Skinwalkers and Wendigos

Wendigo by Inkswell, From

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Monster stories are one of the things we all have in common. Virtually every culture and every mythology throughout human history is full of them. Some are presented as more of a physical reality than others, but nearly all of them serve as symbols of the darker sides of human emotion and will. 

In this episode of Lore and Legends I chose to take two from Native American lore, the Skinwalker and the Wendigo. So let's get right to that.  Go ahead and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page if you just want some links to source material and related books!

Skinwalker, from

All Skinwalker's are witches. But not all witches are Skinwalker's. It's important to distinguish Native American witchcraft from European witches, because witches are quite often good and even holy in Native American stories. You might be more familiar with the terms Shaman or Medicine Man in that context, but it's all referencing the same thing. Skinwalker's are a separate kind of witch, and they are very much bad witches. In Navajo it's "yee-naldlooshi" which literally translates "by means of it, goes on all fours". If you look at the picture above, you can get the idea. Skinwalker's could wear the skin of an animal and literally transform into it. How did they acquire these powers? Killing a close relative in cold blood is usually considered to be the prerequisite. They then use their powers for evil, and favor traveling at night. 

Skinwalker's have a bloodlust, and even have some cannibalistic tendencies. So crossing one is bad news.  For this reason, it's taboo to even speak of them for fear of attracting one. There's another reason too, one of the only ways to kill a mighty Skinwalker is by saying its full human name to its face. So you can see why a Skinwalker, wouldn't be too keen on people discussing its existence or activities. 

The things you hear go bump in the night, well the Skinwalker might just be responsible. And have you ever heard of "Skinwalker Ranch" in Utah? There are a lot of paranormal stories in the area, and the name is not an accident. Could Skinwalker's be active? 

Skinwalker in Partial Wolf Form, from

Many of the stories on the ranch involve giant wolves or werewolves. In fact one feature in the area is nicknamed "werewolf" ridge. As part of another show I've been a part of called "Skinwalker Radio" I got to hear a wolf story firsthand from a man who was there... 

Regardless of whether you think they're real or not, Skinwalker's are an example of someone going evil, and losing their humanity in the process. 

Wendigo feeding
The Wendigo is one of if not my favorite monster legend from North America. Stories can vary quite a bit from place to place but the general Idea is always the same. One story I found for the podcast, claimed the first wendigo was a warrior who made a deal with a devil in exchange for the ability to defeat his enemies. And after that, it is almost universally considered to be that all wendigos were once people, and by virtue of resorting to cannibalism and being possessed by the spirit of the wendigo they became literal monsters. 

The human or humanity of a wendigo still exists locked away in the icy heart of the wendigo, and if you could manage to cut one out, it was possible to save them. But good luck with that, because wendigo's are giants, with supernatural strength and abilities. In many cases they can pop in and out of physical existence only being seen when they wish to be or when they need to physically interact.

Many times you will see them depicted in a way similar to the above picture, with an antlered bloody skull like face, long clawed arms and a gaunt decrepit body. But this isn't always the case, sometimes they are described in much more human terms, but the pale skin and deceptively gaunt physic remain.

Wendigo sightings may still be reported from time to time. And in the early 1900's there was quite a bit of interest in them. There was also something called "Wendigo Psychosis". Which is the word used to describe people who turned to cannibalism. Sounds crazy, but the backdrop here is that in teh cold frigid north, people would get stuck without food or water for days and weeks on end. And when you're starving, people weaker than you might start looking good.....

One true story involved a Cree man called Swift Runner. Swift Runner was well respected in the community. He was a competent, and mild mannered, hunter and trapper who traded with the Hudson Bay company. In the winter of 1879 he moved his family of 6 into the woods. But when winter was over, only Swift Runner emerged. His answers on the whereabouts of his family weren't enough to satisfy his inlaws who reported him to the new police in the area. They went with Swift Runner back to his winter encampment and found the skull of his wife and the bones of the rest of his family. Swift Runner then claimed he had dreams of a wendigo spirit prodding him to become evil. He finally did, murdering and consuming his wife first, then getting one of his sons to kill the other before killing the rest of them including an infant that he hung from a pole. Swift Runner claimed he was not himself in that moment. He was hanged in May 1879.
The Wendigo to me, represents what can happen when we let our most fleeting and evil thoughts control us. Eventually spiraling out of control. While cannibalism is certainly an extreme, its a lesson about destructive behavior, like addiction, jealousy, and anger. Humanity still exists in the frozen heart of the wendigo, though some people just refuse to be saved...

As I mentioned in the podcast other tribes have similar creatures to the Wendigo that serve roughly the same purpose, but well save them for another time!

Below is a list of materials on this subject that you might find interesting! And FWIW, if you buy one of the books through the links below,  it helps make this blog possible!

SKINWALKER: Encounters in the Four Corners Region of the Great American Southwest 

We Survived Native American Witches, Curses & Skinwalkers

Skinwalkers Shapeshifters and Native American Curses

Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth and History

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures

Chasing American Monsters: Over 250 Creatures, Cryptids & Hairy Beasts