This article documents the many beliefs regarding afterlife and funerary customs found around the various cultures of Tamriel.
Altmer Beliefs and CustomsEdit
Altmer worship Xarxes, one of their Eight Divines, as the god of the deceased, equivalent to other races' death gods. He records the life-stories of all the elven races, and his worship, at least as recorded in written history, predates that of Arkay.
In the two most common origin myths, Xarxes appears either as Auri-El's scribe, recording events at his side since the beginning of time, or as a Merethic Aldmeri priest of Auri-El who was elevated to divinity by the higher deity. The latter story is consistent with the High Elves' conceit that they are directly descended from the Aedra, and can, in certain miraculous circumstances, apotheosize and re-ascend to godly status.
For the Altmer, Xarxes records not just the life stories of individual elves, but all the connections of lineage and heritance that bind them together and link them to their ancestors. As nothing is more important to an Altmer than his or her ancestry, it is easy to understand Xarxes' paramount role in defining and maintaining status and stability in Summerset society.
After their deaths, High Elves believe their souls, now free from their body-prisons, reunite with the Aedra in Aetherius, re-ascending to their rightful place. To Altmer, mortal life is nothing more than a punishment imposed by the trickery of Lorkhan to the Eight original Divines. And, although they venerate their ancestors, they only do so by respecting the orderly and blissful passage of these spirits from this world to the next. That is, High Elves believe it is cruel and unnatural to encourage the spirits of the dead to linger in Mundus. For those who die in dishonor, their families will strike all traces of their existence and they will not be remembered as an ancestor; they will simply vanish from memory, a fate worse than death itself.
Altmer do not bury their dead. Sentimental folks may erect shrines or make something to remember a lost loved one by.
Altmer Funerary CustomsEdit
The High Elves cremate their dead and then bury their ashes in wall shrines. Both Altmer kinlords and kings commonly built massive mausoleums, where successive generations rest and their descendants, especially new rulers, come to present their respects and to seek guidance. Due to this, these sites also serve as temples to the Ancestors. Priests dedicated to tending the dead keep these places clean from corrupting influences, commonly bearing holy symbols, imbued with divine power to repel necromantic magic.
Altmer highly respect their deceased, any necromancer caught in the Summerset Isles can expect the worst possible punishments. In the case the defiler is an Altmer who has grown too powerful, there are special magical prisons for them to be confined to. The Banished Cells, in northernmost Auridon, are the paramount example of this, being the resting place of High Kinlord Rilis XII of Firsthold, who pursued magical power and tampered with forbidden knowledge, and had illicit dealings with evil Daedra.
Argonian Beliefs and CustomsEdit
The body must be buried or, at least, left exposed to the elements in the wilderness, where, especially in Black Marsh, the corpse will rapidly decay and will be devoured by different beasts, returning so the dead bodies to the Hist, becoming part of the natural world, both of local animals and plants, in the most material sense.
The soul, however, will pass "down the river" to Aetherius. A realm thought by the Argonians to be a current where their souls will swim in peace forever. Argonians give little-to-no importance to their ancestors beyond their first degree relatives, unlike other cultures, mostly because they seem to prefer to live in the Aurbic Now, showing relatively little regard for the ways of former ages.
However, to be truly free to swim the waters of Aetherius, Argonians must be free when they die. If an enslaved or imprisoned Argonian dies, their soul will be unable to travel to Aetherius and may serve their master in the afterlife or remain bound to Nirn, respectively. In case of enslavement, this only can be solved by forcing the deceased masters to free their souls. In case of imprisonment, returning the corpse to the wilderness will work, where the body will join the Hist and the soul will ascend to Aetherius.
Argonian Funerary CustomsEdit
Due to their beliefs, Argonians bury their dead directly in the soil, without any further treatment or encasement of the body. However, Argonian graveyards exist and have existed since their Golden Age when they built stone xanmeers. These graveyards were constructed to allow the corpses to be buried underground in the swampy soil, at the same time open to the wilderness, but, in some way, honoring their dead with their monumental architecture. However, most Argonian cities and villages lack proper graveyards and the corpses are simply buried in the wilderness around the settlements to be claimed by the swamp.
Wisperills, colorful luminescent films that dance in the air, are commonly found around Argonian graveyards, especially those constructed during ancient times. This can be explained due to the connection between the Realm of the Hist and the wisperills. Although commonly inoffensive, they will become hostile when a wispmother is awakened and takes control of the site, trapping travelers and priests alike.
None of the Argonians buried following the rites of the Hist are anointed with Arkay's Blessing, which prevents their souls from being used without consent. Even so, necromancy is still an uncommon practice in Black Marsh because corpses decay very quickly.
Argonian's connection to the Hist is unique. When a member of another race is forced to "return to the Hist", it is in fact a punishment, reserved only for those who have committed terrible crimes against the Lizard-Folk or the Marsh in its broad sense. Typically, enemies' hearts will be fed to swamp creatures, like wamasus, symbolically representing the submission of the enemy to the Hist.
On the other side, tree-minders, the Argonian priesthood, and their apprentices will sacrifice themselves when the natural world is damaged beyond repair, joining their souls to the soil and the plants of the area, and giving their lives so the natural world will rebirth. This act allows to greening the withered trees and making the sky to spawn rains over scorched lands. The ritual sacrifice is perpetrated by the ingestion of a specific toxic mushroom, after devoting themselves to the Hist.
In Murkmire it is common practice for tribes to bury the deceased beneath the roots of the Hist, so that they may "rest with the roots of the Hist". Argonians of Murkmire also make use of grave stakes, upon which they carve the story of their lives into every day. When the owner of a grave stake dies, their bodies are impaled by the stake and pinned into the mud so that the corpse does not rise as a Bog Blight.
Bosmer Beliefs and CustomsEdit
Although Bosmer venerate both Arkay and Xarxes, the most common death deities among Tamrielic pantheons, their lives and deaths are guided by the covenant their people signed with Y'ffre as the spirit of "the now": the Green Pact. Because of this, their roles in afterlife beliefs of the Bosmer are little, compared to other cultures.
