Indigenous mythology is usually dismissed as pagan, even though the wiser among us know that our own deepest wisdom is steeped in mythological roots. It’s just considered legitimate to discount indigenous narratives as naive, and glorify even our own dumbest mythologies as profound.
But it’s even dumber when a culture fails to develop a crucial mythology, in which to ground a key wisdom — so that it leaves a gaping hole in our cultural understanding. We are unfamiliar with Wendigo.
Wendigo is one of dozens of spellings, but this version of the name seems to come from the Ojibway language. Some current writers who are picking up the theme nowadays call it Wetiko (one of many Algonquian variations). There’s a similar creature found in Athapaskan culture on the Northwest coast, called Wechuge.
Superficial translations tag Wendigo as some kind of cannibal. But the deeper meaning is a beast that insatiably gobbles up anything and everything in its surroundings, until it’s all bare and barren — and then moves on to the next gobbling ground. But maybe cannibal is not so far off, as it latches onto its human hosts and deludes them into thinking that sucking the life force out of everything is the normal thing to do. Its victims lose the ability to see themselves as an interdependent part of a balanced environment, and puts the self-serving ego on a pedestal.
It should come as no surprise that, when the Europeans invaded the Americas, the indigenous people thought their nightmare was coming true. Wendigo was on the loose and gobbling them all up.
Our look-the-other-way history records that the invaders sucked up everything in their path. They twisted their theology to consider indigenous people as less-than-human animals, living on the underside of the world that God had abandoned. Really. Hence they could rightfully be swept away into prison camps called Reservations — those they didn’t just kill off — and whatever possessions had market value could be scooped up and sent back to their benefactors in Europe. The Americas were a gold mine, but the native animals were pesky.
And then the invaders started staying. So of course they had to take all the good land, and everything that came from it, for themselves. Since the indigenous people had a limited concept of private land, stolen from the Creator, they could be suckered into unequal treaties that gave most of it away right under their noses. Since they didn’t have lawyers (until it was too late), they had no defence when the invaders didn’t honour the terms of the treaties anyway. The conquest was a done deal, and the vanquished were shoved aside to rot.
Wouldn’t you see that as Wendigo come to destroy all that is sacred?
Now let’s fast-forward to modern times. Wendigo is everywhere. Economies everywhere are run by cannibals who will gobble up everything in their path in order to accumulate capital, no matter who dies in the process. These are the leaders of society, the high priests of industry. They’ve created a culture we call Consumerism — which means — scoop up everything you can until you’re bloated with commodities — and then go after more, because you can never be satisfied.
Because there’s a huge gap in our cultural mythology, we’re vulnerable to this beast. It can run rampant, and we don’t even recognize it. It just comes off as normal to us.
We’re going to have to count on indigenous people — who are equipped to deal with this scourge — to lead the resistance. They are rebuilding a culture of interdependence and caring cooperation, along with mutual respect for the land in which they were fully embedded before Wendigo wrenched them from it. We’re too dumbed down by our compulsive consumerism to lead the charge ourselves.