I've completely reworked my old "Funerary Rites of Cyrodiil" books series: this was one of the first books I wrote for P:C, and in hindsight it suffered from a number of issues and inconsistencies. The series was also never completed according to my original design. Tombs of the West
and Death by Water
have been reworked, while a third book, Birth of the Moths
, has been added.
Funerary Rites of Cyrodiil: Tombs of the West
Machil Coridale, by order of the Imperial Seminary
Colovians know two common methods of interment: common burial in the earth, and burial in stone tombs after the Nordic fashion. Both are of special interest to the student of obsequies, as both are intimately bound to the history of Colovia, its people, and their peculiar social stratification.
Inhumation in a "common" grave in the earth may seem like a mundane affair to the layman, given that it is practiced by almost any civilized culture in Tamriel for the obvious reasons of practicality and inherent allegorical quality (for those who have an interest in the latter, I recommend Brago Antipharos' "Axiom Catacombs: Inquiry into the Nature of the Law-Bones"). Still, this practice did not come natural to the Cyro-Nedic cultures, for whom water-burial or consumption by moths were the preferred means or internment.
The oldest religious codices of the Eight reflect Nedic prejudices in that they discourage earth burial. While these notions were likely shared by the diaspora of tribeless Nedes who made up the bulk of the lower-class Colovian population, the growing schism between Nibenay and Colovia prevented this dogma from fully taking hold in the west, as did the absence of a suitable riverways or moth populations. After the forced cultural separation from the theocratic east, Colovians were free to devise their own rites. In this, they were largely inspired by their Nordic ruling caste, who favored stone tombs and embalming as did their brothers in the high north.
Nordic tomb-building held a peculiar fascination to the early Nibenese, which somewhat belies the supposed cultural dominance of the Alessian Order. Of course, the Niben-Colovian split has been greatly exaggerated by past scholars, and there is reason to believe that early Imperial society in the Nibenay was much more Nord-influenced than has until now been assumed. Especially the offices of high nobility, for which native Nedes knew no equivalent, were in large part inspired by Nordic examples - which included tomb building.
The greatest precedent, of course, was Alessia herself, who was entombed in the earth to signify her becoming one with the land, assuming its aspect as the Mother Cyrod (we will leave the controversy of her exact burial site for another day). This set a precedent for Nedic nobility to build tombs and crypts, and this is the reason why most Emperors have let themselves be buried, some exceptions notwithstanding. As a result of Alessia's example, the building of crypts and burial in cemeteries has become the most common method of burial across Cyrodiil (and, some would say, the Empire as a whole).
The Nibenese, ever cosmopolitan in their outlook, devised ways around their own doctrines: the fashion for boat-shaped coffins, or the tradition in affluent families to sail their dead around the Imperial City before entombing them (doubling as one last pilgrimage). Even their scriptures show some leniency in this matter, for it is written that "those who bury their bones in the earth are held for but an hour's breadth, for in all things Mara's grasp will slip, and they too will follow the Waters." Indeed, some of the more notorious Remanite codices claim that exactly this happened to Alessia's spirit following the ascendancy of Reman I. Such is the flexibility of Niben myth.
Not a lot of changes, but the writer now works for the Imperial Seminary, which is the administrative head of the Imperial Cult and a kind of nerve center for the Great Faiths.
Funerary Rites of Cyrodiil: Death by Water
Machil Coridale, by order of the Imperial Seminary
Along the shores of the Niben river and its tributaries, one occasionally comes across unusual stone edifices: catacombs dedicated to Arkay featuring docks, canal access, or tiered step-wells, all adorned with the silks and bright pigments so favored by the Nibenese. These are considered some of the oldest remaining funerary edifices of the Nibenay, key to their ancient custom of water- or river-burial.
The presumed original version of this ritual, as practiced by the early Nedic tribes, took place after the deceased was subjected to embalmement by moths. The shrouded body would then be placed in a small hako skiff, accompanied by grave goods and personal belongings, and be cast off down the Niben river (or whatever tributary of that mighty stream the departed lived near). By chance and river-fortune, the skiff was then top find its way to Topal Bay and the open ocean, in an echo of the soul's long voyage towards the Divine.
Of course, modern versions of the practice are less haphazard, which is where both the Nibenese catacombs and the Order of the Psychopompoi come in. The Psychopomps, a charismatic sub-cult of Arkay, specialize in transporting the dead across the water. Affluent families hire a skiffman to pilot their dead anywhere they might need to go: between the Isles of the Imperial City, on a last pilgrimage circuit, or to visit temples and shrines favored by the deceased. Most often, they sail the skiffs towards the ancient Niben catacombs, whose curious architecture is built specifically to allow a skiff to enter the building (either by a direct canal gate or, where geography does not allow this, through cranes and pulley systems). Being a skiffman of the Psychopomps is a prestigious, but precarious position: if he were to accidentally sink the skiff, condemning the deceased to a life as a wreck-haunt, the skiffman would be deemed untouchable, an outcast of Nibenese society.
