What Happened to the Dwemer?

Before we begin, I’d like to remind everyone this is my own understanding of what happened, and not necessarily the whole truth of the matter, particularly when we get into discussing the more speculative side of the Dwemer. You may have other ideas on that; if so I’d love to hear them. Please post your thoughts in the comments below, or join the conversation at the Written in Uncertainty Discord server.

Yagrum Bagarn, the last living Dwemer

Finding out what happened to the Dwemer is actually a quest that is set in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Your character gets tasked with finding out why the Dwemer, or Dwarves, disappeared. The game’s main quest involves meeting Yagrum Bagarn, the last living Dwemer, and so we have lots of stuff to go on.

Understanding what happened to the Dwemer is on one level quite basic. They disappeared in 1E 700, during the Battle of Red Mountain, in the middle of the Falmer rebellion known the War of the Crag. This happened when Kagrenac struck the Heart of Lorkhan with the tools he’d created.  But that still leaves a lot of questions, like what they were doing with the Heart, what their overall outlook was, and whether they succeeded at what they were trying to do in light of that.

The Dwemer Perspective

In thinking about the Dwemer and what they were doing, it’s worth remembering that the Dwemer are still mer, and so still so probably have a merish perspective about Mundus. Remember that the difference between man and the Elder Scrolls is primarily ideological. The physiological differences come after the splits of the Ehlnofey, and MK remarked that “wars back then [in the Dawn Era] were ideologies given skin in his Reddit AMA.

So what defines a mer? Mer are, for the most part the cultures that see Mundus as a bad place, as a as a prison. Even the ones that see it as a good place, most obviously the Chimer/Dunmer, don’t see it as something nice and cushy and wonderful. Most other mer want to go back; the Altmer want to go back and be the Aedra that they were before, and re-attain their old divinity. The Dunmer want to push onward and go beyond Mundus in various ways, mentioned in the Loveletter from the Fifth Era:

You in the Fourth Era have already witnessed many of the attempts at reaching the final subgradient of all AE, that state that exists beyond mortal death. The Numidium. The Endeavor. The Prolix Tower. CHIM. The Enantiomorph. The Scarab that Transforms into the New Man.

The Dwemer continue in this idea, in a different way. They want to go beyond Mundus by denying reality altogether. Several of their texts talk about escape in a few places. The Hanging Gardens of Western Coridale has this:

why they did not use solid sound to teach escape from the Earth Bones

We also have as part of the translation that we’ve been given for Calcelmo’s Stone, when they’re talking to the Falmer about why they’re wanting to take them in and blind them:

Know only our mercy and the radiance of our affection, which unbinds your bones to the earth before, and sets your final path to the music of your new eternity.

So the Dwemer do want to escape Mundus. They do carry on the Merish viewpoint, but they do so in the sense that they don’t want to go back, they think it’s all rubbish. The general perspective is that it their position is one of denial, similar to nihilism, although I personally disagree with that particular characterisation. Nihilism denies meaning, not existence, and the Dwemer go behind giving life no meaning, saying there is no life at all.

Baladas Demnevanni, a Telvanni mage who studied the Dwemer in some detail.

We also have Baladas Demnevanni talking about how the Dwemer deny the world entirely:

In their denial of both phenomena and noumena, the Dwemer found comfort in the creation of Animunculi, which in their operation, combined two incompatible principles, thus denying both.

The Dwemer think about the escape from the earth bones, from physics, and thereby from Nirn. We’ve then got the denial of phenomena and noumena. Michael Kirkbride has elaborated on this a bit in a forum post:

Dwarves knew that phenomena (that which can be perceived by the senses) and noumena (that which is the thing-itself) were both illusions, with the second one just being more clever.

So you’ve got the phenomena, which the stuff that we take in, and the noumena, which is the thing in itself, but the Dwemer think that both don’t exist. So what do the Dwemer think is going on, given that they think reality is an illusion. Is the illusion a thing, or is that the illusion nothing?

To use a real-world parallel, we have the work of Bishop George Berkeley, who posits that the only things that exist in the world are minds and ideas within minds, and there were various other wrinkles of that involving things like an objective reality because everything is happening within the mind of God, who acts as the guarantor of the real, whereas Mundus doesn’t necessarily have that. So what’s left of that you’re looking at false things, you’re looking at things that have no basis and that’s the point that the Dwemer are coming from.

