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The Wendigo, Spirit of the Lonely Places

 

The name means “the evil that devours”.  The strange wendigo is one of the lesser known entries in the encyclopedia of cryptozoology.  Most people today probably know the term as a result of the 2001 horror film.  It is a malevolent cannibalistic, shapeshifting spirit into which man could transform, or which could possess humans.  People who indulged in cannibalism were at particular risk.  The Wendigo has become a horror entity of contemporary literature much like the vampire, werewolf, or zombie.  The wendigo is the embodiment of gluttony, greed, and excess.  Never satisfied after killing and consuming one person, it constantly searches for new victims.

Origin Of The Story

The wendigo starts out as a human being.  However that person becomes possessed by an evil spirit and transforms into the beast. The most common reason for becoming a wendigo is if one eats human flesh.  In 1846, a wagon train of ordinary families that came to be known as the Donner Party set out from Missouri on a journey of 2500 miles to California.  Trapped by a storm in a mountain pass, the travellers became snowbound for many months as multiple rescue missions were launched.  More than half of the original party starved to death, and the survivors ultimately were forced into a gruesome choice, either die, or preserve life by eating the bodies of the dead.  Legend has it that if you eat human flesh then you can turn into the cannibalistic night monster, the wendigo.

Many northern woods people believed in the legend.  The wendigo can possess any man, especially during a fever or an attack of madness – something that you would expect to be in abundant supply during the ordeal of the ill-fated Donner Party.  The wendigo would often invade the human heart as a splinter of ice.  A wendigo on the loose in a dark forest may be seen vomiting ice.  The wendigo victim’s face may turn black with frostbite.  When transformation happens he may be able to fly through winter nights in search of new prey, his own species.

A man who goes on a hunt and never returns may have fallen victim to a wendigo.  Eating human flesh, even in an emergency may be a sign that a starving hunter as “turned wendigo.”  Such a wretch will be shunned by all members of his group, and probably driven from the camp.  For once the wendigo has tasted human flesh, he will eat nothing else.  Some say that people bitten by a wendigo will begin to develop a craving for human flesh and eventually become possessed themselves. This may have contributed to the origin of the dawn of the dead zombie story.  The wendigo is known as the “spirit of the lonely places”.  It is certainly a solitary creature.  The wendigo hides in the forest and tracks you silently, always just out of sight.

Many myths have their basis in fact.  There have been many wendigo sightings over the years, especially in Minnesota where the creature is believed to live in the woods and prairies.  Patiently waiting for the next person or persons to lose their way.