Bosmer, like Argonians, give little importance to their ancestors beyond nobility ascendance, like other cultures do, specially their Altmer and Dunmer cousins, mostly because they prefer to live in the Aurbic Now, following the ways of Y'ffre, taught by the spinners and enforced by the treethanes, showing relatively little regard for the ways of former ages. This is the main cause Xarxes is not regarded as an important agent in Bosmer deaths.
After their deaths, Wood Elves' souls who have not violated the Green Pact during their lives become free from their body-prisons, and reunite with the Aedra and their ancestors in Aetherius. To Bosmer, mortal life is more a joy than a punishment. Very few, if any, criticize the trickery of Lorkhan, because Y'ffre was the most involved in creating and "ordering" Nirn, which was shaped to shelter the Bosmer.
The Ooze is a purgatorial state reserved for Bosmer who violate the Green Pact, collectively called Apostates. Their names would be scrubbed from the story Y'ffre is telling and replaced with silence, and their souls will return to the formlessness of the world which remained after the ordering done by this god, an act which shaped Nirn itself. In first place, the Ooze had no purpose, but when the first Bosmer began to break the rules of the Green Pact, it became the hellish state we know, antagonized by passing peacefully to Aetherius to join their ancestors. Due to this fact, Green Pact rules over other holy laws and, so Arkay becomes a lesser deity below Y'ffre, even concerning the death itself. Becoming an undead is a benign end when put in comparison to be condemned to roam the Ooze.
Bosmer Funerary CustomsEdit
All deceased Bosmer are buried by their relatives, considering a peaceful death, or by their enemies, if they were killed by other Wood Elves. Following the cannibalistic "Meat Mandate" of the Pact, Bosmer are required to eat both fallen enemies and deceased relatives before three days pass, never leaving the corpses to rot. Bosmer architecture is based upon shaping the very trees, so they do not build monumental burial sites. In fact, many of the Bosmer burial sites, even the most remarkable ones, are simply groves. So, when the meat is consumed, the bones are collected and buried in ossuaries, places where only the local Bosmer leave their dead; or in common graveyards, most usually built by other races in Valenwood. Even those Bosmer who died having broken the rules of the Green Pact, the Apostates, must be eaten and their bones buried but in secluded and separated ossuaries.
Only a few of the Bosmer buried bones are anointed with Arkay's Blessing, but necromancy is still not a particularly common practice in Valenwood since the bones are more difficult to rise than intact bodies.
A particular funerary custom unique to the Bosmer happens when a tribe member is slain. This tradition, known as the "Mourning War" is practiced nearly everywhere outside the cities of Valenwood. The deceased is symbolically replaced via a hostage-taking raid on a neighboring tribe. If the deceased was an especially powerful or prestigious member of the tribe, multiple captives may be taken to replace them. The captive or captives undergo a period of physical torture, supposedly to test their worthiness, and then are joyously welcomed into the clan. Traditionally, the victim was given the deceased tribe member's position, possessions, and family, though this practice may be rarely honored in modern ages. Mourning wars are an ancient tradition; scholarly references to them date back to the First Era.
Breton Beliefs and CustomsEdit
Bretons worship Arkay, one of their Divines, as the paramount god of the dead. His worship, at least as recorded in written history, originated after that of Nord Orkey and Elven Xarxes and it is taught he was once a mortal who ascended to godhood. Scholarly views on the matter explains that Arkay is merely a convenient syncretic god between Orkey and Xarxes, becoming an integral part of the religion of the Nedes (and the people descending from them) freed by Alessia. Although the Bretons became the most influenced group of Nedes' descendants by the High Elves, they continued to worship Arkay as the god of the death, instead of Xarxes, god of their Direnni overlords.
Considering themselves one of the most faithful people in Tamriel, devoted to the Divines, both Eight or Nine, depending on the century, the Bretons believe Arkay commands the souls of the deceased to the realm of Aetherius, where they meet their gods and their ancestors. When the Direnni passed away, they left their mark upon the Bretons, who maintained the same aristocratic structures of powers those Altmer had built in the previous centuries. As nothing is more important to an Altmer than his or her ancestry, it is easy to understand Breton nobles and kings, thought to be the rightful successors to the Direnni, valued ancestry to maintain and expand their status in High Rock society. Due to this, prestigious ancestors and royal and noble bloodlines are respected and remembered with high esteem.
In High Rock, the Bad Man is the source of all strife. He seems to have started as the god of crop failure, but became the demonized version of the Nordic Shor and Aldmeri Lorkhan, mostly because of Direnni's influence. This syncretism between Elven and human views makes the Breton views on life and death moderate between these extreme two positions: punishment or gift. They instead prefer to follow the way of appeasement, thanking for the life but fearing of the Bad Man's curses. A commoner's celebration, usually performed out of the sight of the Church is the Bad Man's Hallows, during which Bretons burn offerings to the Bad Man and later throw dirt over the fires in exchange for a good harvesting season.
Breton Funerary CustomsEdit
Traditions dating back to the witch kings and nomadic horsemen mandated cremation of the dead, probably influenced by the Altmer of the Direnni Hegemony, an aristocratic state which ruled over High Rock during the First Era, who also cremated their dead. This tradition remained longer in the north than in the south, where Imperial burial customs became to intrude the Breton society since the very First Era.
By the Second Era, Bretons have abandoned cremation, and all dead, from commoners to kings, were buried underground, returning to the traditions of their other Human cousins. Kings and high nobility are commonly buried in crypts and catacombs, usually built outside of the cities and towns. In Rivenspire, ancient barrows, are used along with other common burial grounds by the local nobility. Dishonored kings and nobles are segregated from their relatives and entombed in special crypts, only to be forgotten by history and their descendants. Breton commoners, on the other side, most usually rest in graveyards, where their bodies are buried within a coffin in familiar or individual tombs. All these places are commonly guarded by Arkay's priests, who watch over the rest of the dead.
