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League of Legends: The History and Culture Behind the Spirits

In both old and current cultures, peaceful and malevolent spirits are believed to roam the Earth. Some examples of these are the angel and demon spirits that we see in biblical theology, elemental spirits typical of Greek and Roman mythologies (nymphs of the air, water, forest, etc.), and animal spirits that originated in the totemism of the Native Americans. But, there are also those who focus more on a particular aspect of life, and they usually take the form of an ancient deitysuch as war (Ares), death (Thanatos), fear (Phobos), and knowledge (Athena).

With these categories in mind, there are a plethora of champions to play in League of Legends, each with their own backgrounds and personalities, that reflect many of the aforementioned spirits and even allude to ancient and current deities. Thus, let’s take a look at some of these champions to determine which spirits they represent and why.

Aatrox, Rhaast, and Varus: Spirits of Vengeance and Destruction

Aatrox (left), Rhaast (middle), and Varus (right)

To begin, here are three examples of vengeful demons. In the game’s lore, the three beings are part of a race known as the Darkin. These beings were once defenders of their world, but now they are nothing more than a spirit trapped in a weapon in search for a host. Imprisoned by the sword, scythe, and bow, Aatrox, Rhaast, and Varus respectively have been released by mortals foolish enough to try and wield their power. With the bonding of host and Darkin complete, a struggle of wills ensues, forcing the mortal to fight for control of his or her body.

Once one consciousness gives way, the other assumes unrivaled control of the body and the godly power created by the union of the two souls. The Darkin can easily be paralleled to the typical demon, as both races require a mortal body to inhabit to walk the Earth. To build on this, the weapon that acts as their imprisonment is symbolic of Hell, as both act like cages for the evil spirit. Furthermore, the Darkin can be compared to vengeful ghosts, which are souls with unfinished business on Earth, simply because both of these entities seek revenge on the world for the harms committed to them in life.

Kalista (left) and Pyke (right)

Two notable mentions that are quite literally spectres (spirits of vengeance) are above: Kalista and Pyke. The key difference here is that Kalista seeks out vengeance in pursuit of justice as a whole, whereas Pyke does it only to take revenge on those who wronged him in life: for him, its personal.

Bard: The Spirit of Protection and Hospitality

Known as “The Wandering Caretaker,” little is known about Bard, other than his protective nature. Something I wish to address about this champion, however, are the companions, which are called meeps, that are floating around him. While this word is gibberish, the significance lies within their purpose. A meep is considered a chime, as they make the same sound that wind chimes typically make. This is important because other than serving as pleasant-sounding decorations, chimes are historically known to be wards against evil.

Another characteristic is the horn Bard uses as his weapon. Horns are generally symbolic of truths of God, and angels often hold them. That said, I want to focus on the parallel drawn to the angel rather than the horn itself; not enough is known about Bard to comment on the purpose of his horn (other than to shoot glowing light at enemies, of course).

However, you could easily compare this champion to a guardian angel or a spirit—which the ancient Romans called a genius loci (plural: genii loci). With this in mind, there is a key difference between the genius loci and Bard: the former protects one specific place, like a house or a shop, but the latter protects the entire world.

Conclusively, Bard is called upon for aid during times when a cataclysmic evil misuses power for its agenda. So, seeing him as a protector of the planet and its people is no stretch, especially considering his symbolic weaponry and companions.

Brand: The Spirit of Power and Fire

An apocalyptic force of destruction, Brand is one of the most powerful beings on the planet. While he clearly represents a spirit of fire, he more subtly represents a spirit of power. According to his lore, he used to be a simple mortal sorcerer but turned into the monster he is as a result of consuming too much power; yet, he craves more. In light of this, the most interesting part of him is his representation of both fire and power.

The symbolism of fire across culture is rich due to its duality. In other words, this element can be a force for goodlike in the myth of Prometheusor a force for evil due to its capacity to annihilate. However, the key fact here is that the element itself is neither good nor evil; it just depends on how it’s used. In the case of Brand, the power of fire drives him mad because of the sheer amount he’s absorbed. Consequently, fire’s yearning to perpetually burn has taken shape in Brand’s insatiable lust for power.

Hecarim: The Spirit of War

Known as “The Shadow of War,” Hecarim is a spirit-centaur who embodies what his title implies: war. The parallel to the horseman of War in Christian theology is quite apparent; however, there are a couple of significant differences between the two.

First, the horseman of War rides a red horse, while Hecarim is part-horseand an armored light blue horse at that. Secondly, War carries a sword; Hecarim wields a spear. Thus, although this champion acts as a spirit of war, he doesn’t mirror the former aesthetically. Rather, he resembles the horseman of Death in two ways: through his weapon and through his color.

