Skyrim’s cults, like it’s people, are fiercely independent. Nordic Law states that the Jarls cannot interfere with their subjects' religion so long as that religion does not interfere with the affairs of state. In Skyrim any fool can stand in the town market and preach the glory of their chosen overlord without having to fear the Jarl’s justice. However, such self proclaimed prophets are also not protected by Nordic Law so they are free to be persecuted by angry townsfolk or established cults. Because of this, only the strongest Nordic cults have ever held any influence over Skyrim’s populace. These cults are the Totem Cults that worship the old gods of Atmora. The 8 most powerful totem cults maintain their power through a holy alliance called the Fjaldingr. This alliance exists to compel its members to defend each other from outside influences and safeguard one another’s long term prosperity. Thanks to the Fjaldingr the Totem Cults have upheld their authority for thousands of years.
The Hawk Cult worships Kyne, the warrior-widow of Shor, Mother of Men, and Goddess of the Storm. She is the leader of the Hearth Gods and thus chief deity of the Nordic Pantheon. When Alduin slayed her husband Shor at the Dawn, Kyne wept and from her tears grew all Nirn’s plants and animals. Kyne is the favored god of warriors who believe she guides their souls to Sovngarde. Kyne resides in the Forest of Dreams, a misty wilderness surrounding Sovengard where she cares for the sleeping souls not strong enough to make the journey to the Hall of Valor.
The cult is led by the Daughters of the Storm, a sisterhood of priestesses devoted to the Mother of Men. The Daughters are responsible for the flora and fauna of Skyrim and ensure they are honored and respected by the local Nords. The Daughters possess powerful wind magic as well as the power of therianthropy which allows them to transform into birds of prey. They use this ability to watch over the people of Skyrim from above and gauge their devotion. As the head of the Fjaldingr it is also their duty to uphold the peace between the different cults. Feuds over religious teachings and ownership of holy relics must almost always go through the hawk Cult to be resolved. The Daughters' holy garb consists of simple linen loincloths that cover their unmentionables and a teal cloak with a hood shaped like a bird’s head. This exposing attire allows them to regularly bare themselves to the freezing winds and heavy rains that connect them to their Goddess.
The Daughters are headquartered at the Holy Aviary, a temple built into the side of Mount Ylgar overlooking Windhelm. It is here that they teach the power of the Storm Voice to Skyrim’s Tongues. Unlike the Greybeards, the Daughters do not teach Dragon Shouts, they teach Divine Shouts. While Dragon Shouts use Dovahzul the language of dragons as the root for their Words of Power, Divine Shouts use Ehlnofex, the language of the Gods. Divine Shouts are less individually powerful than Dragon Shouts and take longer to master, but they can be used in greater secession than Dragon Shouts and a group can combine their voices to create larger scale attacks. The Daughters consider Dragon Shouts to be corruptive to the soul and condemn their users as heretics. The one exception is the Greybeards, who temper their Dragon Shouts by following the Way of the Voice. The Daughters do not consider the Greybeards heretics but have been at odds with them over philosophical differences for centuries.
Mara is the goddess of love and marriage, the handmaiden of Kyne, and concubine of Shor. She is invoked during marriage ceremonies to ensure happiness and fertility for the couple. Her aspect of love is familial love, different from Dibella's passionate love. It is said Mara cultivated the sparks of love between two Nords freezing in the snow and placed that flame within the lovers hearts to protect from the cold. Mara’s love also extends to comrades in arms. The love and companionship between soldiers also grants them the blessing of the Mother-Goddess. Nords believe Mara is the Mother of Orkey via Alduin who in spite of his mischievous ways she loves very much.
The priests of Mara wear a simple orange robe with a yellow hood or habit. Priests operate as healers, wet-nurses, and midwives. Mara’s priesthood is the most expensive of all Skyrim’s cults with a temple in every city and village. Mara’s priests possess the power to summon Mara’s Divine Flame, a mystical force with unprecedented healing power. The priesthood has occasionally used the flame to perform miraculous acts of restoration like purging fields of blight, stopping the spread of a plague, regrowing limbs and curing the blind. The Wolf Cult also train Skyrim’s Battle Maidens, a corps of female warrior healers, who are the lifeblood of Skyrim’s military might as they can heal in the middle of the battlefield.
Historically the Wolf Cult has been a steadfast ally of the Hawk Cult supporting their hegemony over the Fjaldingr. However, with the expansion of the Imperial Cult throughout Skyrim their loyalties have started to waver. Because Mara is a much more important god in Cyrodiil, the Wolf Cult garners greater respect and privileges from the Empire. Over the centuries the Wolf priesthood has become the most Imperialized of all Skyrim’s religious orders. Their headquarters, Wolfheart Chapel, is a short walk from the Temple of the Divines in Solitude, and their high priestess has taken on the imperial title Primate. While not an official part of the Imperial Cult, many in Skyrim fear the day the Wolf Cult bows to the Dragon instead of the Hawk.
