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Lawrence Schick and Phrastus on Altmer Culture, Part 1

Author: 
Anonymous
Librarian Comment: 

This interview with Lawrence Schick (ex Lore Master for Elder Scrolls Online) was conducted in 2021 by Atharaon. Both Atharaon and Schick would like to stress that this is only one writer’s opinions, not an official statement from Zenimax Online or Bethesda.

Please see the top level book for additional info.

Background Information: Aldmeri Mundus Diagrams

We’re familiar with the general layout of Mundus from the Imperial/Dwemer orreries in Redguard and Oblivion - Planets “Akatosh” and “Julianos” are on opposite sides of Nirn, “Arkay” and “Zenithar” above and below respectively, “Stendarr” orbiting “Julianos” and “Dibella” orbiting “Mara” who in turn orbits “Zenithar”. However, other orreries in ESO (Dwemer reference orrery, clockwork orrery, Ayleid orrery) would appear to show different models of Mundus. It's confirmed in ESO that the Altmer recognise and worship the Eight planets.

Atharaon:
Do other cultures also subscribe to the Imperial orrery model or might they have a completely different understanding of the relationship of the planets to each other? We ask particularly in regards to the Psijic Lighting Globe which appears to show somewhat different planetary orbits for the eight smaller spheres orbiting the central one. Would this represent the Aldmeri understanding of Mundus?

Phrastus:
Ah, that’s interesting. I’ve never been invited to visit Artaeum, and am thus personally unfamiliar with Psijic luminary furnishings, but I would caution against reading too much meaning into decorative details of what are, after all, ornamental objects. The one actual Psijic I had the displeasure to meet wore a mantle embroidered with all manner of astrologica, and I don’t think it was meant to be a wearable map of the heavens.

However, that said, the different cultures of Tamriel demonstrably have varying ways of rendering the Mundus and its planets, according to their differing mythic understanding of the relationships between the heavenly objects. The planets are actual manifestations of divinity, everyone understands that, but inasmuch as the nature of the divines, and of divinity itself, varies from culture to culture, the symbolic representation of the heavens clearly varies as well. An orrery is nothing but a mortal attempt to represent, in tangible mobile sculpture, the metaphysical relationship between the divine planets—but mortal minds cannot apprehend the more than a few implications of the aspects of divinity, and thus an orrery can only represent a limited subset of the few implications we can understand.

And that’s why, though I’m no mundial astronomer, I still feel completely confident in stating that every mortal orrery ever built gets everything all wrong, or at least only slightly right. If I had pursued cosmographical studies rather than mythohistory, I could probably have straightened out a few of these misconceptions and produced an orrery of my own that would rather better represent the relations of the moons and planets, but such was not to be.

Atharaon:
Are the eight planets of the Altmer literally the same eight planets of the other Aedric religions but with different names, or are they actually different planets altogether, i.e. there are more than eight planets up there, but each group is making a selection of their own chosen eight.

Phrastus:
The answer, I believe, is mostly the former with a little bit of the latter: mythopoeia is real, or “real,” so the reality-warping force of cultural belief must be accounted for. In other words, they’re all the same planets but not exactly the same divines—and if that doesn’t make sense to you, I scarcely know where to start. Where did you say you studied, again?

Atharaon:
Do the Altmer call these planets by their own gods’ names, e.g. “Auri-El” rather than “Akatosh” as was suggested in the old datamined Alinor questlines? Can you tell us which names are used in your mind, e.g. Xarxes, Mara, Phynaster? What of Y'ffre (ehlnofey), Trinimac (Malacath), Syrabane, Oghma ('created' by Xarxes) and Magnus (in their "Eight", yet he's the Sun)?

Phrastus:
Altmer of my acquaintance absolutely refer to the planets by the names of the Altmeri gods. To think that some of the Altmeri divines take precedence over others because their origin myths denote them as ascendant mortals or theonarratively transfigured is to apply a simplistic mortal concept of linear time to mythic events, which is a basic undergraduate error. To a devout Altmer, Syrabane is as mythically “present” as Auri-El, and it is not up to mortals to judge their relative prestige or “force-of-existence,” a concept for which there is definitely a specific Altmeri term that slips my mind at the moment.

Background Information: The Ancestors - Exploring the Origins of Aedric Religion

The Altmer claim descent from the et’Ada. They also claim their Ancestors ascended to become gods. It seems they believe that all of their god-ancestors were et’Ada who reascended after being trapped physically in the Dawn. Also, a number of (usually Imperial) sources tell us that the Eight are generally the same gods across Nordic, Imperial and Altmeri pantheons but are known by different names.

Atharaon:
How true is it that the Altmeri gods are old cultural variants of the Imperial Divines? Mara and Stendarr are obviously the same, but do Phynaster, Syrabane, Jephre and Trinimac have Imperial/Nordic counterparts?

Phrastus:
There you go again, using terms like “old” that connote linear time in matters where it simply does not apply. Do not map an artificial grid of similarity across the Tamrielic cultures or you will soon lose your way in confusion. The divines partake of a reality deeper and richer than can be described by mere philology. What matters is the actual worship of the peoples of the various societies of Tamriel, not structural theory: study who the people worship if you want to know which gods are real, and don’t be misled by surface similarities.

Atharaon:
Same as Q3 but inverted: Do Dibella, Julianos and Kynareth have Altmeri counterparts? We often hear that Kynareth, Khenarthi, Kyne and even Tava are the same deity or fulfil very similar roles. Which deity fulfils this function for the Altmer and why are they never mentioned alongside the other cultural variants?

