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Lore: Imperials. The City of a Thousand Cults

  • Member
    February 24, 2015

    The position Shezarr enjoys in Cyrodilic worship if often misconstrued. He, and a thousand other deities, have sizeable cults in the Imperial City. Shezarr and the Divines

    Septim by Heironymous7Z

    It is easy to forget the original ideas about Cyrodiil and The Imperial City due to the scorn laid upon PGE 1st Ed and the watered-down version of Cyrodiil we saw in TES IV Oblivion, but the concept that the Seat of Sundered Kings has a multitude of cults dedicated to countless deities goes back a long way. Even though they have often been limited and their influence on history downplayed, the various cults of the empire persist thanks to the diversification of cultures and races. The book Reflections on Cult Worship has this to say:

    ...religious cults have played only minor parts in Heartlander and Imperial history. The Septim emperors have made it a policy to limit the influence of cult authorities in aristocratic, military, and bureaucratic affairs. Cult worship is regarded as a private and practical matter, and public pronouncements by religious figures are not welcomed.

    For us, cults are first and foremost social and economic organizations. We typically think of the Eight Divines in the most abstract terms -- as powerful but indifferent spirits to be propitiated, and do not think of their relationships as personal. Reflections on Cult Worship

    Of course, this can't be a complete examination due to the shear number of cultures represented in Cyrodiil, such as Khajiiti cults, Nord Hero cults, Breton Witch cults and so on. In this discussion I hope to provide a few tidbits of information about some of the Imperial cults in the Heartland which I hope will prove useful to lore fans and roleplayers alike to aid in interpreting the gods and demons in a slightly different way.

    To that end, The Pocket Guide to The Empire First Edition is a fitting place to start. Written in 2E 864 during the early years of Tiber Septim's reign by The Imperial Geographic Society, this book is a heavily biased guide to Tamriel's provinces, their customs and history. From it we can gather that during the First Era after the Alessian Rebellions and at the time of the Alessian Order:

    The traditional Nordic pantheon of Eight Divines was replaced by a baroque veneration of ancestor spirits and god-animals, practices encouraged by the mutable-yet-monotheistic doctrines of the Alessian faith. The doctrines eventually codified nearly every aspect of Eastern culture. Restrictions against certain kinds of meat-eating, coupled with the sentiments of the blossoming animal cults, soon made agriculture and husbandry nearly impossible. Thus, many of the Eastern Cyrodiils were forced to become merchants, which, over time, allowed the Nibenay Valley to become the wealthiest city-state in the region. PGE 1Ed: Cyrodiil

    This makes it clear that these animal cults played an important role in the establishment of eastern power. It could also be theorised that seeing as the Alessian Doctrines filtered down from the north, these cults may have shared many roots and ideas with the Ancient Nordic Pantheon we see in TES V Skyrim. Because Cyrodiil is home to "a thousand cults", I see no reason why this practice wouldn't have continued well into the Fourth Era by isolated or small groups. Indeed, even though the Alessian Order is a thing of the past by the time of Tiber Septim's reign, Glarthir's dialogue in TES IV indicated the Marukhati Selective may still be around in cult form.

    It is interesting to note that those further to the west found these eastern cults strange, indicating Colovians have a slightly more practical approach to veneration:

    To the Colovians, the ancestor worship and esoteric customs of the East can often be bizarre. Akaviri dragon-motifs are found in all quarters, from the high minaret bridges of the Imperial City to the paper hako skiffs that villagers use to wing their dead down the rivers.

    To back up the idea that different cults flourished up until, and presumably after the Third Era, the following paragraph gives us the meat of what PGE 1Ed has to say about cults in Cyrodiil:

    The Nibenese find the numinous in everything around them, and their different cults are too numerous to mention (the most famous are the Cult of the Ancestor-Moth, the Cult of Heroes, the Cult of Tiber Septim, and the Cult of Emperor Zero).

    White Gold Tower by Leatra

    So lets take a look at these various cults.

    The Cult of the Ancestor-Moth is probably the most famous due to it's connection to the Elder Scrolls. This ancient order believe their ancestor's spirits are manifested in the Ancestor Moths. The monks of the order tend to these creatures with great care:

    Each moth carries the fjyron of an ancestor's spirit. Loosely translated as the "will to peace," the fjyron can be sung into the silk produced by the Ancestor Moths. When the silk is in turn spun into cloth and embroidered with the genealogy of the correct Ancestor, clothing of wondrous power can be made. Adepts of our order are gifted with prescient powers. The wisdom of the ancestors can sing the future into the present. For this reason, our order and our order alone has been given the privilege to interpret the Elder Scrolls. Pension of the Ancestor Moth

    The lower ranks of the order need to wear these silken robes in order to "sing the future into the present", but higher level priests are able to wear the moths themselves as described in the PGE 1Ed below. This is something we see first hand in TES V Skyrim.

