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Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: Where do the Tauren come from?

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 the tauren peoples, the shu'halo, the taunka and the yaungol. We can't rule out that there are or were others at some point - there may have been a tauren people in the Eastern Kingdoms until the spread of humanity, for instance, and there may well be tauren on some hidden or lost landmass somewhere else on Azeroth. But we talked about the ones we know about last week.

This week, we're going to speculate. (We've done this before, but I wanted to come at it again.) There won't be a definitive theory at the end - this is purely looking at the few things we do know and then playing what if with the ideas. For starters, tauren are the most physically powerful mortals native to Azeroth, rivaled only by the ogres who are themselves both invaders from another world and the descendents of the massive, ruthless gronn of Outland. There's no direct evidence for any such descent for the tauren. Indeed, the tauren appear to be very old, having existed (according to Brann Bronzebeard, anyway) before the arrival of the Titans. We have to take that cautiously because the Tribunal of Ages implies that the Titans created Azeroth, and returned later to find it infested with the Old Gods and their minions such as the Elemental Lords. If that is so, then the tauren cannot predate the creation of Azeroth and thus cannot actually predate the Titans.

However, they certainly could predate the return of the Titans. It seems likely that they, and the trolls, are therefore the result of the natural evolution of the Azeroth project, and as such, not directly created by the Titans. (Technically, if the Titans created Azeroth, then those races would be indirectly the creations of the Titans and their ongoing evolutionary experiment, as embodied by their appointing of the five dragon aspects.) So let us therefore speculate as to where the Tauren may have come from.

Our first possibility is the Titan vault of Terramok, which was for uncounted thousands of years the prison for Princess Theradras, daughter of Therazane. Theradras and Zaetar, a keeper of the grove and descendant of Cenarius, were the parents of the centaur clans' first khans, ungrateful children who murdered Zaetar and spread out to dominate much of central Kalimdor in a genocidal war against the tauren. One thing that has never been explained is why. Why do the centaur hate the tauren? There are tauren in Feralas, to the south of Desolace. There are tauren in Thousand Needles, in the Barrens, in Mulgore and in Stonetalon, effectively encircling Desolace and therefore Terramok. Why are these tauren so despised the the same centaurs that killed their own father?

The tauren believe that they are the children of the Earthmother. They tell a story that in the distant past, while they were hunting they came across the great stag Malorne (Apa'ro to the tauren) and hunted it to exhaustion, until finally it attempted to escape them in the very vault of the skies, only to snag its antlers on the stars. This led the moon, Mu'sha, to come across the great stag and free him from his confinement, and the two fell in love. This led to the conception of Cenarius. Thus the tauren are indirectly responsible for the genesis of the centaur, as the centaur descend from Zaetar, child of Cenarius, child of Apa'ro who the tauren hunted into the sky. It's an interesting myth, not just for the story but for its implications.
  • The tauren were at that time capable of hunting and even killing Apa'ro/Malorne, a being who fought Archimonde. As an Ancient, Malorne would have eventually returned, but that doesn't change the fact that the tauren of that time were apparently a significant threat to him.
  • The tauren predate the existence of Cenarius, the great druid teacher who taught Shan'do Malfurion Stormrage.
  • The tauren, children of the Earthmother, were incapable of reaching Apa'ro/Malorne once he hid in the skies. Whether the ancient knew this, or simply gambled on it, is unknown.
In the original, primordial tauren creation myth, the tauren people were created at the dawn of the world by the Earthmother. Interestingly (to those of us currently exploring Pandaria, anyway) she breathes the world into existence from mist, transforming clouds into lush fields and making day and night by alternatively opening and closing her left and right eyes, which were the moon and the sun respectively. The shadows cast by her vast hands fell upon the land, and wherever they fell, the tauren were born. They swore their loyalty and fealty to her who had given them life. But in time, the shu'halo were beset by corrupting whispers and learned the ways of making war upon one another.

If one looks at the division between the modern tauren peoples and this ancient war, one sees parallels - the taunka and yaungol abandoned the ways of the Earthmother and turned towards means of domination over the land and its inhabitants and elemental spirits. The yaungol obsession with fire and flaming oil is born out of a pure materialism that in time gave birth to a spirituality rooted in the flames, while the taunka are even more pragmatically brutal and wring obedience out of the elements just as the Old Gods do. And who could have been responsible for those corrupting whispers, if not the Old Gods or a servitor? This leads us to consider the possibility that all tauren people originated in what is today the Tirisfal Glades.

