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In Native American folklore, the wendigo is described as a supernatural, flesh eating monster, or sometimes as an evil spirit that possesses men and women to feed on human flesh. Roughly translated, the word wendigo means “the evil spirit that devours mankind.” Some believe a human can become a wendigo by being possessed by the spirit of one, causing them to commit acts of murder and cannibalism, whereas others believe a person slowly becomes a wendigo by indulging in cannibalism of their own free will. In some folklore, the wendigo is able to shapeshift to assume the form of a human that it’s cannibalized and can mimic voices and other sounds to lure unsuspecting men and women into its lair, which is filled with the bones and carcasses of its previous victims.
Wendigos are described as being tall and human-like in appearance, with some allegedly standing up to 15 feet tall, with gaunt, disfigured, skeletal features, and dark, sunken eyes. They are described as being lanky and having supernatural speed and hunting abilities, with sharp claws and fangs. They appear to be driven mad by the urge to consume human flesh, and their hunger can never be sated. It’s said that over time the wendigo’s appearance becomes more and more fearsome as the possessed individual is stripped of their humanity.
Alleged encounters with the wendigo have been reported throughout North America dating back hundreds of years before the arrival of European settlers, and continue to present day. Many doctors during the early colonization of America believed that the wendigo was real, with some even going so far as diagnosing criminals who committed acts of cannibalism with a rare condition called Wendigo Psychosis.
One famous case of alleged Wendigo Psychosis was reported in 1878, when a Native American trapper from Alberta, Canada named Swift Runner claimed to be possessed by the spirit of a wendigo. During the winter Swift Runner, his wife, and their five children were living in a cabin in the woods, trapping animals and hunting for food. The cabin was located just 25 miles from the nearest village.
According to historical documents, when Swift Runner returned to the village the next spring, he was alone. When people began to ask what happened to his wife and family, he replied that they had become trapped in the cabin over the winter by snow and tragically died of starvation. When authorities went to investigate the cabin, they found a gruesome scene inside.
Swift Runner’s deceased wife and children appeared to have been murdered, and their remains devoured. Due to the relatively close proximity of the cabin to town, it was concluded that Swift Runner’s cannibalism was not a last resort to avoid starvation, and many believed he had become possessed by the spirit of a wendigo. Swift Runner confessed to the killings, and was later executed at nearby Fort Saskatchewan.
Another alleged case of Wendigo Psychosis occurred in 1907, when a Native American medicine man named Jack Fiddler, who claimed to have killed 14 wendigos over the course of his lifetime, was arrested for homicide. At the age of 87, Jack Fiddler confessed to murdering an elderly tribeswoman because he believed that she had been possessed by a wendigo spirit. According to Jack, the woman was on the verge of fully transforming into a wendigo, and he had no choice but to kill her before she became a threat.
Jack Fiddler was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison, however he chose to end his life instead and committed suicide shortly after.
In recent years the wendigo has made its way into pop culture as a horror icon, with many Hollywood movies and television shows featuring creatures with similar characteristics and lore. Due to new technology like trail cameras, cellphone cameras, drones, and the internet, more and more sightings are allegedly taking place as well, with most originating in rural, wooded areas.
Whether the wendigo exists as a real supernatural creature, or is just an old fairytale to discourage men and women from the horrors of cannibalism, one can never be too careful in the woods.
Brian Weaver is the founder and creator of GhostQuest.net, the internet’s largest database for haunted locations, urban legends, and folklore tales throughout the United States. He grew up in rural New Hampshire, where he attended college for Computer Science.