Fly Away Snow Goose
WINDEGO: An evil spirit of the northland, a monstrous creature who comes prowling in winter, hungry for human flesh; it is remorseless, pitiless.
If the year was a lean one, winter was a hard time for the hunter/gatherers who lived in the NWT. The People would leave their summer camps in small groups and scatter into the vast emptiness, away from the lakes and rivers where they'd all come together as a tribe to trade and celebrate the fat season of summe. Our of necessity, they'd change their tribal, summer way of life to retreat to live in isolation, hunting and trapping the range around them, away from others who were now engaged in the same thing. Sometimes, it did not go well; the hunters were not lucky; the game was scarce or had changed from their accustomed paths of migration.
Then, the spectre of starvation haunted the isolated camps, and sometimes people were driven to desperate measures in order to survive. A man who had eaten his family in order to stay alive, was said to have "gone Windego." Such a primal sin was viewed with horror, so a monster was created to explain this counter-cultural behavior. A few of those stories came to be written down in early colonial times, but the oral versions were well known to those who were exposed to the fierce winters, who sometimes had experienced, first-hand, hunger and the awful struggle to survive.
It is said the Windego eats his own lips and checks, so his skull is always partially visible, and he arrives surrounded by a stench so horrible that it even overpowers the bitter winter wind. People, driven to this extremity, were believed to have been taken over by this dreadful being, and that was the reason they had committed the unholy crime of cannibalism. In fact, during the 19th Century, early Canadian psychologists defined "going Windego" as a "culturally based" disorder.
(Thunderbird--well known to the Northern First Nations--
among the Tlicho, Thunderbird was referred to indirectly, as "Father."
He's one of the good guys.)
Today, the Windego is, in some quarters, viewed as a cryptid. Wikipeidia defines cryptids as "animals that cryptozoologists believe may exist somewhere in the wild, but are not believed to exist by mainstream science." Cryptozoology primarily looks at anecdotes and blurry photos, the sort of claims rejected by the scientific community. These monsters now feature in YouTube videos in all manner of ghastly forms, but this vision of the Windego is of only passing interest to me.
"Windego" appears to me--not as a myth created by "superstitious 1st Nation's People," --but as an acutely observed form of human personality disorder. I didn't figure this out on my own, but by listening to Buffy Sainte Marie's song called "Priests of the Golden Bull."
She makes a connection with the storied monster and the unfettered greed and disregard for the cooperative behavior which holds together our societies. Look around. The Dark Triad personality, (where a subject possesses a toxic combo of Narcissism, Michiavellianism and Psychopathy) is having a good run these days among CEO's, Tech Bros, politicians, and the sort of "religous" figures who live in gated mansions and always need their followers to send more money.
In a world where it's considered smart to get rich while ignoring the human suffering or the irreparable harm pursuit of this quarter's profits causes a community -- or the arm done to the water, the air, or the planet -- Ms. Sainte Marie sees the ever-hungry, cannibalistic Windigo. The "Greed is Good," mentality is on display everywhere.
Take a look at ever so many modern companies, their successes measured by how many jobs they've eliminated, or how they've stolen pension funds from retirees in the course of a merger, or how many rural communities they have destroyed, for instance, building a petrochemical refinery or an industrial pig farm next door to a small town which doesn't have the clout to fight back.
"Gentrification" in cities raises rents until the essential workers--those who run the store checkouts, clean the buildings and streets, teach and/or care for children and seniors, can no longer afford to live close to where they are employed. Other casualties include small entrepreneurial businesses of all kinds, from restaurants and local bars, to independent bookshops and corner convenience stores.
Today's Windego doesn't just live in the deep woods. These days, he (or she) is seen as a "celebrity," on our television screens, and all over the internet and Twitter. Many are even elected to high public office. Worst of all, their "Not my brother's keeper" attitude is now held up to young people as the smart way to live.
Instead of dwelling on psychos and cannibals, instead, let's take this time of All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls to find some peace and to give thanks: to remember our ancestors, our friends, mentors, and family who have passed beyond the veil. Let's also remember our honored dead, the kind of people who served and helped, rather than injured, the common folks of our communities and our country.