Notably, Death’s weapon is never explicitly mentioned, but he is typically portrayed as having a scythe. The spear is a close cousin to this weapon due to the length of their shafts. This is significant due to its representation of “Death’s reach,” seeing that these two armaments are longer than those of the other horsemen. Furthermore, the horse half of Hecarim’s body is a very light or pale blue, which mirrors the pale horse ridden by Death. Ultimately, while this champion predominantly acts as a spirit of war, he inextricably combines this aspect with death through his physical manifestation.

Karthus and Yorick: Spirits of Death

Karthus (left) and Yorick (right)

Karthus and Yorick, or, “the Deathsinger” and “the Shepherd of Souls,” are two champions associated with the dead, thus making them spirits of death. With this in mind, both of these creatures have different roles in that regard.

When looking at Karthus, he is a fanatic, believing that death is a sweet embrace or a gift. His view of it is very peaceful and harmless, much like Thanatos in Greek mythology, who is a more gentle representation of death. Even with this in mind, he still actively looks for more souls to add to his ranks. From this, it is easy to infer that Karthus is a type of premature death, in that he seeks to claim lives before they are “ready.”

Unlike Karthus, Yorick does not seek out souls to claim. He does not kill but acts as a guide, leading souls to wherever they must go (like Charon). Furthermore, he functions as a leader for the dead who refuse to rest. Those souls follow his path, whisper in his ear, and obey his orders. Another interesting point here is that Yorick takes on a very humble, beggar-like appearance, which is reminiscent of the human form that the Angel of Death takes in Judeo-Christian theology. Ultimately, while these two champions are spirits that deal with death, they take on different views of this unknown aspect of life.

Kayle and Morgana: Angel Spirits

Kayle (right) and Morgana (left)

Kayle and Morgana are the most apparent examples of the modern-day angel in League of Legends. Taking on the identity of the archangel justice (Raguel) and a fallen angel respectively, these two sisters are constantly at war. The easiest comparison to make here is to the rebellion in Heaven led by Lucifer.

An interesting contrast, however, is that Lucifer made the first move in his attack, consequently making him a fallen angel. In the case of Kayle, she made the first move against her sister when she disowned her at birth. Thus, Morgana was subjected to the fate of a fallen angel. So, here we see two different views of the fallen angel: while Lucifer chose his path and dealt with the consequences of his actions, no choice was made by Morgana as she was thrust into damnation.

Kindred: The Spirit of Death, the Hunt, and Balance

Kindred, who is the spirit of a white lamb and a black wolf brought together, is a spirit of death. Not just any death spirit, however, but one who is personified as the hunt. Kindred is the union of a peaceful death (lamb) and a violent death (wolf) and gives the victim a choice as to which they wish to be taken by: the gentle arrows of Lamb’s bow or the jagged teeth of Wolf’s jaws.

There is a duality about Kindred that any other representation of death lacks. She is symbolic of the yin and yang, which gives rise to the idea that Death is neither violent nor peaceful; instead, it’s both. Even with her identity as a spirit of death aside, the harmony of this champion is easily shown by predator and prey working together. Thus, in the imbalance of the mundane, there is balance in the spiritual; it is portrayed to transcend all contrary forces. After all, death cures any disease or dispute, for in death, all is the same, and this is what the spirit Kindred represents: death and balance.

Maokai: The Spirit of the Forest

Once a benevolent treant (tree-like spirit), Maokai presided over a particular forest. Like any other nymph or sprite, Maokai cared for the nature around him, nurturing plants, wildlife, and lesser spirits. However, after years of peace, the ruination of his lands by outsiders corrupted the life in the area, and along with his precious forest, Maokai was felled by the corruption.

Now but a withered and wilting image of his former self (above picture), Maokai continues his work to restore life and harmony to whatever patches of land he can. This fate is quite odd because one would expect this spirit to be driven mad by the darkness and turn evil like all of the other beings hit by the same force.

Typically, when the territory of any naiade (water spirit), aurae (air spirit), dryad (tree spirit), or other nature spirit is transformed, so too are the spirits as a result of their physical connection to the domain. For Maokai to persist in his mission of restoration speaks not necessarily of his power but his will against the corruption. Thus, it is pleasant to see a nature spirit break the norm and exercise its free will against the lands it’s fettered too.  

