Is there a Fifth August Celestial ? Let’s begin tonight’s quest together - with the sort of riddle which appeals to anthropologists, archaeologists, historians.
There is a people taller and bulkier than most - not quite as large as Tauren or Yaungol. Their large incisors and other physical details indicate evolution from predators. Individuals’ fur varies in color & pattern. You see a variety of beautiful kites flying over many of their buildings. Their architectural aesthetics are clear evidence of their closeness to the land.
They live far across the sea from both Kalimdor & the Eastern Kingdoms. When most of you first encounter them their land is just coming out of a mysterious mist which separated them from the rest of us. On the other hand, some of the spend the essential part of their life on the back of a giant sea turtle. Indeed, some made the long journey on their turtle to Pandaria.
Their elders are close to the elements - a bit differently from other people’s shamans – in deep contact with a unitary spirit or force which flows through all things. Their mystics & warriors use this power to protect their people. One elder reminds outsiders how the cataclysmic sundering of our world was caused by delving too deeply into powerful magics. He warns they are fully prepared to fiercely defend homes & families from an unwanted war the factions brought to their shores.
Here are some more clues that may prepare you to answer the riddle:
A people whose scholars walk the land listening to & sharing lore which they gather into great collections of scrolls, tell their children stories of a wanderer whose name begins with L, are eager for tales of other lands, … These people are perplexed by others’ lust to corrupt or steal the ancient artifacts protecting their land. They depend on adventurers to prevent this.
Who are these people? What do we call them?
The people I have described are the Tuskarr. And the Tortollan.
Outside the realm of maths there is rarely one correct answer which stands apart from other possibilities. Questions are better than answers. As cubs we all strive for a firm answer to our questions & those set for us by our teachers. As we reach full maturity we are prepared for intellectual perplexities which would unduly disturb the young.
Archaeologists, anthropologists, historians gather scattered & jumbled up pieces of culture. Make a great effort to tease out what belongs together & what is part of other puzzles. Paradoxically – perhaps – contemplating what we only understand well enough to be curious about is more satisfying than resting within the limitations of that which we are confidence that we already know. This quest, the puzzles themselves, are always incomplete. Often we must take clues from other cultures to help us guess what may belong in the gaps.
Tonight I share some of my own questions grounded in the best evidence available. Hopefully your own curiosity is sparked enough to take some clues away with you on your own quest for understanding.
Let’s set aside for a while whatever debate there is about distinctions between Loa, Wild Gods, Ancient Guardians & August Celestials. We’ll take some pieces of our puzzle from all these demigods.
The Tuskarr worship four powerful spirits who guide & protect their people. They appear in the guise of animals. One is a bird who provides courage & also has the power to affect weather. Something like our August Celestial Ch-Ji, our Red Crane, who created rainbows to give us courage through hope.
The Tortollan Elder Kupakka tells of a guardian tiger spirit who died protecting them in a battle. His temple is in the North. He is reborn or resurrected to protect them again. Very much like the August Celestial Xuen, the White Tiger.
Turtles are important to both the Tuskarr & the Tortollans. Tortollan worship Torga, who sometimes speaks to them. This benevolent sea turtle spirit’s avatar closely resembles our Shen-zin Su - another wise being who guides & speaks to Pandaren.
Loh, the Tortollan wandering adventurer became one with a turtle spirit when he died. He’s what is called a culture hero. An ancestor who created or guided the culture. Whose myths instruct the young & remind communities of their values & ethos. Similarly, Liu Lang, wandering Pandaren scholar & hero, became one with the great turtle Shen-Zin Su. His stories & songs are teaching devices & mementos of social values, especially of the Wanderers’ Way, one of three great Pandaren spiritual Paths.
Other peoples of Azeroth are also involved with great turtle spirits. There is Tortolla the Wise, gravely wounded in the wars of Azeroth, who sends adventurers on a journey far beyond their homeland. Another, Nespirah also speaks to the wise among us & needs adventurers’ help to heal her wounds. Interesting parallels there to Shen-zin Su.
On a more practical level, the Tuskarr fish & explore the sea on great turtles. They name them. One brave adventurer, Yotimo, even made the long sea journey all the way from Northrend to Pandaria. Interestingly he settled in Krasarang, the region where Liu’s wanderings & returnings took place.
It is also worth noting in passing that the structures mounted on large turtles captured & trained by goblins bear a striking similarity to Pandaren architecture in both form and color. An example can be found on the Speedbarge.
August Celestials are often equated with Ancient Guardians or Wild Gods. Torga, Tortolla & Nespira are all named as such. Given the parallels, Shen-zin Su may be a plausible candidate for a fifth Celestial. Let’s take a closer look at some supporting archaeological evidence in Pandaria.
Liu Lang was born in the Western part of Valley of the Four Winds. Despite being described as the heartland of Pandaria this region lacks a temple like the ones dedicated to the four August Celestials - each of which is located near the coast.
Or at least it appears not to.
Between Liu’s home village & Krasarang is a place known as Torjari Pit. The slave-masters of the First Dynasty were known to throw unruly Pandaren into the sinkhole there to drown. Nearby is an ancient structure. First Dynasty motifs & its state of ruin mark this site as older than the Celestials’ temples. They are honored as guides of & participants in the Pandaren Revolution. So their temples – no matter how venerable – must belong to a subsequent era.
Furthermore, it must have been of great importance at one time. To this day it is guarded by one of the First Dynasty’s animated stone warriors. One exceptional enough to have an individual name. Strangely for the rolling fields of the Valley numerous large turtles live here.
Immediately South of the ruin is Wind’s Edge, marking the division between the Valley & Krasarang. It’s an overhang still showing signs of whatever cataclysm created it. The meandering Yan-Zhe River runs quite close yet parallel to these cliffs for most of its course rather than plunging over at the other end of the Valley as might be expected. Except for offshore monoliths Krasarang is flat - sand or brackish swamps. The river course, the cliffs, and a region that seems to be built up as a beach rather than worn make me wonder if Krasarang did not exist prior to the Great Sundering. I am no geologist so it remains a question.
Was the Valley of Four Winds where great sea turtles were born & migrated from before the Sundering forced them instead to leave the deep sea at Turtle Beach? Is the ruin found there an ancient temple dedicated to an Ancient Guardian connected with them? Perhaps from the early era when the First Dynasty still obeyed the Titans? Perhaps a long-forgotten August Celestial is currently embodied as Shen-zin Su?
The spiritual bond with one of our two great culture heroes and the elders who followed him, his sentience, and his guidance to the places and situations we needed to explore in order to thrive as a people are indications. This great wise Turtle has now returned to shore as a central part of the re-uniting of our people with the rest of Azeroth. The idea of a Celestial connected to all our three great Paths, interested in helping Pandaren become integral to the future of Azeroth, & eager to bring others to Pandaria in return, gives me great hope for the future.
Thank you Dean, fellow Faculty, and Friends for allowing me to share these questions with you tonight.