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Philosophy and Religion in Cyrodiil

Posted: Mon Mar 09, 2015 11:37 am
by Infragris
The basic philosophy of the Imperials is worldly, materialistic and legalistic. Their worldview is based on two religious suppositions:
  • The world has been designed by the Divines for a single purpose, that being the elevation of man to a higher order (sainthood or divinity).
  • The mortal institutions of Empire, Law, and Society are important manifestations of the Divine design.
It is every Imperial's duty to understand and take his place in society, thus securing his own prosperity, that of his relatives, and that the Empire as a whole (the order of these three is debatable). Prosperity is a sign of Divine favor, while poverty indicates personal failure, not the failure of society as a whole. This reflects in the Imperial Cult's lack of interest for the poor. There is a negative implication to reaching beyond one's status or social class – a leftover of the stratified caste system of the First and Second Empires.

The Imperials take“the Empire is Law, the Law is Sacred” at face value: the Empire, and the Emperor specifically, is an instrument of Divine (Tiberite) Will on the mortal plane, and their laws are tanamount to religious edicts. Indeed, a popular philosophical concept is that a true (meaning, prosperous) Imperial is by nature incapable of breaking the law – any evidence to the contrary is the fault of the observer. As a rule, Imperials hold closer to the letter than the spirit of the law: exploiting loopholes and technicalities is tolerated, as is ignoring laws made by non-Imperial, provincial governments.

This philosophy has its detractors. Some Imperials believe that the Divines created an imperfect world, either due to the interference of outside forces (Daedra or Elven gods) or due to the imperfections of the Divines themselves. In an imperfect world, it is naturally impossible to walk a perfectly moral path. It is assumed that the Divines may show grace to people whose intent to live a virtuous life was overpowered by the world's corruption.

This also allows for the practices of Daedric cults and other deviant sects: adherents of such religions assume that the world is fundamentally flawed, and that the Divines are too weak or uninterested to change this. Such spirits are obviously not worthy of being worshiped, nor should they have a right to judge and command one's soul in this life or the next. Instead, these people gravitate towards the worship of other spirits, who promise salvation or protection through different means.

The Empire has traditionally maintained a tolerant attitude towards the religious sentiments of its Imperial subjects. This is mostly due to the historical trauma of the late Alessian Empire, when the monotheistic Marukhati theocracy imposed its will on the Imperial people, ultimately leading to the decline and fall of the First Empire. While the Empire has a state religion, the Imperial Cult of the Nine Divines, and sponsors other cults like the Temple of the One and the Ancestor Moth Cult, they otherwise avoid accusations of sectarian involvement.


Imperials recognize three categories of divinities: the Divines, the Spirits or Lesser Gods, and the Mortal Saints or Heroes. Imperial thinking is rather fuzzy in this regard, and many figures (Reman, Talos, Pelinal) can be categorized in multiple ways. Imperials are as a rule much more interested in the real implications of a spirit on the mortal plane, and are less drawn to the interplay of cosmic forces like Anu, Padomay and Sithis.

The Divines refers to the eight Divines who created the world, joined by Tiber Septim who created the modern Empire (a reflection of Divine order, and as such a part of the “creation” of the world), and also to a lesser degree gods like Magnus and Shezarr/Shor. These spirits draw their power from the fact that they created the world for mortals to live in, and are as a result the most qualified arbiters in deciding if someone has lived a fulfilling life within it. To most Imperials, they are distant arbiters and lawmakers, whose role is to judge and define, but only rarely to intervene. It is said to be spiritually rewarding to dedicate your life to a specific (aspect of) a Divine, but few have the time or the money for this, and to outsiders the Great Faiths often feel cold and formulaic.

Paradoxically, this very distance gives them their lasting popularity: it is much easier to project one's perspective onto a god who is unlikely to respond in any way. As it stands, worship of the Divines is universally assumed in Imperial culture. Detracting or belittling the Divines, as some Daedric cults do, is frowned upon, and denying the existence of the Divines is unheard of. Most Imperial favor two or three Divines closest to their interests and occupations, and are content to pay lip-service to the others. Besides the Divines, they usually worship a lesser spirit, saint or god for more immediate purposes.

The Lesser Spirits are an eclectic mix of gods from Imperial and foreign sources, whose main role in Imperial culture is to facilitate immediate changes, perform favors and wishes, and support the devotee, his faction, or his social caste. The most well-known of these are spirits like Morihaus and Pelinal, second only to the Divines, who come to the aid of the Empire in times of need. The Daedra are considered part of this category, as are the Nibenese totem-spirits, whose main role is to facilitate clan- and class-based struggle in the Nibenay.

These spirits do not play a significant role in the morality of the Imperials, rarely judging or caring about the worthiness of the cause they are called upon to defend (as these are matters for the Divines and the Saints). Indeed, the Imperials consider most of these spirits as raw forces, often extremely amoral in their methods and execution, to be called upon and steered by mortals at their own risk.

The Community of Saints refers to all revered and worshiped figures who were once mortal men. If the Divines are judges and the Lesser Spirits servants, then the Saints are examples of a perfect and virtuous life. The ideal saint or hero (the concepts are synonyms) is one who, through his life, beliefs and actions, attained a Covenant with a Divine or other power. After death, these worthy spirits depart the Arena to live in Aetherius among the gods, free of the world's tribulations.

While the saints are, like the Divines, far removed from the world, they still have a keen interest in mortal business. This leads allows them to be conduits between the mortal and the Divine, transmitting messages and using their personal influence in favor of the mortal claimant. Their power is considered greater than that of the Lesser Spirits and Gods, but it is bound to Divine concepts of morality and virtue, making it less applicable in day-to-day Imperial life. The institute of sainthood is not bound to any specific cult or authority, but is more or less in the hands of the people. Though there are several thousand saints in all, only a handful is popular at any given date. The most well-known saints are usually Emperor-Saints, who are universally popular in both Nibenay and Colovia.

Re: Philosophy and Religion in Cyrodiil

Posted: Mon Mar 09, 2015 10:22 pm
by TerrifyingDaedricFoe
Would the Eternal Champion of Arena be considered a Saint? It might be fun to include a small cult dedicated to him/her.

Re: Philosophy and Religion in Cyrodiil

Posted: Mon Mar 09, 2015 10:33 pm
by Infragris
Almost definitely. The Imperials are said to worship about a thousand major and minor saints - obviously, that's beyond our ability to portray completely, but the majority of saints and heroes is honored in the Cult of Heroes, which will likely include shrines for the heroes of TES I and II.

Re: Philosophy and Religion in Cyrodiil

Posted: Sat Sep 26, 2015 8:21 pm
by Sssk
Inspired by a forum post on the Imperial Library, here's a list of the known Imperial saints from the games:

Saint Alessia

Saint Osla
"St. Osla, the Second Era healer, who was ministering the fallen of the Sack of Sancre Tor"

Saint Kaladas
"Below the Chapel of Zenithar in Leyawiin there is a shrine to the great craftsman, Saint Kaladas"
Oblivion, KotN

Saint Jahn
"St. Jahn's Wort Nectar"

Saint Pelin ... aint-pelin" onclick=";return false;

Saint Ellenica, Saint Marben, & Saint Octavien" onclick=";return false;

Saint Stental" onclick=";return false;

Saint Agdistra (potentially)

Living Saints (Oblivion):
Saint Olava of Mara" onclick=";return false;

Saint Errandil of Arkay" onclick=";return false;