A Recurring Column Written by Ranger_STL
Morality and The Afterlife
The next subject I’d like to address is one I’ve left dangling over the past several weeks: morality and the afterlife. After this, since my message box on the website has been blowing up with specific requests (and thanks to everyone for reading and your wonderful comments!), I’ll begin exploring the cultures of Tamriel, focusing on some of the lesser seen races, like the Bosmer, Redguard, and Argonians.
But this week, we are going to talk about what happens when you die in the elder scrolls universe. In the real world, most cultures have a conception that you will be rewarded or punished based in the afterlife, based on your behavior in the life. Some religions, like the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism or Islam, believe the agent of this punishment or reward is a third party (God). Other eastern faiths, such as Buddhism, believe that sufferings in the next life are merely byproducts of bad decisions and bad actions in the current life, much like burning yourself with scalding water if you not careful while cooking.
There’s an equally wide range of conceptions in the world of Tamriel. It really does depend on the culture, but with the exception of the Argonians, there is one fate underlying the afterlife for mortals: The Dreamsleeve. Prior to the Oblivion game, it was widely assumed that most mortals who were not claimed by race specific pantheons (for example, Redguards going to the Far Shores with Ruptga, or Nords going to Sovengarde with Shor), or not claimed by Daedric Princes, would “go to Aetherius”. This lead to the conception of Aetherius being some sort of heaven-like place. That is, until the in game text of The Mythic Dawn Commentaries, by Mankar Camoran, the secondary antagonist and agent of Mehrunes Dagon. The Commentaries tell us: “We mortals leave the dreaming-sleeve of birth the same, unmantled save for the symbiosis with our mothers, thus to practice and thus to rapprochement, until finally we might through new eyes leave our hearths without need or fear that she remains behind”.
So what’s this dreaming sleeve, and what’s all this talk about leaving fear behind and being born again? Well, the Dream Sleeve is known from other lore texts by Michael Kirkbride as existing in Aetherius, and used by Mages of great power as a means of communications through memories. But why would souls go through it?
This got the fanbase Lore-mill going full tilt. The current (unconfirmed, but entirely plausible) theory is that the Dream Sleeve mentioned by Mankar is, in fact, a celestial recycling center for souls. Souls go into the dream sleeve, if they are not claimed by someone (or something) else, where their memories are wiped in preparation for eventual rebirth on Tamriel. So why does this fit with the rest of the Lore? Remember why Lorkhan tricked the other Aedra into creating Mundus: to give lesser spirits the opportunity to find a way out of the constant cycle of destruction and rebirth.
There are multiple ways to escape the dreamsleeve. The most famous, and the most difficult, is CHIM. CHIM, which is the Ayleid word for “Royalty”, is a state of perfect awareness. Remember back to one of the earlier topics on this discussion, where it was explained that the whole of Creation really takes place inside the dream of a single entity (The Sleeping God). All that exists, including the Aedra and Daedra, are merely figments of the Sleeping God’s imagination. By understanding that you are a dream in the process of CHIM, one of two things happen: Either you think you are just a dream and not an individual, and disappear (this is called Zero-Summing), or you realize that you are just a dream and still an individual, and attain CHIM. In this sense, CHIM is also a state like demi-godhood, because by realizing you are in a dream, you can effectively control it. Tiber Septim/Talos attained CHIM, as did Vivec, and both used CHIM to alter reality to suit their needs in various ways.
The next step after CHIM is Amaranth. Amaranth represents taking the next step; if CHIM is realizing that you are in a Dream, then Amaranth is leaving that same dream. By undergoing Amaranth, an individual exits the dream they are in, and begins a new Sleeping God, and starting their own Dream. In doing this, they functionally lose themselves, so that a new Creation might exist. If CHIM is the ultimate selfishness of saying “I EXIST!”, then Amaranth is the ultimate self sacrifice of saying “I will exist only for others”. It’s worth noting that of the three characters who we know attained CHIM (Talos, Vivec, and Molag Bal), none were ever able to obtain Amaranth. We know that despite being a God and one of the most powerful beings around, Vivec himself was unable let enough go of himself to take that next step.
So, CHIM is an extremely rare thing and Amaranth exists at this point as a theory. Most of the souls that pass go through the Dream Sleeve, but what about all those Daedric followers and people who get soul trapped? That’s relatively easy, at least, as one of the ways which people most frequently escape the dreamsleeve is by making a pact with a Daedric Prince. This can make a bit of sense if it’s one of the more compassionate Princes, like Azura or Meridia (or even Nocturnal, who isn’t maliciously evil), but there are still power hungry idiots who pledge their souls to either Molag Bal, or Mehrunes Dagon. There are many who pledge their souls to Vaermina, as well, but she seems to at least take care of her followers to a certain extent, at least. Boethiah and Mephala still have a large following among many Dunmer.
So what about those poor saps that get sucked into a soul gem? Well, that’s a good question, and leads into the discussion of Black vs White souls (and soul gems). In prior games, sentient creatures (humans, elves, etc) have Black souls that can only be captured by Black Soul Gems. Non-sentient creatures (dogs, etc) have white souls, which goes in White Gems. In terms of Souls, the idea of color is arbitrary, and is only used because of the two different colors of soul gems.
Now, a black soul is divided into two parts: AE (which is similar to the Id, or personal identity), and the Animus, which is their spiritual energy. It is this Animus which is used and consumed in a soul gem. When the Animus is consumed a White Soul Gem, then that’s it; said being disappears from the Mundus forever, their spiritual energy expended. When the Animus of a Black Soul is consumed, the AE then proceeds to a place called the Soul Cairn, which is first referenced in Battlespire but only actually seen in Skyrim. The Soul Cairn is a horrific pocket plane of Oblivion run by discorporeal beings called the Ideal Masters. It is not known exactly what the Ideal Masters are, or by what mechanics the AE’s go to the Soul Cairn, but what is known is that the Ideal Masters consume these AE’s (or “Pure Souls”) in order to continue their existence. Because of this vampiric existence, it is theorized that the Ideal Masters are, in fact, formerly vampires from Tamriel that have left their bodies through some magical or spiritual means. It’s interesting to note that with the exception of Elder Scrolls Online, in every other Elder Scrolls game, a Soul Gem was a key component in the cure for Vampirism.
On the subject of Souls, it should be noted that having a Black Soul or a White Soul is not static. For example, in TESII: Daggerfall, it was revealed that Orcs originally had White Souls. Throughout the course of both Morrowind and Skyrim, it is usually implied but sometimes outright stated that both the Giants and Falmer (Snow Elves) had Black Souls, but have since degraded to White Souls. It was theorized that the shift from Black Soul to White Soul (or, the shift from something rational to something animal like or slightly higher) was accomplished by the breakdown of societal structure. However, the evidence against that theory is the Falmer, who, while being malignantly evil, have a rudimentary tribal culture that is not dissimilar from Argonian culture in its simplicity of building. What is worth noting is that neither the Falmer nor the Giants appear to presently have a sophisticated or complex language, or indeed, any language at all, other than crude vocalizations. Still, it remains to be seen whether or not that has anything to do with it, so for the meantime the process of moving from lower soul to higher soul and vice versa will have to remain a mystery.