Windigo psychosis


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Windigo psychosis the anatomy of an emic-etic confusion
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iv, 210 leaves : ill., maps ; 28 cm.
Marano, Louis, 1943-
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Cannibalism -- Psychological aspects   ( lcsh )
Algonquin Indians   ( lcsh )
Psychology, Pathological   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1981.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 195-209).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Louis Marano.
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University of Florida
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ABSTRACT . . . iii



Epistemological and Personal Biases . 4
My Life and Research with the Ojibwa .. 10
How I Got Interested in and Carried Out the Study of
Windigo . . 15
Acknowledgments . ... 22
Note . . . 25


Introduction . . 26
Background to the Literature Review .. 28
Windigo Psychosis, 1933-67 . .. 30
Windigo Psychosis, 1967-81 . ... 46
Notes . . 76



Notes . . .. 171


Note . . . 194

REFERENCES . . . 195



Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Louis Marano

December 1981

Chairman: Marvin Harris

Major Department: Anthropology

Although "windigo psychosis" has served anthropology as a classic

example of "culture-bound psychopathology" for almost half a century,

five years' field experience among the Northern Algonkian peoples of

Canada, extensive archival research, and a critical examination of the

voluminous literature on windigo, all indicate that there probably never

were any windigo psychotics in an etic and behavioral sense. It is

argued that an emic and mentalist bias has limited the abilities of

anthropologists to adequately analyze the Algonkian windigo complex.

The dissertation proceeds on the assumption that for almost fifty

years the wrong question has been asked. Looking at the windigo phe-

nomenon from the point of view of group sociodynamics rather than from

individual psychodynamics reveals that the crucial question is not

"what causes a person to become a cannibalistic maniac?" but rather

"under what circumstances is a Northern Algonkian likely to be accused

of having become a cannibalistic maniac and thus run the risk of being

executed as such?" It is held that the conditions that produced the

windigo complex were created or exacerbated by the fur trade. These

include faunal depletions, population dislocations, a progressively

increasing bondage to a mercantile monopoly, devastations by European

diseases, and a counterintuitive population explosion caused by a shift

to a mode of production that put a premium on child labor. Under these

straitened circumstances the aged, the infirm, and the mentally dis-

turbed imposed a severe tax on the domestic economy, and it is held

that the Algonkian windigo myth was elaborated in historic times to

provide a rationale for the execution of these persons.

It is argued, then, that those killed as having been possessed by

the spirit of the Windigo monster were in fact victims of triage homi-

cide or witch-hunts; events common in societies under stress. It is

shown that there is no reliable evidence for psychotic cannibalism,

either in the windigo literature or in the archives. Furthermore, the

failure of anthropologists to distinguish the emics of thought from the

etics of behavior has resulted in a double error, for "windigo psychosis"

of anthropological renown conforms neither to the emic phenomenological

category of the Northern Algonkians nor to their etic behavioral



If a visitor from an advanced civilization had begun ethnographic

fieldwork in Massachusetts late in the year 1692, he or she would cer-

tainly have been told about the witch trials and executions that had

taken place in Salem. Many informants would doubtless have claimed

that the executions were necessary; the diabolism of the witches pre-

sented an intolerable threat to the commonweal. If the fieldworker did

not believe in the interaction between demons and people, he or she would

be faced with making an interpretive choice. Either the "witches" were

executed because they were dangerously deviant (barn-burners, well-

poisoners, or worse), or the "witches" were themselves the victims of a

socio-historical process neither they nor their executioners fully under-


From the light of the late 20th century most North Americans would

choose the second interpretation. Evidence for malevolence on the part

of the Salem witches is unconvincing. The phrase "witch-hunt" has be-

come an epithet in modern English, and is used to denote the victimiza-

tion of the weak and the vulnerable by established interest groups.

Those hanged, tortured, and crushed with weights at Salem in 1692 have

been exonerated. Similarly absolved is Dorcas Good, who as a four-

year-old child not only lost her mother to the gallows, but was herself

kept in heavy irons in Boston prison for nine months (Boyer and

Nissenbaum 1974:5).

But the memory of another group of people killed for having con-

gress with demons remains beclouded. With beginnings that may antedate

the Salem trials and continuing almost until World War I, a number of

Algonkian Indians (no one knows just have many) were killed by their

fellows on the grounds that they had been possessed by the spirit of a

cannibal monster. Professional anthropologists have concerned them-

selves with this issue since shortly after 1930, a time when an

atomisticic' structure of Algonkian personality and other person-

ality theories developed as a result of interest in Gestalt psychology

and psychoanalysis in the post-World War I period" (Hickerson 1967:

313). Beginning with the work of Father John M. Cooper (1933) anthro-

pologists have explicated this phenomenon in the following way: The

cultural constellation of the Northern Algonkian peoples is such that

it predisposes certain individuals to fall victim to a psychosis in

which state they are obsessed by a compulsive craving to eat human

flesh. According to this theory these victims of "windigo psychosis"'

are often quite willing to kill in order to satisfy their ghoulish

mania. Small wonder, then, that the preemptive execution of those so

afflicted has frequently been necessary.

I reject this interpretation of Cooper and his followers

(Hallowell 1934, 1936; Landes 1937a,b, 1938a,b), and contend that al-

though "windigo psychosis" has been the most celebrated culture trait

of the Northern Algonkian peoples for almost half a century there prob-

ably never were any windigo psychotics in the sense that cannibalism or

murder was ever committed in order to satisfy an obsessive craving for

human flesh. While I agree with Preston that aspects of the windigo

belief complex may have been "components in some individuals' psycho-

logical dysfunction" (1980:128), I argue that windigo psychosis as an

etic/behavioral form of anthropophagy is an artifact of research which

failed to distinguish the emics of thought from the etics of behavior.

Looking at the windigo phenomenon from the point of view of group

sociodynamics rather than from individual psychodynamics reveals that

the crucial question to be asked is not "what causes a person to become

a cannibalistic maniac?" but rather "under what circumstances is a

Northern Algonkian likely to be accused of having become a cannibalistic

maniac and thus run the risk of being executed as such?" Upon close

scrutiny the windigo curiosity discloses itself to be not a culture-

specific anthropophagic obsession, but instead a rather predictable-

though culturally conditioned-variant of triage homicide and witch-

hunting that is typical of societies under stress. In this process, as

in all witch-hunts, the victims of aggression are socially redefined as

aggressors. In this case the specific form of redefinition was deter-

mined by the constant threat of starvation; a situation in which canni-

balism has proved to be a tempting recourse for persons of all cultures

throughout history. By attributing society's most salient fear to the

scapegoat, the group was able to project its modal anxiety onto the

individual, thus generating a rationale for homicide with which anyone

could identify.

It is this recurrent transmogrification-once an emic reality of

Northern Algonkian mental life-that anthropology has seized upon and

reified. The importance of understanding the mental emics of sub-

ject populations cannot be overstated, but to confuse these with their

etic behavioral history is an invitation to ethnological disaster (Harris

1979:31-41). It is the central point of this dissertation that such a

confusion has been made systematically in anthropological writings on

the windigo complex. This confusion has resulted in a double error,

for the windigo "psychosis" of anthropological renown conforms neither

to the emic phenomenological category of the Northern Algonkians nor

to their etic behavioral history.

Epistemological and Personal Biases

As will be documented in the following chapter, we owe the exis-

tence of windigo as a "psychosis" to the ethnographic investigations of

three anthropologists who were-to a greater or lesser extent-influ-

enced by the synthesis of anthropology and neo-Freudian psychology in

the 1920s and 1930s: John M. Cooper, A. Irving Hallowell, and Ruth

Landes. Of the three, Hallowell has most explicitly expressed a com-

mitment to the emics of Ojibwa life at the expense of the etics. He

was not primarily concerned with what shamans, sorcerers, and windigo-

killers did, but what they said or thought they did. For example, in

recounting an informant's story of a sorcerer disguised as a bear,

Hallowell professes no interest in the question of whether sorcerers

actually did sometimes don bear costumes to frighten and intimidate

their campmates. Here is the informant's story:

The soul of a living person, too, after it leaves the body
can look like an animal. A powerful medicine man can do a lot
of harm because he can go about secretly at night. But you can
see his body lying there in his wigwam all the time. A long
time ago a friend of mine told me what he had seen. He and
his wife were living with an old man suspected of being a sor-
cerer. One night he thought the sorcerer was up to something.
The latter lit his pipe and covered himself up completely with
his blanket. My friend kept watch. After a long, long time
had gone by, all of a sudden the sorcerer threw off the blanket

and fell over towards the fire. Blood was running from his mouth;
he was dead. My friend found out what killed him. At the very
same time that the sorcerer was lying under his blanket so
quietly, in another part of the camp Piddndakwan was waiting with
a gun in the dark beside the body of his son who had been killed
by sorcery. A kind of "fire" had appeared around the camp
several times before the boy died. This night PindAndakwan saw
the "fire" coming again. It made a circle around the corpse,
which was covered by birch bark. He heard a voice saying, "This
is finished." Then he saw a bear trying to lift the bark near
the head of his son; he was going to take what he wanted. [In
a note Hallowell explains that a sorcerer who kills is said to
visit the corpse and cut off the fingertips, the tip of the
tongue, and gouge out the eyes. He keeps these trophies in a
little box for magical use. Knowing this, PindAndakwan set a
trap for the sorcerer outside the wigwam, baiting it with a
pseudo-grave for his son.] Pindandakwan shot the bear and he
heard a man's voice crying out. Both the sorcerer and the boy
were buried the next day. Everyone thought the old man was a bad
one. No one blamed Pindandakwan.

Here is Hallowell's analysis:

It is obvious that, in this case, the conjurer was not under-
stood to be prowling around dressed up in a bear skin. This was
John Tanner's interpretation over a century ago, of similar
stories. He writes: ". by some composition of gunpowder, or
other means [they] contrive to give the appearance of fire to the
mouth and eyes of the bear skin, in which they go about the vil-
lage late at night, bent on deeds of mischief, oftentimes of
blood." [James, 1830 (ed.), p. 343] This is simply Tanner's
effort at an explanation intelligible to him. I believe
that all we need to say is that the self of the sorcerer was in
Pindandakwan's camp. To say that he was there is the meaningful
core of the whole situation; it was Pinddndakwan's assumption
that he would be there and he acted on this premise. In these
terms the situation is as humanly intelligible to us as it is to
the Ojibwa. What is always difficult for them is to explain what
we could call the mechanism of events, exactly how they occur.
To them, this line of thought seems "pedantic." Explanation is
never pursued in much detail at this level (which is actually the
level of science). But to say that he (the sorcerer) had killed
Pinddndakwan's son, that he was caught there on a particular
night and killed by Pind6ndakwan in revenge is thoroughly meaning-
ful to them. All they take for granted (as an implicit meta-
physical principle) is that multiform appearance is an inherent
potential of all animate beings. (Hallowell, 1954, reprinted in
Hallowell, 1955:176-177. Italics in the original)

Hallowell has left the task half done here. "Pedantic [explanations]

"actually [on] the level of science" (p. 177) are precisely those towhich

we should aspire. Of course these will not be the explanations favored

by most of our informants. There is no reason to expect this to be so.

We must certainly do our best to enter into the emic thought world of

the people we study, but that is only the first leg of the journey. We

must take care lest we, like Dorothy, get swept away to the land of Oz

and are unable to return to Kansas. We must be able to interpret our

findings in ways that are consistent with what we know about the mate-

rial world. As Hallowell points out, John Tanner-who was captured by

the Indians at the age of nine and lived with them night and day for

thirty years-tells us that shamans sometimes prowled the villages at

night dressed in bear skins, and by some pyrotechnic device made it ap-

pear as if fire were coming from their mouths and eyes. Should an

anthropologist minimize the importance of this etic datum simply because

it would not necessarily be meaningful to the average Ojibwa? (Not all

Ojibwa would have found Tanner's statement meaningless; the shamans

themselves come immediately to mind. Also, culturally and psychologi-

cally Tanner himself was more Indian than white.)

Hallowell's claim that "all we need to say is that the self of the

sorcerer was in Pinddndakwan's camp," that this "is the meaningful core

of the whole situation," and that "in these terms the situation is as

humanly intelligible to us as it is to the Ojibwa" prematurely closes

the book on the question of the relationship between meaning and causal-

ity in Ojibwa studies. As will be shown in the following chapter, many

other contributors to the literature on windigo "psychosis" are con-

strained by the same emic and mentalistic biases.

With some exceptions, those who have studied windigo thus far have

extracted one aspect of Northern Algonkian folk belief from its cultural

and environmental context and enshrined it in anthropological cliche

(cf. Bishop 1975:237; Preston 1980:114; 127-128). This procedure has

done justice neither to the Algonkian folk model nor to attempts at a

science of history. These studies imply that if we are in the company

of a Northern Algonkian we need be concerned lest he or she, for no

apparent reason, be seized by the overpowering urge to dismember and

eat us. Yet in the more than 300 years Europeans have been traveling

about the north with Algonkian guides, canoeists, dog drivers, and

freighters, not one of them has found it necessary to kill an Indian

on the grounds that his companion had turned into a cannibalistic

madman. Algonkians, on the other hand, have killed large numbers of

their fellows on just such justification,and anthropologists accept this

emic rationale without question.

If psychotic cannibalism existed in an etic/behavioral sense, it

seems unlikely that it would have escaped the attention of the "old

northern hands" with millenia of accumulated experience only to be

"discovered" by a few psychological anthropologists in the early 1930s.

Fur traders, missionaries, government officials, etc., have often been

more rigorously scientific than anthropologists on the windigo issue in

that they have been more careful to distinguish the emics of Northern

Algonkian thought from the etics of Algonkian behavior. For example,

consider the following exchange of correspondence between Hudson's Bay

Company officer James Todd writing from Big Trout Lake (located in

what is now northwestern Ontario) to his superior Joseph Fortesque at

York Factory (located in what is now northern Manitoba) (Hudson's

Bay Company Archives B. 220/6/2, 12 July 1882 Todd to Fortesque [folio


I have brought a man down, one of my Indians from Trout Lake,
who is out of his mind. The Doctor may be able to do some-
thing for him. I therefore send him to York Factory. His wife
is with him to look after his wants. He is harmless so far, at
times he gets into sort of a fit, then he requires to be held, he
also runs off through the woods any distance if he is not closely
watched, he runs very fast, by what I hear. The complaint came
upon him last April, while hunting, he is not a praying man, but
the opposite, and he has his own beliefs, which I think myself
has been the cause of his getting deranged. I hope some good
may be done to him at York Factory.

Your lunatic is quite recovered, and is a very useful man, but
is very unwilling to return to your post as he fears his life
might be sacrificed to the superstitions of his countrymen.
(24 July 1883, Fortesque to Todd [folio 25d])

I am glad to learn my lunatic has completely recovered and that
he is so useful to you-I fully believe in his fears to return to
Trout Lake, superstitious indeed are his countrymen indeed too
much so, and above all too cowardly. (2 January 1884, Todd to
Fortesque [folio 26d])

The 19th-century ethnocentrism of the Hudson's Bay men need not

detain us here. The point is that there was no doubt in the mind of the

man who had been mentally disturbed, or in Todd's mind, that the re-

covered "lunatic" was in danger of his life. No mention is made of

windigo or of cannibalism in this case, but an ethnographic and ethno-

historic background in Algonkiana justifies the informed opinion that

windigo possession would have been the Indian justification for homicide.

The windigo issue provides a good example of why one must be cautious

in defining "meaning" in ethnographic research. At the very least there

is "meaning" for the killers and "meaning" for those they kill; the two

are not isomorphic. The man from Big Trout Lake showed an understandable

disinclination to sacrifice himself at the phenomenological altar of his

society's social authorities. The emic reality of executioners has

typically been preserved in dynastic histories and ethnographic field

notes; the emic reality of the executed is buried with them (cf. Harris


My conviction that the distinction between the emics of thought

and the etics of behavior is a necessary precondition for a science of

culture corresponds to the basic epistemological principles of cul-

tural materialism (Harris 1979: 29ff). The study of an intersubjectively

defined behavior stream is the key to understanding what happened in

human history, and what is likely to happen in the future. Having made

explicit my epistemological predelictions, let me do the same for my

personal biases.

James G. E. Smith believes that cases of windigo psychosis have

been underreported because of "the tendency of some writers to conceal

or understate cannibalistic events, including H. R. Schoolcraft (who was

married to an Ojibwa), and acculturated, literate Ojibwa such as

[William W.] Warren, [Peter] Jones, and [George] Copway" (1976:31). I

too am vulnerable to this charge (although Smith offers no evidence to

substantiate his indictment of these men other than their racial origins

or conjugal affiliation). I was married to an Ojibwa woman and have

two bicultural, bilingual children of mixed European and North American

ancestry. Obviously I am not a disinterested observer, and have a per-

sonal as well as academic interest in the outcome of the debate my work

is sure to engender. Personally, I do not want my children to grow up

believing that their people-for reasons peculiar to their culture-

were or are subject to a ghoulish form of insanity wherein those af-

flicted kill and eat their neighbors in order to satisfy an obsessive

cannibalistic craving. I would much rather have them believe that

Ojibwa culture-like all cultures-is susceptible to manifestations of

witch-fear, scapegoating, and triage homicide when subjected to traumatic

stress. I would also like them to know that there is no evidence for the

belief that Ojibwa crisis cannibalism was substantively different from

crisis cannibalism in any other culture. In addition to perpetrating

an epistemological disaster, I believe that anthropology has done the

Northern Algonkian peoples a great disservice by positing the existence

of the windigo mania on the basis of scanty and unreliable evidence.

The readers must judge for themselves to what extent my personal

involvement in this issue prejudices the value of my work. In order to

aid the reader in making this judgment, an autobiogrpahical sketch is

incorporated into my statement of methods and fieldwork research.

