The Maormer in Brief
Maormer are the mer of Pyandonea, an island continent somewhere to the south of Tamriel. They’ve been trying to invade the Summserset Isles and other portions of southern Tamriel for most of recorded history, and there are persistent rumours that they were exiled from either Summerset or Aldmeris. They are physiologically distinct from other mer, with various skin tones ranging from grey to blue to translucent. They have some of the best ships and sailors on Tamriel, and have been a constant pirate presence to those on Summerset and the mainland of the continent, although there are implications that they range further.
Origins of the Maormer
There are, at least in theory, multiple potential origins for the Maormer, although almost every source we have leans heavily towards one of them. The Third Edition Pocket Guide to the Empire has a section on Pyandonea, which says this:
It was once belived [sic] that the Maormer of Pyandonea were originally exiles from the Summerset Isle, but while it is likely they came from similar Aldmeri ancestors, they certainly did not come from Summerset. Translations of tapestries in the Crystal Tower tell the tale of a far older enmity. The Maormer were likely separated from the ancient Aldmer not in Summerset, but in their original homeland of Aldmeris.
The Chosen People of Aldmeris puts across the Maormer perspective like this:
Translations of tapestries in the Crystal Tower reveal that the great Maormer race is directly descended from the purest strain of our Aldmeri ancestors. We certainly did not come from Summerset, but originated in our ancestral homeland of Aldmeris.
Even the very pro-Altmer text The False Revanchism of the Maormer does not doubt that their past began in Aldmeris, although it doesn’t dwell particularly much on it. It does however throw the precise lineage of the Maormer into a bit more of a question:
I fear the fallibility we have developed in our fall from Aldmeri grace has led to the common misconception that we are close siblings to those who dwell in Pyandonea, but the truth of the matter is that we are far distant cousins with only a shred of common ancestry. This welcome revelation comes from previously untranslated Aldmeri tapestries within the Crystal Tower. The unmitigated truth revealed at last, after painstaking study, speaks not of a common plight of reluctant migration and tragic diaspora, but a tale of treachery and exile.
For what it’s worth, this does corroborate the story from the Pocket Guide, with a story of “treachery and exile” being the source of the split, but it doesn’t question the essential facts we have so far. However, it’s trying to do something else; The False Revanchism is quite desperate to distance the Maormer from the Altmer by ancestry as well. The question is not where they came from, but who are the true heirs of the Aldmer.
For that, I’m personally inclined to agree with the Altmer. The Chosen People claims that:
The Altmer themselves are a mongrel race. They are the abomination that drove our great leader Orgnum to lead our people through the impenetrable mists to our haven of Pyandonea.
There’s no evidence presented here, just the assertion that it is so. Plus, with Leviathans claimed by Marin Laroix in The Scaled Elves as “[t]he spawn of some unholy and sorcerous coupling of Sea Elf and Sea Serpent”, it seems that the Maormer are the ones more likely to mix their ancestry. We have little evidence that the Maormer hold their ancestry in high esteem, other than for polemic purposes. If there was evidence that the Aldmer were a semi-aquatic people, then I might believe it, but there isn’t.
We have another very pro-Altmer source in Homfrey with Ayleid Cities of Valenwood, which claims the following:
It is possible that the Maormer had broken the Aldmer traditions of racial purity and intermingled with indigenous, bestial tribes of Pyandonea. This would explain their savagery and lack of regard for the greatness of mainland Elven culture.
However, I think it’s clear that this is a very pro-Altmer author, and indeed smacks of the whole “the Bosmer… had soiled Time’s line by taking Mannish wives” from the Heart of the World myth from the Monomyth, so I’d take it with bit more of a pinch of salt.
The Maormer as the Left-Handed Elves
There’s also an origin theory that’s a bit more out of left field, given the consensus that we’ve seen so far. You’ll hear in some places a suggestion that the Maormer could be the Left-Handed Elves, the ones slaughtered by the Yokudans on their vanished continent. There was even a hint in the Zakhin’s Many Heroes Loreaster’s Archive, where /u/MareloRyan’s question was answered that “it may be as you say, Marelo at-Ryan, for your words waft the aroma of wisdom, but as to their Full-Truth, I am unable to aver it.”
However, there’s not a whole lot of evidence to back this up, and we have some outright contradiction of that in the second volume of Systres History, which says this:
While many believe that the Lefthanded Elves were destroyed utterly by the Redguards’ ancestors, I have found ample evidence that some survived well into the First Era. Naval records document protracted sieges of “Elf” settlements east of Moni up until the latter years of the Merethic. We cannot prove the Lefthander theory with certainty, however, as the High-Yokudan word for “Elf” derives from a doubly ancient term meaning simply “enemy.” In Yokuda, practically anyone could be an enemy at any time given the diplomatic fluidity of the Singer Period.