Nocturne: The Spirit of Dreams, Fear, and Darkness

Nocturne is a very peculiar champion when analyzing what he represents. The little that we know about this demon spirit includes his origin and his goal. Regarding the former, Nocturne was made manifest in the spirit realm, but the mundane extension of that place is the dreamworld. Thus, the monster now roams the dreams of mortals whenever he is not summoned into a physical form (illustrated above). Concerning the latter, his goal is simple: he must destroy.

With Nocturne’s goal in mind, he is not a spirit of destruction but rather one of fear and darkness. Fear is what he preys upon, and darkness is his vehicle. Yes, the result of his actions is death and destruction, but so too is that the goal of all other evil-minded spirits; that does not make them all spirits of destruction. It is the means by which these spirits achieve their ends that form their title. Since Nocturne strikes in the darkness in the physical world and with particular fears in the dream world, he symbolizes a dream demon and a spirit of fear.

Vel’koz: The Spirit of Knowledge

Casting the blatant reference to Sauron aside, Vel’koz, also known as the “Eye of the Void,” represents a spirit of knowledge. The all-seeing eye holds significance in ancient and current cultures, as many people typically perceive the eye as the “knowledge organ.” This makes sense because aside from people who are blind, the eye is how we learn most of what we will ever know since sight is our most developed sense.

Additionally, the all-seeing-eye functions as a protector against evil, such as the eye of Horus in Egyptian mythology or the Hamsa in Judeo-Christian theology. However, Vel’koz is most definitely not a protector. Instead, in his service of the void, which is the strongest evil there is, his pursuit of knowledge leaves death in his wake, which his famous quote illustrates: “Only by deconstruction is truth revealed.” Thus, in Vel’koz’s representation of a spirit of knowledge, he is a living paradox: his purpose is evil, and his symbolism is good.

With so many champions in League of Legends, it was difficult to pick which ones to talk about, but the ones I chose have the richest parallels to spiritsand even deitiesof old and current cultures. On top of that, a majority of these champions not only represent various spirits, but they defy the typical mythological or theological depictions and interpretations of their counterparts.

To see such deviation—yet so much similarity—from tradition not only attaches relatability through the common knowledge that was drawn on in creating each champion, but it also creates a sense of uniqueness. From this, players can become even more connected to the champions they play through their cultural significance and individuality. Perhaps through the game, players will learn a thing or two about other cultures.



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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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League of Legends: The History and Culture Behind the Spirits

In both old and current cultures, peaceful and malevolent spirits are believed to roam the Earth. Some examples of these are the angel and demon spirits that we see in biblical theology, elemental spirits typical of Greek and Roman mythologies (nymphs of the air, water, forest, etc.), and animal spirits that originated in the totemism of the Native Americans. But, there are also those who focus more on a particular aspect of life, and they usually take the form of an ancient deitysuch as war (Ares), death (Thanatos), fear (Phobos), and knowledge (Athena).

With these categories in mind, there are a plethora of champions to play in League of Legends, each with their own backgrounds and personalities, that reflect many of the aforementioned spirits and even allude to ancient and current deities. Thus, let’s take a look at some of these champions to determine which spirits they represent and why.

Aatrox, Rhaast, and Varus: Spirits of Vengeance and Destruction

Aatrox (left), Rhaast (middle), and Varus (right)

To begin, here are three examples of vengeful demons. In the game’s lore, the three beings are part of a race known as the Darkin. These beings were once defenders of their world, but now they are nothing more than a spirit trapped in a weapon in search for a host. Imprisoned by the sword, scythe, and bow, Aatrox, Rhaast, and Varus respectively have been released by mortals foolish enough to try and wield their power. With the bonding of host and Darkin complete, a struggle of wills ensues, forcing the mortal to fight for control of his or her body.

Once one consciousness gives way, the other assumes unrivaled control of the body and the godly power created by the union of the two souls. The Darkin can easily be paralleled to the typical demon, as both races require a mortal body to inhabit to walk the Earth. To build on this, the weapon that acts as their imprisonment is symbolic of Hell, as both act like cages for the evil spirit. Furthermore, the Darkin can be compared to vengeful ghosts, which are souls with unfinished business on Earth, simply because both of these entities seek revenge on the world for the harms committed to them in life.

Kalista (left) and Pyke (right)

Two notable mentions that are quite literally spectres (spirits of vengeance) are above: Kalista and Pyke. The key difference here is that Kalista seeks out vengeance in pursuit of justice as a whole, whereas Pyke does it only to take revenge on those who wronged him in life: for him, its personal.

