Friday, September 30, 2016

Extreme Native American Legends: The Wendigo and Skadegamutc

If you have never heard of the Wendigo or Skadegamutc, then you are in for a real treat...or a trick of the mind. These two Native American legends are rooted deep in the traditions of the northernmost U.S. and Canadian regions of North America. The tribes that claim their existence do so from real experiences that they have had with these creatures. How exactly could such menacing entities have come into existence? Perhaps they are simply a scary oral tradition that was passed down through the generations as a means of ensuring that Native Americans stay true to the creeds of respect, healing, and balance? 

This article will walk you through the concept of animism and the world of the shamans. Then you will meet, firsthand, these legendary entities and read actual stories of their encounters. The first is a very realistic fictional account of the Wendigo written by author Brian Moreland. The Skadegamutc tale is retrieved from the archives of the Folklife Center at the University of Maine.

The Spirits Are Everywhere

Native Americans are known for their deep connection with Nature. For these indigenous North Americans, everything organic and inorganic has a spirit. Wind, fire, water, rocks, plants, animals - nearly every aspect of this planet - Mother Earth included - is attributed with an internal spirit. These spiritual incarnations give Native Americans their unique perspective on life, death, and the afterlife. Their beliefs and legends distinguish them from many other cultures throughout the world and in history. Native Americans embrace the essence of everything they encounter because within everything is their understanding of God. And respect should always be given to the universe's life force. 

This is the reason why they practice certain traditions and perform various ceremonies, like the wedding celebration pictured above right. Everything they do in their daily lives serves a specific function that is dependent on the environment and each other. Furthermore, and most importantly, Native Americans do their best not to leave an ecological footprint. This phenomenon, from a more scientific perspective, is known as animism.

"Animism (from the Latin: animus or anima, meaning mind or soul) refers to a belief in numerous personalized, supernatural beings endowed with reason, intelligence and/or volition, that inhabit both objects and living beings and govern their existences. More simply, it is the belief that 'everything is conscious' or that 'everything has a soul.'"

For many Europeans and similar Western Cultures, the realms of the physical and the spiritual are generally considered to be separate entities. Through this point of view there is a definite veil that divides these two worlds. Native Americans, however, view the physical and spiritual worlds as one coexisting entity. They are inseparable - one relies on the other. For their culture, there really isn't the dividing veil that is perceived to exist in more European and Western societies. 

This is beneficial for the shamans and medicine men (tribal leaders within Native American societies) because it allows them a direct connection to the tools needed for healing, insight, and direction. Allowing our physical world and the spirit realms to exist in a complementary duality opens up unique opportunities to make amazing things happen.

"Animistic creeds have in common an undertaking on the part of people to communicate with supernatural beings, not about metaphysics or the dilemmas of the moral life but about urgent practicalities: about securing food, curing illness, and averting danger."

When any Native American wants help with an issue, there is always a way to turn to the spirit world for answers. Balance and respect are always considerations, as can be seen when the hunt ensues. No one will ever over-hunt a species and all deaths are given the same sentiments of loss as one would give to a human. The creeds are weighted with a balance that is meant to never take anything for granted and to search for the deepest meanings for all aspects of existence.

Transcendental Visionaries

Native American shamans are key elements to these "creeds." They are endowed with an ability to leave their physical bodies and seek out spiritual help wherever it may be found in the outer or inner dimensions. This shamanic ability gives American Indians a unique edge in understanding the paranormal world on a level we might only be able to imagine. They can tap into the spiritual essence of everything living and nonliving in our environment. They may even be able to better grasp why limestone has its unique paranormal properties. But that is another post....

There is a great beauty in this astral connection that I believe we as humans, in general, are losing sight of in our daily lives. Nature is becoming something to be removed, a source of inconvenience or an entity to be forgotten as useless. We also can become so lost within ourselves that we forget to respect our world and each other. We would do well to remember the gifts that Native Americans have to offer us.

But not everything is balance and respect within Native American tribes. Like any other society, there are members who do not necessarily have the best interests of their people and environment in mind. They are, perhaps, out for their own gain or selfish exploration. Within the legends of Native Americans we find very strong manifestations of these "dark spirits." Two such entities who represent these very destructive elements are the Windigo and the Skadegamutc.

