It seems like everywhere I turn lately (especially places like TikTok and Facebook), someone is talking about Wendigo or Skinwalkers. While similar and often confused to be the same thing, they are actually two different Native American folklore. I will devote a post diving into what a Skinwalker for a later date. Today’s post is all about Wendigoes and their lore. Mainly because Jeremy and I may have encountered one a few weeks ago.
A few weeks ago, Jeremy, John Paul and I were hanging out at our friends’ new house. Mathew and Kelsey had just moved into a really nice house in a nice, safe, wooded neighborhood a few weeks earlier. It was probably the second or third time that we had visited them at their new house. As per usual, it was past midnight when we had finished playing board games and we were ready to head home for the evening. Since their new house was about 30 minutes from our house, I wanted to let John Paul use the bathroom in their side yard before we got on the road. As we were walking through the side yard towards my car, I heard a deep growl come from behind me. Instinct told me to not react and to get in the car NOW. I gave John Paul his command for the car as Jeremy and I hastened to the car. I could tell by Jeremy’s demeanor that he had heard it too. After getting John Paul into the car and locking the doors, we turned to each other and simultaneously asked “Did you hear that?”. We compared notes and heard the same growl from the same area. The weird thing about the growl was the location it came from. The growl came from shoulder height behind me. This wasn’t a dog, coyote, or cat growling at us. We messaged Kelsey and Mathew to not let their dog, Darwin, out that night in the side yard, just in case it was still there. Next time we went over there we told them about the growl. They hadn’t heard it but when I talked to our friend, Mike, who stays at Mathew and Kelsey’s house when he is in town and he said he has heard the growl too at night.
Now I know that what we experienced most likely isn’t a Wendigo, but I honestly don’t know what could have made that growl come from that height. Since moving to Illinois, I was surprised to find out that Wendigo sightings have happened in central Illinois. Many reported sightings weren’t sure if they had seen a Wendigo or a Bigfoot but there were more reports of hearing whistling, growling, or their name being called at night from the woods or cornfields. That falls in line with how Wendigos go about luring their victims out to them.
Wendigos are found most often in Algonquian folklore but in other surrounding tribes’ stories as well. They have also been called Witigo, Witiko, Wee-tee-go, wheetigo, windikook, chenoo, atchen, as well as other names depending on the region and tribe talking about the monster. The meaning of the names usually translates along the lines of “the evil spirit that devours mankind”. A Wendigo is said to be a human who has turned to cannalbilism to feed his hunger and his spirit has become tainted in the process. A Wendigo is decribed as an extremely tall (up to fifteen feet tall) man/ beast hybrid that very skeletal in appearance with deer antlers, glowing eyes, and grey/ ashen skin that looks kind of zombie-ish. Most drawings I have seen show a large, musclar, decaying body of a man with the head of deer. The smell of a Wendigo is suppose to be one of the most foul smelling scents you will ever come across in the woods. According to folklore, they are near perfect hunters with an intense craving for human flesh.
Wendigos are reported to have been seen in Canada and most of the Midwest, especially near the Great Lakes. There is a theory going around right now that when National Parks were established in 1916 by President Wilson, it wasn’t to protect the lands from humans but to protect humans from living in those areas that had a creature hunting humans. To this day, hundreds of people go missing in National Parks with no clues to what happened to them, and while most can be explained as tragic accidents, there are many who believe that a creature like a Wendigo may be hunting visitors to these parks. Several posts I have read about Missing411 have mentioned Wendigo experiences near the area someone disappeared from. Maybe there is some truth to these reports.
While researching this topic, it intrigued me to find out that there is a mental disorder called Wendigo Psychosis. They typically found this among Native communities and is characterised by an overwhelming desire to consume human flesh even if other food is available nearby. One major case of this mental disorder was recorded happening in 1879. The person afflicted with this disorder was a Cree Native named Swift Runner. During the winter of 1878, he took his entire family (consisting of his wife, six children, his mother-in-law, and brother) out in the forest. The tribe didn’t see any of them until later that spring, when Runner emerged from the forest alone. He appeared healthy despite claiming he wasn’t able to hunt for himself or his family. He said his family died from starvation. The local priests were concerned about what happened to his family and didn’t believe his story. They had local authorities arrest Runner. Runner would eventually lead them to his winter camp, which was littered with human bones. Some had been broken in half and had been hollowed out. As if someone had sucked out the marrow. They also found a pot full of human fat. Runner claimed that he had been possessed by the spirit of a Wendigo who caused him to kill and eat his entire family. Swift Runner was found guilty of the murders and was excuted on December 20, 1879.
Whether Wendigos are really out there eating humans or not still needs to be determined, but there are some rules out that can help keep you safe if you think you might be near one. If you are in an area where Wendigos are rumored to roam, don’t go out alone at night. If you go out, go out with friends or families. Don’t respond or acknowledge if something from the woods or cornfields is whistling, growling or calling your name. If you hear anything, don’t mention it to the people you are with until you are safely in a locked house or car. If out at night, don’t say any of its names or you will alert them to your existence. Keep your doors and windows locked when inside your house or car. Be careful when answering a knock at the door and no one is outside.
Have you experienced a Wendigo? What have you heard about Wendigoes? How do you protect yourself from one if you go out at night? Let me know in the comments below!