Whatever the case, the island squatters, Elven or otherwise, were obliged to travel farther east into the Eltheric to evade the new batch of Yokudan refugees. Some moved southeast toward Summerset where they either perished at sea or found common cause with Maormer privateers.
The last sentence of that section seems to suggest that the Maormer and the Left-Handed Elves are distinct. However, there was more to that theory in older texts, which explicitly linked Yokudan myths to Orgnum, the god-king of the Maormer.
Orgnum is the ruler of Maormer, and supposedly has been for a long time. The First Edition Pocket Guide to the Empire: The Wild Regions claims Orgnum to be “a deathless wizard who is said to be the Serpent God of the Satakal” That reference sort of comes out of nowhere, and isn’t picked up anywhere else as far as I can tell. However, I think this is one of the bits that has been changed over time. The use of the phrase the Satakal here, and usage in the Hammerfell section of the Guide indicates the term was used to designate devotees of a type of the Yokudan faith, as well as the god itself. However, semantics aside, it still claims that Orgnum is somehow the serpent god who makes the Aurbis, something that isn’t attested anywhere else.
One thing we can tell is that there has never been a time where Orgnum is not recorded as ruling the Maormer. He has been the guiding force of their culture throughout their history, through some means, although it’s never truly specified what. I’ve seen some speculation that Orgnum’s appearance in The Wolf Queen means that Orgnum is an inherited title, but I don’t really buy it, more that Waughin Jarth was engaging in artistic license with how Orgnum was portrayed. Or events went broadly as stated in the novel (Potema approached Orgnum for an alliance against Tamriel, and they may have been lovers), and it doesn’t need to imply that Orgnum is anything other than a single mer.
I would then assume that Orgnum was the driving force behind both the split with Summerset and the adoption of a variety of different forms of magic. The (again very pro-Altmer) text Fang of the Sea Vipers claims that “The rituals of Orgnum allow the Maormer to control sea serpents.” While it is unquestionable that the Maormer can control sea serpents, it strikes me as a little inefficient for all the serpents to be bound by one spell. We don’t have evidence either way on that, though.
I think it goes without saying that Orgnum has had a huge impact on Maormer culture, as he’s been ruling it for millennia at this point. That’s got to bring about some sort of cultural stability similar to how the Tribunal ruled Morrowind for so long. I don’t have a whole heap of evidence for that, but it feels appropriate.
There’s also a small hint that Orgnum’s control over the Maormer may not be absolute. The book The Sea Elf Threat discusses their raiders, and paints them as a rather disparate bunch:
Third, it is important to note that the Sea Elves sail under many different banners. Each fleet is a loose coalition of pirate bands with its own territory, so to speak. Sea Elf fleets do not combine their efforts with other Sea Elf fleets or poach in another fleet’s domain. The Sea Elves that skulk around the Systres Archipelago belong to the Dreadsails fleet; sightings of any other Sea Elves in the duchy’s waters pose little danger.
This implies that there is both a lack of co-ordination between different Maormer bands, and a hierarchy that is respected by them. This means that there is some sort of authority keeping the different fleets in line, but it’s more an alliance and coalition than something directed by a singular will, at least by the sound of it. Does this mean there are things like different Maormer clans and a council or something? I have no idea, but with this little nugget, at least it’s possible. They certainly seem a bit too ordered to simply be a bunch of squabbling clans.
For all that Orgnum is a focus for much of what we know about the Maormer, and that we have a possibly erroneous reference to him being associated with a god, we have no evidence that the Maormer themselves consider him a god (which, coincidentally, is another reason to think the Orgnum-as-Satakal thing is false). We have some Maormer in ESO that will exclaim “by all the gods”, suggesting that they have a pantheon that they worship or at least acknowledge.
We also have a snippet from the Sea Elf Galleon Helm antiquity that at least some openly worshipped Hermaeus Mora – Admiral Uhlchesis is noted by the antiquities scholars to be a Hermaeus Mora cultist, and it wouldn’t be something completely hidden if it’s been noted by scholars of history. That said, it’s possible that Hermeaeus Mora may have a specific place within the Maormer faith, given that he has associations with tides and water. However, it’s also possible that he has other associations for him, as there Castire and some cut content for ESO Summerset both make mention of “Mother Sea” as an entity they refer to. That implies that they see the sea as a point of origin, although Mother Sea may not be the chief of their particular pantheon, because we already have one example (the Nords) where the point of origin is not the chief deity. I would also imagine there’s some overlap between Mother Sea and Hermeaus Mora, as he’s the god of the tides, or at least the “tides of fate”. The Khajiit explicitly link him to the tides, and in The Worldly Spirits Amun-dro claims that he has a library under the sea that Azurah visits.Maybe, and this is entirely me speculating here based on the loosest possible connections, but maybe Azura is Mother Sea in some fashion? It’s a total shot in the dark, but an interesting idea, I think.
