The Monster That Represents Insatiable Greed: Meet the Windigo

Meet the Windigo.

Imagine an insatiable desire for something, a desire that only grows more profound and painful the more you take.

That's the perpetual experience of the Windigo, an ancient creature that haunted Native American Algonquin-speaking peoples of North America—and perhaps still haunts us today. The Windigo has become something of a cultural theme, appearing in different forms in everything from Margaret Atwood novels to blurry YouTube cryptid sighting videos to Borderlands 3.

What Is the Windigo?

By some definitions, the word "Windigo" means "the evil spirit that devours mankind." In others, it means "cannibal"—but regardless of how you define it, the Windigo is always terrifying.

"The Windigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones," describes Basil H. Johnson, an Ojibwe teacher from Ontario. "With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Windigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody...Unclean and suffering from suppuration of the flesh, the Windigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption."

That's just one of the countless vivid and disturbing descriptions of the Windigo. Its appearance differs depending on where you get your stories. Sometimes Windigos are described similarly to the modern Slenderman—tall, thin, skeletal beings with bones poking through their skin, they're living depictions of rot and disease. Other stories depict the Windigo as a well-fed giant, while still others portray it as having antlers, pointed ears, and eyes like burning coals.

What We Actually Know About The Wendigo Myth www.youtube.com

Windigo myths and legends are as diverse as the original Native American tribes were, and each is constantly shifting; but always, the Windigo is a creature that is perpetually hungry. Sometimes it feeds on human flesh; other times it's a representation of selfishness, greed, and famine. Most legends agree that Windigos were once humans, and some state that a person becomes a Windigo if or when they descend to cannibalism.

The stories differ regionally. In Nova Scotia, Wendigos were believed to have come from the far north, whereas some Algonquin people of the subarctic believed Windigos were consequences of starvation and freezing weather that caused ordinary people to turn to greed. Some people believed you could be turned into a Windigo through a dream, if a creature in a dream successfully tricked you into eating human flesh.

Interpretations and descriptions of Windigos have changed over centuries and with each generation. Unfortunately, many of these interpretations come through European colonizers' interpretations of Native American stories, which are fundamentally limited and damaged.

The Lessons of the Windigo

In some traditions, Windigo stories were taught to Native American children in an effort to instill values like kindness, empathy, and self-restraint. In others, Windigos were very real dangers. Some believed Windigo psychosis was a form of madness that overtook people.

Windigo stories have always held and hold many lessons. "Born of our fears and our failings, Windigo is the name for that within us which cares more for its own survival than for anything else," writes Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass. "The more it takes, the more it hungers, and its hunger is a bottomless pit. Its footprints, writes Kimmerer, are "everywhere you look...in the industrial sludge of Onondaga Lake. And over a savagely clear-cut slope in the Oregon Coast Range."

Windigos existed in Native American culture long, long before the rise of capitalism, climate change, and colonization, some Indigenous thinkers associate Windigo culture was behind Europe's colonization of the world, and unchecked Windigo culture is behind modern oppressive systems and environmental destruction.

According to an article on Mohonk Nation News, "The riches of Great Turtle Island and its people triggered the psychosis in the strangers who came to our lands. They committed genocide of our people driven by the Windigo psychosis. They were unchained from the morality of human feeling."

At the heart of Windigo culture is a profound lack of empathy and disconnection from one's surroundings. "Traditionally, windigo uses starvation and isolation as a hunting tool," writes. "The Modern Windigo uses self-loathing, despair, and isolation as his hunting tools."

"Rather than hunting in winter in boreal forests, the Modern Windigo hunts with the tools of colonialism and capitalism. The new victim of the Modern Windigo is isolated as before, but this time the narratives of historical trauma are central to the isolation."

Fighting the Windigo

Though the Windigo seems like a difficult enemy, there are many stories about how the Windigo might successfully be defeated. "There were means by which our medicine people, healers, and most learned elders could rid a human being of the Windigo spirit," writes Goyd Bruyere. "These means involved the will of the entire community and was a most delicate, spiritual, ceremonial matter."

Many stories say Windigos must be killed and there is no saving the human trapped inside the Windigo. Others say it's possible to conserve the human life within the Windigo being, but this requires a great deal of care.

On the subject of defeating the Windigo culture at large, Robin Wall Kimmerer proposes a different solution. "The market system artificially creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source and the consumer," she writes. "Grain may rot in the warehouse while hungry people starve because they cannot pay for it. The result is famine for some and diseases of excess for others….An economy that grants personhood to corporations but denies it to the more-than-human beings: This is a Windigo economy. What is the alternative?"

She proposes a vision of an "economy of a commons, wherein resources fundamental to our well-being, like water and land and forests, are commonly held rather than commodified...It is not just changes in policies that we need, but also changes to the heart," she continues. "Scarcity and plenty are as much qualities of the mind and spirit as they are of the economy. Gratitude plants the seed for abundance...Gratitude for all the earth that has given us lends us courage to turn and face the Windigo that stalks us, to refuse to participate in an economy that destroys the beloved earth to line the pockets of the greedy, to demand an economy that is aligned with life, not stacked against it."