Arkay's priests in High Rock give every Breton his Three Consecrations: Arkay's Grace, which they bestow upon birth, to protect the souls of the innocent until they are old enough to exercise their own volition; Arkay's Blessing, which they bestow upon the dying, to prevent their souls from being used without consent; and Arkay's Law, which they bestow upon the deceased, that their corporeal forms may not be raised to unlawful servitude.
Most, if not all, Breton buried bodies are anointed with the Three Consecrations, yet necromancy is still a common practice in High Rock due to the amount of dispensable corpses left to rot on battlefields, without any further blessing or burial.
Dunmer Beliefs and CustomsEdit
The departed spirits of the House Dunmer, entombed in their ancestral tombs, persist after death. The knowledge and power of departed ancestors benefits the bloodlines of their descendants. The bond between the living family members and immortal ancestors is partly blood, partly ritual, partly volitional.
Both House Dunmer and Ashlander do not emphasize the distinction between Mundus, Aetherius and Oblivion. They regard all these planes as a whole with many paths from one end to the other rather than separate worlds of different natures with distinct borders. This philosophical viewpoint may account for the greater affinity of elves for magic and its practices. Dark Elves don't believe that death is the end, but the beginning.
Ancestral tomb-bound spirits will always recognize their own kind, regardless of time passed since the last time they communed with the living. However, if they are angry with their descendants, they may attack them, although even a stranger could gain their trust if first pay the proper respects in the family shrines within the tomb. Spirits do not like to visit the mortal world, and they do so only out of duty and obligation. For them, the otherworld is more pleasant, or at least more comfortable for spirits than Mundus, which is cold, bitter, and full of pain and loss. Some spirits are bound against their wills to protect family shrines. This unpleasant fate is reserved for those who have not served the family faithfully in life. Dutiful and honorable ancestral spirits often aid in the capture and binding of wayward spirits. These spirits usually go mad, and make terrifying guardians. They are ritually prevented from harming mortals of their clans, but that does not necessarily discourage them from mischievous or peevish behavior. They are exceedingly dangerous for intruders. At the same time, if an intruder can penetrate the spirit's madness and play upon the spirit's resentment of his own clan, the angry spirits may be manipulated.
Respect for the departed ones is a central part of Ashlander culture. If an outlander wants to be respected, they should honor them as well.
Malacath, Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal, and Sheogorath are holy to all the Dunmer in that they serve the role of obstacles during the Testing. They see life and death more like a trial than a blessing or a curse. They are known as the Four Corners of the House of Troubles. Malacath tests the Dunmer for physical weakness. Mehrunes Dagon is associated with natural dangers like fire, earthquakes, and floods and represents the inhospitable land of Morrowind. He tests the Dunmer will to survive and persevere. Molag Bal tries to corrupt the blood of the Dark Elves. Finally, Sheogorath tests them for mental weakness.
Dunmer Funerary CustomsEdit
When a Dunmer passes, his body is given to fire, so "he might return to the ash from whence he came".
It is a House Dunmer family's most solemn duty to make sure their ancestor's remains after cremation are interred properly in a City of the Dead such as Necrom. There, the spirits draw comfort from one another against the chill of the mortal world. However, as a sign of great honor and sacrifice, an ancestor may grant that part of his remains be retained to serve as part of a ghost fence protecting the clan's shrine and family precincts. Such an arrangement is often part of the family member's will, that a bone shall be saved out of his remains and incorporated with solemn magic and ceremony into a clan ghost fence. In more exceptional cases, an entire skeleton or even a preserved corpse may be bound into a ghost fence. These remains become a beacon and focus for ancestral spirits, and for the spirit of the remains in particular. The more remains used to make a ghost fence, the more powerful the fence is. And the most powerful mortals in life have the most powerful remains. A necropolis can be created to contain the remains of a group of significance. This was the case for Othrenis, a necropolis that contains the mages that sealed the Brothers of Strife in Stonefalls.
Each House Dunmer family has a shrine. In poorer homes, it may be no more than a hearth or alcove where ancestors' relics are displayed and venerated. In wealthy homes, a room is set aside for the use of the ancestors. The most powerful families possessed ancestral tombs dedicated uniquely to the worship of their ancestors. These shrines are called the Waiting Door, and represents the door to Oblivion. There the family members pay their respects to their ancestors through sacrifice and prayer, through oaths sworn upon duties, and through reports on the affairs of the family. In return, the family may receive information, training, and blessings from the family's ancestors. The ancestors are thus the protectors of the home, and especially the precincts of the Waiting Door.
During the decades between the construction of the Great Ghostfence around the Red Mountain and the rise of the New Temple and the fall of the False Tribunal, there were many changes in the practice of ancestor worship among Dunmer Houses. With the vast majority of ancestors' remains going to strengthen the Great Ghostfence, there remained very few clan ghost fences in Morrowind. The Temple discouraged such practices among the Houses as selfish. The upkeep of family tombs and private Waiting Doors also fell into disfavor. During those years most Dunmer venerated a small portion of their ancestor's remains kept at a local temple. A short time after the Red Year, the traditions came back with the approbation of the New Temple, and new Ancestral Tombs were built.
Ashlanders simply bury their cremated bodies in the ground and mark the place with a cairn, identified by the possessions of the departed. Honored ancestors usually receive offerings, mostly based on the deeds of that particular Dunmer. The Four First Ashkhans (Nalor Ahemmusa, Shadar Erabenimsum, Lammak Urshilaku, and Akami Zainab) were buried in and around Ald'ruhn and had to be ritually honored with specific presents (an ashen fern, an enemy's weapon, the bones of a fallen guar, and a jeweled cuttle). In contrast with House Dunmer, Ashlanders think ancestral tombs tend to go feral in time, because their spirit inhabitants used to be forgotten and suffer imprisoned without the proper communion, so they elude them.
