Also known as: Wendigo; Widigo
Classification: Manitou (Anishinaubae (Ojibwa/Chippewa) spirits)
Origin: North America
Windigos are dreaded Native North American cannibal spirits, the stuff of nightmares, now primary subject matter for horror entertainment. There are two kinds of Windigo, although they are interrelated: spirit Windigos and human Windigos.
The name 'Windigo' derives from an Algonquian root word meaning "evil spirit" and "cannibal." Jesuit missionaries reported sightings of Windigos in the 1600's. The Windigo is an incredibly tall, gaunt spirit of harsh winter, frost, and starvation. Windigos are spirits of ice, snow, and winter. Their hearts are made of ice. Sometimes they travel in packs, and allegedly like to play kickball or catch with human skulls.
A Windigo is always hungry. Its scream paralyzes its victims so they are unable to escape. Windigos are so horrific, many victims die of fright just looking at them. They are the lucky ones. Those who remain alive are eaten alive, slowly. The closest comparison to the Windigos' effect, in more ways than one, is not to other spirits but to the fictional Reavers of Joss Whedon's television series "Firefly" and movie "Serenity," (or even closer the Others (White Walkers) from George R. R. Martin's fantasy series "A Song of Fire and Ice." )
- If they devour you, it's like being eaten by an animal or person; you are dead.
- If they possess you, then you too become a Windigo, joining their ranks.
Thus roaming packs of Windigos may be comprised of spirits and the humans they have possessed. The same word, 'Windigo,' is used to indicate both the possessed and the possessing spirit. A Windigo who attacks you may be a spirit or a human - the result is the same.
Anthropologists explain the phenomenon of Windigos as humans overwhelmed by cold and hunger. Traditional lore understands the phenomenon as spirit possession. In Cree and Ojibwa cosmology, the human Windigo, once possibly a perfectly normal person, is now a possessed canibal.
Although the word used for the phenomenon is 'possession' it's really more like an infection. The Windigo spirit is not within the human, nor does the spirit manipulate the person. Instead, the human takes on characteristics of the Windigo and behaves exactly like one (i.e. they prey on other people, consuming them.)
This infection may be acquired voluntarily or not. Involuntary possession may derive from several sources:
- Actual physical contact with the spirit
- Being attacked or especially bitten by the Windigo spirit
- Dreaming of the Windigo (the Windigo may be understood as invading someone's dreams.)
Voluntary infection is accomplished through ritual. (Why would anyone wish to become a Windigo? For the power. For protection against enemies. To punish others. Because Windigos are Manitous: they're not only marauding cannibals, but also possess fonts of hidden wisdom.) An individual travels into a forest where Windigo allegedly live. The person fasts for days and then offers himself to the Windigo spirit.
- The Windigo may accept the person as his own child.
- Alternatively, the Windigo may reject the petition and mercilessly devour the person.
If adopted and infected, the human transforms. He or she becomes perpetually cold and extremely hairy. The person develops a craving for human flesh, and may devour his or her own family.
Manifestation: Windigos are described as exceptionally tall but gaunt and emaciated. They usually lack clothing, no matter how far below zero the temperature. The Windigo may be sensed before it is seen or heard: those in close proximity often feel chills. Sometimes their arrival is accompanied by blizzards. Wendigo are sometimes described as having the ability to change form., though this may be a distinction of spirit Windigo and human Windigo.Human Windigos do not achieve the immense height of their spirit counterparts.
Time: Winter. Windigos tend to go on seasonal rampages. Windigos experience the opposite of hibernation: They become more active during winter.
(Sources: The Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes, pgs 1,009 & 1,010;