The Moth Cult Worship Dibella goddess of beauty, art, and loving others. In Skyrim Dibella is not only associated with sexual beauty like other cultures, but also with the beauty of the natural world. Nords believe after the world was created it was bland and empty until Dibella carved the mountains, guided the rivers and shaped the forest to her ideal image. When Kyne breathed life into the first Men, Dibella was awestruck by their beauty and lovingly embraced them. She whispered sweet words into their ears giving man the ability to sing and make music.
The Moth cult is traditionally divided into two sects, the natural priesthood and the temple priesthood. The natural priests are gardeners, caretakers and landscapers. They use powerful earth and water magic to enhance the natural spectacle of the world or manipulate it so nature’s beauty can coexist with human civilization. The nature priests wear robes weaved out of leaves and sticks. The Temple sect preaches the carnal teachings of sex and promote promiscuity. They run brothels across Skyrim sometimes in their own temples. Temple Priestess attire consists of two long pieces of fabric hooked to a necklace on their front and back. The fabric goes down to their knees and is tied with a cord around their waist. The two sects are unified in service to The Sybil, a prophetess with a connection to the goddess and embodies the principles of both sects. The Sybil resides within the High Temple at Markarth where members of both sects coexist.
A controversy exists within the Cult as, like the Wolf Cult, large portions of the Temple priesthood have submitted to the will of the Imperial Cult. This in and of itself bothered few as their ideology is quite similar, but recently the Empire had begun outlawing several temple practices such as the Dibellan Arts and the temple has followed through in an attempt to modernize. This has caused tensions with the Nature Sect who are firm believers in tradition. The current Sybil has managed to keep the peace at the moment, but she is growing old. Soon she will die and the Moth Cult may tear itself apart before her replacement can be found.
The Owl Cult venerate Jhunal the Rune God, Lord of Wisdom, and father of language and mathematics. He was the head scribe of Magnar(Magnus) and Jhunal’s knowledge of the Aurbis is second only to him. Jhunal is considered the teacher of men. When Man was banished from Tamriel at the Dawn, many wanted to return and wreak vengeance on the Elves for killing Shor. However Jhunal counseled them not to and instead honor Shor by living on and rebuilding his kingdom in Atmora. To help them Jhunal gave the ancient Atmorans the Jhünkunnigr(Owl-Knowledge) from which the Clever-Craft is deprived. Jhunal interacts with the mortal races through his avatar Wise-Wing, an spectral owl who guides Men away from danger and towards their destinies. It is said that during Ysgramor’s Return Wise-Wing guided the Companions past the trickster Sea-Ghosts and towards Hsaarik Head, a location that was strategically essential in their war against the Snow Elves.
The cult is led by a cabal of mages known as The Parliament of Owls. The Owls, or Jhunars in the Nordic Tongue, are identified by the fur lined mantles over mage’s robes. These mantles are colored based on their ranks. Lower ranks wear blue or brown robes, higher ranks wear white or gold robes. The parliament is headquartered at the College of Winterhold, with its members making up the higher echelons of the College staff. However one does not have to be a devotee of the Owl Cult to join the College. The Parliament believes anyone with magical talent, whether Man or Mer, deserves the right to learn the Clever-Craft. However, while they can learn and even teach at the college, non-members are forbidden from helping craft college policy.
The Parliament follows the teachings of Archmage Shalidor who they consider Jhunal’s greatest prophet. They dedicate themselves to managing the development of Skyrim’s magical academia by maintaining a monopoly on magical literature, investigating mystic anomalies, and stomping out unauthorized magic cabals. Nords have historically had a complex relationship with magic but have always accepted Jhunars as Court Wizards and Warmages.
Stuhn is the Nordic god of ransom, fraternity, and justice. He is the Shield-thane of Shor and the ruler of the oceans. It is Stuhn that taught the Atmorans the benefit of leaving some of their enemies alive so that they could be ransomed later. He also honors those who are adaptable and thrifty. One who can find purpose for what most would consider junk has earned Stuhn’s respect. According to legend, Stuhn built the first longship when his brothers killed a whale, cleaned it, and took its meat and blubber leaving only the beast's bones and entrails. Stuhn, never wasteful, took the entrails and stretched them over the bones, creating a boat. He is revered by sailors and especially sea raiders. For the latter Stuhn created the Code of Víkingrs, the law of honorable raiding and pillaging that separates Víkingrs from mere bandits.