Dunmer regard Necromancy upon any of the accepted races as an abomination. However, before the Third Era, it was acceptable to practice it on other races, especially those of slaves. Telvanni mages were especially skilled necromancers. After the outlawing of Necromancy and before the abolition of slavery, Necromancy thrive taking slaves at a modest rate. Most assumed the slave escaped or died. However, by the Fourth Era, this situation changed dramatically.
Imperial Beliefs and CustomsEdit
Imperials worship Arkay, one of their Divines, as the paramount god of the dead. His worship, at least as recorded in written history, originated after that of Nord Orkey and elven Xarxes and it is taught that he was a mortal who ascended to godhood. Scholar views on the matter explains that Arkay is merely a convenient syncretic god between Orkey and Xarxes, becoming an integral part of the religion of the Nedes (and the people descending from them) freed by Alessia. The Imperials became the most influenced society by the Alessian Order and its vision of the afterlife. Alessians believed that one devoted to their doctrines can persist beyond the illusion of death, this is, to expunge corruption and conquer the Arkayn Cycle.
Imperials call Aetherius, the realm of the afterlife, Heaven. Imperial Theosophy teaches that Heaven is also the plane of pure magicka and the seat of the Divines and the other original spirits. Oblivion surrounds Mundus every night, but from Aetherius, energy infuses the daily existence, from highest to lowest, and gives all common purpose. Its magic "brings the rain to the fields, love to the hearts, and scientific principles to the technological industries". It gives the very Sun itself. Finally, Aetherius is the home to the Aedra, those cornerstones of the Mundus whose aspects are seen "in temple, in lordship, and the high walk of heroes".
Shezarr is a Cyrodilic version of Lorkhan who is admittedly a thinly-disguised version of Shor, and even in the Colovian West of Cyrodiil, they recognize Shezarr by the name of Shor. One of the thousands of cults in the Imperial City was dedicated to worship of him, which talks about the importance Imperials give to the Shezarr's suggestion to the other gods to cutting off parts of themselves to create a world, sacrificing power and control. So, he is also called the "Missing Sibling" of the Eight Divines, and appeared in the earliest Cyro-Nordic stories of the Heartlands fighting against the Ayleids on mankind's behalf.
Imperial Funerary CustomsEdit
Imperials bury all their dead, commonly underground both in graveyards, built in the interior of vicinity of cities and towns; and in catacombs below the chapels of the Churches of the Eight or the Nine, depending on the age. Gravestones dot the terrain of Imperial graveyards, signaling the location of the buried coffins where the dead rest. This is the most common form of entombment for commoners. On the other side, the nobility is commonly buried in crypts and catacombs, usually built outside of the cities and towns or below the temples of the Imperial cities. All these places are commonly guarded by Arkay's priests, who watch over the rest of the dead.
Arkay's priests in Cyrodiil and beyond give every Imperial his Three Consecrations, to protect the souls and the bodies of the deceased, just like the Bretons do.
Most, if not all, Imperial buried bodies are anointed with the Three Consecrations, even criminals who will be executed by the law. Necromancy is still a common practice in Cyrodiil, due to the disposal of corpses given by the government to certain necromancers allied with the state to practice their arts.
One particular place held by the Imperials as especially sacred as a burial ground is Sancre Tor, where the ancient tombs of the Reman emperors lie. Following the defeat of the Akaviri invaders, Sancre Tor enjoyed a brief resurgence of wealth and culture under Reman Cyrodiil and his descendants, Reman II and Reman III. Tracing his ancestry to Saint Alessia, and following the tradition that Saint Alessia was buried in the catacombs beneath Sancre Tor, although some may say she is buried under the Temple of the One, Reman built splendid funerary precincts in the depths of the ancient citadel under-passages. Here the last Reman emperor, Reman III, was buried in his tomb with the Amulet of Kings. During the Interregnum, the place became abandoned, and no one of the numerous Emperors were buried in Sancre Tor. The place was only briefly reoccupied before Tiber Septim lay siege to the holy city and recovered the Amulet of Kings. After that, neither the Septim nor the Mede Emperors bury their remains in Sancre Tor.
Khajiit Beliefs and CustomsEdit
After the Riddle'Thar was revealed to the Khajiit by the prophet Rid-Thar-ri'Datta during the Second Era, this cosmic order will set a guideline by which to live rather than to embody a single entity. Depending on the actions during their lives, their fate differ between "true cats" and "bent cats". A true cat hunts without rest for the Right Trail, trying one after another of the endless paths Jone and Jode, but it is easy for a cat to grow bored and abandon the chase. And this is why the Moon clergy inspires the kittens, sharing stories of the oldest times, nudging them back to the true way; and also must rebuke the naughty cats, swatting the ones who stray upon their flanks until they return to the paths the Moons weave. At the end of a life guided by the Riddle'Thar lies Llesw'er, also known as the Sands Behind the Stars, a paradise where sugar forms the dunes and the joyous Moonlight Chorus sounds.
A true cat may stumble, may lose his way and come upon the temptations of a darker dance led by Lorkhaj, the Moon Beast. The Moon clergy states that Fadomai gave birth to Lorkhaj, the last of her litter, in the Great Darkness, so the Heart of Lorkhaj was filled with the Great Darkness, giving her consciousness and a name and it was Namiira. Later, Lorkhaj tricked his siblings so that they were forced into this new place with Nirni. And many of Fadomai's children escaped and became the stars, while others died to make Nirni's path stable. And the survivors stayed and punished Lorkhaj, said to be turned into a third moon, the "Dark Moon" which governs the fate of the dro-m'Athra, as Jone and Jode govern the fate of the Khajiit.
