Wendigo Psychosis: Monstrous Men

13Sep09

Windigoart2The term “Wendigo psychosis” refers to a condition in which sufferers developed an insatiable desire to eat human flesh even when other food sources were readily available, often as a result of prior famine cannibalism; Wendigo psychosis is identified by Western psychologists as a culture-bound syndrome, though members of the aboriginal communities in which it existed believed cases literally involved individuals turning into Wendigos. Such individuals generally recognized these symptoms as meaning that they were turning into Wendigos, and often requested to be executed before they could harm others. The most common response when someone began suffering from Wendigo psychosis was curing attempts by traditional native healers or Western doctors. In the unusual cases when these attempts failed, and the Wendigo began either to threaten those around them or to act violently or anti-socially, they were then generally executed. Cases of Wendigo psychosis, though real, were relatively rare, and it was even rarer for them to actually culminate in the execution of the sufferer.

Windigo-1One of the more famous cases of Wendigo psychosis involved a Plains Cree trapper from Alberta, named Swift Runner. During the winter of 1878, Swift Runner and his family were starving, and his eldest son died. Within just 25 miles of emergency food supplies at a Hudson’s Bay Company post, Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five remaining children. Given that he resorted to cannibalism so near to food supplies, and that he killed and consumed the remains of all those present, it was revealed that Swift Runner’s was not a case of pure cannibalism as a last resort to avoid starvation, but rather of a man suffering from Wendigo psychosis. He eventually confessed and was executed by authorities at Fort Saskatchewan. Another well-known case involving Wendigo psychosis was that of Jack Fiddler, an Oji-Cree chief and shaman known for his powers at defeating Wendigos. In some cases this entailed euthanizing people suffering from Wendigo psychosis; as a result, in 1907, Fiddler and his brother Joseph were arrested by the Canadian authorities for murder. Jack committed suicide, but Joseph was tried and put to death.

Fascination with Wendigo psychosis among Western ethnographers, psychologists, and anthropologists led to a hotly debated controversy in the 1980s over the historicity of this phenomenon. Some researchers argued that Wendigo psychosis was essentially a fabrication, the result of naïve anthropologists taking stories related to them at face value. Others, however, pointed to a number of credible eyewitness accounts, both by Algonquians and by Westerners, as proof that Wendigo psychosis was a factual historical phenomenon.

The frequency of Wendigo psychosis cases decreased sharply in the 20th century as boreal Algonquian people came in to greater and greater contact with Western ideologies and more sedentary, less rural lifestyles. While there is substantive evidence to suggest that Wendigo psychosis did exist, a number of questions concerning the condition remain unanswered. [Source]

The Mythology

WendigoAmong all creatures in Native American legend, the Wendigo is the most feared and powerful. The Wendigo was once a man that broke a tribal taboo and ate human flesh. A malignant spirit possesses the cannibal, and the Wendigo is born.

How does one become the Wendigo? There are numerous ways among the Native American people, but the most common method is for a man to willingly engage in cannibalism. Hunters, campers, and hikers (not necessarily Native Americans) most often travel with a companion, someone with whom they are good friends and are able to trust. Although a rarity, when these people become hopelessly lost and eventually run out of supplies, they inevitably turn on each other. Morality has no part of nature’s law. In the end, only the strongest live and kills the other. The victor then feasts on the flesh of the corpse. This heinous, blasphemous act is all that is needed to summon a malevolent spirit of the forest.

The spirit forcibly possesses the cannibal’s body, forcing the human soul out. The moment the cannibal is touched by supernatural forces, he is overcome by extreme nausea and pain. He starts vomiting uncontrollably, for hours at a time. Eventually, the cannibal loses enormous quantities of blood, and inevitably dies. However, the body undergoes a terrifying transformation. The body grows in strength and height, growing a thick coat of white fur. The human’s strength and weight increases greatly, gaining supernatural powers in the process. The head takes on the features of a predatory beast, including the growth of prominent fangs and sharp teeth. The fingernails and toenails grow into sharpened talons, completing the transformation. The cannibal is then resurrected by the evil spirit, no longer a man, but a bloodlusting beast known as the Wendigo. [Source]

Video Gallery

1. Atmospheric telling of a Wendigo tale (mythology)

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25 Responses to “Wendigo Psychosis: Monstrous Men”

  1. 1 Lim of St.Francis Institution and MMU

    ME want more articles on HISTORY!!!! PLEASEEEE!!!!
    And good job JFRater. You just occupied my time.

