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Rituals of the Night: A treatise on the uses of Nightshade

Tags: #Daedra  #Mephala  #Magic  #Molag Bal  #Botany  #Religion  #Nightshade  #Matthaeus Belladonc 
  • Member
    January 9

    Most inhabitants of Cyrodiil, Elsweyr and Skyrim are probably familiar with the delicate flower depicted here; the Nightshade.

    While people tend to simply refer to the flower of the plant when they use the name Nightshade. It is actually the name of the plant itself. Nightshade grows in small bushes in the more temperate regions of Cyrodiil, Elsweyr and Skyrim. However it is known across the entirety of Tamriel as a highly poisonous plant. With effects drawing from vomiting and severe digestive problems, to memory loss and incapacitating your ability to learn, and eventually death when consumed in its purest form. Seriously, unless you’re an Argonian, don’t touch the stuff. It is often considered a potent alchemical ingredient when brewing potions that allow for a mage to cast spells from the destruction school more effectively. Some of the more practical applications of this plant as a poison (except or it’s immediate effects) are its uses as a potent magicka disruptor or as mentioned by Agneta Falia in her work; The Herbalist guide to Skyrim ( a severely lacking work in my opinion), to strain joints when mixed with other plants. The work in question is unclear as to which plants are mentioned.

    Another interesting fact about Nightshade is that it is actually closely related to the common tomato you’ll find in many a Cyrodilic or Elsweyr dish.

    The plant is usually short, with a stem sporting several feather shaped leaves of a dark green, sometimes nearly black, coloration. Its flower has seven purple petals and a dark yellow core. It has a large pistil, with four stigma, and a multitude of stamen. Allowing for a rather easily identifiable little plant, that is often seen growing in graveyards.

    Whether this strange preference for graveyards is related to the nutritional needs of the plant or of a more magickal nature, it does substantiate its appearance in folklore as a plant related to death, and more importantly its use in a number of disturbing rituals; from summoning assassins to daedra.

    Probably amongst the better known, but not less disturbing, uses of Nightshade is its use in the ritual known as the “Black Sacrament”. This ritual is used throughout Tamriel as a way to contact the group of assassins known as the dark brotherhood. Unlike the identities of the assassins of this organisation, the details of the ritual are not a particularly well kept secret and can be found in a work probably published by the brotherhood itself: A kiss, Sweet mother. This guide instructs the reader on the ritual as follows:

    “Create an effigy of the intended victim, assembled from actual body parts, including a heart, skull, bones and flesh. Encircle that effigy with candles.

    The ritual itself must then commence. Proceed to stab the effigy repeatedly with a dagger rubbed with the petals of a Nightshade plant, while whispering this plea:

    "Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear."

    Then wait, child, for the Dread Father Sithis rewards the patient. You will be visited by a representative of the Dark Brotherhood. So begins a contract bound in blood.”

    The aim of the ritual is to contact the so called “Night mother” and let her know the identity of your chosen victim. Apparently she will then contact what is called a Listener, a high ranking member of the brotherhood, who will in turn send a Speaker to contact the client to discuss the terms of the contract. How this works exactly is beyond my knowledge and certainly not something I, as a biologist, am interested in. However don’t hesitate to do further research if need be, my colleagues assure me it’s quite the fascinating subject.

    As one might expect this text has been outlawed by the empire and in the late years of the 3rd era one could get be granted a life sentence in prison for simply owning a copy. This was done by the empire in an effort to stop the dark brotherhood, however their efforts were soon rendered useless as the Dark horse courier, an imperial news pamphlet, unearthed a copy and published the same instructions in the edition called “Night Mother Rituals!” in which they openly mocked the imperial legion for their actions. It surprises me the legion didn’t simply arrest the newspaper’s employees as it was their right by imperial law.