My Life and Research with the Ojibwa

Having completed work on an M.S. in interdisciplinary social

science, I first went north as a graduate student in anthropology in the

summer of 1972. Professor A. T. Steegmann, Jr., my advisor at the

State University of New York at Buffalo, had written me into a grant

application to the National Science Foundation. The application was a

request to fund a series of studies of human biology and cultural

ecology in the boreal forest zone of northwestern Ontario. My own re-

search was to have been an inquiry into the Northern Algonkian strate-

gies for dealing with the Subarctic cold, as well as the study of hunt-

ing and trapping techniques and attendant corpus of survival skills. At

the time my working assumption, and the assumption of all the other mem-

bers of the research team, was that the severe cold of the region was

the paramount environmental hazard; an assumption that later proved

false (Marano 1981).

Although my primary interest at the time was in human biology and

subsistence activities, I also had a keen interest in ethnology and gen-

eral anthropology. I received from the accumulated works of Hallowell

and Landes the vicarious thrills one might expect from good adventure

novels. The work of Dunning (1959) and Rogers (1962) seemed quite a bit

more sedate, and I was not sure how to account for this discrepancy. The

prospect of the 1972 summer field trip filled me with excitement, for it

would give me the chance to see the Northern Algonkians and their culture

first hand.

The purpose of the trip for me was to familiarize myself with the

area, find a suitable community in which to do doctoral research, and get

permission from the local leaders to conduct the research after explaining

to them what I wanted to do. For my traveling companions Ted Steegmann

(now chairman of the anthropology department at the State University of

New York at Buffalo) and Marshall Hurlich (now assistant professor of

anthropology at the University of Washington) the trip was to be more

structured; they were to proceed to Fort Severn, Ontario, to administer a

series of anthropometric protocols. Fort Severn, the most far-flung

community in the province, is situated near the shores of Hudson Bay and

was to be the site of Hurlich's doctoral research in 1973-74.

Twenty-four hours on the train from Toronto brought us to Sioux

Lookout, the jumping-off point for northwestern Ontario. After Steegmann

and Hurlich caught a plane to Fort Severn the weather deteriorated, mak-

ing flying impossible but giving me extra time to decide on the village

to visit. After ruling out the larger communities I settled on Bearskin

Lake, probably for its rustic name.

My visit to Bearskin was both confusing and rewarding. Through an

interpreter I explained my plans and wishes to the band councillor. His

response was that it is written in the Bible that people should not drink,

and that it is sinful to do so. I allowed that I drank very little and

would not drink at all during the fieldwork period. I repeated my re-

quest for permission to work in the village. His answer was that Jesus

didn't want people to drink either. I took this as a provisional affirma-

tive. The next week was spent getting acquainted with the people and the

locale, doing some interviewing (taping the interviews with their trans-

lations), taking notes, and making up a short Ojibwa vocabulary. I re-

turned to Buffalo with the expectation that I would be back in Bearskin

in the fall of 1974 for a year's fieldwork.

Although for a number of personal reasons I never returned to Bear-

skin to do doctoral research, this was not the end of my association with

the Northern Ojibwa. I next returned to them as a research assistant to

Professor Steegman, who had been influential in kindling my interest in

the boreal forest Algonkians. Steegmann's plan was to go to the village

of Round (Weagamow) Lake, Ontario, from January to March, 1974, to do a

series of field experiments and laboratory experiments designed to learn

more about the process of thermo-regulation of hand temperatures among

cold-acclimatized Northern Ojibwa. Some of the field experiments con-

trolled for exercise and insulation, and others measured the finger tem-

peratures of subjects as they went about their normal outdoor tasks. The

laboratory experiments involved the monitoring of hand temperatures

through a thirty-minute immersion in 5C ice water and recovery rates

after withdrawal. When the man slated to accompany Steegmann as his

research assistant backed out, I was eager to go in his stead.

Steegmann and I arrived in Round Lake early in January 1974

and completed the work in less time than anticipated (see Steegmann

1974; Hurlich and Steegmann 1979; Steegmann [ed.] 1981). In addition

to acting as Steegmann's research assistant, I did some research of my

own into the behavioral strategies employed by the Northern Ojibwa in

their hunting and trapping activities. This work-which was mostly

interviews supplemented by some personal observation-was used as the

basis of my M.A. thesis in anthropology (Marano 1974).

When Steegmann returned to Buffalo in mid-February 1974 I

elected to remain in the village for reasons that are still not com-

pletely clear to me. Like many Vietnam veterans I had experienced re-

entry problems into my own society. This was not an issue when I was

with the Indians. I had met a young Ojibwa woman of whom I was fond.

Moreover, I felt relaxed and comfortable my first year with the Round

Lake Ojibwa; more so than in my hometown of Buffalo.

I returned to Buffalo in March 1974 but was back in Round Lake

in April. My Ojibwa friend and her father had promised to take me

"spring trapping," and I did not want to miss this opportunity. In

early May, as the ice was breaking up along the Caribou River, we

trapped muskrat, beaver, and otter, and hunted ducks.

In Buffalo during the summer of 1974 I wrote up my master's pro-

ject and negotiated with a bush-plane company to work as their agent in

Round Lake. Eva and I were married in August 1974, and I began work-

ing for Hooker Air Service in September, first in Pickle Lake,

Ontario, then on to Round Lake when the airport opened in October. With

the aid of my affines I built a small log house. October 1974 to June

1975 were spent looking after the concerns of Hooker Air Service and

the needs of my new extended family. I hunted (mostly small game) and

fished with a net.

By the time I was laid off work in June 1975, my wife was preg-

nant. I applied for the job of an adult education teacher of math and

English for the 1975-76 school year and then my wife, her parents,

younger sister, and I went to the family hunting territory at North

Caribou Lake and lived off the land in the summer of 1975. This was ac-

complished with the aid of guns, ammunition, a fishnet, some flour, oats,

tea, sugar, and salt.

My son Ronald was born in December 1975, when I was working as an

adult education teacher. When my contract expired in April 1976, I

took my wife and son and our belongings, flew to Sioux Lookout, and got

on the next westbound train. After three months of searching for a job

in British Columbia and Washington State, I received two offers at about

the same time. One was a CETA job in Pierce County, Washington, and the

other was that of lecturer in anthropology in the Brandon University

Northern Teacher Education Program.

Brandon University, a small institution in western Manitoba, had

received governmental funding to train native peoples in the northern

part of the province. The goal was to allow the students to study for

their Manitoba teacher's certificates on their own reserves. My first

assignment was that of a "traveling professor" who would maintain a

residence in Winnipeg and spend four days a week teaching in the north.

This usually meant flying out early Monday morning and returning on

Thursday evening. I did this the first year I worked for Brandon, and

the following two years were spent as a resident "centre coordinator" at

two Algonkian reserves in northern Manitoba. Table 1 shows the dates and

nature of my experiences with the Northern Algonkians from 1972 to 1980.

Although I did not go to the boreal forest to study windigo, I was able

to learn something about the concept as it is currently used among the

Northern Ojibwa. My report on this emic category is given in Chapter


But what has been even more important to my understanding of

windigo is the feeling for Northern Algonkian. life I acquired during my

protracted interaction with them in their Subarctic environment. Many

of the stories in Morton Teicher's (1960) compendium of windigo cases

simply did not ring true to me, and this impelled me to search for

original sources whenever there was a hint that such might still be

extant. The interpretations I give to these sources in Chapter IV

could have been made only by someone with intimate knowledge of

Northern Algonkian life.

How I Got Interested in and Carried Out the
Study of Windigo

Of course, like every Algonkianist, I was aware of "windigo psy-

chosis." I had read Parker (1960), Hay (1971), and Rohrl (1970) in my

graduate school days, and found these explications unsatisfying. The

accounts in Landes (1937b, 1938b) and Hallowell (1955) seemed to be

much closer to the spirit of Ojibwa life, but they did not in my opinion

do much to advance our scientific understanding of the windigo phenome-

non. As my life among the Northern Algonkians progressed, I began to be

aware that their conception of windigo was not a very close approxima-

tion to the "psychosis" in the anthropological literature. But I was






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not a psychological anthropologist. Beginning in 1975, my work among

the Northern Algonkians came to be more of an applied, interventionist

nature involving the delivery of educational services. And perhaps, I

thought, the disjunction between the contemporary Algonkian and the

classical anthropological windigo was the result of acculturation.

Whenever the opportunity arose during the three years I worked

for Brandon University in northern Manitoba, I would come in to the

University of Winnipeg to use the library. I would use the resources

of the library to prepare lectures for my classes, to keep myself

current on developments in anthropology, and to pursue my own intel-

lectual interests.

It was at the University of Winnipeg that I met Robert Fraser,

a laboratory demonstrator in the Department of Anthropology. Richard

Preston of McMaster University had delivered a guest lecture on the sub-

ject of windigo at the University of Winnipeg in the winter of 1978-79.

I was unable to attend the lecture and asked Bob what it had been about.

Fraser gave me a brief overview of Preston's talk (see Preston 1980) and

then came up with a fascinating idea of his own. He told me that in the

rare book room of the University library was the manuscript autobiography

of a missionary by the name of Frederick Stevens (n.d.). Stevens, he

said, had visited Sandy Lake in the years before the infamous windigo

killings by the Fiddler brothers. According to Fraser, Stevens had

reported that most of the "windigos" killed were nursing mothers

(Stevens n.d.:43). Stevens also stressed the starvation conditions

under which the Sandy Lake Ojibwa lived at the time of his visits (1943:

4-9, n.d.:42-43). It would be hard to imagine, said Fraser, a more

effective means of population control than the elimination of nursing

mothers. Not only would it remove reproductive women from the society,

but the nursing infants would also have a slim chance of survival.

I was very excited by Fraser's idea. Since Sandy Lake is only 80

miles west of Round Lake, and since the Sandy Lakers are closely re-

lated to the people at Island Lake where I had lived in 1977-78, I had

heard of the Fiddler killings (see Chapter IV) but did not know what to

make of them. Here was a chance to test a demo-environmental theory of

windigo executions by means of an etic report. I told Fraser that I was

interested in pursuing the subject in a serious way, and asked if he

wished to exercise prior claim to the topic. No, he replied. He was

discouraged with anthropology and was going to British Columbia to grow

apples. The way was clear.

Stevens' autobiography proved to be an intriguing document in many

respects, but disappointing as far as Fraser's theory was concerned. It

was true that he wrote "in six years, eight persons had been killed [as

windigo], most of them nursing mothers" (n.d.:43) but in this he was

not reporting first-hand observation, but hearsay. Stevens wrote these

words from Fisher River in the Manitoba interlake district. By this

time he had been out of touch with the Sandy Lakers for six years. But

a cursory review of the windigo literature brought me to Teicher (1960).

Teicher's source for the Sandy Lake killings was the Annual Archaeologi-

cal Report (hereafter AAR) 1907, which was an appendix to the report of

the Ontario Minister of Education (1908:91-121). This fascinating docu-

ment was available at the Manitoba Legislative Library in Winnipeg, and

turned out to be a transcript of Joseph Fiddler's trial at Norway House

on October 7, 1907. The Sandy Lake cases and the Moostoos case were the

two data sets most thoroughly summarized in Teicher. Teicher's sources

for the Moostoos case were trial summaries printed in the Annual

Archaeological Report for the year 1903 (1904:126-138). Through corre-

spondence I was able to get government records pertaining to the Sandy

Lake cases from the Public Archives of Canada (hereafter PAC) (1907-08;

1907-09) and for the Moostoos case (PAC 1899). From the Clerk of the

Edmonton Court I received additional material on the Moostoos case

(Edmonton Court Files [hereafter ECF] 1899: Cr. 157). (Most of the

government and legal files are unpaginated.)

The documentary sources did not lend support to Stevens' nursing-

mother statement, but the striking thing about all these documents was

the total absence of cannibalism. On this point Indians, Mounties,

missionaries, traders, and jurists agreed. Four of Teicher's seventy

cases of "windigo psychosis" came from the Sandy Lake materials, yet in

these cases the Indians themselves never stated that these four executed

persons ever showed the slightest desire to eat anyone. To be sure,

Moostoos' executioners emphatically claimed that the dead man had voiced

cannibalistic desires, and that this was the reason why they had to sink

an axe into his head. But by the same token they also claimed that

before his execution Moostoos was floating up over their heads and it

was a hard job to pull him back down to earth (AAR 1903 [1904:130]).

By this time I knew I was on to something. My five years'experi-

ence with the Northern Algonkians had taught me that the term "windigo"

was-at least in the 1970s-seldom if ever used to denote cannibalism

in fact or in desire. I was annoyed by the sensationalistic and

speculative explications of "windigo psychosis" in the anthropological

literature. To me there was nothing bizarre or sensational about

Ojibwa life. They were ordinary people with ordinary human problems

who tried to deal with their problems in much the same way that other

people with similar sets of problems dealt with theirs. A nomothetic

explanation for windigo executions suggested itself. In the Sandy Lake

cases sick people were "put out of [their] misery" (AAR 1907 [1908:104]).

Moostoos was almost certainly the victim of a witch-hunt. It seemed

very likely that these well documented cases were representative of the

windigo universe. Further archival and ethnohistoric research has re-

vealed nothing to cause me to reject my theory.


Through the very professional assistance of Ms. Joanne A. Frodsham,

state and military archivist at the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa,

I was able to obtain the 48-page Department of Justice capital case

file on the case of Swift Runner (PAC 1879). As set forth in Chapter

IV, the Swift Runner case is the only windigo incident for which archival

data exist that involve cannibalism, and I believe this to be an in-

stance of famine cannibalism. Ms. Frodsham also provided me with

additional unpublished materials on the Fiddler (Wasakapeequay) case

(PAC 1907-08, 1907-09), the Moostoos case (PAC 1899), and all the mate-

rial I have on a long forgotten incident, the mysterious Mapanin exe-

cution (PAC 1896). I am extremely grateful to her for this invaluable

primary source information.

Robert Fraser not only rekindled my interest in windigo in the

manner noted above, but he shared his copy of the Campbell diary (n.d.)

with me, and assisted me in finding the 1838 census figures for the

Island Lake District. I am in his debt, and may his orchards thrive.,

My thanks go out to Mrs. Shirlee Smith, Ms. Garron Wells, and

Mr. Alex Ross, archivists for the Hudson's Bay Company collection in

Winnipeg. They have never failed to be helpful and cooperative and

made it possible for me to make the most of the limited periods of time

I had to work in the HBC Archives. Their assistance has provided me

with much valuable background information, including census figures for

northern Ontario and northern Manitoba in the 19th century. I am also

indebted to Mrs. Betty Barnes of the United Church House in Winnipeg

for kindly providing me with a copy of Stevens' account, "Sandy Lake"


I would also like to thank Mr. Keith Stotyne, archivist at the

Alberta Archives, and Mr. Joseph Doyle, Clerk of the Edmonton Court,

for their courtesy and helpfulness. These men assisted me in getting

additional information on the Moostoos case (ECF 1899). I am grateful

to J. R. Wright for the prompt reply to my request to the Department of

Indian Affairs for official census figures. Mr. B. Moroz, Deputy

Prothonotary of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, has gone out of his

way to help me obtain the original court records for the fascinating

Ahwahsahkahmig case, and has my sincere thanks. Both gratitude and

apologies must go out to Mrs. Marion Gregory of the Department of Indian

Affairs in Winnipeg, who helped me with census figures when I turned up

unexpectedly on an extremely busy working day.

But of all the archivists who assisted me in my search for the

historical windigo, none was so helpful as the Rev. J. Ernest Nix,

Deputy Archivist of the United Church of Canada in Toronto. Mr. Nix

spent weeks helping me to investigate a crucial element in this disser-

tation: the issue of the veracity and reliability of the missionary

Frederick George Stevens (see Chapter III). Mr. Nix took a personal

interest in the story of his brother minister, and devoted a great deal

of his energy to the retrieval of the Stevens material, and to other

aspects of the windigo puzzle. I am extremely thankful to him for all

his help and support.

I am also grateful to Charles Wagley for his comments on an

earlier version of Chapter II. It was he who pointed out the signifi-

cance of Kluckhohn's Navaho Witchcraft (1944) to my study. J. Anthony

Parades' response to an earlier draft of Chapter II was most gracious,

and I thank him for bringing J. G. E. Smith's "Notes on the Wittiko"

(1976) to my attention. In a meticulous critique of an earlier paper

(Marano 1979), Jean Briggs made me aware of Edmund Carpenter's "Witch-

Fear among the Aivilik Eskimos" (1953).

Both Edward S. Rogers and Richard J. Preston read my 1979 manu-

script and offered useful suggestions. Rogers has shared some of his

archival notes with me, including the exchange of correspondence

between Fortesque and Todd found earlier in this chapter. I very much

appreciate this, and other favors.

My special thanks go to Marvin Harris, whose analysis of the

European witch-craze (1974) helped me while still in the field make

the mental connections from which this dissertation grew. Professor

Harris' comments and criticisms have greatly improved this disserta-

tion. It is difficult to express the value of the intellectual


stimulation I have received from association with him, or of his per-

sonal generosity and support. I alone, however, am responsible for

possible errors or omissions.


Windigo {wIndlgo} is the most common Ojibwa pronunciation and
wiitiko {witlko} is most common among the Cree, but the voiced or voice-
less quality of stops is not phonemic in either language. For purposes
of this dissertation the allomorph /windigo/ is used except within direct
quotes. The word begins with an upper case letter when it refers to the
Algonkian mythological personage and with a lower case letter elsewhere,
quotes excepted.



"Windigo psychosis" has been the most celebrated culture trait

of the Northern Algonkian peoples for almost half a century. As a

classic example of "culture-bound psychopathology" its capacity to

inspire theorization in anthropology and the related disciplines seems

inexhaustible. This chapter is a review of the voluminous windigo

literature enlightened by five years' field experience among the

Northern Ojibwa and the Cree, as well as extensive archival research on

the subject.

The review which follows focuses on published explications of the

"psychosis,"' and shows that there is insufficient evidence for the

etic behavioral existence of the mania in this literature. A full

analysis of the ethnohistoric and ethnographic data is presented in

subsequent chapters, but a brief summary is in order here.

Seventy-odd "cases of windigo psychosis" can be tabulated.

(Seventy have been summarized in Teicher's anthology alone [1960].)

