Before we begin, the usual disclaimer: I’d like to remind everyone that this is my own understanding of the Aurbis, and not necessarily the whole truth of the matter, although I’ll do my best to bring in other viewpoints as well. You may have other ideas. If so, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below, or join the conversation on the Written in Uncertainty Discord server. I’ll also be linking all the sources I quote in this podcast in this post, so please go there and go through them yourself, rather than taking what I say as the correct answer.
So what is the Aurbis? It’s basically the name we have for the Elder Scrolls universe. The Aurbis is the term that covers all of it. Nirn, Mundus, Oblivion, Atherius are all places within the Aurbis. However, it is a little bit more complicated than that in what it’s made up of.
“’Aurbis’ is used to connote the imperceptible Penumbra, the Gray Center between the IS/IS NOT of Anu and Padomay. It contains the multitude realms of Aetherius and Oblivion, as well as other, less structured forms.”
From this we can then see that the Aurbis is the interplay of Anu and Padomay. It is the space that is called the Grey Maybe. The place where everything is uncertain, where we have possibility. It’s not even really clear about what certain areas of it are, and where they are. The most obvious example of this is the conflation, in several texts, of Mundus and Nirn. Some people say Lorkhan created Mundus, some people say he created Nirn. The two are often used synonymously. Is Mundus Nirn? Is Nirn Mundus? Maybe. Although part of me thinks that the Moons are part of Mundus, but not of Nirn. But that feels like it’s my head’s way of solving this, rather than a definite thing.
The (unlicensed) Loveletter from the Fifth Era puts it a bit more clearly, in my opinion:
All creation is subgradient. First was Void, which became split by AE. Anu and Padomay came next and with their first brush came the Aurbis.
Void to Aurbis: naught to pattern.
In this telling, the Aurbis is the first expression of an even more primal pattern. Which also implies that, given the way that the et’ada and other beings that keep on subgradiating, are echoing the same pattern throughout the whole space.
This also gives a picture of interlocking and concentric patterns within patterns. This means that the Aurbis is the expression of the same pattern, all potentially happening in the same place. The text Vehk’s Teaching puts this as infinities enclosing infinities:
“Anu and Padhome, stasis and change, both vast realms sitting in the void, they created it. Not vast, infinite, as the void was infinite. Imagine an infinity enclosed by another; you come away with a bubble. Now watch as the two bubbles touch. Their intersection is a perfect circle of pattern and possibility that we shall call the Aurbis. The Aurbis is the foundation of the Wheel.”
It’s also worth noting here that the images being used may not be the actual “realities” as such. In the same way that the mortal mind interprets Oblivion as the night sky, circles are potentially only a way for the mind to interpret and relate to what is in fact the multiple interlocking infinities of the Aurbis.
The Aurbis and Perception
This also means that perception also has a potential to change what the Aurbis is and how it is seen. This is put explicitly in Sermon 21 of the 36 Lessons of Vivec, where Vivec says this:
‘They are the lent bones of the Aedra, the Eight gift-limbs to SITHISIT, the wet earth of the new star our home. Outside them is the Aurbis, and not within. Like most things inexplicable, it is a circle. Circles are confused serpents, striking and striking and never given leave to bite.
This claims that the Aurbis impose a change on the Aurbis, which produces the most popular model of the Aurbis, that of the wheel. We’ll get to that in a bit, but I want to explore some other implications of what the importance of perception could mean for a bit.
The way that the “interior” of the Aurbis, the Mundus, could be, is potentially saying that the primal reality of things is not as perceived. This is most obvious in the way that Reality and Other Falsehoods puts how Alteration magic works; the mage expresses a perspective, which then changes how the Mundus works. There are other, deeper hints at it, as well. The book Stepping Through the Shadows describes how each object makes a “depth-impression” upon Mundus through its existence. This functions almost like how objects warp space-time, to borrow from Einsteinian relativity.
The Aurbis as Place and No Place
As a result of this, objects only really function relative to where other things are; the perspective of entities and impact of objects upon local reality creates its own context. It does not need an absolute reality. If the Aurbis is concentric infinities, then what defines each thing within it is not so much the thing-in-itself (which is everything), but where it is in relation to other things. Which ultimately means that none of these little infinities has any independent existence, despite being infinite.
It’s this paradox which is potentially one of the fundamental portions of the Aurbis and some of the forms of apotheosis that are possible within The Elder Scrolls, most notably CHIM. Everything exists in relation to everything else, and being able to step outside of that thing, outside of that place, by virtue of realising/seeing the patterns, brings a new understanding and control of the Aurbis itself.
