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Know Your Lore: The sources of magic, part 3

Matthew Rossi

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.

Last week, we talked about arcane magic (including fel energy and shadow) and the magic of the Holy Light (which also has shadow as a kind of opposite force). If that's not confusing enough, this week, we talk about the magic of shaman and druids, either of which could in its own way be called natural magic.

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the various means by which magical energy can be tapped. One of these magical "fonts" is the Emerald Dream, a kind of palimpsest dimension that lays beneath and mimics Azeroth. It is, essentially, the first draft of creation, the blueprint to which the world would be returned to in the event of reorigination. It's Azeroth before the original Sundering, before intelligent life, as it was the second the Titans considered their creation complete. The reason Ysera of the dream is charged with protecting and safeguarding the Dream is that it is the world's base state.

The many becomes one living thing

Druids exist to help ensure the safety of the Dream by leaving their living bodies behind for a time and sojourning there, as dreamers, protecting the place from corruption such as that spread by the Emerald Nightmare. This was part of the pact made at the creation of Nordrassil, the World Tree, when the aspects of Life, Time and the Dream gathered together to prevent the second Well of Eternity from attracting the attention of the demons as did the first Well.

Druid magic is inherently natural in that it specifically seeks to keep nature in balance. In a way, druid magic is drawn from the Emerald Dream to try and restore a semblance of that Dream to the waking world. It may seem odd to couch it in these terms, but druids are basically hitting the reset button, restoring the world as best they can to a state of natural balance, which in turn brings it closer to resonance with the Dream.

Okay, but what about aggressive magic? After all, druids can take on animal forms (tapping into the Dream's source code, so to speak) and can even burn their enemies with fire from the sky. Well, nature's balance is sometimes achieved through violence and death, and druids aren't exempt from or exceptions to that aspect of the natural cycle.

A fascinating new take on druids and their role in nature comes from the troll druids, but even these can fit fairly seamlessly into the concept of druids as wardens of nature. The loa spirits of most troll tribes are, after all, firmly natural in their behavior. The path to druid power taught to Zen'tabra by Gonk, in fact, fits seamlessly into this concept. Gonk taught the troll druids how to serve many nature spirits instead of one. In essence, Gonk did for the trolls what Cenarius did for the night elves: He showed them how to access nature directly rather than through intermediary spirits. He just did so in a way trolls would understand.

It would be a mistake to assume these nature magics are in any way less dangerous simply because they're in accord with the Titan's original plan for Azeroth. For one thing, the world has pretty sharply diverged from said plan. For another, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and volcanoes can all be natural while being wildly destructive. A typhoon is natural, and a typhoon can still kill you.

Druidic magic is about all the elements of natural creation in balance, yoked to the Emerald Dream and its underlying palimpsest, its vision of Ur-reality. Shaman, however, deal with the elements not as components of anything, but as living forces of their own.

Each part of the many is itself alive

To a druid, nature is a living thing that requires shepherding and balancing. To a shaman, everything -- the slightest breeze, the most titanic wildfire -- is in itself a living thing. Druids seek to bring balance by consulting a plan for creation laid out eons ago. Shaman seek balance by acting to bring balance between forces. It's a subtle but distinct difference. A shaman seeing a fire threatening to consume more than it should would first attempt to reason with the spirit of the fire, bring it to understand that if it consumes everything today, there will be no fuel tomorrow. The magic of the shaman is power granted by the many elemental spirits that inhabit each world in the cosmos, from Draenor to Azeroth and all the worlds between.

Shamanic magic is as natural as that of the druid, but its focus is different, and it isn't granted due to a singular pact with any one entity. Some shaman negotiate; others subjugate; still others layer deal upon deal and pact upon pact; and still another shaman might well mediate between hostile forces and gain his or her powers as a reward. Initiate Goldmine lives in the same world as Farseer Nobundo, and each has his own methods of dealing with the elementals. Shamanic magic is inherently about what works. The shaman learns to synchronize with the elements, to calm their ancient conflicts while they help support and inspire the shaman.

There are of course the four elements we see roiling in conflict every time we log in to help oppose Deathwing's Cataclysm: fire, earth, air and water. Beyond, behind, and transcending all of them is a further force. Nobundo spoke of it as a fifth element that transcended and bound together all the worlds in the universe and all the elemental forces beyond them. If you're reminded of the Holy Light and at the same time of the arcane magic that suffuses and draws into the Well of Eternity, perhaps it's not an accident that the Sunwell, the Well's descendent, is at once a font of arcane magic and Holy Light, nor that it was Velen who placed M'uru's spark within said well -- the same Velen who encouraged Nobundo to bring the shaman's arts to the draenei. It's possible to imagine, within the shaman's gift for deal-making and conciliation, an eventual union of all forces of magic.

Next week, things get interesting. Now that we have the basic rules, let's look at all the ways each of them gets violated and what that implies.

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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