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The Nords' Totemic Religion

Michael Kirkbride
The gods are cyclical, just like the world is. There are the Dead Gods, who fought and died to bring about the new cycle; the Hearth Gods, who watch over the present cycle; the Testing Gods, who threaten the Hearth and thus are watched; and the Twilight Gods, who usher in the next cycle. The end of a cycle is said to be preceded by the Dragonborn God, a god that did not exist in the previous cycle but whose presence means that the current one is almost over.
The Dead Gods
Dead Gods don’t need temples. They have the biggest one of all, Svongarde. Nord heroes and clever men visit the Underworld all the time. They bear a symbol to show that they have, which garners much respect.


  • The Fox - Shor
  • The Bear - Tsun
The Hearth Gods
The Hearth Gods have temples appropriate to their nature: Kyne’s are built on peaks, Mara’s are the halls of important Witches, Dibella’s are the halls of important Wives– the temples aren’t like those of the Imperials; as Hearth Gods, they are always homes to someone, and the highest-ranking female of that home is their de facto high priestess.
  • The Hawk, Kyne
  • The Wolf, Mara
  • The Moth, Dibella
The Testing Gods
The Testing Gods don’t really have temples – they are propitiated at battlegrounds or other sites where they caused some notable trouble. Nords understand that the Daedric Temples are something else entirely and think them as much of a waste of time as the formalized religion of the Nine Divines of Cyrodiil.
  • The Snake, Orkey
  • The Woodland Man, Herma Mora
The Twilight Gods
The Twilight Gods need no temples– when they show up, there won’t be any reason to build them, much less use them – another waste of time. That said, Nords do venerate them, as they always venerate the cycles of things, and especially the Last War where they will show their final, best worth.
  • The Dragon, Alduin - Alduin is venerated on the winter solstice by ceremonies at ancient Dragon Cult temples, where offerings are made to keep him asleep for one more year. Alduin is also the source of many common superstitious practices before any event of significance.
  • The Dragonborn God, Talos - Talos’ totem is the newest, but is everywhere – he is the Dragonborn Conquering Son, the first new god of this cycle, whose power is consequently unknown, so the Nords bless nearly everything with his totem, since he might very well be the god of it now, too. Yes, as first of the Twilight Gods, this practice might seem contradictory, but that’s only because, of all the gods, he will be the one that survives in whole into the next cycle.
Nord view of Imperial Religion
The Eight Divines are viewed by the Nords as a “Southern” import. They retain some of the taint of the Alessian Order, and are basically viewed as a religion for foreigners. Their gods are fine for them, but Nords need Nord gods.
Some of the gods are the same (or similar) – significantly these are the three female gods, which are far more important to the Nords than they are in the Imperial Cult. (Kyne is in fact the de facto head of the Nord pantheon.) The Nords are perplexed and disturbed by the Imperial Cult’s focus on the Dragon God – they regard this as a fundamental misunderstanding of the universe, and one likely to cause disaster in the end. (Which fits perfectly with the pessimistic Nord view of the world in general – things are likely to turn out badly, and it will probably be caused by some foreigner.) Lucky for the world that the Nords are so diligent about keeping Alduin asleep, while the southerners are busy trying to get his attention! Any mention of Akatosh in a Nord’s presence is likely to bring a muttered invocation to Alduin to stay asleep in response.
The Nords believe that, During the Oblivion Crisis, it was Talos (Dragonborn, Martin’s forefather) lending his aid, not Alduin.

The Stormfist Clan

Thora Far-Wanderer

The clans of the Nords spread across Skyrim like herds of mammoths, though their numbers and influence upon the land are far greater. Each clan, however, makes its mark in a different way. Some clans are known for their hunting skills, or their forestry, or their crafting. Some clans are large, others small. Some take a prominent role in government and community. And then there are the dark clans. The clans no one deals with or even speaks of. One such clan is the infamous Stormfists of Whiterun Tundra.

The clan traces its lineage to Ogra Stormfist, the powerful matriarch who founded the clan and ruled over it for almost fifty years. Highly regarded for their combat skills and armor crafting, the Stormfist clan played pivotal roles in numerous conflicts over the centuries, including the Battle of Whiterun Hold, the Massacre at Dialmarch, and the Siege of Windhelm. It was the last engagement, however, that led to the clan's fall from favor and marked it as anathema.

