It’s Spring, and I’m back out at my cabin in the wilderness of Manitoba (that’s a province in Canada). The cabin is in the woods about 20 minutes east of Lake Winnipeg and about 20 minutes north of the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation Reserve. I usually don’t write about cryptozoology, but I feel that my present situation necessitates a post about my favourite but underrated cryptid- the Wendigo, a creature that inspires so much fear that many refuse to talk about it, as uttering its name may summon it to you.
The Wendigo legend is prevalent across North America, however, the Anishinabe people in Southern Manitoba (made up predominantly of Ojibway and Cree peoples) have a deep seeded fear with this spirit/creature. While the legend has variations, the prairie provinces of Canada seem to hold a very consistent lore concerning the Wendigo.
It is, in simple terms, a spirit that is able to possess a human. It will often seek out someone who is alone, typically in the wilderness or via a dream, and drive them to madness. The victim will develop a psychotic rage with the desire to consume human flesh. Many of my colleagues in the Southern United States will often compare the Wendigo to a Skinwalker, and even a Sasquatch (which is plain silly). However, these two cryptids and the Wendigo have many more differences than similarities. The primary difference is that a person possessed by the Wendigo spirit will not transform or shape-shift; they remain human.
That being said, the mystery does go a little deeper. The Wendigo spirit itself can physically manifest, and it usually does for its intended target. While the appearance varies based upon tribal group, it is typically 8 or 9 feet tall with a human-like appearance. It is gaunt, thin, and resembles a rotting corpse; it even gives off the smell of decay and death. Many interpretations of the legend have also suggested that it possess deer-like antlers, however, I’m convinced this is a modern addition to the story. As I mentioned, while there are variations, this description is consistent with the local legends of the indigenous people who lived on the land where my cabin currently sits. I have always found it somewhat frightening that about an hour east of my cabin is an area known as Wendigo Beach- which, I have to honest, I won’t visit at night.
The vast majority of reports concerning the Wendigo involve possession. This is because local authorities are sent to investigate a killing, committed by an individual who is possessed by the spirit; or committed by the community, who were forced to kill the person who was allegedly possessed. Reports of the physical manifestation are very rare, as the person who sees a Wendigo usually does not make it out alive. That being said, there are stories that float around town where people claim to have seen one, usually from the inside of a car, which allows for a quick getaway down a back country road.
The local Ojibway people who live near my cabin are very tight lipped about the Wendigo. It is not something that is discussed, as the mention of its name alone will bring bad luck, never mind a visit from the creature. Sightings are usually not reported, and any Wendigo phenomena are generally kept “in house.” Even as I write this post, I’ve had to strengthen my own resolve with a bit of Scotch. The Sun will eventually set.
- M. J. Banias
Want some extra information?
A good article was written by Bob Holiday for the Winnipeg Sun in 2007 which describes a few police investigations into Wendigo blamed killings in the prairie provinces. Due to the age of the stories, official records are difficult to find. Here is the link if you want to check it out.
Another great source of information is Nathan Carlson, a Wendigo scholar out of Edmonton, Alberta. Here is a link to his thesis on Wendigo mythology in Northern Alberta. He is also on Facebook.
Think you have seen a Wendigo? We’d love to hear your story. Click on the Contact Us link or leave a comment below.