The Zandalari Trolls: A Mix of Mythologies and Cultures in World of Warcraft

For all of my fellow World of Warcraft players, the expansion, Battle for Azeroth, brought loads of new land, races, and features for us to explore. Among this new content is the jewel of the Zandalari Troll empire: Zandalar. During my journey through this island-nation, I noticed that the culture of its people and the aesthetics of its scenery drew quite a bit on ancient civilizations and mythologies.

The most obvious pop-culture reference to Black Panther aside (Zandalar forever!), the Zandalari Trolls reflect Haitian, African, and Egyptian mythology and culture, and heavily echo Mayan and Aztec buildings and structures. By delving into these real-life inspirations, we can gain insights into the how the fascinating world of Zandalar was created.

The Loa of Death

The most apparent of these parallels is in comparing the religion of the Zandalari with that of the Haitians. When starting with the religious parallels, the most glaring one of them all is the Loa of Death. For Haitians, Baron Samedior the more relevant pronunciation of his name, Bawon Samediessentially functions as the one who oversees, protects, and commands the dead and their graves. The Zandalari Troll equivalent of this Loa is Bwonsamdi; these names are nearly the same in both spelling and pronunciation.

As for their personalities, they both come across as self-interested. When giving favors or striking deals with souls (alive or dead) this Loa will only accept bargains that benefit him: the gains must always outweigh the costs. Furthermore, these representations of Death tend to be quite gleefuland borderline playfulwhen things are going their way. Lastly, they look rather similar to each other, aside from the fact that one walks around in the form of a human and the other in the guise of a troll, of course.

Baron Samedi (left) and Bwonsamdi (right)

From the skulls on their faces to the white skeletal-like body paint on their torso, I think they reflect each other well. Some even say that their “body paint” is really the flow of souls they’ve claimed running through their mundane manifestations.

The Loa of Storm, Wind, and Sea (and everything else)

The ideas of Loa and voodoo span across the entire religion of the Zandalari trolls; however, there is a key difference between it and its Haitian counterpart. While in the case of the latter, Loa usually take the form of a human, but when it comes to Zandalari Loa, they are always animals. Granted, the exception to this is the Loa of Death. With this difference in mind, there still remains a few Haitian and Zandalari Loa that seem to share similar functions.

All polytheistic cultures have a certain emphasis on the world’s most primal powers, namely the sky and the sea. Consequently, these dominant forces, while varying in power across cultures, generally have the same bio. When it comes to all the other aspects, they can be mixed and matched. In other words, one culture could have a Loa or god that controls the sun and agriculture because of the natural association between the two, while another could view the sun and the agriculture as the domains of two separate deities. Regardless, this is the case when comparing Haitian and Zandalari voodoo; although most of the worldly forces cannot be accurately paralleled due to varying beliefs, the storm, wind, and sea all have a specific Loa assigned to them and line up quite nicely.

A point of note here is that both Haiti and Zandalar are islands, so the sea was an extremely valuable resource for both peoples. That being said, it would make sense for the Loa of the sea to be powerful, but also protective, since the sea is, quite literally, a circular shield. Both Agwe and Gral share these two traits, as Agwe is also referred to as the “Shell of the Sea” (the word “shell” connotes protection) and Gral has massacred legions of invading seafaring peoples who have killed his followers.

Guardian Loa

For both Haitians and Zandalari Trolls, there are hundreds of Loa to keep tabs on. A common feature of both the real-life and virtual cultures is that one may have a single Loa acting as their guardian. There are two subtle differences between these processes, however. On one hand, a Zandalari Troll has the ability to choose his guardian Loa, and once the choice is made, everyone knows which Loa they serve.

On the other hand, a Haitian goes through a ritual known as a “Met Tet” in order to identify who their guardian Loa is; thus, there is no choice when it comes to serving a particular Loa. Additionally, the identity of that guardian Loa is kept a secret from others. These inconsistencies are quite intriguing and demonstrate the varying degrees to which intercultural trust and fate or destiny play a role within either culture.

Concerning the former, each Haitian keeps their guardian Loa a secret to protect themselves from others who would seek to harm them through this knowledge, whereas the Zandalari place an immense amount of trust in one another through the sharing of their guardian Loa (although perhaps they shouldn’t be doing this considering the amount of betrayal within the empire). Moving on to the latter, the fact that the Zandalari get to choose their Loa shows a great deal of religious freedom, which is in stark contrast to the Haitians who are destined to a specific Loa as a result of the “Met Tet.”

