What are Kalpas in The Elder Scrolls?

Before we begin, the usual disclaimer: 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. Please leave a comment below, and join the conversation on the Written in Uncertainty Discord server. Also, please check all the sources linked throughout this article, rather than just taking what I say at face value.

What are Kalpas?

Kalpas are the cycles Mundus goes through, from the point where it is created to the point where it is destroyed, which has happened more than once, if what we led to believe about them is true. They take their real world inspiration from the dharmic religions (Hinduism and Buddhism), which both have the concept of kalpas in them. The word kalpa itself means aeon in Sanskrit, which is just a period of time, and both religions think of kalpas a little differently.

Buddhism has many in various different types of kalpa, which function of a base unit of the ayu-kalpa which is based on the average lifespan of a human being, which fluctuates according to the level of righteousness of the general population, and the others are all based on multiples of that the antya-kalpa is based on how long it takes an ayu-kalpa to expand from 10 years and then contract back to 10 years again. After the antya-kalpa, we have the asankya-kalpa, which is 20 antya-kalpas, and there are various others after that that are multiples of asankya-kalapas and so on and so forth.

The scales of kalpas according to one kind of Hinduism.

In Hinduism a kalpa is equal to a day and night of Brahman, and it further divided into various other sub sections. You have to arthyur which are the primary unit, and you’ve also got the idea within Hinduism that kalpa is a cycle, kind of like the aging process inn that you have the beginning, the middle or sustaining, and the end, or the destruction. Precisely what the length of these particular cycles are various depending on who you ask, I’ve seen different numbers for how long each is supposed to be. I think it depends on quite what tradition of Hinduism is involved. If anyone knows any different to me, please let me know and I’ll be happy to be corrected.

Within the context of The Elder Scrolls, we don’t actually know if there’s a duration for the kalpa. But we do have the sense that some things have happened before, and there are certain events that have to happen for a kalpa to fully play out which I’ll get to a bit later but first of all their place within the Elder Scrolls universe.

Where do we hear about them?

Kalpas were introduced into the games explicitly in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, in the Knights of the Nine expansion with The Song of Pelinal claiming that Umaril’s father was ” a god of the [previous kalpa’s] World-River”. it was implied before this in the 36 Lessons of Vivec, Semon 28:

When the dreughs ruled the world, the Daedroth Prince Molag Bal had been their chief. He took a different shape then, spiny and armored and made for the sea.

Again we’ve got connections to water here. Keep that in mind for later.

Our final text that establishing kalpas within the franchise, a text from volume four of the Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes, but this could potentially be rubbish, it depends on how much stock you place on Mankar Camoran. The the quote is:

the Mundex Terrene was once ruled over solely by the tyrant dreugh-kings, each to their own dominion, and borderwars fought between their slave oceans. They were akin to the time-totems of old, yet evil, and full of mockery and profane powers. No one that lived did so outside of the sufferance of the dreughs.

These last two mentioned the dreugh as a different cycle of the world, but don’t use the term kalpa itself. So are they actually kalpas? I definitely think so. Because there’s no account of the history of Tamriel anywhere that brings up a time when the Dreugh ruled the world in this way. So either both of these sources are talking rubbish, or they’re talking about a different cycle of the world, a different timeline, maybe at the absolute outside. But this is talking about a version of Mundus that is very different from the current Mundus that we know.

If we take what The Annotated Anuad says about this cycle of Mundus then this Mundus didn’t have oceans to begin with; it had “interspersed seas” but the majority of the water that came with it only happened after the Ehlnofey Wars. We get some more hints that are a little more obtuse, but, in my opinion, a bit more interesting, about kalpas, what they are and how they work in the various creation myths of Tamrielic cultures, primarily the Redguard part of the Monomyth and the text Shor, son of Shor.

The Redguard creation myth talks about there being various skins of Satakal the World Serpent and that the spirits of the world jumped from skin to skin as each one was shed by Satakal. Later, there was a place of waiting between skins, and the way that the myth later presents the current version of Mundus as being created, it’s very clear that the skins of circle or worlds so movement from skin to skin is moving between cycles of the world. As shedding skins is a regular thing for snakes, this establishes the idea of kalpas as a fairly basic concept of how Redguards understand how the world should work. There’s a little oddity about this particular world this particular kalpa, but we’ll get to that a little later, when we get to the exceptions.

In Shor, son of Shor, we have what appears to be a cyclic battle going on, if you look at the start of the text, it begins “and the awful fighting ended again”, which implies that this fighting has happened, it stops and then at the end of the text we have “and the awful fighting began again.” We have some hints from the text itself that this is cyclical. We have this quote in particular:

 He told his father that these words had been said before and Shor only sighed and said, “Yes, and always they will be ignored. As for the counsel you crave, bold son, and in spite of all your other fathers here with me, that you create every time you spit out your doom, do not worry. You have again beat the drum of war, and perhaps this time you will win.”

That’s particular quote has some interesting wrinkles that will get to a bit later, but in both of these texts they seem to imply sequential kalpas, that is kalpas that happened one after the other and the space in between kalpas where these spirits carry on existing, and potentially could also do different things each kalpa. The quotes about Molag Bal being the chief of the Dreugh is telling here; he’s not anything to do with any races on Tamriel in this particular kalpa; he’s a Daedric prince and thereby disconnected from creation. So that implies that you could have Et’ada with different roles happening between kalpas.

