- Firstly, this is an attempt to codify the cultural religiosity of the Nords, for the sake of enriching Skyrim: Home of the Nords and other Project Tamriel works. This is about what the Nords think Kyne is, for example, not what Kyne actually is.
- Secondly, the story beats below are not intended to be The Official Nord Creation-Myth™. They are a rough outline of the recurring stories and key points in Nordic mythology, from which poems, stories and religious beliefs can be built - they form the trunk from which the literary branches and leaves we see in-game grow.
- Thirdly, I have worked extremely hard to square what’s written here with what has been written before, both officially and unofficially, about the Nordic pantheon and belief system. The canon of the more recent games - Skyrim and ESO in particular - has been demoted to ideas-stash, so for example Alduin is no longer the literal, killable son of Akatosh. Everything written prior to the story-beats was written with close reference to TES lore, and after that things were given more poetic licence (but are still consistent). Many contradictions with existing lore will be cases of scholarly errancy (in-game) but if there’s a mistake that you think is particularly egregious, please point it out.
- Lastly, there are appendices down the bottom regarding everything from language choice to sources to my competing ideas on a certain topic. Check them out.
Key Characteristics (conveyed in-game):
- The religion itself is a blend of Norse, Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, and Nordic culture should visually reflect this (with subtlety).
- Pessimistic resignation to the world’s ending (but also anticipation of its rebirth) is a key feature of Nordic religion. Nords will be inclined to see events as cyclical and finite.
- Nords are not given to regimented or ostentatious forms of worship, instead preferring to invoke or propitiate their gods privately. Most families will have a murti (representation) of their chosen god(s) by the hearth, to which the matriarch will give offerings. Priests will conduct their ceremonies in places of significance to their deity.
- Instead of a codified set of beliefs, Nords compose stories and songs about their gods and heroes that are passed down through each generation. These tend to be wildly divergent (if not outright contradictory) tellings of the same events and characters, especially from region to region.
- Although it was a later introduction, Nords view the gods of the elves (and thus, partly the Nine Divines) as hostile demons that killed their creator and constantly plot against them. This makes particularly-religious Nords hostile to elves and foreign religions.
CE1 - Atmoran/Totemic Period (ME? - ME?)
•Period of simplistic animal nature spirits (fox, dragon, hawk)
•No written records survive, but oral traditions continue as animal fables
•Lasted past the settlement of Skyrim and the Return
CE2 - Rippling Kingdoms Period (ME? - 1E139)
•Period of expansion and war with the Snow Elves
•Poetic cycle begins, especially tales of mighty mythic kings and great heroes
•Nords begin to anthropomorphise their totems, Nordic pantheon emerges
•Dragon Cult gains popularity, eschatological teachings conflict with nobility
•Various avatars of Shor emerge to found and then abandon Nord kingdoms
•Elf-demons/adversary gods are first introduced to the pantheon, encouraged by the rantings of Shor’s avatars
CE3 - Old Empire Period (1E139 - 1E401)
•King Harald drives out the Snow Elves and suppresses the Dragon Cult, leading to the founding of Skyrim
•First period of record-keeping and historical inquiry
•Nordic mythology is codified, and elements such as the death of Shor and the founding of Sovngarde are introduced
•Tales of conquest feature prominently
CE4 - Broken Sky Period (1E401 - 1E2703)
•Skyrim is fractured at this point, with many squabbling lords and kingdoms
•Poetry and mythology from this period is noticeably darker and more esoteric, focusing on both internal strife of the gods and the crimes of the elf-demons (e.g. Shor, Son of Shor)
•The Alessian Order begins to push out traditional Nordic religion, especially in the south and east (western Skyrim is largely Direnni at this point)
•Wulfharth appears again and again as a war-leader, exhorting the Nords to reclaim their empire and especially Shor’s Heart from Morrowind. He leads the attack against the First Council and for a century attempts to unite the warring Nord holds. Following his coronation as High King, he reverses the losses against the Direnni and purges the Alessians, but is unable to reclaim the First Empire and Skyrim fades from power
•Following the defeat by the First Council, Jurgen Windcaller founds the Way of the Voice as a means of studying and perfecting the thu’um (which was previously seen by Nords as innate)
CE4.5 - Middle Dawn (1E1300 - 1E2300)
CE5 - Imperial Protectorate/Interregnum Period (1E2703 - 2E855)
•Skyrim is peacefully integrated into the Reman Empire, and Imperial (particularly Colovian) culture begins to assert influence
•Less emphasis on heroes and individualism in Nordic storytelling; the gods become more removed and less personable, and Sovngarde falls away from cultural consciousness
CE6 - Talos Period (2E855 - 3E427)
•Although they initially resisted his expansion, the Nords became enthusiastic supporters of Cuhlecain and Tiber Septim (especially as Wulfharth’s influence spread and the “Nordic Talos” myth grew in popularity)
•Seeing the Septim Empire as a restoration of the First Empire (won by Nordic conquest and led by a supposed Nord) this period saw a restoration of traditional Nordic religion and the poetic cycle.