Driven by an Unsatiable Hunger

The Wendigo is a creature spawned from human cannibalism. There are various descriptions of what they are, but generally they range in size from human stature to over 15 feet tall. They "have glowing eyes, long yellowed fangs and overly long tongues." These manitou are driven by an insatiable hunger for flesh that grows exponentially as they grow in size from each feeding. This supernatural creature will continuously hunt until it starves to death or is killed.

The Witigo is usually categorized as a cryptid; however, its existence crosses over both physical and spiritual realms. This legendary anomaly is primarily attributed to the Algonquin tribe in the northernmost parts of the states that border the Great Lakes, but it can also be found in the Inuit, Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), and Cree literature. It has been seen in various parts of Canada as well. It has many different names, depending on the region. Wiindego, Witiko, Wee-Tee-Go, and Windigoag (plural form) are a few.

    "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 suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption."

The quote above is taken from a well-known Ojibwe storyteller Basil Johnson who has written extensively on these creatures. The Wendigo has the ability to take on two forms. One is the spirit that has been mentioned, the manitou, and the other is "the power to turn humans into cannibals who suffer the same voracity."

These transformed humans have been the main focus for certain shamans or other tribal members who have hunted these creatures and encountered humans who were about to be transformed. There are several documented cases of Native Americans who have been put to death for murder. Those convicted swear they were disposing of a human who was turning into a Windigo. One of the most notorious convicted hunters was known as Jack Fiddler. You can find his story here. 

The Wendigo are very aggressive entities and they must be killed through extreme measures. As Brian Moreland recounts in his fiction book, Dead of Winter:

     "The cannibal charged, loping toward them, closing the distance with incredible speed. Tom hurled the lantern, striking the beast with a burst of flames that rippled across the fur parka. The ravens scattered. The cannibal roared, spinning, a whirling dervish of fire. Tom and the soldiers filled the killer's body with lead until he finally collapsed in a heap of flames." (Chapter 125)

Many tribes throughout the continent speak of these creatures, just with different names. Here, in Brian's words:

     "The folklore of the Canadian tribes all speak of legendary creatures that roam the wilderness. In northern Wisconsin, Dakota Indians speak of a bipedal creature named Chiye-tanka. And on the Pacific Northwest coast, the Athabaskan tribes have their Wechuge, and both Indians and Whites have reported seeing a hairy beast called Sasquatch or Bigfoot. These ape-like creatures are like the Abominable Snowmen of the Himalayas." (Chapter 114)

Brian is an excellent horror fiction writer who bases his books on actual people, events, experiences, legends, and entities. To breathe life into his writings, he researches extensively and will embed himself into the environment of which he is writing to serve as authentic inspiration. Currently, he is working on a few upcoming books based on a sabbatical from which he has recently returned. I invite you to check his amazing work at

Coming from a paranormal perspective, the Wendigo represent an entity that has removed the veil between the physical and spirit worlds. Here the lines of reality are blurred and this Native American legend moves away from being just an oral tradition and becomes transformed into everyone's worst nightmare. But the Wendigo is not alone....

On an Extreme Scale


The Skadegamutc (pronounced skuh-deh-guh-mooch) is known by alternate spellings within the Wabanaki tribes (Skudakumooch, Skite'kmuj), but its creation is perhaps the most evil manifestation conceivable. The Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki tribes are affiliated with the Wabanaki who are primarily located in the state of Maine.

These "ghost witches" were once shamans who manipulated dark energies. When they died, they refused to remain in the death state and continuously fight to re-achieve life status. As a result of these very twisted and dark intentions, a spiritual aberration is created - a sort of Native American vampire. At night these creatures come out "to kill, eat, and throw curses at any unlucky humans who come across them." The only way a Skadegamutc can be destroyed is by fire. Here is a documented account by the University of Maine's Folklife Center of one of these entities attacking and killing a member of a hunting party:

"There were these two hunters [and] they got lost in the woods. While they were hunting there came a big storm and they got lost, but they came to this deserted maple sugar camp, so they had to stop there for the night. One of them said, 'I don’t feel like going in that place. [It] seems to be haunted by something. . . . I don’t feel right going in there.'

[The other one] said, 'We’ll have to stop somewhere overnight rather than walk in that storm or freeze to death. We might as well stop here for the night and dry out our clothes, and we’ll start first thing in the morning.'