Vodouisants and Rituals

So what about the magic-wielding people who are in charge of spiritual communication, services, and rituals? There are two sides to this: the vodouisants who practice light magic and are called houngans or mambos (for the Zandalari, there is no special term; they’re just priests and priestesses), and those that practice dark magic.

The vodouisants who practice the dark stuff are known as bokors, or caplatas if they’re female, and usually dabble with necromancy. The Zandalari culture mirrors the bokor quite well: for them, the Blood Trolls are the ones who harness blood magic and necromancy. Nonetheless, rituals performed by any of the four aforementioned magic-wielders generally involves drumming and chanting as well as an altar that contains objects, such as fruits, bones, dust, powders, and wines, relevant to the Loa they are invoking.

Gods as Animals

As mentioned earlier, the Zandalari culture heavily reflects the ancient Egyptians, seeing that a good chunk of their pantheon is “zoomorphised” (ok, I know Egyptian gods only have the heads of animals, but the symbolism is still there). An important distinction between the two is that some of the Zandalari Loa are dinosaurs. While this may seem like a rather large difference, it really isn’t: each dinosaur represents a certain aspect of life, just like any other animal.

An easy way to elaborate on the use of certain animals is by taking the most important god and Loa of their respective cultures. For ancient Egyptians, the falcon is extremely holy. Consequently, some of the most important elements of the world, such as the sky, the sun, and the warrior, are represented by falcon-headed gods: Horus, Ra, and Montu, respectively. Similarly, for Zandalari Trolls, the most exalted animal is the devilsaur (real-life translation: Tyrannosaurus Rex). The Loa who takes the form of this beast, who is called Rezan, represents three of the most important aspects of Zandalari life: power, kingship, and the hunt.

Rezan (left) and Ra and Horus (right)

The key in this comparison is not simply that the ancient Egyptians and Zandalari Trolls have animals and dinosaurs as their gods and Loa. After all, not many of the animals in Zandalari voodoo are present in Egyptian mythology, and not many of the animals in Egyptian mythology are present in Zandalari voodoo.

The importance here is as follows: each culture believes certain qualities, such as rage, pride, wisdom, or seductiveness, to be attributed to specific animals, and that each of these qualities can also be seen in certain worldly forces, such as the moon, the sea, death, or love. Once an overlap occurs, a god or Loa becomes representative of three things: the animal, the worldly force, and the quality/qualities.  

Spirits and Sacrifices

Returning to the concept of “Guardian Loa,” as demonstrated by Haitian culture, the Mayans have a close equivalent: “Way Ob.” This states that every person shares their soul with an animal spirit and is therefore guarded by it. Furthermore, they’d have the ability to transform into that animal. A point of note here is that a particularly powerful priest could share his soul with more than one animal spirit and thus have the capacity to transform into multiple different forms. This is heavily reflected by the Zandalari druids (and all other druids, really), seeing that they can shapeshift into various animals by channeling a certain spirit.

In addition, it’s also important to look at the Blood Trolls on Zandalar. Originally considered Zandalari, they practiced the dark artsblood magic and necromancyand became known as Blood Trolls. To be clear, I’m not aiming to compare the ancient Mayan civilization to necromancers and blood-god fanatics; rather, I’m focusing on the sacrificial aspect of the Blood Trolls as my point of comparison.

As one would expect, the ancient Mayans performed animal sacrifices to appease their gods, but they threw in some human sacrifices as well. With this in mind, no matter what living thing they put on an altar to kill, their technique remained the same: bloodletting. When looking at the Blood Trolls, they too bloodlet their sacrifices in order to please their Loa G’huun, who is essentially the god of blood. However, for the Mayans, while human sacrifice and bloodletting was a means to avoid being on the bad side of the gods, for the Blood Trolls, it was simply a means to become stronger: give some power to G’huun through sacrifice, and he will give you some of his own power in return.

Architecture: Symbols and Pyramids

Moving on from theology, it is time to look at the architecture of the Zandalari trolls and see how it draws on Mayan pyramids and structures. As it came up in the comparison to Egyptian mythology, the Zandalari Trolls are rather big on dinosaurs; therefore, many of their decorating symbols and engravings will take the shape of those prehistoric creatures. Contrastingly, some symbols on the Mayan constructions will be of humans and animals that we still see today.

The Great Seal (left) and The Mayan Calendar (right)

The closest comparison I found is between the Great Seal that sits at the heart of the Zandalari capital city, Zuldazar, and the Mayan Calendar. Aside from the apparent circular nature of these two objects, both contain a face at the center, have isosceles triangles around one of the inner circles pointing outward, and display culturally significant symbols within the circles closest to the face. Overall, they both seem like solar representations.

