And so we come to the release this past month of Skyrim available for the XBox, PS3 and PC. Since this game is the fifth iteration of single-player CRPG’s in the same setting, the details of the religion of the world of The Elder Scrolls have become fairly thoroughly fleshed out. Furthermore, they are documented within the myriad of books within the game which some studious collectors have collated and published as free Kindle, Nook and iOS files.
The Aedra are worshipped openly in the world of the Elder Scrolls, but the worship of the Daedra tends to be a bit more clandestine. At one point there were nine Aedra, but one of the Aedra, the trickster, Lorkhan, was apparently destroyed at the creation of the world. In addition, worship of an additional god, Talos, is being suppressed for political reasons. He was a general who established an empire and is now worshiped by humans as a god. Thus, there is a belief in the possibility of apotheosis at least among the humans who are but one of multiple sentient species in the game. The myth of Talos, as far as I can tell, does not include a resurrection story, but you will encounter at least one street preacher in the game working a corner and evangelizing for Talos.There are temples to the Aedra in the towns of Skyrim, and the priests and priestesses of these cults can set up shrines to these gods which your character will come across in various locations within the game. There is a pantheon in the capital city of Solitude which includes examples of of the shrines for the nine divines with an empty niche presumably for Lorkhan. The denizens of Skyrim leave offerings at the shrines and touching the shrines provides a blessing which has a small effect on the game play.
You cannot become a priest or priestess in this game, however, there does seem to be a quest associated with each of the Daedra. Oddly, while there are some minor things you can do to serve the Aedra, the quests for the Daedra are far more intricate and interesting. In fact, it appears that you can influence the Daedra and their subsequent actions within the world by how you chose to complete their quests.
Skyrim is a huge game, and so it is difficult to be comprehensive in any sense after even a month of play, and the available resources. Here’s an overview of what I’ve encountered so far.
The first temple your character is likely to encounter is that of Kynareth in Whiterun. Kynareth is a goddess of nature and living things. The temple at Whiterun features a barren tree out front which had been a popular pilgrimage site. Your character may do a couple of quests for the priestess to restore the tree. Strangely, unless your character is very adept at stealth play, you will probably have to kill a few witches and nature spirits as well as stab the roots of a sacred tree to accomplish that goal.
The goddess of love and marriage is Mara. Skyrim features probably the least romantic approach to relationships that we’ve seen in an AAA game for years. To get married, you put on an amulet of Mara (conveniently available for purchase from the priest of Mara in Riften), and, if you’ve completed a quest for an NPC, a dialogue option may appear in which you may ask if that NPC is interested in you. As far I can tell, no NPC will reject a same-sex relationship. If you confirm that you are interested in them too, you may then visit the priest of Mara to arrange a wedding for the next day. There are some small benefits to being married, and so you will probably want to do so fairly early in your play-through. However, it appears that NPC’s that you’ve completed quests for will come to the wedding, and so if you want a well-attended wedding, you will want to wait until later in the game.
Skyrim has a separate goddess of beauty and lust, and, in yet another positive aspect of its thealogy, Dibella is an Aedra rather than a Daedra (and a goddess of healthy, active sexuality – how cool is that?). Her temple is in Markarth, and, if you are nosy enough, you can be sent to find the a new sibyl for the temple. The naked statues of Dibella remind me to mention that Skyrim thoroughly avoids the trope of chainmail bikini’s for female player characters. Better armor covers more skin for both male and female characters. The downside of that fact is that while it is quite tempting to spend an hour getting the face of your character just right in the character creator, if you decide to then have that character wear armor in the game, you will rarely the character’s face again unless you make an effort to do so.
The god of death, Arkay, is also an Aedra. Most towns have a shrine and priest of Arkay in their burial grounds. The Nords of Skyrim seem to favor mummification and the placement of the mummies within catacombs. Your character will be encountering unrestful examples of the mummies throughout the game.
Akatosh is the dragon god of time. There are really two main quest lines in this game. On the one hand, Skyrim is in the midst of civil war, and on the other dragons have reappeared and your character is destined as a “dragonborn” to find out why. There is little reason to like either side of the civil war. The Imperials begin the game by trying to behead your character explicitly without any form of due process, and your escape takes you through one of their torture rooms. On the other hand, the rebel Stormcloaks are equally explicitly a bunch of racists. So pick your poison. My character has chosen not to chose a side. I have progressed fairly far in the dragon-related quests, but I have yet had no direct encounter with Akatosh or His priesthood.
I’ve similarly not found a temple or a priest for the remaining Aedra Julianos, Stendarr or Zenithar nor is there a quick summary of their character in the books. On the other hand, the Daedra are summarized thoroughly in “The Book of Daedra”. I’ve completed about half of the Daedra quests which generally have you serving the particular deity and receiving an item as a reward.
As the champion of Azura, the goddess of twilight, you can track down Azura’s Star which is a reusable soul gem which is helpful in the game’s enchanting system. The smith at Falkreath can get you looking for a very bad dog indeed who serves Clavicus Vile. If you help that god of “power and wishes,” you can get a nice horned helmet (though as my son pointed out, the face on the mask has a mustache which made it a bit odd for my female character who wore it for quite a while before finding something better). If you pursue the dragon quest-line, you will encounter Hermaeus Mora who as a god of hidden knowledge will give you book which will upon reading raise six of your skills (which is significantly better than the occasional book you will find which will raise but one of your skills). I also completed a quest of service to Molag Bal mostly to get it off my quest list. He’s a god of “enslavement and domination,” and so I’m not proud of that fact. I kept hoping that there’d be a better optional resolution to the quest as there were in other Daedra quests. He does leave you with a nifty mace though. I also got a nice sword by completing the quest for Meridia who remains fairly mysterious even after completing her line.Pagans who interact with Norse spirits should find a deep resonance in the world of Skyrim. For instance, there is a very direct analogue to Valhalla called “Sovngarde” which your character can visit in the dragon quest line. In fact, the way to Sovngarde is guarded by a very Heimdall-like warrior named Tsun. The bridge to Sovngarde is made of dragon-bones rather than rainbows, though. Nevertheless, the world of Skyrim is as about as Pagan as one could hope for or imagine.