So one of the hunters there couldn’t sleep. The other one soon fell asleep and was snoring. But [the first one] he almost fell asleep once and he put in some more wood on the fire. And he could hear some noise, kind of a gurgling noise, and he looked behind and seen this dead man sucking the blood out of the other hunter. He’d come to life, must have been a werewolf.

Next morning [everyone from a local Indian reservation] went. . . to that place, and they found this dead man [the Skadegamutc] laying on the bunk right where they left him and they found this other one all [with] his jugular vein all broke open [and] the blood drained out of him. Well, they took him and buried him in the Indian burying ground, but this other one [the black shaman] they burnt him. . . . They tied him to a pile of wood. . . and burned him. That’s the only way they could kill him so he wouldn’t bother any more people. During the last, when he was burning there they could hear the bones cracking. Pretty soon they could hear a voice screeching way off into the air. That’s the only way they could get rid of him. . . ."

Final Thoughts

Legends are very prevalent within Native American cultures and anyone who is not of the tribes may read and find them to be merely from the depths of fiction. The funny thing about legends, though, is that nearly all of them are derived from real experiences by real Native Americans. They live according to a system of beliefs that allows them to perceive the paranormal world in ways we can only begin to imagine. What may seem to be the workings of an active imagination may, in fact, be very real. 

I challenge you as a reader to look deeper into these legends and decide for yourself. 

Are they really just something you read about in books?

Or... do creatures like the Windigo and the Skadegamutc really do exist - waiting and stalking to consume their next prey?

Works Cited


  1. Hello,

    I've been reading through legends on Skadegamutc, and find it to be quite the compelling tale, and through my researching, I stumbled across your blog.

    First, I would just like to say that you have compiled a very thorough account of the beliefs & spiritual relationships Native American's feel towards their environment. (As a Tlicho native myself, I respect anyone that is willing to immerse themselves in the philosophy's of indigenous tribes.)

    I also grew up in Nova Scotia, and have heard many variations of good & evil spirits that the Mi'kmaq include in their legends. This is what lead me to researching Skadegamutc.

    The reason I felt an urge to comment, is hopefully to discuss some of the ramifications of Skadegamutc. As it is a legend, I still enjoy trying to view it from a point of view of: What were they warning us of?

    Traditionally- at least as I understand it- tales of vampires & witches are often related to 'corrupted' spirits. At their base level, they challenge our belief of mortality.

    So, with the build up out of the way. I'm curious what you think is inferred by legends like this (ie: Is it a warning about separating from one's tribe, and stalling to get 'home'? Is it a tale warning people about hunting too far from 'home'? Or possibly a mixture of both?)

    Great blog nonetheless, I'll be sure to check out some of your other posts!



    1. Hi Kawlin!

      I apologize for such a late response. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to give you a proper response.

      First, thank you for taking the time to explore and comment on the Skadegamutc! I had read about this legend for the first time in Brian's fiction book and I was curious as to its backstory. Thus the blog post.

      One thing I've learned in my research is that behind every legend there is a little bit of truth. Something happened along the way to inspire the spawning of a legend, even though sometimes things can spin out of control and become unbelievable. With this in mind, there is something to the Skadegamutc legend.

      As with any society or culture, certain "bad apples" are created when people choose to follow paths that are either unhealthy or not in the best interest of their society as a whole. Usually the evils of selfishness, the struggle for power or acquisition of wealth are the driving forces behind these decisions. With Native Americans these "evils" can take on a different direction. Because they are so intricately tied to the spirit realm, the search for immortality can consume them and their pursuits may arise as perhaps the greatest "evil" of all.

      What do I think this legend is attempting to teach us? As you list, it may be several possibilities. Staying united with the tribe is critical to maintaining its longevity and so breaking away to pursue a selfish purpose would be a bad choice. Maybe this member feels they might be able to contribute to the welfare of the tribe by breaking away and becoming a witch? Skadegamutc are endowed with certain powers that common members may not have and so the witch's insight could be a benefit.

      Does anyone have the right to interfere with mortality? Would a Skadegamutc be crossing this line and thus in some way banishing themselves to some horrible existence on the other side of the veil?

      I suspect that the answers to these questions can only be answered on an individual level, as we cannot know the motivation that drives those who make these decisions. What I do believe is that the Skadegamutc test the boundaries of what we can and cannot do, should or should not do in this life and in the next.

      I hope that helps and thanks again Kawlin!