Shor, The Fox (Lorkhan)
Kyne, The Hawk (Kynareth)
Orkey, The Snake (Arkay/Malacath)
Dagon, The Leaper Demon King (Mehrunes Dagon)
Molag Bal, The Mighty Lion of Evening
The Twilight Gods
Alduin, The Dragon
The World-Eater, the Nordic god of finitude, destruction and rebirth. Although there are many permutations of his nature in Nordic thought, Alduin is consistently portrayed as the most powerful and implacable god in existence - far more a force of nature than anthropomorphic being. It is Alduin who defines the length of the kalpa, and thus is universally revered by the Nords. He is rarely invoked, however, since mortals prefer not to disturb this sleeping destroyer god - indeed, much of the Nordic mythic cycle is concerned with the efforts of gods and mortals alike to prevent his awakening, and to extend this kalpa just a little bit longer.
Different places, cultures and periods of history have depicted Alduin in different ways; these include:
- The most consistently popular is simply as the beginning and end of the world: an immutable cycle that is simply the way of things. In this way of thinking, Alduin is depicted as a broken circle - all that exists will vanish, and all that happens will cease. The dragon does not eat its tail.
- Before the reign of King Harald Hand-Free, in the first century of the first era, the Dragon Cult came to prominence. Almost monotheistic in their veneration, they viewed Alduin as a moral force who would cleanse the world of impurity and suffering and usher in a pure, newborn kalpa. They rapidly fell from favour due to their enthusiasm for human sacrifice, and today mostly exist as small groups of ascetics who worship Alduin’s ability to destroy suffering and stagnation (both at the end of time and in the present day).
- Several works personalise Alduin; mostly more lighthearted works that make him an irascible, sometimes-jovial spirit who does his duty at the appointed time and then returns to sleep.
Nords are not entirely sure of what to make of Talos. As an incredibly recent addition to the Nordic mythic cycle, Talos has not yet settled into a common understanding and instead is held to many different interpretations by different religious traditions. These include, in roughly increasing order of complexity:
- That he is nonsense
- That he is Imperial nonsense
- That he is an aspect of Shor
- That Tiber Septim was an avatar of Shor, whom the Imperials (incorrectly, self-aggrandisingly) deified upon death
- That Tiber Septim - as a Dragonborn - is an avatar of Alduin, and that Talos is not a distinct god but at most some new aspect of the Dragon. What exactly this means is unclear… did he conquer Tamriel in preparation for its consumption? Are his conquests what is meant by “World-Eater”? Does Talos herald the end of the kalpa? Perhaps Talos is the one to finally rouse Alduin - it would certainly explain the Imperial veneration of Akatosh.
- That Tiber Septim was Shor fully reborn into this world, and that after his death he reclaimed his full godhood as Talos. The implications of this are similarly unclear… does Shor/Talos now have the power to defeat Alduin at the end of the kalpa and thus extend the life of this world? With Shor reborn, do true Nords owe unthinking loyalty to the Empire he founded? If Shor has taken his place as head (give or take) of the Nine Divines, does this mean that the Imperial Cult is actually on to something?
- That Talos is the avatar of Tiber Septim - that his might was such that he forced himself into Aetherius and took the form of a god, rather than the much more common reverse. Similar to the Walking Ways, but simpler and more superstitious. Similar to the previous entries, what he chooses to do now is a subject for debate.
- That Talos is, as Michael Kirkbride states here, a new god - the first of the Twilight Gods, who heralds the end of the kalpa but will survive into the new one. Is this a natural part of the cosmic cycle, or a(n un)welcome change of events?
That one of the above is correct, and that the sacred mysteries of the Talos Cult are how he will maintain his Empire and the primacy of man over mer. Very popular in the military, as in other provinces.
- That he was a Dragonborn human who, with assistance, was able to soul-trap an avatar of Shor and ultimately mantle the Dead God to become him again, old-but-new. Perhaps he can even realise Shor’s plan to defeat the World-Eater and extend this cycle (but probably not).
Stuhn, The Whale (Stendarr)
- Shor creates the world from the pieces of the old.
- Tsun leads the Nordic spirits out of Sovngarde to repopulate the world.
- The gods and their people adventure together and make war on the elf-demons.
- Shor and Tsun are killed by the elf-demons. They journey through the underworld until they found Sovngarde in a place that Alduin will not eat.
- The world exists (basically in its current form) - Shor hoards Nordic spirits and bits of the world. Gods and mortals do their best to maintain the cycle and keep Alduin sleeping, elf-demons do the opposite.
- Alduin inevitably awakens and devours the world.
- Back to 1.
- The Hearth Gods are revered through representations (see murti) kept over the fireplace. These are often wooden carvings of the family’s chosen deity, or a carved skull that acts as a divine conduit.