Windigo culture—if we view it as selfishness and isolation and greed—is definitely destroying us. Greed is an old impulse, but humans have only survived by circumventing it through centuries; now it's time to try a different approach. In today's virus-racked, corporation-devoured, climate-change-melted world, defeating the Windigo might be our only hope.

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Destinations

How to Visit New Orleans During a Pandemic

What can you do when you're wearing a mask and social distancing? Plenty.

Ask most people what they conjure when they hear the words "New Orleans," and they'll come up with the usual suspects: Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, young drunk people, costumes and beads and debauchery.

Oh, and there will probably be some great food in there, too: those weird French doughnuts covered in powdered sugar; some sort of thick dark soup called something-or-other; and "what's the difference again between jambalaya and gumbo?"

Regardless of whether people have actually made a trip down to the Big Easy or not, they'll have some preconceived notions about the city–and we residents say that's fine. It's cool. Sometime, maybe, you'll see more than the inside of a Hurricane drink cup.

But here's the thing. Not only is a visit to New Orleans in autumn the perfect time to check out America's most unique city, but it's an ideal getaway in the middle of these COVID days. The weather breaks in the Gulf South in October. While Minneapolis dips into the twenties, New Orleans luxuriates in the balmy 70s in the day, inky sweet nights in the 60s.

What can you do when you're wearing a mask and social distancing? Plenty. It will be a slower and more gentle visit than one to Bourbon Street, but if you feel absolutely compelled to walk the French Quarter, go for it. While you're nearby, visit the art galleries in the Central Business District. The gallery owners and artists would appreciate your business. And wherever you land for a place to lay your head—all hotels and local temp rentals are beyond clean and ready—you should head out for a bit of nightlife. Yes, even in these COVID times.

But a good wander away from the usual traps will give you a much better understanding of the city. And in most places, you can even take off your mask.

Ride The Streetcar

Sure, this is a bit of a touristy thing to do, but in autumn–in a pandemic, no less–it's infinitely safer and more beautiful than riding in an Uber. The streetcars are nearly always empty at the end of their lines. They have real wooden seats and open windows, and except for a short stint after Katrina, they have been in service since they were very first installed to travel the neutral grounds, the grassy medians of our boulevards.

The last stop in the Carrollton streetcar line will land you at The New Orleans Art Museum. Don't go in it–not to start, at least. Your time might well be better spent walking the adjacent sculpture garden, newly expanded, free, and with that invaluable open-air factor. To round the bend and take your first look at "Karma" is to experience something much bigger than your average landscape painting, although the Rodin sculptures put up their dukes too.

Go for Barbecue and Snowballs

You can just walk down lovely Carrollton Boulevard, traipse beneath the ancient live oak trees and past the stately old homes for a couple blocks until you arrive at Blue Oak BBQ. Your nose will guide you. Again, considering COVID restrictions, you can't get better than Blue Oak's huge outdoor dining areas, multiple shaded and tented spots with plenty of room to properly socially distance. Their staff is as friendly in their masks as it comes, and the food? The ribs are luscious, arguably the best BBQ in the city, but their Happy Hour specials make for the perfect fit after a walk-around in the sculpture garden.

Save room for dessert just across the road. Head to Pandora's Sno-balls. There's a walk-up window, and you only need to stay the requisite six feet away from the other eager patrons lined up at this iconic locale. Flavor recommendations are unnecessary, because every one is divine. Choose your own, but if you want to act like a local, try the wedding cake or pink lady. Shaved ice is a far cry away from a typical snow cone, and you might well be spoiled for life with the soft texture and New Orleans' unique flavors.

Bacchanal in the Ninth Ward

Yes, the word is out about Bacchanal. It's no longer a secret. But it's still a destination worth experiencing, in no small part because it does a much much better job of representing New Orleans than some daiquiri hut with neon green icy drinks. Bacchanal has a massive outdoor seating area, extraordinary wine selections, and incredible nibbles. They support local musicians, and you'll find live music here that will always knock your socks off. You can't visit New Orleans without hearing music, and Bacchanal is a great place to start.

​Find the River

New Orleans river

Of course you can find the river by walking across the street from the Cathedral in the French Quarter. You can stand and watch its roiling waters, but it's not so easy to experience the majesty of one of America's grandest rivers watching shoulder-to-shoulder with others in their masks in a pandemic. Consider a couple of other options: Go to one of two places—both of which are local secrets, so you're going to have to do a little research. Head across the industrial canal and into Holy Cross. Take a right at the first opportunity and drive straight towards the Mississippi River. Try it at sunset. Park and walk up onto the levee. You will not be disappointed. It will tell you everything about this old and wise city that words can't say.

