Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Symbols of Immortality 3: The Wendigo

Wendigo (2010). © By VHS-Junkie. Reproduced with kind permission.

The vampire craze has peaked and is finally on its way downTwilight's suburban, sanitized Nosferatu for the SUV set is depressing in how devoid of horror it is.  Stephen King has commented on horror as a moral genre: it describes the paths we must take to return to normalcy when terrible transgressions have occurred.  Over the past few years, the Wendigo, a mythological monster from Canadian Algonquin legend, has enjoyed a resurgence.  There have the been  attempts to make the thing mainstream, as Cryptomundo, a blog devoted to Cryptozoology reports.  More popularized versions are listed here at Newspaper Rock blog. But the Wendigo has resisted being turned into a cartoon version of itself, like the vampire, werewolf and mummy.  There is something about it that is so dire and frightening that it cannot be popularized.

The Wendigo (2009). © By Weremagnus. Reproduced with kind permission.

The Wendigo was the entity that embodied the Algonquian taboo against cannibalism in times of famine.  Wiki: "Among northern Algonquian cultures, cannibalism, even to save one's own life, was viewed as a serious taboo; the proper response to famine was suicide or resignation to death. On one level, the Wendigo myth thus worked as a deterrent and a warning against resorting to cannibalism; those who did would become Wendigo monsters themselves."

Windigo. A portrait of starvation. By Cecil Youngfox.

How the Wendigo can be depicted is elusive.  It is often been drawn as a hulking monster with a deer's head.  But a better description comes from Algernon Blackwood's story The Wendigo, which you can read at Horror Masters here. It opens with the warning that things like the Wendigo appear at the crossroads between the wilderness and our primal brains - where, at critical moments, the mysteries of dark places open up and lay themselves bare to us. 

Blackwood was a master at describing natural landscapes bit by bit in a way that brought growing uneasiness to the reader; the effect is not unlike the actual growing uneasiness one feels when one goes hiking on a sunny day, wanders off the path, and then feels that the woods are not so bright and friendly after all.  The image that stayed with me from that piece was of a wraith so emaciated that when seen from a certain angle it was paper thin.  This creature would fly above starving people in the forest, haunting them from the treetops, gliding with feet of fire.  The Wendigo is a taboo figure against immortality.  It prohibits maintaining one's life at any cost, suggesting that a life preserved under conditions that would render humanity inhuman must not be saved.  It also hints that survival by breaching taboos leads the desperate person down a path beyond survival.  By committing cannibalism to survive, the person transforms from a mortal being into an immortal being.  But the immortal entity, the Wendigo which haunts the northern forests, is monstrous, horrifying, an aberration.  Hence the Wendigo is very similar to the vampire myth, which evilly overturns Christian and other religious ideas of sacred rebirth.

Lac Windigo.

There are two lakes named after the monster in Quebec, the smaller one, Lac Windigo, looks like the kind of landscape I would expect in Wendigo country - isolated, dreary, over-wooded.  Easy to hike into - but - easy to get lost in as the day wears on, and a lot harder to get out of once you've gone too far in. CGI-bloated movies cannot convey the sense of being watched by something from across a lake in the Canadian wilderness, when summer subsides and the chill of autumn sets in.

Go to Symbols of Immortality 1: The Phoenix

Go to Symbols of Immortality 2: The Blood Countess


  1. Great description, thank you. As for Blackwood's story, it still has the power to keep me up at night, years after first reading it. I Would love to take a crack at adapting it for the screen. I heard there is a movie out there with its title, but it only amounts to a slasher movie set in the woods.

    Nick O.

  2. Thanks for your comment Nick. Yes doing the Wendigo story right would be incredible. If you are a filmmaker, I am quite sure you could get some UK/Canadian funding for that. I would envision something with touches of Guy Maddin's style, perhaps. I'm thinking of the scene in My Winnipeg where the people walk out on the lake surrounded by frozen horse heads. A Blackwood Wendigo adaptation however, would be far more frightening.