Posts tagged ‘wow the Old Gods’

Worlds in Cataclysm

January 17th, 2011


With the release of the third WOW expansion pack Cataclysm, Azeroth faces once again the wrath and malicious machinations of the Old Gods first through the Elemental Invasion precipitated by their Twilight Hammer dupes and servants and then again through the destructive power of the corrupted Dragon Aspect Deathwing (Neltharion) and the scheming of the Naga (transformed Highborne elves) and the ubiquitous Twilight Hammer.  The battle to save Azeroth from fate similar to Draenor now confronts its heroes – in fire scarred regions of Mount Hyjal (where Ragnaros rises anew), in the underwater world of Vashj’ir (where Naga conspire to destroy the Tidehunter Neptulon), in the deep elemental realm of Deepholm beneath the Maelstrom (where Deathwing’s rapid exit from his former hiding place has shattered the earth’s pillar) , the sandy wastes of ancient Uldum, on the high peaks of the Twilight Plateau and the battlefields of Tol Barad.

Global catastrophe and cataclysm is not a new thing in the lore and history of Azeroth.  Since its beginning Azeroth has been subject to a number of potential world destroying calamities. According to the lore, the newly formed Azeroth was initially shaped by the powerful Eternals or Titans who brought symmetry, order and structure to the world.  They build great cities and machines and constructed earthen, stone and mechanical servants to bring about their purposes.  Eventually, the “makers” or “creators” moved on to fashion other worlds, leaving Azeroth in charge of the Titanic Watchers and Keepers (like Thorim, Sif, Loken, Freya etc) and the Dragon Aspects (Neltharion, Malygos, Alexstrasza, Nozdormu, Ysera).  After the creators left, Azeroth was invaded by the powerful chaotic “Old Gods” (though older strands of the lore suggest they were present when the Titans first arrived in Azeroth).  These malevolent beings tore Azeroth apart, creating chaos and co-opting the indigenous elemental Lords of fire, wind, earth, and water to further their destructive will. Due to the influence of the Old Gods or “Whisperers”, “the curse of flesh” began to change the creations of the Titans.  The earthen and stone beings “devolved” into the dwarves and troggs while the mechanical became gnomes.  (The origin of the other indigenous Azerothian races is more mysterious though humans probably “devolved” from the vrkyl and night elves and trolls may be related).  The powerful and malicious Old Gods were subdued with the return of the Titans.  The creators realized that the only way to eradicate this “curse” and the maleficent Old Gods was to destroy all that they had made so they allowed the new races to remain and imprisoned the Old Gods beneath the surface of Azeroth where their power was curtailed but their influence continued to corrupt the unwary.  Meanwhile the Titans left Azeroth once again to continue their mission of shaping and ordering worlds and defeating the chaotic demonic powers of the Twisting Nether.

In more recent times, Azeroth has once again been subject to massive invasions and catastrophe.  In the War of the Ancients over ten thousand years before the present time, the almost overwhelming invasion of the fallen Titan Sageras’ innumerable demonic forces (the Burning Legion) swept into Kalimdor through the portal within the Eternity Well created by the deluded Highborne elves. When the Eternity Well imploded as Sageras himself tried to enter, most of the single ancient continent of Kalimdor sunk beneath the waves in the catastrophic Great Sundering leaving behind the swirling Maelstrom and the present day continents and islands surrounding it.  The threat of the Burning Legion seemed averted until, some nine thousand years later, mad Medivh (under Sageras’ control) opened of the Dark Portal to allow the savage, demon-corrupted Orcs to overrun and threaten the kingdoms of humans, dwarves, gnomes and elves until eventually repulsed in the First and Second Wars.  Kil’Jaeden, now the leader of the Burning Legion, once again attempted to subdue Azeroth through the seemingly unstoppable undead Scourge plague controlled by the Lich King and through demonic forces lead by Archimonde.  While Archmonde and the Burning Legion was defeated, the Lich King remained as a threat and unleashed the Zombie plague on the peoples of Azeroth before finally being defeated by an uneasy coalition between Horde, Alliance and the Knights of the Ebon Blade. As a result of the coming of the Burning Legion, the creation of the Dark Portal and of the Lich King, the fates of Azeroth and the shattered remnant planet of Draenor (Outlands) have become intrinsically linked

World shattering and life destroying catastrophes are not new phenomena in the fantasy genre (for example think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the shattering of Arda in the Silmarillion, David Edding’s Belgariad series, Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series, Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Ann MaCaffery’s Dragons of Pern series or Emily Rhodda’s Deltora series to name a few).  Such epic narratives, more often than not, draw on the myths, legends and stories of catastrophe and titanic conflict in our own world’s traditions.  This borrowing is clearly evident in Azerothian lore – with names, functions and events drawn from ancient Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Hindu traditions among others.