None of these "cases" provide first-hand accounts of cannibalism, and

some are so far removed from the events they purport to describe

that they can be classified most charitably as rumor. In other words

data are almost all emic inputs from informants who were not them-

selves involved in, or witnesses to, the events at issue; etic

inputs are absent. But some of these cases-about 10%-can be studied

both emically and etically by reading court records, trial tran-

scripts, and police investigation reports. In these documents the

words of the principals are recorded, as well as the reports of out-

side investigators whose business it was to determine the behavioral

facts as best they could. The value of these cases is far superior

to that of the others for two reasons: The emic inputs come from those

personally involved, and etic inputs are also present.

In only one of the documentary cases did cannibalism occur, and

this was a case of murder-cannibalism under starvation conditions.

This is hardly evidence of psychosis, nor is such behavior culture-

specific. The man in this case was not confronted by his fellow

Indians, but was arrested by the Mounted Police and executed by the

Dominion Government (Public Archives of Canada [hereafter PAC] 1879).

The remaining executions of windigo "psychotics" were carried out by

Indians and appear to be thinly disguised rationalizations for triage

homicide (AAR 1907 [1908]: PAC 1907-08, Edmonton Court Files [hereafter

ECF] 1899), and another appears to be the case of a man who, for

reasons of his own, engineered his own death (Manitoba Court of Queen's

Bench 1899).

It seems likely that the 10% sample these documented cases consti-

tute is representative of the "windigo" universe. This statistical find-

ing is reenforced by my ethnographic observations. In five years in

the boreal forest I saw frequent instances of scapegoating, and heard

countless witchcraft accusations, but never encountered one shred of

evidence for cannibalistic yearnings. It was also patently clear that

the Northern Algonkian windigo is a much more inclusive folk taxon than

the windigo of anthropology. I contend that there is no good documenta-

tion for windigo psychosis, and argue that the hearsay reports and folk

tales that have served as points of departure for contrary conclusions

do not constitute a reliable body of evidence.

Background to the Literature Review

Having arrived at this determination via the intellecutal pere-

grination outlined above, I set out to research this review comprehen-

sively. Much to my surprise I discovered that John Honigmann reached

essentially the same conclusion and published his analysis in 1967!

(p. 401). How could the work of such a distinguished psychological an-

thropologist and northernist have been ignored by the discipline for so

long after he questioned in print the authenticity of one of the most

precious jewels in the crown of culture-and-personality? A historical

reconstruction may help answer this question.

Honigmann was generally cautious and temperate in his treatment of

the windigo in his text Culture and Personality (1954:379-382). By

1967 his thoughts on the subject had matured to the point where he was

able to generate this noteworthy passage. Referring to Morton Teicher's

(1960) assemblage of windigo accounts, he wrote:

Some of [Teicher's] cases describe individuals whom famine had
driven to cannibalism, but who felt no emotional compulsion to eat
human flesh and came away from their desperate act without suffer-
ing any notable personality disorder. They can hardly be con-
sidered victims of Wiitiko disorder, regardless of what their
neighbors darkly suspected. As for the other cases, I can't find
one that satisfactorily attests to someone being seriously ob-
sessed by the idea of committing cannibalism. By "satisfactory"
I mean a trustworthy observer's eyewitness report of a person who

in his own words or by his own actions clearly admits to a com-
pulsion to eat human flesh. All cases on record fall short of
my standard. Often they recount what others told a writer, some-
times as an informant whose creditability itself remains in doubt.
Sometimes, as I have already said, such heresay evidence simply
reports uncomplicated famine cannibalism. Other hearsay accounts
describe people being killed, perhaps at their own behest, for
their dangerous preoccupation with cannibalism, but the reporter
didn't himself hear their admission. Hence I can't help but
wonder if in those executions the Indians, rather like Euro-
american witch hunters, didn't simply suspect the victims, in
conformity with their firm belief about compulsive cannibalism.
Some instances are court cases involving men tried for murder,
but the trial accounts don't clearly prove obsessive-compulsive
behavior. (Honigmann 1967:401; emphasis added)

These singular perceptions have been almost completely overlooked

in anthropology. (Victor Barnouw, for example, ignores them utterly

[1979:340-343].) A partial explanation may be found in the fact that

the passage quoted above is embedded almost as an aside within an en-

tirely conventional discussion of the windigo (Honigmann 1967:399-403).

Honigmann never specifically denied the existence of the "psychosis,"

and his consideration of etic/behavioral data is limited to Teicher's

compendium of "cases." My investigation into the court cases referred

to by Honigmann reveals unpublished materials indicating a complete ab-

sence of psychotic cannibalism. Moreover, my reading of archival sources

indicates that, from an etic perspective, all executed "windigo victims"

met death at the hands of their fellow Indians for reasons completely un-

related to the threat of their committing cannibalism. Another reason

why Honigmann's contribution has gone largely unnoticed may be that

Personality in Culture (Honigmann 1967) was not particularly well re-

ceived. Personality in Culture was a carefully prepared and attrac-

tively packaged textbook, but it had the misfortune of appearing at a

time when the fashionability of psychological anthropology was at a low

ebb. Having lost a large segment of the anthropological market to his-

torical vicissitude, Honigmann doubtless lost a quite different group of

readers by his explicit rejection of nomothetic research strategies and

his espousal of the principles of existential phenomenology (1967:xi-

xii). In spite of our theoretical differences, Honigmann's mature

thoughts on the windigo correspond to mine almost exactly, but I did not

read them until seven years after beginning fieldwork among the Northern

Algonkians and a year and a half after I became interested in the

windigo as an intellectual problem. I can only wish that I had read

Personality in Culture in 1973.

This review critically traces the development of the "windigo psy-

chosis" from its inception to the present. It will be shown that by

the time Honigmann published his insightful reflections in 1967, "windigo

psychosis" had achieved such a reified status in anthropology that it

was easy to ignore his signal contribution through the inertia of re-

ceived wisdom. Nevertheless, those who published on the subject after

1967 without reference to Honigmann's work must ultimately bear the

responsibility for their omission.

Windigo Psychosis, 1933-67

When speaking of the windigo, we may draw at least three categori-

cal distinctions. The first is Windigo as superhuman monster(s) who

may or may not have had human antecedents. (For a stylized portrayal

see Guinard [1930].) The second is a category of persons, the members of

which may or may not be considered to have been possessed by the spirit

of a cannibal-monster. The third is a culture-specific psychotic

syndrome, the victims of which are obsessed by a compulsive desire to

eat human flesh. The first two are Northern Algonkian categories and

concepts; the third is a child of 20th-century anthropology.

Windigo was first identified as a "sickness" by J. E. Saindon,

an Oblate missionary who worked among the Cree of western James Bay in

the early part of this century. Father Saindon has the singular distinc-

tion of being the first and only individual to observe a windigo vic-

tim and report those observations in print (1928:28, 1933:11-12). The

experience was quite unspectacular and corresponds very closely to my

own interactions with Northern Algonkians who "feel-like-a-windigo."

F., the victim in Saindon's account, showed no inclination whatever that

she wanted to eat anyone. Her symptoms were that she did not wish to see

anyone outside her immediate family because strangers looked like wild

animals to her and she experienced urges to kill them in self-defense.

It is interesting that Saindon makes no mention at all of cannibalism in

relation to windigo, but calls it a "psychoneurosis" which is "in cer-

tain cases an obsession and in others hysteria characterized by

an unbalanced imagination and an excessive impressionability" (Saindon

1928:27; emphasis added).2 It appears that F. was the only windigo

victim Saindon ever observed.

Saindon assured F. that she would get well and she responded

immediately to the suggestion (1933:12). John Honigmann, a scant page

away from his unique contribution, nevertheless overlooked the most

valuable piece of information now recoverable from Saindon's account

when he wrote: "Unfortunately, when the priest entered her tent he

didn't give her a chance to describe her symptoms; so there went a rare

opportunity for an inquirer with a good knowledge of Cree to interview

a victim of Wiitiko disorder" (1967:400). But Honigmann here missed the

main point. Of course it would have been desirable to have more back-

ground information on F., but the most diagnostic symptom of all in the

case was the fact that the patient was cured (or at least went into

indefinite remission) by a suggestion from an authority figure. That

is not behavior characteristic of a psychotic. If psychoses were that

easy to cure our mental hospitals would be empty. We must also consider

the possibility that F.'s symptoms were nothing more or less than the

ones Saindon reported. F. appears to have been phobic and neurotic, but

showed no sign of acting in a homicidal or cannibalistic manner.

From this narrow data base has come a torrent of interpretive

elaboration. Saindon was urged to publish his observations by his friend

and fellow priest, anthropologist John M. Cooper (Saindon 1933:1). In

the same issue of Primitive Man in which Saindon's modest reports ap-

peared, Cooper published his blood-curdling paper "The Cree Witiko

Psychosis" (1933). It was in this brief and phantasmagoric communica-

tion that the word "psychosis" was first applied to the windigo phenome-

non. Although it was Cooper's contention that "the factual data here

given are, except where otherwise stated from the present writer's field

notes taken among the eastern and western Cree and other Algonquian-

speaking peoples" (1933:20), Cooper does not present a single specific

instance of windigo psychosis nor any evidence of first-hand observa-

tion of such behavior. Cooper's initial description of the "psychosis"

is worth quoting at some length, for it set the tone for two generations

of scholarship on the subject (1933:21).

Cannibalism was resorted to by the Cree only in cases where actual
starvation threatened. Driven to desperation by prolonged famine
and often suffering from mental breakdown as a result thereof, the

Cree would sometimes eat the bodies of those who had perished,
or, more rarely, would even kill the living and partake of the
flesh. This solution, however, of the conflict between hunger
and the rigid tribal taboo often left, as its aftermath, an
"unnatural" craving for human flesh, or a psychosis that took
the form of such a craving. More rarely such a psychosis
developed in men or women who had not themselves previously
passed through famine experience.

That "cannibalism was resorted to by the Cree only in cases where

starvation threatened" seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable state-

ment, but that crisis cannibalism should result in a psychotic craving

for human flesh is a contention that demands specific verification. It

has never resulted in an obsessive psychosis in any other part of the

world. Survivors of the Donner party did not stalk the California gold

fields searching for unsuspecting prospectors to eat (McGlashan 1947:

236-261; Stewart 1960:280-293). It is probably true that breaking a

taboo on one occasion lowers the threshold for breaking it on subse-

quent occasions. For this reason the Indians doubtless tried to avoid

getting themselves into a food crisis with those who had already broken


Contrast Cooper's statement with those of Hudson's Bay Company

officer and explorer Samuel Hearne, who lived for twenty years among

the Cree. In reporting the extreme hunger he and his party experi-

enced on his second expedition in search of the Coppermine River and

Northwest Passage, he wrote:

The relation of such uncommon hardships may perhaps gain little
credit in Europe; while those who are conversant with the his-
tory of Hudson's Bay, and who are thoroughly acquainted with the
distress which the natives of the country about it frequently
endure, may consider them as no more than the common occurrences
of an Indian life, in which they are frequently driven to the
necessity of eating one another. (1971 [1795]: 34).

By the time Hearne wrote these words in 1770, the Hudson's Bay Company

was already celebrating its first centenary. Whether or not eating one

another was a frequent necessity for the Cree before the fur-trade epoch

is a matter for further research, but in a footnote added later to the

quoted passage, Hearne continued:

It is the general opinion of the Southern [i.e., Cree]
Indians, that when any of their tribe have been driven to the
necessity of eating human flesh, they become so fond of it, that
no person is safe in their company. And though it is well known
they are never guilty of making this horrid repast but when driven
to it by necessity, yet those who have made it are not only
shunned, but so universally detested by all who know them, that
no Indians will tent with them, and they are frequently murdered
slily [sic]. I have seen several of those poor wretches who,
unfortunately for them, have come under the above description, and
though they were persons much esteemed before hunger had driven
them to this act, were afterward so universally despised and
neglected, that a smile never graced their countenances: deep
melancholy has been seated on their brows, while the eye most
expressively spoke the dictates of the heart, and seemed to say,
"Why do you despise me for my misfortunes? The period is prob-
ably not far distant, when you may be driven to the like neces-

In the Spring of the year 1775, when I was building Cumber-
land House an Indian, whose name was Wapoos [Hare], came to the
settlement, at a time when fifteen tents of Indians were on the
plantations [sic!]: they examined him very minutely, and found
he had come a considerable way by himself, without a gun or
ammunition. This made many of them conjecture he had met with,
and killed, some person by the way; and this was the more easily
credited, from the care he took to conceal a bag of provisions,
which he had brought with him, in a lofty pine-tree near the

Being a stranger, I invited him in, though I saw he had
nothing for trade; and during that interview, some of the Indian
women examined his bag; and gave it as their opinion that the
meat it contained was human flesh: in consequence it was not with-
out the interference of some principal Indians, whose liberality
of sentiment was more extensive than in the others, the poor
creature saved his life. Many of the men cleaned and loaded their
guns; others had their bows and arrows ready; and even the women
took possession of the hatchets, to kill this poor inoffensive
wretch, for no crime but that of travelling about two hundred
miles by himself, unassisted by fire-arms for support in his
journey. (1971 [1795]: 34-35)

Psychologically oriented anthropologists will recognize in this

account an example of the human tendency to condemn most vigorously in

others that which is most feared in oneself, as well as the propensity

to project those fears onto vulnerable others. It is suggested here

that the windigo belief complex evolved among the Northern Algonkians

as a way to help minimize the chances of getting caught in a famine with

those who had already broken the taboo against cannibalism, to minimize

the liabilities imposed by the incapacitated, and as a way of focusing

group anxieties and aggressions onto individuals adjudged socially ex-

pendable. It is not central to my argument whether this cultural con-

figuration was aboriginal, or whether it was a post-contact elaboration

of pre-Columbian cosmology which developed in response to deteriorating

infrastructural conditions. My judgment is that there is more evidence

for the latter position, but in either case we need not accept the emic

categories and concepts of our native informants as our own. A lowered

threshold to breaking a taboo against cannibalism in a crisis is a far

cry from an obsessive cannibalistic compulsion.

Cooper's last statement in the quoted paragraph that "more rarely

such a psychosis developed in men or women who had not themselves pre-

viously passed through famine experience" is one that if taken seri-

ously directly contradicts his first sentence, which affirms the exclu-

sively nutritional impetus for Cree cannibalism (1933:21). While

Saindon's informants told him that the windigo sickness was "a strange

malady that is rare today, but was formerly more frequent" (1933:11),

Cooper asserts in the same issue of Primitive Man that it is "a common

psychosis among the eastern Cree and kindred tribes showing] two

peculiar characteristics: the victim develops an 'unnatural' craving for

human flesh; he turns into an ice-hearted Witiko" (1933:24).

From these beginnings the misunderstandings snowballed. It could

even be argued that the windigo phenomenon is more of an example of mass

suggestibility among anthropologists than it was among Northern

Algonkian Indians. A. Irving Hallowell (1934) quickly confirmed the

existence of the disorder among the Berens River Saulteaux, a Northern

Ojibwa group. Taking the information provided by his informants at face

value, Hallowell identified the physical symptoms of the disease:

a distaste for ordinary foods, nausea, vomiting. He reported that "if

there were no improvement the afflicted one would often ask to be killed

and this desire was usually gratified" (1934:8). Hallowell also dis-

tinguished between early and late stages of the disorder even though he

had no first-hand knowledge of either stage. If in the first state the

victim was depressed and nauseous, "in these later cases (of which I

have no specific records) the individual does not merely develop a fear

of becoming cannibalistic but may exhibit a positive desire for human

flesh, or even take steps to satisfy this desire. .. But the cases

of which I have knowledge were only in the initial anxiety stage and the

persons affected were either killed or they recovered" (1934:8; italics

added). Since Hallowell's informants could give him no specific in-

stances of the second, or cannibal-psychotic, stage of the disorder, it

would have been appropriate for him to have been more skeptical of its

existence. Moreover, Hallowell did not attempt to ascertain the condi-

tions under which anxious and anorexic Ojibwa were killed, and those

under which they were allowed to recover. The statement that they

would "often ask to be killed" cannot be taken seriously in an etic, be-

havioral sense without a sample of actual cases.

The next Algonkianist to take up the windigo theme was Ruth

Landes. Landes based her conclusions on information gathered during

visits to the Manitou Reserve, on the Rainy River in southwest Ontario

in the summers of 1932 and 1933, and from an extensive correspondence

with her principal informant, Mrs. Maggie Wilson (Landes 1937a,b,

1938a,b). Of all the Algonkianists of the period, Landes' descrip-

tions of the windigo phenomenon are the most elaborate, and it is

probably for this reason that her writings seem to be the ones most

often referred to by those who have attempted to comment on "windigo

psychosis" by means of secondary sources alone (e.g. Parker 1960;

Teicher 1960; Arieti and Meth 1959; Linton 1956; Lewis 1958 [quoted in

Wing 1978:72-73]; Bolman and Katz 1966; Hay 1971).

It is unfortunate that Landes' most estimable contribution to

the windigo issue has been wholly neglected, for she wrote that "from

the psychiatric point of view all Ojibwa neuroses and psychoses

fall under the one category: windigo" (1938a:30). And in another paper:

"All [Ojibwa] insanities are generically termed windigo" (1937a:46).

The far-reaching implications of these statements seem never to have

given pause to subsequent researchers. If what Landes was saying is

that the Ojibwa tend to apply the term "windigo" to just about any form

of mental disturbance, then she was correct as I can confirm from my

own observations. But if that is what she meant, it becomes at once

obvious that the Ojibwa emic category is not isomorphic with the then

newly emerging etic anthropological category (cf. Preston 1980). The

difference between the emic and etic meanings of windigo is much

greater than spirit-possession on the one hand versus psychosis on the

other. The difference is that the Indians apply the term to cases where

no cannibalism or murder is suspected or anticipated, and the anthro-

pologists do not. If anthropologists had taken this aspect of Landes'

work seriously, we would have been forced to conclude that emically

speaking "windigo" is a very inclusive term. In my own experience, in

the vast majority of cases in which the Indians employ the term there is

no psychosis by either Algonkian or European criteria, much less a psy-

chosis involving murder and cannibalism. Unfortunately, anthropologists

zeroed in on the bizarre, the grotesque, and the macabre in Landes'

reports rather than on the inconsistencies and their second-hand nature.

