Dangerous Spirits Forthcoming

Dangerous Spirits, forthcoming from Heritage House.
Dangerous Spirits, forthcoming from Heritage House.

My work on the windigo, an evil spirit in Northern Algonquian traditions, will be published by Heritage House in Canada this November, and in the United States this spring. We’ve now finalized the book blurb:

The windigo is a cannibal spirit prevalent in the traditional
narratives of the Algonquian peoples of North America. From Labrador in the north
to Virginia in the south, and from Nova Scotia in the east to the Rocky Mountains
in the west, this phenomenon has been discussed, feared, and interpreted in different
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 describing windigo cases witnessed by or recounted to 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
appearance 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.

Update: the book came out in print Canada this November and can be found at Amazon.ca here. It is already available in Kindle in the United States and Canada, as well as other formats such as Google Play BooksNookKobo and iBooks. The print launch of the book in the United States is set for April 2015.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University



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