How did the Tribunal become gods, and what is the Ghostfence?

The Tribunal as gods

The Orthodox Account

So it’s probably simplest to start off with how the Tribunal became gods. If you believe the stories of the Tribunal Temple they became gods after the Battle at Red Mountain, although quite how isn’t explained. To quote the book Fellowship of the Temple:

“achieved divine substance through superhuman discipline and virtue and supernatural wisdom and insight.”

That’s about all we get. Like the official account of Talos becoming a god, which I covered some time ago in a cast on mantling, we get a lot more ink spilled on the process for the unofficial accounts than we do for the orthodox ones. The faithful think it just happens as a reward for effort. We do get a little bit more colour in the book Progress of Truth, but not much:

Temple doctrine claims [the Tribunal’s] apotheosis was miraculously achieved through questing, virtue, knowledge, testing, and battling with Evil; Temple doctrine claims their divine powers and immortality are ultimately conferred as a communal judgement [sic] by the Dunmer ancestors [including, among others, the Good Daedra, the prophet Veloth, and Saint Nerevar].

(for those of you wondering about Nerevar being an Ancestor noted here, the book Saint Nerevar claims that he blessed the Tribunal’s rule and divinity before he died from his wounds at the Battle of Red Mountain)

Stepping into the Anticipations’ shoes

Place as exalted ancestors, how that interacts with previous ancestor worship (supplanting of previous ancestor worship)

In doing this, the Tribunal take on the religious role of those that came before them – the Chimer were ancestor worshippers, and the Tribunal become the embodiment of those ancestors, protectors of the Dunmer where the fickle Daedra could not do it. And they were gifted the divinity to do it because they were such nice people.

But of course there’s more to it than that.

The Heretical Account

The account preserved by the Ashlanders and various corners of the Temple hierarchy note that there is another possibility. This is the events that Vivec eventually owns up to during the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, summed up nicely in the introduction to Progress of Truth:

Dissident Priests ask whether Dagoth Ur’s powers and the Tribunal powers might ultimately derive from the same source — Red Mountain. Sources in the Apographa suggest that the Tribunal relied on profanely enchanted tools to achieve godhead, and that those unholy devices were the ones originally created by the ungodly Dwemer sorceror Kagrenac to create the False Construct Numidium.

This is the ultimate truth of it, that the Tribunal used Kagrenac’s Tools to tap into the power within Lorkhan’s Heart, hidden inside Red Mountain. Exactly when this happens isn’t clear. Both Vivec’s own account of the Battle of Red Mountain and the Ashlander legend recounted in Nerevar at Red Mountain note some level of study was required before the Tribunal could fully use the Tools. By this account, the Tribunal are not gods in their own right, but basically recycling Lorkhan’s divinity for their own ends. It was for that reason that they couldn’t do much about Dagoth UR on their own, without destroying it. This is speculated by the authors of Progress of Truth, but pretty much confirmed in Vivec’s account, which says this:

As the darkness grew, we fought it, and crafted walls to confine it, but we never could destroy it, for the source of the darkness was the same source as the source of our own divine inspiration.

This is worth putting a pin in for later – the Ghostgate was made to confine the blight and Dagoth Ur, but was ultimately going to forestall things at best, because the Tribunal needed the same thing that was powering Dagoth Ur as the source of their own divinity.

Or, at least, that’s the theory. There have been a few other possible sources for the Tribunal’s power, and I’ll go through those now.

Vivec and CHIM

The one you’ll see most talk about is Vivec’s CHIM. I’ve spoken about CHIM some time ago, so I won’t go into too many details here that aren’t directly relevant to Vivec’s godhood as such. Suffice it to say that CHIM has variously been claimed to be world-shaking superpowers, or a form of enlightenment, knowledge about the ultimate nature of the Aurbis, or realising that you’re in a video game. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the possible interpretations there.

We learn mostly about CHIM in the 36 Lessons, where Vivec apparently either learns it, or at least learns of it, from Molag Bal in Sermon Twelve where Bal says the word. It’s mostly assumed that this is where Vivec attains CHIM, as Vivec gains knowledge by hir submission to Bal in the sequence of events that is the Pomegranate Banquet in Sermons Twelve to Fourteen, and Sermon Thirteen is basically a CHIM instruction manual in various ways. If not then, then it’s earlier on in the Lessons, Sermon Four, where Vivec drinks an “old bone of the earth” and in so doing “[becomes] a ruling king of the world”. I personally  think that earlier reference is an acknowledgement that Vivec gets hir divinity from the Heart of Lorkhan, as the Heart gets referred to as the “heart bone” in various places, so with that I’m inclined to think that Vivec is at least acknowledging one part of hir divinity over and above CHIM.