Bard: The Spirit of Protection and Hospitality

Known as “The Wandering Caretaker,” little is known about Bard, other than his protective nature. Something I wish to address about this champion, however, are the companions, which are called meeps, that are floating around him. While this word is gibberish, the significance lies within their purpose. A meep is considered a chime, as they make the same sound that wind chimes typically make. This is important because other than serving as pleasant-sounding decorations, chimes are historically known to be wards against evil.

Another characteristic is the horn Bard uses as his weapon. Horns are generally symbolic of truths of God, and angels often hold them. That said, I want to focus on the parallel drawn to the angel rather than the horn itself; not enough is known about Bard to comment on the purpose of his horn (other than to shoot glowing light at enemies, of course).

However, you could easily compare this champion to a guardian angel or a spirit—which the ancient Romans called a genius loci (plural: genii loci). With this in mind, there is a key difference between the genius loci and Bard: the former protects one specific place, like a house or a shop, but the latter protects the entire world.

Conclusively, Bard is called upon for aid during times when a cataclysmic evil misuses power for its agenda. So, seeing him as a protector of the planet and its people is no stretch, especially considering his symbolic weaponry and companions.

Brand: The Spirit of Power and Fire

An apocalyptic force of destruction, Brand is one of the most powerful beings on the planet. While he clearly represents a spirit of fire, he more subtly represents a spirit of power. According to his lore, he used to be a simple mortal sorcerer but turned into the monster he is as a result of consuming too much power; yet, he craves more. In light of this, the most interesting part of him is his representation of both fire and power.

The symbolism of fire across culture is rich due to its duality. In other words, this element can be a force for goodlike in the myth of Prometheusor a force for evil due to its capacity to annihilate. However, the key fact here is that the element itself is neither good nor evil; it just depends on how it’s used. In the case of Brand, the power of fire drives him mad because of the sheer amount he’s absorbed. Consequently, fire’s yearning to perpetually burn has taken shape in Brand’s insatiable lust for power.

Hecarim: The Spirit of War

Known as “The Shadow of War,” Hecarim is a spirit-centaur who embodies what his title implies: war. The parallel to the horseman of War in Christian theology is quite apparent; however, there are a couple of significant differences between the two.

First, the horseman of War rides a red horse, while Hecarim is part-horseand an armored light blue horse at that. Secondly, War carries a sword; Hecarim wields a spear. Thus, although this champion acts as a spirit of war, he doesn’t mirror the former aesthetically. Rather, he resembles the horseman of Death in two ways: through his weapon and through his color.

Notably, Death’s weapon is never explicitly mentioned, but he is typically portrayed as having a scythe. The spear is a close cousin to this weapon due to the length of their shafts. This is significant due to its representation of “Death’s reach,” seeing that these two armaments are longer than those of the other horsemen. Furthermore, the horse half of Hecarim’s body is a very light or pale blue, which mirrors the pale horse ridden by Death. Ultimately, while this champion predominantly acts as a spirit of war, he inextricably combines this aspect with death through his physical manifestation.

Karthus and Yorick: Spirits of Death

Karthus (left) and Yorick (right)

Karthus and Yorick, or, “the Deathsinger” and “the Shepherd of Souls,” are two champions associated with the dead, thus making them spirits of death. With this in mind, both of these creatures have different roles in that regard.

When looking at Karthus, he is a fanatic, believing that death is a sweet embrace or a gift. His view of it is very peaceful and harmless, much like Thanatos in Greek mythology, who is a more gentle representation of death. Even with this in mind, he still actively looks for more souls to add to his ranks. From this, it is easy to infer that Karthus is a type of premature death, in that he seeks to claim lives before they are “ready.”

Unlike Karthus, Yorick does not seek out souls to claim. He does not kill but acts as a guide, leading souls to wherever they must go (like Charon). Furthermore, he functions as a leader for the dead who refuse to rest. Those souls follow his path, whisper in his ear, and obey his orders. Another interesting point here is that Yorick takes on a very humble, beggar-like appearance, which is reminiscent of the human form that the Angel of Death takes in Judeo-Christian theology. Ultimately, while these two champions are spirits that deal with death, they take on different views of this unknown aspect of life.

Kayle and Morgana: Angel Spirits

Kayle (right) and Morgana (left)

Kayle and Morgana are the most apparent examples of the modern-day angel in League of Legends. Taking on the identity of the archangel justice (Raguel) and a fallen angel respectively, these two sisters are constantly at war. The easiest comparison to make here is to the rebellion in Heaven led by Lucifer.