Zuldazar Palace (left) and Chicanná Ruins (right)

Focusing on the center of Zuldazar Palace when comparing it to the Mayan ruins, both of these buildings have a square-like base with a rectangular archway and a smaller square-like structure stacked on top of  it. Granted, Zuldazar palace has a third square-like structure stacked on that too, but that is not seen in the Mayan ruins because it was likely destroyed; after all, if looked at closely enough, it is clear something is missing at the top. Furthermore, both buildings have practically identical square and maze-like designs bordering the archway at the base.

These two images are of fountain heads, the Mayan piece on the right and the Zandalari piece at the port of the capital on the left. The similarity here is that the water flows from the mouth of a face at the center; the Zandalari face is a troll though, not a human.

Here are archways of a rectangular shape with the same square and maze-like designs.

… And some more archways of a semicircular shape with the square, maze-like designs.

A typical design for both the Mayans (right) and the Zandalari (left and center) was having certain animal or deity heads sticking out from any architectural building. The heads at the two shrines for the Zandalari are those of the Loa they are dedicated to.

In this comparison, the Zandalari pyramid (left) is quite a bit more extravagant than its Mayan counterpart (right), and that may have a lot to do with the erosion of the Mayan pyramid. The entrance of the former is much lower than the latter, and that leaves room for more work above it, although it is quite easy to imagine the Mayan pyramid with similar decorations all around before time took its toll.  

And two more pyramids for good measure.

The Zandalari Trolls have always been part of the Warcraft Universe. Instead of merely seeing small villages or ruins of once-thriving cities scattered around the world of the game, we finally get to see their empire and its people up close and personal, and all in one spot.

With such a large chunk of Battle for Azeroth’s narrative focused on the player’s relationship with these trolls, we get an inside look at their customs, their Loa, and their architecture. From my exploration, the similarities between Zandalar and various ancient civilizations were plentiful and unceasing. All in all, each influence from Haitian, Egyptian, and Mayan culture enhanced the island-nation of Zandalar and made the visual, auditory, and interactive gameplay far more appealing, provocative, and enjoyable.



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I am a double major in Philosophy and History with a minor in English: creative writing. I've always enjoyed philosophy a great deal, and history as well - especially of the ancient and medieval eras. Above all else, however, I absolutely love music and gaming. I'm a big Blizzard nerd who loves to play World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and the rest of their line up. To sum up all my passions, writing is the overarching theme: whenever something interests me, I'll write about it.

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The Zandalari Trolls: A Mix of Mythologies and Cultures in World of Warcraft

For all of my fellow World of Warcraft players, the expansion, Battle for Azeroth, brought loads of new land, races, and features for us to explore. Among this new content is the jewel of the Zandalari Troll empire: Zandalar. During my journey through this island-nation, I noticed that the culture of its people and the aesthetics of its scenery drew quite a bit on ancient civilizations and mythologies.

The most obvious pop-culture reference to Black Panther aside (Zandalar forever!), the Zandalari Trolls reflect Haitian, African, and Egyptian mythology and culture, and heavily echo Mayan and Aztec buildings and structures. By delving into these real-life inspirations, we can gain insights into the how the fascinating world of Zandalar was created.

The Loa of Death

The most apparent of these parallels is in comparing the religion of the Zandalari with that of the Haitians. When starting with the religious parallels, the most glaring one of them all is the Loa of Death. For Haitians, Baron Samedior the more relevant pronunciation of his name, Bawon Samediessentially functions as the one who oversees, protects, and commands the dead and their graves. The Zandalari Troll equivalent of this Loa is Bwonsamdi; these names are nearly the same in both spelling and pronunciation.

As for their personalities, they both come across as self-interested. When giving favors or striking deals with souls (alive or dead) this Loa will only accept bargains that benefit him: the gains must always outweigh the costs. Furthermore, these representations of Death tend to be quite gleefuland borderline playfulwhen things are going their way. Lastly, they look rather similar to each other, aside from the fact that one walks around in the form of a human and the other in the guise of a troll, of course.

Baron Samedi (left) and Bwonsamdi (right)

From the skulls on their faces to the white skeletal-like body paint on their torso, I think they reflect each other well. Some even say that their “body paint” is really the flow of souls they’ve claimed running through their mundane manifestations.

The Loa of Storm, Wind, and Sea (and everything else)

The ideas of Loa and voodoo span across the entire religion of the Zandalari trolls; however, there is a key difference between it and its Haitian counterpart. While in the case of the latter, Loa usually take the form of a human, but when it comes to Zandalari Loa, they are always animals. Granted, the exception to this is the Loa of Death. With this difference in mind, there still remains a few Haitian and Zandalari Loa that seem to share similar functions.

