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.
These fortress-chantries were the source from which the varying cultural groups of the Falmer formed, with clans devoted to the Chantry of Trinichite being among the fiercest elven warriors and adhering to strict hierarchical structures, while clans devoted to Syrid 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, who herself acted as a vessel for the coalesced spirits of her predecessors. Among her greatest responsibilities was the keeping, interpreting, and applying of the Lighted-Law, which had its origin in the tales of Phynaea, who deciphered from the Aurora codes by which Aur'el desired his people to live and would guide their way toward personal enlightenment. Many of the notable movements of the Falmer, such as devotions to new Chantries, stemmed from disagreements between Emero and the Curacy regarding interpretations of the law. In some cases, as evidenced by Falmer burial sites in the western reaches of Skyrim, these divides occasionally grew so great as to lead clans to leave the comfort of Mereth altogether and strike out into uncharted territory.
Masters of illusion, the Falmer utilized their prowess with these magical arts for everything from defense of their clans to hunting: obscuring themselves and their structures, or distracting and luring their prey. These implementations led most Falmer to avoid direct combat whenever possible, save perhaps for the proud Chantry of Trinichite, and thus their arms and armor were designed to be lightweight and facilitate the use of magic. While still utilized, offensive spells were far from the focus of the Falmeri arts, with fire in particular considered offensive to their sensibilities; thus unique frost magicks derived from the same arts by which they formed their glacial dwellings and tombs were engineered, many inspired by their own weapons. Few survive today, but some derivatives of cast spears, swords, and shields of radiant ice have been developed at the College of Winterhold, themselves inspiring steel reproductions of Falmeri weapons and armor, derivatives of derivatives. Still, most Falmer preferred to hide themselves away than take the fight to the Atmorans, obscuring their Chantries with illusions. However, these tactics would prove ineffectual against the invaders, who shouted down whole mountainsides to bury any Mer who'd otherwise be preserved by their magic. For this reason few Chantries were confirmed to have been destroyed, and those claimed to have been are today subject to scrutiny, considering Nordic embellishments.
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 quicksilver would be bestowed upon their anointing to be carried wherever they journeyed, and joined in ceremony at a central font in the chantry until their departure. Believed to facilitate the illusory arts mastered by the Falmer, quicksilver was utilized not only in these fetishes, but in the creation of the arms and armor of the elves as well. Within the central fonts that symbolically united the clans, great flames were kept always-alight to represent the primordial spirit of Anu, offering both material and spiritual comfort to visitors, who seldom indulged themselves with the warmth of fire outside the temple. Illuminated by the fire were walls covered with bright depictions of the Aurora, which only the learned could read into the significance of.
Beyond the Chantries, the Falmer constructed few other structures, relying on their mages instead to create temporary glacial structures to house themselves. 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 transportation 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. Even their tombs were entirely formed of ice, their burial practices demanding elderly Mer to engage in self-banishment and an isolated, 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 this practice, and were interred with representations of their death in order to make an appeal of worthiness to Phynaea. High Priestesses were the only exception to these practices, their own corpses instead housed within the Chantry vaults, the ever-meditating corpses down to the first Priestess of the chantry serving as sources of reflection for incumbent spiritual leaders.
Unlike many of their cousins, the 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. Indeed the closest they came to violence was in their opposition to Dwemer settlement on the western slopes of the Velothi Mountains, a violation of the sacred soil of Mereth, however a combination of diplomacy and clever use of illusory magic managed to prevent further incursions into their homeland. 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 in others having driven them from portions of Mereth long ago. 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 often bloodless and involved the exercise of illusions and trickery to manipulate opponents. Regardless, these were often quickly resolved by the Chantry Priesthood.
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, an illusory theme ought to be focused on, with various traps as well as collision-less floors and walls obscuring paths, enemies, etc. Assaulted 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.
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 hierarchies formed by them, not to mention their own nomadic lifestyle, the Falmer also maintained some degree of reverence 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 Aur'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 Phynaea 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 spirits would be chosen to join the Curacy, and the identification of a new High Priestess was carried out in a similar manner as well when the time came; though given the strain of allowing the spirits of past Priestesses to coalesce inside oneself, such an appointment was always made with consent of the succeeding High Priestess.
