The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
We had warning that this was coming. When Ragefire Chasm was given an overhaul in Mists of Pandaria, the changes didn't escape the notice of players -- but nobody really knew the extent of what was going on. Remnants of the Twilight Cult from Cataclysm could be found in the depths of Ragefire, carrying insignias that noted they were part of a new order -- not Twilight Cult, but something quite possibly far darker, called the Dark Shaman.
These shaman were highlighted briefly in the novel Tides of War, as part of Garrosh's assault forces on Northwatch Hold. While the question of how they came to be seems to be fairly self-explanatory, there's a little more to the story than previously thought. It stretches all the way back to the days of Wrath of the Lich King, and the discovery of a different, new, hardy race of warriors and shaman that were far more used to doing what was necessary to survive, than what may or may not have been right.
Shaman and the elements
But first, let's go back just a little farther and look at shaman as a whole. While some races may have been practicing shamanism far longer than others, the essential core of what a shaman is hasn't really changed that much over the centuries. Shaman by and large act as a kind of spiritual leader, promoting the harmony and balance of the elements. Left to their own devices, elements tend to gravitate towards a chaotic state -- it's simply in their nature. A shaman typically feels a deep spiritual connection to the elements that make up the world, and the spirits of the dead themselves.
But the elements are a tricky thing. Shaman treat them with reverence, acting as a moderating force between the chaos and encouraging that balance -- but the elements don't always listen to these requests. Shaman don't harness the power of nature in the way that druids do -- instead, they ask the elements for their aid and are either answered, or denied, depending on the whim of the elements. Shamanism was practiced extensively by the orcs of Draenor long before the First War, but the influence of the Burning Legion on the orcish race offended the elements, and they simply turned away. It wasn't until much later with the rise of Thrall after the Second War that shamanism made a comeback to the orcish race.
But here's where we get a little tricky. For most shaman, the idea of balance and harmony is more than enough to keep them practicing shamanism. In Wrath of the Lich King, Garrosh Hellscream and the Horde discovered an off-shoot race of the tauren called the taunka, who had been living in Northrend for countless years. The taunka were powerful warriors and shaman in their own right, but they had to adapt to the harsh realities of living in Northrend. Taunka shaman do not ask the elements for their assistance -- they demand it, taking it by force.
Commend vs. control
This may be where Garrosh Hellscream first witnessed the power that a shaman could wield in full force. While Thrall is a powerful shaman -- perhaps one of the most powerful on Azeroth -- he is still playing to the whim of the elements, and if the elements decide not to answer Thrall's call, he's just as powerless as anyone else. The taunka, on the other hand, demonstrated what could be done if one simply demanded and forced, rather than asking and waiting for an answer. Garrosh was impressed with the taunka -- it's part of the reason he allowed them to join the Horde in their Northrend campaign. They represented a strength and a ferocity that many of the other Horde races seemed to lack, and made valuable allies.
In Cataclysm, the Twilight Cult rose to heights previously unseen. Keep in mind, the Twilight Cult may have appeared to be working for Deathwing, the Old Gods, Ragnaros -- but that really wasn't the case at all. What the Twilight Cult was focused on was sowing chaos, with the intent of bringing about Armageddon. They weren't exactly the most sane group of people on Azeroth. But their focus -- chaos -- tied in wonderfully with what the elements and the Old Gods were all about. They were fine with helping the Old Gods and the Elemental Lords, because the Old Gods were pretty intent on bringing about exactly what the Twilight Cult wanted -- the eradication of existence.
While Cataclysm's story was convoluted at times, one thing was incredibly clear -- Ragnaros and Al'Akir both signed back on to the army of the Old Gods. Al'Akir may have been largely silent in Uldum, but Ragnaros quickly became a force to be reckoned with. He allied with the Twilight Cult, and he created a new order of druids -- the Druids of the Flame -- giving them the ability to manipulate and use the elemental force of fire to their whim. What few realize is that this was not the first time he'd gifted someone with the ability to perform this task.
Shotoa and the Earthen Ring
The manga Warcraft: Shaman holds an interesting tale. Roughly two hundred and fifty years ago, the War of the Three Hammers raged in the Eastern Kingdoms, and Sorcerer-Thane Thaurissan summoned the Elemental Lord Ragnaros, unleashing his fury on Azeroth. Ragnaros later haunted the depths of the Molten Core, but his release was felt by tauren shaman all the way in Kalimdor, long before any of the races in the Eastern Kingdoms sought out the continent. One of these shaman, Shotoa, argued the wisdom of asking the elements for their aid, particularly since their unrest meant they were unwilling to answer the call -- but Oreg Earthfury discouraged the notion. When Shotoa's apprentice was trapped as a result of the tumultuous elements, Shotoa sought to save him, but was swallowed by the earth, presumed dead.