    Speaking of assassinations, the flower of the Nightshade plant plays a major role for the sworn rivals of the Dark Brotherhood as well; the Morag Tong. This organisation is based out of Morrowind and is, unlike the Dark Brotherhood, sanctioned by the local government. The Morag Tong is said to have been created by the Webspinner herself and serves her to this day. Mephala, as this shadowy mistress is also known, is the daedric prince of deceit and schemes, and as put by “Varieties of Faith in the Empire” by Karkuxor:

    “he/she was the ancestor that taught the Chimer the skills they would need to evade their enemies or to kill them with secret murder. Enemies were numerous in those days since the Chimer were a small faction. He/she, along with Boethiah, organized the clan systems that eventually became the basis for the Great Houses. He/she founded the Morag Tong.”

    More interestingly however, is that outside of her summoning day at the 13th of Frostfall, the only way to summon Mephala is to lay an offering of Nightshade at one of her shrines. Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that the mistresses of both these rival organisations seem to heed the call of a person sacrificing a flower of the Nightshade to them? Whether this actually corroborates the theory that Mephala and the Night Mother are in fact the same person or if it is simply a coincidental love for poisonous flowers that these figures share can not be said for certain. The question is however, fascinating and likely to get you killed if asked to a Dunmer or known associate of the Morag Tong.

    Nightshade also seems to have a connection to a different daedra; Molag Bal. This prince is described in “The Book of Daedra” as follows:

    Molag Bal, whose sphere is the domination and enslavement of mortals; whose desire is to harvest the souls of mortals and to bring mortal souls within his sway by spreading seeds of strife and discord in the mortal realms.

    Molag Bal resides in his realm of Oblivion known as Coldharbour where an army of soulless husks, often called Soul Shriven is forced to labour for him and fulfill his every wish. Many of these soul shriven are people who previously revered the prince or at one point in their life made a deal with him, whether they were aware of that fact or not. It is believed that one can access the knowledge and secrets of these tortured souls through a ritual devised in the second era. Yet again the Nightshade plays a crucial role in this ritual known as the Ritual of Resonance. The steps of this ritual are described in a work simply known as “The Ritual of Resonance”, a gruesome text which explains that to hear the cries of these tortured souls (why anyone would want to is beyond me) by driving a steel needle purified in the flame of Nightshade and cooled in frost salts, through one’s left ear. As disgusted as I am by the perspective, it is hard to deny the poetic nature of the act: to learn the secrets of the prince of domination and enslavement one has to mark themselves like cattle.Molag Bal by Ljuton

    My original thought on the Ritual of Resonance was that it was most likely performed by followers of Hermaeus Mora to gain access to the hidden knowledge Molag Bal had so carefully claimed for himself. However the terminology used in “The Ritual of Resonance” clearly describes them as whispered secrets and not mere hidden knowledge, as a result it could allude to the Webspinner's influence yet again. Strangely enough this is not the only occasion where the Nightshade can be used to circumvent Molag Bal’s will.

    Molag Bal is also known as the ruler of the undead, chief among those are his favourite creations: Vampires. Curing Vampirism is not an easy feat but according to testimonies from High Rock, there used to be a group of witches capable of lifting the curse. The flowers of Nightshade plants supposedly are a key ingredient of their cure.


    This is not however the herb's only connection to the undead. The next and last ritual I came across when looking for the uses of this small flower is a necromantic ritual. The aim of this ritual as described in “Practical Necromancy”, is to bind a spirit’s soul to an Animus geode. I’m so far unaware as to what that might be, however I have a strong suspicion this might be an old determination for soul gems, as Animus is synonymous with Soul or Spirit and as Geodes are of a crystallic form. The interesting part about this ritual is that whereas the other uses of Nightshade seem to work against the lord of domination and enslavement, this ritual does exactly what he stands for: it enslaves the spirit of a passed individual.

    From all of this it appears that this small and seemingly insignificant flower seems strongly connected to the    daedric princes Mephala and Molag Bal. All I can wonder now, is why is this flower so important for these princes?  Was it created as a symbol of Mephala’s will and is that the reason it can be used to circumvent Molag Bal’s domination? And if this is indeed the case then why can this same flower be used for a necromantic ritual aimed at tethering a spirit to a soul gem, an act strongly associated with Molag Bal?