This bias toward the exotic in anthropology has been identified and

criticized in other contexts by Naroll and Naroll (1963).

While Landes' identification of the broad nature of the Algonkian

windigo concept is most praiseworthy, her description of the phenomenon

is problematic in other respects. In one paper she writes that the

disorder is pretty much confined to males with shamanistic power who

attribute failure in the hunt to the curses of rival shamans; women being

relatively free from the condition (1938a:31). But in a book appearing

in the same year (1936b:213-226) she not only recounts tales of many

female windigowak, but also states that babies and even dogs are con-

sidered to be susceptible to the affliction.

The windigo literature got to be the way it is because early 20th-

century ethnologists in general and Algonkianists in particular failed

to make explicit the distinction between data about which the observer

is the ultimate judge of the adequacy of categories and concepts (etics)

and data about which the informant is the ultimate judge of same (emics).

More precisely, their work also suffered from the failure to distinguish

the emics of thought from the etics of behavior (Harris 1979:27-45).

Further evidence for the necessity of making these distinctions can be

found in the following passage (Landes 1938b:217; italics added, quo-

tation marks and parenthetical comments in the original):

An infant son of the great shaman Great Mallard Duck was
viewed by his mother's co-wife and by his half-sisters and
brothers as a windigo, and was therefore killed. This happened
during a period of starvation, when seven out of Duck's family
of sixteen person's died of hunger. "The baby that was nursing
was just crazy. He was eating his fingers up (this is con-
sidered cannibalistic) and biting off the nipples of his (dead)
mother's breasts. They knew he was to become a little windigo.
His eyes were blazing and his teeth rattling (windigo symptoms
indicating fever, privation, and neurotic fury), so the old
woman killed the baby boy."

So strong was Landes' commitment to a psychological interpretation of

windigo that she failed to see that there might be reasons other than

the belief in cannibal monsters for killing an infant in a family in

which seven out of sixteen people had already died of starvation. Can

a starving baby be etically categorized as being in a "neurotic fury"?

(1938b:217). Is there any scientific basis for diagnosing infants as


Referring to Landes' (1938a:25) two-stage progression from

melancholia to obsessive murder-cannibalism, John Honigmann wrote: "It

does not appear that Landes ever directly observed the progressive

deterioration about which she writes" (1954:380). It would have been

better for anthropology as well as for the global reputation of the

Cree and Ojibwa Indians if Honigmann had shown less restraint in his

commentary. As we have seen above, by the time he pursued this line of

thought to its logical conclusion thirteen years later, no one was

listening (Honigmann 1967:401).

If it can be said that Saindon knew the windigo at the first level

of abstraction and Cooper, Hallowell, and Landes knew it at the second,

then successive writers have typically known it at ever more remote

levels of abstraction. Cooper, Landes, and especially Hallowell were

accomplished fieldworkers, even if none of them ever observed a case of

the ghoulish psychosis about which they wrote so confidently. Subsequent

analysts have tended to be those who have either worked among highly

acculturated reservation Indians, or, more commonly, have never seen a

bush Indian in their lives.

Seymour Parker is an anthropologist at the University of Utah whose

work has shown a strong psychiatric orientation. His paper "The Wiitiko

Psychosis in the Context of Ojibwa Personality and Culture" (1960) is a

prime example of windigo analysis at a third level of abstraction. Re-

ferring to the accounts of Hallowell, Landes, and Cooper, he writes:

"Unfortunately, none of these investigators had an opportunity to obtain

detailed or reliable life history data about an actual wiitiko victim"

(1960:603). Neither did they obtain reliable case history data, as we

have already seen. Having made his caveat,Parker embarks at once on a

long, convoluted, neo-Freudian fishing trip. Accepting one of Landes'

statements that windigo psychosis is confined mainly to men (Landes 1938a:

31), Parker ultimately concluded that windigo is an obsessive cannibal-

istic psychosis which is the result of frustrated dependency cravings

of little Ojibwa boys for their stern and rejecting mothers. Following

the ideas of Abram Kardiner (1939, 1953), he suggests that with frus-

tration comes the transformation of the nurturing object into the

persecuting object. Thus the prototype for the cannibal giant is the

mother figure. When "the victim feels that he has been possessed by

the spirit of a cannibalistic wiitiko monster he must serve the

appetite of the wiitiko as his own" (Parker 1960:619). Parker stresses

dependency as the salient feature of the Ojibwa modal personality. This

presumably constitutes a predisposition to windigo insanity because

"dependent and aggressive phantasies are often two sides of the same

coin" (1960:612). At the same time he characterizes the Ojibwa as hav-

ing excessive dependency needs, Parker calls our attention to Ojibwa

individualism, apathy, passivity, and paranoia; traits that have been

debated elsewhere under the category of Northern Algonkian social

atomismm" (James 1954, 1970; Hickerson 1960, 1967; Barnouw 1963;

Smith 1979).
In his 1957 doctoral dissertation in anthropology at the University

of Toronto, Morton Teicher made an heroic attempt to compile all the

available source material on windigo "psychosis." In addition to pub-

lished sources he apparently had access to Hallowell's ethnographic

field notes (Teicher 1960:74). Teicher's dissertation was later pub-

lished by the American Ethnological Society (1960). The title of his

monograph is "Windigo Psychosis: A Study of a Relationship between

Belief and Behavior among the Indians of Northeastern Canada." The

questionable assumption throughout is that there is a direct one-to-one

causal connection between belief and behavior. "Belief stands in re-

spect to behavior as does cause to effect" (1960:13).

In the seventy cases Teicher catalogues, acts of cannibalism

were allegedly performed in forty-four, leaving twenty-six cases of

"windigo" where, by the Indians' own accounts, no cannibalism took

place. At first Teicher is cautious in his analysis. "It is probable,"

he writes, "in some of these instances that cannibalism would have

occurred had death [from execution] not intervened. On the other hand

these twenty-six cases constitute a fairly high proportion of the total

number of cases reported as windigo psychosis" (1960:109). But on the

very next page, Teicher proceeds to ignore his own warning and states

that cannibalism is "inevitable" in a person afflicted with windigo:

A Northeastern Indian, convinced that he has become or is be-
coming windigo, inevitably turns to cannibalism as the appro-
priate behavior, an appropriateness determined by the cultural
belief system. Regardless of the ailment he may actually have,
once the common diagnosis of windigo has been applied, his
future path of action is clearly demarcated by the culture;
there is no alternative path (1960:110).

With the exception of Saindon's timid parishioner (1933:11-12),

not one of Teicher's cases of "windigo psychosis" is drawn from a first-

hand report. From the nature of Teicher's case material one must assume

that had the man in Hearne's account been executed (1971 [1795]:34-35),

and had the Cree version of the tale been recorded later by one less

sophisticated than Hearne, that yet another instance of "windigo psy-

chosis" would have been added to the literature. Almost all of Teicher's

"cases" may be called into question on this account. Five of his

seventy "cases" come from well-documented trial records (AAR 1903 [1904];

AAR 1907 [1908]), but Teicher's belief in the "inevitability" of canni-

balism once the windigo label has been applied (1960:110) severely limits

his capacity for critical analysis.

Raymond D. Fogelson is a former student of Hallowell's, now a pro-

fessor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. In a Festschrift

presented to Hallowell (Spjro 1965) Fogelson published his paper,

"Psychological Theories of Windigo 'Psychosis' and a Preliminary Applica-

tion of Models Approach" (Fogelson 1965). This paper is a more cautious,

and at the same time more ambitious,attempt to extrapolate on the windigo

phenomenon at the third level of abstraction. Fogelson begins by saying

that the windigo syndrome may have an organic etiology, but because there

is insufficient data to generate, let alone test, specific physiological

and genetic hypotheses, his report concentrates on psychological aspects

of windigo (1965:74-75).

In referring to some early sources cited by Cooper (1934b),

Fogelson makes a valuable contribution by pointing out that among the 18th-

century Cree of Hudson Bay, Wiitiko appears to have been an Algonkian

deity of evil principle. This malign god and his minions were a source

of menace and danger to humans, and had always to be propitiated.

Manitou, on the other hand, was a benign deity, but rather uninterested

in human affairs (Fogelson 1965:76-77). Fogelson's paper is important

in that he was the first to suggest that the windigo complex had

changed over time. "Interesting to note is the absence in these early

accounts of characteristics which were later associated with the Windigo

being: as his gigantic stature, his anthropophageous propensities, and

his symbolic connection with the north, winter, and starvation" (1965:

77; emphasis added). (Note also that Hearne makes no mention of the

term in association with Cree beliefs surrounding cannibalism in the

1770s [1795:34-35]). Moreover, Fogelson points out that "the fact that

only seventy fairly well-authenticated cases of windigo disorder have

found their way into the literature-from a population of over thirty

thousand over a period of three centuries-suggests strongly that

windigo disorder may be a relatively rare phenomenon, notable more for

its spectacular features than for its chronicity" (ibid.:88).

In making these discerning statements Fogelson comes very close

to scoring a major breakthrough in our understanding of the windigo

phenomenon. In point of fact most of Teicher's cases are very poorly

authenticated, and the few that are well documented Teicher systemati-

cally misinterprets. And, as we have seen above, in over 35% of

Teicher's "cases" no cannabalism occurred even if we take the Indian

acccounts at face value.

Unfortunately Fogelson chose not to pursue this line of thought and

elected instead to psychologize and typologize. Expanding on a model

developed by A. F. C. Wallace, himself, and unnamed others at the

Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute in 1959 (1965:89), Fogelson

arranges the tenuous windigo data base into five conceptual slots. "The

analytic technique has been labeled the 'N-U-P-model"" (1965:89) where

N stands for "Normality," U for "Upset," and P for "Psychosis" (ibid.).

Type 1 is the "Classic Three-Stage" windigo where the victim degener-

ates from a normal Indian to a brooding melancholic, to a cannibalistic

killer (1965:90-91). Type 2 is the "Two-Stage" variety in which the

sufferer is killed while "Upset" (1965:91-92). In Type 3 we get a

"Nonmelancholic Two-Stage" in which the crafty cannibal does in his

unsuspecting relatives and has them turning over a slow fire before

they even have time to know that they have an Upset person on their

hands (1965:93). In Type 4 the victim begins a transformation into a

windigo as the result of a shaman's curse, but is cured through the

ministrations of relatives (1965:94-96). In Type 5 a shaman begins to

become a windigo from the conjuring of a rival shaman, but fights off

his enemy shamanistically and returns to Normality. Fogelson admits

he had trouble in deciding whether to classify the shamanistic combat

fantasy as an Upset or a Psychotic state, but opted for the latter

(1965:97). Little confidence can be placed in Fogelson's diagnosis in

view of the fact that trained psychiatrists on different sides of the

Atlantic cannot agree as to what constitutes a psychotic state even when

they have the opportunity to examine patients for extended periods of

observation (Wing 1978:980139 passim).3

The next paper reviewed, "Hamburger Hoarding: A Case of Symbolic

Cannibalism Resembling Whitico Psychosis" (Bolman and Katz 1966), demon-

strates just how preposterous the windigo literature can get. This sub-

mission is the case history of a woman who, in addition to having other

problems, hoarded food. She began by carrying around a cooked hot dog

in her purse. Later she switched to raw hamburger. For two years she

bought from 2 to 5 pounds of hamburger a day, then increased her pur-

chases to about 60 pounds per day by her own estimate. (The authors do

not say if they ever confirmed her statement by their own observations.)

This she carried with her in her car and had trouble parting with it,

even when it became rotten.4 Needless to say the woman did not kill or

eat anyone, nor did she even eat the raw hamburger. She did hesitatingly

mention a fantasy impulse she had (once?) had: "While looking at a

supermarket display of hamburger she felt a sudden impulse to

bury her face into this display full of meat and devour it" (1966:425).

Evidently this was sufficient to convince the two psychiatrists who

co-authored the paper that their patient was a "symbolic cannibal."

(Following this line of reasoning it might have been safer to conclude

that the woman's fantasy about eating raw meat was an indication that

she was a symbolic Eskimo. In fact, the authors twice identify those

susceptible to windigo psychosis as "Cree Eskimos" [1966:424,427], a

blunder they apparently reiterated from an earlier psychiatric paper

[Arieti and Meth 1959:558].)

The patient was confined involuntarity to a mental hospital where

she switched from hoarding hamburger to bread! Eventually the patient

gave up hoarding food and was released. Note the close correspondence

between the disturbed woman and her Algonkian counterpart: "Just as the

Ojibwa hunter roamed the dark woods in search of prey, so the patient

would spend night after night driving about the darkened streets of the

city searching for open stores where she could buy hamburger" (1966:428).


Windigo Psychosis, 1967-81

Also far removed from primary source data is Vivian Rohrl's attempt

at an organic explanation (1970, 1972) and the responses to Rohrl's con-

tribution (Brown, 1971; McGee 1972). Rohrl is an anthropologist at

San Diego State University interested in culture and personality. Work-

ing from Teicher's "cases" and a letter from a Minnesota Chippewa in-

formant, Rohrl (1970) suggests that the etiology of windigo psychosis

might have a nutritional component. By this she does not refer to hunger

as such, or to protein-calorie malnutrition. It appears that she thinks

of windigo as being in part a deficiency disease-like beri-beri or

pellagra-that can be cured by ingestion of fatty meats, particularly

bear fat.

But Rohrl never specifies the missing nutrient or nutrients that

bear fat might supply. In addition to the fat itself she suggests that

"at least some proteins and B vitamins including thiamine" might be in-

volved (1970:99). She goes on to state that "bear fat is believed to

contain vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, probably derived from berries and

other foods in their diets" ibidd.; italics added). Vitamin C is a

water-soluble vitamin the inability of which to be stored in fat is the

reason why humans and other primates need a constant supply. Vitamin C

deficiency disease in humans is well known. It is called scurvy, not

windigo psychosis. While victims of scurvy sometimes do show signs of

psychological deterioration, compulsive murder-cannibalism is not one

of the symptoms.

Rohrl never questions the reality of the assumption of a culture-

specific, etic behavioral psychopathology. As H. F. McGee wrote:

"That the windigo melancholy may be caused by the absence of this

enzyme or that vitamin is accepted. But why do these black-Irish fits

manifest themselves as the windigo psychosis among the Northern

Algonkians and not among their Dene, Siouan, Iroquoian,and Eskimo neigh-

bors when the latter undergo similar nutritional deprivation?"(1972:


Why indeed? What neither Rohrl, McGee, nor anyone but Honigmann

has suggested to date is if the windigo "psychosis" does not exist

among these contiguous groups of people, perhaps it does not exist among

the Northern Algonkians either. McGee of course deserves credit for

pointing out the anomaly, but he tries to resolve it by positing the

existence of a Windigo-like being in Northern Athapaskan mythology.

This has merit (cf. Ridington 1976), but sheds light only indirectly on

the issue of the existence or nonexistence of culture-bound etic be-

havioral psychopathologies.

Brown (1971) rejects RohrT's suggestion on the grounds that the

attempt to cure windigos by feeding them fat was rare, and that when it

was undertaken it was not done nutritively but emetically, in order for

the victim to be able to disgorge the intrusive heart of ice (cf.

Bloomfield 1934:155; McGee 1975:114). Although Brown questions the idea

of a nutritive cure for windigo, her main quarrel with Rohrl turns out

to be over the issue of Northern Algonkian rationality. Rohrl believes

the Indians subliminally grasped the importance of fat as a remedy while

Brown holds that they were attempting to administer a psychological

cathartic when they bothered with the bear fat at all. But like Rohrl,

Brown never questions the etic behavioral reality of windigo psychosis.

Brown has made a valuable contribution to the windigo question

in her discovery of a letter by the Methodist missionary Egerton

Ryerson Young, dated Rossville, Norway House, July 29, 1971 (Brown 1871:

21). Young wrote of an event that occurred about 100 miles away from

the post. A 15-year-old Cree boy was alleged to have gone crazy

"and his ravings kept asking for flesh to eat. At last he said, 'I will

surely kill somebody and eat them if I can!' One day he attacked his

father and tried hard to bite him. The father and an elder brother of

the crazy one then deliberately strangled him and burnt the body to

ashes" (E. R. Young 1871:37, quoted in Brown 1971:21). Brown cites

Young to make the point that the "windigo" victim was strangled and

cremated rather than fed hot bear grease, but more important than this

are Young's comments that follow. "Poor boy, he was only a lunatic, and

perhaps a few months in an asylum would have restored reason to its throne.

I took my canoe and went and visited the family. [They had since come in

to the settlement.] They are now in deep sorrow at what they have so

rashly done" (1871:37).

The reader is entitled to an interpretation of the quoted passages

different from the one I am about to make, but what it says to me is that

a mentally ill boy was killed by his family. The story has a ring of im-

plausibility to it. Note the phrase "tried hard to bite," implying that

the boy was unsuccessful in his attempt to bite his father. How is is pos-

sible for a crazed 15-year-old male to fail at least to get in a nip while

"attacking?" The Northern Algonkians are not immune to mental illness. No

one disputes the fact that they fall victim to psychiatric disorders at at

least the rate of other populations. The question is, what are the options

open to a small family hunting group in the vast boreal hinterland in deal-

ing with a disruptive or burdensome individual? Young was one of many

early observers who never doubted what seemed to them to be an obvious

fact: The windigo belief complex was an ideological and superstructural

rationalization for homicide; i.e., the execution of the alleged "windigo."

It was not until the anthropological writings of the early 1930s that the

balance shifted in favor of an explanation that held the executed parties

responsible for having brought death upon themselves through their canni-

balistic frenzy.

An example of the numerous references that can be cited in support

of this fact is a letter written by John Kennedy McDonald (1907), a re-

tired chief trader with the Hudson's Bay Company, to the editor of the

Manitoba Free Press regarding the windigo execution of Wasakapeequay by

the Fiddler brothers:

I lived among these people for 35 years and never locked my door
unless when going on a distant trip. I have again to say that
had there been an asylum or doctor near by that the band would
have been only too glad to hand over the unfortunate woman, as
once off their hands the men could leave to hunt and provide
for their families, which they could not do when they had to
watch her.

