Religion


A Primer on Troll Religious Culture

Compiled by Dzivah of the Ai’loaMoon Guard

For a fully footnoted google document version of this article, please click here.
 

At first blush, it’s difficult to really nail down a single-word description of Troll religious culture other than ‘complex’. That is because it is largely syncretic, much like some of the real-real world religions that it borrows from. Animism, folklore, apotropaic magic, ancestor homage, and strict ritual practices are all present, yet the amount of each will differ according to the region and history of the particular Troll tribe and its members.

The Loa

All troll tribes, irrespective of geography, believe that the world is possessed of spirits known collectively as the ‘Loa’. Loa are said to have existed on Azeroth long before the Titans and are perhaps as old as Azeroth itself. The Loa run the gamut from friendly and benevolent in nature to spiteful, vengeful, and greedy. Some of them take shape, often adopting animal forms. Some prefer an ethereal, amorphous form. Ancestor Loa will often retain the a form that is a close physical approximation to how they appeared in life. Because the Loa are typically capricious and unpredictable they are often respected and placated with an ‘arms length’ approach so as to prevent falling foul of their favor. Irrespective of how powerful an individual Loa is, it is generally believed that an angry Loa is a dangerous Loa.

Types of Loa

The advantage of roleplaying out the spiritual aspect of your Troll is that Loa worship can be freeform and open to theorycraft on reasonable grounds. As Anne Hickey writes:

“The limited amount of information involving troll Loa and gods can be frustrating to those trying to research troll lore. However for the active roleplayer it presents a unique kind of open canvas — trolls have gods for just about everything under the sun, and the number of gods in the troll pantheon has never been fully defined. This leaves an almost limitless amount of room to play when roleplaying a troll character, and creates all kinds of opportunities for myths and legends. Need a god? Make one up — the trolls have so many, it’s not far-fetched at all to produce one that was previously unheard of.”

 What Hickey is pointing out is the spiritual bounty of Azeroth (and even beyond – think of the connection that the settled Trolls of Zangarmarsh have to the spirits residing there), which is teeming with Gods, undead spirits, and elemental spirits. Some are notorious and known across cultures, some still a mystery to us. Trolls will call almost any powerful incorporeal body a Loa, much to the chagrin of the other races, ally or foe. The Creative Development team writes that Troll druids:

“…. visiting the Moonglade have been overheard calling the wisps who reside there loa, just as they refer to Goldrinn, Aviana, and the other returned Ancients as loa. Night elves and Tauren have tried to counsel these trolls on “correct” druidic nomenclature, but the trolls thus far have been stuck in their ways.”

So, keeping in mind that almost any spirit, elemental, or god can be considered a Loa, we now turn to a closer look at the three most common Loa archetypes. Not all Loa are created equal of course, and an informal hierarchy appears to exist in tribes and Troll civilizations alike. Spirits are generally considered to be more powerful than the elementals, but not as powerful as Elemental Lords or true gods. As an example, a lore tablet found in Pandaria states that the Zandalari:

“…often worship their own family loas, cities usually have their own civic deities, and the greatest loa are worshiped by the nation as a whole. Powerful, enlightened Zandalari can become loas[sic] upon their death – or so it is believed.”

Ancestor Loa

Ancestor Loa are deceased trolls who have transcended the mortal world to that of the spirit one, but who are powerful enough to be able to influence and communicate with their living brethren on the ‘other side’. If the aforementioned tablet is to believed, then the average Troll almost certainly would not be capable of this type of spiritual border crossing. Wise, strong, gifted and spiritually enlivened Trolls alone will go on to become Loa themselves. Like the Orcs and Tauren, Trolls revere and pay homage to their ancestors with various obeisances. As was mentioned previously, Loa are capricious and unpredictable, and ancestor Loa particularly so; an ancestor Loa that on face value appears benevolent can quickly be unmasked as a practical joker, or even worse, a bitter soul out to cause misery to the living. In seeking their aid or favor, they must always be approached with caution.

Notable ancestor Loa in lore include Bwonsamdi of the Darkspear tribe, and Zanza the Restless of the Zandalari Empire. Zanza was a prominent Zandalari whose magic was stolen by the High Elves and used against the trolls of the Amani Empire. It is not entirely certain what followers of Zanza would gain from this ancestor Loa but if one is permitted to speculate, his propensity for magic and knowledge in life would make him an excellent patron Loa for witch doctors and hexxers alike. Bwonsamdi (also referred to as “Samedi”, “Baron Samedi”, or “the Baron”) is an ancestor spirit who appears to have become a powerful Loa unique to the Darkspear, in that they do not share him with Gurubashi trolls. It is possible that Bwonsamdi lived as a great Darkspear figure post Gurubashi exile, but this is speculatory. Much like his Haitian namesake, he is the caretaker spirit of the dead and ferries spirits across to the spirit world. The Drakkari Gods Zim’Torga, Zim’Rhuk, Zim’Abwa, and Dubra’Jin may also have been hallowed Drakkari ancestors.

The possibilities for ancestor Loa are only as limited as player imagination. Your troll may be a Darkspear who follows Bwonsamdi, or they may have an ancestor Loa worshipped exclusively in their particular bloodline. They may even eschew paying respect to once-mortal Loa, and that brings us to a discussion of our next type of Loa, the ‘Primal’ Loa.

The Primal Loa

Totemism is an important feature of Troll religious culture, and the term ‘Primal Loa’ is used to describe the totemic animal spirits observed by various Troll tribes and civilizations. A tribe may have distinct Primal Loa from other tribes, or merely favor certain Primal Loa over others. An individual Troll may even choose a totem animal not common to their family or tribe. One reason for this is that an individual may be desirous of acquiring certain traits that a particular Primal Loa is possessed of. After asking the player to acquire Feralfen artifact totems near Zabra’Jin in Outland, Seer Janidi remarks to the player that:

“…They seem to be divided between images of a serpent spirit and a bird spirit. No self-respecting Darkspear Troll engages in bird worship. Their spirits are weak, capricious, and best left to the Amani. But the serpent, <name>, the serpent wields considerable power and this is the spirit I shall study.”

That being said, choosing and worshipping Aviana as one’s patron Loa is not fatal to playing an authentic Darkspear Troll Druid. It’s a matter of personal preference, though your character may find themselves voraciously defending their obeisance to a particular Loa is if it deemed strange, uncommon, or downright offensive by their tribemates.

Although some Tribes may eschew the predominant Primal Loa of another Tribe, there is also a lot of crossover. Many Troll tribes and civilizations shared in their worship of particular animal spirits such as the spider and the snake. It is even speculated that some Primal Loa may be the same spirits, shared across certain groups but referred to by different names. Tsathoggua’s guide notes that:

“Similarly[sic] to the way the Greeks and Romans, or the Aztecs and Mayans shared pantheons, it may be that Ula-tek and Hethiss and Sseratuss are all the same Primal Loa, worshipped under different names, and with some differing archetypes.”

Obeisance to Primal Loa may also differ across groups; some may worship them as Gods, some might merely court them in exchange for favors, and some may forego them entirely due to displacement or shifts in attitudes. In the nation of Zul’drak, the Drakkari worshipped their Primal Loa as Gods, and then sought to destroy them and claim their power as a last ditch effort to win the war against the Scourge. No doubt some of the few surviving Drakkari consider that this blasphemous act may have been their civilization’s undoing. Geography and the preponderance of particular fauna may be a significant factor as to whether a group acknowledges totemic animal spirits. For example, it’s also not known whether those tribes that aligned themselves with the Dark Horde in Blackrock Depths (such as the Firetree and Smolderthorn) continued to worship any Primal Loa save for Spider ones. we can speculate that being cut off from their environment may have weakened their connection to the Primal Loa that forest Trolls typically revere.

As there are too many to list here, a supplementary article containing all of the known Primal Loa of each Troll tribe/empire will be provided with this article, as well as information about their respective thematic domains.

A third group: Elemental Loa?

There’s some suggestion that Elemental spirits are considered Loa. It’s entirely possible that some Trolls whose shamanism was coached by the Earthen Ring may revere one or more of the Elemental Lords as Loa. In theory this seems plausible, but in practice Trolls may have some uneasiness about trusting Elemental spirits and their lords. ‘The Fall of Gurubashi’, a stone tablet located in the south-western corner of the ruins of Zul’Kunda, chronicles the destruction of the Gurubashi city of I’lalai. Neptulon, enraged by the perversion of aqueous magic use by Min’lon, sent his Krakken to destroy the city. A tsunami sunk the city and drowned many Gurubashi, and the loss of I’lalai was a death knell for the Gurubashi Empire. This author respectfully submits that most Trolls would find Elemental spirits and their Lords extremely difficult to trust and revere against Primal or Ancestral Loa.

