Tales of the Wendigo -- Real or Myth?
Often plagued by extreme cold and hunger, members of Native-American tribes living in Canada and near the U.S. Great Lakes must surely have considered cannibalism to survive. Not coincidentally, this is the primary region where the wendigo is believed to roam through backwoods and the occasional boudoir.
Stories of wendigoes served as cautionary tales, to deter those who might be tempted to dine on their family members or neighbors during long winters when food was scarce. Wouldn't it be effective to warn your cohorts off cannibalism if the consequences were to turn into loathsome, demonic monsters? Even the wendigo's visage, often described as devoid of lips or other soft tissue, was probably a nod to enduring the ravages of frostbite [source: Unknown Explorers].
Like other indigenous folklore, the wendigo may have faded into anonymity as the tribes' cultures were subverted into the broader Canadian society. In 1907, however, a series of events cemented the wendigo's place in history.
In 1907, Algernon Blackwood wrote a shorty story called, "The Wendigo." Within its pages, he recounted a hunting party venturing into the Canadian backwoods and returning profoundly changed by an encounter with a wendigo [source: Algernon Blackwood].
At about that same time, a member of the Cree tribe of northwestern Ontario named Jack Fiddler told a Methodist minister about his ability to defeat wendigoes. Word spread of Fiddler's self-proclaimed abilities. A shaman, Fiddler said he had killed 14 wendigoes during his lifetime and insisted his actions -- snuffing out locals before they turned into wendigoes -- saved the lives of many. Jack Fiddler and his brother Joseph were arrested and imprisoned for killing a woman before she transformed. Jack escaped and hanged himself; Joseph died of consumption just days before he would have been released on appeal [source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography].
The Fiddler killings lent credibility to the notion that wendigoes were real. But they also point to a myth evolving from the eradication of physical or mental illness; the murder and quarantined disposal of wendigo bodies may have stopped the spread of disease or silenced the mentally ill. Read to find out how one stops this horrible creature.