Know Your Lore: The Sources of Magic, part 1

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|05.25.11

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Know Your Lore: The Sources of Magic, part 1
The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

Where does magic come from?

Specifically, in the Warcraft universe, where does it come from? That's actually a complex question, because there are many different kinds of magic practiced in the setting as a whole. We know of the nature magic of the druids and the elemental magic of the shaman (and that these two disparate types of magic often seem to relate to each other while remaining discrete; we know of the fel magic practiced by warlocks and the Burning Legion, and the pure arcane arts of mages. There's also the Holy Light as demonstrated by priests and paladins, the shadowy magics also tapped by some kinds of priests and warlocks as well, and even the raw necromantic power that seems unique to the Scourge, some Forsaken, and death knights. All of these different kinds of magic are magic, and yet each seems to draw from its own source.

Just on Azeroth, we have seen many kinds of magical power and many focusing points, or fonts, of various kinds of power. Several have descended from one another, while still others have intruded due to the interference of various entities. One thing is clear, that there are many paths to power beyond that inherent to the average denizen of the world.

What, therefore, are these sources of magic?

The Well of Eternity

The original Well of Eternity predates the existence of most intelligent life on Azeroth. When the Titans shaped the world and all that existed upon it, forming its one continent, they placed the Well directly in the center of that ancient landmass. The Well was more than a mere body of water, however. The Well was literally a font of raw arcane energy -- pure, uncorrupted, unaligned magic. The Well drew its power directly from the Great Dark Beyond, meaning that it was magical energy inherent in the cosmos and not drawn from some otherworldly source. Through the Well, this potent magic infused the whole of Azeroth with its raw and chaotic energies.

Within the Well was the magic that would drive creation and evolution on Azeroth. Had it been left to its own devices, this magic would have constantly driven the "engines" of constant change and creation. The creatures known today as silithid were the first to feel the magic of the Well, and in truth, the Old God C'thun did not make the Aqir but merely twisted them into forms more to its liking, using the process already started on the silithids by the Well. Likewise, the night elves' origins are obscure to us today, but it's known that they arose from some race's discovery of and interaction with the Well's power. There was a time when the foremost masters of the arcane arts on the face of Kalimdor (which was then effectively the whole world) were night elves, due to their intimate knowledge of the Well. They plumbed its depths and sought its secrets with a fervor the other races of Azeroth could not match.

In the end, the War of the Ancients destroyed the Well. The purity of the Well's power acted like a beacon to the entities that dwell in the Twisted Nether, including Sargeras the Dark Titan, lord of the Burning Crusade. While we know that arcane magic suffuses the entire universe (since not all worlds have a Well, yet the draenei learned magic without one), it seems clear that the Well of Eternity is unique in the cosmos. The original Well's location is today marked by the enormous Maelstrom that is currently being used as a portal between Deepholm and Azeroth. Illidan Stormrage created a successor Well that lies beneath the enormous World Tree Nordrassil atop Mount Hyjal. The existence of Nordrassil served to reduce but not entirely prevent the Well's emanations, lowering to a degree the available arcane power (and also hiding Azeroth from the Legion to some extent).

The Emerald Dream

Unlike the arcane power that flows through the Well and into Azeroth, suffusing it with raw arcane magic, the power at the command of Azeroth's druids is more difficult to tap and control. Illidan, despite having the amber eyes that indicated druidic potential, was too impatient to master the druid arts, yet he quickly became one of the greatest sorcerers ever to live by directly channeling the Well of Eternity. The Well spews forth power for any who can sense and direct it to tap and control, free of ethos and without strictures. In essence, the Well is like a fountain of magic; one need merely come and drink.

The druid magics of the Cenarion Circle are more difficult and time-consuming to master. Those who learn these arts (be they night elf, tauren, troll or worgen) must find spiritual allies or an inherent connection to nature to help them, because in order to do so, one must find a means to draw power from the Emerald Dream itself. The Dream is in essence a kind of reflection of the world as it would have been had there been no Sundering -- indeed, if no intelligent life had ever walked Azeroth's surface -- created by the Titans at the same time as the world itself. Structures such as the Rift of Aln exist in the dream that may mirror the Maelstrom and thus reflect to some extent what has happened to Azeroth since its creation. What is clear is that the Dream is not at peace, having recently fallen under attack by a force known as the Nightmare or Emerald Nightmare, a force most likely connected with the Old Gods trapped within Azeroth itself.