Prior to the Second Akaviri Invasion, Fildgor Strong-Prince, son of Queen Mabjaarn of Eastern Skyrim, went on a pilgrimage to the west to see the land and meet the people. He fell in with young men and women from the Stormfist clan and forged friendships and bonds that would serve him well in the coming years. When Fildgor was ready to move on and perform his coming-of-age trials, an entourage of Stormfist clan members decided to go with him. They became known as the Stormfist Brigade, and even though he wasn't a member of the clan by birth, Fildgor became their de facto leader.

If the Stormfist clan had a reputation prior to this, it paled in comparison to the legend that grew around the Stormfist Brigade. They were ferocious warriors, setting off for adventure in the most hostile and isolated areas of the kingdom. With Fildgor leading the way, they routed bandits, uncovered treasure, and slew monsters. When the Akaviri invaders arrived in force, Fildgor led the Brigade into the thick of battle. They eventually fought their way to Windhelm to join forces with Queen Mabjaarn and the main army.

Although they weren't able to stop the fall of Windhelm or save the queen, the Stormfist Brigade was nonetheless instrumental in helping to route the invading army. They marched as part of the combined Nord forces that eventually joined with the Dark Elves and Argonians to defeat the Akaviri. But then the fateful decision was made. When Fildgor declared his intention to ascend the throne left empty by his sister Nurnhilde's death, the Stormfist clan was among his most vocal backers. You know how that story ends. Jorunn and Fildgor met in single combat, and Jorunn won the throne. Fildgor was exiled, and he departed Skyrim with a promise to one day return.

The Stormfist clan, loyal to Fildgor to the end, refused to bow before Jorunn or acknowledge his authority over them. They returned to their holdings to the west, and King Jorunn, tired of all the fighting, let them go. To this day, the Stormfist clan remains isolated, rarely venturing out of its domain or taking part in the larger Nord community. What will happen if the clan ever decides to to leave its tundra-lands and reassert its place among the other clans is anyone's guess. Especially if Fildgor ever makes good on his promise.

The Crown of Freydis

Taleon Mythmaker

The Crown of Freydis, worn by our beloved Queen Mabjaarn, has a long history. Many know of the crown's famed beauty, but few know the true intent of the crown and why it was created—and that it was even worn by other monarchs before Queen Freydis.

The Crown of Freydis is actually the second royal crown of Skyrim. The fabled Jagged Crown holds the distinction of being the first. The Jagged Crown was forged by Harald, first king of the Nords, from the bones of dragons. Legend has it that the Jagged Crown disappeared with the death of Harald's final descendant King Borgas in The Wild Hunt of 1E 369. The death of childless King Borgas, last of the line of Ysgramor, triggered an internecine conflict known as the War of Succession.

The War of Succession raged for more than fifty years before Olaf One-Eye became the new High King of Skyrim. Olaf was elected to the position primarily due to the renown he garnered subduing the dragon Numinex, and not for any benevolence or statesmanship on his part. The rule of Olaf One-Eye was a time marked by great strife and division among the Nords. When he also died without a clear heir, it was decided that a new manner be employed for choosing a new High King.

Each of Skyrim's holds sent a mage to a convocation called specifically to craft a magical artifact that would test the worth of potential candidates for High King. To this end, they created the Crown of Verity. Crafting the artifact in the shape of a crown was a brilliant innovation. With the loss of the Jagged Crown, Olaf had worn no mark of recognizable rulership. They felt that a new crown would help unify the realm behind a new king after the relative instability of Olaf's rule. The timing of the crown's creation proved to be auspicious.

The Moot selected a tribal chieftain named Asurn Ice-Breaker to be the next High King of Skyrim. Asurn was a mighty warrior of unmatched skill in the vein of Olaf One-Eye, though he never defeated a dragon. Before he assumed the role, however, he had to don the newly-forged Crown of Verity. That's when the true power of the artifact became apparent.

