Beckett: The Elder Scrolls Religions – The Aldmeri Pantheon: Auri-El (Part 1 of 10)

There are many religions in the world of Elder Scrolls that echo many ancient and current religions of the real world. The first of which I’d like to cover is what’s called the Aldmeri Pantheon, which is heavily similar to the variety of polytheistic religions of antiquity. My goal in these articles is to give a basic overview of what these religions and their respective gods are and compare them to biblical examples when there are any. As the Aldmeri Pantheon is a religion consisting of many gods, I believe each god deserves their own article since a single article on all of them would make it unbelievably long (this one is long enough as it is).

Before we begin with the first god, Auri-El, a brief synopsis of the Aldmeri Pantheon: As the name suggests, the Aldmeri Pantheon is the primary religion of the Altmer, or “High Elves,” which consists of many gods. Besides Auri-El, these gods include: Trinimac, Magnus, Syrabane, Jephre, Xarxes, Mara, Stendarr, Lorkhan, and Phynaster. This pantheon is highly ancient in the Elder Scrolls universe. They were first worshipped by the Snow Elves (a.k.a., Ice Elves or Ancient Falmer) dating back to the Dawn Era, which is the period of history that includes the creation of the universe. The Elder Scrolls universe includes Mundus (the plane of existence that includes Nirn, the earth-based planet of the universe), Oblivion that’s inhabited by the Daedra (similar to Christianity’s Hell or Greek mythology’s Hades), the Aetherius in which the Aedra dwell (similar to Christianity’s Heaven), and the Void (a.k.a. the Darkness or Outer Darkness, which existed before all the aforementioned planes of existence and closer to Christianity’s Hell than Oblivion is). (The Daedra are beings that inhabit the realm of Oblivion and have a close resemblance to Christianity’s demons or fallen angels, whereas the Aedra can be thought of as “un”fallen angels but closer to the demigods of Greek mythology.) There’s a lot more to the lore of each of these planes within the Elder Scrolls universe and the beings mentioned, but this basic overview should suffice for now.

Altmer/High Elves

This is a long way of saying that the Aldmeri Pantheon date all the way back to the creation of the many realms of existence within the Elder Scrolls universe, and the Altmer themselves generally view the pantheon as their ancestors, so we also see ancestor worship among the Altmer, which is common in ancient and modern Japanese culture as well as some Spanish speaking countries (such as Guatemala). The Snow Elves who first worshipped this pantheon also existed within the First Era, or First Age, lasting for a period of 2,920 years. You can view the recorded events of this era here for your own pedantic interest.

The Aldmeri Pantheon consists of ten gods, each of which will receive their own article: Auri-El, Trinimac, Magnus, Syrabane, Jephre, Xarxes, Mara, Stendarr, Lorkhan, and Phynaster. This article’s focus will be on Auri-El, who is the chief god of the pantheon and the god of the sun. Before we get to Auri-El’s connection to the Scriptures, we’ll first cover who he is.

Auri-El: Chief God of the Nine Divines, God of the Sun

Idol of Auri-El outside the Inner Sanctum of the Chantry of Auri-El.

The Aldmeri Pantheon is often called the Nine Divines. Even though there are a total of ten gods in the pantheon, it is called the Nine Divines since, in the view of many Altmer, Auri-El sits above the other nine. Many Altmer and even Bosmer (Wood Elves) also claim to have direct descent from Auri-El, which is similar to certain individuals in ancient Nordic cultures who claimed direct descent from any one of their pantheon of gods, such as Odin.

Auri-El was also highly involved in the creation of the mortal planes (Mundus, Nirn), which would have eternally tremendous consequences as it forever severed the Elves from eternity. This led to a war between Auri-El and one of the other gods in the pantheon, Lorkhan. This war took place during the Merethic Era (a.k.a., Era of the Elves), which was in between the Dawn Era and the First Era. Together with Trinimac and the Altmer, Auri-El would win the war against Lorkhan. It is unknown whether Lorkhan is still alive. Afterwards, Auri-El would inaugurate the first Aldmeri kingdom, which is why many Altmer in Elder Scrolls view Auri-El as their first king. After establishing this first elven kingdom, Auri-El returned to Aetherius from which he would observe his followers as they figure out for themselves out to escape from the mortal plane.