    The swishing of this material during normal movement reproduces the resplendent ancestral chorus contained therein-it quickly became a sacred custom among the early Nibenese, which has persisted to the present day. Monks of the higher orders of the Cult of the Ancestor-Moth are able to forego the magical ritual needed to enchant this fabric, and, indeed, prefer instead to wear the moths about the neck and face. They are able to attract the ancestor-moths through the application of finely ground bark-dust gathered from the gypsy moth's favorite tree, and through the sub-vocalization of certain mantras. They must chant the mantras constantly to maintain skin contact with the ancestor-moths, a discipline that they endure for the sake of some cosmic balance. When a monk interrupts these mantras, in conversation for example, the moths burst from him in glorious fashion every time he speaks, only to light back upon his skin when he resumes the inaudible chant. PGE 1Ed: Cyrodiil

    The UESP Bestiary says the Moths emanate a soft harmonious trilling that when amplified tap into a form of primal augur. This allows the moths themselves to become a conduit for deciphering the scrolls. By having the moths close to the Moth Priest, they can utilize the conduit and share the moth's augury.

    Not all of the members of the order are Moth Priests, of course, as Pension of the Ancestor Moths goes on to say:

    As they tend the Ancestor Moths, so we tend the blind monks. While they toil in dark, we serve in the light. They need food and water. We provide. They need tools and furniture. We provide. They need secrecy and anonymity. We provide. They need purveyors to sell the fruit of their labors. We provide.

    At one time, we also provided protection. Many generations ago, Gudrun came to our temple. Newly blinded by visions of what was to be, she brought with her new teachings. The visions of the ancestors foresaw the need of the monks to defend themselves. They train and practice the teachings of Gudrun constantly. They are masters of the sword of no sword, the axes of no axe.

    The Cult of Heroes is a very obscure in that it only seems to get a single reference in one book, PGE 1Ed, leaving it open to a lot of interpretation. It could be that the author has lumped many different cults dedicated to many heroes into a single cult. Morihaus, Pelinal, Reman, Alessia, Topal the Pilot and many more would almost certainly have cults dedicated to them, but also cults dedicated to different aspects of them. For example, it isn't a huge leap to assume Morihaus would have both warrior and fertility cults dedicated to his worship. Something similar could be said for Reman, who's creation myth is rife with fertility symbolism.

    Alternatively, the Cult of Heroes could be unconnected to the heroes we know, but rather members of the Akaviri Dragonguard which might help explain the almost random mention that Akaviri dragon-motifs are found in all quarters in the same paragraph from the original quote. If this is the case this cult would probably have members from the ranks of the Imperial legion which is already home to a number of different cults, most notably that of their patron deity, Stendarr. To the legions, this god has changed from a god of mercy into a god of righteous rule, perhaps reflecting a justification for the legion's actions. We see more evidence of the evolution of this divine when introduced to the Vigillants of Stendarr in Skyrim.

    Paravania by Zhirfrox

    The Cult of Tiber Septim is described inReflections on Cult Worship as a Nord Hero cult:

    Nordic hero-cults provide a strong counter-current to the dominant secularism of the Empire. The Imperial cult of Tiber Septim is just such a hero-cult, and among the military, provincial colonists, and recently assimilated foreigners, the cult is particularly strong and personal.

    This charismatic cult and it's various sub-cults is undoubtedly an example of a movement which refuses to die. Indeed, the Civil War of 4E 201 can trace part of it's motivation to this cult. Because of the different versions of Talos' rise to power, it can be assumed that there is a sub-cult for each of these stories in much the same way Sheogorath has a number of different factions in the Shivering Isles reflecting the various rumours about him.

    The Cult of Emperor Zero was established by Tiber Septim to honour the memory of the King of Falkreath  and various Colovian Estates. PGE 1Ed: Cyrodiil has this to say:

    This cult, started by Tiber Septim himself, was established in the honor of Cuhlecain, the Emperor Zero. Though Cuhlecain did not technically recapture all of Cyrodiil's holdings during his time, he is worthy of worship for the wisdom he showed in appointing Talos as his General, and the bravery he showed when retaking the Imperial City, two events that were crucial in restoring the glory of the new Cyrodilic Empire. He is therefore to be remembered in our prayers. The topiary-mages have begun to shape his aspect in the Palace gardens, where in the future Cuhlecain may share his insights with Tiber Septim in the same manner as the rest of the blessed hedgery heads of Green Emperor Road.

