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The Thirty-Six Lessons of Obscurity and Deception


"The Thirty-Six Lessons of Vivec" first appeared in public some time before TES 3: Morrowind was released. The PR dept. of Bethesda Softworks, in their ongoing effort to maintain interest, decided to release some of the ingame books, and the sermons one and two were among them. While Michael Kirkbride was not a Bethesda employee by that time, and a straightforward writing credit was never given, the text of the "Lessons" was undoubtfully penned by him.


The TribunalThe modern view of the Dark Elven religion was, for the most part, fixed in stone by the Morrowind section in the Pocket Guide to the Empire, in the part where they talk about the Tribunal. According to the PGE, the native religion of the Dark Elves of Morrowind is the cult of the Tribunal. This Tribunal consists of three gods, or Tribunes - Lady Almalexia, Lord Vivec and Lord Sotha Sil. Each of them walks the land of Morrowind in corporeal form, and acts directly when the destiny of the country is at hand. There are three cities in Morrowind - each devoted to the respective god - that bear the names of the Tribunes. Vivec City is featured heavily in TES 3: Morrowind, while Almalexia City and Sotha Sil City can only be found in TES 3: Tribunal.

To the Dark Elves, the number of the Tribunes - three - is somewhat spiritually significant up to the point of holiness. They derive all kinds of meanings from it; this is probably one of the few remnants of the Altmeri numerology.

The Tribunal Cult was not always around. Some time ago, Dark Elves were worshipping Great Daedra as their ultimate ancestors. When the Tribunal emerged, the priests declared that the three Tribunes are aspects, or descendants, or followers - the texts are vague here - of three particularly venerated Daedra - Azura, Boethiah and Mephala. As a part of this legend, it was said that these three Daedra (the Three Anticipations of the Tribunal) welcomed the new gods around and passed the responsibilities over. Of other Daedra Princes, four were unwilling to pay homage to the Tribunes, and are now hated and hate Morrowind back. These are the Four Adversaries - Molag Bal, Malacath, Sheogorath and Mehrunes Dagon, often called "Four Corners of the House of Troubles". They are believed to be the ultimate cause of every calamity that plagues the land. See more of this legend in Skeleton Man's interview in the Interviews section.

One can assume that this was made up to ease the religious transition for the thick-headed orthodox types, who had to be by all means smart-talked into worshipping the new gods.

Places of Note

The sermons are not all incomprehensible nonsense. Here are some pointers to the narrative spots that are fairly obvious to even the most casual reader.

  • Sermon 17 makes fun of the deficiencies of TESA: Redguard's visual engine.
  • Sermon 24 tells of founding of the Vivec City.
  • Sermon 33 describes how the Ministry of Truth appeared in the skies of Vivec City.
  • Sermon 36 describes the war with the Dwemer and the battle of Red Mountain.

Sermon Zero

There is one strange text that is an apparent heresy. AFFA MU of Bethesda (not anymore) posted it to the Elder Scrolls forum, using his in-char nickname of Jobasha, the bookseller from Vivec City. It's not available in the game, except maybe in some mod. It's meant as a complement to the "Thirty-Six Lessons", and is somewhat similar in letter, but the spirit is totally different.

Sermon Zero of the Thirty-and-Six-and-Nine Sermons of Vivec

I recommend to read this book if you have read all the sermons, or at least the first 3-4 of them.

The Secret of The Lessons

If we take the numbers from sermon 29, use them to take out words from appropriate sermons and put them together, we will get a secret message:

"He was not born a god. His destiny did not lead him to this crime. He chose this path of his own free will. He stole the godhood and murdered the Hortator. Vivec wrote this."

Also, if we take the first letters of all the paragraphs of sermon 36 with the exception of the last one, we will get another secret message:


Politics And Contradictions

Some people would argue that applying reality checks to the 36 Lessons is an exercise in futility. Yet this approach to interpreting the Sermons has the advantage of being mine, and since it's me and not the theologians of the Whirling School who are writing this preface, I'll present it first. The mystical interpretation has its own merits, and we'll come to it later.

The basic idea behind the following paragraphs is that the references to the places, things and people of the Elder Scrolls world, as displayed in the games, mean exactly what they mean. Specifically, I am assuming that "Nerevar" means "Nerevar", "Dwemer" means "Dwarves" and "Resdaynia" means "the polity over which Nerevar and the Tribunes presided after they defeated the Nords". In other words, I'm treating the Sermons as historical accounts - where possible.

Kirkbride's vision of TES 3 was never specifically laid out in any open sources, but a persistent rumor goes that it was quite different from the end result. Therefore, the contradictions between "Lessons" and the more digestible body of ingame lore can be simply chalked up to the outdated version of the events that Michael Kirkbride was commenting on. Yet it's not the only possible explanation. With a paranoid mind, one can see that whoever wrote the piece was trying to concoct an alternative version of events, the one where the Tribunal comes off as divine, flawless and infallible. We'll explore this possibility here.

In particular, I'm talking about Dagoth Ur (he's called the Sharmat throughout the Lessons). He first appears in Sermon 15. Once you parse through the fluff, it appears that the Dagoth Ur's described condition closely matches "The Long Sleep", as described here. According to the most credible sources - including internal Temple documents - The Long Sleep took place after the Battle of the Red Mountain. The "Lessons" explicitly state that the Sharmat was "dancing at the core" during "the days of Resdaynia" - before the Battle. The lessons claim, in clear terms, that the Sharmat is the main enemy of the country, one of mythical proportions. The sermons also blame the Sharmat for the Blight.

Sermon 15 also states that Nerevar is the only one who's capable of unmaking Dagoth Ur. Vivec himself is saying so to Nerevar, at some time during "the days of Resdaynia". The idea seems especially ironic considering that the Tribunes attempted a military campaign against Dagoth Ur in year 2E882, and failed miserably. The most straightforward way of explaining this remarkable conincidence suggests that Sermon 15 is, plainly speaking, political spin. The reader is meant to think that the Tribunes fell on their faces in 882 not because their forces was inferior, but because only Nerevar can defeat Dagoth Ur.

Then, there's the question of subordination. In the Sermons, it's invariably "ALMSIVI and their champion, the Hortator". It's implied by the wording that Indoril Nerevar takes orders from Almalexia, Vivec and Sotha Sil, not the other way around. Yet there's evidence to the contrary. Again, in the internal Temple documents, Vivec admits to having been but Nerevar's councillor, and says so was Sotha Sil. In the same sentence the sermons claim that the Dwemer were subjects to the Triune rulers, too.

I can't help thinking that the history is being consciously manipulated. Let's recap the contentions this book makes without ever stating explicitly:

  • The Tribunes were of divine nature from the get-go.
  • The Tribunes are Nerevar's superiors. Also, they rule over the Dwemer.
  • Dagoth Ur and the Blight were a threat since forever ago.
  • There's no point in trying to fight Dagoth Ur because only Nerevar can succeed.

The significance of the Battle at Red Mountain is carefully brushed over. According to the "Lessons", it was all about a Dwarven rebellion against the benevolent rule of the Three.

Writing the sermons

Perhaps the best way to end this preface would be by quoting Michael Kirkbride, who once said the following about writing the sermons:

"It was one dev, naked in a room with a carton of cigarettes, a thermos full of coffee and bourbon, and all his summoned angels."