    I am afraid I can’t answer these questions. I can however provide another interesting fact which may help you choose one answer over the other. While Nightshade is often associated with graves in the human provinces, the Khajit of Elsweyr have a different cultural association with the flower. In Elsweyr the Nightshade is seen as a good luck token for thieves, spies and assassins as it is believed that if one pins a flower of this plant on their clothing it makes them harder to detect and according to some rather fantastical folk stories even invisible. While the latter is probably mostly a fable, it does beg the question:

    Why does this plant always come up whenever there is a discussion about assassins? Could this be another indication the plant is related to the webspinner?

     

  • Member
    January 9

    Excellent as well as intriguing discussion, Teineeva! I never knew nightshade was connected to the daedra, but the most interesting bit was the fact that the Khajiit seem to embrace the dark side of nightshade. 

  • January 9

    Perfect, mate! It´s very subversive, especially when you start thinking about it. We know that the Earthbones are what solidified the world, giving properties to every plant. But why are some tied to Daedra? Maybe it is that thing about belief. That the rituals might work even without the Nightshade but people are giving it these ritualistic properties. 

    I say well done, sit. :)

  • January 10

    Great article Teineeva. Will there be more entries covering some of the other plants? I know a certain Argonian botanist/biologist that would be all over this. :D

  • Member
    January 10

    Matthacus Belladonc :D Clever.

    As one might expect this text has been outlawed by the empire and in the late years of the 3rd era one could get be granted a life sentence in prison for simply owning a copy. This was done by the empire in an effort to stop the dark brotherhood, however their efforts were soon rendered useless as the Dark horse courier, an imperial news pamphlet, unearthed a copy and published the same instructions in the edition called “Night Mother Rituals!” in which they openly mocked the imperial legion for their actions. It surprises me the legion didn’t simply arrest the newspaper’s employees as it was their right by imperial law.

    Yeah, what's up with that? "Stop right there criminal scum. Pay the court a fine or serve your sentence!"

    More interestingly however, is that outside of her summoning day at the 13th of Frostfall, the only way to summon Mephala is to lay an offering of Nightshade at one of her shrines. Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that the mistresses of both these rival organisations seem to heed the call of a person sacrificing a flower of the Nightshade to them? Whether this actually corroborates the theory that Mephala and the Night Mother are in fact the same person or if it is simply a coincidental love for poisonous flowers that these figures share can not be said for certain. The question is however, fascinating and likely to get you killed if asked to a Dunmer or known associate of the Morag Tong.

    Huh. That is interesting. Different areas to take that, in-game as RP or even as interpretation. On that one little fact alone a compelling case could be made for Mephala as a witches goddess. If you take the murder aspect of her out of the equation, what is left is rather occult. Indeed, I am thinking of the Great Rite as I write and, if we factor the death aspect back in that context, we can see a far different Mephala take shape. If we think of her as a mystery goddess whose "sphere is obscured" and also referrence old Mora as her sibling, then we have a much more nuanced Mephy. If that were possible.

    Hell, if we take that a step further and look at real world's myths surrounding nightshade and its use as part of a herbal concoction to aid astral travel and shit, the Molag Bal connection in your Molly B Ritual of Resonance adds to a very occult spin on the Webspinner.

    Why does this plant always come up whenever there is a discussion about assassins? Could this be another indication the plant is related to the webspinner?

    When the legend becomes fact, print the legend? I don't think there is a greater symbol for death than the deadly nightshade. It resonates within our collective unconscious. Yet, interestingly, one would think that in Skyrim there would be a plant with connections to the Loki/Baldur event with the mistletoe somewhere in its mythology. In terms of cultural viewpoints, isn't it a shame that it is always the nightshade plant which gets such a bad rep?

  • Member
    January 10

    RogueSilver said:

    Excellent as well as intriguing discussion, Teineeva! I never knew nightshade was connected to the daedra, but the most interesting bit was the fact that the Khajiit seem to embrace the dark side of nightshade. 

