A Brief Introduction
The Warcraft games are famous for having some of the richest, most immersive lore you’ll find anywhere, and though they may have gone from strategy to MMO, they’ve maintained their distinction as the Kings of Storyline into World of Warcraft. Some may wonder how exactly the ultra-talented developers in charge of creating these details of Azeroth come up with so many ideas. For the answer, all one has to do is look at the real world around them.
Many aspects of the Warcraft games’ overarching storyline are strikingly similar, if not identical, to actual historical happenings, cultures, and locations around our very own Earth. As a writer who’s dedicated the past couple of years to working her way towards a creative career in the game industry, I’ve found the innumerable value of a solid background in history and world mythology while building my own worlds. The designers and story developers at Blizzard, it would seem, feel the same.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be providing the community with a look Behind the Lore, using knowledge derived from years of researching our own world and eight years of dedicated exploration of Azeroth to point out instances where reality and fantasy match up. A few similarities may be pure coincidence, while others may be intentional, but it’s undeniable that they are there, just waiting for somebody to discover the exciting link between them.
While I have made every effort to ensure accuracy by using the most reliable research materials available to me, please remember that mistakes do happen, even to the most seasoned scholars!
Behind the Lore: Tauren
Perhaps one of the most obvious connections is between the Tauren race and general Native American culture — I specify general because the United States alone is home to myriad tribes, all with different languages, folklore, and customs. Tauren characters are of a bovine nature bearing a resemblance to domesticated cows or oxen, but their ancestors, the Taunka, appear closer to buffalo, a staple of life for Native American tribes of the Great Plains.
The vast majority of Tauren settlements are more like temporary camps than permanent cities, keeping in line with the nomadic nature of many Native American cultures. The architectural style of the buildings found within these small villages alternates between sharing similarities in concept to longhouses built by the Iroquois and indigenous tribes of the coastal Pacific Northwest and to the tepees stereotypically associated with Native American culture that are, in fact, usually only built by tribes from the Great Plains.
Between buildings, players may also stumble across totem poles, which is another point for the tribes of the Pacific Northwest — though other cultures in Asia and New Zealand constructed similar carvings, the totem poles wrongfully thought to be a staple of all Native American tribal customs would be extremely rare finds outside of this area, Canada, or Alaska, at least where authenticity is concerned. The specific style of totem carved by the Tauren race appears to be an amalgamation of art from many of these indigenous peoples.
Bovine-horned totems are also utilized by Tauren shaman, and while this class is not unique to the Tauren race, it is still worth mentioning that while shamanism is considered an “Earth religion” similar to that followed by many real world tribes, its origins are not Native American. Shamans first appeared in Turkey, Mongolia, and Siberia — a world away from American lands. The stereotypical link between shamanism and Native American culture is viewed by many modern-day tribal members as offensive. Thankfully, several other Warcraft races with no ties to Native American culture are also able to choose the shaman class, and shamans themselves are presented as nonspecifically spiritual rather than trying to establish that link.
Another common race/class combination within World of Warcraft tends to be that of a Tauren hunter, which matches up perfectly with Native American history and folklore. Tribal myths centered around legendary hunters were extremely common, many of them portrayed as having contact with various deities or possessing supernatural abilities. The Tauren Great Hunt ritual could be derived from the Cottonwood Panel, an ancient Native American petroglyph found in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon, which depicts a massive hunt event.
Many NPC names in the Tauren areas are corruptions or direct copies of the names of actual Native American tribes. For example:
- Arikara, the elite wind serpent found in the Tauren-centric Thousand Needles zone, shares his name with a tribe from North Dakota.
- The name of the Lakota, a tribe from the Great Plains, is used as the basis for several NPC names, specifically Lakota Windsong of Thousand Needles, a Cenarion Expedition representative named Lakotae in The Bone Wastes, and a quest mob from The Barrens named Lakota’mani.
- Washte Pawne, another quest mob from The Barrens (who has since been removed from the game), probably got his surname from the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.
Some Tauren NPCs are designated as “Brave” or “Chieftain,” which do have foundations in Native American culture, but the “Crone” title bestowed upon female elders is, in this context, a modern creation. Though the Crone as an old wise woman does appear in Anglo-Saxon, Slavic, and Norse mythology, she does not appear in any authentic tribal lore, at least not by this name. Many neo-pagans have adopted her into their own beliefs as an archetype for wisdom and maturity, but her attribution to Native American mythology is inaccurate and likely sprung up as a misunderstanding of the differences between nature-based religions, similar to the case of shamanism.
Tauren mythology, however, deviates from the race’s typical influences, at least with regards to the folktales told by various scrolls and books within World of Warcraft:
- The Mists of Dawn is a creation myth and speaks of an Earthmother spirit creating the sun and moon from her own eyes, closing one or the other in order to bring night and day to the world. She moves her hand across the plains and, from the shadow of her arm, brings the first Tauren from the soil. The concept of sentient beings rising from the Earth is found in folklore of the Blackfoot tribe, but is also featured prominently in legends from around the world, including the Chinese goddess Nuwa, who created mankind out of yellow clay, and the Christian bible, which states that Adam, the first man, was formed from soil. Translations of ancient Egyptian myths have the god Ra boasting “I created every living thing that moves upon the dry land and in the sea depths. When I open my eyes there is light; when I close them there is thick darkness.” The Hopi tribe of the American Southwest and descendants of the Incas in Peru (don’t forget, South American tribes are still considered indigenous Americans!) recognize an Earth Mother deity, although they appear to be the only groups who do.
- In The Sorrow of the Earthmother, the newly-created Tauren race falls victim to the corruption of shadows that teach them to wage war and be deceitful. Grief-stricken, she tears out her eyes, much as the Egyptian deity Atum tore out his eye when his creations, the god Shu and goddess Tefnut, are lost in chaos — in Atum’s case, however, he used the eye to seek them out and rescue them.
- The White Stag and the Moon explains how the Tauren learned to hunt. The relationship between the white stag spirit Apa’ro and hunting is reminiscent of the Greek goddess Artemis, patron of the hunt, who is frequently associated with a silver stag and the moon, although the actual story itself does not appear to have any clear similarities to myths of any culture.
- Hatred of the Centaur explains the deviation of the Tauren race from their traditional ways. After the centaur invade their lands, newer generations forget most of the lessons that Cenarius taught them about living with the land, but maintain their respect for the natural world around them. From a historical rather than mythological standpoint, this does sound eerily similar to the “civilization” of Native Americans brought by white missionaries that removed them from their culture and sent to metropolitan schools and forced them to assimilate in dress, language, and customs. Many traditions have undoubtedly been lost in this manner, but some still remain and are kept alive by modern generations.
Be sure to check back next week for a new installment of Honorary Lorewalker Bunny’s Behind the Lore to see a whole new side of your favorite Warcraft races, quests, and locations!