Meeting the Windigo by Carol P. Christ

Towards the end of Braiding Sweetgrass, mother, biologist, and member of the Citizen Potawami Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer sets out at the end of winter to visit a forest area near her home that she considers hers not in name but in virtue of her love and care for it. On arriving, she discovers that the forest is no more, having been clear-cut by the owner. The wildflowers and the plants she has harvested over the years have sprouted up, but Kimmerer knows that without the forest cover they will be burned by the sun and their places taken by brambles.

Kimmerer is overcome by anger and despair, her feelings for the land she loves merging with her knowledge that not only her forest, but the earth itself is being treated as nothing more than a product by so many—without second thought for all that is lost.

Kimmerer tells us that some of her people call this greedy, destructive spirit Windigo. With a vast emptiness within itself, Windigo consumes whatever crosses its path in a desperate effort to assuage its hunger, but is never satisfied.

Kimmerer recalls that the people tell stories of a hero named Nanhabozho they summon to do battle with Windigo. Stories of a primal battle between light and darkness or good and evil are told in many cultures, but Kimmerer recognizes that this is not her story. She was taught the spirit of generous giving by wild strawberries: hers is a story of reciprocity. Nonetheless, she recognizes that she must confront the Windigo.

In what may or may not be a dream, she begins to collect and dry plants from the decimated forest. In what is surely a dream, she confronts the Windigo and offers him a potion that causes him to begin to vomit up all that he has devoured, “coins and coal slurry, clumps of sawdust from my woods, clots of tar sand, little birds.” Because he is never satisfied, he greedily drinks yet another cup, vomits again, and falls to the ground.

Kimmerer waits until he regains consciousness. Then she offers him a healing tea. She drinks some herself, recognizing that the Windigo is not the other, but has become part of all of us. When the healing tea calms the Windigo, she lies down beside him and begins to tell him the creation story of her people.

Reflecting on Kimmerer’s confrontation with the Windigo, I imagine:

  • the purgative means: vote them out;
  • the healing tea means: do not demonize the other;
  • telling a story to the Windigo means: remind the other and ourselves of the what we love, not what we fear.

As I write, I am confronted by the Windigo sitting across me in a café neon in Pendamodi, Crete. Listening to the news on the television, he begins to sound off against every type of refugee, not one of whom, he announces, should set foot in Crete. Thinking about Kimmerer’s story, I ask myself: how I can confront the Windigo not in anger but in a way that will soothe his wounded soul?

I remind him that Greeks were once refugees from Asia Minor. He says that today’s refugees should stay home and fight their oppressors as the Cretans fought the Germans in World War II. I say, yes, but if bombs were being dropped on your home and your children were threatened, wouldn’t you flee? He insists that because he does not want any refugees in Crete, he will vote for the popular nationalists and fascists in the next election. I say only love, not hate will solve these problems. He insists that the neo-fascist party is not motivated by hate. I give up.

A few minutes later I begin to sneeze uncontrollably. The sun that was above us at midday has traveled to the other side of the café neon. My nose is bleeding. The man asks me if he can help. I say, yes, please close the door, it has gotten cold inside.

He closes the door, I thank him, and the spell is broken. He is no longer the Windigo. He may still vote for the neo-fascists, but for now he is simply the person sitting across from me. We speak about the weather.


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol  has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, Ecofeminism, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

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14 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Thesseli.


  2. Thank you for sharing Robin Wall Kimmerer’s story and yours. I will keep both in mind and heart whenever I meet the Windigo.