When true cats die, their souls are lifted by Khenarthi and flown to the Sands Behind the Stars, to play and prey until the Next Pounce. A dro-m'Athra can twist out a bent cat's soul, and send it through the cracks directly to the Darks, a ritual known as the Bent Dance. Khajiit are protected by the Ways of Jone (killing that lost cats) and Jode (bathing them in moonlight) from falling into the Bent Dance. Also, when bent cats die, their souls are dragged down by Namiira into the Dark Behind the World, to serve the Heart of Lorkhaj, the Frightful Heart, "until their tails are straight".
Khajiit Funerary CustomsEdit
Khajiit bury all their dead, often in coffins, where the dead rest with their most precious possessions or other relics. Most of these burials are protected, at least, in name, by the Moon clergy. Commonly, families are buried together underground, so their spirits can rest in afterlife. Anequine Khajiit are often buried with only a small cairn of stones. The desert will preserve their bodies for hundreds of years without further preparation. On the other hand, Pellitinian Khajiit bury their deceased underground, marked with a gravestone, and like their northern cousins, without further rites. The humid climate of southern Elsweyr will rot their bodies rapidly. City Khajiit prefer to bury their dead in catacombs or graveyards. Certain noble or wealthy Khajiit may have a monumental tomb constructed, where their corpses and most valuable artifacts will rest. A general custom for Khajiit is to plant Waning Lilies at holy sites in remembrance to beloved family members that died.
Almost none of the Khajiit are anointed with Arkay's Blessing due to their particular beliefs and the emphasis of the soul over the body. Khajiit show moderate indifference to graves being uncovered and corpses to be disturbed. So this is the true that in the port of Senchal, one may purchase anything one desires, including the bodies of the recently deceased. Because of this, necromancy is specially easy to practice in Elsweyr.
Nord Beliefs and CustomsEdit
—A Word Wall
Nords have believed their souls will travel to Sovngarde since even before they departed Atmora. This realm lies in the heart of Aetherius, awaiting the souls of departed warriors. Nords who prove themselves in battle awaken in the realm after death. Nords are judged not by the manner in which they lived, but the manner in which they die. In the end, all valiant Nords can enter Sovngarde, despite dismemberment, decapitation or evisceration.
The Hall of Valor is a massive stone mead hall located in Sovngarde in which Nord heroes are welcomed to be forever honored by Shor. The hall can only be accessed by crossing the huge Whale Bone bridge which is guarded by Tsun, the shield-thane of Shor. The hall can only be entered by defeating him in a challenge or unless granted permission from Shor. Pain and illness vanish within the Hall of Valor. Revelry is never-ending, mead flows freely, and the greatest Nords of all time compete in tests of strength and prowess. Even the tedium of immortality is unknown, for spectral foes wait in the surrounding shadows, waiting to do battle with those who would test their mettle.
Shor is the Nordic version of Lorkhan. Before his doom, Shor, sometimes called the "Children's God", was chief of the gods. Shor created the realm of Sovngarde before he died. After he was murdered, Shor retreated to that realm to rule over it, choosing heroes to honor according to his whims. Shor is for the Nords both the missing god of creation and the king of the dead. There are many ancient Nordic legends of Shor and his compatriots. Kyne was his wife and later his widow, Stuhn was one of his Shield-thanes, and Tsun died protecting him. They say he fought Alduin on the spirit plane at the beginning of time. However, it is also true that Alduin feeds on the souls of the dead in Sovngarde, a privilege he guards jealously.
Nord Funerary CustomsEdit
Most Nord cities have a Hall of the Dead, the way the Nords call their mausoleums, and where bodies are interred, overseen by a Priest of Orkey or Arkay, depending on the era, who ensures that corpses are properly consecrated and cared for. Priests are trained to prepare and inter the corpses of the dead and to learn the proper burial rituals and prayers, sometimes, since they were children. A Priest of Arkay in Skyrim is usually entrusted with a ceremonial dagger once they've completed their training, given by the head priest who sanctified the ritual. Ceremonial daggers and other tools were used by the Nords of old to embalm the bodies, a practice forgotten by the Fourth Era. Besides that dagger, each priest holds an amulet of Arkay which allows them to appease the restless dead who sometimes arise from their tombs. Arkay or Orkey priests in Skyrim usually live solitary lives and are seen as little more than outcasts.
Smaller Nord settlements and some cities may have graveyards where their dead are buried with the same rites as those from the Hall of the Dead. Each grave is marked by a gravestone and bodies are encased in coffins. Sometimes the burial has to wait for the ground to thaw, due to harsh climate of Skyrim, but also the cold prevents the bodies from rotting quickly.
Prestigious Nord clans may also have their own barrows outside of cities. These tombs are watched by their own relatives, keeping out intruders and tending to their dead. This tradition dates, at least, to the very beginning of Nords' colonization of Tamriel and continued until, at least, the Second Era. Highly esteemed Nords, like honored warriors, jarls, and kings of old had their own barrow, commonly in secluded places, far from populated places.
Some Nords may choose a Fire Burial, instead of interring themselves. Reasons may differ, but they are an uncommon choice, but not despised at all. This ritual involves the cremation of the body of the deceased and the consecration of the ashes by a priest, to secure their souls to depart to the afterlife.
Orc Beliefs and CustomsEdit
According to Malacath-worshipping Orcs, Boethiah took exception to the lies being spread by the elven gods about Lorkhan, most especially those espoused by Trinimac. He defeated Trinimac and took on his form to spread "the truth of Lorkhan's test", the Tri-Angled Truth, and persuaded the followers of Boethiah and Trinimac to abandon Altmeri society. Then, Malacath was created when Boethiah ate Trinimac, although Malacath himself says that this tale is far too "literal minded". Trinimac's devout elven followers became the Orsimer. Malacath is not recognized as a Daedric Lord by his peers, which fits his sphere perfectly.