Another quote from Kirkbride to illustrate their perspective is:

In Tamriel, and specifically the Dwarves, that aspect is what I can only call Heroic Abrogation of Everything, a complete and utter refusal to accept what everyone else experiences as the real

(emphasis in original)

That’s getting as close to the position of solipsism, of thinking that you are the only thing that is real in the world. But you think about the way that the Dwemer denying everything they think everything is unreal and false, which goes beyond even that, and may even deny their own reality.

Is, then, the categorisation of how the Dwemer think about the world a totally arbitrary mix? Another quote from MK that I’ve heard used a lot is that “the Dwemer are atheists in a world where gods exist” This can possibly give us a bit more insight. I don’t think that means that they’re necessarily denying the gods wholesale (or, at least, any more than the rest of reality), just that the divisions between mortals and gods weren’t relevant. From Demnevanni again:

it was unfashionable among the Dwemer to view their spirits as synthetic constructs, three, four or forty creational gradients below the divine.

And you look at some of the texts for Dwemer that we have. I’m thinking particularly of Azura and the Box here, that’s trying to even the playing field between mortals and gods, that the Et’ada aren’t different from mortals that they’re both the same lot of stuff, which can either lead us back to the Berkeleyesque “everything is in minds” scenario, which may also imply the godhead (but that’s for another episode).

Or if it’s not Berkeley then at least Spinoza, who considered that existence was all one substance, all one kind of stuff making up everything. The differences that you were observing between different objects were simply different, fashionings, different shapes of that one substance out of which everything was then made. To quote his Ethics:

III. By substance, I mean that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself: in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception.

IV. By attribute, I mean that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance.

V. By mode, I mean the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.

VI. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite-that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.

This then asks the question do these modes have their own existence, or do they not? If everything is made out of the same stuff is something else? Are they really different from each other? Spinoza held that, in this world they did not, as their existence was dependent on something else, namely God. For Mundus, however, things are a bit muddier.

With some tweaks, you can see the Dwemer holding this sort of perspective, a monist perspective, that everything is the same stuff and therefore the gods are not worthy of worship. It also implies that if everything (particularly the Dwemer themselves) is all the same stuff it can be put all that stuff back together to make it  into not what it was beforehand, but into something new, into something different, into some other creation, which is what the Numidium was intended to be, to my mind. And if we just take things literally, for a second here, Numidium, sounds a bit like something new, new, what new thing new… medium, maybe? Just a thought.

So the Dwemer are focused on things that exist independently of reality. There are hints that this is driven by principles. By principles I mean things like mathematical axioms. Going back to Calcelmo’s stone, we have this quote:

And so it was that your people were given passage to our steam gardens, and the protections of our power. (literally “protection of our mathematics”)

Another interesting addition to this is that Dumac swears by the “fifteen-and-one golden tones” in Nerevar at Red Mountain. This references music, which is inherently mathematical, as well as being presumably linked to the idea of Dwemeri Tonal Architecture, where the underlying tones of the world can be manipulated as needed to fit their own purpose, and then looking to move beyond the world of stuff to the world of principle. To quote Demnevanni again, “They retreated behind math, behind color, behind the active principle itself.” So they’re wanting to move beyond all of that, in what they’re doing to Lorkhan’s heart.

That’s a rough guide to the philosophy of the Dwemer, or at least a Kagrenacian portion of the Dwemer. We had the Rourken clan who disagreed with what Kagrenac was doing and left for Hammerfell before the Battle for Red Mountain so it’s very possible that we don’t have an absolute Dwemer philosophy here, just have a Kagrenacian outlook on their views. So much of what we know about the Dwemer is focused on the disappearance and everything that led up to that.

And just to add another angle to all this and we talked about the Dwemer’s attitude to the gods and how they didn’t really like them. I think another way that people have thought about it is that they don’t like the gods in the sense that Richard Dawkins doesn’t like gods but we don’t really have that as a prime motivation for what they do with the heart of Lorkhan. From Skeleton Man’s Interview with the Denizens of Tamriel, released before The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, we have this:

Do not think as others do that Kagrenac created the Anumidum for petty motivations, such as a refutation of the gods. Kagrenac was devoted to his people, and the Dwarves, despite what you may have read, were a pious lot-he would not have sacrificed so many of their golden souls to create Anumidum’s metal body if it were all in the name of grand theater.

(emphasis mine)

So this wasn’t just some great thought experiment. There wasn’t a middle finger to the gods in what the Dwemer were trying to do. They were trying to achieve something else.

