FOLKLORE & URBAN LEGENDS: WENDIGO
Cannibalism has always been taboo; the act of eating another person feels like a betrayal of human nature. Those who engage in the act are viewed as monstrous, someone who has lost their humanity.
A dark spirit inhabits in the woods of northern Minnesota, and southern Canada. This area is known as the North Woods, covering 26 million acres in total.
The legend of the Wendigo goes back hundreds of years, and is said to originate with the Algonquian Tribe of North America. Nevertheless, other tribes have reported a similar spirit in the forest.
The creature is approximately 15ft tall, with hands resembling large claws. It’s incredibly malnourished in appearance, with muscles and bones easily visible through its tightly stretched skin. Roaming through the forest, it brings the smell of death.
Traditional stories about the Wendigo take place during winter. An especially difficult time of year in the far north, due to a lack of plentiful hunting and farming. Many tribes went hungry, and dying of starvation was common.
When someone’s on the brink of death, all other concerns fall away. Starvation causes depression, anxiety, and aggression. This weakness from starvation is what the Wendigo preys on.
It possesses a human host, causing immense hunger and uncontrollable urges to eat human flesh. As the person feeds, they begin to transform into the creature. The more it eats, the larger its stomach grows, leaving the creature in a constant state of hunger.
Other interpretations say after a person engages in cannibalism, they will invite Wendigo spirit into them. Only then, will they transform into the creature described in Native American folklore.
Looking at the story with a modern day perspective, we can guess these stories were to prepare the tribe for the hardships of winter. Condoning cannibalism, even if there is no other hope for food. It also serves to caution children about greed, and gluttony. To take only what they need.
Nevertheless, every myth has some truth to it.
The legend is debated in the scientific community. A condition known as Wendigo Psychosis remains a mystery to researchers. Symptoms include having a sudden craving to eat human flesh; with intense anxiety about becoming a cannibal, leaving them terrified about their own cravings.
There have been multiple incidents where families were found dead after being isolated in the woods during winter. In these reports, one of the family members suffered from Wendigo Psychosis. Resulting in them killing the rest of the family, and beginning to eat the bodies.
Does the combination of starvation and isolation lead to a condition where people begin craving human flesh? This may explain the legends passed down for hundreds of years.
The North Woods keep many secrets. Since Wendigo Psychosis occurs in isolated areas, it’s impossible to document every case. There may be others out there who suffer from this condition. Walking through the forests looking for food, bringing with them the smell of death.
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