During the Merethic Era, the Snow Elves constructed the Chantry of Auri-El as the main place of worship to Auri-El, much as the Jewish Temple functioned for Jews until 70 AD upon its destruction by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt. Other temples were built in worship of the other Aldmeri divines such as Trinimac, Syrabane, Jephre, and Phynaster, but none were as glorious as the Chantry of Auri-El, as one might expect for the chief god of the pantheon. Many Altmer, called Initiates, would embark on a pilgrimage to the temple in order to become “enlightened.”

A wayshrine at the Chantry of Auri-El.

Throughout the chantry were constructions called “wayshrines” that played a significant role in this pilgrimage toward enlightenment. The Elder Scrolls wiki page describes these constructions as follows, “Snow Elf priests, known as Prelates, tended to these wayshrines. They were responsible for teaching Initiates the mantras of Auri-El. The symbolic rite stated that the initiate would fill [an] ewer [a jar or vase] with water from the central basin of a wayshrine after performing a mantra. Once the initiate’s enlightenment was complete, they would bring the ewer to the Chantry’s Inner Sanctum. Pouring the contents of the ewer into the sacred basin thus [allowed] him access to the temple and would grant access to the temple and would grant the Initiate an audience with the Arch-Curate himself [kind of like the pope]. This in theory was to complete the initiate’s journey” (source). I wanted to look more into what this “enlightenment” means and what the goal of such enlightenment was, but alas, I couldn’t find anything. My best guess is that considering Auri-El’s desire for the Altmer to discover how to escape the mortal plane of existence and return to the Immortal Plane (Aetherius), enlightenment might aid this effort. At first, this might sound like Buddhist enlightenment, but Buddhist enlightenment is the recognition and acceptance of the way things are (and thus an escape from suffering since one accepts its existence). Assuming I’m right about this Aldmeri enlightenment, they are attempting to escape the way things are, not accept them and embrace them.

Lastly, Auri-El is referred to as the Sun God because the sun has to do with his return to Aetherius, the Immortal Plane. One of the significant differences between Aedra and Daedra (Auri-El is the former) is that Aedra are able to directly influence the Mundus whereas Daedra are not. This is why in the Elder Scrolls games, especially The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO), we see Daedric Princes limited to mortal beings to do their work and bring about their schemes across Nirn, often taking place in the form of cults. Now that Auri-El has returned to Aetherius via the sun, the only way he can influence the Mundus is through the sun. This is the main premise behind the DLC installment in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim called The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard.

Arch-Curate Vyrthur

In this DLC, Arch-Curate Vyrthur—one of the last Snow Elves—made an attempt to block out the sun because by doing so, he would sever Auri-El’s connection to the Mundus and, therefore, his ability to influence it. Vyrthur was the Arch-Curate of the Chantry of Auri-El—basically the pope-like figure of the Aldmeri Pantheon religion—so why would he betray the god he worships? Well, it just so happens he was also a vampire and he blamed Auri-El for allowing him to get infected. Though similar to fictional vampirism in the real world vampiric fiction (e.g., drinking blood from mortal victims with the curse of immortality coupled with it), there are some differences. In the Elder Scrolls universe, it is a disease called Sanguinare Vampiris with an incubation period of three days before the disease permanently sets in. It can be cured before then, but once the vampiric process is complete, the condition is irreversible (with the exception of the ESO sidequest called “Lost in the Mist” in the region of Greenshade as well as the ability to cure your character of vampirism). Anyway, one of the detriments to being a vampire (aside from the perennial thirst for blood) is a heightened vulnerability to sunlight and fire. Though sunlight cannot kill a vampire in the Elder Scrolls universe, it does severely weaken them. Since Auri-El is considered to be the Sun God by the Altmer, especially the Snow Elves, it makes sense why Arch-Curate Vyrthur blamed Auri-El for failing to prevent him from becoming infected.

Auri-El and Polytheism in the Christian Context

There’s significantly more depth to the character of Auri-El, but all this should suffice. Now let’s begin to talk about his connections to the Bible and Christianity. There are more connections than what I cover here, but I want to discuss the most significant ones.

