Saturday, April 26, 2014

W: Wendigo (A-Z Blog Challenge: Evocative words)

I first heard of the Wendigo was I was a college student in eastern Kentucky. I had a summer gig working for the college's public radio station and was sent to cover a storytelling festival. Storytelling festivals were big in Appalachia in the 1990s. I hope they still are because they are wonderful.

A woman came to the stage and told this story that had us all spellbound. What I remember about it now is the high, mournful voice she used as the voice of the wendigo. In her story, it was sad, tormented creature, forced to move at incredible speed that burned off its feet.  It was looking for rescue.

I've since run across this creature in other stories (it was even on Supernatural). It's not one of those myths that gets explored to death (like vampires and werewolves), but it's coming to the edge of more people's consciousness. The basic idea is that the wendigo was once human, but became transformed into a wendigo through madness. It's cannibalistic, and terrifying in that it attacks in the woods, in the dark, mostly unseen.

Like many of these myths, the power lies in what it has to say about what constitutes humanity and whether a person can lose her hold on humanity. In this case, the creature quite literally eats the flesh of other humans, but it could easily be a metaphor for all the ways we consume and feed on each other.

The wendigo doesn't have one set appearance. When I googled art for this blogpost, I saw many interpretations. There were large, muscular, wolf-like creatures; hybrid human and deer forms; even some that were just sort of ugly humans with sharp, bloody teeth.

The ones that chilled me the most were skeletally thin. This is especially awful when you consider their reputation for ravenous consumption of human flesh. It definitely makes you feel the cursed aspect--they eat, but they are still starving all the time.

They often are depicted with antlers of some kind, either looking like they are part tree or part deer. That makes a lot of sense for their invisibility in the forest. It would help them blend in as they wait for prey.

Extra long arms and fingers tipped with claw or talon-like nails (like Nosferatu) were also a common feature. There's something that really disturbs me about skewed proportions like that. It reminds me of the exaggerated shadows on my bedroom walls when I was a child, and what my child's imagination made of them.

(shiver) (shudder) (disturbed sound effect). Wendigos.

I think I'll stay out of the woods today.
This post is part of the Blogging from A-Z Challenge.


  1. Awesome post. I'd never heard of the wendigo. Sounds like there need to be more stories - could be really fun doing something deep and dark going into the origin of them.
    Marlene at On Writing and Riding

  2. Very cool! Thanks for sharing. New follower here. I'm stopping by from the "A to Z" challenge, and I look forward to visiting again.


  3. I'm sure I've heard of the wendigo before--I certainly do now. Creepy! It's interesting to reflect on how monsters can indeed be reflections of the darker side of humanity. Great article, Samantha. :)