I will also note that from what we know of CHIM, mostly from Mankar Camoran’s description in the Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes, that if CHIM can “reshape the land”, Vivec doesn’t seem to have used it all that much; there’s not been much in the way of land reshaping that went on in Vivec’s history; it’s possible that CHIM is what allowed hir to keep Lie Rock paused but ready to hurtle into Vivec City, but we don’t know for sure. Vivec at least ties that a little directly to the idea of the love of the people for the Tribunal, which we’ll get to in a bit.

I’d also like to introduce a possibility that Vivec may not have CHIM at all. We’ve said there’s not much evidence that ze used the powers CHIM granted, and I have to credit /u/HappyB3 with flagging the possibility that Vivec didn’t have CHIM at all. There’s this line from Sermon 37:

And the red moment became a great howling unchecked, for the Provisional House was in ruin. And Vivec became as glass, a lamp, for the dragon’s mane had broke, and the red moon bade him come.

“The sign of royalty is not this,” a signal blueshift (female) told him, “There is no right lesson learned alone.”

I’ve seen this be an explanation for why Vivec didn’t achieve Amaranth, particularly as the Amaranth is achieved through the marriage of Vivec and Jubal in C0DA. The “right lesson” in this interpretation is Amaranth, but the signal blueshift also mentions the “sign of royalty”, which isn’t a term for Amaranth. However, the sign of royalty is CHIM. I’m aware this goes against a lot of the orthodoxy for understandings of Vivec, but I think that Vivec not having CHIM is a reasonable interpretation of that line. While the 37th sermon does deal with alternative timelines, that doesn’t begin until after the passage we’ve quoted. So if the signal blueshift is right, then Vivec doesn’t have CHIM, which is one possible explanation for why ze didn’t use it to get rid of Dagoth Ur. However, ze did retain some powers even after the Heart was freed. It can be argued that this was due to the game limitations of The Elder Scrolls: III, but there is another possibility.

The Faith of the People

That is that the faith of the people, which may have played some supernatural role in sustaining the Tribunal’s powers. Vivec has has this piece of dialogue in The Elder Scrolls III:

“Why did I suppress the Apographa? Because it was such an unfortunate mixture of truth, falsehood, and speculation that I couldn’t afford to manage the confused reaction of our faithful. Any doubt whatsoever weakened their faith, and we needed their faith to give us the power to maintain the Ghostfence. In retrospect, perhaps we lost the faith of those we most needed while preserving the faith of the meek and indifferent. Perhaps a mistake was made. Who can say?”

and after the freeing of the Heart of Lorkhan, ze says this:

We have lost our divine powers, but not altogether. Some token of the people’s faith remains, and we shall dedicate it to rebuilding the Temple.

These both indicate that the belief of the people contributes towards the Tribunal’s power. This sort of thing is also hinted at in a Daggerfall-era book, An Overview of Gods and Worship. That suggests this as a theory for how the gods and worship interact:

It has been theorized that gods do in fact gain strength from such things as worship through praise, sacrifice and deed. It may even be theorized that the number of worshippers a given Deity has may reflect on His overall position among the other Gods. This my own conjecture, garnered from the apparent ability of the larger temples to attain blessings and assistance from their God with greater ease than smaller religious institutions.

Vivec’s words do seem to follow this paradigm, but we don’t have much indication that this sort of thing actually influences the gods in Aetherius.

Exactly how that worked I’m not totally sure, because “belief” is never really quantified in The Elder Scrolls. In the case of the Aedra it could be close to the real-world notion of religious belief, in that it can be “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” because the Aedra aren’t as active on Mundus as they could be. The Daedra are a bit too in-your-face for it to be entirely right, and their lack of connection to Mundus means that they are less likely to be directly affected by goings on in Mundus.

 I also think that the effect of prayer and worship could be close to something like an Alteration spell, in a way. I’ll explain after a quick quote from Reality and Other Falsehoods, to set the stage:

Our reality is a perception of greater forces impressed upon us for their amusement. Some say that these forces are the gods, others that they are something beyond the gods. For the wizard, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the appeal couched in a manner that cannot be denied. It must be insistent without being insulting.

