History and Culture of the Falmer

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Anumaril
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History and Culture of the Falmer

Post by Anumaril » Wed Apr 18, 2018 4:19 am

Been working on a comprehensive overview of Falmeri society, religion, and history based upon my own ideas and those in the previous Falmer thread. Thought I'd share what I have so far to see what everyone thought of the direction. This is very much a work in progress, so I've no issues reworking, scrapping, or expanding on anything here. This is largely to inform and influence the design of Falmer content in SHOTN, so obviously considering how total a defeat the Falmer faced at the hands of the Nords, there won't be too much surviving even in the lost corners of Skyrim for the player to entirely understand their people. Much of this information would be provided through text and dialogue with scholars (largely in the Mages Guild) fascinated with the Falmer as well as through environmental evidence the player might come across, such as the glacial carvings I mention. If we want surviving Falmer, the Chantry of Auri-El would be the place, though it'd be of interest to move it from western (as seen in TES V) to eastern Skyrim.

Haven't completed my write-up on the 'History' section, but it will obviously be pretty short.

Notes on each section are placed after the text.

Falmer Society:
SpoilerShow
At the height of their presence in Skyrim, the Falmer consisted of numerous clans and at least five distinct cultural groups, each centered around a monastic Chantry dedicated to a particular Ancestor-God of their pantheon. Largely concentrated in eastern Skyrim, these clans were semi-nomadic in nature, maintaining glacial structures for the duration of their presence in an area. Each was led by a Clan-Lord often of a warrior nature, who was advised by a number of Spirit-Guides which directed the travels of the clan based on interpretations of the Auroras. This resulted in a largely nocturnal way of life for the Falmer, one cast by early Nordic settlers as suspicious. Few of these clans strayed far from their devoted Chantry, however, as they offered a means of defense from outside invaders, refuge from inclement weather, and were central to Falmeri cultural and religious life.

These fortress-chantries were the source from which the varying cultural groups of the Falmer formed, with clans devoted to the Chantry of Trinimac being among the fiercest elven warriors and adhering to strict hierarchical structures, while clans devoted to Syrabane produced their greatest mages and preferred structures that rewarded merit. Each was maintained by an ascetic order of priests, the Curacy, and led by a High Priestess whose lineage could be traced back to the 'greater' ancestors themselves. Among her greatest responsibilities was the keeping, interpreting, and applying of the Lighted-Law, which had its origin in the tales of Phynaster, who deciphered from the Aurora codes by which Auri-El desired his people to live and would guide their way toward personal enlightenment.

While the clans were generally autonomous in their own functions, their devotion to the Chantry and the Ancestor-Gods was reinforced by the Lighted-Law that Mer vying for lordship over a clan required the consent of the Chantry priesthood, namely the High Priestess, who was considered spiritually wed to all clan-lords devoted to her Chantry. To each new lord, religious fetishes of bronze would be bestowed upon their anointing to be carried wherever they journeyed, and joined in ceremony at a central font in the chantry until the clan departed. This anointing played a symbolic role in identifying the newly-appointed lord as a knight of the Chantry, as the lords were anointed with quicksilver, the same material utilized along with moonstone in the creation of Falmeri weapons and armor. Within these fonts great flames were kept always-alight that represented the primordial spirit of Anu, offering both material and spiritual comfort to visiting clans, who seldom indulged themselves with the warmth of fire outside the temple. Upon the walls were bright frescos of the Aurora, which only the learned understood the meaning of.

Beyond the Chantries, the Falmer constructed few other structures, relying on their mages instead to create temporary glacial structures to house themselves. Even their tombs were entirely formed of ice, their death practices demanding elderly Mer to engage in self-banishment and a freezing, slow death of meditation within a glacial vault of their own making. Fallen warriors or those who otherwise perished were believed to have faced their own struggles equivalent to freezing meditation, and were interred with representations of their death in order to make an appeal of worthy death to Phynaster. High Priestesses were the only exception to these practices, their own corpses instead housed within the Chantries themselves, their ever-meditating corpses serving as objects of reflection. Their movements as varied as the Aurora itself, they had little need for roads or other forms of infrastructure. Wayshrines were among their only other lasting structures, providing a means of mystical transport back to the Chantry, though these are nearly as rare to discover as the Chantries themselves, many having been repurposed by the Nords or hidden by the Falmer with their glacial arts.

