Everyone has heard of Urban legends and as such it is of no surprise that a story like that of the Windigo has become so popular. That being said, this popular folk lore story has also given birth to a set of psychosis that are truly terrifying and utterly real.
What is a Windigo?
It is helpful that in order to understand any psychosis you first take a look at the origin story that spawned it. The windigo is a story that has been around since the time of early native Americans in the United states. As the story goes, a windigo or wendigo, weendigo, windago, windiga, witiko, or wihtikow is a demonic half beast that appears in the folk lore of the Algonquian Indian tribe of the great lakes region and along the Atlantic coast. The creature or spirit can possess the characteristics of a human or a monster that was once human. In most cases, this folklore relates directly to cannibalism and the eating of human flesh that causes the gruesome transformation. This legend has served as a story of the Algonquian people to help deter cannibalism.
Though windigo is used to describe both the creature and a human that is possessed by the creature, the two are very different. The windigo creature is very tall, gaunt, sunken, yellowish, and appears to be decaying. Though it can have some characteristics that may seem human, it is certainly not human and can be quickly spotted. The windigo is said to stalk his prey in the middle of the forest before he sweeps them off the ground and makes them run to keep up until their legs are nothing more than bloody stumps. The human that is possessed by a windigo will become dependent on human flesh, he will become gaunt, tired, yellowing, and a shell of his former self before he eventually becomes the monster himself.
What is Cannibalism
It is helpful that in order to understand this phenomena that depends so wholly on the understanding of cannibalism that we take a moment to learn just what cannibalism really is. The true definition of cannibalism is the nonconsensual or allowed consumption of another person’s flesh or body matter. Though there are no real laws against cannibalism in the United States and many other countries, there is an unwritten taboo that makes this practice horrifying and wrong for most. In many cases, those that do end up eating another person will likely be charged with desecration of a corpse or abuse of a corpse which is a felony.
Cannibalism has been traditionally a taboo that many people have a very easy time staying away from. That being said, there are no real laws that prohibit the allowed consumption of human flesh. For instance, there are no statutes as of yet that would allow an individual that got consent of another to consume their flesh. There are also no laws that would prohibit this act and that would allow someone to be prosecuted for it. As of yet, lawmakers have seen no need to make laws that regard cannibalism.
Notable Cases of Consensual Cannibalism
As strange as it sounds, there have been cases where one person gets permission from another to eat them. One bizarre case is that of Mr. Meiwes of Germany. The man claims to have advertised for someone that wanted to be killed and eaten. He says that the man that he met responded to the advertisement and agreed to be slowly killed and eaten. The man, Bernd-Jurgen Brandes supposedly responded and agreed for Meiwes to slowly kill and eat him. Meiwes claims that the man allowed him to cut of his penis, flambéed it, then served it to eat together. He says that Mr. Brandes then allowed himself to be killed by Mr. Meiwes. The account brought much turmoil and ultimately the man was sentenced to prison time even though he claims that the act was completely consensual.
There is a distinct difference and maybe even a shred of acceptance for survival cannibalism as opposed to those that eat others for recreation. In some cases, like that of the infamous Donner Party, in which many believe that cannibalism was essential to survival. This is what makes these weird psychological disorders and strange mental disorders like windigo psychosis so fascinating. Though everyone sees cannibalism as wrong, there are some instances in which others can see the necessity in it. In cases of extreme survival for example, many people, though they are reluctant to admit it, see cannibalism as a viable option for survival. That is what helps us define strange disorders like windigo psychosis as opposed to cannibalism that was practiced out of necessity.
Though cannibalism in any measure is seen as strictly taboo, there are some instances in which a society may accept cannibalism as a viable means to an ends. In these cases where cannibalism is allowed, in most cases the person has to die naturally, they have to be without food for a certain amount of time, and the remaining bones and pieces must be disposed of in a respectful way to make up for the fact that their fellows were forced to eat them to survive. Though this is a very strict difference that makes windigo psychosis and outright survival cannibalism so different, it is still hard for many people to comprehend that it may be necessary to eat another person to stay alive.
Though this started out as a myth, it is also a very real psychosis that is truly horrifying. Windigo psychosis occurs when a human has access of any viable food source and still becomes dependent on or longs for human flesh. These individuals, though they have food and can find food anywhere, are still longing for human flesh and still want to consume it. These people, though they have access to food, for some reason feel the need to consume human flesh. In the Algonquin heritage, the fear of turning into a windigo was so strong that they would rather kill themselves than resort to cannibalism.
This is one of many rare mental disorders in which there is no real rhyme or reason to why these individuals do this. There is no deficiency in the blood or the body that would point to the feeling of needing human flesh. So far, experts have not been able to pin down any real reason why these people would succumb to one of these rare psychological disorders. Though reports of seeing the windigo have declined as modern society has grown up, there are still reports from time to time of a monster stalking the woods.
The common belief among many cultures is that anyone that resorts to cannibalism has the opportunity to become a windigo. This is somewhat of a reinforcement of the taboo that is cannibalism. In most cases, these individuals are seen as outcasts and creating a myth like the windigo is the easiest way to keep people from eating one another. In terms of windigo psychosis, there are some aboriginal tribes that when the signs of the psychosis start to manifest, the individual is executed before they can become the creature and do harm to the village or tribe. In many cases, these individuals may have gone trough an attempted healing only to fail and become a social and physical danger to those around them necessitating execution to keep the whole village safe.
Real Life Windigos
Though the windigo has yet to be proved as being a real creature, there are some famous accounts of individuals becoming windigo or succumbing to windigo psychosis. Perhaps the most famous case of the manifestation of these rare and interesting mental disorders is that of Swift Runner, a Plains Cree trapper. This man was a noted trapper in Canada and during the winter of 1878 he and his family were starving. The family had already suffered the loss of the eldest son, which may have lent a hand to Swift Runner going over the edge.
They could have had access to emergency supplies a mere 25 miles away but instead, the story became sinister. Swift runner, rather than going for supplies and potentially saving his family, butchered and at his wife and five remaining children. Because Swift Runner resorted to cannibalism even though supplies were accessible, it is believed that he was not trying to avoid starvation but that he was rather succumbing to windigo psychosis.
Another notable case is that of Jack Fiddler, he was an Oji-Cree Chief and Shaman who was known for curing and dealing with windigo. He and his brother were arrested for murder of a man that they believed was turning into a windigo. Jack committed suicide when he was sentenced sent to prison. Though there are plenty of cases of wendigo psychosis in the Algonquin culture, the number of cases has gone down significantly as the people of the Algonquin tribes have come in more contact with the outside world. You can find out about weird disorders and windigo images everywhere from traditional drawings to supposed photographs.