To cast Alteration spells is to convince a greater power that it will be easier to change reality as requested than to leave it alone.

If alteration spells are convincing those “greater forces” that the world should be a particular way, potentially prayers are a similar thing. The forces of the universe, which the book vaguely implies could be the earthbones, just hear that the Tribunal is great for so long from so many people, that they just make it so. This is possibly how the Prolix Tower works, now I think about it. I’ll have to address that in a future cast, though.

The Path to Worship

Convincing the greater forces is one thing, but I also wanted to make a quick note of how the Tribunal managed to convince the Dunmer to worship them in the more mundane sense. I’ve covered this in a previous episode, but want to go over the specifics of what the Tribunal did a bit more here, so I’ll skim some aspects and dig into others a bit more.

We know that the Chimer’s pre-Tribunal worship consisted of “fundamentalist ancestor worship”, according to Progress of Truth. This essentially meant worship and reverence directed towards those of their clan who achieved great things. They also worshipped the “good Daedra”, which were the main objects of worship by the House mer at the time the Tribunal came to power. These were treated as the ancestors of the Chimer, in some places at least; The Anticipations directly calls Boethiah an ancestor, and the Redguard Forum Madness re-translates “Daedra” as “our stronger, better ancestors”. So the notion of “ancestor” is somewhat fluid, being someone who takes ideologically after a person, rather than a literal blood relation. We see this with Malacath and the orcs, where his “followers” become very much linked to him when he undergoes his transformation. Instead of revering those that you’re descended from, the Chimer seemed to engage in a form of exemplar worship.

That made it very easy for the Tribunal to step into the role of divine overseers, where “might makes right”, essentially. The Anticipations say that:

“By the Apotheosis, the Tribunal (Blessed Be Their Holy Names) became the Protectors and High Ancestor Spirits of the Dunmer, and bade the Daedra to give proper veneration and obedience.

It is their role as protectors that was the foundation of the Tribunal’s position, which the Daedra apparently forfeited because they lacked the interest to protect the Chimer/Dunmer people. The text begins with this as a core principle, with one of the lines being:

In old times, the Chimer worshiped the Daedra as gods. But they did not deserve this veneration, for the Daedra harm their worshippers as often as help them.

There is a very fine line to be drawn here, which gives the Tribunal two claims to be the god-kings of Morrowind. Note that The Anticipations doesn’t actually say how the Tribunal achieved godhood, but kind of brushes over it with the term “apotheosis”, which is just the process of mortals becoming gods in general; it’s a term used to describe what happened to deified Roman emperors in this world, for example. Progress of Truth gives a relatively narrow account of what godhood is, and why the Tribunal don’t qualify:

Temple doctrine claims their apotheosis was miraculously achieved through questing, virtue, knowledge, testing, and battling with Evil; Temple doctrine claims their divine powers and immortality are ultimately conferred as a communal judgement by the Dunmer ancestors [including, among others, the Good Daedra, the prophet Veloth, and Saint Nerevar]. Dissident Priests ask whether Dagoth Ur’s powers and the Tribunal powers might ultimately derive from the same source — Red Mountain. Sources in the Apographa suggest that the Tribunal relied on profanely enchanted tools to achieve godhead, and that those unholy devices were the ones originally created by the ungodly Dwemer sorceror Kagrenac to create the False Construct Numidium.

and then goes on to say this:

While challenging the divinity of the Tribunal, the Dissidents do not challenge the sainthood or heroism of the Tribunal. In fact, the Dissident Priests advocate restoring many of the elements of Fundamentalist Ancestor Worship as practiced by the Ashlanders and by Saint Veloth.

So there’s a mixture of things here – that there’s an idea of godhood that involves a change in substance in some way, while sainthood is more to do with deeds, and an anticipation (heh) that the Tribunal would actually be saints. It seems that, by the time of the Dissident Priests, the notion of godhood within the Tribunal Temple has shifted – it’s not just the doing of good deeds that guarantees veneration (what the Tribunal were originally claiming), but that over time godhood becomes a difference in substance. This shifts from ideological alignment to a physical change. I’m not really sure what’s driving this, but it may be a form of “niche protection”. The Temple has many saints that it reveres, but they are not gods. Nerevar was the first of these, if the stories are to be believed, and as these saints expanded as the Tribunal wanted to emphasise the forms of conduct they wanted others to follow, the gap between saints and gods needed to become bigger.I think it’s that need that put the emphasis on the Tribunal as being a different kind of being as compared to other figures within the Temple pantheon.

