The Cryptid Zoo: Windigo (or Wendigo)

The Indians of the northern United States and Canada have legends about a mythical being called the windigo, wendigo or witiku (often called by many other names as well). This creature was thought to be a human who had become a cannibal. Cannibalism then turned this human into a monster in more ways than one. This person would transform into a big hairy monster in order to eat even more people. This monster looked something like Bigfoot but was bigger, meaner and uglier. Usually, this was not a permanent transformation. The windigo generally became a shapeshifter, able to turn back into a man or woman at will, or it just transformed in the winter and returned to human when spring came.

The characteristics ascribed to the monster form of the windigo varied a lot from one legend to the next, so it is hard to describe exactly what a windigo was like beyond a few basics that seemed to be fairly universal. The giant size is noted in most legends. Extreme hairiness is common too. The lips of this creature were often described as being too small to cover the enormous teeth. The windigo was very fast and strong. It usually had magic powers other than the ability to transform. The feet were often especially large. The creature often looked starved or had the rotting-corpse look that comes from losing parts of the skin to frostbite.

Since the monster form of a windigo sounds like a really huge Bigfoot, there is a lot of discussion of windigo legends in books that are about Bigfoot. Windigo legends are one of the things that get used as justification for the current Bigfoot fad. If the fad started in the 1950s, as some critics say, then Bigfoot is less likely to be a real animal. If Bigfoot has been here all along, we would expect to meet him in old legends as well as in the latest sightings. The more credible creatures of cryptozoology tend to have a proven history. Thus, windigo legends are used (along with wildman folklore and old-time "gorilla" sightings) as a kind of background history for the Bigfoot fad.

You can find out more about the Windigo from the following sources:

Blackman, W. Haden. The Field Guide to North American Monsters New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998. Pages 198-200

Coleman, Loren. Mysterious America: The Revised Edition. New York: Paraview Press, 2001. Pages 188-190

Colombo, John Robert. Windigo: An Anthology of Fact and Fantastic Fiction.

Finnigan, Joan. Witches, Ghosts & Loup-Garous: Scary Tales from Canada's Ottawa Valley. Kingston, Ontario: Quarry Press, 1994. Pages 51-54, 78
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Gagné, Joseph. The Windigo

Rath, Jay. The W-Files: True Reports of Wisconsin's Unexplained Phenomena. Black Earth, Wisconsin: Trails Books, 1997. Pages 9-11, 16-17

Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend and Myth. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2000. Pages 394, 396

Wikipedia, The. Wendigo

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The text on this page is copyright 2006 by Jamie Hall. Please use proper citation if you are using this website for research.