    Actually I think that depends from the perspective. Sure you won't be trusted if you're pinning a Nightshade to your jacket, but as far as I understand it smart thieves are respected and in one particular case even revered within Khajit society.

    I took this from the UESP real quick:

    "Rajhin
    The Footpad / The Silent Walker
    The thief-god of the Khajiiti, legend holds that Rajhin grew up in the Black Kiergo section of Senchal. In life, Rajhin was the most infamous burglar in Elsweyr's history, said to have stolen a tattoo from the neck of the Empress Kintyra as she slept.[33][36] He is accredited with using the Ring of Khajiiti in his thievery, making the ring famous. After his death, Rajhin was inculcated among the Khajiit gods, to serve as an example to them of cleverness and adroit ability. His blessing is most often asked for before undertaking activities of a less-than-lawful nature."

    Rajhin seems a bit like a Khajit version of what Talos represents to the nords: a famous character representing the values of the people they were a part of. It's actually not impossible the Nightshade might be a way to ask for his blessing. Funnily enough another link, albeit a far less solid one, can be drawn with Mephala here, seeing Rajhin supposedly used one of Mephala's artefacts. This is a bit too far fetched for me though.

    Lissette Long-Chapper said:

    Great article Teineeva. Will there be more entries covering some of the other plants? I know a certain Argonian botanist/biologist that would be all over this. :D

    Well I've been looking around to see if I couldn't find some more plants that would be worthy of an article and while I have found some nice facts here and there, as well as a big question on the Dragon's tongue plant's distribution throughout Tamriel. But so far nothing worth an entire article like this one. If I do you can expect some more from the resident biologist.

    Karver the Lorc said:

    Perfect, mate! It´s very subversive, especially when you start thinking about it. We know that the Earthbones are what solidified the world, giving properties to every plant. But why are some tied to Daedra? Maybe it is that thing about belief. That the rituals might work even without the Nightshade but people are giving it these ritualistic properties. 

    I say well done, sit. :)

    Sadly Bethesda doesn't even let us perform the Black Sacrament to test that theory (that could be an interesting way into the Dark Brotherhood), But yes, you might very well be right. If the plant really had an importance to the rituals one might think it should be reflected in their alchemical use as well, however most of these rituals don't really fit with the destruction theme for me.

    Phil said:

    Matthacus Belladonc :D Clever.

    As one might expect this text has been outlawed by the empire and in the late years of the 3rd era one could get be granted a life sentence in prison for simply owning a copy. This was done by the empire in an effort to stop the dark brotherhood, however their efforts were soon rendered useless as the Dark horse courier, an imperial news pamphlet, unearthed a copy and published the same instructions in the edition called “Night Mother Rituals!” in which they openly mocked the imperial legion for their actions. It surprises me the legion didn’t simply arrest the newspaper’s employees as it was their right by imperial law.

    Yeah, what's up with that? "Stop right there criminal scum. Pay the court a fine or serve your sentence!"

    It's actually Matthaeus Belladone (could it be more on the nose?), but I actually quite like Belladonc so let's just assume it always said that ;)

    I was reading through the edition of the paper I mentioned and my first thought was: why are these guys not arrested? They clearly have a copy of the book hidden in their offices somewhere, and even then they're openly mocking imperial law; fuck freedom of the press in that scenario. Oh oh oh the empire is taking away our right to send assassins after people! We can't allow that!

    Phil said:

    More interestingly however, is that outside of her summoning day at the 13th of Frostfall, the only way to summon Mephala is to lay an offering of Nightshade at one of her shrines. Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that the mistresses of both these rival organisations seem to heed the call of a person sacrificing a flower of the Nightshade to them? Whether this actually corroborates the theory that Mephala and the Night Mother are in fact the same person or if it is simply a coincidental love for poisonous flowers that these figures share can not be said for certain. The question is however, fascinating and likely to get you killed if asked to a Dunmer or known associate of the Morag Tong.