Many cultures’ origin narratives start with the gods bringing order and symmetry out of the initial chaos (e.g. Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, Norse) followed by stories of a “fall” from a Golden Age of beauty, harmony and prosperity which is lost due to the overweening human pride and/or breaking of a divine prohibition or boundary with subsequent world destroying cataclysms. The ancient Greeks told of an overwhelming flood as well as the sinking of the land of Atlantis beneath the waves.  Greek, Hindus and Mayans retold stories of periodic catastrophes in which the world was destroyed and made anew.  In fact, stories of a cataclysmic flood from which just a handful of people survived are found among virtually all peoples and cultures of the earth.  The Hebrew tradition also narrated the creation of an ordered, perfect world, forever altered by angelic and human rebellion, a cataclysmic flood and foretells a fiery end to the present cosmos.  It differs from virtually all other traditions in positing an eternal, infinite, creator, who instead of imposing order on pre-existent chaotic forces, creates the ordered cosmos de novo by the power of his Word alone.  Thus, the Hebrews (and their Jewish and Christian inheritors) insist that God is the powerful spiritual reality outside of and unconfined by the material universe of time, space, matter and energy.  Unlike the Hindus, they saw this ultimate spiritual reality as personal with a keen, caring and enduring interest in humanity.  They also saw the physical universe (the heavens and the earth) as real and indeed good though a secondary, dependent and transient existence marred by the willful disorder of angelic and human agents. In other words, God created a good world for humans to care for and enjoy even though it has since been marred and life on earth is now difficult, dangerous and relatively short.  However, the journey doesn’t end there – and what we do here in this world determines what happens to us on a much greater undying adventure.

It was this Jewish-Christian tradition that has predominantly shaped Western civilization and it has been the prevalent world view in the West until recent times.  In the eighteenth century however, these ideas and beliefs were challenged and new narratives developed to explain the origins and nature of the world.   At the heart of this challenge was the increasing insistence that God should be excluded from explanations about the world (naturalism) and assertion that “the present is the key to the past” (the principle of uniformitarianism).  After the dust had settled between uniformitarian and catastrophic geologists, it became de rigueur that the earth’s crust had been formed slowly over long periods of time and all claims of catastrophic processes was ruled out of the court (of science).  The picture was of a stable, slowly changing, extremely ancient earth in which “catastrophes” occurred only in a small and local way (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, the slow encroaching glaciers of the ice-age).  In recent decades, this comforting picture is under increasing threat as evidence long disregarded or dismissed, has become too convincing to ignore any longer.  Now ideas that were considered laughable a few decades ago  -  Continental Drift and plate tectonics; frequent and massive meteor strikes that have lead to mass extinctions; super-volcanoes; massive floods which can transform and scar a immense area (e.g. the Channelled Scablands) literally in hours; and rapid climate change (e.g. Global Warming) – are accepted by the majority of scientists.  Moreover, the potential for global catastrophe of human making (climate change, thermonuclear winter etc) is being increasingly accepted.  It seems that the earth does in fact have a more violent, catastrophic past with more rapid changes than previously admitted.

Of course, none of this equates to the mythic neo-pagan and fictional world of Azeroth where Titanic figures stride across the landscape, portals to other places and worlds are regularly made and “demonic”, elementals and ghostly forces are substantial enough to destroy with swords, guns and poisons as well as more arcane attacks.

It begs the question – what is the true history of our world and how does it impact on how we live our lives.  How did our world come into existence?  What is its nature and purpose and what will be its end?  Where do we humans fit in?  What are we here for? Is this world, this physical reality the product of eons of random occurrences and is all there is as claimed by secular materialists; or is it unreal, merely an illusion and distraction from an impersonal spiritual reality (as many Eastern sages have claimed)? Or just maybe it is the real creation of a loving, all-powerful, all-wise, infinite and eternal God who has not abandoned it to its own devices as he goes about more urgent business (as the deists thought), but who remains involved in this world and its people to extent of being incarnated among them and who continues to work towards it ultimate liberation? For in the end, the kind of world we live in and its ultimate fate makes a decisive difference to who we are, how we should live our lives and which way we should take through life’s journey.


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