Monday, July 22, 2013

Series: Follow the Path -- Religion and Spirituality in Azeroth

Light the way, Dornaa

When it comes to the lore and exposition of Azeroth, I am a complete dilettante. I'll listen to the various exchanges, take my blessings, and go about my business.  I have no right trying to behave in the manner of an expert or spokesperson. However, Erinys inspired this, and I do love to learn about things, so if I make a mistake or misinterpret something, please correct or amend.

My overall impression of the question of faith and spirituality in Azeroth is a defining characteristic -- in Azeroth we (characters/players) directly interact with immortals on a daily basis. The pantheon exists in the 'natural' world among we mortals. To bless someone "To walk in the light" means we can day trip down to Shattrath and hang out with A'Dal for an afternoon if we wish. I realize the supernatural spiritual forces of our own real-world religions many have claimed to have seen an immortal power, but in Azeroth they interact with our characters constantly, and influence our actions and destinies intentionally. We follow Elune, the Celestials, Velen, the Old Gods influence world events, Naaru, the Forsaken worship Lady Sylvanas, and those such as Azshara may be considered demi-gods. I'm not sure, to tell the truth.

Dornaa the Innocent was gaining understanding of Shattrath, and its origins, from Khadgar, and overheard this conversation:

This exchange seemed tinged with evangelism from my perspective. A key difference is the phrase "fruits of the Light." The service and kindness is its own reward--there is no discussion or promise of a heaven or nirvana, but a life spent in service of the Light is the life itself. The reward are the blessings, and the blessings are the business of living. 

From Velen: A Prophet's Lesson:
The Prophet had long ago learned detachment from his visions lest they drive him mad. The third eye of prophecy had been with him so long that having premonitions was like breathing. The ata'mal crystal shards had transformed him into a sentinel of alternate universes without end, sometimes down to their very eclipses in darkness, or ice, or fire. Velen didn't sorrow for these futures or mourn their extinctions or shout in exaltation at their triumphs. He merely read them, watched their woven tapestries, looking for the roads that led to ultimate triumph, where life and the Light battled back the dark and saved everything from annihilation. What mattered the minor events prized by most mortals—even his own draenei—measured against the awesome responsibility of ensuring the survival of creation?
Those visions, Velen? I completely understand. I hate being right all the time, too. This passage from this short story sums up the constant conflict that is Azeroth, the forces of good versus evil as we as cultures define them to be. 

Recently Lisa Poisso wrote a fascinating article reporting on an all-Draenei guild, one that built a complicated culture and planning based on Draenei lore. Nelua, the GM of the guild, best explains her interpretation of the draenei faith: I apologize for this long excerpt, but feel that Nelua says it far better than I: 
LP: But it's not all light-hearted fun. I understand you get players who want to interpret the concept of the Light through the lens of Christianity, bleeding into their attitudes and roleplay. How do you handle that?

Nerlua: That's a complicated question. I don't think the Light is meant to be an in-game representation of Christianity. I think it's an archetypal, non-personified force of good that appears in all cultures and faiths. I think that particularly in the structure of the human clergy there are some similarities, and I occasionally take from Christian liturgy when performing a religious function in-game. Because it sounds cool and it fits the tone.

But there's a line between IC actions and OOC beliefs, and I think it's important to keep those two things separate. The minute that line is crossed, things can become uncomfortable, and it's not fun anymore.

Kharanei actually has a great and accepting community, OOC. Many members in the past have described it as being more like a family or a circle of good friends than your standard guild, which is something we've worked to maintain. Some members are Christians, others are pagan/Wiccan, and some are atheists, but what's important is that we're drawn together by love of the game.

If the Light is comparable to anything we know of, I'd say it's more like the Force from Star Wars than anything. It's the energy that comes from life itself, surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. That power can be tapped by talented individuals and used to heal, as in priests, or to destroy, as used by paladins at war. Rather than being a godlike force with a will of its own, it's a power to be respected, and the religion around it is more like a Jedi code that guides its wielders toward using it responsibly. There have been organizations in-game like the Blood Knights or the Scarlet Crusade that have used the Holy Light for incredible cruelty and evil, much like the Force may be used by "the Dark Side" to further its purposes.

The only thing I am curious about is the "non personified" concept. It seems that the Light is personified in every being, constantly - from Velen, A'Dal, et al. It's all personified, and directly so. 

This concept of Velen and Light brings me back to Farseer Nobundo. A wielder of the Light, priest or paladin, is wielding the power of a force that fulfills; a shaman however uses the forces of nature, of elements specifically, as power. 

"Everything that is... is alive."
—The Wind's first words to Nobundo

Ultimately, what Nerlua said rings true: our own interpretation of our backgrounds and culture allow for creativity. Walk in the Light.


  1. That guild is an awesome rp concept. Religion, like everything, is open to interpretation and people get their knickers all twisted when all you want to do is to believe in a deity and act in a manner befitting such worship.

    1. I thought that post was incredible - the depth of creating a culture out of virtually nothing (literally and figuratively) spins me out. Talk about Tolkien-level thinking! I appreciate that the writers at Blizzard have taken this critical element of the classes/races/cultures and kept it mixed and vague so we players can bring our own interpretations with us.


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