An interesting contrast, however, is that Lucifer made the first move in his attack, consequently making him a fallen angel. In the case of Kayle, she made the first move against her sister when she disowned her at birth. Thus, Morgana was subjected to the fate of a fallen angel. So, here we see two different views of the fallen angel: while Lucifer chose his path and dealt with the consequences of his actions, no choice was made by Morgana as she was thrust into damnation.

Kindred: The Spirit of Death, the Hunt, and Balance

Kindred, who is the spirit of a white lamb and a black wolf brought together, is a spirit of death. Not just any death spirit, however, but one who is personified as the hunt. Kindred is the union of a peaceful death (lamb) and a violent death (wolf) and gives the victim a choice as to which they wish to be taken by: the gentle arrows of Lamb’s bow or the jagged teeth of Wolf’s jaws.

There is a duality about Kindred that any other representation of death lacks. She is symbolic of the yin and yang, which gives rise to the idea that Death is neither violent nor peaceful; instead, it’s both. Even with her identity as a spirit of death aside, the harmony of this champion is easily shown by predator and prey working together. Thus, in the imbalance of the mundane, there is balance in the spiritual; it is portrayed to transcend all contrary forces. After all, death cures any disease or dispute, for in death, all is the same, and this is what the spirit Kindred represents: death and balance.

Maokai: The Spirit of the Forest

Once a benevolent treant (tree-like spirit), Maokai presided over a particular forest. Like any other nymph or sprite, Maokai cared for the nature around him, nurturing plants, wildlife, and lesser spirits. However, after years of peace, the ruination of his lands by outsiders corrupted the life in the area, and along with his precious forest, Maokai was felled by the corruption.

Now but a withered and wilting image of his former self (above picture), Maokai continues his work to restore life and harmony to whatever patches of land he can. This fate is quite odd because one would expect this spirit to be driven mad by the darkness and turn evil like all of the other beings hit by the same force.

Typically, when the territory of any naiade (water spirit), aurae (air spirit), dryad (tree spirit), or other nature spirit is transformed, so too are the spirits as a result of their physical connection to the domain. For Maokai to persist in his mission of restoration speaks not necessarily of his power but his will against the corruption. Thus, it is pleasant to see a nature spirit break the norm and exercise its free will against the lands it’s fettered too.  

Nocturne: The Spirit of Dreams, Fear, and Darkness

Nocturne is a very peculiar champion when analyzing what he represents. The little that we know about this demon spirit includes his origin and his goal. Regarding the former, Nocturne was made manifest in the spirit realm, but the mundane extension of that place is the dreamworld. Thus, the monster now roams the dreams of mortals whenever he is not summoned into a physical form (illustrated above). Concerning the latter, his goal is simple: he must destroy.

With Nocturne’s goal in mind, he is not a spirit of destruction but rather one of fear and darkness. Fear is what he preys upon, and darkness is his vehicle. Yes, the result of his actions is death and destruction, but so too is that the goal of all other evil-minded spirits; that does not make them all spirits of destruction. It is the means by which these spirits achieve their ends that form their title. Since Nocturne strikes in the darkness in the physical world and with particular fears in the dream world, he symbolizes a dream demon and a spirit of fear.

Vel’koz: The Spirit of Knowledge

Casting the blatant reference to Sauron aside, Vel’koz, also known as the “Eye of the Void,” represents a spirit of knowledge. The all-seeing eye holds significance in ancient and current cultures, as many people typically perceive the eye as the “knowledge organ.” This makes sense because aside from people who are blind, the eye is how we learn most of what we will ever know since sight is our most developed sense.

Additionally, the all-seeing-eye functions as a protector against evil, such as the eye of Horus in Egyptian mythology or the Hamsa in Judeo-Christian theology. However, Vel’koz is most definitely not a protector. Instead, in his service of the void, which is the strongest evil there is, his pursuit of knowledge leaves death in his wake, which his famous quote illustrates: “Only by deconstruction is truth revealed.” Thus, in Vel’koz’s representation of a spirit of knowledge, he is a living paradox: his purpose is evil, and his symbolism is good.

With so many champions in League of Legends, it was difficult to pick which ones to talk about, but the ones I chose have the richest parallels to spiritsand even deitiesof old and current cultures. On top of that, a majority of these champions not only represent various spirits, but they defy the typical mythological or theological depictions and interpretations of their counterparts.

To see such deviation—yet so much similarity—from tradition not only attaches relatability through the common knowledge that was drawn on in creating each champion, but it also creates a sense of uniqueness. From this, players can become even more connected to the champions they play through their cultural significance and individuality. Perhaps through the game, players will learn a thing or two about other cultures.



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