The other possible candidate for Mother Sea is some variant on Kynareth, as she’s associated with storms and weather and the like, which is a big part of how things work at sea. However, she’s one of the most mannish of gods, and there’s no merish equivalent for her, as far as I can tell. It would be a bit weird for the Maormer to take up worship of a mannish deity like Kyne; although she’s the closest to a “mother sea” deity that I can tell, I don’t think there’s a definite connection there.
The Maormer have developed a variety of different forms of magic in their culture, which seem somewhat different from the way that magic has developed on Tamriel, which we’ve talked about before. The Maormer do seem to have some similar things in their battle magic, so to speak, but their unique magic is much more environmental, and potentially corporate in focus.
There are multiple stories of the Maormer using magic to control the weather, including one that I think is first hand; the book War Weather doesn’t have a named author, but the author does refer to the Maormer as “we”, and the author gives recommendations to Orgnum about its use, so I think it’s safe to assume that the author is a Maormer. The rough description that the book gives of their capabilities is this:
Minor spells to conjure gusts of wind or forks of lightning are common, but manipulation of a region’s climate is much more difficult to achieve. Our war wizards have longed for the ability to lower catastrophic hailstorms onto enemy borders as a preamble to invasion, or to halt a blizzard to make an unexpected march through inclement weather.
This, and other passages in the book, indicate that the Maormer grasp on weather magic perhaps isn’t as total as they would like. From the Maormer Correspondence that we see surrounding their invasion of Tempest Island during the Interregnum, it seems they need they still need the support of sympathetic weather in order to pull off their best weather magic. However, it seems that the Maormer don’t manage to develop their weather magic to its fullest potential, at least by the Third Era, where multiple sources hint that the Psijics were behind a storm that sunk a Maormer fleet during the War of the Isle in 3E 110.
Magic involving snakes is also a thing for the Maormer, with the First Edition Pocket Guide noting, “They also practice a powerful form of snake magic. With this, they have tamed the sea serpents of their island for use as steeds and warbeasts.” Their taming of sea serpents is mentioned elsewhere, but not explicitly as magic very often. There is an item in ESO, the “snake-charmer’s pungi”, which is implied to be used like traditional snake-charming, so an instrument. There is probably some sort of magic involved, as snakes can’t actually respond to music, being deaf and all.
It’s also a little difficult to tell where magical snake stuff ends and mundane snake motifs and cultural associations begin. Vonaraame, an Altmer scholar and historian considers that Maormer serpent totems are likely to be just iconography in a note we have from him, but the tone is implied to be condescending, and therefore there could be some magical element to them, but it’s not clear what; from the reference we don’t know whether it’s referring to anything specifically maritime, as part of Maormer decor, or something else altogether.
The snake magic of the Maormer also extends to their breeding. Or interbreeding, I should say. As we noted earlier, the book The Scaled Elves makes the claim that Maormer leviathans are crossbred Maormer and sea serpent, which would need some form of sorcery in order to make that breeding possible.
However, much of that it seems to be supplemented by forms of more mundane training, at least according to A Sailor’s Guide to Sea Elves. That book notes that “Maormer breed and train a variety of marine predators to bolster their ranks”, and doesn’t mention any magical means to keep them under control. However, I also want to bring to mind the Fang of the Sea Vipers that we quoted earlier, which implies a single set of rituals that control all sea serpents. I do find that a little unlikely to be the actual truth, though.
Maormer and Tamriel
Part of the problem with all this is that we’re mostly reliant on Tamrielic perspectives for our image of the Maormer, and the Sea Elves have been very antagonistic towards the continent as a whole; for their entire history, the Maormer have existed as raiders and invaders of Tamriel, and that doesn’t really lend itself to neutral commentary and attempts at honest understanding. There may have been a brief period of some detente between the Maormer and the Altmer, with the first edition Pocket Guide noting that the Aldmeri Dominion joined with Maormer in an alliance against Tiber Septim. However, it’s likely that the Imperial Geographic Society simply lumped all “merish” folk together into a “they’re against the Empire” bloc, and didn’t bother to untangle whether they were actually allied or not.
Even where we see the Maormer in a not entirely aggressive mode, in Khenarthi’s Roost in The Elder Scrolls: Online, they’re essentially functioning as an occupying power, wanting to extract wealth more than anything else. However, both this and encroachments into Valenwood that the first edition Pocket Guide implies that there are Maormer that were willing to take and hold territory along the Valenwood coastline. That, taken together with the possibly distinct goals of the Maormer navy-clans (is that a thing? It is in my head now!) means that Tamriel has primarily only seen raiders, but there are likely to be Maormer rulers of Tamrielic holdings, if they get given the chance. Now I think on it, that’s not unlike the way the Vikings operated across Europe. However, unlike the Vikings, we don’t seem to have a majority of peaceful settlers that are being upstaged by a warlike minority; the war party seem to be leading the way in the case of the Maormer. They’re a little like the Redguard in that respect. I wonder if that means we’ll see a Maormer equivalent of the Na-Totambu at any point in the games?