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A cosplayer at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, Ontario, dressed as a wendigo from the television series Hannibal (2013–2015)

From Ojibwe wiindigoo, from Proto-Algonquian *wi·nteko·wa (owl; malevolent spirit, cannibalistic monster). Compare Cree wihtikow/ᐃᐧᐦᑎᑯᐤ (iyhtikow, greedy person; cannibal; giant man-eating monster).



wendigo (plural wendigo or wendigos or wendigoes)

  1. (mythology) A malevolent and violent cannibal spirit found in Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, and Cree mythology, which is said to inhabit the body of a living person and possess him or her to commit murder.
    • 1905, Ernest Thompson Seton, “The Wendigo: Winter Death”, in Woodmyth & Fable, New York, N.Y.: The Century Co., OCLC 503772490, page 161:
      Through the pine woods of Keewaydin, / Over the snows of Shebandowan, / The Wendigo roams in the winter's frost / And pursues to destruction the hunter. / Yet no man can meet with the Wendigo, / No man can face him or see him; / Only his track in the snow is seen, / And lost is the hunter that sees it. [] The heart that ne'er quailed on the war-path / Turns to stone at the name of the Wendigo.
    • 1998, Sidney L. Harring, “‘The Enforcement of the Extreme Penalty’: Canadian Law and the Ojibwa-Cree Spirit World”, in White Man’s Law: Native People in Nineteenth-century Canadian Jurisprudence, Toronto, Ont.; Buffalo, N.Y.; London: Published for The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press, →ISBN:
      A series of ‘wendigo’ killings – a ‘wendigo’ was an evil spirit clothed in human flesh – brought to the attention of Canadian law around the turn of the twentieth century represent the extension of Canadian law to the heart of traditional Indian culture. These killings, however, also represent the extent to which some of the First Nations defied or ignored that law. [] Machekequonabe, an Ojibwa, was found guilty of manslaughter in an 1896 trial for killing what he believed to be a wendigo. [] Furthermore, in additional cases it seems that Indians, in order to protect their religious and cultural beliefs from Canadian law, carefully distorted the facts of homicide cases to conceal that they were wendigo killings.
    • 2004 September, Michael Jensen, chapter 9, in Firelands, Los Angeles, Calif.: Alyson Books, →ISBN, page 130:
      Suddenly, I was certain what I had found had been the rest of the dead girl. I told the others about it, then added, "God Almighty. It must have been eating her." / "I think I know this creature," said Gwennie, and we all looked at her. "It called a wendigo. A most terrible thing." [] / Gwennie shook her head. "It is an evil creature. I hear of it once when I traveled far from here. The Ojibwe brave who told me about creature say it is a beast of the north, of the cold."
    • 2005, Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road: A Novel, Toronto, Ont.: Viking Canada, →ISBN; republished Toronto, Ont.: Penguin Canada, 2008, →ISBN, page 49:
      No one is safe in such times, not even the Cree of Mushkegowuk. War touches everyone, and windigos spring from the earth.
  2. (attributively) Often in wendigo psychosis: a psychological condition specific to some Native American groups, in which a person in fever-induced delusions believes that he or she is possessed by a cannibalistic wendigo spirit, or in which members of the groups hysterically believe a person to be so possessed.
    • 1982 August, Lou Marano, “Windigo Psychosis: The Anatomy of an Emic–Etic Confusion”, in Current Anthropology, volume 23, number 4, JSTOR 2742266, abstract, page 385; reprinted in Ronald C. Simons and Charles C[ampbell] Hughes, editors, The Culture-bound Syndromes: Folk Illnesses of Psychiatric and Anthropological Interest (Culture, Illness, and Healing), Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1985, DOI:10.1007/978-94-009-5251-5, →ISBN, page 411:
      "Windigo psychosis" has been the most celebrated culture trait of the Northern Algonkian peoples for almost half a century. [] The conclusion reached is that, although aspects of the windigo belief complex may have been "components in some individuals' psychological dysfunction" (Preston 1980: 128), there probably never were any windigo psychotics in the sense that cannibalism or murder was committed to satisfy an obsessional craving for human flesh. It is argued, rather that windigo psychosis as an etic/behavioral form of anthropophagy is an artifact of research conducted with an emic/mental bias.

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