Content of the article: "Reachmen and Atmorans: Gods and Religious Practices"
Hello everyone. This is a theory in which I have defended in my previous post, but I would like to expand further to contemplate all evidences that indicate that Reachmen religion may derive from Atmoran religion. To compile everything in one post, in addition to new information, I will reproduce some of the text from my previous post here as well, so readers won't have to refer to both texts.
As it is known, Tamriel's mankind includes several peoples of Atmoran descent, due to a long period of migrations from the now frozen continent of Atmora. Such migrations are registered in books such as the Pocket guide to the Empire, Third Edition, Atmora; and Frontier, Conquest, and Accommodation.
These peoples brought with them their religious customs. While most details have been lost to time, we can have a slight idea of that belief system from books such as The Dragon War and The Ternion Monks, as well as from interactions with characters who are said to follow the old ways, such as Old Mjolen and Thane Hraldi. Also, while we may lack records on how the old Atmorans would worship their gods, it is widely accepted that the ancient Nords and have maintained at least some of the core aspects of Atmoran religion in their pantheon, as stated in in-game books such as Divines and the Nords; Varieties of Faith: The Nords and The Song of the Gods.
Despite maintaining some core aspects, the religious practices of the ancient Nords and those of the ancient Atmorans are still very different, most notably regarding the Dragon Cult and other totemic cults such as the Ternion cult. As such, even the Ancient Nordic Pantheon is but an adaptation of the old Atmoran religion, one of several ramifications.
This is old news for most of us, but it is important to lay down these foundations of what I am about to argue.
Now, as for the Reachmen…
Reachmen are, on some level, descended from one of the earliest tribes of Atmorans who settled Tamriel. This is evidenced in the Pocket Guides to the Empire, more specifically in the Pocket Guide to the Empire and its Environs, First Edition, High Rock and in the Emperor's Guide, Northern Bangkorai and the Mountains.
At some point in history, the Reachmen intermingled with several other races and developed an unique tribal culture. With ESO's DLC Markarth, we had access to a lot of new information that shed some light on Reachmen customs, including their religion, which is the main focus of this article. Below, we shall use strictly in-game evidence to draw associations between Reachmen beliefs and Atmoran beliefs, proving that the former may derive from the latter.
Connections between the Atmoran Totem Gods and the Great Spirits of the Reach
The first connection between Atmoran and Reachmen religion that one may observe is that both of them are totemic, meaning that they both revolve around an animistic belief system in which the worship of totems play a fundamental role. When venturing into the Reach, one of the quests the player may do is to assist the High Shaman by collecting animal totems related to the different aspects of Hircine, which is the chief deity of the Reachmen pantheon. Not only that, when visiting Reach tribes such as Karthwasten, one sees dragon totems in the center of the village, and even a tribesman crafting an hawk totem.
As for the deities worshipped by the Reachmen, the book series Great Spirits of the Reach provides a lot of detail on their beliefs. Their universally accepted gods are Hircine, Namira, Peryite and Lorkh, which they refer to as the Great Spirits. Other Daedric Princes are also revered among different clans, but for the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on these Great Spirits.
Since Hircine is the Reach's chief deity, we shall start by drawing associations between him and the old animal gods of Atmora. While we are more familiar with the Atmoran Dragon Cult, the book The Ternion Monks reveals that there was at least one alternative organized cult for other animal gods of Atmora. They worshipped the Fox, the Bear and the Wolf. Those three animals all coincide with aspects of Hircine, who make assume the form of the Quick Fox, the Mighty Bear or the King of Wolves.
On a first, superficial look, the representation of the Fox god in Reachmen religion may seem completely unrelated to that of the Ancient Nordic Pantheon. The ancient Nords would associate the Fox with Shor/Lorkhan. The Reachmen, on the other hand, worship Shor/Lorkhan as Lorkh, the Spirit of Man, the Sower of Flesh, who created a realm for wayward spirits (Tamriel's mortals) in which wisdom and glory is achieved through pain and hardship. However, an important aspect of Reachmen religion that enables this connection is that after the creation of the mortal realm, Lorkh is thought to have lost his place as chief of the Arena to Hircine, who now encompasses the aspect of the Fox. To further substantiate that claim, the totem related to Hircine's aspect of the Fox, the Symbol of Gulibeg, is said to be designed from Lorkh's ribs. Therefore, one may argue that in Reachmen religion, Lorkh was the Fox, but now Hircine took his place.
Peryite is another prominent Great Spirit of the Reach, commonly associated with the Dragon. Reachmen focus on Peryite's domain of Natural Order, as a keeper of balance. For the Reachmen, blight and disease are used by Peryite as means of population control and to build up resistance among the tribesmen. As such, Peryite destroys to bring balance, to bring order. This is somewhat similar to Alduin's World Eater role, which also embodies the concept of destruction to bring balance and order in a more radical, pure form, which is in the form of a new kalpa. Not only that, but Peryite has already taken over and led a Dragon Cult, which is further evidence of at least syncretism between Peryite worship and the Dragon Cult.