- Women are the religious leaders in any family, and the ones who provide offerings. Female priests are far more common, and male priests will tend to present themselves as female in their religious duties (this is not considered unusual)
- Philosophically-inclined Nords, in a Buddhist/Stoic way, tend to reject rumination or attachment to particular emotions - since mortal considerations (except reaching Sovngarde) are always finite, any feeling will ultimately pass.
- Clever-men (traditional Nordic mages) cultivate a tulpa or “thoughtform” which is a mental projection into Aetherius or Oblivion. In this way they are able to visit the Underworld and even (supposedly) Sovngarde. These thoughtforms will grow to become distinct from their thinker, acting as an advisor or conscience, and are related to (but distinct from) the Psijic Endeavour.
- Certain expressions and invocations are popular in Nordic speech, e.g. “The Dragon does not eat its tail” - similar to “this too shall pass” or similar expressions of finitude.
Notes of language
Nordic god names:
- Radagode - guiding gods
- Valdathyrrar - authority spirits
- Vardathyrrar - watch-over spirits
- Fultlav - birthless
- Ragnar - gods
- Bryggthyrrar - maintain-spirits
- Bryggode - maintain-gods
- Hirser - beams
- Skuldydrar - sin-monsters
- Udyrthyrrar - monster-spirits
- Siflavydrar - loveless-monsters
- Skuldthyrrar - sin-spirits
- Skyrim (?)
- Founding of Saarthal
- Night of Tears
- Ysgramor’s Return
- 1E0-139 - Shor’s avatars found kingdoms
- 1E68 - Last refugees from Atmora
- 1E139-143 - King Harald purges Snow Elves, founds Skyrim
- 1E221 - Death of Harald, founding of the Moot
- 1E240 - King Vrage conquers Morrowind and High Rock, founds First Empire
- 1E242 - Alessian Uprising
- 1E358 - Direnni Hegemony take lands from Skyrim
- 1E369 - Death of Borgas leads to War of Succession/end of the First Empire
- 1E401 - Skyrim loses holdings in High Rock and Morrowind
- 1E416 - Wulfharth leads invasion to recapture Morrowind
- <1E420 - Skyrim loses holdings in Cyrodiil
- 1E477 - Direnni Hegemony conquers western Skyrim
- 1E500 - Wulfharth becomes High King
- 1E660 - Mauloch defeated, Sun’s Death
- 1E2703 - Akaviri invasion defeated, Skyrim made protectorate of Reman
- 1E2704 - The Reach split between High Rock and Skyrim
- 1E2804 - The Winterhold Rebellion against the Reman Empire
- 2E283-320 - Rebellions against the Akaviri Potentate
- 2E430 - Interregnum begins
- 2E852 - Nord/Breton forces defeated by Talos and Cuhlecain
- 2E855 - Nords continue to resist Tiber Septim
- 2E896 - Tiber Septim crowned Emperor
- 3E81 - Potema Septim marries King Mantiarco of Solitude
- 3E121-127 - War of the Red Diamond
- The Seven Fights of Aldudagga (CE2)
- Shor, Son of Shor (CE4)
- Five Songs of King Wulfharth (CE4)
- Arcturian Heresy (CE6)
- Songs of Return (CE2)
- A Nord-specific primer for the Imperial Cult, clearing up misconceptions (such as that Imperials worship Orkey the Snake) and laying out a Skyrim-flavoured take on worship of the Nine Divines. (CE6)
- A Revelations-style book that outlines one interpretation of Alduin’s awakening and the end of the kalpa. A good place to talk about eschatological stuff like Sovngarde hoarding the world, Shor ushering in the next cycle and Tsun leading the souls of Sovngarde to populate the new world. (CE3)
- Nordic creation stories (see below) (CE3)
- Mysteries of the Talos Cult. Pretty inscrutable beliefs on the war-god Talos and what is demanded of his followers. (CE6)
- Shoranishad - tales of adventures of Shor's avatars. (CE3)
- Hymns of the Aldudagga - songs from the Dragon Cult (CE2)
- History of pre-First Empire Nordic religion (CE3)
- Nordic Vedas - codification of Nordic religious belief. Foundational text. (CE3)
- New Nordic Vedas - reframing of Nordic gods more in line with Eight Divines; aloof and impersonal. (CE5)
- Do the gods die at the end of the kalpa, or do they outlive it and build the next? Canon sources differ. My story-beats can be modified reasonably easily to accommodate either one (though I do prefer the gods surviving).
- Will the gods die at the end of this kalpa, even if they generally survive? Is Shor, being already dead, doomed to always remain dead/inside Sovngarde?
- How long is a kalpa? Are some of the inhabitants of Sovngarde left over from other cycles? (I don’t like this)
- How influential is Shor now that he is dead, culturally and metaphysically? How much control does he have over Shezarrines?
- Where are Sovngarde and the Underworld? How did Shor establish it? What does it do, exactly? What kind of battle is fought there?
- I’ve painted the gods and Nords as wanting to extend the kalpa (even if they are currently resigned to failure). Is this contrary to the pessimistic fatalism of the Nords? Does it place too much emphasis on this cycle, and de-emphasise the significance of past cycles?