There was once a trapper in Alberta, a member of the Plains Cree who was named Swift Runner. During the winter of 1878, Swift Runner and his family were starving. One can scarcely imagine the suffering as the hunger grew and the family wasted away with the father watching on helplessly. At the turning point, his eldest son passed away. Swift Runner butchered and ate his wife and five remaining children. We would comfort ourselves by explaining this as the desperation of a starving man but we can not. There was, in fact, an emergency trading post with food stores only 25 miles away from where it happened. And starvation alone cannot account for the savagery that would lead him to devour all six other family members. There is another explanation though: Swift Runner had succumbed to the Wendigo Psychosis.
Wendigos haunt the frozen expanses of the world. A wendigo is a human that was transformed into a nightmare by their weakness and selfishness. That weakness is often brought on by starvation and cold weather. A wendigo is a perfect predator that targets isolated humans. They devour human flesh and sometimes transform their victim. In the most brutal, northern climates you must stay with the group and cooperate to survive. Isolation is death. Thinking only of yourself is death.
After the transformation, a wendigo resembles a cross between a human and a wolf, with massive antlers on its head and oversized, clawed hands. It walks upright or on all fours as its mood suits it, and when upright it towers over the tallest man. Despite its massive size, it can move with complete stealth. They can move with the speed of the wind (as told by one of their names "Windigo") and across deep snow or water without sinking. It is thin, as if starving, with ash colored skin so thin that the skull and skeleton appear to push through in places. The eyes are sunken and glowing like hot coals. You will often smell a wendigo before seeing it. Basil Johnston describes one in his account in The Manitous:
“The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody … Unclean and suffering from suppuration of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.”
But the most disturbing trait is how a wendigo can penetrate the mind, intruding on your thoughts and subjecting you to horrible visions. These visions often involve cannabilistic thoughts or impulses. It is a condition called the Wendigo Psychosis and it is still contested by doctors today. Modern Science would deny the validity of a phenomenon that has only been observed and recorded in oral tradition. But the stories are real and there are many. Whether it be scientifically "true" or real in the way that our fears destroy us, do not doubt this: Wendigo haunts the cold, dark north. Always remember and care for your people - it is dangerous to go alone.