Falmer led a largely isolated existence from the other races of Tamriel, save the Dwemer to the East and in small part the Ayleid to the South. Their relationship with both was at best cooperative and at worst stressful, neither interested in any form of armed conflict, but their divergent worldviews inspired a level of disdain on both their parts. Unlike their Ayleid cousins in Cyrodiil, the Falmer were entirely uninterested in dominating the Nedic populations, ignoring them in most cases under the belief that interactions with Man might denigrate the spirit. While conflict amongst the Falmer clans was extremely rare, divergent interpretations of the lighted-Law would set clans against one another on occasion, though these conflicts were quickly resolved by the Chantry Priesthood.

Notes:
In SHOTN those few chantries that managed to avoid complete destruction or plunder would be the prime evidence of Falmeri civilization and make for larger dungeon crawls. I've thoughts on potential locations and backstories for a few of these when relevant to development. Few intact Wayshrines might dot the eastern regions nestled in the mountains or hidden away by the Falmer in glacial structures. Evidence of these might appear elsewhere, such as pieces jutting from a lakebed. Glacial structures created by the Falmer may be discovered across Skyrim, much more common than a Chantry or Wayshrine. Within might be a lone Falmer monk whose corpse lies frozen in meditation (think self-mummification), a Falmer corpse upon a bed of ice with tokens representing the means of their death nearby, or a few frozen corpses either slaughtered by Nords or starved, too afraid to leave their refuge. Some of these burial chambers might contain Falmer spirits and represent their classes, for instance a dead warrior's chambers might contain an armored spirit, while the resting place of a hiding family may contain spirits in common dress. In the Chantries, the tomb of the High Priestesses in many cases would have had their entry barred via glacial magick, collapse of the entry, or some form of magick lock so as to prevent Nord desecration. This would serve as a barrier-of-entry to the player requiring anything from Dwemer satchels (should have come prepared) to an alternative path, to hunting down a key. In those Chantries abandoned rather than destroyed, traps may have been laid to deter trespassers. Destroyed Chantries would be mostly stripped, but perhaps the most active with spirit activity, the real glory of Falmer architecture would be present in the one or two chantries left un-cannibalized by the Nords.
Falmer Religion:
SpoilerShow
The Falmer revered a pantheon of five central Ancestor-Gods: Auri-El, Trinimac, Jephre, Phynaster, and Syrabane. While the traditional elven gods of Mara, Magnus, and Xarxes went without reverence, some syncretism of their aspects occurred with the Falmer deities. Auri-El took on the solar aspect of Magnus, Jephre the fertility aspect of Mara, and Phynaster the scholarly aspect of Xarxes. Today much debate is had between scholars, primarily of the Mages Guild, as to whether these latter three deities truly were disregarded or all evidence of their worship merely destroyed by the Nords.

While still recognizing and maintaining some degree of worship for all deities of this pantheon, the Falmer clans generally devoted their numbers to only one particular Chantry and the deity it was constructed to represent. Thanks to a relatively isolated existence from their fellow Mer and the rigid hereditary hierarchies formed by them, not to mention their own nomadic lifestyle, the Falmer also maintained some degree of worship for their own 'lesser' ancestors in addition to the 'greater' Ancestor-Gods of the Chantries. To the Falmer, the material world of Nirn held little value, and they instead focused on what they believed to be their spiritual mission on Mundus: to delineate the path taken by Auri-El in actualizing his divine nature and like him ascend from a patchwork world bound to increasing decay. Success in this mission required absolute devotion to the Anuic forces, repudiation of the physical world, and dedication to a discipline of the spirit.