Despite their repudiation of the material, many Falmer still held their land of Mereth in great regard, believing it to be a remnant of their ancestral home of Altmora, and thus it inspired a feeling of nostalgia for a greater age of optimism regarding Mundus. Unlike many of their cousins, the Falmer viewed the world not with disgust, but pity; their enlightenment an unfortunate necessity given the inherent corruption of a world that began with much promise. This feeling of nostalgia led them to seek to preserve the lands of Mereth in accordance with the desires of Yephret, often conflating threats to the land with threats to the existence of their people.
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 Aur'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.
Traditionally represented by the 'Coiled Sun', Aur'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 a tale long meditated upon, regardless of devoted Chantry. It was believed that the Auroras of Mereth outlined a spiritual path and code of law left to them by Aur'el, and would guide the Falmer to enlightenment. Spirit-guides in each clan known as Emero would interpret the patterns of the Aurora and plot their travels accordingly, all while reading into its hues to discern what may be providence from their deity. Divine inspiration led to a number of unique interpretations of the law amongst Falmeri clans, some of which leading to clans devoting themselves to new Chantries, or outright abandoning Mereth for the world beyond. Having been worshipped in part as a solar deity, there was some degree of syncretism between Aur'el and the contemporary Magnus, the latter of which considered merely as representative of the guiding hand of Aur'el for the Falmer, 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 within their filled vessels. Later depictions of Aur'el would forego the symbolic use of the 'Coiled Sun' and be largely replaced by the scene of his ascent to Magnus and painting of the Aurora in glacial carvings.
Traditionally represented by the 'Scarab Vessel', Trinichite stood as the god of Unity, Covenant, and Challenge. Champion of Aur'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 Trinichite that rallied the Falmer to the offensive after Aur'el failed to protect their home. He would most famously 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 the newly-formed seas until they reached what would become Tamriel. Holding the Heart of Xrib aloft, Trinichite would be taken upon by the writhing mouths of Oblivion, but the Heart kept from their clutches when an arrow from Aur'el sent it simultaneously to all 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 Yephret and on another challenged the strength of the Falmer, deeming them worthy of Trinichite's sacrifice. At the end of ages when all their kin have reached enlightenment, the Falmer believed that Xrib would return with even greater strength than was witnessed at Altmora, but Trinichite would return as well to sunder the creature and redeem himself. 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.
Traditionally represented by the 'Bole Vessel', Yephret stood as the god of Fertility, War, and the Elder Wood. It was believed that a large portion of Mereth was but a piece of their home Altmora, a world created for their ancestors by Yephret. 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 Mereth from Altmora. Reflecting on the remains of their ancestral home, the Falmer were reminded of the inevitable and continued decay Mundus would naturally suffer at the hands of Man, and the fundamental importance enlightenment played to their continued spiritual existence. While not entirely forbidden, Falmeri use of the natural creations of Yephret 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 Yephret into the propagation of the Falmeri race both in the way of procreation, and necessary conflict, an aspect of the deity considered fearful. However, those elements of nature and rogue elements of the Falmer that existed outside the bounds of what they called 'Mereth' were not so well regarded, and it was open season for all that lied beyond. Later depictions of Yephret 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.
Traditionally represented by the 'Ringed Vessel', Phynaea 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 Aur'el, until he reached old age. So close to the whole of the Law, Phynaea 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, Phynaea challenged Time in taking up a meditative position and slowing his breathing so as to demonstrate his understanding, remaining in the same position for years past his lifespan when he finally succumbed. His point having been made, Aur'el took Phynaea under his wing, revealing to him the final truth in the Law and charging the Mer with its maintenance, as was his wish: to watch for ascetic spirits, which would be reborn in accordance with their faithfulness to the Lighted-Law. Phynaea's first act afterward would be to gift his art of the frozen-breath to all Falmer, lengthening their lifespan in order that they better understand the Aurora; an act much to the chagrin of mankind, whose own years were adversely lessened. Later depictions of Phynaea would forego the symbolic use of the 'Ringed Vessel' and be largely replaced by the scene of his meditating beneath the wings of Aur'el in glacial carvings.
