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Road to Solstheim: The Skaal

  • Member
    July 2, 2014

    Disclaimer: This is an article of our former member, renown Loremaster Vix, acknowledged by Bethesda themselves. It ended up being deleted and I'm merely reposting it.


    Well, we finally have a release date for Dragonborn, we're going back to Solstheim it seems. So what does that mean? What can we expect?

    While we might not get any real good indication on what has changed and what's stayed the same, lets at least look at what we have to work with. After all, we've been to Solstheim before in Morrowind's Bloodmoon which included quite a number of sources about locals and their customs. This also marks an Elder Scrolls precedent in revisiting the same area they've already been in so in a sense, we're in luck. Of course, that was also a decade ago, and many old Grognards (grumblers) might not recall it well, or maybe you started out with the series after during Oblivion or evne Skyrim. Well, not to worry, this series is going to act as something of a refresher course on what we can expect from Skyrim's latest DLC, Dragonborn.

    So, lets start our journey back to Solstheim with a bit of background on the people that lived there back in Morrowind and beyond. Without further adieu, enter the Skaal!


    So... What's a Skaal?

    The Skaal themselves are an interesting group of people, the name itself comes from their northern settlement in Solstheim where the local inhabitants are Nords. However, unlike Skyrim Nords the Skaal see themselves an an independent and very different people far closer to how the Foresworn think of the Bretons.

    They live as an isolated people that hold to their older traditions yet were not openly hostile against the newcomers of the Island despite their dislike of them (Bloodmoon). In their time they were hunters, fishers, and generally semi tribal northern peoples that lived in general peace since the time after the Nord/Falmer wars (Aevar Stone Singer). They are very ritualistic and many of their stories become semi religious as they take precedent from their ancestors. They value their own sense of honor, pride, and determination much like the Nords.

    Even at the time of Bloodmoon we see that the Skaal are industrious hunters, trading pelts and furs to the East Empire Company which likely provides a good source of supplemental income. Not all of them were so lucky in their earlier history; some of the Draugr were once part of a tribe that was trapped on the island and turned to cannibalism, a crime against nature, so they were cursed with undeath. Like the Nord tradition of slaying an Ice wraith, slaying a draugr is seen as a right of passage in the Skaal community (Bloodmoon). New members may be from any race, even leaders can come from any race, but they are all alike in that people who wish to become part of the Skaal community must complete their initiation rituals.

    Despite how it might sound the Skaal aren't just one homogenous group but rather two major groups, the Skaal and the Thirsk Skaal, as well as a number of far smaller tribes on Solstheim. Despite being separate there is no animosity between these people and they abide by the same general principals with the difference being only in some minor religious customs. There are a number of other tribes as well, though these seem to generally consent to the Skaal in general and are for all intents and purposes, racially and culturally identical despite living in different locations (Thirsk, a Revised History).


    Community leadership amongst the Skaal consist of three principal casts responsible for various duties. The Elders are supposed to represent law makers that govern society through their expanse of wisdom and experience in a similar manner as the Altmer. The Warrior case is strictly built around defense of the people. The final group are shamans who are supposed to interpret portents and tell the other casts what is going to happen, as such all three act in a harmonious societal web with none taking precedent over another (Aevar Stone Singer).

    There is one minor difference between the Skaal of 'Skaal' and the Skaal of Thirsk, the later is centered as a larger community around the Thirsk Mead hall which acts as a gathering hub for many different people. As such their leader is a little more ritualistic centered around the precedent of their ancestors. The leader of the mead hall is the Chieftain and their right to rule is won through submitting the most impressive battle trophy. This may be the head of a former champion, but more often than not it's simply a dangerous external foe. We have a full and complete list of rulers of Thirsk included in the book 'Thirsk a history', notable as it includes Imperials, Bretons, as well as Nords.

    Given his place, the chieftain of Thirsk is responsible for acting as the highest authority, taking council from the other traditional Elders and Shamans, but having to make the final decision including acting as the headsmen for executions:

    “Generally speaking, the Nords of Thirsk are one big, happy barbarian-like family. And, like any family, they have their squabbles.” ~Thirsk, A History


    The Old Religion.

    Overall, perhaps the Foresworn are the best comparison we have to the Skaal as they both believe fundamentally the same thing. They are both spawned from old Atmoran religious people that adopted some small aspects of modern Tamrielic culture. However, where as the Foresworn have generally turned their back on everything Tamrielic and lashed out after the sacking of Markarth, the Skaal were merely isolationist thus preserving their traditions until the late 3rd Era brought more of an Imperial presence to the South coast.

    One might think that the Skaal, as Nords, would share the same view as their Skyrim counterparts; almost shockingly, the tale is almost identical to the elves. The Skaal said that when the world was new the All-Maker, like the Elven Anui-Elu, created a fertile space for them to plant crops and be happy and content. But soon the people grew complacent, lazy, and willfully forgot the truth.

    Then the Adversary came to the people, and he afflicted them with suffering. He appeared to them, taking the form of one of their own and becoming The Greedy Man. He delighted in the suffering of the people of the All-Maker. He brings the plagues and will be the one to destroy the world as the world devourer, Thartaag at the end of days. People avoid saying his name as it's thought to bring ruin on the Skaal people as a great curse.