    Huh. That is interesting. Different areas to take that, in-game as RP or even as interpretation. On that one little fact alone a compelling case could be made for Mephala as a witches goddess. If you take the murder aspect of her out of the equation, what is left is rather occult. Indeed, I am thinking of the Great Rite as I write and, if we factor the death aspect back in that context, we can see a far different Mephala take shape. If we think of her as a mystery goddess whose "sphere is obscured" and also referrence old Mora as her sibling, then we have a much more nuanced Mephy. If that were possible.

    Hell, if we take that a step further and look at real world's myths surrounding nightshade and its use as part of a herbal concoction to aid astral travel and shit, the Molag Bal connection in your Molly B Ritual of Resonance adds to a very occult spin on the Webspinner.

    Why does this plant always come up whenever there is a discussion about assassins? Could this be another indication the plant is related to the webspinner?

    When the legend becomes fact, print the legend? I don't think there is a greater symbol for death than the deadly nightshade. It resonates within our collective unconscious. Yet, interestingly, one would think that in Skyrim there would be a plant with connections to the Loki/Baldur event with the mistletoe somewhere in its mythology. In terms of cultural viewpoints, isn't it a shame that it is always the nightshade plant which gets such a bad rep?

    Your argument towards a Mephala, prince of mystery rather than simply a "secrets, plots and lies" Mephala as he/she is often seen is actually quite interesting. Not only does it actually fit in with her overall description quite nicely, it would weave in very nicely with the Morag Tong worshipper her, who despite being an official organisation are still hiding in the sewers. Could Mephala in that case be considered as the Daedra of not only Mystery, but also that of Curiosity?

    Her/his close affiliation with Hermaeus Mora could solidify this. Furthermore most daedra seem to have a sphere which can be either good or bad: Sheogorath's is creativity wether on an artistic level or on one that lead to madness, for example. In a similar way Namira and Peryite, both have repulsive yet necessary spheres. Where would Mephala fit?

     

  • Member
    January 11

    Teineeva said:

    Your argument towards a Mephala, prince of mystery rather than simply a "secrets, plots and lies" Mephala as he/she is often seen is actually quite interesting. Not only does it actually fit in with her overall description quite nicely, it would weave in very nicely with the Morag Tong worshipper her, who despite being an official organisation are still hiding in the sewers. Could Mephala in that case be considered as the Daedra of not only Mystery, but also that of Curiosity?

    Her/his close affiliation with Hermaeus Mora could solidify this. Furthermore most daedra seem to have a sphere which can be either good or bad: Sheogorath's is creativity wether on an artistic level or on one that lead to madness, for example. In a similar way Namira and Peryite, both have repulsive yet necessary spheres. Where would Mephala fit?

    Prince of curiosity. Hmm, interesting. You got me thinking of this passage from 36 Lessons, Sermon 31:

    Third, he recalled the Pomegranate Banquet, where he was forced to marry to Molag Bal with wet scriptures to cement his likeness as Mephala and write with black hands. He wrote:

    The last time I heard his voice, showing the slightest sign of impatience, I learned to control myself and submit to the will of others. Afterwards, I dared to take on the sacred fire and realized there was no equilibrium with the ET'ADA. They were liars, lost roots, and the most I can do is to be an interpreter into the rational. Even that fails the needs of the people. I sit on the mercy seat and pass judgment, the waking state, and the phase aspect of the innate urge. Only here can I doubt, in this book, written in water, broadened to include evil.

    Then Vivec threw his ink on this passage to cover it up (for the lay reader) and wrote instead:

    Find me in the blackened paper, unarmored, in final scenery. Truth is like my husband: instructed to smash, filled with procedure and noise, hammering, weighty, heaviness made schematic, lessons learned only by a mace. Let those that hear me then be buffeted, and let some die in the ash from the striking. Let those that find him find him murdered by illumination, pummeled like a traitorous house, because, if an hour is golden, then immortal I am a secret code. I am the partaker of the Doom Drum, chosen of all those that dwell in the middle world to wear this crown, which reverberates with truth, and I am the mangling messiah.

