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 took a tinfoil-hat look at the Curse of Flesh and why, exactly, that strange curse came to be. We also took a look at theories behind why the Titans didn't simply wipe the Old Gods out of existence -- and in what order Azeroth's creation took place. If you haven't read last week's offering, I'd suggest doing so now, because the theories I'm going to present today tie into that material. While the Old Gods have been pointed out time and again as being on Azeroth since the dawn of time, there are other creatures with just as lengthy a history.
The Ancients are, as their name suggests, ancient -- and the Celestials of Pandaria seem to be just as ancient and wise. These creatures are all there to supposedly help the mortals of Azeroth and protect the world from harm. In the War of the Ancients, many of these odd demigods helped the kaldorei fight off the Burning Legion, and with a great deal of success. In Pandaria, the Celestials have their own curious methods of helping out the world -- after all, it was the Jade Serpent who told Emperor Shaohao of the sha, albeit indirectly.
So who are the Celestials? Who are the Ancients? And how do they tie into that weird mystery that is Azeroth?
Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition, meaning the following is a look into what has gone before with pure speculation on what is to come as a result. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.
There are just as many known Ancients as there are, presumably, unknown -- the Ancients we've seen and read about are just a smattering of what may potentially be out there. Agamaggan, the great boar, patron god of the quillboar. Aessina, the wild and untamed spirit of nature and the forests. Aviana, ferocious heart of the winged creatures that populate the world. Cenarius, Goldrinn, Malorne, Omen, Tortolla, Ursoc, Ursol -- all have their own purposes, strengths, and weaknesses. All have been charged with guarding aspects of the world.
Along the same vein, we have the Celestials -- Yu'lon, the jade serpent of wisdom, Chi-Ji, the red crane of hope, Xuen, the white tiger of strength, and Niuzao, the black ox of stubborn persistence. Each Celestial protects Pandaria in its own way. In fact, the Celestials were responsible for locking the Vale of Eternal Blossoms away, and they choose its defenders from the mortals of Pandaria. Once chosen, these protectors of the Vale must leave whatever prior life they may have led, and dedicate themselves fully to guarding the Vale's secrets and keeping them safe.
It's been stated before that the Celestials are Pandaria's equivalent of the Ancients -- they're simply a lot more active and a lot less reclusive than the Ancients we've encountered thus far in game. In fact, it took a full-out assault on Hyjal to bring most of these Ancients back into play. By and large, the Ancients of Azeroth have been one of those interesting mysteries of Azeroth's history -- they are there to protect and guard different aspects of the world.
What's odd is that they aren't the only guardians on Azeroth. The Aspects were charged to do much the same thing, by the Titans -- each dragon Aspect has its own realm of expertise. Alexstrasza and the red dragonflight watched over all life, Nozdormu and the bronze dragonflight were charged with watching over time, Malygos and the blue dragonflight served as guardians over magic, Ysera and the green dragonflight watched over nature, and Neltharion was charged with watching over the mountains, valleys, and deep spaces of the earth.
All had their own areas of expertise, and we saw what happened to Neltharion -- close proximity to the Old Gods resulted in his going absolutely bonkers. They whispered to him, making him more and more paranoid, obsessed with power, and convinced him that the rest of the Aspects were out to get him. They talked him into creating the Dragon Soul, an incredibly powerful artifact that pretty much had the power to enslave even an Aspect. They drove him mad, to the point where he was convinced that the Old Gods had the right of it -- that the world needed to end.
When we killed Deathwing at the end of Cataclysm, the Aspects expended the last of their power. They are now mortal, and they have ushered in what they call the Age of Mortals. It's a time in which presumably, we, the mortal races of the world, are now charged with watching over the various aspects of the world just as the Aspects once did. We've proven ourselves powerful enough to do so, apparently. Yet here's the curious thing about all of this -- the Aspects and the Ancients seem to be meant for the same purpose. They watch over particular aspects of the world, in order to keep it safe. So ... what's the difference between the two?
Creation vs. Evolution
There's a really big difference. The Aspects were created by the Titans, and charged with watching over the various aspects of the world. The Ancients, on the other hand, were spawned by Azeroth itself. While the exact date of the Ancient's existence isn't really known, we've been told in the novel Wolfheart that the Ancients were actually born of Azeroth itself, not created by the Titans as part of their grand organizational scheme. Demigods, loa, whatever you want to call them -- they were all created by the planet, not by the Titans.