That isn’t to say that they stopped being protectors, however, and nowhere is that as obvious as with the Great Ghostfence.

The Great Ghostfence

The Great Ghostfence was erected as a means to contain Dagoth Ur and the Blight. It is a development of an older practices, which the book Ancestors and the Dunmer put like this:

It is a family’s most solemn duty to make sure their ancestor’s remains are interred properly in a City of the Dead such as Necrom. Here the spirits draw comfort from one another against the chill of the mortal world. However, as a sign of great honor and sacrifice, an ancestor may grant that part of his remains be retained to serve as part of a ghost fence protecting the clan’s shrine and family precincts. Such an arrangement is often part of the family member’s will, that a knucklebone shall be saved out of his remains and incorporated with solemn magic and ceremony into a clan ghost fence. In more exceptional cases, an entire skeleton or even a preserved corpse may be bound into a ghost fence.

While the book in general is describing Dunmeri practices around the time of the Armistice, a more modern book goes on to say this:

The Ghostfence has forced many changes in the practice of ancestor worship. With the vast majority of ancestors’ remains going to strengthen the Great Ghostfence around the mountain of Dagoth Ur, there are very few clan ghost fences in Morrowind. The Temple discourages such practices among the Houses as selfish.

This shift happens because of the need to defend against Dagoth Ur. Dagoth Ur presented both a theological and military threat to Morrowind, which only emerged after the advent of the Tribunal. Dagoth Ur was both a convenient devil figure upon which the Tribunal could cast all of the woes of the people, and an existential menace that needed containment.

Exactly when it was built isn’t entirely clear, at least to me. A Short History of Morrowind implies it was there in 3E 414. Ancestors and the Dunmer mentions it, and the book was written shortly after the Armistice was signed, in the late Second Era. However, we also have some Ashlander dialogue that says it was constructed ten years before the events of The Elder Scrolls III, which would be 3E 417. The preponderance of evidence says it’s much older, but the inconsistency still nags at me. If you want a more in-depth look at Ghostfence dating, check out /u/brunoTheOne’s thorough treatment of it.

Possibly because Dagoth Ur and the Tribunal drew from the same source, the Tribunal could not entirely contain the Blight that grew within Red Mountain, and so another source of power for the Great Ghostfence was necessary. Both the Plan to Defeat Dagoth Ur and Vivec’s dialogue suggest that this was the faith of the people. In order these are:

However, we failed because we were required to stage an assault and simultaneously maintain the Ghostfence to prevent the threatened large-scale breakout of Dagoth Ur’s blighted hosts. With the Nerevarine leading the assault, and the Tribunal free to devote their full energies to maintaining the Ghostfence, this plan has a greater chance of success.

and

“Why did I suppress the Apographa? Because it was such an unfortunate mixture of truth, falsehood, and speculation that I couldn’t afford to manage the confused reaction of our faithful. Any doubt whatsoever weakened their faith, and we needed their faith to give us the power to maintain the Ghostfence. In retrospect, perhaps we lost the faith of those we most needed while preserving the faith of the meek and indifferent. Perhaps a mistake was made. Who can say?”

While these sources are both likely to be quite pro-Temple, and therefore will give the people more an important role in order to keep them involved in giving devotion to the Tribunal, this does imply that faith is doing interesting things in interacting with the Tribunal, in more direct ways than we see in any other deified figure in The Elder Scrolls. This is closer to the American Gods/Discworld idea that worship gives gods power. 

Which is just as well that the faith of the people wasn’t needed much after the advent of the Nerevarine. With Dagoth Ur gone, both the Tribunal and the Great Ghostfence go into the history books. While the fence itself carries on in the game once you’ve finished it, I’m not sure what happens in the lore in that regard. I don’t imagine they took the time to dismantle it, what with everything else that was going on with the Red Year, but we don’t hear either way. Possibly the fence stands as the relic of a bygone era, and a threat overcome. That feels like it would fit with Dunmer culture.

That’s all I have to say on the Tribunal and the Ghostfence. Next time, we’ll be discussing the Skaal. Until then, this podcast remains a letter written in uncertainty.

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