Know Your Lore: Tauren origins and tinfoil hats

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|06.29.11

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Know Your Lore: Tauren origins and tinfoil hats
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, exactly, do tauren come from? Yes, there's the old standby about a mommy tauren and a daddy tauren -- but in a world where some beings trace their origins back to stone constructs and ancient curses while others are native and still others were altered by the Well of Eternity, the question of where a people originated can be an important and convoluted one.

The most recent Ask Creative Development thread from the official forums managed to cover a lot of subject matter, from Elune and her relationship with the Naaru to whether Forsaken priests could actually blow themselves up by channeling too much of the Holy Light. But the question and answer that most interested me was the following:

Q: What races were on Azeroth before the coming of the titans?

A: Besides the elementals, the only known sentient races on Azeroth when the titans' forces arrived to subdue the Old Gods were the trolls, the race known as "faceless ones," and the aqir. Due to the Old Gods' war against the titans, as well as the extensive terraforming that followed the war's conclusion, records of what races existed before even the Old Gods' arrival have likely been lost forever.

Anne already discussed this to a degree, but I wanted to take a longer look at the tauren, their history and mythology, what they seem to believe about their origins, and why it might matter to this question. Where did the tauren come from?

Please remember the rules. This is all speculation, and while I try and build it on the framework of the lore we're supplied in game, I'm going to end up somewhere that is absolutely not at all in game.

So which came first, the tauren or Cenarius?

The tauren (or shu'halo, in their own language) have a long and complex oral historical tradition. Entities such as Xarantaur show that the tauren existed before the War of Ancients. Xarantaur even claims to have been trained as a druid by Cenarius himself. This places the tauren as having been both sentient and alive before the sundering of Kalimdor. What we do not know is how far before said sundering the tauren walked the land.

A great deal of tauren history is transmitted orally, as they apparently lacked writing (although they clearly are a literate people now) and so used a series of myths to instruct their young, projecting forward what they expected of every tauren. Xarantaur again indicates that at some point before the sundering, the druidic teachings of Cenarius were lost to the shu'halo because Cenarius left his people. It's not stated why, but without the direct presence of Cenarius, the tauren lost his teachings. This is interesting because Cenarius' father Malorne (Apa'ro to the tauren) is one of the Ancients, and his mother is Mu'sha, the moon known by the night elves as Elune.

Why is this interesting? Well, for one thing, the tauren take credit for Apa'ro and Mu'sha's mating in the first place, and thus, for the birth of Cenarius. This would mean that Cenarius owes his very existence to shu'halo hunters who chased his father into the arms of his mother. This would also mean that both Malorne and Elune might owe the tauren.

Elune, the moon goddess of the kaldorei, is interesting to us here also because she is known to have participated in a bit of uplift. The wildkin or moonkin are her creations, made by her to guard sacred sites (including, in at least one legend, her own son Cenarius). They combine aspects of bears, owls, and in some cases, the antlers of great stags. The wildkin usually do not speak but seem to be intelligent; the ones who died alongside the Keeper of the Grove Califax in fact could seemingly speak as well as understand Darnassian.

She breathed the mists of dawn

In shu'halo mythology, Mu'sha is the left eye of the Earthmother. Her right eye is An'she, the sun, which spins through the void to watch over the Earthmother herself. While we know little about the Sky Father mentioned in The Shattering novel, the Earthmother is far more often discussed. She is the land itself. While each individual elemental spirit and nature spirit has its own name and its own face, the Earthmother is effectively like a gigantic gestalt spirit, and she embodies the land the tauren live on, the natural world they live in and draw sustenance from. The tauren seemingly exist to honor the Earthmother. Therefore, we must ask ourselves: If the tauren did not exist before the titans fought the old gods, why did they exist after? Where did they rise from? How could they have existed in time for them to have hunted Malorne into the arms of Elune and cause Cenarius' birth?

According to the tauren myth Mists of Dawn and Sorrow of the Earthmother, the world came into being when the Earthmother breathed life upon the world itself and how the shu'halo came into existence from this act. It further details how the Earthmother tore her own eyes out in despair after "dark whispers from deep below the earth" taught the tauren the ways of war and deceit. This is interesting because if it was literally true that would mean that the tauren predate the existence of Elune as well as Cenarius. However, it seems clear that at least in some ways, these myths aren't necessarily meant to be taken as literally true. The whispers from deep below the earth, however, seems to indicate the same phenomenon that drove Deathwing himself insane and lead us to wonder: Are the tauren of today an entirely new race of beings made from another, older race?

Sorrow of the Earthmother
As the children of the earth roamed the fields of dawn, they harkened to dark whispers from deep beneath the world. The whispers told the children of the arts of war and deceit. Many of the shu'halo fell under the shadow's sway and embraced the ways of malice and wickedness. They turned upon their pure brethren and left their innocence to drift upon the plains.

