“There’s something evil in those woods”: SUPERNATURAL Season 1, Episode 2 “Wendigo”

Supernatural is a TV series created by Eric Kripke, first broadcast in 2005. Fifteen seasons later, the final episode (there were 327 in total) aired on November 19, 2020. You could call that a successful series.

The plots follow two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester, who hunt demons, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural beings. The first two episodes were directed by David Nutter, who later won an Emmy for Game of Thrones.

Sam and Dean’s origin story in the pilot episode shows an idyllic home with a loving mother, doting father, and a demon who drips blood into baby Sam’s mouth, then ties their mom to the ceiling where she bursts into flames. Well, you can’t blame them for being a bit down on supernatural entities.

Dean’s metaphysical mission statement is:

“Killing as many evil sons of bitches as I possibly can.”

In episode 2, the boys come across a Wendigo, normally explained as a human transformed into a monster by the act of cannibalism. They find a love interest in a girl who is looking for her brother, one of a group of campers recently snatched by said Wendigo while playing computer games with friends in their tent in the deep woods (as you do) and reading Joseph Campbell’s book about the hero’s journey

Turns out the Wendigo eats a sounder of people every 23 years, and they find a man who, as a child, was attacked by the monster in 1959 but survived, with massive scars. He tells them:

Well, they finally get around to reading their Dad’s journal – he has a slim leather volume of handwritten notes on every evil thing you could need to know about. They explain the Wendigo to the other campers.

Cultures all over the world believe that eating human flesh gives a person certain abilities: speed, strength, immortality. You eat enough of it, over years you become this less-than-human thing. You’re always hungry.”

You can’t kill a Wendigo with bullets or knives.

Dean attempts to draw the Wendigo away from the others, with the hilarious taunt:

“You want some white meat, bitch?”

The Wendigo is a figure from Algonquin folklore, a spirit who possesses his human victim, giving him an insatiable hunger for human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied, thus the emaciated form.

The Wendigo is said to have a heart, or whole body, made of ice. The creation of the Wendigo, like Nietzsche’s Übermensch, is a “becoming” which requires the destruction or transformation of lesser beings, just as humans like to believe that the processing of “lower” animals into meat is required for their continued existence. In the television series Hannibal, Lecter is often shown as a dark figure with antlers, a Wendigo, who manifests and wreaks carnage (e.g. the episode “Hassun”).

Margaret Atwood in her lecture on the Wendigo pointed out that, unlike most monsters, the Wendigo offers two different terrors – being eaten by it, but also transforming into it. While all cannibals threaten us with physical dissolution through their digestive tracts, a simple bite from the Wendigo, or being possessed by its spirit during the act of eating human flesh (even if the act is necessary to survive) can destroy one’s will and endanger the whole tribe.

To the First Nations people, the Wendigo represented winter, hunger or selfishness and, particularly in subsistence communities, there is a direct causal link between those things – winter means shortages, which lead to hunger and struggles for resources, and sometimes cannibalism. In times of starvation, we are capable of anything. Cannibalism stories were not uncommon on the American Frontier, and popular culture has often told tales of white-man cannibalism using the Donner Party, Alferd Packer and the Wendigo, sometimes all mixed together, as in Antonia Bird’s Ravenous.

But when the Europeans came with their ships and guns and viruses, those they dispossessed, enslaved, raped, tortured and massacred came to the obvious conclusion that the white man must be possessed by a Wendigo spirit. This Wendigo spirit of ruthless and voracious consumption may be less blatant in the twenty-first century, but is still evident in the exploitation of sweat-shop workers, in human trafficking, and in the intensive factory farming that turns sentient animals into commodities by the billions. Also in the covert sexism and racism in shows like this, that depict “cis-het” white men taking on the world of evil and saving civilisation from the outsiders and aliens that haunt our dreams.

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