windigo (also wendigo, wiendigo) In North American Indian beliefs, a dangerous, cannibalistic being. The Al gon quian say it roams about forests, devouring hapless human beings. Hunters who become lost and are forced to eat human flesh become windigos. The Objibwa consider it to be an ice monster who can possess individuals and cause them to eat their own family members. The windigo sickness is the worst type of psychic sickness that can befall a shaman, and can be brought on by egotistical abuse of shamanic powers or loss of control in spirit possession.
White settlers in Minnesota regarded the windigo of the Ojibwa as a DEATH OMEN Ghost; the superstition was prevalent in some parts of the state as late as the early 20th century. The windigo was described as a 15-foottall being in dazzling white, with a star in the middle of its forehead. It roamed the forests, swamps and prairies. Its appearance, in either day or night, was inevitably followed by a death in the family. See Banshee; Death Omens.
- Grim, John A. The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.
Also known as:
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 1600s. 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. They allegedly like to play catch or kickball with human skulls.
A Windigo is always hungry. Its scream paralyzes its victims so they’re 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.
Windigos can devour people, but Windigo spirits can also possess people:
• If they devour you, it’s like being eaten by an animal or a person: you’re 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 person 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 understood the phenomenon as spirit possession. In Cree and Ojibwa cosmology, the human Windigo, once possibly a perfectly normal person, is now a possessed cannibal.
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 the 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)
Windigo possession may be averted by throwing feces at the Windigo. This allegedly causes temporary confusion and may allow time for escape.
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 Windigos 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.
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. Human Windigos do not achieve the immense height of their spirit counterparts.
Winter; the Windigo tends to go on seasonal rampages. Windigos experience the opposite of hibernation: they become more active during winter.
Manitou and the Glossary entry for Possession
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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