Elder Scrolls Theology: A study in competing interpretations of shared data

The title of this post is rather tongue-in-cheek. However, it serves as a warning for the unwary who wish to read real academic material – the prose is dense and should be read slowly.

Given the gravity that tends to characterise a lot of our discussions, it seemed good to have something more frivolous today (though it may also prove instructive to some). For those who are unaware, The Elder Scrolls is the title of a series of computer/video games. They are set in a fictional world called Tamriel, which has a complicated mythology, modelled along pagan lines.

This world consists of (at least) three planes: Aetherius; Mundus; and Oblivion. Aetherius (Heaven) is the realm of the planets/gods and is the source of magic. Mundus is the earthly plane, inhabited by the elven and human races. Oblivion is world inhabited by demonic entities. Depending on their affiliations, the souls of departed elves and men pass into either Oblivion or Aetherius upon death.

One of the reasons the Elder Scrolls games are so popular is the amount of detail put into the “lore”, the background information that makes this fictional world so immersive for players. The creators of the games even went so far as to put short books into the games, which players can read. There is also a comforting familiarity about the lore and the cultures of the nations and races in the games, because they are inspired by parts of the real world’s history.

The Nords are derived in part from the history of the Scandinavian peoples. Nords believe that brave warriors go to the Hall of Shor in Sovngarde when they die – inspired by Valhalla. The Imperials, who are kin to the Nords, have Latin names and their Legions wear armour modelled on the famous lorica segmentata. The Bretons (which is the name for natives of Brittany in France) have French-style names and also have echoes of Celtic history and culture.

One of the interesting features of the lore is that the different nations agree that certain events happened, but have very different interpretations of the significance of and reasons for those events. The real world shares this feature. Consider, for example the conflicting interpretations of the Crucifixion found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

In the world of the Elder Scrolls we find both competing religions and heresies within religions. As in Roman history, where the Empire tried to promote the idea of different nations sharing gods but under different names, so the empires of men in Tamriel insist that the imperial pantheon applies to all the nations.

The most controversial figure in the religious world of the Elder Scrolls is Lorkhan (an elven name), also known as Shezarr to the Imperials and Shor to the Nords. The nations agree that he was behind the creation of Mundus, but they differ on whether he is a good figure or an evil one.

To the High Elves, Lorkhan is a trickster. He deceived the gods into creating the world, which limited them, binding them to it. The spirits who became the ancesters of the elves lost their immortality. For the elves, the punishment of Lorkhan was just. Auri-el and his champion, Trinimac, removed Lorkhan’s Heart, shooting it into the ocean, where it formed the Red Mountain. His body was split in two, forming the two moons, Masser and Secunda.  His spirit still walks abroad, helping humans in their wars against the elves.

To men, Shezarr/Shor is a benevolent figure. He persuaded the gods to create the world so that it might be a home to the mortal races, a testing ground from which they might ascend to greater divinity. He was betrayed by the spirits who would found and lead the elven nations. His spirit watches over men and comes as avatars and sends servants to help men in their hour of need. The Shezarrine, Pelinal Whitestrake, overthrew the Heartland Elves, who had enslaved the human races living in Cyrodiil, the province at the centre of Tamriel.

More could be said, but this post is now lengthy (as posts go). It is, however, a reminder that people can see the same events in different ways. This is why we appeal to objective criteria: we need something non-negotiable, not subject to opinion, in order to settle disputes. Different criteria are used for different questions. Christ said that we were to use outcomes as part of our list of criteria (“judging a tree by its fruits”).

As people consider the clamouring voices of different religions today, they ought to ponder these criteria:

  • Internal coherence (non-contradiction);
  • Concordance with reality (propositional truth); and
  • Ethical outcomes.

 

16 thoughts on “Elder Scrolls Theology: A study in competing interpretations of shared data

  1. What always perplexed me in the Elder Scrolls is the complex library system. Books upon Books on the history and Lore.

    I remember in Morrowind trying to read about dwarves. You see all of their creations and their an extinct race. Finally you meet the last one.

    I wonder if they’ll ever do a dwarf Elder Scrolls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nicholas

      I would love to see more of the Dwemer. I have not read the books specifically about them, but they crop up in the books about Nerevar and Red Mountain, which I enjoyed reading because they link to King Wulfharth and the Arcturian Heresy.

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  2. Being a fan of Morrowind, I hope you get into Dark Elves and the prophecy of Nerevarine.

    The Dark Elves outside of Morrowind are a slave cast, is there any connection to Old Testament Hebrews and the Exodus? At the end of Morrowind, you seem to enter into the red desert; maybe this is like the wanderings in the desert?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nicholas

      I would like to write about Nerevar and the Tribunal heresy, most definitely. Also, the interesting House of Troubles and Daedra system of Dunmer theology and their punishment at the hands of Azura. Curious that she is not an ancestor to them and yet seems to have adopted them.

