Posted by: Sean | October 9, 2008

Theme Week Dwarves: On the religions of the earthen.

When we began the whole racial theme week idea, both Jess and I admitted we were sort of confused when it came to the dwarves. What on Earth could we say anyway? They’re short, angry Scottish soccer hooligans with great facial hair, what more did you want? I had one idea, however, and I was raring to get into it: The idea of the dwarves as a society in the grip of a religious mania. The notion here was to look at the way an entire society basically shifts religion from the Light to the Mysteries of the Titans – Such a shift would actually be pretty disturbing and socially disruptive, I thought, and out of that comes dramatic tension, ergo role-playing. Role-playing really is dramatic tension, after all. Even comedy basically relies on dramatic tension; you can’t laugh if there’s not a dichotomy of what would normally happen with what does. There was only one hitch with my great idea for an article.

It’s, erm, not actually happening.

Sigh, it’s true. Look it up on WoWWiki – The World of Warcraft RPG (which, by the way, I’ll be reviewing for Friday or thereabouts most likely) makes it extremely clear that while the dwarves are becoming increasingly interested in their Titanic origins, none of them have yet started worshipping them as gods. Which means I’ve got to back to the bloody Holy Light, and could I be less interested in that? Answer: No.

Back when Alex Ziebart reviewed all the major religions of Azeroth for WoW Insider (still a fantastic bit of writing, by the by), one of the comments was surprisingly illuminating, because the commentator noted that if the Holy Light were a real religion, he’d want to sign up for it. And hell, I can see where he’s coming from. The Holy Light comes across like a great religion. Another person there noted that this is often the case with fictional religions; being formed from the modern day they’re free to play off modern virtues. I’m sure Judaism was fantastic back in the days when open tribalism and authoritarianism was considered sexy, but in today’s modern world Christians have to look at stories about she-bears mauling dozens of kids and come up with clever theological excuses as to why that sort of thing is in the bible at all, let alone with a vaguely disturbing approving tone.

So let’s quickly run over this one more time. The Holy Light is basically the official religion of the Alliance, with followers amongst every major race therein (apart from those heathen night elves who actually worship a deity, something practically unheard of in Azeroth) and the strongest followings amongst the humans, dwarves and draenei. Followers worship not a god per se but rather an abstract force, the Holy Light. The Holy Light is a sort of energy field, it surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the universe together; and lives in our blood stream as midichlorians. OK, OK, not exactly, but still, just think of the Force and you’ll have the rough idea. It teaches three holy virtues: Compassion, Tenacity and Respect. In addition to this, it furthermore teaches two great sins: Neglecting the world and neglecting the self. Someone who lead a life of unabashed debauchery would be neglecting the world; they forget that there are wrongs out there that need righting and you can’t just live for yourself. On the flipside, a chaste, tee-totaling nun who gives all her money to charity would be promptly handed a box of condoms, a six pack, twenty bucks, a taxi-cab reservation and a warning to look out for paparazzi because spending all that time devoted to other people tends to leave the self a wee bit neglected. Balance is the key, the Holy Light teaches.

Now, as a real world religion, again, that would be absolutely primo, a real step up from a lot of the religious doctrines out there right now. It acknowledges the basic balance of all things, it stresses connectedness and charity while not making you feel guilty for enjoying a steak dinner and it doesn’t have a bizarre obsession with the evils of sodomy. If it really existed it might even be just the ticket to getting this bitter old atheist to sign right up.

But as a fictional construct? Abstracted representation of a holistic energy, it’s boring. I mean really boring. You could break it down into little pieces, sell it to pharmacies as a sleeping aid and it would have to go on prescription.

I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; if you’re going to do religion, pay attention to all its complexities and sociological difficulties – There’s not really that much difference between the terrorist and the charity worker; both are actually working on the same principles. The best fictional religion I’ve ever seen is the barely disguised Mormonism of Dogs in the Vineyard, which has innumerable actual flaws, perceived flaws due to our modern perspective, and yet can be the spark for endless good and altruism. This is how to do the thing.

By contrast, the Holy Light is pretty much perfect when it comes to capturing all the bastards and making it clear that being a bastard is actually against the terms of the religion. Angry bastard who wants to murder the non-human races? Wait, that looks like the ‘respect’ and ‘compassion’ virtues calling. Dangerously devout monk/nun? Wait, that’s the sin of neglecting the self! I guess there’s not actually anything in there against self-flagellation, but even so, the Holy Light is really well constructed to prescribe what is on the whole a pretty good life. And where’s the dramatic tension in that?