We know that the Dwemer (at least, Kagrenac’s Dwemer) were trying to transcend in various other ways as well. In my opinion, if we go back to Calcelmo’s stone, it tells us that they very deliberately made the Falmer blind, and that last line, “which unbinds your bones to the earth before, and sets your final path to the music of your new eternity.”

It’s interesting that when it talks about your bones to the earth before, it’s not the bones of the earth in general, it’s a sense of what has been and then what will be afterwards as something different.

I think what we have here is another attempt to transcend. It’s a different kind of transcendence, not the same sort of thing as the Numidium, but it’s transcendence nonetheless. I find it particularly noteworthy that the Falmer are blinded as part of this process; there’s a fundamental pattern within the Elder Scrolls universe called the enantiomorph, which I will be discussing it in a lot more detail in the next episode. What you need to know for now, if you’ve not heard of the term before is that the person who observes the enantiomorph, that decides what happens during it, is quite often maimed or blinded, during the process.

So were the Dwemer trying to use the Falmer as some sort of engine for transcendence somehow by forcing and an enantiomorph or making an enantiomorph of their own? I’m not sure. Also, if we look at the Amaranth, the process of the creation of a new universe within The Elder Scrolls, that involves sensory deprivation, it involves being cut off from absolutely everything. The Falmer were blinded, and they were chucked at the bottom of some very deep holes. Is that a form of sensory deprivation or some kind of experiment intended to induce it? I don’t really know, but the parallels strike me as being a bit too much to be a coincidence here. What the Dwemer were trying to do with the Falmer, particularly given that they’re talking about a “new eternity”, feels very like they were experimenting with some sort of other transcendence beyond the Numidium, potentially trying to induce some sort of Amaranth state within the Falmer. That last part is perhaps going out on a limb a bit, but I think it’s at least a possibility.

The Dwemer’s Disappearance

How Did They Disappear?

This is the easier question to answer for the whole thing because we have records of what was going on at the time, although they are many and various and contradictory. We have the Dwemer finding the Heart of Lorkhan beneath Red Mountain and Kagrenac building the tools to manipulate the heart, because of course, the first thing you do when you find the heart of the Demiurge is to poke it with a stick. We have the the tools being used on the heart and then causing every Dwemer on Tamriel, even those who left for Hammerfell, to disappear.

We don’t know exactly who struck the Heart at this point. We’ve got a claim from Vivec, in hir account of the Battle of Red Mountain where ze says:

With Dumac fallen, and threatened by Dagoth Ur and others, Kagrenac turned his tools upon the Heart, and Nerevar said he saw Kagrenac and all his Dwemer companions at once disappear from the world. In that instant, Dwemer everywhere disappeared without a trace.

So we have Vivec saying that Nerevar told hir something, so we’ve got a third hand account that says Kagrenac struck the Heart. Then we have Nerevar at Red Mountain, which is the account from Ashlander tales chronicled by Dunmer Dissident Priests, which says that:

[Dagoth] went to his dying lord Nerevar and asked him what to do with these tools. And Nerevar summoned Azura again, and she showed them how to use the tools to separate the power of the Heart from the Dwemer people.

And on the fields, the Tribunal and their armies watched as the Dwemer turned into dust all around them as their stolen immortality was taken away.

This account has Azura instructing Nerevar (in the middle of a siege!) on how to play around with these fantastically complicated metaphysical tools and do something complicated to get rid of the Dwemer. I personally think it’s more likely that Kagrena use the tools, and used them very quickly in a panic. His people are dying around him, his king has just fallen and so he’s just desperate to complete his work. Whereas if you think about what happens if Nerevar used the tools it’s a bit too much of a pill for me to swallow that he would have known exactly how to use the tools to get rid of the Dwemer even if he has Azura on his shoulder telling him what to do.

If we look at Beladas Demnevanni again he talks about how “Kagrenac’s tools and the sacred tones were used on Lorkhan’s Heart”, so we’re talking about the tools being used to create music and if you’ve played The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind you know, that’s more or less what your main character does at the end. You strike the heart with Sunder and a particular note is expressed which is then sliced up by Keening and you can manipulate the heart that way. That’s in essence, what tonal architecture is;  it’s using various methods to manipulate the music that is reality.

Demnevanni links this quite distinctly to the notion of reversing the process of subgradience, of trying to reconstruct what the Dwemer were before and build the way back up, taking all of these moral Dwemer souls, smashing them all together and trying to get a god out of the process, or at least part of the back the way up the subgradience “tree”.

