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Monster Face-Off: Everybody’s Dracula v. Indigenous Windigo

Very long ago, monsters walked the earth and sometimes made trouble for human beings. Some people think that is still the case.

Hilahi yu, very long ago, monsters walked the earth and sometimes made trouble for human beings. Some people think that is still the case.

Whether they still trouble human beings or not, it’s fair to say that we had them in the Americas before the colonists arrived and gave us a whole other kind of trouble. Some of the colonists brought their monsters with them, and it’s not clear if the monsters, like the humans, clashed and contended among themselves for territory.

One of the immigrants came from Eastern Europe. He was born a boyar (noble) in Wallachia, a region of Romania just south of the Carpathian Mountains. He grew up to be Prince Vlad III, and his ruthless methods brought him the sobriquet Vlad ?epe? or Vlad the Impaler. We know him today as Count Dracula, after one of his family names, Dr?culea.

He is said to have impaled tens of thousands of people at a time. If a village hosted rebels, he would impale all the residents and leave their bodies on a man-made forest of misery by the side of the road. The most skilled persons carrying out Prince Vlad’s orders could avoid penetrating any organs or blood vessels that would cause a quick death, and the horror of so many victims writhing in agony can only be imagined.

The degree of horror may have led to the stories about the Prince drinking blood for sustenance. History tells us this nobleman, who was certainly bloodthirsty figuratively if not literally, lived from 1431 to 1476. He would have died before Columbus got lost…if he died.

Romanian tradition held that Dracula was buried in a monastery near Bucharest, but his supposed “unmarked tomb” was excavated in 1933 and proved empty. Just last summer, Italian researchers claimed to have found Dracula’s tomb in Naples. One of the “researchers” was Raffaello Glinni, about whom the debunking blog, BS Historian, wrote:

Billed as a ‘medieval history scholar’… Glinni is actually a lawyer by profession. His name took me to his site, which is sparse but getting there in terms of BS History Bingo. Knights Templar? Check. Freemasonry? Check. Da Vinci? You bet. Gibberings about non-specific magical vortices? Not looking too good. In fact it’s looking like the use of ‘secret history’ to support speculative archaeology.

A whole other competing claim is that Vlad the Impaler was killed in battle and his head sent to Constantinople (now Istanbul) as a gift for the sultan. This was before the discovery of chocolate in the “New World,” so the Europeans had other traditions about giving gifts.

The Europeans who believe such things contend that Count Dracula or the undead he animated with his bite might be anywhere in the world. A vampire nation, as it were.

What can Indigenous cultures of North America offer to compare with an undead blood drinker? Enough people think we were equipped to go fang to fang with Dracula to put a Native American page in a journal of “Vampiric Studies.” The claims made for Cherokee lore there are not familiar to me, so I’ll leave the truth of indigenous vampires to others and put up a scary creature who is, without question, indigenous: the Windigo.

Windigo belongs to Algonquian speaking peoples and that takes in a lot of territory, mostly woodlands. Like a vampire, Windigo is hungry, but for human flesh, not just blood. Like a vampire, Windigo is immortal unless killed by an individual wielding the proper medicine.

The most important difference between Windigo and the European vampire is that surviving an attack by Windigo does not turn you into one. The creature is evil and the human who takes that form must have an evil heart rather than just stumbling into the path of a hungry monster. People can turn into Windigos, but they must be predisposed to evil. They can be killed if caught before the transformation is complete.

Anthropologist Robert A. Brightman wrote that the “Windigo complex” entails “cannibalistic ideation and behavior” and is “historically demonstrable.” Academics among the colonists have debated whether Windigo is a symptom of mental illness, some going so far as to posit a psychosis peculiar to Cree and Ojibwa. Others claim the superstitious savages made up Windigo to explain famine cannibalism.

The problems with these explanations are that everybody who has seen Windigo is not Cree or Ojibwa and the creature has visited where there was no famine. Credible reports of Windigo come from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, finally petering out in the 20th.

Some Indians claim that killing a fully formed Windigo is a matter for a medicine person, just as some Catholics claim demons are a matter for a priest and not a doctor.

Vampires, on the other hand, have lots of well-known vulnerabilities, the most important being they are helpless in daylight. A vampire slayer need only wear some garlic for protection; use a mirror to identify the creature with no reflection, and killing it becomes a matter of finding its daytime hidey-hole.

We’ll leave it to our readers whether Dracula and Windigo ever clashed directly, but the last verified sightings of Windigo were in the early 20th century. When was Dracula or any of his undead legions last seen in North America?