    As with the Cult of Tiber Septim, I find it easy to imagine that there are various off shoots dedicated to the different stories of Cuhlecain's death. Some may even hold him in greater esteem than Tiber Septim due to The Arcturian Heresy's declaration that before Cuhlecain can be crowned, Hjalti secretly murders him and his loyalist contingent, a betrayal which goes against the orthodoxy of his assassination by a Nightblade.

    Daedric Cults

    Scholars "would have you believe every mortal in Tamriel cringes in horror at the mention of Daedra" and that "Daedra worship survives in Tamriel only at the level of forbidden cults." This couldn't be farther from the truth, as Lady Cinnabar of Taneth demonstrates:

    it's easy to show that veneration for Daedra is widespread and widely accepted among the folk of Tamriel, despite the desires and opinions of priests and professors. Ask the hunter why he mutters a prayer to Hircine as he draws his bow. Ask the gardener why she asks Mephala to spare her vines from slugs and worms. Ask the guardsman why he invokes the valor of Boethiah as he draws his sword. And one doesn't have to look hard to find worshipers of Sanguine during Carnaval, or Hermaeus Mora among scholars at any time. Persistence of Daedric Veneration

    Generalising is an easy trap to fall into when choosing a race and designing a backstory for a character, so it is always worth keeping in mind the superstitions of the common people, as Persistence of Daedric Veneration points out:

    ...you'd think that modern society's bias against reverence for the Daedric Princes was rooted in some kind of instinctive revulsion against the Lords of Oblivion, an abhorrence based on events of unspeakable cruelty that took place thousands of years ago.

    This is absurd on the face of it. Ask the peasant in his field, the cobbler in his shop, or the solicitor in his office if he fears the Daedra Lords because of the ancient practices of the Wild Elves, and all you'll get will be a blank look. The peasant, cobbler, and solicitor only fear Daedra and Daedra-worship because they've been told to by established religion and academia, and because their neighbors believe the same thing.

    By BinaryReflex

    This is a concept we should be familiar with. In our Daedra Dossier: Sheogorath discussion, we briefly looked at the widespread fear of madness and why it makes The Mad God a respected deity in most areas of Tamriel. By extrapolating this same conclusion to include the spheres of the other Princes along with the taboo nature of the subject, we can see why many secret cults with few participants may spring up in the basements of families across the empire. This where you can truly have fun with the lore because of the divers practices and rights these cults may establish. In terms of roleplay, it means that the orthodox view of the demons need not be the view your character shares, especially if he's grown up surrounded by a culture which is markedly different from the mainstream. An example of this is the village of Hackdirt near Choral and their belief in the Deep Ones.

    The Divines

    We can easily draw the same conclusions and apply them to worship of The Divines. Even though each god has a specific sphere and temple, the way those spheres can be interpreted can vary widely and create a multitude of offshoot cults. We've already seen the evolution of Stendarr and associated factions, but the other gods are open to similar interpretations also. One of the most notable examples is Dibella:

    In Cyrodiil, she has nearly a dozen different cults, some devoted to women, some to artists and aesthetics, and others to erotic instruction. Morrowind Description of Dibella

    In TESV Skyrim, we meet a lady who confesses to practicing the Dibellan Arts in secret. Even though Skyrim is home to a temple to the Goddess of Beauty, the practice of sexual rites is frowned upon. Haelga says:

    If word got out that I'm practicing my Dibellan Arts in Riften, they'll run me out of town. Haelga's Dialogue

    Another of these secret arts is rumoured to have been mastered by Reman Cyrodiil. In the fragments of the oog bbok, The Shonni-etta, we see TES Lore at it's most pornographic. The not-so-subtle double entendre of The Lusty Argonian Maid looks innocent by comparison, as does Vivec's Spear Muatra and all the allusions to sex in the Thirty Six Lessons:

    These clumsy knights of Colovia had no chance at all, splitting apart wetly as Shonni-Et whistled her spit like a carousel of blades, or folding like bone and paper as Sed-Yenna cracked great helms in the soft iron of her knee-hollows, and instead of asking the purpose of this betrayal from his vassals, Reman only rose to ejaculate on them as they fell, and after years of training in the Diblashuut he could do this without hands.