A demented or delirious person cannot be loaded into a birchbark canoe,

and is a distinct liability on hunting trips.

Rohrl's (1972) rejoinder to Brown deepens the confusion. She cau-

tions "Jennifer Brown who quotes Young (1871) to consider the

source" (1972:243). It is not clear if by this statement Rohrl means

to impeach the reliability of missionary sources in general or that of

Egerton Ryerson Young in particular. Assuming the latter it must be

noted that Young wrote a series of popular books that contain obvious

exaggerations and a fair amount of 19th-century sensationalism. But

what is Rohrl's point? Is it that the boy was not killed, or that he

was fed hot bear fat as a specific for windigo possession and Young

failed to report the treatment? Her statement that "cultural phenomena,

including windigo psychosis, are multifactorial" (1972: 243) is a truism

that accepts the existence of the culture-bound psychopathology as a

demonstrated fact. Five years earlier John Honigmann had suggested

strongly that this is an unwarranted assumption (1967:401). Close

scrutiny of the archives yields evidence of an etic and behavioral

nature that documents the correctness of Honigmann's suggestion.

Almost as distant from the etic behavioral data base as Bolman and

Katz (1966) is Thomas Hay's paper, "The Windigo Psychosis: Psycho-

dynamic, Cultural, and Social Factors in Aberrant Behavior" (1971).

Hay, a psychological anthropologist at the University of Missouri at

St. Louis, defends the position that "the dynamics of the windigo dis-

order are essentially similar to the psychodynamics which apparently

produce ritual cannibalism in some societies" (1971:1). By this he

asks us to believe that funerary endocannibalism, the eating of parts

of slain (or living) enemies, and windigo "psychosis" all have their

origins in the same cannibalistic "impulse."

Hay postulates the existence of a cannibal impulse on the imputed

desire people have to resolve the following problems cannibalistically:

"(1) 'preserving' a relationship with some loved one who has been

'lost,' (2) 'solving' ambivalent feelings toward some one, or (3) ac-

quiring some property, such as vitality or courage" (1971:3). Is this

cannibal impulse pan-human? On this subject Hay equivocates. From what

he says we must assume that had the Ojibwa and Cree behaved in a civil-

ized manner and taken the trouble to develop symbolic expressions of the

cannibal impusle (e.g. the Christian Eucharist) they would have been

spared the necessity of killing and eating each other (1971:4). (Hay's

model would lead us to the conclusion that the atavistic symbolic ex-

pression of the Hamburger Hoarder's cannibal impulse was refined in

therapy to a farinaceous form more appropriate to a member of an ad-

vanced civilization.)

The Northern Algonkians, according to Hay, must act on their

cannibal impulse by means of an obsessive-compulsive psychosis because

(1) they attach extraordinary importance to following one's dreams with-

out consulting others, and (2) they lack "alternative patterns for

displacing cannibal desires from members of the band and expressing

them symbolically" (1971:8). According to Hay, "the typical personality

of the Northern Algonkians is such that most people should be expected

to have deeply hidden cannibalistic impulses, the presence of which

would tend to produce fear in the presence of a person struggling to

control his own heightened cannibalistic tendencies" (1971:14).

Why should we expect the Northern Algonkians to be especially

endowed with "cannibalistic impulses"? Hay does not enlighten us on

this subject, although he begins his paper with the statement "to the

Indians, the desire to eat human flesh was incomprehensible except as

the result of sorcery or possession by the mythical windigo spirit"

(1971:1). This is simply untrue. The Indians comprehend crisis canni-

balism very well, Hay's condescension notwithstanding. Hay believes

that European chroniclers of the windigo phenomenon skewed their reports

in such a way as to overemphasize the importance of starvation.

The importance of the patterns of cannibalistic behavior avail-
able to the folklore of a society is indicated by the apparent
distortions of events in the reports of the windigo cases by
the Whites who recorded them. In our folklore, cannibalism is
a last resort in famine and is used minimally to sustain life
until other sources of food can be found. This pattern in
Western folklore is so strong that the Whites who recorded these
cases attributed second and later acts of cannibalism to starva-
tion although no indication is given of any effort to obtain any
food but human flesh and one recorded case even reports waste of
some parts of one victim. (1971:10)

Hay believes that while we practice cannibalism only as a last

resort, Algonkian Indians do it as the fulfillment of a basic "impulse";

an impulse they have especially strongly either as a racial character-

istic or because they lack the wit to invent symbolic safety valves

that would enable them to vent their cannibalistic impulses harmlessly.

And not only are the Northern Algonkians inveterate people-eaters,

according to Hay, but he hints that they are sloppy and wasteful about

it in the bargain.

Hay (1971:5) cites Teicher (1960:91) who in turn refers to

Ballantyne (1848:50-55) who recounts a story in which a starving mother

kills her child and eats it. The data base for this tale is extremely

poor, and Hay's interpretation of the available data is questionable,

but let us for the moment assume that the facts of the case were as he

assumes them to be. Does this justify the following conclusion? "It

seems probable that this act was motivated at least as much by the de-

sire to keep the relationship with the child as by hunger. If not, why

should the woman not have begun with someone less dear?" (Hay 1971:5).

Hay writes from the comfortable perspective of someone who has never

faced a food crisis. The assumption that children are the most "dear"

under such circumstances is an ethnocentric prejudice not supported by

anthropological evidence (see Turnbull 1972, 1978 for an extreme

example; also West 1824:128). An ethnographic grounding indicates that

if the childwere eaten at all it was because he or she was most help-

less and least able to resist, or because it was most expendable in

terms of group survival, and not because it was most dear. Hay's

thesis that the Cree and Ojibwa kill and eat their loved ones in order

to preserve a relationship or to eliminate frustrating interpersonal

feelings demeans and belittles the privations these people had to

endure, their sufferings being in part the result of the fur trade and

other European disruptions.

An interesting paper based on original interviews is J. Anthony

Paredes' "A Case Study of a 'Normal' Windigo" (1972). In 1966 Paredes,

now at Florida State University, set about taping the life history of

an elderly Minnesota woman of mixed Chippewa and Euro-American ancestry.

Her father was a White lumberjack and camp cook; her mother was
Chippewa and died before the informant can recollect. She spent
her childhood in her maternal grandmother's house; also in the
household were her "step-grandfather" and her mother's sister.
Her father occasionally saw her but on the whole had little inter-
action with her (Paredes 1972:99)

The woman had lived a difficult life. She was not well treated by

her maternal relatives and in her earlier years experienced a recurrent

dream in which she was being chased by a giant. The giant failed to

catch her, however, because in her dream she was protected by twelve men.

She fled from the giant and took refuge with an old woman who welcomed

her warmly and fed her, after which the little girl went out and gathered

money which she gave to the kind old woman. In her dream the little

girl was also allowed to gather up all the clothing she wanted to wear.

The little girl (now an old woman herself and telling her life

story to the anthropologist) stated that the giant who chased her in her

dreams had two names: Misabe and "wendiigo" (1972:102). Misabe quite

literally means "giant" in Ojibwa. As a hero in folklore Misabe is an

enemy of Windigo, and sometimes a slayer of windigowak. Paredes goes

to some effort in trying to explain why his informant combined the two

legendary personages in her dream. He suggests that the composite

giant might represent her step-grandfather (1972:105), her father (1972:

106), her policeman uncle (1972:106), her dead mother (1972:106), her

first husband (1972:107), and several white people she had known as a

child (a school superintendent's wife, a steamboat engineer, a male

school employee [1972:107]), or some combination of the above.

Paredes classifies his informant as a "normal windigo" and

believes that the case of Mrs. F. shows[] that Teicher's [1960] asser-

tion that windigo belief causes windigo behavior is simply untrue and

does not hold at the individual level" (personal communication 1981).

At the same time Paredes points out that an application of his data to

Fogelson's (1965) N-U-P model illustrates the fact that an individual

can be "upset" by windigo fantasies, yet never progress to a "Psychotic"

state, and in fact remain essentially "Normal" (personal communication,


I agree with Paredes, but suggest that the case of Mrs. F. has

something far more direct to tell us. The works of Saindon (1933:11-12),

Landes (1937a:56, 1938a:30), Honigmann (1967:401), Ridington (1976:109,

126, 128), and Preston (1980:124-129) all indicate in different ways

that "windigo" is a much more inclusive mental and phenomenological

category of the Northern Algonkians than the cannibal-psychotic obses-

sion of anthropological renown. My own field experiences confirm and

amplify the thoughts of these writers.

Among the NorthernOjibwa of the 1970s, "almost turning to windigo"
meant something very close to the following English phrases: being

driven to distraction, being overcome with grief, being out of one's

mind from worry, being at one's wit's end. Sometimes this involved the

idea (or the transitory behavior) of wandering away from the village

into the forest and, in rare cases, the concept of being assumed into

the sky to wander wraithlike between heaven and earth. Never in these

modern contexts did I hear the word associated with cannibalism or

aggression, but of course conditions and concepts change over time.

Starvation is no longer a threat, and village life has for the most part

replaced the semi-nomadic hunting and trapping cycle. Mentally impaired

individuals no longer pose a danger to group survival. Treatment by

nurses, physicians, and mental-health professionals is often available,

and serious cases are flown out to hospitals (see Armstrong and

Patterson 1975: Goldthorpe 1977; T. K. Young n.d.). The cannibal

theme may be less important than it once was, but the work of Saindon

and Landes (op. cit.) provides evidence that the features of the windigo

belief complex I observed in the 1970s survive virtually intact from an

earlier period.

Paredes' characterization of Mrs. F. as a "normal windigo" is not

the contradiction in terms it first appears to be, but lends support to

my thesis that windigos as individuals within a category of persons are

more "normal" than we thought. Certainly they are much more "normal"

than what the bulk of anthropological writing on the subject would lead

us to believe. And that, of course, is the main point of my disserta-


Paredes' tongue-in-cheek attempt to link Mrs. F.'s dreams to

deeply repressed cannibalistic urges via Ojibwa folklore (1972:110-111)

is an exercise in irony not relevant to the question of whether windigo

psychosis is etically real. Yet Paredes' search for an explanation for

the Windigo-Misabe dream composite leads him to some very sound and

valuable conclusions. He shows that a close examination of woodland

Ojibwa folklore and the folklore of the related Plains Ojibwa and

Plains Cree reveals that the name Windigo (or its cognates) is applied

to a surprisingly wide range of mythological figures (1972:107-108).

Paredes believes the evidence suggests that "considered in its broadest

ethnological context, the windigo idea of mythology has complex asso-

ciations with other characters, has benign even comical aspects, and,

thus, cannot be summarily dismissed by simple characterization as a

cannibalistic monster" (1972:108). Paredes, then, makes a geographical

contribution to the literature similar to the one made by Fogelson

(1965:76-77) on the temporal plane. Together they show that the

Windigo complex is remarkably flexible in space and time. Their work

suggests that the ideational configuration of windigo as a cannibal

spirit-monster capable of taking possession of human bodies may be

limited to rather specific sets of infrastructural contexts in the his-

tory of the Northern Algonkian peoples. (The specificity of these con-

texts will be examined in the following chapter.)

Paredes also goes on to caution against allowing culturological

explanations to supersede situational explanations, especially when we

must deal with fantasy material from other societies (1972:112).

Paredes (1972:112) quotes Malinowski to the effect that in anthropology

we often "neglect somewhat those elemental phases of human existence,

just because they seem to be obvious and generally human, non-

sensational and non-problematic" (Malinowski 1960 [1944]:72). This

admonition is just as valid today as it was when it was first written.

Paredes also provides us with the following important insight:

Secondly, the data presented here indicate that the whole
complex of windigo belief may need reexamination. Is, for
example, the windigo lore of southern Ojibwa significantly dif-
ferent from that of the sub-Arctic? What have been the effects
of several centuries ofacculturation on the windigo syndrome?
How is it that the horrible cannibal monster is terminologically
identified with the ludicrous clown-shamans of the plains Ojibwa
and plains Cree [Skinner 1914:500-505, 528-529; Mandelbaum 1940:
274-275]? What relationship does the windigo idea have to other
folklore characters-is windigo a character, a characterization,
or both? Precise answers to these and related questions should
provide important insights into our understanding of "windigo."
(Paredes 1972:112-113; italics in the original)

Here Paredes is clearly on the right track.

The windigo and the infrastructure were closely linked in a

splendid paper by Charles Bishop of the State University of New York at

Oswego, an Algonkianist ethnohistorian working in the theoretical tradi-

tion of Stewardian cultural ecology, and former student of the Marxist

ethnohistorian Harold Hickerson. Bishop (1975) suggests that while

belief in an evil deity called Windigo may have been aboriginal (cf.

Fogelson 1965:76-77), the emergence of the windigo complex as we have

come to know it is the result of disruptions and depletions caused by

the fur trade.

"Teicher (1960:107) cites two incidents occurring during the

17th century among the Montagnais as conclusive evidence of the ab-

original existence of Windigo psychosis" (Bishop 1975:239). For the

first case Bishop shows that "by the 1630's the subsistence base of

the Montagnais near Tadoussac and Three Rivers [Quebec] had been dras-

tically disrupted by trade and environmental depletion, processes that

had been going on for at least 100 years" (1975:239-240). The second

case was reputed to have occurred near Lake St. John in the winter of

1660-61. "There the Indian deputies of the Jesuits were supposedly

seized with madness and a desire for human flesh for which they were

put to death by others" (1975:242). Bishop notes that the Jesuits

expressed doubt about the veracity of the report at the time, and con-

tinued with their missionary activities undeterred (1975:242). He

also points out that "the deputies had gone to summon Indians who re-

sided near James Bay. This would threaten the trade monopoly of the

Lake St. John Indians. They may have spread the rumor to prevent the

Jesuits from continuing on their journey; or they may actually have

murdered the deputies lest they reach the Indians to the north" (1975:


Bishop speaks of regional and episodic faunal depletions and holds

that starvation became a much more serious danger for the North Algon-

kians in the 19th century than formerly. The 19th century was a period

of peak windigo activity, although I must concede that it is possible

that the phenomenon was simply better reported then than in earlier cen-

turies. "Despite the horror and repugnance expressed by Indians, the

data demonstrate that cannibalism was potentially normal [for them, as

it is for everyone] in an abnormal situation in the face of starvation"

(1975:246). Thus changing infrastructural conditions interacting with

a constantly evolving belief system "gave rise to the practice of kill-

ing actual or potential HUMAN Windigos with no necessity to justify the

act" (1975:247; emphasis Bishop's).

Yet for all the merits of his paper, Bishop is another who fails

to question the etic/behavioral reality of the obsessive-compulsive

cannibal psychosis. "It is necessary," he writes, "to distin-

guish between famine cannibalism and Windigo cannibalism: The former

occurs under conditions of extreme famine; the latter may be exhibited

in times of plenty as well as during food shortages" (1975:246).

Bishop (1975:244) finds Speck's (1935:43) argument convincing that

famine cannibalism could lead to windigo cannibalism at a later date.

As has been said above passimm), a close reading of original sources

does not support a belief in the etic-behavioral existence of windigo

cannibalism in any form.

Leo Waisberg's (1975) attempt to refute an earlier paper by

Bishop (1973) on the grounds that starvation could occur under pre-

contact conditions is unsuccessful because Bishop's position (and mine,

which is not identical) does not hinge on the existence of an aborigi-

nal Algic arcadia, but on the fact that conditions grew appreciably

more difficult and unstable for these Indians as the fur-trade period

progressed. I speak here not only of nutrition, but also of epidemiology

and demography.

James G. E. Smith's paper, "Notes on the Wittiko" (1976) presents

a more serious challenge to the historical interpretations favored by

Bishop and me. Smith, who worked among the Rocky Cree of northern

Manitoba and Saskatchewan (1976:25), argues that "the ecological dy-

namics of the aboriginal Subarctic environment west of Hudson Bay

offered the necessary preconditions for the entire Wittiko complex of

cannibal giant and psychosis" (1976:28). My major point is that the

Northern Algonkians have used the Windigo cannibal theme to scapegoat

or otherwise divest themselves of the sick, the weak, the marginal, and

the disruptive under trying circumstances. Whether they have been doing

this since time immemorial or only in the post-contact period is of

secondary importance.

Much more threatening to my thesis is Smith's contention that

psychotic windigo cannibalism can be documented "amidst abundant game"

(1976:22; italics Smith's). Because this is such a serious challenge

to my position I feel compelled to quote Smith's documentation in full,

which comes from the Hudson's Bay Company "post journal of Fort Churchill

in February 1741 (HBC Archives B 43/a/22)" ibidd.):

February .Down ye river two Indian [Cree] women, in a most
miserable Condition of hunger, one of them is ye mother
of ye other & they relate ye following Tragical Story, ye
daughter had a husband & 3 Children, & was one of our goose
Hunters Spring & fall Sometime last month this family was in
such a Starved Condition that ye man murthered his youngest
Child & Eat it, And in 4 Days after he murthered his Closest
Son who was about 12 Years of age, the women fearing he would
murder them all they Left him wth ye dead Boy, taking wth
them their Second Child wch was a girl about 7 or 8 years old,
& made for ye factory, they then being about 150 miles Distance
from hence, 3 Days after he pursued them and Coming up wth them
he Endeavoured to arrest ye Girl from ye mother but both ye
Women Endeavouring to preserve ye Child, he throatled it in it's
mothers hands & after that Seized his wife to Murder her also,
but ye two women over Come him & his wife Knocked him on ye
head wth a hatchet after they had Slue him they Buried him &
his Daughter together under ye Snow & came for ye factory &
in 16 Days time they got here, what is very Surprising at ye
time of this Disaster there was Plenty of Deer [caribou] about
them & he had ammunition & might have Kild Venison wch his
family Strongly Desired him to do, but he gave no manner of
Care to their Sollicitations but his mind seemed to be fixed
upon what is above related, ye Subsistence ye women got to
bring them forward, was for Severall Days Deer Dung wch they
Picked up and Desolved in warm water & So Drank it till at
length providence flung in their way ye Scraps of Deer that
ye wolves had Killed & Left. .

