Ancestor worship entails more than a simple veneration of the dead. While almost all races respect and memorialize their ancestors in some way, the orcs and tauren believe that their forebears possess powers that their living offspring can channel. A tauren does not merely remember her ancestors; she speaks to them and draws power from them. A tauren’s ancestors watch over her and sometimes guide her through visitations and dreams.
All tauren learn rituals and chants designed to connect them to their ancestors. A tauren shaman, however, can call on tribal spirits to infuse him with wisdom and strength. Although tauren society is no longer nomadic, their rituals and traditions developed long ago, and thus were heavily influenced by the nomadic way of life that the tauren followed up until recently, when they joined the Horde and made Mulgore their home. For example, when the tauren were nomadic, they could not always visit the graves of their ancestors when they wished to show honor. Many rituals require a tauren to carve wooden figures and then burn these carvings with fragrant grasses and herbs to honor his ancestors. Tauren now have a permanent home in Mulgore, but since marauding centaur keep them away from many areas, they still cannot visit the graves of their ancestors. Thus, they have no reason to change these rituals.
Orcs leave more concrete reminders of their ancestors. They carve memorials to the fallen dead and place stones around permanent campsites. Nomadic orcs and tauren both conduct group rituals; these rituals involve storytelling, chanting and feasting that lasts all night. Orc death rituals vary in form, but most possess common traits. Any orcs present when an orc dies roar as loudly as possible, to alert the deceased’s ancestors that they must come and escort a new spirit to the spirit world. If an orc falls in battle, his companions wait until after the battle ends to roar. This prevents the death roar from being lost in the sounds of battle. Orcs value honor. Should an orc die with an unfulfilled duty, his close friends and relatives take it upon themselves to complete the duty and allow the fallen orc’s spirit to enter the afterlife without a blemish. The deceased’s closest friend or relative sometimes takes one of the corpse’s fangs as a memento and a token to use in shaman rituals to summon a particular spirit. During group rituals to honor the dead, orcs adorn their tribal costumes or weapons with the fangs of their fallen friends and family. Tauren prefer to bury their dead, but after the advent of the Scourge and the Forsaken, more tribes are cremating their dead to avoid the possibility of undeath.
A shaman who practices ancestor worship can gain access to the Ancestor domain.
Tauren ancestral carvings
When a tauren plans a ritual to honor his ancestors, he carves a number of wooden idols to burn during the ritual. Each tauren’s choice of carvings reflects his values and history, making each set of carvings highly personalized. However, certain themes repeat over time, and most tauren understand the following symbols. Miniature wooden tauren represent a person’s ancestors. Tauren symbolize themselves with a 6-inch kneeling figure to display their reverence for their ancestors. A tauren might not carve every single individual in her lineage, but instead carve representative figures, such as the following.
- An elderly male and female represent ancestors who died of old age.
- A pregnant female and a male hunter represent ancestors who died in the prime of life.
- A child and infant represent ancestors who died in childhood and before birth. Additional carvings represent the values a tauren’s family possesses.
- A tree with a knot of strong roots symbolizes the importance of family, a root system that supports the tauren today.
- Birds, commonly owls or eagles, represent the wisdom passed on from generation to generation.
- Predatory animals, such as lions, indicate the value of physical strength and heredity.
- The kodo, the most sacred animal of all, symbolizes the bond between the tauren and the Earth Mother. Tauren also use elemental symbols in their rituals.
- Carvings of flames or coals represent energy and combat, and tauren often add these carvings to honor warrior ancestors.
- Water symbolizes spirituality and wisdom; tauren use carvings of still water to honor ancestors noted for their wisdom, and carvings of flowing water to honor shaman.
- Earth symbolizes a love of the land and physical strength, and tauren add earth carvings to rituals honoring druids and powerful hunters.
- Air carvings, often shown as clouds, wavy lines, or blowing leaves, represent exploration and adaptability, and tauren use air carvings to honor hunters, scouts and children.