The crown rejected Asurn. It literally refused to be placed upon his head. In a rage, Asurn summoned his loyal followers and threatened to kill every member of the Moot if they didn't name him as the rightful king. He refused to be rejected by a crown. A soft-spoken member of the council rose from his chair. He challenged Asurn to combat, according to the law. The battle was short and to the point: Asurn was struck down. When the soft-spoken man took the rown and placed it easily upon his own head, a new High King of Skyrim was born. That was how Kjoric the White rose to power.

To this day, the Crown of Freydis has been passed down from High King to High King. It is used as a tool by the Moot to ascertain the worthiness of any candidate for the throne. Since the day Asurn was struck down, no one has challenged the validity of the Crown or its powers—until 2E 431, when the Reman Empire fell asunder, and King Logrolf was assassinated.

Jarl Svartr of Solitude claimed that Logrolf's daughter, Freydis, was illegitimate, and therefore a Moot was required to choose a successor. Though Freydis, wearing the Crown of Verity, was named High Queen in Windhelm, a partial Moot in Solitude chose Svartr as High King. Thereafter the West Kingdom was ruled by Svartr and his successors, while the East Kingdom was ruled by the heirs to Freydis, who renamed the Crown of Verity in her honor.

The Song of Return: Skyrim, a Preamble

Michael Kirkbride

To properly understand Skyrim, which one must do if they are to take on the burden of describing it for the layman, its geographies, its histories, its peoples, and its myths must be perceived as an aggregate. The Northlanders and their environs are the most variegated simplicity on this earth, with their heroic narratives serving as a record of all events leading to the present day. Which is a long way of saying that the land and the legendry of Skyrim is of a cycle not quite recognizable as prudent to the rest of the Empire’s Mannish kingdoms, since the Cyrodilic south prefers some coherence in their Fatherland’s fancy and it will give them none. Perhaps in this way, the Sons and Daughters of Kyne are more akin to the mytho-genealothosphy of the modern Mer, but attempts to find common purchase in this matter is always met with the shaking, frostbitten beards of those that hold most dear the Nordic faith.

With that preamble sitting precariously on a precipice (an idea that the Nordic Greybeards study themselves with an almost reverent amusement), let us just say here that Nordic faith is complicated. It is decentralized by the inevitable embellishment and narrative entanglement of millennia of oral tradition. Most Nordic myths contradict each other, using anachronisms or elements co-opted from other cultures, or repeat themselves under different guises. Sometimes they do all of this, and purposefully so.

Indeed, the Nords freely admit their mythic haberdashery, and take great delight in mish-mashing their legends together (and the legends of others, even their historic enemies, the Aldmer and Orsimer) into “whatever just tells a good story at feast time.” As their Clever Men are fond of saying, “The snows melt and then freeze again and in the end it is all still so much water. Legends are the same.”

It is almost palpable here, the wondering anticipation of the reader how these ideas might apply also to (indeed be part and parcel of) the very ostensibly empirical observations of Skyrim’s history and geography. There is no better rendition of this seminal through-line of the Nordic comprehension of this kalpa than their most famous tradition, the annual reckoning of the Thirteenth of Sun's Dawn Feast for the Dead, “The Five Hundred Mighty Companions or Thereabouts of Ysgramor the Returned”, a song so delicately exquisite that the throats of every hallskald worthy of becoming hoarse in its telling proudly tells it at knife and mead point, relishing in the danger closeness of both.

The Dragon War

Torhal Bjorik

In the Merethic Era, when Ysgramor first set foot on Tamriel, his people brought with them a faith that worshipped animal gods. Certain scholars believe these primitive people actually worshipped the divines as we know them, just in the form of these totem animals. They deified the hawk, wolf, snake, moth, owl, whale, bear, fox, and the dragon. Every now and then you can stumble across the broken stone totems in the farther reaches of Skyrim.

Foremost among all animals was the dragon. In the ancient nordic tongue it was drah-gkon. Occasionally the term dov-rha is used, but the language or derivation of that is not known. Using either name was forbidden to all except the dragon priests. Grand temples were built to honor the dragons and appease them. Many of them survive today as ancient ruins haunted by draugr and undead dragon priests.

