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All the World's a Stage: The passing of the Beast

David Bowers

All the World's a Stage isn't just a column for loony and creative geeks, playing with roles every Sunday evening.

The Lunar Festival has been with us for a few days now, and I can tell you as one living in China, the real life version of this holiday, the Chinese Spring Festival, is quite the treat. Everyone seems to walk around charged with a special happiness, traveling all around the country, glad to be reunited with family after spending months away. Shops are closed, streets have more people walking than driving, and nights ring loud with the sound of fireworks bursting from all around you.

The WoW version is a pale imitation, to be honest, but it does manage to capture a portion of the Spring Festival's spirit. While setting off fireworks is not the awesomest eye-candy, it's not that bad; also, traveling all over the world to visit the Elder ghosts scattered all around Azeroth is charming in its own way. The main thing that's missing, however, is a real understanding of what the holiday is all about.

Few Westerners realize that the annual attack of the monster "Nian" (on which the story of WoW's Omen is based) forms the mythological backstory for the Spring Festival -- sort of an equivalent of the Nativity story of Christmas. The Chinese words for "Celebrate the New Year," Guo Nian, could also be literally translated as "The passing of the Beast." If we look at the symbolism behind this Chinese myth, it can give the Lunar Festival new meaning for our characters in Azeroth as well.

The Chinese legend tells of a vicious, lion-dog monster thing who used to come down from the mountains (or up from the sea in some versions) to eat people once a year. This beast was called Nian, which also means "Year." The people used to lock their doors and cower in fear at the coming of Nian, until one year, a wise old man united his village against the beast. He taught them to use fireworks and the color red as a means of scaring the creature so that it could be chased and defeated.

The Azerothian equivalent of Nian was a great and heroic beast named Omen, blessed by Elune with great power, and gradually corrupted over the centuries by demon-tortured dreams. Like the Chinese myth, the heroes who defeated Omen are left unnamed, leaving it up to your imagination to put your own name among that list of heroes... only in this case, Omen really does come back every year, and if you wish, you really can defeat him, with the help of a special firework no less.

I'm certainly not a great authority on Chinese or Azerothian lore, but to me the major symbolism involved in these stories shows how people can rise up to conquer the evil within themselves when they stand united with one another. The fireworks and the color red have a psychological effect on people, scaring away the fears and worries that haunt them in the dead of winter, and bringing happy smiles in their place. Through the aid of loving friends and family, the people arise to start the new year with a fresh spirit, ready for the hard work that lies ahead of them.

As with Winter Veil and Christmas, all the outer expressions of celebrations are merely forms, expressions of an inner meaning which might get forgotten in all the commotion. Perhaps to most Azerothians, that's all there is to it; but if your character is a night elf or tauren, consider that he or she might take the holiday and the story behind it more seriously.

A night elf would consider this story in light of the greatness of Elune, how she has guided her people throughout the centuries and never left them without guidance or assistance when they needed it most. There is also considerable overlap here with the mythology of the tauren, though they would understand Elune less as the central focus of their faith, and more as that aspect of their Earthmother which guides them in times of darkness. Both races would experience a deep sense of devotion and reverence at this time of year, and would look for ways to express it.

Here are just a few suggestions on how you might do so:
  • Get together with some of your friends and have everyone buy lots and lots of fireworks from the Lunar Festival vendors. They're cheap, and in todays economy players should easily be able to afford lots of them. Then have everyone spread out around the firework launchers and set off all the fireworks as fast as they can, trying to create a blaze of color and glory. Make sure you explain the spiritual significance of this celebration so that everyone knows it's not just a light show.
  • Get together with your friends to take on Omen, not just to defeat him and get your Elune's Lantern as a reward, but also to defeat the fear in your heart he represents. Then, use the Elune Stones you can make after that as a declaration that you will not be ruled by fear -- you will stand up and conquer it just as you conquered the great beast himself.
  • Get together with your friends to travel the world, meeting the Elders and bowing before them. As you travel all about the world, tell stories of your ancestors to one another. Don't hesitate to fall back on traditional myths from any culture while looking for stories you can adapt for use in Azeroth, and if you can, change the names of the heroes of the stories for the names of the actual Elders you are going to meet. Elder Bloodhoof would seem to come alive much more if you knew that he once slew an evil monster-woman with snakes for hair -- and so what if you based his story on Perseus versus Medusa? Suddenly the Elder you visit has a personality which you assigned to him, in a way, honoring the real world culture you drew the story from, and your own real ancestors who told it.

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