Some Orcs disagree with both stories and claim that Trinimac still exists and Malacath is a separate Daedric entity. At least two kings of Orsinium have tried to convert the Orcs back to the Aedric faith of Trinimac. Trinimac is particularly well-known for spreading what is today one of the main understanding of the events surrounding Lorkhan. He preached that Lorkhan's idea for the mortal realm had been a trick all along and fomented war against Lorkhan and his followers. He believed that "tears were the best response to the Sundering", and encouraged hatred of Lorkhan.
For the Orcs that revere Malacath, the afterlife promises rewards of immortality, abundant food and drink, and constant battle deep within the Ashen Forge. The Ashen Forge represents the culmination of the three constant truths of life among the Orc clans: the stronghold, the grudge, and the Code of Malacath. The Ashen Forge sits at the center of Malacath's own stronghold in the Ashpit, Malacath's plane of Oblivion, which consists of nothing but dust and smoke and ash. But his followers believe that the eternal emptiness contains all the things they hold dear and deem necessary to enhance their immortal existence. As the ultimate expression of the Orc stronghold, Malacath's Ashpit bastion stretches endlessly across the planes, extending even behind the stars to Aetherius, granting access to every worthy Orc who crosses from this life into the next. In Malacath's stronghold, every Orc is a chief, every chief has a thousand wives, and every wife has a thousand slaves to cater to their every need. The stronghold's walls rise one hundred feet into the smoky sky, constructed of polished steel and worked iron. Inside the walls, stone keeps, iron towers, and massive longhouses surround the central square that houses the Ashen Forge.
The Ashen Forge fills the endless space within Malacath's smithy, a massive hearth that burns with a fire said to be hotter than the sun. The thing that keeps this fire alive is the adherence by the Orcs of Tamriel to the Code of Malacath, that is the heat comes from the burning, white-hot coals that are, the literal manifestation of the bloody code, which fuels the fires of emptiness, betrayal, and broken promises, imbuing every newly forged Orc with a foundation of grievances and resentments that will take them far in the mortal world. The hope is that every generation will be better than the next thanks to the efforts of the generation before it and its ability to adhere to and follow the Code of Malacath. Within this fire, every Orc must undergo the ritual of tempering when first they cross from this life to the next. They are thrust into the coals so that every grudge that they carry into the afterlife can be heated, melted, and eventually forged into the next generation of mortal Orcs. Some particularly memorable grudges can also be hammered and worked into weapons or armor of legendary stature upon the Ashen Anvil, the gigantic workbench that stands beside the Ashen Forge.
Still, Malacath's faithful believe that they will be rewarded with immortality, nourishment, and constant battle deep within the Ashen Forge. A life-everlasting filled with endless days of warfare, endless nights of fine food and drink, and ongoing opportunities to prove their toughness and demonstrate the quality of their steel.
In contrast, Trinimac's followers believe that when they die, they ascend to Aetherius to join with their ancestors. Afterlife for Trinimac's faithful also consists of endless war and celebrations, but with a greater emphasis on once again spending time with family members who came before them. A fate similar to those of the Altmer from which the Orsimer splintered. For them, mortal life is nothing more than a punishment imposed by the trickery of Lorkhan to the Eight original Divines.
Orcish Funerary CustomsEdit
When an Orc dies, his remains will be burned down to ashes, which can be handled by their kin. Ashes from chiefs and kings usually are forged into swords and shields, or any other item which their relatives or successors may want to remember the departed ones.
Both in First and Second Orsinium, there existed Great Pyres where cremation of the dead was performed. The Great Pyre of First Orsinium was consecrated to Malacath. The Great Pyre of Second Orsinium was reserved for high-ranking Orcs and was not dedicated to either Malacath or Trinimac. Commonly, more than one deceased was cremated at a time.
It is custom to place the ashes of the Orcish dead under a cairn, out in the field, under the open sky. Over this cairn are placed their arms and armor. There, their relatives will come to honor their ancestors. Burial is not a practice among the Orsimer, although they respect other races' traditions.
Sorrow mountain is the tallest peak in the Wrothgarian Mountains. The ancient Orcs of the early First Era used its heights as a burial ground for their chiefs and champions; the mightier the chief, the higher the Orcs placed his cairn. Torug gro-Igron, one of their greatest heroes, had his cairn at the very summit of Sorrow.
A unique and uncommon example of burial among Orcs and proof of their respect of other races killed in battle is the catacombs of Honor's Rest, in southern Wrothgar. This extensive mausoleum was built by Orc, Breton and Redguard masons after the destruction of the First Orsinium to place the corpses of both Breton and Redguards and the ashes of the Orcs who died in the long siege and, specially to place the rests of the heroes and rivals Baloth Bloodtusk and Gaiden Shinji, whose spoiled duel by King Joile of Daggerfall ended the war. These ruins were hidden and undiscovered until the reign of King Kurog in the Second Era.
Orcish corpses are among the most sought after for the durability of their skin and the strength of their bones by necromancers. During the reign of King Gortwog, a delegation from the Worm Cult was sent to Orsinium for disposing of the Orcish dead. However, these negotiations never came into any agreement. Probably, because Orsimer despise any form of necromancy or disturbance of corpses, souls, or remains of the dead.
Redguard Beliefs and CustomsEdit
Tu'whacca, before the creation of the world, was the god of Nobody Really Cares. When Tall Papa undertook the creation of the Walkabout, Tu'whacca found a purpose; he became the caretaker of the Far Shores, and continues to help Redguards find their way into the afterlife. His cult is sometimes associated with Arkay in the more cosmopolitan regions of Hammerfell, and he is often worshipped in that name by some Forebears. However, Crown and Forebear Redguards' beliefs about the afterlife have been and are the same since their arrivals from Yokuda. They all believe Tu'whacca is the god who escorts their souls to the afterlife of the Far Shores and, though a soul may have enemies who may try to keep it from reaching the Far Shores, Tu'whacca, as is sly and clever, will always outwit them. In conclusion, Tu'whacca performs the same functions for the Redguards that Arkay and Xarxes do for Tamrielic men and mer.