    This last gave the sisters pause and left one knight alive, though crushed and laced in red, and Reman was surprised to see them move from defending him to collecting his climax, though he thought no more of it than their desire to have him always in whole. The Shonni-etta

    Dibella by myrilliam


    As we have seen, Cyrodiil and all the provinces of Tamriel are home to countless cults and varieties of religious practices. To further illustrate the point, even though this article is particularly long, we haven't even mentioned some of the more famous cults, such as the Mythic Dawn or the Worm Cult. I hope also to have given a new perspective on some of the more obvious gods and how the practice of worshipping these beings change by region and events. To further our discussion, is there any cults I have missed? Are there ways in Skyrim to alter our roleplaying to reflect different backgrounds and religious upbringings? What other interpretations of gods and demons can we make that would alter their spheres to present a unique cult perspective?

  • Member
    February 24, 2015

    Brilliant overview of the pluralistic culture of Cyrodiil. I always knew that TES IV, while an excellent installment, performed a mild disservice to the lore and culture itself. 

    the Marukhati Selective may still be around in cult form.

    Well, isn't that interesting? Considering that the MS changed the nature of Auri-El/Akatosh and the course of history itself (present and past--see what I did there?) when the tide was against humanity, I wonder if, given the rise of the Dominion, they might be ready to dance again.

    As for the Cult of Talos, do you think the Dominion would be willing to accept Talos veneration if it stayed within the confines of "cult status" as opposed to full-blown Divine worship?

  • Member
    February 24, 2015

    Thank you Vaaljorn  You raise a good point about the Selective. In my head they have long since lost the knowledge needed for any kind of Dragon Breaking, but instead have more sinister methods of achieving their goals.

    As for Talos, what do you think? Personally I think there would come a point where the elves realise that he cannot be stamped out 100%, but what they do with that realisation is something unknown. If the number of worshippers equals power to the worshipped, what would become of Mundus when Talos' followers are reduced to a handful of scattered cults?

  • February 24, 2015

    All these cults. Anyone can become a god. 

  • Member
    February 24, 2015

    I'm glad you mentioned this because it was a subject I was going to include but shied away from at the last minute. In TES lore, there is a force called mythopoeia, which is how stories, legends and worship shape the divines. We know from the Monomyth that the gods told their own stories, the fragments of which we remember to this day and shape the various creation myths of the races.

    Finally, the magical beings of Mythic Aurbis told the ultimate story -- that of their own death. For some this was an artistic transfiguration into the concrete, non-magical substance of the world. For others, this was a war in which all were slain, their bodies becoming the substance of the world. For yet others, this was a romantic marriage and parenthood, with the parent spirits naturally having to die and give way to the succeeding mortal races.

    Now this is where it gets dicey because it should only be those who created the world - the original spirits or et'ada -  which are effected by mythopoeia, meaning worship cannot make gods pop into existence.

    However, I strongly feel that this should be open to interpretation because the same Psijic belief above also gives us this from The Old Ways:

    What, after all, is the origin of these spiritual forces that move the invisible strings of Mundus? Any neophyte of Artaeum knows that these spirits are our ancestors -- and that, while living, they too were bewildered by the spirits of their ancestors, and so on back to the original Acharyai. The Daedra and gods to whom the common people turn are no more than the spirits of superior men and women whose power and passion granted them great influence in the afterworld.

    This is taking the Altmeri Aedra=ancestors belief and making it half true by saying we are all descended from people who stood on the shoulders of giants. So I suspect that the power of belief as outlined in Gods and Worship is probably true, but only effects those tied to Mundus:

    It has been theorized that gods do in fact gain strength from such things as worship through praise, sacrifice and deed. It may even be theorized that the number of worshippers a given Deity has may reflect on His overall position among the other Gods. This my own conjecture, garnered from the apparent ability of the larger temples to attain blessings and assistance from their God with greater ease than smaller religious institutions.

    There are reports of the existence of spirits in our world that have the same capacity to use the actions and deeds of mortals to strengthen themselves as do the Gods. The understanding of the exact nature of such creatures would allow us to understand with more clarity the connection between a Deity and the Deity's worshipers [sic].

    The implication of the existence of such spirits leads to the speculation that these spirits may even be capable of raising themselves to the level of a God or Goddess. Motusuo of the Imperial Seminary has suggested that these spirits may be the remains of Gods and Goddesses who through time lost all or most of their following, reverting to their earliest most basic form. Practioners [sic] of the Old Ways say that there are no Gods, just greater and lesser spirits. Perhaps it is possible for all three theories to be true.

    So it could be that no amount of worshipping deadra will increase their position, influence or power and that same rule would then probably apply to Magna-Ge, Magnus and countless Yokudan gods. But deceased mortals and the et'ada are probably fair game.

  • Member
    May 15, 2016

    Imperial City must be one of the better places to make Cults, Guild or Brotherhoods , nice work!! 

  • Member
    May 16, 2016

    Ah, thanks Medi