Wednesday, May 18, 2022

more wendigo

Following up a bit on the wendigo aspect of the Walam Olum post: Nathan Carlson wrote an analysis of witiko=wendigo phenomena with several cases described. There were often physical symptoms, notably swelling, associated with the condition--sometimes at the onset, sometimes later. He asked rhetorically if mental illnesses could be contagious.

Can they be? I don't mean meme-contagious, I mean in the traditional microbe or virus sense. To be clear, I probably have a number of pathogenic organisms living in and on me now, but without some opportunity or stress they won't do much.

Clearly some of the symptoms are culturally shaped, but swelling and cold (testified to by others)? This wendigo-ness isn't something shared by other tribes, as far as I can find, so either the physical symptoms are culturally shaped too, or the tribe is more susceptible genetically than other tribes. So suppose one had an endemic infection that susceptible individuals succombed to in times of starvation or panic, that left the brain in a confused state that the culture gave a name and shape to--cannibal wendigo. I assume it's possible--I don't know if it is either remotely likely or possible to prove or disprove.

Alternatively, the disease isn't very contagious except when the victim is heavily afflicted, so the victim becomes doubly dangerous, as an attacker and as a vector.

On the "disprove" side, there are other sources of stress besides starvation and panic--the infection should come forward at other times as well, though possibly the madness would be given a different cultural shape. I haven't heard of anything. AmerIndians have high rates of mental illness, but given the general stresses involved you can't conclude anything about that except that feeling poor and useless is really bad for your health.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

That viruses which circulate widely may be part of schizophrenia has been suggested by a number of researchers over the years. Here's one study about toxoplasm and cats. "Crazy cat lady" may not be accidental sometimes.

james said...

Or the latest clickbait:

J Melcher said...

Rabies ? Or a co-varient thereof.

james said...

It would seem oddly localized, then--limited to (admittedly large) regions around the Great Lakes. But if the main vector is localized, that would suffice--and if the vector were in closer contact with humans in times of famine. Something seems physical about this to me, though some of the presentation is culturally shaped.