Folklore Survival Guide: How to Kill (or Cure) a Wendigo

So, you are lost and night is falling…

For a belated-Halloween Special, step out of the world of science and history and into a brief nightmare


Origin and Description


The Wendigo (also known as Windigo, Witiko, Wiihtiko, Kokotshe’, Atshen, Atcen, along with many others) is a cannibalistic ice spirit that haunts the folklore of the Chippewa, Cree, and Northern Algonkian people of North America. Depending on the story, there are different ways to create a Wendigo. Most commonly, it is an insatiable monster created when the spirit of a Wendigo possesses a person suffering from grief, isolation, or abuse and they are traditionally transformed into a monster when they revert to cannibalism during the harsh North American winters. In addition, a person can be cursed to transform into a Wendigo by shamans. Few people are protected from Wendigos, with stories of men, women, children, and even animals being possessed.


A Wendigo is cursed with incredible strength, violent aggression, and, most importantly, a cold heart of ice. Emaciated by an endless hunger, the Wendigo will eat almost anything including rotting wood, swamp moss, mushrooms, and, most troubling of all, human flesh.


Physically, a Wendigo is unmistakable. It wears no clothing over darkened skin toughened by rolling in resin and sand. With each meal, it will swell in size, with elongated legs, feet and large eyes to aid in hunting. It has no lips and mouth filled with enormous crooked teeth. Wendigos are incredibly hostile creatures and although they rarely encounter one another, if two Wendigos meet they will fight until one is defeated and devoured by the victor. 


Symptoms and Signs of Transformation


Early symptoms of transformation into a Wendigo can be gradual, but without help will inevitably intensify over time. This includes rigid muscles, nausea, vomiting, neurotic fury, and an aversion to ordinary food. At this early stage, through the support of friends and family, an affiliated person can sometimes make a full recovery, but historically, those who think they are becoming a Wendigo have been asked to be killed. With no intervention, as time passes, a cursed person will develop an unnatural craving for human flesh. Once they satiate their desire for human flesh, the Wendigo will only grow hungrier and larger, swelling in size, and their heart will turn to ice. Some of the earliest symptoms can be relieved by thawing an afflicted person by a fire. While this is not a cure, the heat can alleviate the strongest of the cannibalistic tendencies for a time.


How to Cure


Wendigos are dangerous monsters which can make it difficult to safely interact with them to administer a cure. Traditionally, a Wendigo can be cured by forcing them to ingest melted fatty meats like duck meat or, particularly, bear fat. This treatment is not meant to be taken nutritionally, but emetically, in order to induce vomiting to disgorge the intrusive icy heart of the Wendigo. The concoction is meant to melt the icy heart, which can be vomited up. The meal will cause the afflicted to vomit a large quantity of melted ice and after some time, they may return to normal. 


How to Kill


If a Wendigo cannot be safely cured, the victim must be killed and the remains burned. The body must be completely burned to prevent the Wendigo from returning to life. When burning the Wendigo, the body will be destroyed by fire, but to be completely killed, all stories focus on the belief that the Wendigo’s heart of ice must be destroyed as well, which can be difficult since it will not immediately burn. As a result, the ice heart can be taken from where it remains in the fire and pounded or chiseled into smaller pieces to make it easier to be melted in the fire. Finally, the blood and any clothing it might still wear must be burned to ash and the area left alone until the land regrows.