What are the kinds of magic we see in the Warcraft setting?
Well, for starters, there's the magic performed by practitioners of the Holy Light, most priests and paladins. This magic comes from the same source as the power the naaru draw from and seems inherent in all living things. Then there's the somehow related shadow magics of shadow priests, which the naaru also tap into during their life cycle. Warlocks also seem capable of touching upon this shadowy magical energy, as do necromancers to varying degrees. This magic seems to derive from a clash of cosmic forces of light and darkness.
However, these are hardly the only forces of magic in the cosmos of the Warcraft setting. Mages tap into the magic that suffuses the material plane, which is generally known as arcane magic and which is the power the original Well of Eternity drew from the Great Dark Beyond. Arcane magic is the closest we get to morally neutral in the setting, but it does pretty much whatever the person using it can figure out a spell to make it do. This makes it incredibly seductive, and those who learn it often become obsessed with it. Its lure is so strong, in fact, that it even draws the attention of the demons of the Burning Legion. And the Legion is hardly without magic of its own.
The many forms of the arcane
The problem with arcane magic is, there are a lot of different kinds of it. Part of this is the fault of those who engage in it, as they tend to specialize in things that interest them. This, however, doesn't mean they don't draw from the same sources. A mage who is interested in the necromantic arts like Kel'Thuzad is still a mage and still uses arcane magic to power his spells. After his death and return as a lich? Still a mage, still draws upon the arcane.
Necromantic magics make this all more complicated because they seem to draw upon much the same shadowy power, as do those priests who use the shadow. We'll talk more about shadow priests, divine magic and the Cult of the Forgotten Shadow later. For now, it's enough to note that through the arcane arts mages like Kel'Thuzad and Naberius managed to command similar forces and eventually transform themselves into undead beings. (Naberius even did so without the help of the Lich King, who himself gained his powers from Kil'jaeden.) While the arcane seems to be able to either mimic or directly control shadowy power in much the same way that it can conjure up fire, water, or other forces, it does not at this time seem to be able to tap into the power of the Light.
Arcane magic seems to be somehow present throughout the entirety of the material plane, somehow channeled into the Well of Eternity from the fabric of the great dark beyond by the Titans themselves when those entities created the Well and Azeroth. Why they did this is unknown, and it's clear that races like the draenei managed to tap into arcane power without a Well to feed them power.
While discussing the arcane, one also needs to discuss fel. Fel magic seems in many ways to be a twisted and corrupted form of arcane magic, one directly related to the twisting nether and the Burning Legion. Whether the Legion invented or merely discovered it, fel magic seems inherently corrupting and is often used in purely destructive ways. While some practitioners of fel magics use both fel and shadow energies (and the two are often difficult to distinguish), in general, fel magics are more dramatic, more often associated with demons rather than void entities, and more often more blatantly destructive and flesh-twisting or ravaging than those of shadow.
Light and darkness are more than sources of magical power, of course. In the Warcraft cosmology, they comprise competing philosophies. The naaru embody this conflict, passing through shadow on the way to light and then moving back into shadow, from which light will ultimately return. This process is in part the means by which the renewed Sunwell has been restored. And it is in this conflict between opposites that what is often called divine magic is felt in the world.
Each race tends to understand the Light differently, although the humans and dwarves of the Order of the Silver Hand seem to hold mostly similar beliefs, and the Draenei Vindicators of the Hand of Argus work effectively alongside them. Blood elves for a time had a very negative view of the Light following the rampages of the Scourge through Quel'Thalas, but the sacrifice of M'uru to reignite the Sunwell has in part alleviated that situation.
The basic idea that all who make contact with the Light hold dear is that the self and the universe can work together in harmony, and when that harmony is achieved, the will of the Light and the will of the self are one. In essence, great personal willpower allows one to reach forth and grasp the will of the infinite and act in accordance with it. If one wishes to be personally happy, one must cultivate the happiness in others and make the change in the universe one would want in oneself.
It is this connection between the self and the cosmos and the intent of improving one's own state by working to improve the universe, to cultivate the good within by acting with good intent without, that seems to power the Light. Not a god as such, it provides power nonetheless to its supplicants.
The three virtues
Human followers of the Light have a core of three virtues that they hold dear: respect (essentially an understanding of the interconnected nature of the self and the universe entire, and thus all things in it), tenacity (the determination and doggedness it takes to overcome the resistance you will encounter as you attempt to make things better), and compassion (learning how to lead others to an understanding of the connection between the self and the cosmos and helping them achieve it). While these tenets are unique to the Church of the Holy Light, the basic ideas behind them are part and parcel of the philosophy of any who touch the Light's power.
As for the shadow, the darkness, it is not simply the antithesis of the Light. As we see by watching the naaru's life cycle, the two coexist and define one another. One must not mistake the Darkness Velen speaks of for the shadow, for the fall and rise of M'uru points to the deeper truth that the true enemy is selfishness that seeks to corrupt or destroy what it cannot possess. And so we come to the Cult of the Forgotten Shadow, an organization among the Forsaken that in many ways is the shadow cast by the Holy Light's presence among them when they were alive.
The power the Cult taps into appears to be much akin to the void energies of those naaru on the shadow cycle and other entities like voidcallers. The Cult of the Forgotten Shadow is basically an organization that allows the Forsaken to deal with their feelings of betrayal and separation from the Light (we've been told that being healed by the power of the Light is excruciating for the undead, searing away their damaged flesh) and replacing the three virtues of the Church of the Holy Light with related ones dealing with the Cult's new emphasis. Where the Holy Light emphasizes the interconnectedness of the self and the universe, the Forgotten Shadow emphasizes the universe's connection with the self and how the universe is essentially an aggregate of all other beings and their own wills, their own selves.
One must respect these other wills trying to drive the universe to their own goals. Even as one strives to make one's own will manifest, one must be tenacious and strive to persevere in this contest of wills between the self and everyone else. One must strive for personal growth and personal empowerment in order to better be able to manipulate the destiny of the self and the universe. As the naaru say, without the void, there can be no light.
Next week, we look at other forms of magic. Where does the power of the druids come into this? How do shaman entreat the elements?
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
- The Sources of Magic, part 1
- The Warcraft Cosmos, Part 1: The Material Plane
- Multi-dimensionality -- The Warcraft cosmos, part 2
- Tinfoil Hat Edition: Silence of the Titans
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.