The Creature In the Poem “Windigo” Explained

Autumn Mason, Writer

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The Wendigo, Windigo, or Wendego, is a terrifying creature from Algonquian legend. The wendigo is a malevolent, gluttonous, cannibalistic spirit. They’ve been associated with the north, coldness, winter, famine, and starvation.  It is unknown when the legend of the wendigo originated, as it has been passed down for generations. The details can differ, as the legend is widespread, but the tale generally goes that a person gets turned into one, whether by possession, association, cannibalism, or intense greed.

 

Wendigos appearances vary slightly depending where the account is from but, for the most part, wendigos are said to have glowing eyes, long tongues, and long yellowed fangs. They could have skin matted with hair or sallow, pale skin stretched over their bones, looking almost emaciated. Wendigos have been said to tower over people, to be the giants of legend, at 9-15 feet or so. Antlers aren’t very common in the lore, but they are featured on wendigos quite often.

 

Wendigos are said to have an eternal hunger. They can eat, eat, and eat and still be starving. This most likely contributes to their association with greed, as they can’t ever satisfy their hunger, similar to a greedy person. It is said that Wendigos grow after each meal, it may be why they’re depicted as giants.

 

You may think wendigos only exist in legend, however they do exist, to an extant at least. The tale shares a name with an illness related to cannibalism. Wendigo psychosis, a described culture-bound disorder where the subject developed an intense craving for human flesh- despite other, healthier, food being available- and a fear of becoming a cannibal. The illness is thought to have happened when a wendigo is present, similar to turning into a wendigo by association.

 

The myth is often seen as a cautionary tale against greed and culturally taboo behaviors. The tale helped dehumanize those who sought and ate human flesh, as since they were a cannibal they were now a wendigo, an evil spirit.