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Wendigo, the legend of the fearsome supernatural being that brought order to Native Americans

Por: Ecoo sfera5 de agosto de 2022

The wendigo is a mythological being of the Native American people that does not forgive selfishness and greed.

The oral traditions of the Algonquin-speaking First Nations in North America speak of magical and supernatural beings. As in all cultures, these creatures are part of their worldview, although they are not always beings that give faith and hope. The legend of the wendigo narrates the existence of a supernatural being that could well have been part of North American traditions as a means to internalize order and respect for the community.

The origin of the wendigo

According to most Algonquin oral traditions, the wendigo is a creature that feeds on human beings and has a preference for those weak-minded people who fall into selfishness. Most North American legends tell that humans can become a wendigo after their spirit succumbs to greed, becomes isolated from their community, or loses its values in the despair caused by hunger and cold.

Depending on the various Algonquin peoples including the Abenaki, Siksika, Mi’kmaq, Algonquin, Ojibwe, Cree, Kikapu, and even the Innu, the name given to the creature. It is believed that the word ‘wendigo’ or ‘windigo’ comes from the Proto-Algonquian ‘wi-nteko-wa’ meaning ‘owl’. But other variations can also be found such as ‘windigoo’ in Ojibwa, ‘wìdjigò’ in Algonquin, and ‘wīhtikōw’ in the Cree language.

What does the wendigo look like?

Although it is not very clear what the wendigo looks like, as according to legends only those who have seen it could detail it, the creature has been described as having a humanoid appearance of large stature and bony structure. It has long limbs with slender, elongated claw-like fingers, and its face is terrifying, showing its sharp teeth.

It has also been described as having pointed ears and sharp elk-like antlers sprouting from its head. Its eyes are milky and seem to be out of their sockets. But, above all, it is accompanied by an unpleasant odor that covers its ash-colored skin.

In the legends of native peoples, the wendigo is as tall as a person; however, they become proportionally larger the more beings they devour. They are attributed with powers such as superhuman strength and endurance, which enable them to stalk their victims.

Selfishness and extreme situations: the formula for lurking a wendigo

The legend of the wendigo reveals much more about the identity, idiosyncrasies, and ways of life of traditional North American peoples than it might seem. For some anthropologists, these creatures reinforce values and help maintain a taboo on attitudes that peoples see as unacceptable.

Situations that were very common in the way of life of the people are reflected in the legend. Being isolated from the group and succumbing to extreme hunger and cold were latent facts that constantly threatened the communities.

In fact, most of the stories featuring wendigos begin with a group isolated from their community facing the greatest state of survival, and in some cases, hunger drove them to the extreme of eating themselves. It was believed that the wendigo devoured lone travelers or a member of the group with a selfish attitude, and then temporarily took on their personality and began to devour other humans.

In nature, human survival often depended on team cooperation and the sharing of resources, otherwise, only the greediest would survive. In times of scarcity in regions with extreme conditions, it was frowned upon for an individual to keep scarce resources to himself.

It is for this reason that the wendigo may have served as a mythological creature that helped to internalize the values of community cooperation and served as a reminder that going to the extreme of consuming others from the community had no place even in the most extreme situations.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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