For purposes of argument I will assume that the HBC Chroni-

cler was proficient in Cree and recorded the women's story essentially

as they told it. The veracity of the women then becomes the central

issue. If they were telling the truth their story is very damaging to

my position. After 240 years it is probably not possible to say with

any degree of certainty what the truth of the matter was. Although

they may have been telling the truth, I would like to suggest an al-

ternative interpretation.

It is agreed by all that the events at issue began when "this

family was in a Starved Condition" (1976:22). The reasons for

the starvation situation are open to question. The surviving women

state that the situation developed because the man ignored their pleas

to hunt the abundant caribou, being preoccupied with thoughts of mayhem

and cannibalism. But Smith himself makes the case that the ecological

dynamics of the Subarctic were such that famine was an ever-present

danger, even in pre-contact times (1976:27-31).

I think it is possible that starvation conditions developed in

this situation because the man had a run of bad luck. A hunter can go

into a "slump" for many reasons: an injury, an illness, scarcity of

game, or simple misfortune. It is suspicious to me that the women were

only able to overpower and kill the man after he had allegedly throttled

the third child in the arms of its mother, especially since-according

to them-he had been living on flesh while they had been making do on

dissolved caribou dung. If the women were lying, the following scenario

suggests itself: Starvation conditions developed because, for what-

ever reasons, the man was unsuccessful in the hunt. The women-mother

and daughter-were the initiators of the homicides and the cannibalism.

They survived to tell the tale and their version was accepted. Here

again, as in so many cases, it is the story of the killers of the

alleged windigo that is handed down. The stories of the executed par-

ties are lost to posterity. We will probably never be certain of the

facts in this case, but what is certain is that the conceptualization

Smith employed to analyze the data needs to be refined. For Smith

"the Wittiko'psychosis' or disorder .. involved an individual be-

lieving that he or she is or is becoming a Wittiko, or the belief

of others that he or she is exhibiting characteristic Wittiko and

non-human behavior. In extreme form, the individual actually becomes

a cannibal, killing and eating his victims" (1976:20; italics added).

By thus failing to distinguish the emics of thought from the etics of

behavior, Smith opens a veritable Pandora's box. Are the diagnostic

features of windigo "psychosis" to be found in equal measure in the

behavior of the "psychotics" and the minds of the social authorities?

Is there any scientific justification for classifying people as they

appear in the nightmares and fantasies of their accusers? (cf. Harris

1974:214, 221, 235, 251).

Anthropologist David H. Turner of the University of Toronto is a

structuralist who has made a very curious addition to the windigo litera-

ture. From his observations at Shamattawa, Manitoba, Turner correctly

concludes that Cree social organization is incorporativee" (Turner and

Wertman 1977; Turner 1978). For Turner the incorporation of individuals

into Cree social groupings is symbolically analogous to the incorpora-

tion of individuals cannibalistically (Turner 1977).

Turner contrasts Cree social organization with that of the
Australian aboriginies, and in doing so he constructs a typological

dichotomy that describes, according to Turner,"two hunter and gatherer

ways of life as they probably existed prior to modification by

Europeans" (Turner 1978:195; italics Turner's). The Australians group

themselves into totemic, exogamous clans on the exclusionary principle:

a person cannot belong to more than one clan and remains in the birth

clan throughout the life cycle. With the Cree, however, "outsiders

could be incorporated into the band through residence and work associa-

tion, and required no prior kinship, marriage, or symbolic ties to be

acceptable as in Australia" (Turner 1978:202). Space does not permit

a full treatment here of Turner's binary model, the components of which

he has named "production group unity" (e.g. Cree) and "production group

diversity" (e.g. Australian), but it merits our attention. Let it be

sufficient here to say that Turner's claim that such systems, once

established, are relatively unresponsive to variations in population and

resources (1978:210) required careful diachronic verification by means

of a sample drawn from a universe larger than two.

For Turner, cannibalism in Cree folklore "is taken as a metaphor

for incorporation into (becoming part of) a social grouping, the vari-

ous acts and relations described in the story can be seen as attempts

at mediating opposed tendencies toward autonomy at the domestic, brother-

hood and band levels" (Turner 1977:65).

It is difficult to counter structuralist arguments with etic/

behavioral and materialist refutations because structuralism concerns

itself above all with mental sets. The study of mental sets seems at

first to be a goal worthy of some effort-comparable and related to

learning the languages of the people we study-until we realize that it

is not necessarily the mental structures of the natives that are expli-

cated by the structuralist. To the structuralist "it is in the last

resort immaterial whether the thought processes of the South

American Indians take shape through the medium of my thoughts, or

whether mine take place through the medium of theirs" (Levi-Strauss

1969:13; quoted in Harris 1979:169). Turner himself has told me that

ideas are "created" and need not be accounted for. Who then, creates

the ideas? Turner concedes that in the last analysis he does not know

where he gets his structures, and that maybe he gets them "from God"

(personal communication 1980). He was not joking.

For these reasons we are fortunate to have the critique of phenome-

nologist Richard J. Preston of McMaster University. Professor Preston

has done extensive fieldwork among the James Bay Cree and has special-

ized in studying the emics of Northern Algonkian mental life. Preston


[Turner's] use of the structural theory and the metaphorically
extended notion of incorporation highlights, in my opinion, our
tendency to overpower a very poorly known Witiko phenomenon
with our own intellectual creations. The problems of translat-
ing the Algonkian idiom of experience into terms that are under-
standable and worthwhile within our own tradition of urbane
intellectual inquiry is poorly served by psychodynamic and
structuralist theories, unless the effort includes the judicious
use of Algonkian phenomena. Both Hay and Turner, in my opinion,
have created intellectual monstrosities in imposing elegant argu-
ments upon dubious data. (Preston 1980:120)

Again it must be stressed that the data to which Preston refers are the

emic/mental Algonkian data. When etic/behavioral and historical data

are added to this, the case against conventional interpretations of the

windigo phenomenon is overwhelming. (We will hear from Preston again


It seems at first puzzling that Turner's analysis of the windigo-

which is one of the most involuted ever written-was produced by an

anthropologist who has actually done fieldwork (albeit of brief dura-

tion) among the Northern Cree. The lesson to be learned here is that

exposure to primary data source opportunities does not often lead to

valid conclusions when inadequate research strategies are employed.

Turner's contribution reveals the most serious weakness of struc-

turalism: its ahistorical and antievolutionary synchrony. He contends

that Cree social organization is one of at least two hunter-gatherer

production group types that probably survive without modification in

pre-contact form (1978:195). Windigo myths, in turn, provide "clues to

the kinds of social structures possessed by the Algonkians, both in the

recent past and in the more distant past-perhaps even in the pre-

Cartier past" (Turner 1977:71). A growing literature addresses the

issue of possible post-contact changes in the social structures of

various Algonkian groups, but that is beyond the scope of this review.

More to the point is the question of whether Algonkian religion, espe-

cially the windigo belief complex as expressed in the Cree oral tradi-

tion, has undergone temporal change. As we have seen in the previous

section, Fogelson's work gives a strong indication that it has changed,

and that the Windigo figure was probably not associated with anthro-

pophagy until the end of the 18th century (1965:76-77). And for

Algonkian groups to the south, ethnohistorian Charles Bishop tells us:

Nowhere in the early Jesuit accounts relating to the Ojibwa
and Ottawa is there a specific devil form recognizable as
the Windigo, a rather remarkable fact considering the
apparent preoccupation in the nineteenth century with the
phenomenon. (1975:244)

This is especially remarkable considering the Jesuits' natural interest

in religious matters.

The stories on which Turner bases his analysis were collected

circa 1970 at Sandy Lake, Ontario (Ray and Stevens 1971). As will be

shown in Chapters III and IV, the Sandy Lake "Cree" (actually a

Northern Ojibwa group) underwent a severe nutritional and demographic

crisis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A materialist analy-

sis predicts that this situation would be reflected in their folklore

(Marx and Engels 1977 [1846]:47). This proves to be the case. One of

the stories, "The Death of Pecequan," is the mythologized form of an

actual windigo execution and its aftermath that took place in 1906 (AAR

1907 [1908]; PAC 1907-08 [RG 13, cl, vol. 1452]; PAC 1907-09 [RG 18, vol.

3229, file HQ-681-G1). A close examination of the archival data strongly

indicates that the story as collected by Ray and Stevens (1971:128-129)

and cited by Turner (1977:68) is one of the most recent-and perhaps one

of the final--manifestations in the process identified by Fogelson (1965:


A more ingenuous use of the structuralist paradigm is Harold

Franklin McGee's "The Windigo Down-East or the Taming of the Windigo"

(1975). McGee does a structural analysis of an unusual Micmac myth

collected in 1859 (Rand 1894:190-199). In this myth (briefly sum-

marized) "Cheenoo"-the Micmac homologue of Windigo-is found in a

distant northwestern forest by a family, the members of which treat him

with care and affection rather than with fear and revulsion. Through

their nurturance Cheenoo gradually becomes more human and less monstrous.

After killing an enemy Cheenoo with the aid of his new "son-in-law,"

Cheenoo accompanies the family southeast to Micmacland (McGee 1975:


The farther south they go the weaker Cheenoo becomes. When
they reach their village he is nearly dead. He has been
transformed to look like an old but whole man. He has be-
come human but he is not a Christian. A priest is sent for
and he instructs Cheenoo. Cheenoo listens, is baptised, then
dies in the Catholic faith. (1975:117)

McGee's central contention is that "the windigo myth functioned

to define the concept of human personness for the northeastern Algon-

kians" (1975:113). (A similar thought is expressed by Fogelson [1980:

148].) This is an entirely reasonable suggestion, but McGee does not

follow up on his own insights. McGee believes that "what is needed is

an attempt to understand the windigo with respect to the mentally

balanced, rather than to the psychotic" (1975:112). With this I

heartily concur, but from an etic-behavioral perspective we cannot

assign as high a priority to the effort of understanding how cultures

transform monsters into humans as we must to the more urgent problem

of understanding how cultures transform humans into social monsters.

When, why, and under what circumstances are human beings socially

redefined as non-persons, thus legitimizing their persecution and pos-

sible execution? How is the Northern Algonkian process of divesting

individuals of their humanity similar to or different from those of

other groups? Can predictive or retrodictive generalizations be made

cross-culturally? I will return to these questions in Chapter V.

Culturological treatments of the windigo complex are often sup-

ported by the claim that the Northern Athapaskan Indians who share the

boreal forest with their Northern Algonkian neighbors lack a cultural

configuration comparable to the windigo (e.g. Parker 1960:618-619).

This claim is used to counter ecological and historical explorations

into the windigo curiosity. Robin Ridington of the University of

British Columbia has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking paper

entitled "Wechuge and Windigo: A Comparison of Cannibal Belief Among

Boreal Forest Athapaskans and Algonkians" (1976). In his paper

Ridington shows that the belief systems of these two macrogroups of

Subarctic Indians are not as different as they may seem, and that the

windigo as we have come to know it may be an artifact of our own pro-

jections (a point also made by Preston [1980:117-118]) as well as the

result of the unique culture history of the Northern Algonkians since

the 16th century.

The Athapaskan Beaver Indians (Dunne-za)of the Peace River dis-

trict believe in a personage they call Wechuge. Wechuge, like Windigo,

is an invincible, ice-gutted cannibal who eats his own lips as a pre-

liminary to more substantial fare. In Dunne-za cosmology Wechuge is

associated with giant animals who hunted people in the mythic past, but

now "it is these giant People-eaters who confer supernatural power to

the child on his or her vision quest. Contact with this power gives a

person the ability to find and tranform animals into food" (Ridington

1976:109). Wechuge exists as a legendary figure who tracks people

down, kills them and eats them (1976:110-114), but ordinary people too

can "become Wechuge" (1976:114-123). Unlike becoming windigo, where

the victim is possessed by an entity alien to him or her (sometimes as

the result of an enemy's curse), becoming Wechuge occurs when one loses

control of one's own supernatural power from the violation of a taboo.

(For example, people with "Frog power" cannot eat flyblown meat; people

with "Spider power" cannot hear any sound made by a stretched string.)

Becoming Wechuge, then, means becoming "too strong." People in

the transformation phase are "cured" by the application of their own

"medicine" and the "medicine" of others. If a person is not cured the

mythological precedent is for the victim to be killed and the body

burned in order to melt the visceral ice and to prevent the body from

returning to life. To Ridington's knowledge, things have never come to

such a pass among the Dunne-za. As for actual "Wechuge cannibalism,"

Ridington heard of one case that was supposed to have happened late in

the 19th century (1976:115). We do not know how much credence to give

this or, if it did in fact happen itwas a case of starvation cannibalism.

Assuming for the time being that these correspondences between

Northern Athapaskan and Northern Algonkian belief systems are not the

result of diffusion, what can we make of them? Ridington has observed:

The diagnosis of Windigo behavior as psychotic has not been
seriously questioned in the literature even though all authors
recognize that in none of the reported cases has there been
first-hand information on individual case histories let alone
analysis of subject's lives by observers with experience in
psychiatric diagnosis (1976:107-108). Our labelling system
when applied to the windigo phenomenon breaks down on close
examination. We label the behavior of windigo actor as psy-
chotic but not the beliefs of those who accept his role as real.

These are good insights and Ridington follows up on them. While

taking note of other possibilities he suggests that the belief systems of

these two groups of boreal forest Indians on the cannibal theme may have

started out similarly, and then diverged in historic times. "In

general the Algonkians have experienced a longer period of disruptive

influence from contact with Europeans than the Dunne-za" (1976:126.).

"It seems significant that the story of Tsekute, the only actual person

said to have become a cannibal Wechuge, occurred at a time of maximum

social upheaval and was linked to the elaboration of the Plateau Prophet

Dance as described by Spier (1935) among the Dunne-za" (1976:125).

Ridington's paper is a valuable preliminary to Chapters III and IV.

which testify to this long period of disruptive influence on the

Northern Algonkians, and provide documentary evidence that challenges

the etic/behavioral existence of windigo as a cannibalistic psychosis.

He is also to be commended for pointing out that witch-fear (including

the belief in cannibal monsters) is symptomatic of societies under

stress; a theme to which we will return shortly.

To the best of my knowledge the only Algonkianist to have bene-

fitted directly from Honigmann's scholarship on the subject of the

windigo is his former student, Richard J. Preston of McMaster Univer-

sity. Preston, who also had the advantage of being Honigmann's re-

search assistant when Personality in Culture was in preparation

(Honigmann 1967:xii), has written a stimulating and engaging paper

entitled "The Witiko: Algonkian Knowledge and Whiteman Knowledge"

(1980). Preston's main point is that

the Witiko psychosis in the literature is not a very adequate
approximation to the Algonkian emotional dynamics or to the
great variability in Algonkian oral tradition on this topic.

Preston believes it to be manifestly clear that in both Algonkian and

western cultures, the experts fail to agree on the nature of the

windigo phenomenon (1980:127).

Apparently while some Algonkians are prepared to accept the pos-
sibility of the monstrous, some Algonkianists prefer to tacitly
assert the necessity of fantasy and then to exaggerate with
false concreteness some aspects of symbolic implication they have
culled for this purpose from a variety of narratives (1980:127).
I concur with Honigmann and Ridington that, on the evidence, the
case has not been made for Witiko belief and behaviour being
diagnosed as a psychosis, although particular aspects of Witiko
may be components of some individuals' psychological dysfunction.
Nor can [Witiko] be realistically accepted as a category of per-
sons, unless we can specify a category with boundaries allowing
frequent realignment and with a content allowing great variance
and transformative potential. (Preston 1980:128)

About the "psychosis" Preston writes:

We have made the diagnosis without seeing the patient. Some
kind of compulsion and transformation is believed in by Northern
Algonkians, but their words are too often taken as literal (rather
than imagic or symbolic) representations of events, which we then
use to construct our definition of a Witiko psychopathology
(1980:112). It seems that we have taken an exotic notion out
of its native context of the images of terror, and with much
seriousness we have overinterpreted the meagre data. (1980:114)

Referring to Cooper (1933), Hallowell (1936), and Landes (1938a),

Preston writes: "One has the sense that these scholars (and later ones)

in treating of the Witiko, suspended their normal standards of critical

and judicious interpretation, being for some reason drawn to make imagi-

native suggestions without a positive factual basis" (1980:114). Preston

asks if transplanted Europeans have been "simply finding the familiar in

exotic settings [for] the Wild Man of the wilderness, often a

hairy and solitary being who lurks just out of sight, is one of the

oldest and most persistent folk beliefs in Western culture" (1980:117).

In an attempt to account for Euro-North American fascination with

a very poorly documented windigo, Preston constructs a satirical model

that parodies psychiatric and structural explanations, and calls it

"Witiko and Psychic Unity" (1980:118).

The Witiko psychosis is an Algonkian re-enactment of Freud's
primal parricide. Freud has told us that what began in rela-
tion to the father is completed in relation to the group, and to
the extent that the primal parricide is psychologically real,
the lure of the Witiko for our psyche is simply our search for
our lost, primal selves lurking just out of sight of society and
waiting for an unguarded moment when they may snatch a recapitu-
lation of the Oedipal fete. We imagine the Witiko, lost in
space and time, in the boreal wilderness, waiting to grab the
next hapless Algonkian that he can get his brutish hands on.
Where has the Witiko come from? Why, he was from humans to be-
gin with, but became separated, and liminal, and then .
Ooops! Witiko has inverted the [Victor] Turner-Gennep sequence
and is reincorporating human society, victim by victim.

Freud's ghost should be smiling at the scene, to see old
repressive society being eaten by the young-primeval natural
man; Oedipus wins again. But the Indians lose again. The plot
is absurd, if rationally plausible, and leaves us where this
paper began, wondering why we write so much and make such a mess,
on a topic about which we know so little.

Preston (1980:127-128) concludes his argument with a quote from

Evans-Pritchard, that reads in part: "If the specificity of a fact is

lost, the generalization about it becomes so general as to be valueless"

(1962:175). This is a basic principle of science and a piece of plain

common sense that is all too often overlooked in anthropology. I am in

emphatic agreement with Preston that this truism has been for the most

part ignored by analysts of the windigo phenomenon.