Skilled druids can use the primordial power that flows through the Dream to perform great magical feats in Azeroth itself, from healing wounds to summoning mighty storms. The Dream's power may be connected to both the Great Dark Beyond and the Twisting Nether through the Rift of Aln, but it retains its own characteristics and ethical bent.

The Sunwell

The Sunwell is unlike the previous two magical fonts in that it is the creation of mortal hands, albeit one descended from the Well of Eternity. Following the War of the Ancients, those night elves who could not abandon arcane magic found themselves banished from kaldorei society. Under Dath'remar Sunstrider, the exiled highborne (quel'dorei, "children of noble birth") became known as the high elves, and their exile carried them across the newly created seas to what is today Lordaeron.

After a brief stay in what we know as the Tirisfal Glades, they moved to the site of Quel'Thalas. Weakened from the loss of the Well of Eternity and their own dependence on its magical energies, they were already beginning to change. Growing paler, wan, physically more frail, something had to be done, and Dath'remar had an answer for his people's plight.

They would create their own Well. Illidan had used vials of the original Well of Eternity to create the new one hidden beneath Nordrassil's trunk. Dath'remar had a vial of the new Well's magical waters, and he proposed to his fellows that they were far enough away from Malfurion and the other night elves to do what Illidan had and create their own Well in their new home. The Sunwell rose from this resolution and served the high elves much as the original Well had served their highborne ancestors. They drew arcane magic through the Sunwell, magic that came to suffuse all of northern Lordaeron, and in time, they even taught human mages how to draw upon the magic to defeat the Amani trolls.

The Sunwell as it had existed for thousands of years was destroyed when Arthas Menethil befouled it in order to use its massive magical power as part of a necromantic ritual to raise the slain necromancer Kel'thuzad to unlife as a lich. So befouled, the Sunwell was more of a danger to the elves than a source of hope, and so Kael'thas Sunstrider was forced to destroy it to prevent the tainted energies from spreading. While the majority of its power was diverted into the form of Anveena Teague by a red dragon's spell, the Well itself lay lifeless. The Sunwell's energies gave the illusion of Anveena real life of a sort, and it was after the blue dragon Kalecgos and his companions discovered the truth and managed to destroy a traitorous former high elf named Dar'khan Drathir that the Sunwell's power, in the form of Anveena, came to reside in its former home.

Kael'thas, however, had other plans. Having spent his time in Outland learning from Illidan, he no longer believed the former night elf had any real solutions to his people's plight, and so he chose a new master who promised to provide endless demons for the blood elves to succor upon. Returning to Quel'Thalas, he seized the captured naaru M'uru and the Sunwell Plateau itself, setting up his base of operations in the Magister's Terrace that overlooked the Sunwell. He began using Anveena and the magical energies he'd harvested from Netherstrom to reignite the Sunwell.

This time, the Sunwell would serve much as the original Well of Eternity had been used by Kael'Thas' Highborne ancestors, as a portal for the demons of the Burning Legion to invade Azeroth. Much as Sargeras had sought to step bodily through the gateway created by Azshara and her highborne over the Well, so did Kil'jaeden the Deciever seek to use the Sunwell. And it nearly worked. In the end, both Anveena and M'uru "died" as independent beings, and their magical essences were combined in the reborn Sunwell, creating a wholly new kind of magical well, one that mingled the Holy Light and the arcane in one. The sacrifice of a naaru and the hand of a draenei gave this precious gift to the very blood elves that had so injured them and their people.

Next week, we discuss the different kinds of magic. What's the difference between necromancy and fel magic? If both mages and shaman can summon elementals, how come they're considered different kinds of magic? Where does the Holy Light fit into all of this?

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.
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