The Aurbis as Wheel and Tower
However’ this isn’t how you’ll hear the secrets of the Aurbis discussed by fans. The circular image the image that has taken hold the most is the one mentioned in Vehk’s Teaching earlier, that of a a wheel. The “eight gift-limbs” are the Aedra, which form the spokes of the wheel. The gaps in between are the Daedric princes, in this model. However, that does seem to imply that there can only be 16 Daedric Princes at a time. Some will dispute this, after the rise and freeing of Jyggalag in The Elder Scrolls IV, while others seem to put forward the idea of 16 “primary” princes or some similar language, with others not taking up such a prominent position.
However, I don’t really agree with this; the text On Oblivion seems unsure as to whether Hircine, one of the more usual 16 princes, is difficult to locate and may not even be a Prince. This suggests that the 16 is possibly an arbitrary number, there is no real need for that many, or that there are maybe more things holding together Mundus than we know about currently. The number of Daedric Princes was certainly intentional from a game design perspective at one point, but whether that perfect 16 fits with our current understanding of Oblivion is another matter.
The “Gift-Limbs” of the Aedra function as the things holding Mundus together. As I’ve mentioned in the cast on Dragon Breaks, are brushed aside during that un-time in the metaphor of the Hurling Disc (a disc being a wheel without spokes). If this is taken literally, this is more than just time breaking, it’s a loosing of all possibility, where (to fully extend the metaphor) the difference between Aedra and Daedra, Mundus and Oblivion, would entirely dissolve. The Dawn Era happens again. This gets referred to as “a moment of pure Aurbis” by Vivec in hir Trial. This further links dragon breaks to the “natural” state of the Aurbis, where everything is pure possibility.
If everything is merged together during a dragon break, in the Aurbis’ natural state, that has interesting implications for its true nature. Think back to the quote from Sermon 21, that outside the Gift-Limbs, beyond the laws of physics, is the Aurbis, and not within. However, both those texts are Vivec’s perspective, which isn’t entirely followed elsewhere, so I’d take it with a bit of caution.
To close off this section on wheels and the like, I’d just like to reiterate that the Wheel structure also affirms the idea of the Tower, that a wheel turned on its side is a Tower, which is the letter “I”. Thinking back to how the patterns of the original Anu-Padomay interaction which created the Aurbis echo down through the creational gradients, the Aurbis is, in a sense, the individual, as they express the same conflicts. The realisation of that “I”, that Tower that is both the self and the universe, is key to the state of CHIM.
The Argument of the Grey Maybe
The Aurbis is also called the Grey Maybe, the point where the IS of Anu and the IS NOT of Padomay intersect to produce possibility, that MAYBE. The two elements interact to create possibility, which is what we have in the raw, pure Aurbis. Outside of Mundus and the rules imposed by the Aedra, there is only possibility. Or, at least, that may have been the case at one point; there are a few texts that suggest progression within the raw Aurbis, that the MAYBE is a state that is steadily resolving into something. Maybe not IS or IS NOT, but something beyond MAYBE.
This means that one way of conceptualising the Aurbis is as an argument, and thanks to Rotten Deadite and the Selectives for pointing this out ages ago. That the conflict between IS and IS NOT drives the Aurbis forward towards a resolution, in the same way that thesis and antithesis produce synthesis in the process of their interaction. Or, perhaps more appropriately in the philosopher Hegel’s model, the Abstract and the Negative interact to produce the Concrete, the reality that is the Maybe. This brings out an aspect that often gets overlooked in the simple IS/IS NOT dichotomy; the idea of the Everything, the IS as often a static thing. Looking at both the Redguard creation myth and the tale in the Children of the Root, the Anu-aspect fills everything, and has to have some nothing in it, some negative, in order to be anything at all. This is perhaps at its starkest in Vehk’s Teaching:
These views included the suggestion that Anu’s son, the Time Dragon, was formed in reaction to Padhome’s influence. In effect, Anu had finally done something.
On this account, the IS of Anu is an abstract, isn’t actuality, and requires the “corrupting inexpressible action” (from The Monomyth) in order to be anything real. This is very close to an example of Hegel’s dialectic, that Being and Nothing are united in Becoming.