All polytheistic cultures have a certain emphasis on the world’s most primal powers, namely the sky and the sea. Consequently, these dominant forces, while varying in power across cultures, generally have the same bio. When it comes to all the other aspects, they can be mixed and matched. In other words, one culture could have a Loa or god that controls the sun and agriculture because of the natural association between the two, while another could view the sun and the agriculture as the domains of two separate deities. Regardless, this is the case when comparing Haitian and Zandalari voodoo; although most of the worldly forces cannot be accurately paralleled due to varying beliefs, the storm, wind, and sea all have a specific Loa assigned to them and line up quite nicely.

A point of note here is that both Haiti and Zandalar are islands, so the sea was an extremely valuable resource for both peoples. That being said, it would make sense for the Loa of the sea to be powerful, but also protective, since the sea is, quite literally, a circular shield. Both Agwe and Gral share these two traits, as Agwe is also referred to as the “Shell of the Sea” (the word “shell” connotes protection) and Gral has massacred legions of invading seafaring peoples who have killed his followers.

Guardian Loa

For both Haitians and Zandalari Trolls, there are hundreds of Loa to keep tabs on. A common feature of both the real-life and virtual cultures is that one may have a single Loa acting as their guardian. There are two subtle differences between these processes, however. On one hand, a Zandalari Troll has the ability to choose his guardian Loa, and once the choice is made, everyone knows which Loa they serve.

On the other hand, a Haitian goes through a ritual known as a “Met Tet” in order to identify who their guardian Loa is; thus, there is no choice when it comes to serving a particular Loa. Additionally, the identity of that guardian Loa is kept a secret from others. These inconsistencies are quite intriguing and demonstrate the varying degrees to which intercultural trust and fate or destiny play a role within either culture.

Concerning the former, each Haitian keeps their guardian Loa a secret to protect themselves from others who would seek to harm them through this knowledge, whereas the Zandalari place an immense amount of trust in one another through the sharing of their guardian Loa (although perhaps they shouldn’t be doing this considering the amount of betrayal within the empire). Moving on to the latter, the fact that the Zandalari get to choose their Loa shows a great deal of religious freedom, which is in stark contrast to the Haitians who are destined to a specific Loa as a result of the “Met Tet.”

Vodouisants and Rituals

So what about the magic-wielding people who are in charge of spiritual communication, services, and rituals? There are two sides to this: the vodouisants who practice light magic and are called houngans or mambos (for the Zandalari, there is no special term; they’re just priests and priestesses), and those that practice dark magic.

The vodouisants who practice the dark stuff are known as bokors, or caplatas if they’re female, and usually dabble with necromancy. The Zandalari culture mirrors the bokor quite well: for them, the Blood Trolls are the ones who harness blood magic and necromancy. Nonetheless, rituals performed by any of the four aforementioned magic-wielders generally involves drumming and chanting as well as an altar that contains objects, such as fruits, bones, dust, powders, and wines, relevant to the Loa they are invoking.

Gods as Animals

As mentioned earlier, the Zandalari culture heavily reflects the ancient Egyptians, seeing that a good chunk of their pantheon is “zoomorphised” (ok, I know Egyptian gods only have the heads of animals, but the symbolism is still there). An important distinction between the two is that some of the Zandalari Loa are dinosaurs. While this may seem like a rather large difference, it really isn’t: each dinosaur represents a certain aspect of life, just like any other animal.

An easy way to elaborate on the use of certain animals is by taking the most important god and Loa of their respective cultures. For ancient Egyptians, the falcon is extremely holy. Consequently, some of the most important elements of the world, such as the sky, the sun, and the warrior, are represented by falcon-headed gods: Horus, Ra, and Montu, respectively. Similarly, for Zandalari Trolls, the most exalted animal is the devilsaur (real-life translation: Tyrannosaurus Rex). The Loa who takes the form of this beast, who is called Rezan, represents three of the most important aspects of Zandalari life: power, kingship, and the hunt.

Rezan (left) and Ra and Horus (right)

The key in this comparison is not simply that the ancient Egyptians and Zandalari Trolls have animals and dinosaurs as their gods and Loa. After all, not many of the animals in Zandalari voodoo are present in Egyptian mythology, and not many of the animals in Egyptian mythology are present in Zandalari voodoo.