It’s kind of questionable that the Dwemer could ever succeed at what they’re doing, if that’s what they were trying to do. The reason I think it will be difficult for the Dwemer to make their way back up is because of what sub gradients he is, in real life, it’s the process of extracting something from a previously corporate whole. For example, if you take the sound of a room full of people and then try and split out individual voices, you are subgradiating the sound; you’re pulling out constituent pieces from that audio. However, you can’t reconstruct the original sound with the instructions that you’ve subgradiated; you need more information than you have and can’t take the single voice and then reconstruct the jumble of voices in precisely the same way. You need other sets of instructions, which is why I think the Dwemer would have severe difficulty in doing that with just the souls of they have currently, or even all Dwemer souls ever, because you need that additional bit to move back up.

And that’s also potentially why we see them using other bits with the Numidium, like the Heart of Lorkhan and bits and pieces of fabricated material, they needed more than just the souls to put together to make this new god because they knew that they couldn’t recreate the original from the parts that they currently had, or they didn’t know that and that’s partly why they failed. If they were trying to, as Demnevanni says, “use systematic regression techniques to perform the reverse that is to create the sacred from the deaths of the profane”, I don’t think that they could really manage it if that’s exactly what they were trying to do. So that’s potentially why we have the notion of the Numidium here it’s not that the Dwemer were trying to go back to what was before an escape Mundus but they’re trying to escape Mundus, like all  mer do, by doing something different by moving forward like the Chimer/Dunmer, but in a different way to the Dunmer/Chimer.

Where Did They Go?

I think we’ve now got a pretty good idea of what the Dwemer were trying to do; they were trying to use Lorkhan’s heart and the tones it creates to enhance their own tonal architecture and thereby re-create themselves as a new god, as the Numidium.  The question then is did they succeed? Where did they go?

There’s some speculation that says they disappeared into Oblivion, or we’re creating their own pocket realm within Oblivion, something like that. We also Fallion, a mage in Skyrim in the Fourth Era,  claim he’s seen Dwemer. I think it’s quite unlikely that they are in Oblivion, for two reasons. We have Yagrum Bagarn, the last living Dwemer, survive the disappearance due to being in an “Outer Realm”. We don’t exactly know what an Outer Realm is, no other character in The Elder Scrolls talks about the various planes of existence in quite those terms. But we do know that reaching Atherius cost a vast amount of magicka and so I find it quite unlikely that the Dwemer would expend that much magicka just to put someone in some vague expedition somewhere and in a single person expedition and not and then forget about it. So the most likely plane that he would have gone to is Oblivion and I could imagine that he’d be reasonably likely to be able to find Dwemer in Oblivion after the event; we have some admittedly sketchy accounts that talk about the Dwemer having an ability called “the Calling” which is a kind of telepathy which allowed the diameter communicate with each other over vast distances. I would be very surprised if he didn’t get and get back to Mundus, think, “oh ,where is everyone?”, use the Calling and try and find out.

We also have both Yagrum and Vivec say that they’ve seen no indication of the do anywhere else. Yagrum’s own words are that Divayth Fyr “has never heard a credible rumor of another Dwemer on Tamriel or in any outer realm”, while Vivec  claims that, “[ze has] no idea what happened to me, I have no sense of them in the timeless divine world outside mortal time.” So we’ve got those two accounts, and then we’ve got Fallion, who is frankly quite the showman claiming that he’s seen that one, I personally think he is lying through his teeth on this one.

The Dwemer book Egg of Time and its picture of reasons not to use the Heart. It’ll burn them all.

So I don’t think the Dwemer were transported anywhere, the most likely thing that happened is that they just vanished, or transmuted is probably a better way of thinking about it. There’s also the idea that the Dwemer in fact, burned to death from the use of the Heart. I think this may be partly correct. At the very least, this comes from a picture that we see in a book Egg of Time, which was described as a popular argument against the use of Lorkhan’s heart in Kagrenac’s time.

We also have a passage from Nerevar at Red Mountain which notes that:

On the fields, the Tribunal and their armies watched as the Dwemer turned into dust all around them as their stolen immortality was taken away.