The Whale Cult is led by the Keepers, a trusted fraternity of monks who operate a series of longhouses along Skyrim’s rivers and coastline. Here they teach Nords about strategy, navigation, and the Code of Víkingrs. The Code articulates that honorable raiding is done only when necessary, to groups who can fight back, and never under false pretenses. Those who follow the code can take their gains to be traded or stored at the Cults longhouse. These longhouses double as mints turning excess treasure into currency. Some Keepers serve as economic advisors to Jarls and Thanes, levying taxes and giving out loans when needed. The Keepers wear simple brown robes under a chainmail like armor made of bones.
The cult is headquartered on Whaletail Isle off the coast of Dawnstar. It’s main structure is the Prison-Fortress of Ice and Bone. Like the longhouses it is trusted by Raiders for storing not their treasure but captives waiting to be ransomed. The rest of the island is a penal colony for Skyrim’s exiles. Those who have been thrown out of Nordic society can seek redemption serving the Keepers as guardians of the Isle. In recent years Whaletail Isle has expanded beyond simply holding captives and now also operates as a more traditional prison, holding Skyrim’s greatest criminals and prisoners of war.
Tsun the Bear is the god of trials, honor, and earth. He is Sword-thane of Shor and died valiantly in his defense. After death his corpse was taken by Orkey who ripped it limb from limb and his parts became the current world. His spilled blood filled the oceans, his limbs became the continents, and his head was stolen by the elves to build their heathen kingdom. As the most honorable of his followers, Shor made Tsun the Gatekeeper of the Whalebone Bridge. There Tsun tests the heroism of all who approach him, and only those who prove themselves to Tsun may pass and enter the Hall of Valor.
Tsun’s will is done by his Watchers, Skyrim's adjudicators and arbiters of justice. These Warrior monks judge things not based on fairness, but based on honor. Many Watcher's travel across Skyrim, settling disputes between warring clans and judging contests of honor. A Watcher’s judgement is considered firm but fair and few are willing to challenge it. Not just because of how respected they are, but because of their strength in battle. To object to a Watchers judgement is to challenge him in combat, and Watchers are mighty warriors. With a single swing of their legendary battle axes, they are able to slice men clean in half and if a Watcher is ever bested in a fight he must lay down his weapon and never do battle again. They are easily identified by their gold plate armor said to be made of a material found only in Sovngarde itself.
Their most important site as well as headquarters is the mountain fortress of Skuldafn which contains the last portal to Sovngarde. Once there were nine sacred portals to Sovngarde across the fjords of Skyrim, but after Millennia of war and conquest only one remains. This gate can only be opened with an enchanted weapon carried by its guardian. Like their lord, the Watchers diligently protect this portal to the afterlife, only allowing the greatest of Nord heroes and clever men to enter. But first they must pass Watchers’ tests to prove their Worth, their Bravery, and their Ferocity. Those who return from the Nordic underworld receive a sacred tattoo from the Watchers marking their achievement, receiving this honor garners much respect in Nordic society.
Orkey is the god of death, mortality, contamination, and decomposition. He is Alduin’s closest consort and his bastard son. In the First War, Orkey slayed Shor with a poison blade and swallowed his still beating heart. However the heart's power overwhelmed Orkey, and he was forced to spit it up. He ruled Atmora for a time and cut down human lifespan to the count of winters until he was overthrown by Kyne. Orkey dwells beyond Sovngarde and the Forest of Dreams where he devours lost souls, digesting them into the pure magic of Aetherius. Some scholars believe Orkey is an amalgamation of the entire Altmer Pantheon as one deity explaining why he and Alduin(Auriel) are the only enemy gods ever discussed in Nordic Mythology. This theory is supported by several ancient depictions of Orkey with six heads. These heads potentially represent the gods Arkey, Trinimac, Synabane, Phynaster, Jephre, and Xarxas.
The Snake Cult does not worship Old Knocker, they simply observe him. Orkey teaches them the secrets of corpses and how to care for them. Snake Priests are skilled alchemists that craft some of the most powerful potions and poisons on Nirn. The highest ranking members of the cult, the Blackmasters, have an understanding of the mortal body and alchemical arts so advanced that they are able to extend their lives by hundreds of years without the use of magic. Priests mainly use these alchemical skills to craft embalming resins and death poisons, but can also create a rare potion called The Whisper of Life. The Whisper is a potion that, when administered to a corpse, can restore a smidgen of life to them turning them into the deathless draugr that guards the halls of Skyrim’s great crypts. The Snake priest once gave this potion exclusively to the Dragon Cult, but now that they have fallen the potion is offered up to the Fox Cult instead. The priests are taught their funerary and alchemical skills at Venomrest Cryptorium, an old ruin just outside of Falkreath.
