This legend comes to us from the Algonquian speaking tribes of the northern plains states and Canada. The Wendigo story dates back to pre-colonial times and has persisted into the modern day. There are many variations on this tale, but they all agree that a Wendigo is a monster associated with greed, starvation, cannibalism and extreme winter conditions. Most stories about the Wendigo start with someone traveling alone or in a small group during the winter. Depending on the story, the Wendigo is either a creature who attacks a traveler or a spirit that possesses a traveler and causes him to attack other people.
The Wendigo is usually described as a giant-sized creature with pale flesh clinging to its bony, starving frame, it often has sunken eyes and missing lips that reveal long fangs and an unusually long tongue. Sometimes it is described as having antlers or horns coming out of its head and matted fur on its body. When it eats a person it grows proportionally to the person it has eaten, this prevents it from being able to gain weight or feel satisfied; its hunger is insatiable. If a person is possessed by the spirit of a Wendigo they still look human, but they become irrational and violent, often attacking people around them and eating them.
Most Wendigo legends emphasize the importance of community and of sharing resources when times are scarce. A person who is greedy and refuses to share food with starving people will become a Wendigo or become prey for a Wendigo, depending on the story. The Wendigo possesses supernatural speed and hunting abilities. It can not only devour the body of its target, but it can also strike at their mind. Stories tell of the Wendigo causing its victims to go insane and run out into the woods away from the protection of their community. According to some legends, the older a Wendigo gets, the more powerful it grows, eventually gaining the ability to summon storms and bring early darkness.
Even more disturbing are the real-life events that have been linked to the Wendigo legend. There are several documented cases of Native peoples in this area succumbing to “Wendigo Psychosis”. This condition only occurs when a person is isolated during winter storms and does not have enough food to eat. The victim becomes nauseous and ill, people around them start to appear edible, and they become extremely anxious that they will become a cannibal. Some people with this condition have become violent and cannibalistic, later stating that they were possessed by a Wendigo. Traditionally, people in the earlier stages of this illness would be treated by a Medicine Man with special ceremonies designed to keep them from turning into a Wendigo. If a person actually killed and ate someone, they were considered to be a Wendigo and were killed for the safety of the tribe. Many Algonquin tribes held ceremonial dances during times of scarcity to remind people of the dangers of the Wendigo and reinforce altruistic behaviors that would keep the creature at bay.