Before we begin, I’d like to remind everyone that this is my own understanding of the idea, 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. I’ll also be linking the sources that I quote in this video’s description and listing them at the end, so please go through and read the sources rather than just taking what I say at face value.
I’d also note that the Selectives Lorecast have an awesome discussion of the enantiomorph, so feel free to give that a listen, too.
An Outline of the Enantiomorph
In the real world, an enantiomorph is a pair of mirror opposites, or chiral opposites. It’s a term most often used in geology and chemistry to describe rock or molecule formations. The key is that the things are the same, but different. Like right and left hands, but I don’t think that they’re technically an enantiomorph, although that is the kind of opposite an enantiomorph is.
In TES, the term itself only really comes up in texts as a word used to describe Zurin Arctus and Talos as a whole in Skeleton Man’s Interview with Denizens of Tamriel, and as a name for Sermon 2 of the 36 Lessons of Vivec.
We also have this comment from Michael Kirkbride, I believe at some point during the Amaranth Hunt in 2012-2013 on the Bethsoft Forums, although I’m not totally sure. The comment is this:
As far as the Anuad:
Nirn (Female/Land/Freedom catalyst for birth-death of enantiomorph)/ Anu-Padomay (enantiomorph with requisite betrayal)/ ?* (Witnessing Shield-thane who goes blind or is maimed and thus solidifies the wave-form; blind/maimed = = final decision)
Here, Anu and Padomay are identified as the Enantiomorph, a conflict which is resolved. We start to get the elements of the enantiomorph from this, but there are other elements present. We have the Witness, who “solidifies the wave-form”, resolving the conflict.
The lore community tends to discuss it in terms of Rebel, King and Observer or Witness, although not all of these are necessarily present, and there may be other elements depending on who you ask. One that is very present in the quote is the catalyst, which is, so far as I can tell, the thing that starts the conflict between the Rebel and the King. Some place quite a bit of stock in the catalyst, I don’t personally, because it’s can’t always be identified.
In addition to the usage of Rebel, King and Observer, we can also link them to the archetypes of thief, warrior and mage that are prevalent in many fantasy genres . However, for clarity’s sake I’ll be talking in Rebel-King-Observer terms for this cast.
The basic structure is that the Rebel defeats the King, aided by the Observer, who chooses a victor. For many enantiomorphs, the rebel and the king are difficult to tell apart. The Observer in effect chooses the victor in the conflict between Rebel and King, giving one the status of victorious Rebel, and the other the defeated King.
Vivec sums this up really well in Sermon 11 of the 36 Lessons. In it, we have a lot of talk about Ruling Kings, most particularly this quote:
The ruling king that sees in another his equivalent rules nothing.
“The secret of weapons is this: they are the mercy seat.
“The secret of language is this: it is immobile.
“The ruling king is armored head to toe in brilliant flame. He is redeemed by each act he undertakes. His death is only a diagram back to the waking world. He sleeps the second way. The Sharmat is his double, and therefore you wonder if you rule nothing.
“Hortator and Sharmat, one and one, eleven, an inelegant number. Which of the ones is the more important? Could you ever tell if they switched places? I can and that is why you will need me.
The start and end of this section are the important bits. We have the Hortator, the Nerevarine who is the player character in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and the Sharmat, Dagoth Ur, being the Rebel and the King respectively. Vivec is casting hirself as the Observer, the one who chooses between them.
To sum up what’s gone before, in case I rambled a bit, the enantiomorph has:
- A rebel and a king, who form the the central conflict of the enantiomorph
- An observer, who chooses which is which, and is often maimed as a result of the conflict
- We may also have a catalyst, which starts the reaction.
Another key point here is that the Rebel and the King are hard to tell apart, that they could be either, until the Observer makes their final decision.
The Enantiomorph in The Elder Scrolls games
Now we have that framework, we can look at the various times these appear in The Elder Scrolls games. I’m only going to go with those that I definitely think are enantiomorphs in the fullest sense of the word, because if you make it really basic, it can be applied to almost anything and then it becomes a little meaningless.
