Mythical Monday: When Did You Go Wendigo?
Humans have been creating and believing in mythological creatures for centuries. The wendigo is a creature originally appearing in the legends of the Algonquin people, native to eastern North America. Beliefs in the creature vary from a cannibalistic monster that can possess humans to a monster into which some humans were capable of transforming.
The myth of the wendigo was common to a number of different Algonquin tribes, and while the descriptions varied somewhat, the basic myth was of evil, cannibalistic, supernatural beings with great power. Though often described as gaunt and starved in appearance and smelling of death and decay, the creatures were the embodiment of gluttony and greed. When it comes to a tasty human being, one was never enough. In some traditions, humans who succumbed to the power of greed could turn into wendigos.
In the cultures where the wendigo appears, a human could also be turned into one of the creatures by engaging in cannibalism. Alternatively a person could be possessed by the malevolent spirit of a wendigo through a dream. The end result in either case is the person becoming violent and obsessed with the desire to consume human flesh.
The wendigo myth has served as a lesson about and deterrent to the taboo of cannibalism. Wendigo ceremonies were performed during times of famine to reinforce the idea that cannibalism is wrong, even to save one's own life.
In modern psychology, wendigo psychosis is a condition in which individuals becomes overcome with the desire to consume human flesh even when there is plenty of other food available. There is debate over whether this really exists as a disorder.
In popular culture, the wendigo has joined the likes of werewolves and vampires as regulars in the genres of horror and fantasy, and bears little resemblance to the original Native American legend.
Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger