The following is a list clarifying some terms I use in this post, also with additional notes:Glossary
A purely fanon addition, ishamuhale (“stagnation”; lit. “deep teeth”) is a taurahe term describing the state of being for a person or place that is haunted by negative spirits or afflicted with a curse. Many cleansing rituals seek to avoid this state preemptively, as cleansing a stagnant person or area involves heavier exorcism that could lead to violent responses from the spirits in question. The most unique and extreme example of stagnation is the Sha of Pandaria, caused by the “dying breath” of an Old God stagnating the entire continent. Most stagnations take simpler forms, such as a ghost haunting the site of its murder, or a warlock’s curse lingering on a target.
((Note: “Ishamuhale” is also the name of an NPC quest raptor, translated as “Speartooth.” The use of the word here is based on the in-game taurahe reusing the word for “stagnation.” The “literal” translation is a combination of different instances of the words, and it not actually literal to lore.
Taking the idea of teeth from Speartooth’s name, and the word “deep” from the NPC Isha Awak, “deep teeth” can be imagined as a reference to the tauren creation myth “Sorrow of the Earth Mother”, in which the tauren learn of deceit and strife through “dark whispers.” This alludes to the Old Gods, who are associated with body horror motifs, such as excessive teeth and eyes. The entire thing works well as a vague mythological reference that has evolved over time.))
Several herbs are described as being ubiquitous. This is fanon conjecture from them being low-level herbs picked across all the starting zones, which may also make them the most populated of all the herbs available in-game. It’s reasonable to assume most everyone is familiar with the alchemical and metaphorical uses of these beginner herbs, and that they become the basis of rituals.
"Cleansing" is a collective term for any number of rituals that involve purification through smoke. One can cleanse a room by burning incense, cleanse a congregation by wafting a censer, cleanse oneself by smoke bathing, etc. The individual use cases, methods, materials, and terminologies can vary wildly between cultures, but they all share the same concept of utilizing smoke for purification.Cleansing
The religiosity of cleansing changes from group to group, as well as over time. In some cultures, cleansing is viewed purely as spiritual ritual, centered around exorcising malevolent or stagnant entities in an area, or attracting the attention of ancestors and positive emotions. In other cultures, cleansing is viewed in a purely physical sense, centered around removing body odors or fumigating an area of pests. Despite these differences, the vast majority of cultures combine the spiritual and physical elements of cleansing, with the tauren races having among the widest ranges of individual use cases for smoke rituals.
While there may be common materials used across Azeroth, such as the ubiquitous herb peacebloom, it’s important to note that there few universally accepted rituals. What practices and materials are used by one group may be taboo to another, and what is acceptable is usually determined by two things: geography (what materials are available) and history (what has previously proven effective.)
A reagent for a variety of basic potions, silverleaf is one of the most versatile of herbal materials found ubiquitously across Azeroth and can be used as a quick substitute for other materials in basic rituals. As a ritual or potion becomes more exacting in its demands, silverleaf becomes a less effective substitute. It is most commonly substituted for sage, which is not as widely available. Silverleaf can be burned for a great variety of reasons, from healing and defense, to opening oneself to ley magics or enhancing the body and mind.
A reagent for healing and rejuvenating potions, peacebloom is a ubiquitous plant found across most of Azeroth, becoming a universal sign of healing and positivity for nearly every major culture in the world. Burning peacebloom can help heal the emotional wounds of an argument or tragedy, preventing stagnation.
Smoke BathingExample Rituals
A ritual that best combines both the spiritual and physical ideas of cleansing, smoke bathing is any ritual where smoke is used to cleanse someone’s mind and body.
In the spiritual sense, smoke bathing clears the mind of negative emotions, or to attempt to dispel curses and other magical effects that linger about a person.
In a physical sense, smoke bathing is a hygenic ritual. Smoke neutralizes odor-causing bacteria, making the practice an effective replacement for bathing. This is particularly common among groups that have limited access access to clean water, such as the desert-dwelling Farraki trolls and nomadic tribes like the Kodohorn.
It is also common among hunter-gatherer groups to mask the scent of hunters with smoke bathing, though such a tactic requires the regular burning of the same materials in an area to trick the local wildlife into becoming accustomed to the smell and not associating it with immediate danger.
Smoke bathing is commonly performed within a small but well-ventilated space, using materials that produce a fragrant smoke, which is wafted across the body with a feather fan or similar tool. In tauren cultures, it is common to cleanse from snout-to-hoof, starting first with the face, then working smoke into the mane with a fan and comb before continuing down the body.
- Also called exorcising or hallowing, a censure ritual is the use of smoke to dispel or ward targeted entities and negative emotions from a person or place.
- Censuring has the widest variation of materials and practices used in a ritual, as it deals almost solely with the esoteric elements of the spirit world and a group’s history. Some groups will custom-craft each censure ritual to target a specific entity based on their knowledge of that spirit, never intending the ritual to be performed in the same manner twice. Other groups will conglomerate successful cases into a single ritual that slowly evolves into a complicated but more universal spell.
- Censuring can be used to consecrate (or even desecrate) an area, preventing or permitting the passage of specific spirits, even physical bodies if the ritual is powerful enough. A highly unusual example of this is plague blight, which more superstitious tauren interpret as a negative hallowing that wards against living creatures and attracts undeath, by their understanding.
- Censure can also be used to target emotions. In tauren cultures, it is common practice to burn peacebloom in an area where an argument was had to literally “clear the air” of the negative emotions, warding off spirits that are attracted to these emotions to prevent them from settling in and stagnating the area.
- While predominantly spiritual, a physical use case of censuring is fumigation, where smoke is filled into an unventilated area to ward off pests, or cleansing sticks are spread in a circle to hamper the passage of insects. Some tauren view both the spirits and insects hedged by a smoke circle or bonfire as one in the same.
- Smoke reading is an adaptation of smoke signaling used to communicate with spirits. Some shamans also use smoke rituals to commune with air elementals.
- When burning certain materials in an unventilated space, the smoke can be heavy enough to settle and rest upon surfaces. Minor disturbances can manipulate the smoke, which a reader attempts to interpret. If an area is suspected to house an unknown spirit, a mystic can conduct a smoke reading to try and commune with the spirit, which is hopefully just strong enough within the material world to manipulate the smoke. The same ritual can be used to communicate with known spirits, and is one of a plethora of ways to seek their audience.
- Air elementals, who are sometimes invisible, do not require an unventilated space to be crafted for them, and can manipulate the spoke pluming from an open fire to communicate with a shaman conducting the smoke ritual. If the fragrance is pleasing to the spirits, the elemental may absorb enough of the smoke until it becomes visible to the shaman, or simply twist the smoke into suspended shapes and pictographs. Likewise, more powerful spirits such as loa can also manipulate smoke, if they manifest enough influence within the material world.