Preston's paper has many strengths, but its weakness lies in the

fact that he is unable to explain why the Algonkian "ecology of mind"

(1980:117; italics Preston's)-poorly understood as it may be-should

have evolved the belief in a cannibal spirit-monster capable of taking

possession of ordinary humans, thereby necessitating the execution of

those so "possessed." In his critique of Charles Bishop's (1973)

observation that reports of windigo cannibalism are positively corre-

lated with starvation and ecological degradation on the Canadian Shield

in the 1800s, Preston astutely points out that "we are not here faced

with a simple task of filling empty stomachs, but rather with the elabo-

ration of an implicitly symbolic system of belief" (1980:116-117).

Preston is quite correct in contending that starvation and other infra-

structural crises cannot account for the existence of windigo cannibal-

ism as distinguished from "lifeboat" cannibalism, but this is not the

problem that confronts us. Preston himself believes the evidence for

psychotic windigo cannibalism to be insufficient (1980:128). His be-

lief is confirmed by my investigations into archival sources which indi-

cate that windigo cannibalism probably never occurred in an etic/

behavioral sense. The task remaining before us then is to answer the

question, why are the windigo accusations and executions positively

correlated with starvation, ecological degradation, and other crises

in the material sphere? How, in other words, can we account for the

elaboration of Preston's implicitly symbolic system of belief?

This is a task that lends itself very well to the research

strategy of cultural materialism, which grants as a matter of theoreti-

cal principle research priority to the study of infrastructural

variables as determinative (Harris 1979:46-76). Honigmann's compari-

son of windigo executions to Euro-American witch hunting was a shrewd

one (1967:401). Marvin Harris has been foremost among those who have

shown that fluctuations in the frequency and severity of witchcraft

accusations are not capricious, but are the results of practical and

mundane causes (1974:207-266; 1980:404-405). Preston's inability to

deal with the issue of the evolution of the windigo belief complex il-

lustrates the limitations of phenomenology and other ideographic


Ridington's paper (1976:126) has given us important clues toward

an understanding of why Northern Algonkian religion might have diverged

in important ways from the symbolic belief systems of their Subarctic

neighbors. My own ethnohistorical inquiries are congruent with

Bishop's (1974, 1976), and the following chapter will show how the spe-

cific culture history of the Northern Algonkian peoples since the 1500s

is compatible with the evolution of the windigo belief system.

In a recent issue of the popular journal Science Digest, Charles

Lindholm, who "has a Ph.D. in anthropology" and who "taught at Barnard

College," collaborated with Cherry Lindholm, who "has an M.A. in

psychology," to write an article entitled "World's Strangest Mental

Illnesses" (1981:42-53). Windigo leads off the paper accompanied by a

lurid illustration. The Lindholms invent a fictional Indian named Red

Bear who

sits up wild-eyed, his body drenched in sweat, every muscle
tensed. He has dreamed of the windigo-the monster with a
heart of ice-and the dream sealed his doom. Coldness gripped
his own heart. The ice monster had entered his body and pos-
sessed him. He himself had become a windigo, and he could do
nothing to avert his fate.

Suddenly, the form of Red Bear's sleeping wife begins to
change. He no longer sees a women, but a deer. His eyes flame.
Silently he draws his knife from under the blanket and moves
stealthily toward the motionless figure. Saliva drips from the
corners of his mouth, and a terrible hunger twists his intes-
tines. A powerful desire to eat raw flesh consumes him. (1981:

How much longer will anthropology lend itself to this kind of

vilification? In a review article on the subject of psychiatric anthro-

pology, John G. Kennedy concludes his summary of the windigo question

with these thoughts (1973:1158-1159):

What is so exasperating about the windigo literature, as about
all the discussions of the "exotic disorders," is the vast
amount of interesting speculation on the basis of such a slender
evidence. Since Fogelson [1965], Linton [1956:64-67], Parker
[1960], Roehrl [sic; 1970, 1972], Teicher [1960], Wallace [1961:
175], and Yap [195T, 1969] have never reported observing an
actual case of windigo, and have made their diagnoses, classifi-
cations, and analyses from fragmentary accounts, most of the
discussion amounts only to speculative hypotheses that may now
be untestable.

I hold Kennedy to be right on the first count, but wrong on the

second. Relatively hard data are recoverable from archival sources.

These data in combination with a thorough ethnographic grounding and

cross-cultural evolutionary perspective yield a uniformitarian solu-

tion to the windigo puzzle of high plausibility and likelihood; a solu-

tion that confirms the suspicions expressed by John Honigmann in



For reasons of space I make almost no mention of the scores of
passive references to "windigo psychosis" by authors who claim no
special competence on the subject, and whose comments are obviously
based on the work of others.

Translated from the French by Kimberly Head.

3Wing (1978:98-139 passim) confines his discussion to the diag-
nosis of schizophrenia.

4The senior author of this paper gives as his address the Depart-
ment of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison,
Wisconsin. It should be noted in passing that in that part of the
United States a car trunk serves as a good deep freezer for many months
of the year, and that it is used as such by many completely normal
and rational people.

5In a later paper McGee states that "the reason fat was used a[s]
a cure for the windigo psychosis is that it is the most human of foods
[in a structural sense], and not because it contains vitamin B12. The
motivation was to rehumanize the psychotic-not "cure" him. Anyone who
rejected fat had surely ceased to be human and should be destroyed; as
long as fat was taken, there was hope for transformation" (1975:124).

I do not deny the fact that Northern Algonkians are likely to
attribute the development of a food crisis to the sorcery of an enemy,
but they are also quite capable of recognizing the urgency of metabolic

The fact that the Jesuits' Indian deputies were accused of having
been overcome by cannibal-madness by the Lake St. John Indians could be
taken as evidence for the belief in windigo insanity among the mid-
17th-century Algonkians even if the accusation was false and the de-
puties were murdered for purely mundane reasons. This militates against
my argument that the belief is a relatively recent one. I believe,
however, that since boreal forest subsistence is etically precarious-
particularly after the fur-trade period, which began very early in
Quebec-the taboo against cannibalism was elaborated at an early junc-
ture and antedates the belief in windigo possession. Therefore it
would not be surprising to find those seeking to justify murder doing
so by accusing their victims of having been on the verge of violating
the strongest taboo.

8The prototype for the Australian form appears to be the Aranda
(Turner 1978:196).


The purpose of this chapter is to show how the culture history of

the Northern Algonkian peoples-particularly the Northern Ojibwa-led to

the belief in cannibal-monsters, the institutionalization of triage homi-

cide,and the development of a witch-fear complex in which the weak and

the marginal were the most likely candidates for execution. What I will

endeavor to persuade the reader is that the weight of evidence indicates

that "windigo" was the specific response of the Northern Algonkian

peoples to a specific set of demo-techno-econo-environmental determi-

nants, and that this response shows general similarities to the responses

of other peoples exposed to similar infrastructural conditions. First

I will critically review the culture histories of the north-central

Algonkians among whom the windigo complex seems first to have developed.

I will make the case that the windigo belief system initially arose

among those Cree who were impelled by the fur trade to eke out a pre-

carious year-round existence in the Hudson Bay Lowland. Later the com-

plex was to diffuse to an expanding Ojibwa population attracted to the

boreal forest between about 1680-1780 by the development of the fur

trade. The Northern Ojibwa will be singled out as a special example to

be examined in detail. It will be shown that by the 1820s the boreal

forest Algonkians found themselves in dire straits and responded to this

situation by a shift in their mode of production and reproduction. But

with environmental degradation and the elimination of competition from

the fur trade after 1821, migration was no longer a feasible solution to

their problems. In fact, once in place, the monopolistic Hudson's Bay

Company did what it could to prevent emigration and readjustment, reluc-

tant as it was to lose its pool of cheap native labor.

On this point the testimony of missionary sources becomes impor-

tant, especially that of the Rev. Frederick George Stevens (1869-1946),

a man of courage, dedication, pugnacity, and above all moral integrity,

who did not shrink from conflict with the Hudson's Bay Company, the

Dominion Government, or his own superiors in the Methodist Church. The

data provided by Stevens show that the situation in which the boreal

forest Algonkians found themselves late in the 19th and early in the 20th

centuries was one of incredible hardship.

Yet the Hudson's Bay Company, with the active complicity of at

least some missionary leaders and government officials, perpetuated this

situation. The foregoing sounds deceptively simple, but it is far from

trivial. The prevailing misconception about native North Americans is

that they always and everywhere were "at one with nature," "in harmony

with their environment," and that it was only in reservation times

(usually associated with the extermination of the buffalo) that Indians

were subject to starvation due to the misdeeds of corrupt agents. This

myth of pre-conquest homeostasis is believed in and promulgated by many

educated Indians today, and in fact the more acculturated the Indian,

the more likely it is that s(he) will believe it. This chapter docu-

ments the fact that the period from about 1820 to 1920 was a period of

ecological, economic, epidemiological, demographic, and nutritional

catastrophe for the Northern Algonkians; that windigo witch-fear was a

social manifestation of this series of calamities; and that far from

being fully satisfied with the Subarctic environment,the Indians sought

to escape it whenever good opportunities arose to do so (cf. Preston


Among Amerindian language families the "Algonquian stock is the

largest, comprising about thirty-four living and extinct languages, and

geographically the most widely distributed in North America, extending

from Labrador to California and from Hudson Bay to Georgia, except for

some interrupting enclaves of other stocks" (Siebert 1967:13). In his

landmark work "The Original Home of the Proto-Algonquian People,"

Frank T. Siebert, Jr. (1967) used bird, mammal, fish, and tree names

reconstructed from the Proto-Algonkian language to determine the Urheimat

of this group as it existed some 3,000 years ago. Making an inter-

section of the original ranges of the considered species (those having

cognates in the eastern and central Algonkian languages), Siebert was

able to determine that, as of about 1,200 B.C., "the original home of

the Algonquian peoples lay in the region between Lake Huron and Georgian

Bay [on the west] and the middle course of the Ottawa River [on the

east], bounded on the north by Lake Nipissing and the Mattawa River and

on the south by the northern shore of Lake Ontario, the headwaters of

the Grand River, and the Saugeen River" (1967:40).

If Siebert is correct, and assuming that the members of this

speech community were also members of the same sociocultural community,

we can see immediately that even three millenia ago the ancestors of

historic Algonkian populations were exploiting more than one ecological

and climatic environment. The southern and southwestern part of

Siebert's Proto-Algonkian homeland is today a corn and fruit belt. De-

ciduous forests predominated in pre-European times, interspersed with

stands of pine and hemlock. But the bulk of the Urheimat is on the

Laurentian Uplands including what is today Algonquin Provincial Park

and the Madawaska Highlands. This is a mixed forest region, but with

conifers predominating, characterized by high seasonal temperature varia-

tion, and is quite distinct from the much smaller Ontario Lowland zone

to the south (Kroeber 1939:91-92, 96-98, 193-195). Were the varied re-

sources of the Urheimat exploited seasonally, or were there Algonkian

populations with distinct ecological adaptations even in.1,200 B.C.? So

far there is insufficient archaeological evidence to answer this ques-


By the time of European contact, much of the Ontario Lowland

region came to be occupied by the Huron and other Iroqoian-speaking

agriculturalists. At this juncture, Algonkian-speaking groups had ex-

panded far and wide. But the Ojibwa-the northern populations of which

are the focus of this study-may not have moved much in 2,800 years.

According to ethnohistorian Charles Bishop, Ojibwa home area at contact

was just west of and almost contiguous with Siebert's Proto-Algonkian

homeland. Bishop believes that 350 years ago "there were no groups .

which could properly be called 'Northern' Ojibwa,since aboriginal groups

were confined to the area near the north shore of Lake Huron and the

east end of Lake Superior"(1976:39).

Although there are those who disagree with Bishop's position, it

is an intriguing one and merits detailed exposition. His studies have

convinced him that when the French first contacted the Ojibwa during the

1620s they were confined to about 20 villages,

each numbering from about 100 to 300 persons, giving an overall
population of perhaps 5,000 persons (1976:39). During the
historic period, the Ojibwa were dispersed over an area at least
ten times as large as their ancestors had occupied at contact,
including the northern part of the border states southwest of
Lake Superior and portions of the northeastern Plains as well as
most of northern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. Numerically the
population grew from about 5,000 persons to nearly 60,000 persons,
who are at present living in two countries (1976:40).

Bishop points out that "the proto-historic Ojibwa did not live in

isolation within a Subarctic ecozone but rather were marginal to it"

(1976:39) and that "the early literature indicates that there was

a comparatively rich variety of foods available, including fish, deer,

moose, and beaver" (1976:39). We may also assume that maple and birch

sugar provided a storable year-round carbohydrate complement to the foods

of animal origin. The best wild rice beds lay just to the west of this

territory, but this nourishing grain may also have been available at

times. "These relatively reliable and stable resources," writes Bishop,

"permitted an elaborate and varied ceremonial and social life" (1976:


New post-contact conditions induced the Ojibwa and other tribes

"to congregate near Sault Ste. Marie during the summer months to engage

in intertribal trade ." (Bishop 1976:43). From 1640 to 1680 Bishop

believes that there was a florescence of Central Great Lakes Algonkian

culture brought about by these summer congregations, and keynoted by an

elaboration of the Feast of the Dead (possibly borrowed from a Huron

prototype) (Bishop 1976:40, 43). The early part of this period coincides

with the disintegration of the important Huron-French fur trade network

and the destruction of Huronia by smallpox and Iroquois raids. In the

late 1650s "the Ottawa and various Ojibwa groups began to assume the

role of middlemen" in the French St. Lawrence-Great Lakes fur trade

previously dominated by the Huron (Heidenreich and Ray 1976:31).

As we have seen in the previous chapter, Bishop's research yields

an unequivocal finding on the issue of the existence of cannibal-

monsters in the religion of the 17th-century Ojibwa: "Nowhere in the

early Jesuit accounts relating to the Ojibwa and Ottawa is there a

specific devil form recognizable as the Windigo, a rather remarkable

fact considering the apparent preoccupation in the nineteenth century

with the phenomenon" (1975:244). Bishop did find evidence for the

existence of female cannibal-beings in Montagnais mythology, but these

ogresses were not associated in any way with deviant desires among

humans (1975:241-242, 244). The Jesuits, of course, were quite pains-

taking in their observations of native religious beliefs and practices.

It is beyond my competence to provide culture histories of all

Northern Algonkian groups. The windigo cannibal-complex has been most

closely associated with the Ojibwa and the Cree (including the

Montagnais-Naskapi). J. G. E. Smith's discovery of an entry into the

York Fort post journal by Captain James Knight in 1741 (HBC-A B. 239/a/1

cited by Smith 1976:21) is probably the earliest known reference to the

creature by name, suggesting the possibility of a coastal Cree origin

which may have diffused to the Ojibwa (cf. Bishop 1975:243).

There are at least three ecological zones in which windigo belief

is associated with the idea of cannibalism: the Hudson Bay Lowland,

boreal forest, and to a lesser extent the mixed deciduous forests south

and southwest of the Subarctic zones. Among Cree and Ojibwa outside

these zones windigo belief takes an entirely different form, indicat-

ing that ethnic considerations are less important than environmental

ones in understanding windigo witch-fear, and suggesting that compara-

tive culture history may be more important still.

J. Anthony Paredes was the first to point out that "the horrible

cannibal monster is terminologically identified with the ludicrous

clown-shamans of the Plains Ojibwa and Plains Cree" (1972:113). Paredes'

sources are Skinner (1914:500-505, 528-529) and Mandelbaum (1940:274-

275). From these works we can see that the Plains Ojibwa and Plains

Cree transmuted the windigo figure into a harmless, even beneficent

personage. The evidence that the change was in this direction and not

the reverse comes from linguistics. The Plains figure is called

"Windigokan." The suffix/- kan/ in the Ojibwa and Cree languages

carries the meaning "fabrication" or "surrogate." Skinner called the

Windigokanuk "cannibal dancers" (1914:500), but the social function of

those Plains Ojibwa whose dreams entitled them to act as Windigokan was

that of healers of the sick and exorcisers of demons (1914:501). They

also used inverted speech like the "Contraries" celebrated in other

Plains tribes, and like the Contraries were known for their antic

military exploits (1914:501-502). The Ojibwa and Cree were latecomers

to the Plains. Referring to the Plains Cree, Mandelbaum writes that the

Wehtikokan dance

was a masked performance often given during the Sun dance period.
The wehtiko was a cannibalistic character in the folklore of the
Wood Cree. Tales concerning this spirit power were sometimes
told among the Plains Cree, but the spirit was never seen in the
prairie country and imbued only the forest inhabitants with man-
eating desires. Except for the name, this character does not
figure in the dance. (1940:274)

Plains Cree and Plains Ojibwa society passed through many crises, but

they were not bound to the trading posts and they were not faced by the

specter of starvation as long as bison were abundant. It is my opinion

that these factors were incongruent with the development of windigo

witch-fear on the Plains (and indeed witchcraft and witch-fear were

minimal among them), hence the benign and comical windigokan of the

buffalo range.

While the cannibal witch-fear complex may have had antecedents

among the Montagnais of Quebec (Teicher 1960:76-77, 107), a group whose

"subsistence base .had been drastically disrupted by trade and

environmental depletion" since the 1530s (Bishop 1975:239-240), it

seems first to have crystallized around the Windigo giant among the

Cree of the Hudson Bay Lowland (see Figure 1). This stark area accord-

ing to archaeologist Kenneth Dawson appears[] to have been virtually

unoccupied in prehistoric times" (1981:13). It is Bishop's (1975:242-

243) belief that

the Cree who became attached to the coastal Hudson's Bay Company
posts during the late seventeenth century exhibited a rela-
tively poor ecological adjustment from the beginning. There
large trading posts such as Fort Albany, York Fort and Moose
Factory represented points of convergence for large numbers of
Indians. Thus, game which was hunted for both traders and
Indians alike, dwindled rapidly near these centers within a few
years after their establishment. The relative poverty of the
coastal area except for the goose-hunting seasons, and the de-
pendence of the Cree on trade goods and store foods in winter
kept many Indians in an area where food was scarce and which
may have been adandoned in the winter in aboriginal times. Starv-
ing Indians who resorted to the post in winter had to be main-
tained in oatmeal, peas, or surplus geese and fish. For example,
according to Anthony Beale in March 1706, many Indians "are all
so hungry that they are ready to Eate one another, so that now
heare are 20 that wholely lies on the Factory" (Hudson's Bay
Company Archives, B 3/a/l). Cases of death by starvation are
also fairly numerous. In 1707, Beale wrote that "3 or four
family of Indians .has perrished this Winter by Reason
there was but Fuew Beasts." (B 3/a/2)












On this point anthropologist Marshall G. Hurlich appears to concur.