From Manners & Customs of the Bible by James Freeman.

The Aldmeri Pantheon has immediate relevance due to the fact that Israel existed among polytheistic nations who also had a chief god among their various other gods. Baal was typically this chief god among the pagan nations that surrounded Israel, which is why Yahweh takes Baal worship so seriously in the Old Testament. Baal was the Canaanite fertility and storm god, and that word in Hebrew also means “lord,” which denotes principality or primacy. Thus, the name of the god Baal itself suggests he is the “lord” of all gods, much as Auri-El is the chief god of the Nine Divines. As the primary fertility god of the Canaanites, they understood Baal to have power and influence over and through the sun, much like Auri-El. There have been many depictions of Baal, but the image to the right is a common one amongst Ugaritic antiquity. James Freeman’s coverage of Baal worship is worth quoting in full:

The worship of Baal was of great antiquity, and was accompanied with splendid ceremonies. Priests and prophets were consecrated to his service (2 Kings 10:19). Incense (Jeremiah 7:9) and prayers (1 Kings 18:26) were offered to him. The worshipers prostrated themselves before the idol and kissed it (1 Kings 19:18), perhaps at the same time kissing Baal’s hand that was elevated toward the sun. They danced with shouts and cut themselves with knives (1 Kings 18:26-28). The offerings were sometimes vegetable (Hosea 2:8), and sometimes animal (1 Kings 18:23). Human sacrifices were also offered (Jeremiah 19:5).

Efforts have been made to identify Baal with one of the gods of classical mythology, but the results are by no means satisfactory. The Greek Zeus; the Roman Jupiter, Cronos, Saturn, Ares, Mars, or Hercules have each been supposed by different writers to be the same as Baal. In reference to the astrological nature of the worship, the most prevalent opinion is that Baal represented the sun, while Astarte his companion represented the moon. But others assert that the two names respectively stood for Jupiter and Venus. The ordinary symbol of Baal was a bull.

Freeman, 167-168

God’s judgement against His people, the Israelites, have been quite severe when they participated in Baal worship. While there are many examples in Scripture, Judges 2:11-15 is significant, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And He sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”

Lest we become a judge of God for His harshness or “cruelty” against His chosen people, we ought to remember that—just as the above text says—God had previously warned them of the consequences of turning from Him and worshiping false gods. And we also ought to remember the cycle of Judges: the people turn from God, they’re in distress, they repent and call out to God, God sends a “judge” or “saviour” to deliver them from their enemies, there’s a time of peace, and then they apostatize again. Rinse and repeat. In spite of Israel’s continued unfaithfulness—in spite of their constant infidelity—God continually raises up a “judge” or “saviour” to rescue them until finally, Christ comes as the Saviour, once for all.

Yet even today, God has not grown soft against spiritual infidelity. Consider the words of Christ against the church of Thyatira, which any church today can be in danger of falling into: “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23).

This is Christ’s warning to the church of Thyatira and all Christian churches of all time not to commit spiritual adultery against Him by becoming polytheistic, or syncretistic, especially as they (and we) live in a religiously pluralistic society. Rev. Dr. Louis Brighton is also worth quoting in full:

Jezebel stands for and represents the sin of syncretism, a universalistic belief that all religions are of value and are able to be of benefit before God. In the pluralistic society of the Greco-Roman world, in which many religions were believed to be acceptable before God, this syncretism of religious ideas was a particular threat to the Christian community. To witness to and to live in the truth that Jesus Christ is the only truth about God [John 14:6] and the only name by which human beings can be saved [Acts 4:12] was to court economic and social ostracism, possibly even danger and death (cf. Acts 4:1-12; 5:27-32). The temptation was always present to tone down one’s witness or even to deny Christ by silence or action in order to escape such treatment and persecution. Believers might all too easily compromise the Christian truth and faith, so that the unique and nonconforming dictates of their Christian faith and conscience might not stick out and gain attention.