I would also associate Peryite with the Atmoran Snake God. Orkey, as he is called by the Ancient Nords, is a god of mortality, a death god, whose role is to test mortals. It is extremely relatable to Peryite's role of plague bringer, killing off weak tribesmen who were unable to pass the test of blight and disease. Just as Orkey, Peryite is a tester, and those who fail to pass his test perish.
As for the Namira, she is revered as the Spirit Queen, the one that represents the primal dualism between life and death. More importantly, she is considered by the Reachmen as the giver and taker of lives. This role is considerably similar to the role of Kyne, or the Hawk for the ancient Atmorans, as she is called Mother (the one who gives life), and Kiss at the End, who guides the spirits of the fallen to Sovngarde (the one who takes life).
Namira is also associated with primal beauty by the Reachmen, as can be evidenced in the book Namira's Dance. This association is a reflection of the role assumed by Dibella, or the Atmoran Moth god, and even the ritualistic dance itself, reported in the aforementioned book, may be a macabre version of the one practiced by Dibellan worshippers. Those could easily be derived from some sort of ancient ritual to gain favor with the Moth god of ancient Atmora.
Still hoping to find associations for the Owl and Whale.
Blood sacrifice in the Reach and in Atmora
Other circumstantial evidence that connects the old ways of Atmora with the Reach is on the nature of the rituals they practice. In the Greymoor ESO expansion, when the player character is searching for council regarding Reach magic, Fennorian suggests that we talk to Old Mjolen, a Nordic clever woman who is a practitioner of the old magic. During his dialogue, Fennorian reveals the following piece of information:
Old Mjolen's a dying breed among the Nords, a practitioner of the old magic. The locals both admire and fear her. If anyone can help me untangle the coven's ritual, it's her. Mjolen's experience with the old ways and Reach magic make her ideally suited to assist me in this endeavor. She's the closest thing to an expert we're likely to find out here. At least one who doesn't want to feed our eyes to a harpy.
It is clear to me that the old magic practiced by Ancient Nordic clever men and women overlap significantly with Reach magic. Not only this is implied by Fennorian in the abovementioned quote, but if one observes the rituals conducted by Old Mjolen and several parts of her dialogue, it is clear she uses mostly blood sacrifices for her rituals. Blood sacrifices are also the cornerstone of the old ways of the Reach, as revealed by Arana in her dialogue:
Years ago we argued about what the Spirit Queen's teachings meant for our clan. Nathari believes that we're meant to return to the old ways, the dark ways, to seek Namira's favor.
Blood sacrifice and dark magic. I wanted nothing to do with that.
Ritual sacrifices. Nathari wants the clan to return to the old ways.
Though what Mjolen practices is an extremely watered down, "family friendly" version of those rituals, the blood sacrifice is still there.
In addition, blood sacrifices and life siphoning are also the main theme of the Harrowstorms, a ritual developed by Reach witches and ancient vampires that uses totems and dark magic to summon all sorts of harrowfiends. Likewise, in the Kyne's Aegis trial, it is implied that Lord Falgravn was searching for the secrets of life siphoning of the ancient Dragon Priests, as evidenced in Thane Ogvar's dialogue:
I was a fool to leave this ruin unexplored. The old Dragon Priests kept a lot of secrets—all bad. You have my word that as long as I draw breath, no one will ever step foot in this accursed place again.
What do you think Lord Falgravn was trying to do here?
Draw the life out of my soldiers to increase his own power, I suspect.
I've heard tales of old barrows that suck the life out of people, animals … even creaky old Draugr! I'm just glad you stopped him before he had a chance to see it through.
It is fair to assume that Lord Falgravn was looking for those secrets to improve on the Harrowstorm ritual. To me, this is yet another connection between Reach rituals and old Dragon Cult (Atmoran) rituals.
In summary, from all the evidence brought above, it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
Both the Reachmen religion and the old ways of Atmora are fundamentally totemic and have several similarities revolving around the practice of blood sacrifices. Also, most Atmoran Totem Gods overlap with Reachmen Great Spirits. As demonstrated by the evidence above, the associations are as follows:
Hircine = Fox, Wolf and Bear
Peryite = Dragon and Snake
Namira = Hawk and Moth
Lorkh = used to be the Fox, but was replaced by Hircine.
In my interpretation of all the evidence brought forth above, it is possible to picture Atmorans as an equivalent to the early Germanic peoples before their migration period. Several different tribes with somewhat different customs, but with a strong foundation on the same belief system and "macro" culture (Germanic paganism, Wotan/Woden/Odin worship). Naturally, over the course of history they migrated, intermingled and became very different peoples, stretching from the Visigoths of Hispania to the Norsemen of Scandinavia. However different their mainstream customs and beliefs were in the early middle ages, they did share the same ancient roots.
The theory I defend in this post is that the same thing may have happened with Atmorans, who over the course of history became Nords and Reachmen. Despite their cultural differences in the Second Era, evidence suggests that they might have had the same roots in ancient times, before they migrated from the ancient land of Atmora in different waves.
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