"Indians were forced to adjust to the rigors of the coastal winter .

as much to the fur trader's manipulations as to the Indian's desire for

European trade goods. Many perished from starvation as a result"

(Hurlich 1981:8). Hurlich cites a statement by Douglas and Wallace

(1926:40) based on Jeremie's account of his twenty years' experience

at York Factory during the French occupation of 1694-1714. "When at

the point of starvation," wrote Douglas and Wallace, "the father and

mother kill their children and eat them, and then the stronger of the

two eats the other" (1926:40, cited in Hurlich 1981:8).

Edward S. Rogers, an Algonkianist and ecologist with much experi-

ence in the Subarctic, believes that reports of starvation have been

exaggerated, and that the Indians often claimed to be "starving" in

order to manipulate the traders into providing handouts for them

(personal communication). Nevertheless Roger's extensive and meticu-

lous ethnohistorical research has uncovered instances of starvation

and cannibalism both on the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the interior

forests in the 18th century (1981:29). "At Fort Albany during the winter

of 1764-5, six children are reported to have been killed and eaten

[HBC-A B. 3/a/57: fo. 19] and in 1785-86 it was reported at Gloucester

House that one family of Northward Indians had been driven to eat two of

their children [HBC-A B. 78/a/13: fo. 17]. Rogers cites several other

famine accounts (1981:28-30), and notes that "cases of hunger are often

mentioned by the traders and even the occasional death by starvation"

(1981:28). Still he believes that death by starvation occurred "rather

infrequently considering the harsh conditions under which the Northern

Ojibwa lived" (1981:29).

Yet Rogers' own research, as well as that of Bishop and Hurlich,

indicates to me that the food crisis among the Northern Algonkians was

serious, and that it was felt most keenly first among the Cree in the

Hudson Bay Lowlands shortly after the establishment of the HBC coastal

forts in the years following 1670. Later, hunger was to come to the

boreal forest Ojibwa, reaching famine proportions in the third decade of

the 19th century (Bishop 1974, 1976, 1978). I contend that the windigo

complex followed in the tracks of starvation.

The reconstruction of Cree culture history is difficult. Although

it appears that they occupied the Hudson Bay Lowland only seasonally-if

at all-under aboriginal conditions, there is general agreement that the

Cree inhabited the boreal forest in pre-contact times, and that they

are represented there archaeologically by the Selkirk tool and pottery

tradition (Dawson 1981:31). The exact nature of their ecological adap-

tation is unknown, but a high degree of mobility and seasonal exploita-

tion of resources is assumed. Mandelbaum cites early sources that put

the Cree at contact all the way from the shores of Hudson Bay to the

wild rice beds near Lake of the Woods and on to the northwest shore of

Lake Superior (1940:159-172). This is a huge range for one group to

exploit seasonally, and we do not know how many local-group micro-

adaptations might have been present.

But what of the Ojibwa? Here the experts disagree. As we have

seen above, Bishop maintains that the proto-historic Ojibwa lived in a

relatively small mixed-forest belt along the northeast shore of Lake

Superior and the north shore of Lake Huron, and that it was not until

the 1680s that a major separation of the Ojibwa began (1976:43).

Bishop believes that the Ojibwa were drawn north by trade conditions

resulting from the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670.

This broke the Ojibwa middleman monopoly in the St. Lawrence-Great

Lakes fur trade system operating from Quebec. As a result of the

English competition from the Bay, the French established posts north of

Lake Superior drawing with them Ojibwa who sought to preserve their

middleman monopoly by intercepting the boreal forest Indians and preventing

them by intimidation from trading their furs at the HBC posts on James

Bay (Bishop 1976:44). "About this time, the Cree who had occupied the

Shield country north of Lake Superior began gradually to shift to the

west, while in their place came roving bands of Ojibwa and other

Algonkian-speakers from the southeast" (Bishop 1976:44). If Bishop is

correct in this-and a westward vdlkerwanderung of the Cree is generally

accepted (e.g. Mandelbaum [1940:165-187; Ray 1974:98-102])-then it

seems reasonable to assume that the Cree migration was made possible by

the acquisition of firearms from the English, and motivated in part by

the Cree desire to promote their middleman position in the English trade

system (Heidenreich and Ray 1976:39).

In a paper co-authored with his wife, anthropologist M. Estellie

Smith, Bishop states that "there is absolutely no historic evidence

prior to the 1700s that the Ojibwa resided west of Lake Superior. .

Cree groups inhabited the remaining portion of northern Ontario and

down into southeastern Manitoba at contact" (1975:61). Bishop and Smith

support their position by means of historical evidence summarized on

pp. 56-58 of their paper, and go on to challenge the widely held

archaeological belief that the Blackduck pottery tradition represents

Proto-Ojibwa populations (1975:58-61). The Blackduck tradition, which

"has its core south of the height of land in the transitional Lake forest

in Ontario [and] also occurs] throughout the Boreal Forest in

Ontario" (Dawson 1981:31) is attributed by Bishop and Smith to the

Proto-Assiniboin (1975:58-61). Archaeologists whose work is cited by

Bishop and Smith in support of their position are Wilford (1945, 1955),

Vickers (1948a,b), MacNeish (1958), and Hlady (1964, 1970). Archaeolo-

gists whose work is cited in opposition to the Blackduck Assiniboin

hypothesis are Wright (1963, 1965, 1968a,b) and Evans (1961) (Bishop and

Smith 1975:55). Since the publication of the Bishop-Smith paper,

Syms (1977) has attributed Blackduck to the Northern Ojibwa, as has

Dawson in a paper in press (1981:31-33).

All of this becomes important in the reconstruction of Ojibwa cul-
ture history. Were the Ojibwa indigenous to the boreal forest or were

they not? Was windigo witch-fear absent from Ojibwa life in the 17th

century as Bishop indicates (1975:244), or were there Northern Ojibwa

groups on the Shield of whom the Jesuits were ignorant? Is it true, as

Bishop states, that there were no "Northern Ojibwa" until after 1680?


The principal opposition to Bishop's position comes from Edward S.
Rogers, Curator of Ethnology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Rogers does not see sharp ethnic discontinuities among the Northern
Algonkian peoples, but believes that groups grade into one another.

Correspondingly he believes that northern variants of Ojibwa popula-

tions have lived in the Shield Subarctic since ancient times, where

they have been intermediate manifestations on the sociocultural

continuum between groups called "Cree" and those called "Ojibwa" (per-

sonal communication and following references). Rogers has in the past

termed these populations "Cree-Ojibwa" (1963, 1965, 1966, 1969), but

seems to have abandoned the neologism in recent years (Rogers and Black

1976; Rogers and Rogers 1978; Rogers 1981).

Bishop (1974:340-344, 1976:45), building on the work of Hickerson

(1970:42-50), holds that Northern Ojibwa groups that have been known by

animal names are the remnants of patrilineages or clan segments that

broke away from the Ojibwa proper after 1680 and moved north to exploit

the Shield Subarctic. Rogers, on the other hand, takes the absence of

clan organization among the speakers of the Severn Dialect of Ojibwa as

evidence for a sociocultural continuity between these people and their

Cree neighbors, who also lack clans or totemic affiliations. Rogers

believes that a more likely explanation for Northern Ojibwa group

zoonyms is that they were designations applied to the followers of power-

ful Indian leaders. Hence the Crane Indians are not for Rogers a

northern offshoot of the Crane clan of the Ojibwa proper. (The Cranes

are the first of 21 clans listed by Ojibwa author William W. Warren,

writing ca. 1852 [1957:44-45].) Rogers believes that the name may have
originally meant no more than the followers of Ojicak or "the Crane,"

a northern leader who died around 1805. Later the name came to be
generalized to all of Ojicak's descendents (Rogers 1981:3).

Bishop's work emphasizes process, change, movement, the clash of

conflicting interests, and is characterized by venturesome attempts at

generalization. His time in the field is limited, and he works almost

exclusively from documentary sources. Rogers too calls attention to the

importance of historical and environmental transitions, but he stresses

sociocultural continuities in time and in space, and the over-arching

importance of ethnographic fieldwork. Rogers' writings are character-

ized by a cautious particularism that is wary of conjectural generali-

zation. For example, after presenting several documentary accounts

supporting Bishop's theory of the recency of Northern Ojibwa habitation

of the boreal forest, Rogers concludes: "The evidence for a southern

origin of the Northern Ojibwa is open to close scrutiny and certainly an

alternative interpretation of the facts is possible. The occupation of

northern Ontario by Ojibwa may have taken place considerably earlier

than the first half of the 18th century"(1981:7).

Both Rogers and Bishop have devoted their professional lives to

the study of the Northern Ojibwa, the group with which I have been inti-

mately connected and the group around which I will build a demo-techno-

environmental explanation for the windigo phenomenon. But windigo

witch-fear also occurred in other Northern Algonkian groups. How can

we be sure that the Northern Ojibwa provide a normative example of

windigo? Conclusive proof for the representativeness of the Northern

Ojibwa on this issue is lacking, but strong inference is present. The

Ojibwa of northwestern Ontario and northeastern Manitoba are geographi-

cally central to the windigo phenomenon. My working assumption is that

there is more to be gained from an in-depth knowledge of the phenomenon

in one area than there is from a cursory survey of decontextualized and

unverified anecdotes from the entire range. (Archival material pre-

sented in Chapter IV is from the western Woods Cree as well as from the

Northern Ojibwa.)

Bishop and Rogers disagree on many points, but one thing they agree

on is, in Roger's words (1981:47), the fact that

for the Northern Ojibwa, the year 1821 marked the end of an era.
In that year the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West
Company amalgamated. .. No longer could the Indians play one
trader off against another as they had done in the past. Fur-
thermore, the Subarctic, always a harsh environment, had become
even more so during the past few decades by the over-exploita-
tion of the country that had been encouraged by the competition
between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company.
Fur-bearing animals and big game had become greatly reduced in
numbers. Accordingly the Northern Ojibwa, due to the changing
circumstances, slowly settled into an altered way of life.

The "altered way of life" of which Rogers speaks is nothing less

than a shift to different modes of production and reproduction. Rogers

was in the vanguard of those who have identified this shift from big

game hunting to a reliance on fish and hare (1966). (Moose were vir-

tually exterminated from the boreal forests of northwestern Ontario early

in the 19th century, not to reappear in any numbers for three generations.

The woodland caribou population was severely reduced.) But Rogers re-

jects the notion of a new mode of reproduction. The issue is an impor-

tant one and will be examined in some detail.

My thesis is that windigo witch-fear is the consequence of a series

of crises in Northern Algonkian life. Some that have already been men-

tioned are disruptions and dispersions caused by the fur trade, food

shortages caused by faunal depletions, and entrapment in a monopolistic

trade situation with an increased dependence on the HBC posts. Not to

be overlooked is the scourge of European diseases: smallpox, measles,

tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza, and respiratory illnesses of all

sorts. A counterintuitive corollary was a dramatic increase in popula-


One of the most important data sets in this study is the Fiddler

case, which involved four windigo executions among the Sandy Lake-Deer

Lake Indians (see Chapter IV). My archival research yielded an HBC

report for the years 1822-23 giving the totals of 124 Indians affilia-

ted with the Island Lake post, 106 trading at Sandy Lake, and 81 at

Merry's House, for a grand total of 311 (HBC-A, B. 93/z/l folios I and 2).

A prose report of the Island Lake District for the year 1824 indicates

that 211 Indians traded at the Island Lake post that year, and 77 had

been attached to Merry's House.

The Post of Sandy Lake was abandoned in Autumn '23 in conse-
quence of the means of subsistence being too difficult to
[illegible] and the Indians, consisting of 22 Families, resorted
14 to Island Lake and the remainder to Trout Lake, Severn dis-
trict. Merry's Hours was likewise abandoned in May '24, The
returns of that Post not being sufficient to pay the expense of
either a Boat or Canoe it was judged more advantageous to divide
the Indians between Island Lake, York Factory, and Trout Lake,
as their hunting grounds lay nearly in the centre-between these
Establishments. (HBC-A B. /93/e/3)

So, having received an influx of immigrants from Sandy Lake and

Merry's House, the population at Island Lake stood at 211 in 1824. (An

1838 census numbered them at 353 [HBC-A B. 239/z/10].) By 1924 the

Island Lake population had jumped to 625. On what was to become the

Ontario side, the increase was no less dramatic. The population stood

at 106 in 1823 and presumably many, but not all, of these people emi-

grated closer to Island Lake on the west or Big Trout Lake on the east

when the post at Sandy Lake closed in 1823. But by 1924 there were 255

people on the government rolls from the encampments at Sandy Lake,

Deer Lake, and North Spirit Lake (Canada 1924). In other words, the

total population of the district jumped from 311 in 1823 to 880 in 1924

during what was certainly a century of privation.

At first, I was surprised by these findings. On the one hand the

statistics bespoke a situation even more grave than I envisioned.

Ecological catastrophy, economic bondage, and devastation by alien

diseases are bad enough. It seemed to me that a skyrocketing popula-

tion in the face of all these misfortunes would serve to aggravate them

and put tremendous strain on the social fabric. But how could it be

that there would be a demographic increase rather than depopulation under

such conditions? In checking my findings against those of the two

Northern Ojibwa specialists I have again found an interesting dichotomy.

Bishop's work, as it turned out, is completely in keeping with my own


One biological consequence of the shift from large game hunting
to the intensification of efforts on small nonmigratory fauna
[after 1821] was an evident population growth during the nine-
teenth century. In the face of recurring episodes of extreme
deprivation, this, at first, would seem to be contradictory.
Nevertheless, demographic materials from all trading post
records throughout the Ojibwa area attest to it.

Bishop goes on to give examples from Lac Seul and Osnaburgh House (1978:


Rogers, however, takes the opposite position. He believes theOjibwa

population was fairly constant, and that disease cycles caused fairly

uniform fluctuations in population on the order of plus or minus 30% of

the median. He believes that my early 19th century figures from the

records pertaining to Island Lake and Sandy Lake are artificially low

(personal communication). In a paper in press, Rogers offers these HBC-A

quotes in support of his position (1981:4. Emphasis in the original;

parenthetical question marks presumably Rogers').

The Cranes are said to be increasing. Any computation regarding
their number is difficult owing to the fact that when they visit

the Post leave their families behind them and further having (?)
superstitious ideas regarding the number of their people-are very
reticent and (would misunderstand any inquiries?). The number of
Indian hunters on the Company's books including Crin (Cree?) and
Cranes amount to 152. (HBC-A B. 220/z/2)

"Previously when a census was taken," writes Rogers (1981:4), "there had

been trouble. On July 1, 1882, Fortesque, in charge at York Factory,

wrote his subordinate in charge at Trout Lake as follows:"

In taking your Indian census, which I wish you had estimated, do it
quietly without attracting notice as last time the Indians got
an absurd idea into their heads and there was trouble all over the
District. (HBC-A B. 220/b/2: fo. 17d)

Rogers' admonitions must be taken seriously, but I believe that my

statistical findings are genuine, and see no reason to question Bishop's.

What can then explain the population take-off? My first inclination was

to look for a bio-physiological solution to the puzzle. A theory that

exposure to new European foods, such as flour and oatmeal, may have had

an effect on ovulatory cycles or weaning practices proved unrewarding

(Marano 1979; cf. Frisch and McArthur 1974; Van Ginneken 1974). On the

other hand, the "paradoxical" population increase of the 19th-century

Ojibwa is far from unprecedented. As Harris (personal communication

1979) pointed out,following Ben White (1973, 1975), Mamdani (1973), and

Nag, White, and Peet (1978), "the cost/benefits of child-rearing can

be used to explain [the] paradox of rising population in development

contexts where standard of living, health, and life expectancy are

deteriorating." Harris went on to ask if there had been a shift in .the

role of child labor among the Northern Ojibwa in the changed conditions

of the 19th century.

There was in fact a change in the value of child labor which

accompanied the Northern Ojibwa shift from a big-game hunting mode of

production to one based on diversified small game, especially fish and

hare. An economy based on big game hunting is dependent on the labor

inputs of adult and adolescent males. In an economy based on the

extraction of fish, hare, small game, and the trapping of furbearers,

children of both sexes become net producers of food (and sometimes

furs) at an early age. In this respect the value of Northern Ojibwa

child labor parallels the patterns found in rural India (Mamdani 1973),

colonial Java (White 1973), and contemporary Java and Nepal (White 1975;

Nag, White, and Peet 1978). In all of these cases high population

growth was found to be a consequence of the fact that parents could

enjoy a higher standard of living by having more, rather than fewer

children. This is true despite the long-run environmental, social, and

demographic penalties involved in such a pattern. When confronted by

the "bio-psychological constants" (Harris 1979:62-64) of human exis-

tence, people rarely choose options on the basis of what will be good

for future generations. People usually choose options with the hope

that benefits will be reaped in their own lifetimes.

In the case of the Northern Ojibwa it is easy to visualize how a

change in their mode of production would be accompanied by a change in

their mode of reproduction. Hunting moose or caribou, especially in

deep snow, is an exhausting activity that has traditionally devolved to

men (see Marano 1981). Whether or not it is an activity that could be

just as well assigned to women is an interesting question beyond the

scope of this dissertation, but it is an activity clearly beyond the

physical capacities of children. On the other hand, children are just

as adept at the capture of small game as are men. A young girl tending