Snake priests are identified by their green robes with large hoods meant to hide their faces. They also regularly wear an alchemist apron and gloves to protect them from their crafted poisons and embalming fluids. The Priests of Orkey are the morticians of the common man and can be found at every Hall of the Dead or cemetery in Skyrim. When someone dies, an Orkey Priest retrieves their body and takes them to the Hall of the Dead. There they embalm the corpse and make sure it stays put. They give no comfort to the living as that is not their job. To the priests the duty of a mortician is to the dead not the living. They find the sermons and funeral practices of foreign priests to be tedious and stupid.
Shor is the god of heroes and king of the afterlife. He created Nirn to be a place where men could be free, but was betrayed and murdered by Alduin and the Elven Gods. After his death Shor created the Hall of Valor in Sovngarde to serve as his stronghold. There he waits in revelry with the greatest Nord warriors for the arrival of the End Times where he will lead his new army in battle against Alduin once again. Shor periodically returns to Nirn in the form of his Avatar Ysmir. There have been several incarnations of Ysmir across history all of which are venerated by the Nords in a manner similar to Saints. The greatest of these incarnations is Talos, sometimes called the Immortal Ysmir, who some believe to be the last Ysmir until after the next cycle.
The Fox Cult does not worship Shor. as you can’t worship what is no longer of this world, instead they vinerate him as the embodiment of true Nordic virtue. Shor’s priests seek to ensure Nords uphold their virtue so they do not become lost on the path to Shor’s Hall. To honor those warriors, the Cult construct the great crypts and barrows that dot Skyrim's landscape, and they perform burial rights for great Nordic Kings and Heroes. They also know the secrets of Stalhrim which they use to preserve the bodies of Skyrim's greatest champions. As servants of the King of the Gods, the Fox Priests are also responsible for the coronations of the High Kings and Queens of Skyrim. Crowning them as Shor’s representative on Nirn. Fox Priests wear light blue robes and mourning shrouds under a set of light Stalhrim armor. The High Priest wears a Stalhrim circlet and his armored breastplates has a hole in the middle representing Shor’s stolen heart.
They are headquartered at Ysmir's Tomb, a grand crypt built into the side of the Throat of the World for King Wulfharth. It was there the ashes by Wulfharth were reconstituted by Shor so the legendary king could lead the Nords in the War of the First Council. In the center of the Tomb is Wulfharth's Sarcophagus where his ashes were stored. The lid was pushed over and split in two when Ysmir rose from the grave and has never been moved since. The Tomb also features several artifacts of the most famous incarnations of Ysmir from across time: The Pelt of Hans the Fox, the Skull of Pelinal Whitestrake, the Spear of Haarld Hairy Breeks, the Tongue of Jorg Helmbolg, the Dragonbone Mail of Zurin Arctus, the beard of Guri Nail-Face, and the Winged Helm of Tiber Septim. (Note: The authenticity of many of these relics is hotly debated by modern scholars.)
Alduin the World Eater is the Nordic god of Time and Domination. He waged war on Shor the God-King at the beginning of time and ruled over man for a time before being banished by Kyne. He is destined to destroy the world at the end of time and battle Shor once again. Because Alduin was the one who overthrew Shor, the Dragon Cult believes he is the true Chief Deity of the Nordic Pantheon not Kyne.
The Dragon Cult worships Alduin and his Rage as the God Kings of Skyrim. The Cult preaches the values of ambition, strength, and enforcement. In ancient times the Cult had many sects and was organized around individual Dragons who they served in exchange for knowledge and power. However whenever Alduin returns to the world the sects unify under his authority. Each sect was led by a Dragon Priest or Rahvokdrog who would speak to the Dragon Lord and communicate their will. The Priests are granted ritualistic masks that grant them blessings and let them share power with their Dragonic overlords. The highest ranking cultists are practitioners of the Thu'um and use Dragon Shouts like the Greybeards. However unlike the Greybeards their Shouts are not tempered by the Way of the Voice so their Tongues are susceptible to madness and corruption.
When the Dragons disappeared from this world, the Dragon Cult collapsed. Their temples were destroyed and their priests were killed. The remnants built barrows for the fallen masters which became pilgrimage sites for some members. With the Dragons and Rahvokdrogs gone the cult has been unable to gain any significant influence among Skyrim’s people. What remains of them today are nothing more than a few scattered communities of dragon worshippers, self proclaimed priests in wooden masks, and a handful of crumbling temples.
The Dragon Cult is not part of the Fjaldingr but has managed to keep from going completely extinct. Cultists can be found in the mountains of Skyrim far from civilization whispering prayers at ancient Dragon roasts. The only interaction the Dragon Cult has with the rest of Skyrim is during the Festival of the Long Night. This Winter Solstice festival sees Nords offer Alduin sacrifices of livestock and gifts of gold to ensure he remains dormant. Most Nords travel to abandoned Dragon Shrines to make these offerings, but a few more superstitious Nords go to the trouble of finding ‘real’ dragon priests to make offerings believing they can assure their offerings will reach the World Eater faster.
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