Their relationship toward the 'lesser' ancestors was one less familial-based, as the Dunmer practice, and more individualistic and based upon their conception of rebirth. This concept was central to the spirituality of the Falmer, who believed that through an ascetic attitude of reflection and worldly suffering one may strengthen and maintain some degree of will within the soul; which would be judged worthy by Phynaster upon death and carried from the deceased to Falmer offspring, maintaining the progression toward enlightenment made in their prior lives. Falmer adolescents thus had high expectations placed upon them in order to set their spirit again on the path, with their early years dominated by education at the Chantry. Children with especially progressed souls would be chosen to join the Curacy, and the identification of a new High Priestess was carried out in this manner as well when the time came.

While similar in character to most other interpretations, the 'greater' Ancestor-Gods of the Falmer were known to have unique aspects and means of veneration. Earlier depictions of the deities were purely symbolic, the Falmer believing them to have ascended beyond the material plane and icons representing their natures to have been more accurate than anthropomorphic representations. These icons were most commonly in the form of water-vessels, utilized in a ritual to Auri-El conducted at sunrise and sunset. Later depictions of the deities gradually came to represent them as more outwardly Merish figures, notably in glacial carvings; caused largely by Nordic destruction of the Chantries and subsequent degeneration of Falmeri religious tradition. Their deities were identified as having been founding or guardian spirits of a long-lost home they called 'Altmora', which was destroyed by an entity known as 'Xrib', an interpretation of Lorkhan and the ultimate corrupting force of the Aurbis according to the Falmer.

Auri-El:
Traditionally represented by the 'Coiled Sun', Auri-El stood as the god of Time, Light, and Truth. Having discerned, through spiritual discipline, the means to shed his material form and escape the confines of Mundus, his flight through to Magnus was an event central to the Falmeri religious narrative and one they all long meditated upon, regardless of their devoted Chantry. It was believed that the Auroras of Skyrim outlined a spiritual path and code of law left to them by Auri-El, and would guide the Falmer to enlightenment. Spirit-Guides would interpret the patterns of the Aurora and plot their clan's travels and practices based on what they considered to be providence from Auri-El, and the Priesthood would provide interpretations of the Lighted-Law based upon Phynaster's own divinely-recognized discernments. Having been worshipped in part as a solar deity, there was some syncretism between Auri-El and Magnus, the latter of which considered merely as representative of the guiding hand of Auri-El, the sun making clear the passage of time such that mortals would not be lost. His rising from the material world was most meditated upon during sunrise and sunset, when the Falmer reflected upon the meeting of spiritual sun and material water in their filled vessels to their own devoted spirits. Later depictions of Auri-El would forego the symbolic use of the 'Coiled Sun' and be largely replaced by the scene of his ascent to Magnus in glacial carvings.

Trinimac:
Traditionally represented by the 'Scarab Vessel', Trinimac stood as the god of Unity, Covenant, and Challenge. Champion of Auri-El, he was considered the strongest of the Ancestor-Gods and the only one with the will and respect to rally the Falmer clans toward a unified cause. When Xrib and the forces of Man set upon Altmora, it was Trinimac that rallied the Falmer to the offensive after Auri-El failed to protect their home. He would most infamously take Xrib by the jaws and split him in two, a great deluge spilling from the carcass and falling upon Mundus, setting the Falmer adrift on a portion of Altmora in these newly-formed seas until they reached what would become Tamriel. Holding the Heart of Xrib aloft, Trinimac would be taken upon by the writhing mouths of Oblivion, but the Heart kept from their clutches when an arrow from Auri-El sent it to the corners of the world. Xrib's lunar carcass would continue to drain long after his death in the way of rain and snow, which on one hand nourished the creations of Jephre and on another challenged the strength of the Falmer, deeming them worthy of Trinimac's sacrifice. Later depictions of Trinimac would forego the symbolic use of the 'Scarab Vessel' and be largely replaced by the scene of Xrib's slaying in glacial carvings.