The first example is Anu and Padomay. We have the two brothers fighting over Nir, who chooses Anu, and Anu then defeats Padomay, and Nir is later killed by Padomay. In the first enantiomorph, I place Padomay as the King, Anu as the Rebel, and Nir as the witness who gets maimed. However, there are other versions which cast Anu as the Witness to the Rebel Padomay defeating Nir as the King. I’m not sure about this, as the Rebel and King are supposed to be indistinguishable, and Nir is very different from Padomay.
At the creation of Mundus, we have Auri-El being tricked by Lorkhan, who was aided by Magnus in his design to make Mundus. Magnus later leaves as he starts to lose his power. Here, Auri-El is the king, Lorkhan is the Rebel and Magnus is the Observer.
At Convention, where the gods decide Lorkhan’s fate, or the Ehlnofey Wars that are its aftermath, Lorkhan is defeated by Akatosh who then becomes king of the gods in most pantheons, and his heart is ripped out by Trinimac. Here Lorkhan is the king, Akatosh the rebel and Trinimac the observer.
To pick some examples from the games, the main quest of TES3 is the most obvious, with Dagoth Ur as King, the Nerevarine as Rebel and Vivec literally telling us ze fills the role of the observer in Sermon 11. Vivec then goes on to lose hir godhood and either die or disappear.
In the main quest of TES4, The Champion of Cyrodiil helps Martin the Rebel to defeat Mehrunes Dagon the king. They then go on to become Sheogorath through a process called mantling, which I’ll discuss in another video. And note that, when we meet Sheogorath in TES5, his eyes are white. Like he’s been blinded, perhaps…?
I don’t think that the Skyrim main quest qualifies as an enantiomorph, because there doesn’t seem to be an observer in the fullest sense of the word. The closest we have to a solid candidate for this is Paarthurnax, who decides to help the LDB defeat Alduin. However, I think that’s a little closer to the simple granting of a boon in the sense of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
That said, I do think that the enantiomorph can be a hero’s journey of sorts. The role of the observer is the key here. The Hero’s Journey, in some formulations, has the hero being defeated by the villain in the first instance, which could be the King establishing their dominance, in enantiomorph terms. We also have an outside agent granting of a boon to the hero, helping them overcome their trial or enemy. In deciding to help the Hero, this agent, the “supernatural aid” sounds very like the Observer, deciding to help the hero, or rebel, defeat the king, thus completing the enantiomorph framework.
The Enantiomorph as a Tool to Achieve Godhood
So much for the enantiomorph as an archetype, but does it have any other significance in TES? I think so, as where we do see it referenced explicitly it’s done as part of either a discussion of Anu and Padomay, as we saw earlier, or in reference to Talos. We find this in Skeleton Man’s Interview. We have this line of text, while they’re talking about the Numudium:
he second to see the Brass God was the Enantiomorph. You may know them individually as Zurin Arctus and Talos. The Oversoul was known to the world as Tiber Septim
This passage treats Zurin and Talos as a merged dichotomy which is in itself Tiber Septim.
The Arcturian Heresy also brings Wulfharth into the story too, which gives us lots of possible interactions between the three. The most usual arrangement people talk about is seen here, with Hjalti and Wulfharth as Ysmir, Hjalti and Zurin as Tiber, Wulfharth and Zurin as the Underking, and all combined as Talos.
I’m not totally convinced here. It looks nice and neat, but the Heresy says this:
After he captures the Imperial Throne, Septim finds the initial administration of a fully united Cyrodiil a time-consuming task. He sends the Underking to deal with Imperial expansion into Skyrim and High Rock. Ysmir, mindful that it might seem as if Tiber Septim is in two places at once, works behind the scenes.
So we clearly have Ysmir associated with Tiber as well as Talos, so the truth isn’t quite as neat as we might like. It may have been intended as such, however.
The reason I’ve pulled this particular example out is because, as the enantiomorph is key to the way that the three ascended. The Arcturian Heresy gives an account of how Wulfharth and possibly Zurin is betrayed by Hjalti Early-Beard. It’s described in these words:
The Underking arrives and is ambushed by Imperial guards. As he takes them on, Zurin Arctus uses a soulgem on him. With his last breath, the Underking’s Heart roars a hole through the Battlemage’s chest. In the end, everyone is dead, the Underking has reverted back to ash, and Tiber Septim strolls in to take the soulgem. When the Elder Council arrives, he tells them about the second attempt on his life, this time by his trusted battle mage, Zurin Arctus, who was attempting a coup. He has the dead guards celebrated as heroes, even the one who was blasted to ash… He warns Cyrodiil about the dangers within, but says he has a solution to the dangers without. The Mantella.