  3. Carol, I have lived this story of the trees over and over again – the grief is beyond my ability to articulate. The first time I witnessed massive slaughter in western Maine 30 plus years I fell to the ground in my horror – my tears spilling on the broken trees… that night I had a dream: In that dream my own beloved land superimposed itself over the ravaged raped forest like a veil… When I awakened at dawn the message seemed so clear. The trees were telling me that LOVE was the way through – Love what I could more deeply – and yes, so it has been…I have not yet read Braiding Sweetgrass but I will now Thank you for this beautiful moving post and the way you disseminated the key elements of what we all need to do… I will post this on my FB page. Many Blessings Carol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thanks, Carol. Thoughtful post. Many years ago I had an argument with a woman from Amnesty International. I was defending the death penalty. When I got home I thought about what she said, and realized she was right. So I have advocated against the death penalty (if it’s wrong to kill another person, it’s wrong to kill another person whether by an individual or by the State) for more than fifty years. But she’ll never know that.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Two beautiful and touching and true stories in one post! I’ve seen bits of clearcut land and have always thought it looked like war. But the Windigo’s attack on the land–or on anything–makes great sense, yes, especially today and, no, not just in the U.S. There seem to be human Windigoes all over the world. They need lots and lots of healing tea.

    I, too, seem to be allergic to the weather. I’ve been coughing a lot this winter, but I haven’t had any other flu or cold symptoms. I’m glad that man you met closed the door for you. If you meet him again, I hope you have a more pleasant conversation. Any hope of his changing his Windigo mind when your election comes??


  6. The NYTimes ran an article today written by Arthur C. Brooks, a scholar of public policy, titled “Our Culture of Contempt.” Quite appropriate in light of your wonderful essay today. Here is an excerpt:

    “People often say that our problem in America today is incivility or intolerance. This is incorrect. Motive attribution asymmetry [assumption that your idea is based on love and your opponent’s is based on hate] leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

    “What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better. And that starts when you turn away the rhetorical dope peddlers — the powerful people on your own side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful. Unless a leader is actually teaching you something you didn’t know or expanding your worldview and moral outlook, you are being used.”

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thanks Carol, I got caught up in that fascinating term here, Windigo. But the name wasn’t negative, rather part by part, it named itself, quite beautifully, in three words — “WIND IN INDIGO.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gorgeous post and a wonderful teaching on craving, integration and equanimity. Plus a beautiful tale that I will carry in my heart. Thank you Karolina


  9. A beautiful post and one that gets to the heart of how to really create change – opening the way to transformation at the most essential levels, those of the human heart and spirit. Until we are able to relate to one another in a way that creates communication and expresses love and respect and thus helps heal the Windigo in all of us, we will never have the world we all want to live in. We will just keep fighting the same battles over and over. That’s why I think feminist religion/spirituality is so important — when we can honor and express those sacred aspects of ourselves that have been repressed for so long we can heal the wounds in ourselves and those who ravage the Earth and other living beings that cause so much pain and destruction.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for so beautifully entwining your story with RWK’s story. I was struck by this: “She drinks some herself, recognizing that the Windigo is not the other, but has become part of all of us.” I find this realization of common ground crucial to the healing of our societies. My husband tends to rant about “they, them” while I rant about “we, us” – I feel this is a huge concept about common human flaws and frailties that can lead us to mutual compassion. If we let it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you, Carol, for this empowering post. I was reading an article in the University of Wisconsin Alumnae publication. which I hoped would deal with bridging political gaps in our conversations with each other, but it never dealt with this issue head-on. I guess I was waiting for your post instead.

    It’s hard to deal with the greedy, destructive spirit (“Windigo”) of our times without getting caught by some of the ancillary emotions, like hate and anger and contempt. Remembering that almost everyone is doing the best they can with the information and experiences that they have accumulated certainly helps. I had to do that with my parents during the Viet Nam War until my sisters and I were able to fill in their informational gaps and they came over to an anti-war position. But it’s easier when love already exists with the person you’re trying to understand. Perhaps remembering that love is the answer, rather than information, would be a good starting point. Related to that idea is the book _Tatoos on the Heart_ about Greg Boyle’s work with gang members in CA. Really all he did was love them unconditionally and give them work. That allowed these dis to develop some self-esteem and escape their early deaths.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I would like to “LIKE” some of the comments! They echo so very well the struggle I have. It is easy to get derailed from the love energy that the Windago requires! Thanks for the deep story. It so caught my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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