Jephre:
Traditionally represented by the 'Bole Vessel', Jephre stood as the god of Fertility, War, and the Elder Wood. It was believed that a large portion of Skyrim was but a piece of their home Altmora, a world created for their ancestors by Jephre. While revering the deity for his continued efforts in maintaining the land for his people, his worship took on more of a nostalgic note and he was considered in some manner crippled after the sundering of Falmeri Skyrim from Altmora. Reflecting on the remains of their ancestral home, the Falmer were reminded of the inevitable and continued decay Mundus would naturally suffer, and the fundamental importance enlightenment played to their continued spiritual existence. While not entirely forbidden, Falmeri use of the natural creations of Jephre like the wood from certain trees was extremely restrictive, as they believed it a necessity to maintain what few elements remained from their homeland. This attitude of preservation extended the sphere of Jephre into the propagation of the Falmeri race both in the way of procreation, and necessary conflict, an aspect of the deity considered fearful. Later depictions of Jephre would forego the symbolic use of the 'Bole Vessel' and be largely replaced by the scene of the god being torn in two between the jaws of Xrib and the pulling of his fearful children in glacial carvings.

Phynaster:
Traditionally represented by the 'Ringed Vessel', Phynaster stood as the god of Rebirth, Law, and the Winds. He was said to have spent a lifetime interpreting the Aurora and made greater strides than any other in discerning the Lighted-Law left by Auri-El, until he reached old age. So close to the whole of the Law, Phynaster appealed to Auri-El for more time, but the god did not believe any mortal could discern so much from the path in one lifetime. Planting his staff in the earth, Phynaster took up a meditative position and slowed his breathing so as to demonstrate his understanding. He remained in the same position for years past his lifespan when he finally succumbed. His point having been made, Auri-El took Phynaster under his wing, revealing to him the final truth in the Law and charging the Mer with its maintenance: the watch for ascetic spirits, which would be reborn in accordance with their faithfulness to the Lighted-Law. Phynaster's first act after enlightenment would be to gift his art of slow-breathing to all Falmer, lengthening their lifespan in order that they better understand the Aurora. Later depictions of Phynaster would forego the symbolic use of the 'Ringed Vessel' and be largely replaced by the scene of his meditating beneath the winds of Auri-El in glacial carvings.

Syrabane:
Traditionally represented by the 'Fanged Vessel', Syrabane stood as the goddess of Magic, Ancestry, and Salvation. An exceptionally powerful mage, it was Syrabane who first discovered how to manipulate the four elements of Mundus in their esoteric forms, allowing manipulation of the material world and creating magic as the Falmer knew it. When Trinimac tore apart the ever-consuming Xrib, it was Syrabane which kept the Falmer from being crushed by the flood. Freezing the great waves setting upon their people, Syrabane made of them a great fanged barrier and tore the little land left to the Falmer from Altmora. Over the course of their voyage, Syrabane would teach the Falmer how to interpret the Aurora and the importance of their doing so. Among her first lessons would be the discernment of their personal ancestry from its many hues, reflective of the spiritual journey of their very soul. It was said many of the frozen barriers created by Syrabane fell when their piece of Altmora collided with Tamriel, but those that remained became the mountains of Skyrim. Later depictions of Syrabane would forego the symbolic use of the 'Fanged Vessel' and be largely replaced by the scene of her guiding the floating remnant of Altmora across the sea in glacial carvings.