So we have pictures of the Dwemer dissolving into nothing and we also have the ruins of Bamz-Amschend, a relatively undisturbed Dwemer ruin that we visit in the Tribunal expansion, which does have little piles of dust dotted around the place where Dwemer would have been. Most other ruins, which have generally been broken into and had tomb robbers, and archaeological expeditions, and all sorts in them, have no traces of these sorts remains. But we do, however, have Baladas Demnevanni explicitly noting that “the dwemer left no corpses or trace of conflict behind”, which suggests that they just vanished. However, he’s the only one that explicitly says they just disappeared. So the evidence does lean towards them just turning into ash whether that was intentional is another question altogether. so it’s an indication that Kagrenac may have potentially messed up entirely in what he was trying to do. Yagram Bagarn says that “the disappearance of [his] race suggests otherwise” when asked about whether Kagrenac succeeded or failed. And if we take it that the Dwemer being bound to the Numidium to make it make a new god was the intended result, it feels like we should expect the Numidium to have powered up and crushed everything once there was activated. That clearly didn’t happen; the Numidium didn’t activate and everyone was victorious in the various corners of fighting against the Dwemer at the time.

My thought is that Kagrenac probably screwed up somewhere and the Dwemer wound up being bound to the Numidium like Arniel becomes bound for the Last Dragonborn in a College of Winterhold quest in The Elder Scrolls V, which wasn’t exactly the kind of immortality or transcendence that they were hoping for. And if you think about that particular instance, Arniel’s shade being summonable by the Last Dragonborn suggests that if that’s what happened (bearing in mind it’s quite different circumstances), there could be someone to come along and “activate” them afterwards. That’s potentially a reason why Yagrum Bagarn was sent away; it’s a little odd that he would be intended to be away during one of the most monumental events in his race’s history, so maybe he was intended to be away, so that he could come along afterwards, perform some sort of activation on the spirits bound to the Numidium, and then the Dwemer will succeed (whatever that may mean). Instead, he caught Corprus disease, and lost much of his memory. Sotha Sil’s Last Words, which is based on some posts that were made on the Bethesda official forums after the events of The Elder Scrolls III, potentially by developers, gives us some tantalising things:

Yagrum, on the other hand, seems to have regained much in the past. He still shows signs of corprus, but his memory seems to slowly be coming back from time to time. He spends quite a bit of time on his own now and wishes to remain alone. I am sure that glimpses of his past, coming freshly back to him, give him much to ponder over. I feel for my old friend. I only wish there was more I could do. A temper seems to rattle him every now and then and I have instructed my sister-wives to leave him be. In time, he will come to and understand what fate holds for him.

And interesting thing…. Yagrum confronted me after my arrival from the council, and wished to know if I still had the Tools in my possession. Upon hearing that the Hortator had taken leave and carried the items off with him, Yagrum seemed quite upset.

So it is potentially the case that Yagrum was remembering what he’d forgotten before that he had some role to play after the event of the Dwemer’s disappearance, and then was distressed that he couldn’t fulfill it. This kind of makes sense if you take Arniel’s Endeavour to be a template for what the Dwemer’s plan was. However, that’s by no means certain.

We also have the words of Xan from the Skeleton Man’s Interview, which says this:

The Brass God is Anumidum, the Prime Gestalt. He is also called the divine skin. He was meant to be used many times by our kind to transcend the Gray Maybe.

This makes me think that something needs to be activated, you need to have a pilot to steer it in that sort of case. So maybe Yagrum had a much bigger role than potentially we understand here.

Unless, and here’s me putting my tinfoil hat on here, unless the Numidium was used as intended, and was used for transcendence multiple times, just not by the Dwemer.

At the end of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, the Numidium is given to all possible factions that could use it. This then results in the creation of Mannimarco, the worm god, and the reunification of the Underking with his heart, which creates Talos through the unification of all the various constituent bits of that oversoul, which we will talk about in another episode. Please come back for that. So we have these two gods being created by the Numidium in the Warp in the West. And then if you believe that the story that we see in C0DA is true, then the Numidium also potentially helps in an altogether different type of ascension, because defeating the Numidium was integral to the creation of new Amaranth by Vivec and Jubal. So maybe the Numidium was used several times over to help mortals ascend, just not Dwemer.

Thanks for taking the time time read or listen to this podcast. If you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe to this podcast on your favourite podcast catcher, and join the discussion on the Written in Uncertainty Discord.

Join us next time for a discussion on a mythic pattern that the Dwemer were potentially trying to exploit in their treatment of the Falmer. Next time, we ask, what is an enantiomorph?

Until then, this podcast remains a letter written in uncertainty.

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