Fast forward to the days of the Cataclysm. Oreg's great-grandson, Muln, now led the shaman organization known as the Earthen Ring, and continued his ancestors' teachings. But the elemental unrest was a cause of great concern -- and even more so, the mysterious re-appearance of the shaman Shotoa, who claimed to have spent the years underground communing with and eventually harnessing the spirits of the elements. He did not ask for the aid of the elements -- he demanded it, using them in a way that had been frowned upon for generations. By demonstrating his power, Shotoa soon had many members of the Earthen Ring interested in learning his secrets.
If Shotoa had had his way, the Earthen Ring would have collapsed altogether -- but not for the reasons most would assume. In reality, when Shotoa was swallowed by the earth and imprisoned underground, his body was consumed and fed by the energies of the Firelord. This resulted in a shaman that was possessed by the element of fire, able to bend and manipulate flame to his will. Shotoa was defeated, and the Earthen Ring rose once more to heal the world after the disastrous cataclysm -- and Ragnaros created the Druids of the Flame instead.
In between all of these tales of elemental control vs. reverence, we can begin to pick out where the dark shaman eventually came from. In Ragefire Chasm, these remnants of the Twilight Cult are summoning beasts from the Firelands -- Ragnaros' former domain -- and enslaving them for their own purposes. In addition, they're experimenting with elemental ascension, using the energies from the Firelands to create shaman that act as living conduits for energies pulled from the Firelands -- eerily similar to what happened to Shotoa.
The Twilight Cult no longer had Ragnaros to follow as a means of sowing chaos. The Old Gods were quiet, no longer whispering their dark, mad secrets, and the leader of the Twilight Cult, Cho'gall, was dead. But chaos and destruction was not an absent force on Azeroth -- far from it. In fact, Warchief Garrosh Hellscream seemed to be particularly devoted to the idea of claiming the entire continent of Kalimdor for the Horde ... a bloody task that would likely result in thousands of dead, perhaps more. And the Twilight Cult was all about the destruction of life.
Many assumed that the Dark Shaman of Ragefire Chasm were traitors, but there's another twist to this tale, a subtle one. In the days of vanilla, the Blackrock Clan of orcs worked hand in hand with the black dragon Nefarian. When Nefarian was killed and Deathwing ultimately made his return, the Blackrock allied with Deathwing in his stead, becoming allies with the Twilight's Hammer clan -- the Twilight Cult. See where this is all folding together?
Warchief Garrosh Hellscream granted the Blackrock orcs amnesty and brought them into the Horde in Mists of Pandaria, making many of them members of the Kor'kron -- even appointing one of them, Malkorok, as leader of the Kor'kron. Why? Because these orcs were incredibly powerful, and represented one of the last bastions of the Old Horde -- the powerful Horde that sought to conquer Azeroth. The Blackrock were allied with the Twilight Cult in Cataclysm, and thus presumably aware of the potential power the Cult could wield, telling Garrosh about it.
And Garrosh listened. Because if there is one thing Warchief Hellscream craves, it is power and domination. He witnessed the shaman of the taunka and their ability to demand obedience from the elements in Northrend, so he knew it was possible. To Garrosh, control is everything -- and the Dark Shaman represent one of the greatest aspects of control. They don't control people, they control the powers of the elements themselves, in a way that can be used as an incredibly effective weapon.
The Dark Shaman aren't just a mysterious group that popped up out of nowhere -- they are the pinnacle of everything that is wrong with Garrosh Hellscream. They represent everything he is looking for in his reign as Warchief -- phenomenally powerful allies that are a physical representation of the height of control and domination. They seek not only to provide the Warchief with elemental weapons to use at his disposal, but also to imbue warriors with the very essence of the elements themselves, creating the new breed of warrior that Garrosh has been seeking throughout Mists.
Yet, in the end, what Garrosh doesn't realize is that he is not controlling them -- they are controlling him. By offering him what he asks for, by giving him everything he desires, the Dark Shaman can continue the legacy of the lost Twilight Cult, and reap the rewards of chaos, right under the Warchief's nose, and with his full approval. It's this blind, bullheaded, willing commitment to power that will, in the end, signal the doom of Hellscream's reign -- we can only hope that it won't bring Armageddon right along with it.
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.