The actual portal to the Far Shores is located deep in the Hall of Heroes, the ancient resting place of the greatest Redguard warriors. Worthy souls must journey to the Chamber of Passage, guarded by the Keeper of the Hall, who refuses entry to the living and the unworthy.
In Yokudan and Redguard religion, Sep, the Snake, their version of Lorkhan was born when Tall Papa created someone to help him regulate the spirit trade. Sep, though, was driven crazy by the hunger of Satakal, and he convinced some of the gods to help him make an easier alternative to the Walkabout, that is Nirn, and the spirits who followed Sep become trapped there, to live out their lives as mortals. Sep is punished by Tall Papa for his transgressions, but his hunger lives on as a void in the stars, a "non-space" that tries to upset mortal entry into the Far Shores. Unlike other humans, whose myths portray Mundus as a blessing, the Redguards believe that it was all part of a cruel trick by Ruptga's servant, Sep, whose hunger had driven him into a malevolent madness. As a result of his trickery, their ancestors were left stranded on a dying ball, too far away to "jump into" the Far Shores. Ruptga refused to help those who had been stranded by Sep, declaring that they had to either live on through children or else find a new way to reach the Far Shores and thereby "strive back to godhood".
Redguard Funerary CustomsEdit
When the Ra Gada arrived in Hammerfell, they were determined to reproduce the culture of Yokuda as closely as possible, so they do with their funerary practices. Redguards inherited a tremendous respect for their deceased ancestors, so it is easy to find that their houses for the dead can be even larger and more elaborate than their homes for the living. They build extensive necropolis both near and far from populated places, for commoners, nobility, heroes, and kings alike. Although, sometimes, noble families or wealthy kings will build their own tombs in secluded places and protect them with traps, and magical and holy seals. Redguards have buried and mummified their dead since their arrival to Tamriel from Yokuda. Honorless criminals are left to rot in desecrated grounds, commonly out in the desert, far from towns. It is possible to retrieve the remains and consecrate them if they were later believed innocent.
Throne Keepers are Tu'whacca priests who are intended with protecting the many necropolises which dot Hammerfell. Their main occupation is tending to the embalmed bodies which are entombed and to prevent the others to rise. In case their necropolis turned desecrated, they can call upon Tu'whacca's Breath, a sacred ritual which put the dead back to rest. They are capable too of cleansing necromantic taint on the Ansei Wards which keeps the dead of the Alik'r Desert from rising.
According to Redguard tradition, striking the dead, called Ra-Netu locally, carries with it a terrible curse and is considered an act of dishonor. Because of this, fighting back against necromancy proved difficult. Worship of Tu'whacca is very strong, the dead are almost always subject to his protections, identical to Arkay's Law. There are exceptions after large battles or in remote areas where death occurs far from meddlesome priests. To a devout Redguard, almost nothing is more repugnant than necromancy. Due to these beliefs, Redguard reanimated necromancers, such as liches, will be imprisoned under magical seals that kept them trapped, instead of being destroyed.
Furthermore, in the Alik'r, three Ansei heroes of ancient, Majah, Radan and Halelah sacrificed themselves to protect the region from the risen dead. As part of a covenant with Tu'whacca, they pledged their souls and each Ansei channeled their spirit into the blade they wielded in life. These swords became known as the Ansei Wards, and as long as the dead are consecrated in the name of Tu'whacca, they could not be raised by even the most powerful necromancy. The Wards were locked in a fortified subterranean storehouse below Sentinel, known as the Impervious Vault, and sealed with a magical barrier. The spirit of each Ansei remained tied to their Ward, meaning it would be with it at all times. These treasured relics have played an important role throughout the history of the Alik'r.
However, necromancers have achieved to practice their art in a variety of manners, so the Ash'abah were created as a separated tribal group of Redguards who are pariahs from the rest of society due to their delegated role: fighting the undead. They will fight back, at a cost: they are hated by other Redguards, and exiled to the desert. When the dead rise, the Ash'abah are called upon to help, but otherwise they are shunned.
Other Cultures' Beliefs and CustomsEdit
Many lycanthropes are claimed by Hircine and spend eternity experiencing the thrill of the hunt in his Hunting Grounds. However, it is possible for a soul to transfer to another afterlife (such as Sovngarde) if their lycanthropy is cured posthumously. Despite popular belief, not all lycanthropes go to the Hunting Grounds when they die. A priest from the Cult of the Ancestor Moth who lived during the Interregnum described the notion of Hircine "claiming" the souls of all lycanthropes as "poetic and misleading", stating that mortals decide the destinations of their own souls through the choices they make in life. A notable example of this is the werewolves who served King Styriche as soldiers in the Gray Host and ended up in Coldharbour.
Vampires believe their souls are sent to Coldharbour upon their demise. The Tenarr Zalviit clan believes their souls are out of Khenarthi's reach, and the embrace of Molag Bal is all that awaits them should they die. Molag Bal is said to bring down his wrath on vampire clans who interfere with his desires, and that he could bring a vampire clan to ruin should a vampire's soul be taken out of his domain.
Reachmen primarily worship Hircine, the most primal of the Daedric Princes, although some clans are said to also dedicate ceremonies to Molag Bal, Malacath, Mehrunes Dagon, and Namira. Their shamans venerate the Hagraven "matrons", who in turn grant them knowledge of nature magic. It is unknown if their souls are claimed by any of those Daedric Princes to their realms. However, it is known that they share the funerary practice of burial with their Nord and Breton cousins and Nedic forefathers.
Malacath is worshipped by Ogres and Goblins under the name Muluk. However, it is unknown if they follow the Code of Malacath and have similar funerary customs and afterlife beliefs to the Orcs or not.
Giants demonstrate intricate beliefs regarding death. They have places set aside as sacred burial grounds. When a giant is sick or dying, they go to one of these places to die. If a giant dies elsewhere, other giants make sure the body gets to the burial ground. They typically don't live near these sacred locations, and they don't guard them. They simply make use of them.
