When looking for information on the Windigo/Wendigo one is first informed that it is a creature from Algonquian lore, which is correct and straight forward.
After that one is given a mish-mash of mythology and peculiar descriptions of a creature who is pretty much impossible to make heads or tails of:
It’s a cannibal.
It’s a spirit of the North with a heart of ice and taller than the pine trees.
It’s a half man, half caribou creature.
It’s an evil spirit, emaciated, pale, crawling on all fours.
Can it really be all those things?
Could it be that The Algonquian peoples, who once inhabited most of Eastern and Middle Canada, as well as parts of the Eastern and Middle US, actually had several legends describing several creatures?
Could it be that through the years and generations, bits have been added, others forgotten?
Could it maybe even be that this Windigo has been taking on traits of other mythological beings as the lines between legends have been blurred by time?
To address the cannibalistic trait one must first remember that to be a cannibal one has to eat ones own species. A man-eating lion is not a cannibal. A lion-eating lion would be.
For the Windigo to be cannibalistic, in the sense that it eats humans, it would have to be human in the first place.
Cannibalism was an enormous taboo with the Algonquian peoples, yet the cold and the lack of food would sometimes drive people to these hideous acts.
The only way to make sense of something so senseless would then be if they were affected by an unclean, evil spirit.
Nowadays we call it Windigo psychosis. The insatiable desire to consume human flesh, even when other food is available.
In the case of the spirit of the North with the heart of ice and taller than trees, one can read that this version of the Windigo is referred to as the “greatest of the evil spirits and with the most evil of powers”.
This creature could be summoned, even though that was taking a huge risk as the spirit tended to eat pretty much anyone.
The clever however could succeed in tricking him.
Both the size of this Windigo, the eating of humans, as well as the slight intellectual impairment makes one think of giants.
Giants have been prevalent in mythologies from all over the world. They tend to be described as huge eaters of humans with quite a low intellectual score.
The Inuit have a legend about a giant called Inupasugjuk. These giants are fond of humans in the sense that they find us amusing. They will sometimes abduct humans and use them as playthings according to the legend.
The Athabaskan peoples of Western Canada and Alaska talk of their legendary creature Wechuge. It is an ancient ice being that comes from the wilderness to prey upon humans.
The half man, half caribou version of the Windigo could be a fusion with the legends of Ijiraq and of Taqriaqsuit. Both are Inuit legendary creatures who happen to be shape shifters.
The Ijiraq can take on any form they want and they tend to kidnap children. They can disguise everything about themselves save for their red eyes.
The Tariaksuq however can only shape shift into a half man, half caribou monster. They are also described as shadow beings who live lives parallel to us. They can not be seen by looking straight at them. They will either disappear into a separate world in which they live or only their shadow will be seen.
A very similar type of being here in Sweden is called the Vittra which I wrote about here.
The emaciated evil spirit Windigo bears striking similarities to the modern creature referred to as fleshgait or The Rake, which I have written about here and here. This spirit or creature is strongly associated with the cannibalistic version of the Windigo. It’s gaunt, pale, sometimes with thin strands of hair on its head. It usually crawls on all fours. Arms and legs seem longer than a humans. It tends to smile in creepy ways and it’s been known to mimic voices and sounds. In Inuit mythology there is a creature call the Mahaha.
It’s a crazed demon with a penchant for tickling people to death…
Physically though it fits very well into the description of this version of the Windigo. It’s a thin, sinewy being with long stringy hair that hangs in its face. It’s naked and barefoot and doesn’t seem bothered by the cold.
It’s also very, very strong.
So which one of these versions is the true Windigo?
I would say that depends on who you ask.
It’s more than possible that legends have been jumbled together when peoples meet peoples and stories are passed down orally for many many generations.
Which one is correct is not even that relevant.
The most important thing is that the North is a scary, scary place! 😉