Connection with the Loa

While all Trolls are capable by birthright and custom of establishing and maintaining a strong connection with the Loa, the Witch Doctor is often deferred to in any given tribe for advice and instruction on proper Loa worship. In large Troll empires, there would have been a High Priest acting as steward for each Primal Loa of the pantheon. The Witch Doctor or High Priest would be responsible for leading large ceremonies such as ritual sacrifices or group offerings. Their counsel would be sought privately due to their extensive knowledge of the Loa. For example, an aspiring Zandalari devotee to the Bat Loa Hir’eek would have sought out High Priestess Jeklik to find out what particular items this Loa preferred to receive in offerings, as she was considered to be Hir’eek’s most devoted follower. For the player who wishes to roleplay as a Witch Doctor, keep in mind their elevated position in Troll communities as a conduit to establishing greater connections to the Loa. We will now turn to specific activities that have a spiritual component in Troll culture.

Music and Dance in Troll religious culture

Music plays an important part in Troll religious culture. The ruins of great Troll civilizations are often littered with ancient drums close to ritual statues and altars. We can posit from real-world influences that since ancient times Trolls have used music to both appease and entice Loa spirits, and to ward away or scare off unwanted ones. Extraordinary effort and craftsmanship is put into instruments, so much so that they themselves can take on spiritual attributes:

‘Long ago, the most dedicated of troll war-drummers would allow themselves to be flayed alive in order to provide the hide for their precious instruments. While a troll’s incredible natural regeneration allowed one to survive such a grueling ordeal, it was a long and excruciating process that drove many mad with pain. It is said that, if such a war drummer was to be slain while playing such an instrument, his spirit would pass into it…’

Music is also seen as something innate to the spirit, and something that can be harnessed by Witch Doctors:

‘A witch doctor at work can be unsettling, for he croons and chants to the herbs and animal parts that go into his brew, shaking a rattle to awaken them from their slumber, and sometimes even bursting into dance to appease them and make them favor him.’

Several in-game quests are started by Troll Witch Doctors asking adventurers to slay and ‘capture’ the Muisek (music) and E’ko (echo) of certain beasts and return it to them. The Witch Doctor then uses the Muisek or E’ko to create powerful weapons and enchantments.

In-game Troll NPCs will frequently be seen dancing to the sound of distant drums, but this is hardly a frivolous activity that belies their laid-back nature. Rather, dancing is most likely a form of worship and appeasement. If your Troll were trying to entice the favor of a certain Ancestor Loa, they may sing and chant a song that would flatter that particular Loa’s ego, or dance in a way that would ‘woo’ them. The only limit here is, again, player imagination.

The use of Hallucinogens

Witch Doctors (and Potion Docs) would also frequently be approached for potent brews that can bring one ‘closer’ to a spiritual experience with their patron Loa. Although the RPG books are no longer considered canon, it is this author’s opinion that there is certainly no harm in using small, innocuous tidbits from these books as inspiration in one’s personal roleplay, such as the following passage:

‘The witch doctor’s seething cauldron contains a hallucinogenic mixture of herbs, poisons, crushed insects and other noxious materials. He may add drops of this Shaka brew to improve the efficiency of any potion or alchemical item he creates. The Shaka brew maximizes all variable, numeric effects of the witch doctor’s potions or alchemical creations. Drinking a potion treated with the Shaka brew leaves the imbiber with a euphoric buzz. The Bambe brew is a secret recipe that extends the effectiveness of magical potions. Drinking Bambe brew potions leaves the imbiber with a faint crawling sensation over their skin. The witch doctor can add drops of the Zuvembi brew to any potion. The brew creates a powerful suggestive state in the imbiber that he can trigger and control. After drinking a Zuvembi brew potion, the imbiber can be dominated by the witch doctor.’

Sacrifice and cannibalism

‘Trolls sacrifice and eat their enemies. They conduct these practices for two reasons. First, they believe the sacrifice of sentient creatures appeases malicious spirits. Second, they believe that after death, an enemy’s spirit can visit misfortune on its killer. By consuming the flesh of their enemies, trolls believe they can also consume their enemy’s spirit, or at least damage it enough to render it impotent.’

Trolls will sacrifice sentient humanoids (either enemy Trolls or the members of other races) in order to appease particular Loa. The influence of Meso-American religions here is prevalent, and we can extrapolate that some sacrifices would be elaborate and highly ritualized. In the dungeon of Zul’Farrak, the player group will rescue Sergeant Bly’s party from cages atop an elaborate temple, suggesting that if the group hadn’t come along, a ritual sacrifice would have been performed.

Cannibalism is a more divided issue in Troll culture. Mystic Yayo’jin in Revantusk Village gives the player a quest to slaughter Vilebranch trolls in the Hinterlands, stating that they are a ‘depraved lot’ who are prone to ‘feeding on other trolls and humanoids.’ Some have interpreted this to mean that certain tribes such as the Revantusk and Darkspear find cannibalism to be morally repugnant. With respect, this author suggests that it is mindless, purposeless cannibalism without spiritual significance that would most offend. So while Revantusk and Darkspear do not openly practice cannibalism, in private it would still be considered a serious religious obeisance and some may risk Horde expulsion to continue practicing it.