  2. 2 Hayloiuy

    A Hind D? What’s a Russian gunship doing here?
    That creature drawing can make a helluva game and nightmare.

  3. 3 Cuntageous

    Wow. Truly disturbing!

  4. 4 NySneasel

    Wow. This was mentioned on a Listverse list fairly recently, wasn’t it?
    On another note, the first picture (of the red devil guy) reminded me of the film Drag Me To Hell. Man that was a good film. Yeah. 😀

    Soo… yup. Nice article, JFrater. 😀

  5. 5 Lim of St.Francis Institution and MMU

    WHY delete the SECOOONNNNNNNNN!!!!!! comment JFRater??

  6. 6 LC

    Ooh! One more creepy thing. when a wendigo fed it would add the wieght of it’s victim directly to it’s own mass, effectively growing larger and immediately becoming hungry again. It was insatiable.

  7. 7 Herring!

    hey, the third picture is a draegloth, not a wendigo. it’s also copyrighted by Wizards of the Coast.

  8. 8 Zenayda

    Wow, I’d love to know more about real life wendigos. It’s dark, macabre, deathly… I need to know more. 🙂

  9. 9 Demi

    Good Job, these kind of articles are interesting

  10. 10 Jenna

    Where’s the article for the 14th? Are you not updating everyday? =(
    And now it’s 8:30 (eastern time zone) on the 15th, and still no updates…makes me very very sad jfrater!

    • The Voynich article is for the 14th 🙂 I didn’t update this Sunday (as I think will be my future plan) but otherwise it has been updated every day.

      • 12 Jenna

        For some reason…the 14th didn’t show up for me until this evening. Very strange! Thanks for replying though =)

  11. 13 imcrystalclear

    This was a very interesting article. I wonder if Jeffrey Dahmer had this psychosis? Or was he a cannibal? I probably have to read it again, but could someone explain the difference? I’m intrigued. Thanks again, Jfrater another great article.

  12. 14 empresszien

    I love reading things like this!
    Thanks Jfrater!! =)

  13. 15 tuttut

    Anyone ever played serious sam?
    Its the same voice!
    Is serious sam a wndigo?

    • Man times,probably just a mid-level actor doing voice-over work,don’t know the credits from the game,though.

  14. 17 Shorn

    I had heard somewhere that Wendigo Psychosis was possibly as a result of the guilt felt by the cannibal. And that it was somewhat a defensive mind trick to protect the person. Basically it was much easier for the person to handle it if he was a monster infected by a demon spirit, instead of just a regular human forced into eating another human(possibly loved ones). Maybe a form of dissociation.

  15. 18 tomba

    Wendigos are not a myth.

    In Australia there is an aboriginal monster that is exactly like the Wendigo. This monster; The Uruwonga, is a male Aboriginal (usually an uncle) who steals babies from the breasts of new nursing mothers for food.

    The scary part is that the Uruwonga only eats the babies eyes and tongue. This is the origin of the belief amongst early Australian settlers why the Aboriginals have such bad eyesight and are completely unable to converse other than at a rudimentary level.

    In other words, they are pretending to the Uruwonga that their family has no tongue so their children are unfit to eat.

    Aboriginal children were discouraged from attending white schools for this reason and, even now, Aboriginal women in Australia hide from their husbands family for 6 months after the birth of a new child to protect them from suspected Uruwongas.

  16. 19 Paul R Wilson

    August Derleth added the Wendigo to the Cthulhu Mythos originated by H.P. Lovecraft. He stated that Wendigo is the earthly avatar of Ithaqua, the lord of the polar winds and of the wind between the stars. Some victims are eaten, others are not so lucky. They become wendigoes. Some seem unscathed, but acquire polar ice powers and may have children with strange powers over ice and winds. they may or may not choose to assist their father, Ithaqua, in his endeavors.

  17. 20 a.e

    A lot of this is accurate to what I have learned about this. The only difference is the way it is spelled. Another thing that I might add though, they have no lips. This is because when they are first transforming their greed for human flesh is so great that they eat their own lips, to say the least.

  18. 21 M.B.K.

    Wait… I have a silly question… once a wendigo eats human flesh, he will always crave it? Like an addiction?

  19. 22 N

    The youtube clip’s voice is so distorted it’s hard to hear the story.

    • 23 Hilah Vander Lippe

      I noticed that too. And the volume gets louder then softer then louder again.

  20. living zombies

  21. Que palabras… El pensamiento fenomenal, magnГ­fico
    rose


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