, 2011

Northern Woods Legend: The Wendigo

The Wendigo, sometimes spelled Windigo, is a favorite campfire ghost story. I first encountered it when reading Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Schwartz's version is a shorter version than the story that was written by the horror writer Algernon Blackwood called “The Wendigo.” Blackwood didn’t originate the story. 

It was told for many years among the American Indians tribes that live in the Great Lakes region, specifically in Minnesota.

The story of the Wendigo is also told in Canada. In Ontario near the town of Kenora, traders, trackers and trappers have spotted this creature for many decades. 

Many hunters and campers in the Northern Woods of Minnesota have also told tales of their encounters with this mysterious creature.

The Algernon Blackwood version is considered by some to be the scariest version. The Schwartz version is a nice one to read if you are not familiar with this story. 

In this post I share a Native American version of the Wendigo, it is different than Blackwood’s and Schwartz's tales.

According to Native American legend the Wendigo once was human but was magically transformed into a strange creature. 

The Wendigo is described as being a giant spirit or ghost standing over fifteen feet tall. It is often stated that it has glowing eyes, long yellow fanged teeth, a very long tongue, and matted hair. It is also said the Wendigo is driven by an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

The legend states that the poor souls who have been turned into Wendigos are doomed to this form because they ate human flesh while alive in order to survive. In fact, some state that this legend is meant to be a cautionary tale warning against cannibalism. 

Over the years there have been a large number of sightings of this creature, which have resulted in the legend being kept alive.

Early western settlers often reported seeing a “banshee-like” creature, they feared its appearance because they believed this meant that there was to be a death in their community. So the Wendigo to them was a harbinger. 

Rosesu, a small Northern Minnesota town reported sightings of the Wendigo near their community from the late 1900’s into the early 1920s and each time right after these sightings an unexpected death would occur.

As recently as the last century, Native Americans still believed in the existence of the Wendigo. One Cree Indian, Jack Fiddler, stated that he had seen the creature many times in his lifetime. 

The beliefs that the Wendigo seeks human flesh, and that it is a portent of doom still persist today.

Here is one Native American tale about the Windigo.

It had been a long harsh winter with snowstorms that left behind large drifts. When the latest storm briefly broke a father sent his son to hunt for much needed food. The son keeping his spear and knife close looked for any trace of animal tracks in the snow.

The forest was oddly quiet, gleaming with snow and ice. As the son moved through the trees he heard a strange hissing sound. It seemed to come from everywhere. He spotted blood-soaked footprints in the path in front of him. He sensed the Windigo was watching him.

He knew about this creature because his father had described it to him as a child. It was as large as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth. As it breathed it hissed. 

It had matted hair that was often covered in a long white robe. A star mark on its forehead. The creature's footprints always trailed blood. It was known to kill and eat any human that crossed its path.

The son knew if he didn't prevail he would die. He backed away slowly from the hissing sound. He gripped his spear in one hand and his knife in the other. 

A snow bank next to him erupted as the creature leapt at him. He rolled quickly through the snow to one side, the white snow that now covered him concealed him from view.

The Windigo whipped his massive frame around quickly looking for him. The son threw his spear striking the creature squarely in the chest. The Windigo grunted and easily shook the spear off. The son hid behind a small tree as the creature continued to search for him.

The Windigo approached his hiding place. His sharp eyes spotted the boy's outline against the tree. The creature bent toward him, its long arms reaching out. 

The son taking his last chance raced forward and embraced the creature at the same time thrusting his knife deeply into the Windigo’s eye. It screamed in pain as the knife twisted deeper into his brain. The creature tried to pull the boy off his chest but the son stubbornly clung to him stabbing one eye and then the other again and again.

The Windigo finally collapsed to the ground crushing the boy beneath him. The son pulled himself loose and stood staring down at the creature. Its form started to fade against the snow, only the blood pouring from its eyes and ears showing any contrast to the snow. The figure completely disappeared leaving just a pool of blood where it fell.

The boy, shaken, tired and still terrified headed for home. The fates were with him because at the edge of the wood a fat red fox appeared. With a prayer of thanksgiving the son killed the fox and took it home to his starving family. 

This meat lasted for several days. When the last winter storm had come and gone the son could once again hunt for food.

1 comment:

Leona Joan said...

Very interesting story. I hope I never run into a Wendigo! 😮