Brighton, p. 83; emphasis the author’s

Yet God is gracious and merciful. He gives time for repentance, which is the truest answer to the antiquated question of why God permits evil and suffering: that all may repent and find life in Him (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 2 Peter 3:9). As Christ closes His dialogue in this letter to the Thyatiran Christians, He promises to those who endure such polytheistic hostility “the morning star” (v. 28), that is, Himself and all that comes with Him, which is eternal life (cf. Revelation 22:16; Malachi 4:2).

Auri-El and Deism: That God is Impersonal

Another linkage is Auri-El’s strong connection to deism in the real world—the erroneous belief that God is impersonal and has no active involvement with earth and humanity. This was highly propagated by our American forefathers and other Enlightenment thinkers. They essentially believed that when God created the universe, He left it to run its course with no active involvement much as a watchmaker winds up a clock and leaves it to run its course of time. Just as Auri-El left the mortal plane and returned to Aetherius to watch his Altmer from afar, so the deistic belief goes that God remains up in Heaven watching His human creatures with little to no interest. This is, of course, utterly antithetical to the Scriptures. The testimony of the Scriptures is that God is a highly personal being.

For one, God revealed His name to His human creatures, which only a personal being does. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”‘” (Exodus 3:14). Then He reveals His name directly in verse 15, “God also said to Moses, ‘Ssay this to the people of Israel, “The LORD [Yahweh], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is My name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.’” In Hebrew, “I am who I am”—or more literally, “I will be who I will be”—is a play on words on God’s name, Yahweh. You can see the pun even without knowing how to read Hebrew (read from right to left):

  • “I am”/”I will be”: אֶהְיֶה
  • Yahweh: יהוה

Anytime you see “LORD” in all CAPS like that in English translations, in Hebrew it is the tetragrammaton (YHWH) of Yahweh. (The vowels placed within the tetragrammaton are approximations.)

Besides God’s personal name, the Scriptures also testify to God’s personal involvement and activity amongst all creation, even as personal as the human mother’s womb:

  • Psalm 139:13-16: For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
  • Even Jesus testifies to God’s personal nature with all creation and especially His human creatures: “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:28-32).

Aside from these critically vital passages, there are two generally significant factours to deism’s antithetical nature to the witness of the Scriptures: (A) we literally see God personally involve Himself with creation and humanity from Genesis to Revelation (e.g., with Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc.); and (B) the main point of all, that God personally involves Himself with the fate of humanity in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. The incarnation of God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ throws the deistic notion of God’s impersonal nature in the wood shedder where it belongs.

Auri-El and Gnosticism: Escaping the Material to Embrace the Spiritual

Lastly is Auri-El’s real world connection to Gnosticism, which, though ancient, still persists today, just with different names. Just as Auri-El is waiting for his Altmer to figure out how to escape the mortal plane and enter the Immortal Plane (Aetherius), so Gnostics believe our material world ought to be escaped in order to enter the spiritual (heaven). There’s a lot that goes into Gnosticism with its many variations, but the general effort of Gnostics is to escape the material. Without getting into the reasons why, Gnostics believed that the material is bad and the spiritual is good, more specifically that the human soul is trapped in its human body. If one acquires the “secret knowledge” of God when they die, their soul will be able to escape the physical body and enter heaven where their soul can live freely (the Greek word, γνῶσις [gnosis], means “knowledge,” hence “Gnosticism”).

As a result, there are two extremes to this heresy: either (A) an extreme retreat from material things since all things material are evil (and you get something crazy like monasticism), or (B) extreme indulgence of material things since the material doesn’t matter anyway (and you get something crazy like hedonism). What Gnostics fail to realise is that even though the material flesh and the material world are indeed inherently sinful (e.g., 1 John 2:15-17; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 8:13), nevertheless God works through material means to relate to His people and to give us life and salvation, which ultimately culminated in the incarnation of Christ. There is also the Scriptures’ wide testimony of a bodily resurrection to come rather than some nebulous, ethereal state of future existence (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:12-49; Romans 6:3-5; 8:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Ezekiel 37:1-14; etc.).

Bibliography

Brighton, Louis A. Revelation. Concordia Commentary. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999.

The Elder Scrolls Wiki.

Freeman, James M., and Harold J. Chadwick. Manners & Customs of the Bible. North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998.

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