Mojo and Juju: What is it, and what isn’t it?

There is much ingame evidence to suggest that mojo is a very potent liquid. Prior to patch 4.1.0 flasks of mojo were acquired from enemy Troll NPCs and used as reagents for various crafted items. Many quests require the looting of particular mojo from a particular NPC. This suggests that in lore, flasks of mojo are quite similar to their real-world variant, the mojo bag: the flask is worn close to the body and is essentially  ‘liquid magic in a bottle’. It may be kept by individual Trolls to grant them strength or to keep them safe. For Witch Doctors its purpose appears to have been to empower or to even animate voodoo figurines and dolls. For example, when players acquire the Voodoo Figurine through archaeology, the flavor text supports an inference that mojo was used to ‘bring it to life’:

‘Voodoo figurines such as this were built and animated to assist troll witch doctors in minor, everyday tasks such as washing loincloths or scrubbing blood off the hut floor. They were often powered by flasks of mojo, troll sweat, the flesh of tribal enemies, or by DEVOURING TINY PORTIONS OF THEIR OWNERS’ SOULS. But don’t worry. Teeny, tiny little portions. You won’t even notice they’re gone. And think how clean your floors will be!’

Prior to patch 4.1.0, when Hex Lord Malacrass was defeated in Zul’Aman and his voodoo doll retrieved as part of a quest, Griftah had this to say to the player:

‘Hey now, where ya be gettin’ this? No, no, don’t tell me – this be comin’ from the Hex-Lord himself! It all be clear now. Strong mojo! The bearer of this relic, no matter how many disgraces he be sufferin’, be always honored by his peers. Incredible!’

Mojo then appears to have significance as a type of distilled prayer. With this in mind, it can be assumed that most Trolls with magical leanings would carry a flask of mojo, or perhaps even a doll imbued with it to the point of being ‘alive’. Juju, on the other hand, seems to be a magic solely used by Witch Doctors. It isn’t certain whether or not it has a physical form like mojo, and not much ingame literature exists on the topic. All that can really be said is that it is a crude magic developed by Witch Doctors to twist nature.

Incurring the favor of the Loa

‘The trolls draw power for their voodoo magics by performing rituals and invoking the Primal Gods, Old Gods, forest spirits, and ancestral spirits: their Loa spirits and gods.’

If, after reaching this stage of the article, you aren’t convinced as to why exactly your Troll should revere any particular Loa, consider it less as an adherence to ancient customs and more as a self-serving tool for getting ahead in life. Loa worship is, for many trolls, ultimately about power; if you can make yourself out to be the most endearing of supplicants, you’ll be getting the best of rewards. Consider the tale of Vula’jin the void, who was able to regenerate his entire body after standing in a pool of shadowflame. The greater the worship, the greater the rewards. But this is not a one-time transaction; failure to maintain a Loa’s favor can have consequences.

Incurring the Loa’s wrath

Just as the Loa can be courted and bargained with, they can also quickly become enemies. A Troll who turns their back on Loa worship or commits a grievous sleight against a Loa who they are indebted to can reap terrible repercussions. Consider the ending passage of the Tale of Gri’lek, a piece of Gurubashi literature on tablet that has partially been damaged by the rigors of time:

“Gri’lek stamped through the jungle. And his eyes burned and his chest rumbled, for there was great anger in him. In fury he roared to the sky, and he raised his arm. He raised his left arm, grown strong and sure from hunting without its twin. For Gri’lek’s right arm was gone, and it would not return. And so he wandered, and he searched. And his arm remained lost to him. And so he cursed and roared as he walked. But Gri’lek had long ago turned his ear away from the spirits, and they were angered and would not listen to his curses. Doomed was Gri’lek. Doomed to wander, armless.”

The consequences for a player who sleights a Loa can be minor or significant. They may lose their sight, have poor luck financially, lose a mate, or be killed and have their spirit suspended in a state of agony for as long as that Loa sees fit.

Conclusion

Troll religious culture is a stark departure from the shamanistic beliefs of the Orcs and the Tauren. It tends towards dark rather than holistic practice and is arguably a lot more powerful. When building the story of your Troll, consider their tribe and whether it favors any particular Primal Loa. Consider also your Troll’s family history: are their any notable ancestor Loa? Consider also the means by which your Troll would pay obeisance to their patron Loa. Are they good at singing? Do they dance well? Can they drum with skill? Hopefully these questions, and the subsequent answers, will help you to flesh out the spiritual side of your Troll character and provide you with more opportunities for story creation.

 – Dzivah

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