So hunted her pure children

After the Earthmother tears the sun and the moon out of her face to chase eternally after one another, she still remains with the shu'halo, "her great heart was always with her children -- and her loving wisdom never fled from them," as the myth relates. Furthermore, in the myth The White Stag and the Moon, which relates Apa'ro's union with Mu'sha that led to the birth of Cenarius, we are told "into the brave hearts of her pure children, the Earthmother placed the love of the hunt," and it is that love of the hunt that leads the shu'halo to chase Apa'ro into the heavens.

Her pure children. You'll note that in none of these myths does it say what happened to the shu'halo that were corrupted by the whispers. Nor does it say, exactly, how the tauren were made pure. But we're led to consider several things.

Who is the Earthmother, exactly? Is she the creator of the world of Azeroth itself (a title also claimed by the titans), or is she somehow something they could never have planned for? Is it possible that Azeroth itself is, just as the tauren claim, a living being? And did that living being seek to emulate those that had shaped it and invaded it?

Imagine, if you will, an organism that is Azeroth. Does that organism want parasitic old gods infesting it? Does it want to be destroyed so that they can be freed? Or does it want to keep doing what it has been doing and survive?

If we concieve of the Earthmother as the living spirit of Azeroth itself, imagine how it must groan under the terrible onslaught it has endured. Titans and old gods, eternals and demons waging war over it, reshaping it, pitting elemental lords against armies of titan constructs. Imagine how the Earthmother must have suffered when the land was torn asunder by the sundering. Azeroth as an entity is in great and constant peril. Any living organism develops ways to endure, to defend itself from outside invasion and internal injury -- ways to survive, to defend and to heal.

Born of the land, children of the goddess

We know that Mu'sha, the eye of the Earthmother, made wildkin to defend sacred sites. Did Azeroth itself reach forth and grow stone constructs in imitation of the titans and their earthen, their giants, their vrykul? The shu'halo claim to have been born of the earth itself, thrust forth from the soil by the breath of dawn. Imagine that it was so.

Furthermore, imagine that it was done deliberately in a gambit to turn the enemy's greatest weapon against them. We hear that the pure shu'halo were gifted by the Earthmother. What made them pure? Clearly the myth means living, breathing, hunting tauren. Did the Earthmother make the shu'halo intending that they would be changed from creatures of rock and earth to creatures of flesh? Is the reason there were no tauren before the coming of the titans because she used the war of the old gods and the titan's creations to make the modern tauren out of constructs of stone?

We see tauren in the Halls of Stone and Halls of Lightning, in the peculiar constellation art of the Ulduar installation. We also see Ammunae, a titanic watcher, in Uldum's Halls of Origination, who resembles a tauren but with a ram's head rather than a bovine appearance. It's possible to imagine the Earthmother entity, whatever it is, taking control of a group of titan constructs and creating her own.

She brought the shu'halo forth from the land

We know that the Explorer's League has on two separate occasions taken to excavating ruins in tauren held areas in both Thunder Bluff and The Barrens, which could indicate a connection to the ancient titan vault at Terramok, beneath what is now Maraudon in Desolace. (Maraudon is interesting here because it is where Zaetar, a son of Cenarius, mated with Princess Theradras, daughter of Therazane. Maraudon is where the centaur were born, the same centaur who would hunt and harry the shu'halo for years.)

So the tauren claim to have created Cenarius. Cenarius sired Zaetar, who sired the centaur Khans, who then turned on the tauren. The centaur, children of an earth elemental princess, turned on the tauren, pure children of the Earthmother. The centaur are therefore much more directly linked to the element of earth than the tauren are. They directly descend from it. And yet, lacking this, the tauren are clearly more pure than the centaur, at least so far as the Earthmother is concerned. Is this because as fleshly beings, the tauren are more fully a part of the natural world, while the centaur are incapable of feeling the true connection to nature that would allow them to be more than despoilers? The Hatred of the Centaur myth both seem to imply that the centaur are listening to those same "dark whispers" that the shu'halo once succumbed to. Zaetar himself says that Theradras is a servant of the Old Gods, and it's not hard to assume the centaur inherit her tainted connection to them.

We can easily imagine a slowly coalescing intelligence encompassing the whole world and wishing to be free from outsiders meddling with her, be they titans or Old Gods. Did she make herself the shu'halo, possessed of great strength, from the very living rock and soil of her own body? Did she despair as they, too, slowly succumbed to the madess of the beings trapped within her very body, the cancers she is unable to excise? And did she, through her own machinations, manage to reclaim them after the Curse of Flesh changed them from beings of living earth into flesh and blood and taught them the ways of the natural beings that they now shared substance with? Did she in time use them to help her create more guardians, more beings who would protect the very natural world that makes up her being?

If Elune could make the wildkin, it is not hard to believe that the Earthmother could make the shu'halo. And having made them, she could make them part of herself, part of nature, and thus her most stalwart defenders, her champions ... her immune system.

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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