Now, let’s switch tactics and look at the Mysteries of the Titans. This is the name of a small sect growing amongst the dwarvish people. They’re basically a group of archaeologists, explorers and historians who have latched onto the unbelievably cool notion that the dwarves (and maybe the gnomes too) are the direct decedents of godlike beings called Titans, who crafted the world personally and were made from stone. As such, they’re digging up an old dwarvish settlement (which if I have it right is currently within horde lands) and searching like crazy for evidence, and better yet, they’re finding it. As such, they’re advocating heavily for the entire dwarvish people, that is every clan, to all come together and live there in their ancestral homeland. While they’re not yet worshiping the Titans as gods yet, one can hope.

So let’s recap: An ancient and presumably conservative dwarvish religion is being founded and its leaders are agitating for the dwarves to all join together, including clans who are bitterly opposed to the Alliance, to essentially form a mass pilgrimage to form a dwarvish Israel right on the Horde’s doorstep, where a group of archaeologists are digging deep into the ground where god only knows what sort of Lovecraftian horrors might exist.

Absolutely freaking brilliant, says I.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do a damn religion. It is inspiring, horrifying and badly misguided all at once. Dramatic tension oozes from every pore of the concept. We can only hope that Blizzard picks up this ball and runs with it like a wide receivers looking at an open field where the defenders have been nailed to the pitch and a conveyer belt has been put down to speed him along to the scoring zone because this is one of the sexiest plots in Warcraft, and I really hope it gets more airplay.

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Responses

  1. When it comes to the dwarves, faith in anything has been quite new to them when compared to other races. For it was only 2,500+ years ago that the earthen of Uldaman awoke, to find themselves changed and what we consider present day dwarves. Venturing outward, they named their land Khaz Modan, in honor of the Titan shaper, Khaz’goroth then created a great forge and the city that grew around it, would be known as Ironforge. And while underneath their mountain kingdom, unware of the outside world they would delve deep into the earth, mining and smithing their little hearts out, forgetting about their past more & more as time went on.

    Now 1,300 years later, humans would discover them and give them their names. And so dubbed dwarves, and friends of these taller folk, much was shared. For dwarves, they shared their knowledge of smithing & engineering. And for humans, they surely shared their faith in the Light and their knowledge of the arcane. So as a result, the next 930 years must of been very interesting and to say curiosity had been spurred in the dwarven people would be a grave understatement.

    So finally, taking their proverbial heads out of the sand and seeing the world around them, they soon discovered that treasures not only lied deep below the surface but everywhere around them. And with the humans guidance, some would take the path of the Light, some would dabble in arcane magic, while others would dabble in the newly discovered world around them. To which the ramifications of these new discoveries would be seen in the Ironforge clan splitting into 3 factions eventually. With the Bronzebeard clan, who stuck mostly to the older ways and the Light. The Wildhammer clan who explored what nature had to offer. And the Dark Iron clan, who delved into sorcery & the arcane.

    But of course, this divide eventually culminated in the War of the Three Hammers (not even 300 years ago). With the Bronzebeard clan being victorious and the other two clans being exiled at first. However, when the Dark Iron clan struck back at both of them later on, the Bronzebeard & Wildhammer clans would unite and crush them. And when the dust settled, the Wildhammer clan move to Aerie Peak where their bond with nature grew even stronger to the point of them worshiping it and following a shamanistic/druidic path in life where as the Dark Iron clan would come to worship the now freed Ragnaros, delving even deeper into the dark arts.

    And this is when things get a bit hazy for at some point before the Second War, the dwarves discovered Uldaman, unleashing the troggs onto the world. And eventually with further excavation, lead to the Discs of Norgannon being discovered and through them, the origin of both the troggs and the dwarves would be realized. Unfortunately for the dwarves, the discs did not say who created the earthen, to which both the troggs & they came from.

    However with this new found knowledge, dwarves began to delve deeper into their history, searching for any sign of their ancestors or their creators. And with this knowledge, also came power. For soon, they would unlock the ability to turn their flesh to stone for limited periods of time, and for those who went deeper would become what is known as Dwarven Avatars as evident by Muradin Bronzebeard exhibiting such abilities after being discovered by the frost dwarves before the Second War ended.