    Heavy stuff to decode and tell you from exactly where I am coming from, but read it enough times and I think you may be able to explain it back to me better than I can.

    As for the speres which seem good and bad, you are speaking my language. Indeed, I take it and say that these demons have so many traits which overlap with the gods that they are almost simply darker versions of them.

    Boethiah and Azura are the principles of the universal plot, which is begetting, which is creation, and Mephala makes of it an art form.

    As known in the West, Mephala is the demon of murder, sex, and secrets. All of these themes contain subtle aspects and violent ones (assassination/genocide, courtship/orgy, tact/poetic truths); Mephala is understood paradoxically to contain and integrate these contradictory themes.

    That last bit, "tact/poetic truths." If we take the quote from the sermons and look at those two words, things sorta take shape. She is mystery and secrecy, she is lies and truths. She is that moment when you are wavering between writing something mundane and feeling as if you are about to write something truly amazing but you're not sure which way the up that coin toss of possibility will be. Factor in curiosity and it feels as though Mephala is that eureka! moment.

  • Member
    January 11

    Very interesting article guys, very well done, the research, presentation, and delivery all make this an article to emulate, interestingly though when playing the game Oblivion, during the Daedric quests, a Nightshade flower is required to summon the Daedra Mephala, Great Job

  • Member
    February 28

    I'm a bit late to the conversation, but one thing that I did notice that, contrary to what I originally though about it, the flower depicted ingame actually isn't the typically poisonous nightshade that we think of. The one shown ingame is solanum ducamara, which, as it turns out, isn't all too poisonous. Sure there've been some deaths by it, but they're accidental, and from what I've read it doesn't make too great for poison.

    Atropa belladonna on the other hand, this plant really fits the bill, as it's been used in poisons since the time of early humans. However, it looks nothing like what you collect ingame. So I think developers just hybrized it: the alluring visual of solanum dulcamara and the deadly poison of atropa belladonna.

    Either that, or Methesda just wasn't thinking botanically when they designed the plant.

  • Member
    February 28

    Hannibal said:

    I'm a bit late to the conversation, but one thing that I did notice that, contrary to what I originally though about it, the flower depicted ingame actually isn't the typically poisonous nightshade that we think of. The one shown ingame is solanum ducamara, which, as it turns out, isn't all too poisonous. Sure there've been some deaths by it, but they're accidental, and from what I've read it doesn't make too great for poison.

    Atropa belladonna on the other hand, this plant really fits the bill, as it's been used in poisons since the time of early humans. However, it looks nothing like what you collect ingame. So I think developers just hybrized it: the alluring visual of solanum dulcamara and the deadly poison of atropa belladonna.

    Either that, or Methesda just wasn't thinking botanically when they designed the plant.

    You, my good sir, are speaking my language. I knew the in game plant didn't look very much like the ill-reputed (but generally awesome) Atropa Belladona, but decided to use it as an inspiration for the article regardless as with a little imagination you could translate most of its symptoms into the different alchemical properties of the in-game Nightshade (fortify destruction is still unaccounted for). Not only does this fit because the names we give these plants are similar but also because both the real life variant and the in game representation have a long history and scream poison to even the less botanically adept.

    The Solanum Ducamara is a very nice find and I'll have to admit the similarities are quite uncanny. Except for the black leaves, but then again those would probably be a horrible trait for a real life plant to have; not only would photosynthesis be problematic but the transpiration rate on those leaves would be monstrous. This strange trait could be somewhat inspired by the purple coloration one can find on the leaves and stalk of many a Nightshade plant (Aubergines and certain tomato cultivars are a common example of this), although it's probably just a design choice to bring home the whole "dangerously poisonous plant" message the plant is exuding.

    As to Bethesda's design team... Let's just say the flower at the start is supposed to be a drawing of the Nightshade plant (both appearing in the TES5 game) but I'm pretty sure that thing looks more like some strange orchid than a Nightshade whether a real life variant or the plant we can find in game. Might just be the perspective though?