Friday, 1 February 2013

Beware the Wendigo

Wendigo was a monstrous mythical creature derived from the legends of the Algonquian people.

A ceremonial dance: the wiindigookaanzhimowin is staged on the last day of the Sun Dance. This satirical ritual involves wearing a mask and dancing about the drum backwards.

A Warning: belief that human beings could turn into Wendigos if they resort to cannibalism.

Wendigo psychosis is the name given to an intense craving for human flesh.

Other variants of wendigo: windigo, weendigo, windago, waindigo, windiga, witiko, wihtikow.


The Weendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly 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 Weendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody. Johnston (2001:221)

Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Weendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption. Johnston (2001:221)

Appearances in literature:

In Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary (1983), the burial ground was used for victims of cannibalism and it then became the haunt of the Wendigo.

Modern Literary Origins:

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) wrote a story ‘The Wendigo’ (1910).


And then "Défago," smiling whitely, answered in that thin and fading voice that already seemed passing over into a sound of quite another character—

"I seen that great Wendigo thing," he whispered, sniffing the air about him exactly like an animal. "I been with it too—"

Whether the poor devil would have said more, or whether Dr. Cathcart would have continued the impossible cross examination cannot be known, for at that moment the voice of Hank was heard yelling at the top of his voice from behind the canvas that concealed all but his terrified eyes. Such a howling was never heard.

"His feet! Oh, Gawd, his feet! Look at his great changed—feet!"

Défago, shuffling where he sat, had moved in such a way that for the first time his legs were in full light and his feet were visible. Yet Simpson had no time, himself, to see properly what Hank had seen. And Hank has never seen fit to tell. That same instant, with a leap like that of a frightened tiger, Cathcart was upon him, bundling the folds of blanket about his legs with such speed that the young student caught little more than a passing glimpse of something dark and oddly massed where moccasined feet ought to have been, and saw even that but with uncertain vision.

Then, before the doctor had time to do more, or Simpson time to even think a question, much less ask it, Défago was standing upright in front of them, balancing with pain and difficulty, and upon his shapeless and twisted visage an expression so dark and so malicious that it was, in the true sense, monstrous.

"Now you seen it too," he wheezed, "you seen my fiery, burning feet! And now—that is, unless you kin save me an' prevent—it's 'bout time for—"

His piteous and beseeching voice was interrupted by a sound that was like the roar of wind coming across the lake. The trees overhead shook their tangled branches. The blazing fire bent its flames as before a blast. And something swept with a terrific, rushing noise about the little camp and seemed to surround it entirely in a single moment of time. Défago shook the clinging blankets from his body, turned towards the woods behind, and with the same stumbling motion that had brought him—was gone: gone, before anyone could move muscle to prevent him, gone with an amazing, blundering swiftness that left no time to act. The darkness positively swallowed him; and less than a dozen seconds later, above the roar of the swaying trees and the shout of the sudden wind, all three men, watching and listening with stricken hearts, heard a cry that seemed to drop down upon them from a great height of sky and distance—

Further Reading

Brightman, Robert A. (1988). "The Windigo in the Material World". Ethnohistory 35 (4): 337–379.

Colombo, John Robert. Windigo, an Anthology of Fact and Fantastic Fiction: An Anthology of Fact and Fantastic Fiction. University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Connolly, Tristanne. "Strange Births in the Canadian Wilderness: Atwood's Surfacing and Cronenberg's The Brood." The journal of American and Canadian Studies 28 (2011): 69-90.

DiMarco, Danette. "Going Wendigo: The Emergence of the Iconic Monster in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Antonia Bird's Ravenous." College Literature 38.4 (2011): 134-155.

Duncan, I. "Margaret Atwood's Reworking of the Wendigo Myth in The Robber Bride." British Journal of Canadian Studies 14.1 (1999): 73-84.

Goldman, Marlene. "Margaret atwood's Wilderness tips: Apocalyptic cannibal fiction." Etudes canadiennes 25.46 (1999): 93-110.

Johnston, Basil (1990 [1976]). Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
 --- (2001 [1995]). The Manitous. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. 

Ketterer, David. "The Belated Discovery of Canadian Science Fiction (and Fantasy)." Science Fiction Studies (1985): 91-96.

Lindberg, John. "American Eye: Wendigo: A Fiction, a Fantasy." The North American Review 259.4 (1974): 8-11.

Marano, Lou (1982). "Windigo Psychosis: The Anatomy of an Emic-Etic Confusion". Current Anthropology 23: 385–412. 

McMurtry, R. Roy, and Peter N. Oliver. "White Man's Law Native People in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Jurisprudence." (1998).

Parker, Seymour (1960). "The Wiitiko Psychosis in the Context of Ojibwa Personality and Culture". American Anthropologist 62 (4): 603–623.

Schuh, Cornelia. "Justice on the Northern Frontier: Early Murder Trials of Native Accused." Crim. LQ 22 (1979): 74.

Schwarz, Herbert T. (1969). Windigo and Other Tales of the Ojibways, illustrated by Norval Morrisseau. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited.

Smallman, Shawn. "Spirit Beings, Mental Illness, and Murder: Fur Traders and the Windigo in Canada's Boreal Forest, 1774 to 1935." Ethnohistory 57.4 (2010): 571-596.

Teicher, Morton I. (1961). "Windigo Psychosis: A Study of Relationship between Belief and Behaviour among the Indians of Northeastern Canada."  See Proceedings of the 1960 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, ed. Verne P. Ray. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Wise, William. Monsters of North America. Putnam, 1978.

Another Musical Monster

Critics did not respond well to the first performance of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony on 21st March 1886 in Vienna:

The audience admittedly did not show much 'resistance': it fled in part even after the second movement of this monstrous symphonic serpent, in droves after the third, so that only a small remainder stayed to enjoy the Finale.

In the caricature above, Bruckner is followed by his critics, Eduard Hanslick, Max Kalbeck and Richard Heuberger.

Another critic of the time, Kalbeck, went further in his indictment, saying:

"We have as little faith in the future of the Brucknerian symphony as in the triumph of chaos over the cosmos"

Quotations from The Cambridge Companion to Bruckner, edited by John Williamson, p.33.