Now that's interesting, particularly given the nature of the world as we know it. We know that the Ancients and the Aspects worked together -- in one case, we know an Aspect actually fell in love with an Ancient. Ysera loved Malorne, and although Cenarius was the son of Malorne and Elune, Ysera treated him as if he were her own son, odd as that may sound. But the connection between Ysera and Malorne makes perfect sense, in the same way that Kalecgos and Anveena's relationship makes sense -- Ysera was charged with watching over and protecting nature, and Malorne was pretty much nature in a corporeal form, much as Anveena was magic in a corporeal form.
For some reason, the planet Azeroth decided to spawn these demigods that watch over the world. It may have been for the purpose of protection, or a defense mechanism. But if Azeroth decided to spawn these creations, why did the Titans deem it necessary to put the Aspects in place to do pretty much the same thing? Why would you need a fabricated security system, if the house already came with one, pre-installed?
Azeroth as a deity
Last week, we looked at the possibility of the Curse of Flesh actually being some sort of planetary self-defense system; a way to incorporate foreign elements -- Titan creations -- with Azeroth, in a planetary attempt to restore the world to its correct state, one of chaos. If this were the case, then the Old Gods can be assumed to be part of Azeroth. An innate part of Azeroth, one that existed from the moment of Azeroth's creation. The Curse of Flesh came into play not as some sort of malevolent device, but as a defense attempt by the planet to absorb the foreign elements introduced by the Titans.
In last week's column, I suggested that perhaps the races of Azeroth are the strange byproduct of this bizarre mutation between natural and Titan creation. Here's where it gets a little weird, and requires another giant step back to look at Azeroth objectively. If the planet is, in fact, some sort of entity, rather than just a planet -- if we are the antibodies trying to rectify this weird Titan-constructed thorn stuck in the finger of the world -- then what does that make the Ancients and the Celestials? For that matter, what does that make the Old Gods?
Yu'lon pointed out the cyclical nature of life as she explained her odd life cycle to us in the Jade Forest. "We live together, or we die together. All of Pandaria is connected." Time and time again, throughout this expansion, we've had the point of all existence being connected smashed into our heads. We've had it pointed out that life is about balance, through the existence of the sha. It's been noted over and over that Emperor Shaohao overcame his weaknesses by defeating the sha, and then sought to protect the land.
How does this all tie together?
Aspects of Creation itself
Let's look at the sha. They are the embodiment of different aspects of emotion -- negative emotion. They were caused by the death of the old god Y'shaarj, who was presumably killed by a Titan. Upon his death, his essence leeched into Pandaria itself, haunting it forever. The sha cannot be killed, exactly -- they can merely be contained, as Emperor Shaohao discovered. And as we discussed last week, this makes perfect sense if you look at Azeroth as an entity -- emotion exists, both negative and positive. Excising emotion just creates the robotic kinds of creations that the Titans are totally keen on bringing into being.
But let's look at the other Old Gods. C'thun whispers forboding messages to us throughout the entirety of our travels through Ahn'Qiraj -- whispers of friends abandoning us, death being close, our courage failing -- all messages intended to encourage paranoia. Yogg-Saron, in Northrend, does much the same thing -- whispers accusing you of being a pawn, blaming you for events out of your control, pointing out that you'll be alone -- encouraging feelings of guilt, abandonment, fear. Each aspect of the Old Gods we have encountered has, at its base root, represented some sort of negative emotion.
And then we have the Ancients.
Goldrinn, spirit of ferocity. Tortolla, spirit of perseverance through endless patience. Chi-Ji, spirit of hope. Xuen, spirit of strength. For every negative emotion that the Old Gods represent, there is an Ancient or a Celestial that represents its opposite. And if, in fact, the Ancients were spawned by Azeroth, it was either because of the presence of the Old Gods -- to act as a counterpoint to that negativity and inspire the mortals of the world -- or because you cannot have one without the other. You cannot have hope without despair to possess hope in the face of. You cannot have anger without the option of peace. You cannot have weakness without the option of strength. You cannot have order without the option of chaos.
Existence is the process of walking that line between chaos and order. We sit at the junction of good and evil, using what we have learned before to determine what the next course of action should be. Without this exercise in judgment and thinking, we may as well be a footstool sitting on a living room carpet -- devoid of any life.
If the Aspects were Titan-created, then the actions of the Old Gods make perfect sense. They sought to corrupt the Aspects in order to assimilate them into the world, much as they did with the Curse of Flesh. The Aspects were a different story and required a different tactic, because they were originally mortal races of this world, manufactured into what the Titans wanted them to be -- guardians. In fact, out of all of the races on Azeroth, the Aspects are the only ones likely to have the best idea of what, exactly, the purpose of Azeroth really is -- of what Azeroth really is.
