The Wendigo

So it has been confirmed. Myself and the other members of ItsInTents.com are going to be winter camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Right now it’s -2 Fahrenheit up there, with 4 inches of snow on the ground.

It’s going to be awesome!

Some of you may remember me mentioning the farm (farmhouse pictured above) in past posts, because it truly is one of my favorite places. It’s welcoming in the summer during the day, and eerie at night. It gets so dark up there, and the fields so open, that your fire can be seen for miles. One year a friend of ours brought up a thermal scope. Thermal scopes pick up traces of heat and render them into visible images. This was a military grade scope, and the landscape lit up all around us at night with the terrain definition of the fields and distant buildings that are lost when sitting by the firelight. It really does bring home just how alone you can be up there and how empty the fields are.

Except for the forests bordering the property.

In honor of our winter camping trip, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite legends that also happens to scare the hell out of me.

The Wendigo.

From a legend from the Algonquin speaking Native Americans of the Great Lakes area and northeast Atlantic seaboard of the US and Canada, the Wendigo is both cautionary tale and malicious monster. The Wendigo, real or not, is the product of great famine and cannibalism. It was believed that those who partook in the eating of human flesh, whether out of necessity due to scarcity of food or for enjoyment, would be cursed and turn Wendigo. A Wendigo is a creature damned to wander the wintry wastes of the North, searching for food but never satisfied. They are described as giant or tall humans, but emaciated to the point of having no meat on their bones, just taut skin. Another common feature is piercing or glowing yellow or red eyes. Other depictions, especially in today’s popular culture, depict a half-man/half-beast, usually taking on aspects of wolves or deer.

The Wendigo legend was later popularized by Algernon Blackwood in his story, “The Wendigo,” but it has also inspired a medical condition. Wendigo Psychosis is the name given to a very real condition that causes humans to lust after human flesh even when other food sources are available. Like the legendary creature, it generally occurs after someone has to resort to cannibalism to survive.

Beyond that, it has also been popularized in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos as Ithaqua, Walker of the Wastes. Ithaqua was said to be a massive frozen human with piercing eyes that could travel on wind as well as on the land, and would kill or capture anyone it found wandering the Arctic regions. The Wendigo, also tied to winter conditions and the associated famine, is said to be connected to Ithaqua. But, that’s just a story.

The legend itself though has had deadly outcomes regardless of the truth. The last known Wendigo hunter, Jack Fiddler, died in 1907 by self-hanging. He had been said to have killed at least 14 Wendigo. When arrested by white Canadian policemen entering the region for the first time, he and members of the tribe including his brother who was also said to help him hunt, said Jack was often asked by family members to kill their ailing relatives. They said it was because they feared they would become Wendigo, and often the sick would ask him personally. Fiddler killed himself before his trial.

What can be seen as an explanation for justified euthanasia also leaves the important question. What if it was real?

Are there still emaciated creatures, damned to walk the wastes and forests, through the snow hunting for food that would never satisfy them?

Of course, our trip puts us right in the middle of Wendigo country. There’s no definitive ways to kill the Wendigo, however most methods refer to piercing or destroying the heart with some kind of metal. Other methods described include destruction by fire or decapitation.

For our trip we’re actually planning on torture testing some AR-15 rifles in the harsh winter climate, and while I’m not concerned of us running out of food and eating each other, there’s no way that any of us would be able to put a bullet in the heart of a giant frozen man, pouncing from the trees to eat us.

Still, they will be some consolation when our fires burn down low and we’re huddled in our tents. The only thing we can see is the steam from our breath and the shadows of the bare trees dancing on the tent walls. While on the surface we can tell ourselves there’s no Wendigo, there’s still that little voice in the back of our heads.

What if?

And so we clench our rifles a little tighter, huddle closer for warmth and security, and wait for the safety of daylight.

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