The catacombs have a curious reputation among the Nibenese. Some traditionalists consider them a perversion of the original rite, which allowed the Niben river itself to separate the virtuous from the wicked. While most catacombs are maintained by the Great Faith of Arkay or sub-cults of that deity, persistent rumors paint them as the homes of moth-eaters, vampires, deviant cults, and wreck-haunts, the ghosts of miscreants marooned on the Path of the Spheres. Furthermore, the soft soil of the Niben basin is ill-suited to these deep constructions, and many catacombs are known to flood periodically.
As can be surmised, river-burial is closely interrelated to moth-burial, and both rituals are often combined in some way. Usually, the body of the deceased rests a while in the withering-crypts of a nearby silk-school, where the carnivorous ancestor moths shroud the corpse in a cocoon of raw silk. If a silk-school is unavailable, the body is sometimes brought to the catacombs in its original state: most such places are choked with moths anyway, and they will make quick work of any fresh or only partially devoured cadavers.
Water-burial was a popular method of interment when the Nibenese communities were few and far apart, but in an age where the Niben River is one of the busiest trade arteries in Tamriel, it has become an inconvenience. The Elder Council has instated a harsh tax on the practice, in essence restricting it to the more affluent castes. Others have turned to internment in tombs and graves combined with the practice of pure moth-burial, still the most prestigious method of internment in the east.
Most or the new ideas in this one have been rewritten entirely. Instead of piers and incidental reefs of lost souls, the focus now lies on Nibenese Catacoimbs, which can be a dungeon type similar to Colovian tombs. Their architecture shouls be inspired by Indian stepwells
. The Psychopomps have been reworked to fit the mold of charismatic sub-cult better, and the link between the catacombs and moth-burial is clearer.
Funerary Rites of Cyrodiil: Birth of the Moths
Machil Coridale, by order of the Imperial Seminary
Of all the methods of internment in Cyrodiil, it is moth-burial that speaks most to the imagination. The native moth species of the Nibenay, prime among them the Ancestor Moth, are long-lived and omnivorous - though their distinct preference goes to the flesh of the recently deceased, in which they also lay their eggs.
The larvae of this species grow within the bodies of the dead, and are nurtured by them, absorbing (according to the faith) some of the essence of the deceased - their souls, memories, or their "will to peace". The larvae dig their way out of the flesh, and spin their cocoons - miles of blood-red silk thread - out of this essence. This silk is then carefully harvested by the Nibenese silk-weavers, who weave it into ancestor cloth - embroidered with the genealogies and deeds of the ancestors, a nexus to their spiritual presence.
Most silkhouses maintain withering-crypts where the dead can repose for a while in the presence of the moths. Once the moths have completed their grim work, and most of the useful silk is harvested, the dead (still wreathed in webs of excess raw silk) can be brought to their final resting place, usually a grave, crypt, or catacomb. Not all have recourse to a silk-school, of course, and not all can afford their services: in many rural places, the dead are left in the open air or in places where the natural population of moths can avail themselves. The silk yield of this rite is then spun by a local weaver or by family members, making ancestor silk that is rougher, but no less significant. Some prefer not to harvest the silk at all, or send the untouched body to a crypt where the moths can consume them at their leisure.
Centuries of busy weaving has left plenty of ancestor silk lying around in the Niben, and while the trade and usage of old silk is not prohibited, it is in some ways contentious. It should be noted that common moth-silk, produced by lesser species of moth who feast on animal remains, is a different matter entirely: such silk does not carry the souls of man and can be used without stipulations. Indeed, the trade in common silk (sometimes mistakenly described as ancestor silk) is one of the most important industries in the Nibenay. Ancestor silk distinguishes itself from such common material by its durability, luster, and capacity for advanced enchantments.
"Old" silk, meaning that from long deceased and forgotten families, is often found in both tombs and on the market: trade in this material is accepted as a matter of fact, much like the busy trafficking of saintly relics in the central valleys. Acquiring silk from the recently deceased is much more controversial. In most cases this means theft, not just of an expensive artifact, but also of one's history and genealogical connections. The destruction of ancestor silk, a crime known as ancestralcide, is a particularly heinous deed, to which many authorities tend to take an "eye for an eye" demeanor.
This one is new, and should clarify some lingering question as to how moth burial and silk production works.