Now, it's impossible to know exactly where modern landmasses lined up on the original ancient continent of Kalimdor, but we know all of the known world (Northrend, Pandaria, the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor) were once part of the ancient, true Kalimdor, the supercontinent. With the Well of Eternity at its heart as a kind of magical lake, it's feasible that the tauren (a migratory people even today, all three branches of their kind roaming far afield to settle) may have at one point settled in or even originated in what is today Tirisfal. And Tirisfal still has a problem with maddening underground whispers. Did the original tauren separation pre-date the Sundering? Were they driven apart not by the destruction of the world, but rather the madness that drove those who succumbed to it to seek dominion over the Earthmother rather than existing as her beloved children?

By itself this doesn't actually answer the larger question - where do the tauren come from? The myths imply that the tauren are born of the earth, so thoroughly connected to it that they could not reach the stars to pursue their prey (an Ancient, no less) and this self-same connection to the earth drove many of them as mad as Neltharion the Earth-Warder. Furthermore, as the tauren seem to predate (at least) the second coming of the Titans, they therefore predate the creation of Deepholm and the imprisonment of Therazane the Stonemother, so they cannot come from there. While Therazane is a potential candidate for the Earthmother (she is a being of great connection to and power over the stones of the world) she doesn't really fit the nurturing or creative aspects of the position - neither she nor her daughter Theradras seem overly concerned with their creations or children. The centaur run amok, uncontrolled by Theradras in her grief, and Therazane in Deepholm seems embittered and suspicious of the mortal races. No, it seems unlikely that Therazane or Theradras are the Earthmother.

But go back to that ancient myth - the original tauren were created from the shadow of the Earthmother's hands. The shadow of Azeroth could be many things - it could be the Twisting Nether, or the Great Dark Beyond, but both of these transcend Azeroth and link it to other places in existence. Only one place is truly the shadow of the material world. Only once place could be considered the shadow thrown by Azeroth, the image of it and it alone. And that place is the Emerald Dream. If we think of the light of creation as that light thrown by the Earthmother's twin eyes, the sun (An'she) and moon (Mu'sha) as it is likely they both would have been open at that time, then the shadow cast would have been that of the world itself. Remember, there would have been no dragon aspects yet, so no Ysera to regulate the passages between the world and the Emerald Dream, and at that time before the Sundering ancient Azeroth and the Dream were identical. Remember again the words of the myth:

Before the Age of Memory, the gentle Earthmother breathed upon the golden mists of dawn. Where the amber clouds came to rest, there were endless fields of flowing wheat and barley. This was the basin of her works - the great basket of life and hope.

The Earthmother's eyes shone down upon the lands she had breathed into creation. Her right eye, An'she (the sun), gave warmth and light to the land. Her left eye, Mu'sha (the moon), gave peace and sleep to the stirring creatures of the dawning. Such was the power of her gaze that the Earthmother closed one dreaming eye for every turning of the sky. Thus, her loving gaze turned day into night for the first dawning of the world.

While the right eye shone down upon the golden dawn, the Earthmother's gentle hands spread out across the golden plains. Wherever the shadow of her arms passed, a noble people arose from the rich soil. The Shu'halo (the tauren) arose to give thanks and prayer to their loving mother. There, in the endless fields of dawn, the children of the earth swore themselves to her grace and vowed to bless her name until the final darkening of the world.
Think about what we've learned about the origins of Azeroth from our sojurn in Pandaria, from what Wrathion states when he eats the Heart of the Thunder King and goes into a trance, spewing forth revelations that even he doesn't remember or understand. The implications are staggering - that Azeroth is unique, and has a unique purpose, the recreation of a final Titan. In the past, others have tried to cast figures in the role of Earthmother - Therazane, Theradras, Alexstrasza, Eonar - but what if the Earthmother is the very world we're standing on, is the land itself just as the tauren have always stated? The centaur hatred of the tauren may not merely be due to their distant relation, their role in the creation of Cenarius and thus ultimately the centaur, but also due to the fact that the tauren truly are what the centaur are broken mockeries of - children of the earth, bound to it as surely and purely as they've always stated. Their susceptibility to the whispers of the Old Gods in the distant past may well have come from this same connection - born out of the Earth, their spirits crossing over from the Emerald Dream to seek form and function.

Indeed, alone among the races of Azeroth, the tauren have never turned to another divine presence. They have not sought out Loa or Ancient, bend no knee to the Titans, worship no abstract force of Light or Shadow. Even as the yaungol and taunka turned their backs on her, the shu-halo of Kalimdor have held to their ancient pact. They honor the land, and the Earthmother. Their mother. They respected Apa'ro and the Ancients, but they did not fear nor worship them. They honored Cenarius, but knew that they had a hand in his making. Only the Earthmother and her eyes have received their veneration. In the end, it may be the shu-halo who hold the secret of the Final Titan, because they have always called her mother.
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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