For my second entry in the 2011 MonsterFest by Sommer Leigh of Tell Great Stories, I'd like to talk about the Wendigo. I previously wrote about skinwalkers. You can still sign up to participate in the MonsterFest on Sommer's blog.
While skinwalkers seem to be more commonly known in the United States, Wendigo is mostly a Canadian First Nation's monster, though his realm extends into the Great Lakes region, Minnesota and the Dakotas. So many tribes recognize Wendigo as a real creature that it has many names. "Wendigo" means "evil spirit that devours mankind," and is Algonquian in origin.
What is it?
Wendigos are creatures that roam the cold woods of the north looking for human flesh. They are always hungry, starving in fact. Not only are they formidable in size and strength, but they also have power over the weather, the beasts of the forests, and their victims.
As hungry as they are, Wendigos like to toy with their victims before tearing them apart. They will scream and growl, chasing the victim through the woods to get their giggles. (Not that they giggle.) They will do this until the victim is such a mess that they can no longer defend themselves rationally.
What do they look like?
Though stories vary, it is widely reported that Wendigo is humanoid in appearance, but deformed. Their skin is yellowish, and some have matted fur. Their teeth are needle sharp, their tongue a swollen dark blue. Bulbous yellow or red eyes glow out of its skull, peering through the darkness. Its claws are a foot long and razor sharp, both on feet and hands, though there is only one toe and claw on each foot.
They are said to be of such great size that the human mind can't comprehend it. Fifteen feet of height is not uncommon, and their limbs are extraordinarily long. They are scrawny, though, thanks to their intense hunger. Such hunger, in fact, that it is said they ate their own lips, leaving them with horrible, lipless grimaces.
What are these powers they possess?
When the Wendigos are young, they crash around haphazardly, causing wind storms, cyclones, blizzards, stampedes and destruction of the forests. When they're older, they gain actual shamanic powers over the weather and can control it intentionally. Therefore, when harsh weather phenomenon moves in, it is a signal Wendigo will come for you.
It's not just the weather, either. They work closely with the predators of the forest, sometimes controlling them. These creatures will often help the Wendigo, and both are known to share their kills with each other.
They can cause Wendigo Fever. The first sign you have Wendigo Fever is an odor that no one else can smell. When this happens, a person doesn't stand a chance. Within hours, they will begin having terrible nightmares, eventually awakening with a burning in their feet and legs which drives them to flee their homes, ripping their clothes off. This is when they race into the woods, to either be eaten by the Wendigo or to perish from exposure. Either way, very few ever return, and those that do aren't in their right minds ever again.
They can see in the dark, smell you for miles, and use nature to track their victim's every move without having to be near them. They have a connection with the trees, animals and plants of the forest that allows them to know precisely where they are. They can also detect body heat, just in case the rest of it wasn't enough.
Possibly the most frightening is that they are very smart and cunning. They can outsmart you, there in the woods. They may even let you think you're winning for a bit before really amping it up. Also, like the skinwalker, they can imitate voices, so don't rely on rescue. Just because you recognize a voice, doesn't mean you're safe.
I don't believe in magical powers; what else do they do?
Disembowel. Behead. Their teeth are so large and strong they can bite through a man's skull. Their claws are so sharp they can go through flesh and bone, alike.
Wendigos hibernate. The problem is, sometimes they prefer a house to a cave, which means someone has to give up their little cabin in the woods. Unfortunately, the Wendigo doesn't come with a pocket book, which means they must break into a cabin and take it by force, meaning some happy campers are going to be dinner.
Also, being smarter than the average squirrel (and then some), they know that people don't hike in the woods quite so much in the winter. Thus, sometimes they've got to sock away a little food. It's said that they keep pots of human body parts up in the trees for emergencies, but that takes away part of the fun when mealtime comes. This means they sometimes prefer to keep a warm body in their winter abode, so they can eat fresh while the person survives. Yum.
How do I kill one of these freaks?
In a word...silver. Right, not shocking, is it? Some day I'd love to research why so many different cultures thought silver was the go-to cure-all for killer critters.
It's not that easy, though. The slightest touch of silver doesn't kill the Wendigo. It's just further insurance that the thing may die. Like a vampire, you must go for the heart in order to shatter it. Did I mention its heart is made of ice? Once you have achieved the shattering of its heart of ice with something silver, you must then disassemble its body with an ax made of silver (the blade, not the handle), lock the shattered remains of its heart in a box that you bury, cover the rest of the remains in salt, burn them, then scatter the ashes to the four winds (north, east, south, west).
Now, a silver bullet or small silver blade may injure them long enough to get away, but they likely can't kill the Wendigo. The same can go for amulets and other protective items, which may hold it at bay. A fire will hold them off, as well, despite the fact that if they are burned they will quickly heal from it, just as they will from any other injury.
Where did these things come from?
It would seem there was originally an evil spirit with great powers. Beyond this guy, though, it is actually quite easy to become a Wendigo. (Don't try this at home).
The main way to become a Wendigo is to cannibalize. As the Wendigo is from cold areas, areas that can become isolated due to winter storms, this is quite common. Sometimes people become trapped and are forced to eat the weaker member in their group. When the spring thaw comes, there will only be monsters left behind, ready to rampage in the forests surrounding them. Once they cannibalized, evil spirits entered their bodies, forced their souls out and allowed the body to perish, thus allowing the Wendigo to rise from the dead. Woe to the person who finds this lost hunting party, for they are now a different sort of hunter, stronger, faster and exponentially more evil.
One may also become Wendigo by being bitten by one, much like the fabled werewolf. In addition, when a Wendigo has become old and weak, they can leap into another's body, possessing them. People can be turned by sorcery or by praying to the evil spirit for help.
Real life cases of the Wendigo:
Northern tribes used to have special shamans who were trained to track the Wendigo and kill any persons being converted to its evil form. Jack Fiddler, of the Cree tribe, worked with his brother and son as a Wendigo killer. He actually committed suicide in prison after being arrested for the killing of a woman he claimed was changing into Wendigo. White man's law felt he was just euthanizing a sick person, as they could not adequately care for and treat her. His Wendigo body count is said to be eighteen.
There is an actual diagnosis called Windigo Psychosis, in which a person believes they are turning into a Wendigo and become increasingly more aggressive and depressed over time. People have convinced others that they are changing and asked them to kill them. Marie Courtereille was one of those people. In 1887, with their community's blessing, her husband and son gave into her requests and killed her with a silver axe. There have been other documented murder cases thanks to this psychosis.
Or thanks to the Wendigo...
For further research:
Have you heard of the Wendigo before? Like to go camping?
May you find your Muse.