This makes the events of Dawn of the Aspects all the more interesting, because we're seeing that moment in time as it comes into play. With part four due to be released on Monday, we're almost at the end of that journey, so we can expect to see more of this highlighted. But the evidence is there, if you look at it -- Deathwing didn't succumb to the Curse of Flesh, he was simply driven mad by the whispers of the Old Gods. He couldn't succumb to the Curse of Flesh, because as a mortal of Azeroth, he was already by and large immune to its effects.
The Emerald Dream was corrupted by the Old Gods -- although we got a name for the Old God -- N'zoth -- we never saw it in action. But it still exists in a small corner of the Emerald Dream. Why? Because the Emerald Dream represents Azeroth in its natural state, before the Titans meddled with the world. Azeroth, in its natural state, already had the Old Gods present. N'Zoth didn't find some way into the Emerald Dream, it was already there to begin with.
Were the blood elves physically changed because they strayed too far from Nordrassil and the Well of Eternity? Or were the blood elves in fact affected by the Curse of Flesh? Consider this: the Well of Eternity has been stated to be placed by the Titans. It did not originate on Azeroth. As for Nordrassil, it was a product of the Aspects -- Titan creations. The night elves were charged with protecting the Well of Eternity, essentially becoming a tool for the Titans much in the same way as the Aspects. When the blood elves left Nordrassil and the Well of Eternity, they physically changed because the Curse of Flesh was finally able to reach them. They were out of the influence of those really, really powerful Titan-created objects.
The War between Titan and Old God
But if the Old Gods already existed, then why didn't they register when the Titans originally visited Azeroth, oh so long ago? They were simply dormant. There wasn't a need for them to come into play, because Azeroth was simply existing as a chaotic little world, all on its own in the corner of the universe. It wasn't until that foreign element of order was introduced that the Old Gods went from dormant to actively trying to excise what the Titans had planted on the world. In a way, the Titans created the Old Gods, by giving them the impetus and reason to exist.
There cannot be order without chaos -- and by creating mass amounts of order, the Titans spawned mass amounts of chaos right alongside it. That war between Titan and Old God wasn't necessarily a war -- it was the Titans desperately trying to establish their control over the planet a second time. Only they couldn't establish absolute order, because in doing so, they merely spawned more chaos. They spawned the sha. The key to keeping Azeroth in control was by creating a balance between the two, order and chaos existing simultaneously.
And Azeroth had spawned its own self-defense system in response, in the form of the Ancients and Celestials. But that wasn't enough to keep the Old Gods contained and exist in a balanced state. Something had to be done to reinforce the order and keep the chaos in check, until the world could settle itself into a natural balance. That's why the Titans created the Aspects -- they were training wheels, there to hold the world in order until the world managed to stabilize itself. And once we killed Deathwing, we proved that those training wheels were no longer needed.
It makes sense, particularly if you look at it in the context of failsafes. The Aspects were there as part of that failsafe system -- and so was the re-origination device in Uldum. It wasn't there to destroy the world, it was there to start things over if that balance tipped over to chaos. Algalon was signaled not because of Yogg-Saron's encroachment -- he'd already been encroaching for quite some time -- but because we killed Loken, one of the Watchers. Another failsafe put into place by the Titans. The Titans assumed that if a Watcher died, it would be because chaos got out of control.
What Algalon didn't expect was that that failsafe would be triggered because the mortals of the world recognized that corruption, and moved to prevent it themselves. We killed Loken, because Loken was corrupt. We didn't kill him because we were agents of chaos. We killed him of our own volition -- because we looked at the situation, determined it was bad, and moved to prevent it. And when we looked at what Algalon was trying to do, we saw that situation, determined it was bad, and moved to prevent it. All of our own volition. All of our own free will.
And that is life. That is not what the Titans were expecting.
While all this speculation may shed some light on why the Old Gods exist and why the Ancients exist, it still doesn't answer what may be the biggest question in Warcraft -- why? Why did the Titans create Azeroth? Why are we so different from any other world out there -- what was the purpose of the Titan's experiments, and what are we supposed to do with this unique and strange balance we've managed to obtain over thousands of years of evolution? Considering the entirety of the Warcraft universe hinges on that question, I don't know if we'll ever actually see the answer.
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.