During the Merethic Era, Dragon Priests kept the Nord population enthralled and obedient by means of a widespread dragon-worshipping cult, and many people of this era became the undead draugr that still prowl the crypts of Skyrim, Solstheim, Atmora, and anywhere else the dragon priests "kept peace between dragons and men". Although dragons are "immortal", they can be killed temporarily. Most dragons were hunted down during the Dragon War or by the Blades after their arrival in Tamriel. These dragons were entombed in burial mounds constructed in the First Era by surviving members of the dragon cult .
Sload are apparently not religious and generally reject worship, but will willingly serve Daedra if they benefit from it. Sload parents care little for the fate of the young, and will often kill them to make Sload Soap, which they use in necromantic rituals. It is unknown whether or not the death of an adult Sload is treated differently.
Little is known about afterlife beliefs and funerary customs of most of the nations of Akavir, of the Falmer, of the Maormer, and of many less-cultured beastfolks like the Imga, the Lamia, the Minotaurs, and the Water Dreugh.
Aedric-worshipping Ayleids had very similar traditions on death and afterlife to that of the Altmer. The White-Gold Tower was their "Temple of the Ancestors", built it in emulation of the Adamantine Tower, and with Chim-el-Adabal, which they believed to be the crystallized blood of the Heart of Lorkhan, into the tower's Founding-Stone. It is the site where the Ten Ancestors, statues sacred to the Ayleids, were traditionally held. They were spread to various other settlements during the siege of the White-Gold Tower for safekeeping, but were not reunited again until the late Third Era, long after the fall of the Ayleids. Little is known if those Ayleids who worship Daedric Princes shared customs with their brethren.
The ancient Nedes interred their dead within massive chambers and passages beneath their cities and in sacred burial grounds, both commoners and nobles alike. They believed their souls would travel to the Stars beyond the heavens of Aetherius through a "Golden Stair".
Extinct races of the Black Marsh following the devastation of the Knahaten Flu in the mid-Second Era, like the Kothringi, the beastfolk Lilmothiit, and other little known human tribes left no known traces of their beliefs about afterlife or their burial practices. Even less is known of the beastfolk known as Bird Men described by Topal inhabiting the City Isle back in the Merethic Era; and of the Lefthanded Elves from Yokuda, thought annihilated by the ancestors of the Redguards and the later sinking of their continent.
There are many ways for mortals to avoid death, although usually at a price. Most forms of undead are simple revenants, such as mindless skeletons or zombies. Restless spirits often remain bound to Tamriel as ghosts or wraiths.
The most powerful mages have been known to live far beyond a normal mortal lifespan. The most famous examples are the Wizard-Lords of Great House Telvanni, who have been known to live for centuries. Necromancers often attempt to use their knowledge to cheat death, although only the most powerful of necromancers manage to ascend to lichdom, which often becomes a curse in very short order for those who succeed. Another way mortals avoid a natural death is contracting vampirism. Lord Harkon sacrificed a thousand innocents in Molag Bal's name so he would be given the "gift".
Some mortals have been known to achieve a form of life beyond death by having their soul replaced by a Daedric vestige. Molag Bal preserves mortals who have been sacrificed to him in such a manner. Additionally, he has often been known to bring mortals back from the dead. On rare occasions, mortals have become immortal by achieving divinity, such as the god Talos.
There are other, simpler ways to avoid death, such as through the use of an enchanted scroll of revival at the moment of death.
- Tu'whacca, Arkay, Xarxes — Lady Cinnabar of Taneth
- Souls, Black and White
- The Talos Mistake — Leonora Venatus
- The Monomyth
- Ancestors and the Dunmer
- Emile Oncent's dialogue in ESO
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- On the Holy Symbol — Advisor Norion
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- Lord of Souls — Gregory Keyes
- Arkay the Enemy — KW
- Prowls-in-Stealth's dialogue in ESO
- Reesa's dialogue in ESO
- Kasa-Jas's dialogue during Empty Nest.
- Grave-Singer Xaleez's dialogue during A Life in Carvings
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- Varieties of Faith: The Wood Elves — Brother Mikhael Karkuxor of the Imperial College
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- The Ooze: A Fable
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- Visions of the Green Pact Bosmer — Morvas Andrys
- Varieties of Faith: The Bretons — Brother Mikhael Karkuxor of the Imperial College
- True Heirs of the Empire — Erystera Ligen
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: High Rock — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- The Daggerfall Chronicles — Ronald Wartow
- Ark'ay, the God of Birth and Death — Mymophonus the scribe
- Curator Nicholas's dialogue in ESO
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- The Consecrations of Arkay — Punctilius Tyrus
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- The Illusion of Death
- Artorius Ponticus Answers Your Questions — Bishop Artorius Ponticus
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: Arena Supermundus: The Tapestry of Heaven — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- Shezarr and the Divines — Faustillus Junius
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- Words of Clan Mother Ahnissi — Clan Mother Ahnissi
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- Sovngarde, a Reexamination — Bereditte Jastal
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- A Dream of Sovngarde — Skardan Free-Winter
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- The Changed Ones
- The Anticipations — Anonymous
- The True Nature of Orcs
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: Orsinium — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- Malacath and Trinimac — Ugdorga, the King's Scribe
- On Orcs and the Afterlife — Erisa Moorcroft, Scholar, Comparative Religious Studies
- Priest Uugus' dialogue in ESO
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- Varieties of Faith, Crown Redguards — Brother Mikhael Karkuxor of the Imperial College
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- Tu'whacca's Throne's description in ESO
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- The Abbot Crassius Viria Answers Your Questions — Abbot Crassius Viria
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- A Daedric Proposal — Galdrus Salobar, Sanguimancer Supreme
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- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: The Temple: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
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- Chaotic Creatia: The Azure Plasm — Doctor Rhythandius
- Molag Bal quest in Oblivion
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- Scroll of Revival in Blades