Notes:
I've only included these five deities in part due to Gelebor's dialogue in Dawnguard, but largely to avoid the cookie-cutter 'Eight Divines' in introducing a front of scholarly debate that might arise between Skyrim researchers into whether the final three are missing as a result of Nordic destruction or a real deviation in the Falmer religion. If that's too controversial, I'm prepared to write stuff out for the missing three gods.
Concept Images:
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Falmeri Commoner (Art by Lady Nerevar):
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Falmeri Warrior (Awesome Work by Saint_Jiub):
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Falmeri Curate (Solar Hats!):
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Falmeri High Priestess (Bigger Solar Hats!):
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Falmeri Ruins (I like the style utilized in Skyrim, but it ought to be less Ayleid-looking):
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Falmeri Ruins (Perhaps some Eastern influence, with most Chantries built into the mountainside):
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Falmeri Ruins (Ellora Caves):
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Falmeri Ruins (Ellora Caves):
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Falmeri Ruins (Ellora Caves):
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Falmeri Ruins (Bhaje-karla Caves; I love the entryway):
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Falmeri Ruins Interior (Ellora Caves; I love the ribcage-looking cieling):
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Nathan
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Post by Nathan » Fri May 04, 2018 4:19 pm

I think it would be interesting if the Falmer religion had some connection to the Nordic pantheon and the kalpic cycle, but with a more elven slant. What if instead of worshipping Auri-El, they worship something akin to Alduin? However, contrast with the Nords, they would have desired to awaken him and escape the current kalpa. Perhaps the kalpic cycle is an idea that originated with the Falmer that the Nords later adopted.

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Tristior
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Post by Tristior » Sat May 05, 2018 9:56 am

Eh, I actually prefer to sharp distinction between the pantheons, showing a kind of imposition of Nordic religion on Tamriel. Plus historically, they are quite separate in their formation (Nord religion developed in Atmora, away from the Falmer).

Undertaker
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Post by Undertaker » Sun May 13, 2018 12:55 am

What's your opinion as Denstagmer as their god (as in Denstagmer's Ring)? Sounds godly enough, there is nothing about him anywhere outside existence of that ring, so it could be Aedric Artifact for what it's worth.

According to Hrafnir's languages den means nest in Nordic, and stag means fort. Those words may be loanwords from Falmeri.
In Aldmeri language dena means useful and some words similar enough to stag like stani or stare mean city or large building.

For me fort can be described as useful large building. :lol: And Denstagmer's Ring is defensive ring granting resistance to fire, frost and shock. So maybe Denstagmer is god of peace and safety? Or maybe he's god of good weather?

I wanted to describe him as anti-Ares or anti-Prometheus in Earth's religion terms. And Lorkhan is kinda like Prometheus and an enemy of the ancient Elves. Some Nordic myths state he vowed the Dwemer would "die by [his] hand" shortly before their disappearance at the climax of the War of the First Council around 1E 700. So maybe Lorkhan did all that? But earlier? Having Falmer in mind, not Dwemer? And in 1E 700 it was old myth already?

Maybe Denstagmer is husband/wife of Auri-El? His mer form? Maybe he was killed by Lorkhan?

I think Denstagmer as forgotten god of Falmers is worth considering.

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Anumaril
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Post by Anumaril » Thu Sep 13, 2018 11:03 am

Nathan wrote:I think it would be interesting if the Falmer religion had some connection to the Nordic pantheon and the kalpic cycle, but with a more elven slant. What if instead of worshipping Auri-El, they worship something akin to Alduin? However, contrast with the Nords, they would have desired to awaken him and escape the current kalpa. Perhaps the kalpic cycle is an idea that originated with the Falmer that the Nords later adopted.
I'm with Tristior concerning the Falmer religion featuring any syncretism with Nordic beliefs. They ought to be near-polar opposites, with the Falmeri being pretty much the second-most traditional elven faith after the Altmeri. Nords are unique when it comes to the races of men in that their faith is for the most part untainted by elven influence, and it should be left this way. They have a diametrically-opposed worldview to Mer, the roots of which go back to mythic times. It should be recognized that the conflict between the Atmorans and the Falmer were inevitable, they both simply stood as too great a threat to the other's way of life.
Undertaker wrote:What's your opinion as Denstagmer as their god (as in Denstagmer's Ring)? Sounds godly enough, there is nothing about him anywhere outside existence of that ring, so it could be Aedric Artifact for what it's worth.
I really don't see the relevance of Denstagmer to the Falmer. His only reference is a unique ring found in a named urn within an unremarkable ancestral tomb.

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