Exactly what The Aurbis is becoming isn’t clear at all. The best answer we have (if it’s an answer at all) is the events of C0DA. This ends in an argument, a debate between Jubal and the Numidium. There is a point in that narrative where the Numdium’s NO becomes MAYBE, another shift of Being and Nothing towards something else. This requires another start, which is also why we have “NO MORE WHEEL” pronounced by the Digitals, described as “UNION”. Union which creates the Flower Baby at the end of C0DA. It’s a product of Jubal and the Numidium’s interaction as much as Jubal and Vivec’s. And so a new world becomes, a new set of Being starts.
However, from the perspective of this Aurbis, the place where the question is being asked, the flower baby, the end result of the MAYBE, is an answer, and if it becomes the start of a new dialectic, it becomes a new question, which will begin a whole new set of interactions. But those will not be comprehensible to those who came before, because they won’t understand its progress, as the question is not a question to them.
Aurbis as a Song
Or maybe it’s just in a different key. I also want to talk about the Aurbis as a song, which comes from this quote from Michael Kirkbride, made in an IRC chat:
Tamriel. Starry Heart. That whole fucking thing is a song. It was made either out of 12 planets, or from two brothers that split in the womb. Either way, it’s the primal wail and those that grew up on it – they can’t help but hear it, and add to it, or try to control it, or run from it. The reason there IS music on Tamriel at ALL is because it exists. It was and is and it will not stop.
While Tamriel is used as the start of this, it sounds incredibly like the Aurbis as a whole.
The best expression of how this all works is myrrlyn’s Aurbis: The Musical piece of apocrypha. Go read it, it’s wonderful. This fits the Aedra and Daedra into a scale of notes, although the Daedra as accidentals does rather break musical terminology as we understand it.
That text, and a few others, compare the Towers to tuning forks, ways of adjusting the fundamental tune of the Aurbis to a particular pitch. This also riffs off (heh) the idea of the Towers as expressing the same “I” that is the shape of the Aurbis, imitating it to a point that if you change one thing you change the other. In this case, when you use the Towers and adjust them, you adjust the underling “tune” that is the Aurbis. This is especially apparent in the way that the Nu-Mantia Intercept talks about the White-Gold Tower:
Though the Ayleids gave theirs a central Spire as the imago of Ada-mantia, the whole of the polydox resembled the Wheel, with eight lesser towers forming a ring around their primus. To dismiss this mythitecture as being a mockery of the Aurbis is to ignore an important point: this same “jest” gave White-Gold Tower a power over creatia unalike any on this plane(t). It was a triumph of sympathetic megafetish, and the Start of the [Threat! To! Empire!] that brings me to this Council.
If the Ayleids made their own Wheel within the Wheel, were-web aad semblio, what would happen if they plucked its strings?
This is possibly the best example of the Towers being used to manipulate Mundus, and relies on music being the underlying mythitecture of Mundus in order for it to work. However, it’s not alone in using music to do so. We also have several forms of more powerful magic being compared to songs and music, or at least sound, that change the way the Aurbis works. Think tonal architecture, sword-singing, and the thu’um. At its broadest definition of sound, this could also include the tales of the Bosmeri Spinners, who rely on oral tradition.
This is a little tricky to match up with the other models here; there’s no special privilege given to music or its structure in the Wheel model, or the way in which the patterns of the Tower and the ongoing IS/IS NOT dichotomy get repeated. I can’t help but feel this is something like relativity and quantum physics; both have been shown to work on some level, but why both work at once makes little sense. Unless we are to assume a symphonic structure Mrrlyn’s symphony as the structure overall, with certain actions taken with the Towers and addressing the dichotomy directly as having some special resonance with the Aurbis. This is effectively a similar thing to how certain notes played on an instrument have particularly good harmonics.
That’s all I have for you this week on the structure of the Aurbis. Thank you for taking the time to listen/read, and please consider subscribing on your favourite podcatcher. I finally got into Spotify after a while persuading their system that I really do exist, honest.
In the meantime, please check out my YouTube channel, under the name Aramithius. I’ve started to produce videos of close readings of certain Elder Scrolls texts, talking about their underlying meanings and how they fit with the series’ concepts in general. I hope t do these on a weekly basis, but we’ll see how that goes. The videos a little basic at the moment, but I hope to introduce a few more bells and whistles as I go along. In the meantime, please forgive my terrible video presence and poor editing skills; I hope the discussion makes up for it.
Next time on this podcast, I’ll be continuing with our trip through the more distant aspects of The Elder Scrolls lore, and looking at those objects in the sky that look very far away, but aren’t really objects at all. Next time I’ll be asking, what are the Magna Ge?
Until then, this podcast remains a letter written in uncertainty.
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