A Recurring Column Written by Ranger_STL
Tamriel has had a plethora of different elven cultures across history, many of them vastly different from one another. None is so unique, however, as the Wood Elves, or Bosmer. The term “Bosmer” means “Tree Sap People” in ancient Aldmeri.
Many weeks ago, we talked about the Sundering of Aldmeris, or the splitting of the Elven peoples into the Dwemer, Chimer/Dunmer, Altmer, Orsimer and Bosmer. In the case of Chimer and Dwemer, they elected to leave to pursue what they perceived to be a “higher” form of culture than the rest of the elves. The Orsimer were driven out. The Bosmer were allegedly the only elven people who struck out on their own not to find a “higher” culture, but a radically simple one. The origins of the Bosmer are somewhat shrouded and the sources are sometimes contradictory, but we do know a few different things about them. Firstly, we know that they left the rest of the Mer of their own accord, to live a more simple lifestyle in the forest, which would eventually become the Valenwood. We also know that they have a religious pact with the forest god Y’ffre. This religious bargain, known as the Green Pact, is perhaps the single most defining aspect of Bosmer culture. During the creation of Nirn and just after the Ehlnofey war, it is alleged that the Bosmer could not hold onto a consistent material form; they would shapeshift randomly, sometimes turning into other sentient creatures, sometimes into animals, or sometimes into gibbering monsters. These early Bosmer struck a deal with Y’ffre; Y’ffre would become an Earthbone, and use his power to give the Bosmer consistency of form. In return, the Bosmer would abide by the Green Pact. This is not permanent, however; Bosmer in severe danger or distress can revoke this provision of the Green Pact and resume their shapeshifting nature through a religious ritual called the Great Hunt. Initiating a Great Hunt will turn the participating Bosmer into murderous monsters; the Bosmer have rarely used this ability, instead keeping it in check for a national emergency. The transformation itself is one-way; participating Bosmer cannot shift back to their original form. They also retain no memory of their former lives, instead becoming mindless engines of destruction. Once a Hunt is called, it can only be pointed in the direction of the enemy, and let loose.
In addition to the Great Hunt, there are multiple other aspects of the Green Pact that permeate Bosmer culture. Whereas other elves use their natural resources in whatever manner they see fit, the Bosmer who observe the Pact are forbidden from using any vegetable or plant matter, at all, ever, for any purpose. The Bosmer cannot use wood for building, or fires, or weaponry. Plants cannot be consumed, cultivated, or injured in any way. Whereas the Bosmer cannot use their local flora, they are free to make whatever use of the local fauna, and it is along those lines that Bosmer culture has developed. Where as the Altmer are portrayed as mostly vegetarian, the Bosmer are religiously carnivorous. As they cannot consume or ferment vegetables, Bosmer cuisine revolves around meat, milk, and cheeses. They have created potent alcoholic beverages from meats and fermented milk, and smoke certain species of stick insects in lieu of tobacco. While often portrayed as hapless and barbaric, the Bosmer are extremely quick and intelligent, and have a complex and sophisticated culture. Much like the Argonians, the Bosmer are routinely portrayed as being “backwards”, but nothing could be further from the truth. While the Bosmer may seem crude and rustic to a traveler from Auridon, the apparent lack of Bosmer “high culture” isn’t due to ineptitude, it’s due to choice. If the original legends are true, the original Bosmer left for Valenwood to seek simplicity; their descendants have maintained that desire, and the Bosmer have adapted perfectly to their environment. They live in harmony with their forest home, and see no reason to do anything more.
Of course, this harmony has led to its own specific eccentricities as well. Since the Bosmer are happy with their present circumstances, they are usually seen as shiftless and lazy. This is not true, of course, as individual Bosmer can be extremely industrious, but the apparent lack of ambition of the race as a whole has led the rest of Tamriel to see them as bums. This apparent complacence also means that the Bosmer are the only still existing race that has never waged an offensive war. While Khajiit and Bosmer routinely raid each other across their joint border , and the Bosmer have fought numerous defensive wars, they remain the only race in Tamriel that has not initiated an offensive war against another Human or Mer race.
Of course, no discussion of the Bosmer would be complete without their most talked about characteristic: Cannibalism. Yes, the short, lazy wood elves eat people, including each other. This has been alluded to or even poked fun at multiple times in ESO (“It’s not a party until someone gets eaten!”), but in the Lore itself it is one of the single most discussed aspects of Bosmer culture. The so called “meat mandate” of the Green Pact guarantees that the Bosmer are almost universally carnivorous; the Pact also dictates that the bodies of their fallen enemies are to be consumed within three days of battle. This has led combat among the Bosmer to develop an almost religious and ritualistic significance; Bosmer warriors will fast for days before battle, and in the case of the more famous warriors who will slay many opponents in one battle, families and friends will often be invited to partake of the fallen after the battle. Somewhat ironically, the fact that Bosmer eat their fallen enemies, which would normally be seen as terrifying behavior, has done absolutely nothing to detract from the stereotype among the rest of the sentient races that the Bosmer are witless layabouts.