This betrayal sounds very like the Convention at the Adamantine Tower, where Lorkhan’s heart was ripped out. This was the use of the enantiomorph as a way to achieve godhood, through a process that the Elder Scrolls lore community have termed mantling, which I’ll probably be discussing in a future podcast. For the purposes of this discussion, the key thing is that Tiber Septim used the basic structure of the enantiomorph as part of a route to godhood, and it’s arguable that he was only able to do this because the enantiomorph is such a prevalent pattern within the Elder Scrolls. Or maybe it’s something to do with the stacking of multiple enantiomorphs together.
This also happens in the Tribunal’s apotheosis at the Battle of Red Mountain, which also has several enantiomorphs in it. The murder of Nerevar is one, with the Tribunal as the thief, Nerevar as the king and Nerevar’s shield-thane Alandro Sul as the witness, who is actually blinded in this case. The defeat of the Dwemer is potentially another one, with Voryn Dagoth as the observer who helps the Rebel who defeats the King Dumac, and gets corrupted by the Heart. The key thing here is that there are lots of enantiomorphs going on. The Reddit user BlackCrossoverAsp has written a fantastic piece about how there are multiple enantiomorphs happening in a very similar way to the three enantiomorphs of Talos; you’ve got several individuals that are interacting in various ways and betray eachother, killing each other and resolving various conflicts, which is potentially another reason why the Battle of Red Mountain was such an important event in terms of the mythic history of Tamriel. This pattern repeating over and over, replicating the core pattern of the universe, potentially allows it to be manipulated in the same way that knowing someone’s true name allows the one who knows it to control that thing in lots of fantasy literature.
We also have a very definite three-becoming-one happening at the end of the 36 Lessons, so that may also have something to do with it – Sotha Sil, Vivec and Almalexia being elements of ALMSIVI, while Hjalti, Zurin and Wulfharth are all elements of Talos. But we don’t know for sure here. I would however note that this is only potentially a form of apotheosis, not a confirmed method that we know everything about.
The enantiomorph also gets mentioned in the Loveletter from the Fifth Era as a potential way to “[reach] the final subgradient of all AE” but we don’t know exactly how or why; if we’re going by the same forms of reference as in Skeleton Man’s Interview, the Enantiomorph could simply be a reference to Tiber Septim himself trying to transcend Mundus, which feels a little at odds with what we know about his character.
The enantiomorph as a transcendent mythical thing links with several sets of threes that we see in real world religion and folklore, you’ve got the three-in-one of the Holy Trinity of Christianity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit where the three become one in a way quite similar to ALMSIVI. You’ve got the three Murti in Hinduism, the trinity of creation, maintenance and destruction as three different deities; you’ve got Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva, the destroyer. You’ve also got, in various European folklore patterns, the maiden, mother and crone as different aspects of life and the feminine archetype.
The thing that differentiates these from the Enantiomorph, however, is that it’s not a conflict as such, it’s a logical progression or relationship. You can see this to an extent maybe in the Elder Scrolls with the time god, if you look at Auri-El, Akatosh, and Alduin being the beginning, middle and end of time, but that’s not really in an antimorph. But the enantiomorph as a pattern plays in with these existing trinities quite well, so I wanted to bring it up.
That said, we still don’t know everything that we could about the Enantiomorph; an awful lot of what’s been put together is only implied in the games, not outright stated. I can only find the two references to the term within the whole series explicitly. Everything else is conjecture and being put together post hoc. So there’s quite a bit of the Enantiomorph that we don’t understand, and thanks to the nature of the comments we have explaining it explicitly, it could evolve into something quite different as the series goes on.
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Join us next time to discuss one of the weirdest states of being in the Elder Scrolls, which some of the biggest examples of enantiomorph manipulation have at least been aware of, if not actually having it. Next time we ask, what is CHIM, and how does it work?
Until then, this podcast remains a letter written in uncertainty.
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