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  3. Call me old fashioned but I still have a bad taste in my mouth from any game that requires one to ‘role play’ especially (if I read it rightly) things lie same sex relationships are actually part of this game. I remember too well the trouble and psychological damage that Dungeons and Dragons created; or should I say havoc.

    Are you comfortable with this? I have the same reservations about Harry Potter all the magic etc. that seems to quietly insert itself into our sub-conscious. Exorcist are quite concerned with such things as they were with the advent of the Ouija board which opened some persons into diabolical oppression and in some extraordinary cases full possession.

    Just wondering.

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    1. Nicholas

      I agree that such things are potentially a source of temptation, but I think the same could be said about adventure books, etc. You could argue that various things in previous cultures had negative impacts on prevailing attitudes – e.g. plays, operas, books, etc. For a lot of guys games like these are a way to reconnect with their masculinity in a world that has largely sidelined and undermined them. In a culture where you are accused of “toxi masculinity”, etc, this is a useful space in which it all goes away, and is potentially an outlet for frustration. Ultimately, I think it depends on the underlying psychology of the individual, but I don’t think in and of itself it necessarily opens the door to demons, etc. That usually comes where people take things to extremes and start exploring other more directly occult material (e.g. spellbooks, etc). I agree, however, that they do tend to pander to current mores – as you say, same sex unions are a possibility in a number of more recent videogames.

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      1. Indeed, and I hear there are modules that remove the already skimpy dress of the females available. No wonder they do not recommend this for immature audiences.

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      2. Nicholas

        Absolutely. It’s a shame, because earlier games were much more like Arthurian quest lines – nothing graphic, just fun adventuring with some interesting backstories.

        The development of games has also been a great opportunity for technical development (AI etc) and rediscovery of art that favours verisimilitude. Modern art is disgraceful – videogames, etc are the continuation of the pre-Raphaelites as far as skill is concerned.

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      3. I find it interesting that youth are so game oriented and people my age find them a complete waste of time. My son still plays in his 30’s. I find it strange and don’t know what to make of it except as a type of escape from a world where people now feel alienated . . . so now they invent their own reality more to their liking.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Nicholas

        That is a large part of it. Disappointed dreams and no place to go. Part of it is to do with gender roles I think. The large scale coming women into the work place and larger social trends in housing etc have made men feel like they have no place in society. I suspect a lot would be less interested in games if they felt like their real lives gave them a valued role in society.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. I think you are on to something, Nicholas, but I am concerned as to lack of the virtues in ‘pretending’ to have these virtues. People too brow beaten to stand up for their own rights and to exhibit true courage and fortitude are seeking a ‘safe space’ to pretend that they possess these traits.

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      6. Nicholas

        Potentially. Certainly in the absence of the discipline of self-examination, people can be deceived. I think it is easy for me to forget that people are largely unchurched these days, and so they do not necessarily have the counteractive thoughts that Christians might when presented with aspects of popular culture. I do not see how we can address these things at a societal level, however – we can just make personal choices and lead by example. Since my ideology is derived from old liberalism and conservatism, I generally do not favour laws that ban things, etc. I prefer that people be free to make these choices for themselves. At the moment, however, there is nothing to stop Christians from lobbying the studios to refrain from producing certain content and/or include more settings to turn off elements. E.g. many games allow you to turn down the gore that results from combat.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Yes, it is a new world for me that I am not really familiar with. The games we used to play were social in nature and the game was almost secondary to our interaction with our friends. And even these were mostly dropped later in life though my parents continued to play card games like bridge until they were quite old. I saw them, as I grew older, as a large waste of time that could be spent doing something more profitable for my body and mind. I do not question my son about these things as he is a mature man in his mid-thirties but we are kind of estranged . . . and with his older sister as well. It is like we were born on different planets at times.

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      8. Nicholas

        I am sorry to hear about the distance in the family. It is not easy in this world to maintain links given how rapidly things continue to change. Phones are an obvious example of that, but there are many more.

        This is one of the reasons why I favour a kind of conservatism: evolving with the times, but keeping links to the underlying principles. I do believe that our society is in very real danger when it comes to estrangement between generations, as well as between the genders and the classes. Trouble all around really. I try as far as possible to be all things to all people, but that is not always an option.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Nicholas

        That is the challenge, of course: staying in touch but not following patterns that conflict with God’s will. Personally, I think it’s important to beware of too strong a them/us mentality.

        Liked by 1 person

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