Jan 26, 2021 I Nick Redfern

The Wendigo: The Most Dangerous Monster of All?

The Wendigo is without doubt  a highly dangerous creature, one which is a staple part of the folklore and legend of the Native American tribe known as the Algonquin. The monster is typically described as a tall, crazed and violent thing that roams the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the northernmost states of the U.S., and Canada. It is a large, humanoid beast that dines on human flesh. There is, however, another aspect to the lore surrounding the Wendigo. Namely, that if a person eats human flesh, he or she can shapeshift into a Wendigo. Adding to the legend, the Wendigo has the ability to take control of our minds – always for terrible and horrific reasons. In that sense, as well as a shapeshifting angle, there is what we might term a mind-shifting process, too.

Legends of America state: "The legend lends its name to the disputed modern medical term Wendigo psychosis, which is considered by some psychiatrists to be a syndrome that creates an intense craving for human flesh and a fear of becoming a cannibal. Ironically, this psychosis is said to occur within people living around the Great Lakes of Canada and the United States. Wendigo psychosis usually develops in the winter in individuals who are isolated by heavy snow for long periods. The initial symptoms are poor appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Subsequently, the individual develops a delusion of being transformed into a Wendigo monster. People who have Wendigo psychosis increasingly see others around them a being edible. At the same time, they have an exaggerated fear of becoming cannibals."

Business Standard say: "Despite their gaunt physiques, Wendigo are described by some as giants, measuring at about 14.8 to 15 feet in height. Whilst there are slight variations as to the physical description of this creature amongst the different Algonquian peoples, it is generally agreed that Wendigo have glowing eyes, long yellowed fangs and long tongues. Most Wendigo are also said to have sallow and yellowish skin, though others say that they are matted with hair or have decaying skin. According to ethno-historian Nathan Carlson, it's also been said that the wendigo has large, sharp claws and massive eyes like an owl. However, some other people simply describe the wendigo as a skeleton-like figure with ash-toned skin."

One of the more intriguing theories for what may have provoked the legends of the Wendigo is that they were based upon early, centuries-old reports of Bigfoot encounters. Certainly, there are more than a few reports in which Bigfoot-type beasts have acted violently in the presence of people. There are even reports of people vanishing in the woods and forests of the United States – amid theories that the Bigfoot, when food is scarce, will feed on just about anything. And that includes us.  Of the various stories that surround the Wendigo, certainly the most horrific revolves around a Cree Native American named Swift Runner, who lived with his family in an area of forest close to Edmonton, Canada.

As 1878 rolled over into 1879, Swift Runner turned up in the city of St. Albert, Canada. He told a bleak and harrowing story of how all of his family – his wife, his six children, and his mother and brother - had fallen victim to the recent, hostile winter, in which food was beyond scarce and temperatures plunged. As plausible as the story told by Swift Runner to a group of Catholic priests sounded, there was a significant red flag. Swift Runner hardly looked emaciated. In fact, he looked very well fed. That’s because he was: Swift Runner spent the winter devouring his entire family, eating their flesh and gnawing on their bones – as the St. Albert police found to their horror when they traveled to the site of his home in the woods. Suspicions soon began to surface that Swift Runner was possessed by a Wendigo: he began to exhibit bizarre activity, such as howling, growling, and screaming in savage fashion. Tales circulated that, on one occasion, Swift Runner was seen to transform into a savage-looking humanoid, a definitive Wendigo – something caused by his taste for human flesh.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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