There is a lot of misinformation on this subject, especially with mainstream media now picking
up the legend. This excerpt will refer to the traditional oral tellings and teachings of the creature.
The wendigo, also known as windigo or wintiko, is the name of a type of creature of
Anishinaabe legend. It is a cannibalistic monster formed from the soul of a person afflicted with
this manitou– spirit, which can be understood as an evil spirit. They are almost unstoppable
creatures of the hunt. The wendigo may stand as one of the most terrifying of legends, since in
many ways it represents the greed within all of us.
In mainstream culture it is depicted to look like a deer of some sort. In most tellings and legends
of encounters the wendigo looks very, very different. It is described as a tall, 12 to sometimes 15
foot humanoid creature.
Basil Johnston, an Ojibwe teacher and scholar from Ontario, gave a wonderful description of the
“The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly
over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of
death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt
skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody …
Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and
eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.“
According to legend, the wendigo follows with it a cold chill; as if it carries the winter wind. It’s
nails are long and sharp to assist it’s hunting, as well as it’s teeth which sit so in it’s mouth that it
tears the skin around it. The wendigo’s eyes are hollow, it’s face gaunt; the eyes described as a
haunting glowing red or white. Its screech is told to make any who hear it lose consciousness
from sheer terror. They say the closer you are to one, the colder it gets and you are able to see
your breath even in the warmest summer months.
In legend, wendigos could be created two different ways. The most common way is for a regular
person, who in a desperate situation, ends up resorting to cannibalism and is overtaken with the
manitou of the wendigo, and turns into one themselves. The second way was much less common
but it was told that an evil practitioner could curse the person. In one story, this was done by
using special words over a small wooden figurine and gifting it to that person.
The wendigo hunts with speed and stealth and is the best hunter of any creature. It devours
people and tears them to shreds. The creature’s hunger can never be satisfied, as it is the curse
that the wendigo is forever stuck. The curse was created as punishment for breaking the biggest
taboo in culture– cannibalism.
These creatures were said to stalk the northern woodlands; mainly around the great lakes regions;
Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario.
The enemy of the wendigo refers to only one. Another legendary creature, known as the baykok.
The baykok was said to prey upon those who hunt for sport; taking more than they need. They
are haters of greed, which is what the wendigo embodies. Which is why according to legend both
are natural enemies.
There is no exact way to kill a wendigo. There is not a consistent legend or story. Methods range
from burning to the more specific way of cutting up the body into five pieces with a silver axe
and burying each piece separately, or burning the pieces. These methods are almost never given
along with reason in the stories, however culturally burning can be viewed as releasing the spirit.
The cultural meaning and significance behind the legend of the wendigo is interesting. The
whole meaning behind the legend is supposed to represent greed, which culturally was
considered a bad trait, as generosity was highly valued due to the tribes being communal in
nature, and those who didn’t share or contribute to the common good a danger to the survival of
“Among the Assiniboine, the Cree and the Ojibwe [Anishinaabe], a satirical ceremonial
dance is sometimes performed during times of famine to reinforce the seriousness of the
wendigo taboo. The ceremony, known as wiindigookaanzhimowin, was performed during
times of famine, and involved wearing masks and dancing backwards around a drum. The
last known wendigo ceremony conducted in the United States was at Lake Windigo of
Star Island of Cass Lake, located within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern
The legend of the wendigo “lends its name to the controversial modern medical term Wendigo
psychosis, described by psychiatrists as a culture-bound syndrome with symptoms such as an
intense craving for human flesh and fear of becoming a cannibal. In some Indigenous
communities, environmental destruction and insatiable greed are also seen as a manifestation of
Wendigo psychosis.” Which ties in with the cultural taboos of greed.
Wendigos today have been popularized in mainstream media because of shows and games such
as Supernatural, Hannibal, and Until Dawn. Representation of indigenous legends is wonderful,
but unfortunately not all of these are entirely accurate.