Friday, December 9, 2011
Worship In Skyrim
With "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" sucking the hours and social lives out of RPG gamers all over, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the world of Elder Scrolls from an angle that usually isn't covered. That of the religious culture.
Almost every big name RPG and fantasy novel series incorporates religion in some form. Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age had polytheistic and somewhat monotheistic settings. Even sci-fi RPGs like Mass Effect 1 and 2 and Fallout 3 have religion involved in numerous subplots, if not the main story. But the Elder Scrolls games may have one of the richest fictional theologies ever developed for a video game RPG.
MY GAME WITHIN THE GAME
A fun little exercise I like to do when I play a new RPG is try to figure out what religion I would follow if I were in this world and doing my best to seek out the truth about who is really running the universe. I play the part of a spiritual "seeker", letting every nut-job prophet, uptight priest or tranquilized shaman talk my ear off about the virtues of their faith.
This isn't something I do to be arrogant or judgmental toward the creators of the games. It's purely a fun little intellectual diversion. However, I've found that the experience of playing this little "game within the game" offers some tools useful for evaluating the truth claims of real-world belief systems. I'll leave it to you to determine where the parallels lie between Elder Scrolls and the various belief systems in our world, but I thought it would be fun to share some of the kinds of thought processes I go through as I "search for the truth" in a fantasy world.
Since each Elder Scrolls game only scratches the surface of the rich fictitious theology acting as the foundation, I found the information gathered on the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages (http://www.uesp.net/ ) to be valuable. So I'll reference them a few times and you can feel free to check them out yourself if you'd like.
As humans, we're made to worship. And by worship, I mean "assign immense personal value and priority". We all worship something. And when we find something that seems bigger and better than our current focus of worship, we shift focus to worship the bigger and better thing that has come along.
Elder Scrolls has a polytheistic setting. (Many gods instead of one.) So my first objective in a polytheistic setting is to look for the oldest, biggest, best god in existence. If I worship anything less, there will always be the potential for me to be less satisfied than I could be in the focus of worship I have chosen. "Yeah, Sheogorath, I know you're one of the gods "assigned" to this world I'm supposed to worship, and I know you're great and powerful and stuff. But the god that made YOU is all you are... and MORE! So why waste my time when I'm eventually gonna want to obsess over him instead?"
SMALL "G" GODS
Sheogorath and most other gods commonly mentioned during gameplay in "Oblivion" and "Skyrim" are among the "Daedra", the beings most commonly thought of as the gods of Elder Scrolls. But upon closer examination, these gods are really just extremely powerful, incomprehensible, yet FINITE beings. They came into existence as a result of "the interplay of Anu and Padomay". (See http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Gods ) Even more interesting, two other gods, Talos and Arkay, were once human beings (See http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Gods_N#Nine_Divines ), which means that not only are they less than infinite, they are little more than role models in the final analysis, since theoretically I can do what they did and become a god myself.
Hmm. Maybe I've set my standard too high. Why demand for myself the expectation of finding a truly infinite god to worship, who has always been around and always been a god? Because logical deduction indicates that a god like that should exist.
NEED FOR THE INFINITE
In every way detectable, the idea of decay is a physical reality in Elder Scrolls as it is in our world. Physical objects and life forms slowly break down over time. (How many tattered and rotted "ruined books" have YOU run into so far in Skyrim?) This means that in the universe of Elder Scrolls, matter is not eternal. It is constantly progressing toward decay. This also means that matter had a beginning point, just as the nature of decay points to a beginning for our universe.
Here's where deductive reasoning kicks in and tells me to expect to eventually find an infinite god in the world of Elder Scrolls. (Please bear with me, it's a bit of a mental workout. My apologies also for many of the finer details left out of the expression of this deductive progression. Just trying not to be too long-winded.)
1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause. So the Elder Scrolls universe has a cause. Now maybe the cause of the Elder Scrolls universe has a cause too, but we'll just cut out any middle steps and cut straight to looking at the very "First Cause" for the Elder Scrolls universe.
2. Since there can't be an infinite chain of successive causes(and because time began with the universe), the "First Cause" of the Elder Scrolls universe must be without beginning and uncaused.
3. Since this "first cause" (which we'll call the FC) precedes matter, it cannot be material itself. So the FC must be immaterial.
4. Since natural laws came into being with matter, the FC precedes natural law, and so is "supernatural".
5. All causes are either natural (the result of cause and effect based on natural law) or generated by free will. The FC of Elder Scrolls is "supernatural", and so must instead have a personal, decisive will, as opposed to being a vague "force" of some kind.
6. The Elder Scrolls FC must exist outside of time, since time is part of the natural universe of matter and the FC precedes matter.
7. The Elder Scrolls FC must be unchanging, since change is a limitation imposed by time, and the Elder Scrolls FC exists independent of time.
8. The Elder Scrolls FC must be infinite, since limits are measured based on natural law and potential(the potential to be more or less of something) and the Elder Scrolls FC is independent of natural law and without potential (i.e.unchanging).
MATCHING THE DESCRIPTION
So now I'm looking for a god that has no beginning, is non-finite, and is incapable of change. The gods presented so far all had either beginning points or obvious points at which they were different than what they became later(such as Talos and Arkay, who were once human). Meaning they are all finite and fall short.
From what I understand, Anu and Padomay were the gods responsible for forming the cosmos out of "Aurbis", which is the name for "the chaos, or totality, from which the cosmos was formed". ( See http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Aurbis )
So it sounds like maybe this "chaos or totality" (whatever THAT means) might be without beginning. But it still needed a cause to turn it all from whatever it was into the cosmos. So maybe Anu and Padomay are, together, my FC. The infinite beings I should be aiming my worship at.
From what I understand, "The brothers Anu and Padomay came from the Void" (http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Void). This poses a bit of a problem. "The Void" in Elder Scrolls is "the name applied to the dimensions outside of the known realms". For something to "come and go", it has to travel. If something can travel, it's not in all places at once. But something that is infinite IS in all places at once. So Anu and Padomay cannot be truly infinite if they "came" from somewhere, and must themselves have some source or cause.
This is where the revealed theology of the Elder Scrolls universe ends. There must be a personal being above and beyond Anu and Padomay, but there is no record of this being revealing itself to anyone in the Elder Scrolls universe. So it appears I'll have to join the likes of real-world ancient Athenians and construct an alter "To The Unknown God" and hope that someday he'll see fit to reveal himself or send a "Paul" my way.
Acts 17:22-31 (ESV)
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for "'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "'For we are indeed his offspring.'
Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."