    But it wasn’t until after the Third War, that things become more clearer. As with the discovery of Kalimdor and the scattered ruins strung throughout the wilds, allowed the dwarves to piece together, just who created them. And coming to the conclusion that their creators were the titans, King Magni Bronzebeard established the Explorers’ Guild which primary task was to search for more information on their origin by finding as much, if any Titan relics that remained in the world. And in less than a decade, they have found much including indications of another great titan city called Uldum, which is suppose to lie deep within the rocky expanse of Bael Modan. As well as the discovery of Uldaur, another titan city in Northrend.

    So with tales brought back by the members of the Guild of their discoveries and the newly completed Guildhall, displaying their titan artifacts for all to see in a museum, would have a most profound effect on the dwarven people to say the least. So, now children who once sought to wield a blunderbuss or pilot a gyrocopter, now dream of exploring the lands to discover more of where they came from & what power lied within them. And with recent discoveries by Brann Bronzebeard & the Guild in Northrend, the spark that ignited in the minds of dwarves only decades ago, will only thrive and grow larger as more information is to be found, particularly in the yet undiscovered Uldum.
    ……………………………………..

    Now with all that, I would say playing a dwarf be mighty fun from the beliefs angle. You have the Light worshipers, the nature worshipers akin to the Tauren or Night Elves in their beliefs, those who worship Ragnaros and those who now are beginning to believe in the titans as being their makers. And with the power wielded by Dwarven Avatars, Mountain Kings and the Sisters of Steel, I would say selling the belief in the titans and the desire to learn more of how they came to be, would not be a hard sell at all. For the dwarves could possibly reach a near god-like status, if they were ever to discover their true potential. I mean, just imagine armies of Dwarven Avatars. With such a force of power, even the Burning Legion might re-think invading Azeroth once again.

    And mind you, this doesn’t even count those frost and iron dwarves recently discovered in Northrend, who could believe & do who knows what. As well as what possible variations of dwarves may be found when Uldum is discovered, such as sand dwarves for example. Because at this point, anything is possible for the stout & proud race.

  2. Man, there’s some serious level of research there, dude.

    I don’t know. I wouldn’t say faith to the dwarves is “new”, it’s been around for probably about 1,300 years at a minimum assuming the Holy Light is their first religion, and I think it’s more likely that they probably had their own religions before that. (Unless religion is peculiar to humans, which it doesn’t seem to be.) Even if it was, 1,300 years is still a long time for a religion to be ingrained in a society, and looking at it in percentage terms, I don’t think you can say they’re any less ‘old religion’ than any other race. The main thing is that they’re a younger race than, say, the elves or tauren.

  3. Yes, lots of research. It took quite a few articles over at WoW Wiki to surmise what I did. I hope one day to make a great resource for lore for WoW, where everything is given as detailed and thorough as possible and not just something small & simplified as per to wiki standards for places like WoW Wiki though without them, I could not of pieced that together of course.

    I do hope you enjoyed it, I know after doing all the research, I learned lots of things, like how the dwarves came about from the second earthen created by the titans, where as the troggs were a result of the first earthen and the Curse of Flesh inflicted on them by the Old Gods.

    As for faith being new. Well, as I said, based on the perspective of other races, it is quite new to them, especially considering how for instance both the Wildhammer and Dark Iron clans really only began to delve in what they believe upon their exile which was less than 300 years ago which is about two average life times for dwarves. And that be equivalent to say Mormonism for us.

    And when it comes to them having some sort of religion before the humans came along. From what I could see, the only religion they may of had was based around the Titans, as they clearly remembered some, if not all about their origin & creators based on naming the region after Khaz’goroth. But as Brann Bronzebeard said(check out the earthen article), such knowledge was soon forgotten and his people, just went back to mining and smelting. So it seems to me, the dwarves are coming full circle religiously speaking as they started out worshiping the Titans in some manor(most likely), then learned about the Holy Light and other stuff from humans & others races and now they are back to the titans with presumably, their current faiths in other things waning.

    But either way, I really think when it comes to them, religion is quite a fun thing to play with. I mean there is just so much we can dabble with, if we feel so inclined. And I know I personally can’t wait to see what the discovery of Uldum presents us because not only will we get more info on them, if not the finality of their origin tale but we could also get frickin sand dwarves or something lol.


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