Traditionally represented by the 'Fanged Vessel', Syrid stood as the goddess of Illusion, Ancestry, and Salvation. An exceptionally powerful mage, it was Syrid 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 Trinichite tore apart the ever-consuming Xrib, it was Syrid which kept the Falmer from being crushed by the chaotic elements unleashed from its corpse. Freezing the great waves setting upon their people, Syrid made of them a great fanged barriers and tore the little land left to the Falmer from Altmora. Over the course of their voyage, Syrid would teach the elves how to interpret the Aurora which guided their voyage 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 Syrid fell when their piece of Altmora collided with Tamriel, but those that remained became the mountains of Mereth. Later depictions of Syrid 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.
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.
The Chantry of Aur'el serves as the hidden home of the last living Falmer, themselves having greatly deteriorated from the once-proud quality of their race. This is thanks in part to inbreeding amongst the few remaining families, a loss of tradition, inversion of their way of life, and the fearful coddling of their High Priestesses, traumatized from the experiences of those predecessors who survived the slaughter of their kind and who cling out of desperation to preserve their people. In maintaining their spirits, the High Priestess blinds them to the truth of their situation via illusion, her own dishonest acts masquerading as miracles inspiring practical worship of her character by the misguided subjects. Kept warm by the great central fire whose purpose is lost to all but their motherly Priestess, the remaining Snow Elves subsist on goods carefully scavenged or hunted nearby the Chantry as well as the food grown within the Chantry's central chamber, turned into an illusory garden by the Priestess, the true form of its products far less appetizing than they appear.
The Chantry of Trinichite was entirely destroyed by the Atmorans as revenge for their instigating the Night of Tears, which resulted in the destruction of Saarthal and eventual Return. Not only would its sacred stone be repurposed for the construction of Winterhold, but the population was slaughtered to the last and their own bodies as well as the meditative corpses of the Priestesses desecrated and dumped in a nearby ravine, which has since been the subject of numerous folktales and is generally avoided by locals on account of the spiteful spirits that dwell within its depths.
The Chantry of Yephret has long been seemingly taken back by the god of nature himself, its labyrinthian corridors twisted even more by the wild roots that have taken hold within. In its deepest recesses grows a spiritual weed from the mummified remains of the High Priestesses, enabling their coalesced spirits to possess the wood surrounding the Chantry and cast a veil of illusions over the forest, inspiring rumors of living elves lurking within and tales of whispering trees that lead men to their graves or drive them mad.
Having encased their wayshrines in ice to prevent Nordic tampering, those Falmer residing within the Chantry of Phynaea thought themselves safe behind the string of illusions that disguised the great entrance to the Chantry. However, they hadn't faced an enemy as relentless as the Atmorans before, and had little time to react before the mountain was shouted down on top of them, trapping the elves within. Many would die an agonizing death or take their own lives, and those few capable engaged in meditative practice as was their custom. With at least one of their wayshrines loosed from its glacial repository, access is restored to the Chantry, filled with the enraged spirits of those that died.
Having been long abandoned to the elements, the Chantry of Syrid lies still and empty, though this itself may merely be an illusion. Within its obfuscated vaults, the coalesced spirits of the High Priestesses still wait for an heir to possess, the presence of their host-less form rendering a wild array of illusory elements over the Chantry.
Perhaps the largest clue that the remaining Falmer deities were merely lost to time, this Chantry is dedicated to a lost god and is suitably devoid of life. However, the lighting of its great central brazier might still manage to propitiate those spirits that slumber within.
Falmeri Warrior (Awesome Work by Saint_Jiub):
Falmeri Curate (Solar Hats!):
Falmeri High Priestess (Bigger Solar Hats!):
Falmeri Ruins (I like the style utilized in Skyrim, but it ought to be less Ayleid-looking):
Falmeri Ruins (Perhaps some Eastern influence, with most Chantries built into the mountainside):
Falmeri Ruins (Ellora Caves):
Falmeri Ruins (Ellora Caves):
Falmeri Ruins (Ellora Caves):
Falmeri Ruins (Bhaje-karla Caves; I love the entryway):
Falmeri Ruins Interior (Ellora Caves; I love the ribcage-looking cieling):