Phrastus:
Kynareth, et al., are all associated with wind, birds, and flight, of course. If you look at Altmeri iconography, one quickly sees that in High Elf religion these aspects of divinity are associated with Auri-El. Does that make Auri-El the Altmeri Kyne? No, don’t be silly.

Background Information: Obscure Gods - Who are they?

You’ve previously stated in an interview with Andrew Ross for TMIP that in your mind, Xen and Trinimac are not related. Meanwhile, we know nothing of Phynaster’s origins beyond being worshipped since the Merethic. One source, Artifacts of Tamriel, claims he was a man who ascended hundreds of years ago with a fancy ring, however the text is a collection of common myths of and children's tales about artifacts rather than a theological discussion and neither the timeline nor the tale seems particularly useful. It's actually copied straight from the text in Arena, when all the gods, even Magnus, were deceased heroes of some kind. Later sources offer no indication as to whether he was an et’Ada or a mortal.

Atharaon:
Has Xen been retconned or are they an Altmeri version of Z’en/Zenithar, or something else? Just what do they represent and are they included in the Aldmeri planetary Aedra?

Phrastus:
I don’t know what your word “rentconed” is supposed to mean, but as I understand it the Altmeri use of “Xen” is simply their spelling of the Bosmeri “Z’en” which they use in discussion with their cousins the Wood Elves, and also the adjective that refers to the divine sub-sphere ruled by that Bosmeri deity. I have never read a definitive tract on which divinities the Aldmeri recognized as planetary Aedra, so I’m unable to answer that authoritatively.

Atharaon:
Some Ancestors have both mortal and Divine origin stories e.g. Xarxes (Mankar's "aldmeretada aggregate"). Do you think Mara and Stendarr would have mortal origin tales as well as Divine ones?

Phrastus:
I am unfamiliar with any mythic narratives that designate Mara or Stendarr as ascendant mortals, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find such a heretical belief among, say, the more fanatical Resolutes of Stendarr.

Atharaon:
Would you say Phynaster was a mortal Aldmer/Ehlnofey who ascended in the Dawn or Merethic, an et’Ada, both (like Xarxes - see Q6) or something else entirely?

Phrastus:
That is scarcely up to me to decide, student! Myths are not either/or matters, they are as they are, in all their variants. Such messhall arguments are for first-year mythohistory students, or perhaps Lady Cinnabar of Taneth—go put that question to her!

Atharaon:
Same as the previous but regarding Syrabane. How many times has Syrabane 'ascended'? Also, as a god-ancestor of magic, how is he connected to Magnus?

Phrastus:
Hmph to your first question. As to your second, some Altmeri texts refer to Syrabane as a sort of protégé of Magnus, a student who became the master when the master “retired,” while others refer to him, confusingly, as a “facet” of Magnus. I must admit I’m not quite sure what to make of the latter.

Atharaon:
Is Oghma a literal goddess/et'ada worshipped by the Altmer or simply a myth related to the Oghma Infinium?

Phrastus:
“Simply a myth?” Pardon me while I chuckle into my posset cup over that one. Simply. A myth. Heh heh. Anyway, here philology is actually useful, as “oghma” is a word with many meanings, most of them related; one of them is “a journal, or record.” Your assignment is to now read my own treatise on the matter, “The Onus of the Oghma,” available wherever fine lorebooks are sold.

Background Information: Altmer and Aldmer - Terminology chapter

Ayleids are sometimes called Heartland High Elves/Altmer and sometimes not. The Direnni are sometimes called a clan of Aldmer settlers from a time before the Altmer existed and sometimes Altmer. Both the 3rd Pocket Guide and Before the Ages of Man have the Direnni and friends settle High Rock long before the first men and even before the building of the Crystal Tower, so before Topal the Pilot received his orders to find Aldmeris and circumnavigated Tamriel.

Atharaon:
Are the Ayleids and Direnni Altmer or otherwise? Do the Direnni and their fellow Aldmer clans who populated High Rock have a 'mer' name or are they all just collectively known as "Direnni"? Also, does High Rock itself have an elven name, e.g. "the Lands of Ada-Mantia", "Dirennis" or something?

Phrastus:
Well, the Ayleids, of course, deliberately left Summerset and went to Cyrodiil to become something other than Altmer, and so they did. Clan Direnni left Summerset and went to High Rock, but they were seeking new geography rather than a new identity, and so they remained an Altmeri clan. As regards an Elvish (not Elven—matters of language are Elvish) name for High Rock, I have never come across a word in any of the Aldmeri languages for the entire region. Best to ask the Direnni, since they once ruled nearly all of it.

Atharaon:
Since we only know of Aldmeri clans/Direnni in High Rock in the Merethic Era but not Ayleids, to what extent are all of the purportedly Ayleid ruins in High Rock that predate the Alessian Rebellion (e.g. "Dawn Era" Enduum) actually Aldmeri/Direnni ruins? And why did the Direnni wait until the First Era to establish a hegemony? Were the Elven clans of High Rock not unified before then?

Phrastus:
The answer, as I understand it, is that High Rock was settled by the Elves only sparsely and in a few specific locations, so while there were specific Altmeri, Ayleid, and probably even ancient Falmer settlements scattered about, there were never enough Elves to form a broad culture or society. Even during the Direnni Hegemony, they ruled largely through Nedic clients, who became the later Breton nobility. You can find some well-expressed ideas in yet another of my lorebooks, “The Bretons: Mongrels or Paragons?”