Dragons, being dragons, embraced their role as god-kings over men. After all, were they not fashioned in Akatosh's own image? Were they not superior in every way to the hordes of small, soft creatures that worshipped them? For dragons, power equals truth. They had the power, so therefore it must be truth. Dragons granted small amounts of power to the dragon priests in exchange for absolute obedience. In turn, the dragon priests ruled men as equals to the kings. Dragons, of course, could not be bothered with actually ruling.

In Atmora, where Ysgramor and his people came from, the dragon priests demanded tribute and set down laws and codes of living that kept peace between dragons and men. In Tamriel, they were not nearly as benevolent. It's unclear if this was due to an ambitious dragon priest, or a particular dragon, or a series of weak kings. Whatever the cause, the dragon priests began to rule with an iron fist, making virtual slaves of the rest of the population.

When the populace rebelled, the dragon priests retaliated. When the dragon priests could not collect the tribute or control the masses, the dragons' response was swift and brutal. So it was the Dragon War began.

At first, men died by the thousands. The ancient texts reveal that a few dragons took the side of men. Why they did this is not known. The priests of the Nine Divines claim it was Akatosh himself that intervened. From these dragons men learned magics to use against dragons. The tide began to turn and dragons began to die too.

The war was long and bloody. The dragon priests were overthrown and dragons were slaughtered in large numbers. The surviving dragons scattered, choosing to live in remote places away from men. The dragon cult itself adapted and survived. They built the dragon mounds, entombing the remains of dragons that fell in the war. They believed that one day the dragons would rise again and reward the faithful.

Shor, son of Shor

Michael Kirkbride


"And the awful fighting ended again.

"Kyne's shout brought our tribe back to the mountaintop of Hrothgar, and even our recent dead rode in on the wind of her breathing, for there had been no time to fashion a proper retreat. Their corpses fell among us as we landed and we looked on them in confusion, shaken as we were by this latest battle in the [untranslateable]. The chieftains of the other tribes still held their grudge against our own, Shor son of Shor; more, they had united finally to destroy us and used skin-magic to trick us into disarray.

"Shor was disgusted with the defeat, and disgusted more when reminded by Jhunal that our withdrawal had been wise, for we were outnumbered eight to one. Shor took on the form of the [untranslateable] then, which he used to better shape his displeasure, rather than to shout it aloud and risk more storm-death. His shield thanes, the brothers Stuhn and Tsun, bowed their heads, collecting the spears and swords and wine-knives Shor threw about the broken pillars of the easternmost sky-temple. The rest of us looked away and to our own, not even to acknowledge the thunderclap that signaled our Queen's arrival, who stepped in from the tunnel of her own breath last.

"Kyne had taken the head of Magnar, the jarl that betrayed the weakness of our spear-lines and fled the field. Shor shook his scaled mane. "That isn't Magnar," he said, "Magnar, I fear, fell at sunrise and became replaced by mirrors. The other chieftains are using our forms to lead us astray."

"And then Shor walked away from his War-Wife to enter the cave that led to the [untranslateable]. He needed to take counsel with his father yet again. "Our chieftain loses heart," Dibella said, Bed-Wife of Shor, hefting another body onto the corpse pile some of us were making, "And so goes to the speak to one that has none anymore. Mirrors, indeed, and in that I see no logic."

"Tsun took her by the hair, for he was angered by her words and heavy with lust. He was a berserker despite his high station, and beauty followed battle to his kind. "You weren't made for that kind of thinking," Stuhn said, dragging Dibella towards a whaleskin tent, "Jhunal was. And no one should be speaking to him now." Tsun eyed the Clever Man who had heard him. "Logic is dangerous in these days, in this place. To live in Skyrim is to change your mind ten times a day lest it freeze to death. And we can have none of that now."

"Kyne could have stopped all of this but did nothing but stare at the crowd of Nords around her. Stuhn and Tsun were shifting and it was still uncouth to prevent this kind of neighboring. She looked on Jhunal and did not know if he should be spoken to or not. Rules were changing. Even her handmaiden was gone, and that lack of attendance was a transgression, but Kyne knew Mara was no doubt making treaties with one of the other chieftains, and the Pact still allowed for Tear-Wives to do that. After her husband Shor had forgotten to kiss her, a tradition among the War-Married when they returned from the field together, Kyne kept her storms to herself and knew there was no true understanding until the [untranslateable] was lifted."