    The Greedy man took away the sun, the warmth, the trees, the animals, and even the wind so they couldn't feel the presence of the All Maker. It was the way of the Greedy Man, and he took away all the gifts of the All Maker (Aevar Stone Singer).One called Aevar Stone Singer decided to retrieve the gifts and it's here we see the importance of the old Atmoran totem figures. While the Atmoran totem of worship includes many animals, notably foxes, wolves, moths, hawks, owls, bears, whales, snakes, and dragons, the peoples revere wolves and bears the most (The Dragon War). The bear is well established in Nordic culture as a symbol of strength and fearlessness (Four Totems of Volskygge) while the Wolf works as part of a team. It's not hard to see why these two animals are so prized in Skaal culture and are highly ritualized.

    The Religious Rift

    It's from here on in that we get something of a divergence between the two people. While the Skaal Nords are very nature based in worship, the Thirsk sect believe in respecting animal totems but being allowed to hunt, fish, and live however they want. As such, it's easier to see the Skyrim Nord aspect in the Thirsk natives while the skaal are far closer to their Atmoran heritage.

    The All Maker inspired ritual of balance continues in modern society and consists of a pilgrimage to six sites on Solstheim in various caves and standing stones. These all have a different purpose and were originally completed by Aevar Stone Singer to bring back the gifts of the All-Maker to the Skaal (Sun, earth, wind, water, trees, and beasts). These can be upset by major events to solstheim and must be completed to restore that balance.

    The vestiges that remain still seems to be a mistrust of the elves and dislike of the Falmer in particular, likely due to the great war that ended in Solstheim in the first era. The Falmer were linked with 'the Adversary' (Aevar Stone Singer).Despite being quite similar in this respect, and the later aspects seem to be similar etween the two groups, there remains that subtle line that differentiates the two groups.


    Short history:

    Apart from the religious tale of Aevar the history of the Skaal is somewhat spotty but it has some notable instances. It seems that Solstheim itself was first seized by Nords in the 1st Era, likely in the 3rdto 4th century during their war with the Falmer. This ended up resulting in the pinnacle battle of Moesring Mountain. Here the Nords suffered significant casualties but defeated the Snow Elves Prince and buried him with Nord honors due to his leadership, the effect of his very presence on the Nords, and courage (Fall of the Snow Prince).

    Nevertheless, Falmer continued to be something of a prestigious enemy presence though it seems the numbers had declined or they had grown more reclusive thanks to the Dwemer intervention that led to the Falmer being what they are at this point in time. That said, the Falmer tradition was continued in the Reiklings, a group of Snow Goblins that may or may not have any connection to the Falmer themselves (Potentially like the Altmer and their Summerset Goblins), yet the Skaal claim they are something like lesser ancestral decedents (Bloodmoon).

    The Skaal lived as nomadic tribesmen for generations but eventually founded Skaal village at latest in the 8th century of the second era (Bloodmoon). For 400 years it acted as the center for the local Skaal tribes, but a difference in religious opinion about limitations on how to worship drove a small sect of Skaal away to found the Mead hall of Thirsk around 3E 320 on lake Fjalding. It was completed and yet almost destroyed in the same day when a great creature called the Uderfrykte, a legendary troll like creature, was woken up by its construction. As it came out of its icy lair it tore most of the mead hall apart and killed half of the Skaal there before being sealed back in its cave by a wizard named Eldrid Ice-Light.

    Thirsk prospered afterward, acting in tandem and trading with the Skaal village until the Imperials came to the island and set up fort Frostmoth under the Legion and the Raven Rock under the East Empire company. Despite the Skaal resenting having foreigners on the Island, believing it upset the balance of nature, they were quite cordial albeit isolated from the Imperials and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of antagonism. The Imperials provide a good source of revenue and they were left to their own decices with only some minor outside interruptions in the forms of bandits and raiders (Thirsk, a History).

    With the Red Mountain eruption in the first year or two of the fourth era, things have changed. The Nords of the area may have objected, but they weren't hostile towards the Dunmer who flocked to the southern expanses of the island along the coasts though members of other races are amongst their number as well (Lord of Souls). But the greatest development of all is that the Empire formally relinquished their claim on Solstheim and left it up to the Skaal and Dunmer. The reasons may have been simple benevolence, or it may have been because the Empire was incapable of holding many of its territories at the time right after Titus Mede came to power. The island was relinquished with this speech:

    “Untithed to any thane or hold, and self-governed, with free worship, with no compensation to Skyrim or the Empire except as writ in the armistice of old wheresoever those might still apply, and henceforth let no man or mer say that the Sons and Daughters of Kyne are without mercy or honor.” ~Lord of Souls.


    So that's what we know about the Skaal. There is some minutiae and more detail on the tale of Aevar Stone Singer, but this should give you a good indication of what you can expect from the local population of Skaal. What do you think of them? What do you make of their religion, is the Adversary Lorkhan/Shor like the Redguards, or is it entirely turned upside down meaning Auri-El? What do you make of the divide between Skaal tribes?

    Of course if you've got any thoughts on them or any questions, then feel free to share them too.

    For more information on Aevar Stone Singer you can find the Story of Aevar Stone Singer here, as well as a complete list of Thirsk Chieftains up to the 4th era here in Thirsk, a History.

    It's also an official thank you to the Elder Scrolls wiki for their picture of the Thirsk Mead Hall from the Thirsk Article, the final picture... and seriously if you got the first picture then that's awesome.

  • February 18, 2016

    The Skaal are far more interesting to me than the Skyrim nords.