Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wendigo

The wendigo is a demonic creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquin peoples along the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada, and the upper Midwest United States. The wendigo is probably my state's only popular mythic character. Michigan's weather apparently doesn't suit many supernatural beings. As it happens, the wendigo doesn't mind our cold weather at all, and that's why it was found here and in most northern states. According to Algonquin legends, a wendigo is an insatiable, yet emaciated, beast that desired for nothing but the taste of human flesh. All wendigos were humans at one time, but had resorted to cannibalism and thus turned into this dreaded beast. Humans could also turn into wendigo's if they became too greedy or ravenous. If you were unlucky enough to run into one in the woods, it would devour you without hesitation. Wendigos were seen as a gaunt looking giant, a being that is always hungry. The fear of turning into a wendigo kept many Algonquin people from consuming too much or taking more than they needed. While greediness was looked down upon, cannibalism was extremely taboo in the Algonquin tribes. You either committed suicide in the event of famine, or resigned yourself to death. Eating someone, even to save your own life, was one of the worst things you could do. So it's easy to see why the Algonquin came up with a creature that represented all that could go wrong when you committed such acts. You weren't a human anymore, just an insatiable monster gorging itself on the flesh of your comrades.

Even though the wendigo is just a legendary figure that has never existed, that hasn't stopped anthropologists and psychologists from seeing a glimmer of it in people. Called "Wendigo Psychosis," the patient will desire human flesh, even if there are other food sources readily available. The condition is considered a culture-bound syndrome, meaning it only happens to Algonquins. Wendigo Psychosis is highly controversial, as many psychologist question if there have ever been any real cases. Scholars that don't believe in the psychosis claim that the "condition" is nothing but fantasy, something a foolish anthropologist took at face value when told of the wendigo by the Algonquin. There are still those that claim it is a real condition, though very rare now. The most famous story of Wendigo Psychosis deals with a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta, named Swift Runner. During the winter of 1878, Swift Runner and his family were starving, and his eldest son died. Swift Runner ate not only his eldest son, but the rest of his family too, even though there was an emergency food supply at a nearby fort twenty-five miles away. It was revealed that this was not a case of pure cannabalism, as eating his family was not a latch ditch effort to stay alive, but of Wendigo Psychosis. He gave himself up at a nearby fort and was promptly executed. A man named Fiddler Jack, a Oji-Cree chief and shaman, was said to be very good at defeating wendigos. In some cases this involved euthenizing people who were thought to be suffering from Wendigo Psychosis. He was arrested and put to death in 1907. The number of Wendigo Psychosis cases have basically vanished, as many of the Algonquin tribes have assimilated into Western culture and live less rural lifestyles. The jury is still out on whether it can actually be called a real condition or not.

Real monster or not, the wendigo has become a popular villain in many TV shows, video games, and movies, including Cabin in the Woods, Supernatural, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, and Hannibal.



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