In the traditional Algonquian world, the windigo is the spirit of selfishness, which can transform a person into a murderous cannibal. Native peoples over a vast stretch of North America—from Virginia in the south to Labrador in the north, from Nova Scotia in the east to Minnesota in the west—believed in the windigo, not only as a myth told in the darkness of winter, but also as a real danger.
Drawing on oral narratives, fur traders' journals, trial records, missionary accounts, and anthropologists’ field notes, this book is a revealing glimpse into indigenous beliefs, cross-cultural communication, and embryonic colonial relationships. It also ponders the recent resurgence of the windigo in popular culture and its changing meaning in a modern context.
From the Inside Flap
ways for centuries. Dangerous Spirits tells the story of how belief in the windigo clashed with the new world order that came about after European contact.
Dismissing the belief as superstitious, many early explorers, traders, and missionaries
failed to understand the complexity and power of the windigo--both as a symbol and as a threat to the physical safety of a community. Yet, judging by the volume of journal entries, police records, court transcripts, and other written documents about windigo cases witnessed recounted by Euro-Canadians over three centuries, it was a matter that perplexed outsiders greatly. Drawing primarily
on these written documents, historian Shawn Smallman does not seek a logical explanation for what was believed to be a supernatural phenomenon. Rather, he asks how windigo narratives reflected the societies in which they were told and how the arrival of colonial authorities changed these narratives. How did the outsiders who heard these stories understand them, and how did they use the windigo to further their own political, economic, and religious goals? In a contemporary context, why have ethnic groups outside the Algonquian world appropriated the symbol of the windigo, and how have First Nations artists and writers reclaimed it? In an age where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are demanding truth and seeking reconciliation, Dangerous Spirits is a revealing glimpse into cross-cultural (mis)communication and the social and spiritual impact of colonialism.