Visit The Fly

The Fly Orleans

Across the literal way and around the bend of the big loop of river, you can find The Fly. A local favorite hangout, it's adjacent to the zoo. Don't go into the zoo either—at least not right away. Save it for another day when the pandemic has abated. Bring lemonade or a couple locally brewed beers to The Fly and make sure to clean up before you leave. Take a seat at one of many spots with a clear view. Consider what it means to see water passing that originates in a tiny creek in Minnesota. Melted snow, tributary waters, it all ends up right here. Watch passing tankers from Russia, tugboats pushing flats of one thing or another, sip your beverage, and enjoy the fresh autumn air.

The River Shack

Follow the wobbly straight line of River Road upriver. You'll probably drive past The River Shack the first time. Just double-back. The place has been around longer than most of us, its exterior old signage now preserved for its historical treat. Try their gumbo. You won't be disappointed. You can sit outside, of course, but you can also take a gander at the dozens and dozens of framed photos on the walls that bring context to the locale.

It's nothing new to say that New Orleans is steeped in history. But that's sort of the point these days, to "go back" and experience a place that's stood the test of time. We have carved out a place unique to this country. Find the unbeaten path and walk our cobbled lanes. There is wide-open breathing room in a beautiful autumn in one of America's oldest cities.

Amanda Boyden is an American author and recipient of Nerve.com's Henry Miller Award for Best Literary Sex Scene in Pretty Little Dirty. Her latest work, I Got the Dog: A Memoir of Rising was released on September 15th, 2020 and is available for purchase here.


7. Low Prices (vs. other Airbnb lodging options and flexible cancellation policy)

Before I found out about Getaway, I thought, gosh. Travel can be expensive, even with everything that is going on. Cabin rentals on Airbnb are so pricey, not to mention their no exceptions cancellation policy—which is totally a turn-off. Even the discounted all-inclusive lodging vacation I've been daydreaming about was out of the picture with my work schedule, sigh.

I was almost at my wits end, then, my friend Kiara brought up this cool new Getaway experience she recently got back from at a beautiful tiny cabin outpost nestled nearby in Hill Country, Wimberley, Texas for $99 a night! I immediately told my boyfriend, and we decided why not go ahead and try it for the weekend!

6. Facilities and Amenities (What's included)

So we went online to Getaway's website and chose the Cabin for Two, which actually had everything we wanted for a weekend escape in nature—giant windows with beautiful views and great amenities including: a comfy queen bed that sleeps two, warm shower, bath products, AC and heat, plus a mini-kitchen stocked with cooking supplies and light meal provisions available for less than $10 each. And, with self-check-in and check-out, booking was as simple and easy! That next weekend we set off into the auburn sunset, next stop—Getaway Hill County!

When we got to our tiny hand-crafted hideaway we instantly fell in love.

5. The Blue Hole Experience

The next morning after my boyfriend cooked us breakfast (yes, he's house-trained), our first stop was the Blue Hole Park Trail Loop with one of the most beautiful natural swimming holes in Texas. We made sure to make a reservation in advanced, and boy can I still smell the oak, cypress and cedar trees surrounding the crystal blue water and canopied trails, I didn't hesitate for a second and jumped in body-first. After a dip, we spent the rest of the afternoon in leisure completing the 1.6-mile hike around the Blue Hole Trail, can you say unplug and unwind, I couldn't recommend visiting this magical place enough.

4. The Wimberley Valley Driftwood Estates Winery Experience

Later in the evening, we headed to the Driftwood Estates Winery which had a great wine varietal, and the winery hostesses were very friendly and helpful in explaining the various wines. The building garden areas and facilities were set perfectly on lush rolling acres of surrounding vineyards with the cutest donkeys and little ponies—and the passing burros, longhorns, double decker English buses which added to the atmosphere, just perfect. Plan your to make a reservation in advanced and soak up the experience of tasting and exploring, a must-go winery!

3. The Wimberly Zipline Adventures Experience

After a sound sleep under the moon and stars, we woke up the next morning with one thing on our mind, the last and final stop on our Getaway weekend-adventure (and arguably most favorite) which included soaring over 10-miles of breathtaking views of Wimberley Valley creeks and canyons, absolutely a thrilling and unforgettable experience. Another must-go, you'll learn about the local ecosystem of plants and wildlife, local history, and other interesting Wimberley area facts. By the end of our tour, I was bursting with adrenaline and excitement. We had so much fun, and I must say I can't wait for our next weekend escape!

2. Disconnect to Reconnect

We got back home late after a late dinner following the ziplining, we were so exhausted but honestly I would not trade a great experience for anything else in the world. It's nice to disconnect from the daily grind and reconnect with nature. I was so happy with my stay and how clean and cozy the cabins were. If you haven't had the chance to Getaway, then what are you waiting for!

1. Experience Your First Getaway

If you're looking for a safe, clean, and rejuvenating place to both relax and have an adventure, whether with your partner or friends, I'd highly recommend Getaway.

Plan Your Escape With Getaway! Book One Month In Advance And Take $20 Off Your Fall Adventure With The Code FALL20!