The wendigo1 is an anthropophagous monster of the American Arctic, said to be born from the transformation of a human that has indulged in cannibalism. The monster was said to be gaunt, even skeletal and to have a general diseased and filthy air about it - as much like a recently disinterred corpse as a living thing, although others portray it as part human part animal instead and in some accounts it has nothing but blackened stubs for feet (whether due to fire or frostbite is left unspecified) and flies through the night on the icy wind. In some Amerindian legends the wendigo is a giant, or grows in size with every person it eats, meaning that its hunger is never satisfied. Sometimes the creature delights in stalking its victim, lurking just out of site and disturbing their rest until they are driven mad, in others it simply pounces and feeds.
Occasionally the Wendigo was thought of as a spirit that possessed people rather than a physical monster - this could be combined with the traditional version if we assume that the spirit possessed a body and re-shaped it for its convenience. This form of possession could be brought on not only by cannibalism, but by any act of avarice, greed or miserliness. This may also be due to what is known as Wendigo Syndrome - allegedly a culturally bound mental disorder, similar to clinical lycanthropy in which the sufferer believes that they have been possessed by (or transformed into) a wendigo.
These creatures and the Tamanous may be the result - or the cause - of the significant Amerindian taboos against cannibalism.
Game and Story Use
- May just be a different race of ghouls.
- Perhaps the gaslighting of a victim to drive them mad is the first step in the possession process - the spirit maddens its victim to break down their resistance before taking over their body and transforming it.
- If you can avoid the whole magical native american quagmire (or subvert it) this would be a useful and amusing surprise for detective characters in the American North. What appears to be a fairly standard cannibal serial killer turns out to be (or perhaps into) a creature from native myth … and good luck getting your superiors to take that seriously.
- Stopping the creature before it transforms its host might be an interesting goal - legends suggest that it was possible for a native traditional healer/medicine man/shaman to cure a possessed person, but that it wasn't at all easy. Killing the posssessed was said to work.
- A GM could spin in plenty of ambiguity right up to the end - the suspect is said to have returned "traumatised" from a trip to the deep wilderness which went wrong. Are they suffering from some form of PTSD? Perhaps someone suggests it's actually Wendigo Syndrome and thinks that anti-psychotic drugs will help. Obviously, if they're mad, magical healing will probably be unhelpful (at best), but if they're possessed, therapy will waste precious time. Good luck figuring out which is which and then persuading the medical authorities of the truth.
- Finding a shaman who isn't a fraud could be a sub-adventure, especially if most of the ones they can find are new-age quacks or tired old ceremonialists with no talent or genuine faith.
- Failing shamen, some sources suggest that the wendigo could be cured, especially in the early stages, by forcing it to drink large quantities of dangerously hot melted fat. This could amount to the same basic thing as killing the possessed person, but was said to melt their frozen heart prevent the transformation … evidently if the patient died, it was because the wendigo had too strong a grip on them. Other forms of heat therapy might work - perhaps even something as simple as removing the possessed person into a hot climate with plenty of daylight that would be offensive to the possessing spirit.