THE WEENDIGO SPIRIT
Among the Anishenabe there are many legends of the Weendigo. The Weendigo was portrayed as a cannibal eater of human flesh who lurked in the woods waiting to lure unsuspecting people into the woods to eat. Parents and grandparents would caution their children not to play too much or misbehave cause the Weendigo would come and that would bring great danger to the whole village. The following is one of those legends.
Long ago on the north shores of Lake Superior lived a man named Weendigo and his family. For many years he and his family lived fully on the plentiful game and fish that dwelt in the water and woods that surrounded their village. But conditions changed. Animals became scarce and fish were rare. For all his skill Weendigo s family began to starve. So desperate was he that at last he and his family began to eat roots and make soup from the bark of trees.
Weendigo began to travel days from home in all directions in search of food, but these journeys were pointless. He might find game but how would he get it home.
He prayed to Kitchi Monitou, but his own circumstances did not improve. He went for help to a Waubeno ( sorcerer ) from whom Weendigo obtained a potion for hunting success. Weendigo was to take one small portion every day and make a tea from it. That night Weendigo took a pinch and made the tea, which he drank before he went to bed.
Very early the next day, he woke up while it was still dark. Convinced that there was no point in remaining in bed, Weendigo quietly rose and left his lodge. Outside, he was astonished at the length of his strides and the speed at which he covered the ground. In no time he covered a great distance a distance that would before have taken him days. He soon came upon a village of people standing around a great fire. Emerging from the woods for fun, he gave three loud war cries. At the frightening call, the people fell into a faint and turned into beavers.
Without thinking much of the transformation from people to beavers, Weendigo considered the circumstances timely and a matter of good fortune. He was hungry and famine did not allow him the luxury of questioning good fortune. Weendigo picked up the beaver, fifteen in all and skinned them.
Then on the fire that had been prepared by the people of the village, Weendigo roasted all the beaver. When they were all done, Weendigo sat down to eat. He did not eat, he stuffed himself. In fact he ate all fifteen beaver. It never occurred to Weendigo to question his enormous appetite. He did not stop to wonder how he could eat more than one beaver; he did not even stop to consider whether he should carry some beaver home for his family. He thought only of himself. What was more astonishing than the transformation and his appetite was his need. For the more he ate the greater he grew in size and the greater was his hunger.
Instead of alleviating his hunger, by his very act of eating he actually fostered more and greater hunger.
Weendigo, hungrier and larger left and proceeded north. It seemed like the further north he went the more game there was. Weendigo’s hunger superseded all else, even his family and village. His need had first had to be served and satisfied. Along his way Weendigo continued to kill and eat.
In the meantime, Megis returned from a long journey to find his village devastated and his people missing.
Dispondent, Megis went to a medicine man for guidance and help. As required by the medicine man, Megis went into vigil where in dream; he saw the fate of his people and village. His spirit helper Makwa ( Bear ), appeared to him and disclosed a solution to render him powerful enough to challenge Weendigo. The next day Megis made the medicine. After he took the medicine he began to grow. When he had attained a very great height, Megis went in search of Weendigo. By following the tracks and piles of discarded bones Megis found it easy to locate Weendigo.
Without hesitating, Megis attacked Weendigo and in a short while slew Weendigo, who was weak from hunger. With Weendigo’s death his victims were revived. Weendigo himself, though dead, continued to live on as an incorporeal being, the spirit of excess. As the spirit of excess Weendigo could captivate or enslave anyone too preoccupied with sleep, work and play, eating or drinking.
Though Weendigo was fearsome and visited punishment upon those committing excesses, he nevertheless conferred rewards upon the moderate. He was excess who encouraged moderation.
Weendigo has long been forgotten and far removed form our culture, or at least the legend has. The Weendigo’s did not die out or disappear they have only been assimilated and reincarnated into today’s society. Today that greed is no less insatiable then that of their ancestors. Today’s Weendigo’s are disguised as corporations, conglomerates and multinationals.
No longer are their bodies covered with hair, but expensive suits. Though their manners have been refined and polished their cupidity is the same not for that of raw flesh but for more refined viands.
They destruct the land through deforestation. They pollute the water and land through mining. Through their cupidity they have robbed future generations harvest of the land and the chance to view many of the beauties of creation, which become extinct daily. The Weendigo of today may not feed on the flesh of humans but they feed their cupidity on our needs. Our needs have even superseded the needs of our children; yes that makes us the Weendigo. It is my hope through this legend that none will be offended, but that our children will benefit through our understanding.