The importance here is as follows: each culture believes certain qualities, such as rage, pride, wisdom, or seductiveness, to be attributed to specific animals, and that each of these qualities can also be seen in certain worldly forces, such as the moon, the sea, death, or love. Once an overlap occurs, a god or Loa becomes representative of three things: the animal, the worldly force, and the quality/qualities.  

Spirits and Sacrifices

Returning to the concept of “Guardian Loa,” as demonstrated by Haitian culture, the Mayans have a close equivalent: “Way Ob.” This states that every person shares their soul with an animal spirit and is therefore guarded by it. Furthermore, they’d have the ability to transform into that animal. A point of note here is that a particularly powerful priest could share his soul with more than one animal spirit and thus have the capacity to transform into multiple different forms. This is heavily reflected by the Zandalari druids (and all other druids, really), seeing that they can shapeshift into various animals by channeling a certain spirit.

In addition, it’s also important to look at the Blood Trolls on Zandalar. Originally considered Zandalari, they practiced the dark artsblood magic and necromancyand became known as Blood Trolls. To be clear, I’m not aiming to compare the ancient Mayan civilization to necromancers and blood-god fanatics; rather, I’m focusing on the sacrificial aspect of the Blood Trolls as my point of comparison.

As one would expect, the ancient Mayans performed animal sacrifices to appease their gods, but they threw in some human sacrifices as well. With this in mind, no matter what living thing they put on an altar to kill, their technique remained the same: bloodletting. When looking at the Blood Trolls, they too bloodlet their sacrifices in order to please their Loa G’huun, who is essentially the god of blood. However, for the Mayans, while human sacrifice and bloodletting was a means to avoid being on the bad side of the gods, for the Blood Trolls, it was simply a means to become stronger: give some power to G’huun through sacrifice, and he will give you some of his own power in return.

Architecture: Symbols and Pyramids

Moving on from theology, it is time to look at the architecture of the Zandalari trolls and see how it draws on Mayan pyramids and structures. As it came up in the comparison to Egyptian mythology, the Zandalari Trolls are rather big on dinosaurs; therefore, many of their decorating symbols and engravings will take the shape of those prehistoric creatures. Contrastingly, some symbols on the Mayan constructions will be of humans and animals that we still see today.

The Great Seal (left) and The Mayan Calendar (right)

The closest comparison I found is between the Great Seal that sits at the heart of the Zandalari capital city, Zuldazar, and the Mayan Calendar. Aside from the apparent circular nature of these two objects, both contain a face at the center, have isosceles triangles around one of the inner circles pointing outward, and display culturally significant symbols within the circles closest to the face. Overall, they both seem like solar representations.

Zuldazar Palace (left) and Chicanná Ruins (right)

Focusing on the center of Zuldazar Palace when comparing it to the Mayan ruins, both of these buildings have a square-like base with a rectangular archway and a smaller square-like structure stacked on top of  it. Granted, Zuldazar palace has a third square-like structure stacked on that too, but that is not seen in the Mayan ruins because it was likely destroyed; after all, if looked at closely enough, it is clear something is missing at the top. Furthermore, both buildings have practically identical square and maze-like designs bordering the archway at the base.

These two images are of fountain heads, the Mayan piece on the right and the Zandalari piece at the port of the capital on the left. The similarity here is that the water flows from the mouth of a face at the center; the Zandalari face is a troll though, not a human.

Here are archways of a rectangular shape with the same square and maze-like designs.

… And some more archways of a semicircular shape with the square, maze-like designs.

A typical design for both the Mayans (right) and the Zandalari (left and center) was having certain animal or deity heads sticking out from any architectural building. The heads at the two shrines for the Zandalari are those of the Loa they are dedicated to.

In this comparison, the Zandalari pyramid (left) is quite a bit more extravagant than its Mayan counterpart (right), and that may have a lot to do with the erosion of the Mayan pyramid. The entrance of the former is much lower than the latter, and that leaves room for more work above it, although it is quite easy to imagine the Mayan pyramid with similar decorations all around before time took its toll.  

And two more pyramids for good measure.

The Zandalari Trolls have always been part of the Warcraft Universe. Instead of merely seeing small villages or ruins of once-thriving cities scattered around the world of the game, we finally get to see their empire and its people up close and personal, and all in one spot.

With such a large chunk of Battle for Azeroth’s narrative focused on the player’s relationship with these trolls, we get an inside look at their customs, their Loa, and their architecture. From my exploration, the similarities between Zandalar and various ancient civilizations were plentiful and unceasing. All in all, each influence from Haitian, Egyptian, and Mayan culture enhanced the island-nation of Zandalar and made the visual, auditory, and interactive gameplay far more appealing, provocative, and enjoyable.



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