However, that almost doesn’t make sense to me, if we think about how time works in The Elder Scrolls. It feels like there’s some sort of supra-time going on, if time only begins when Akatosh forms, time begins, and everything is finalised when Lorkhan gets his heart ripped out. If this is so, then before the formation of Akatosh, you’re in essence functioning in a permanent dragon break. As we talked about last time, this means that everything happens at once, everything is acausal. You don’t really have sequential events because you don’t have cause and effect anymore, but all these texts seem to imply sequential kalpas, that the events between kalpas take into account the stuff that’s happened before in either the previous kalpas or the time between calipers, which is very odd.

We do however, have a quotes that kind of cements this from Michael Kirkbride, he explicitly said in a forum post that:

“The Dawn Era was the End of the Previous Kalpa. The new Kalpa begins with the first day of the Merethic Era.”

However, I keep on coming back to the notion of the Dawn Era is a time without time, particularly as the the Marukhati Selectives dragon break is called the Middle Dawn. So is that particular narrative confusion is not really resolved this point, but I’m resigned to the fact that calipers have to be sequential. But, as stated that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me.

Are kalpas Parabolas?

I’m going to talk about the things that result from that sequential nature of kalpas in a little while. But I first of all wanted to flag a potential consequence of that last quote, that if you think about the Dawn Era, and the Merethic Era being the point of overlap between kalpas. The Imperial Library has an absolutely fascinating thread that was posted up some time ago by Lady Nerevar that presents a model of kalpas as parabolas. She proposed that ever since the Convention, the amounts of magic in Tamriel has been decreasing, and then it reaches a low point with the Oblivion Crisis. And with Oblivion, Daedra erupting back onto Tamriel and and starting to potentially merge all those various bits of the Aurbis back together, then magic starts to gradually get reintroduced.

You can sort of see this in how history’s been within Tamriel; if you look at the First Era you had marvels like people trying to reach Atherius, and doing various things with the Dreamsleeve. You had the Battlespire, which was an Imperial pocket realm of Oblivion, which is gone as of the fourth era, and you then have the return of the dragons, these much more mythical creatures coming back and doing an awful lot of things to shake up the stability that lack of magic brings to Tamriel.

I really like this model of the general progression of a kalpa because it gives an underlying system, and potentially a reason to what causes the kalpa to turn; you’ve got some events that will happen and then reintroduce magic start to break down the barriers between Mundus, Oblivion and Atherius, and starts everything steadily merging back together into the chaos, that is the Dawn, and then at some point Lorkhan will propose building Mundus, again some of the spirits will want to go along with it, and Mundus gets built again. This,  along with some of the bits from Shor, son of Shor and the Seven Fights of the Aldudagga implies that you get some events that will happen every single kalpa. Remember that Shor, son of Shor said “every time you spit out your doom”, and if we take that as a fairly obvious reference to Lorkhan’s heart being torn out as Shor is Lorkhan, and spitting something out as an integral part of each Mundus, then it’s clearly something that’s happened more than once.

How do things change between kalpas?

So you can start thinking about well what things underpin how the kalpas work, what the general narrative of kalpas is, and how does that change? What sort of shifts are we seeing in how the world is framed? We have this idea of particular events happening at particular points, most obviously in the second of the Seven Fights of the Aldudagga we have this quote from the end of that passage:

And Dagon woke up with a hideous headache to look down on Sarthaal and look! It was not destroyed at all! There were its mighty sights, its halls, its fountain of voices, and the tusk-house of Jarl the Tongue! And arrayed before it was the Host of Hoary Ysgrim all lined up for war!

“Oh crap!” Dagon said, shaking his hurt, hurt head, “I have come too early, for the destruction of Sarthaal has not occured, for I see the army of King Ysgrim waiting for the elves that I am sending. What could I be thinking, to come before the veils are pierced? Even the laws of trickery would not help me if I did that!”

So in this particular passage, we have a very definite idea that destruction or certain parts of Mundus should only take place at a certain time, and so there’s that idea of Sarthaal being a keystone to the general playing out of the timeline of Mundus; when Sarthaal is or is not destroyed is an important point in the way the timeline generally unfolds.

If this is true, this has very interesting implications for kalpic hangovers…

We’ve obviously got the Dreugh being the masters of the previous kalpa, so you’ve got the difference between water and dry land or earth maybe in this particular kalpa; it took something particularly spectacular to make oceans in this kalpa, namely the Ehlnofey War. And one really interesting little possible hint at how this works is the way that The Elder Scrolls Online presents what water is in some ways. Herald Kixathi  says:

“no point in hiding it now. When a mortal dies, where do you think their memories go? Don’t bother guessing, I’ll tell you they go into the water. They become water. All of the memories of Tamriel’s history are stored in its waters.”

So water is memory in this particular way of thinking as much as you possibly don’t need to trust a cultist entirely. That’s potentially interesting is why water would be memory. If water is memory, is it a reflection of a previous kalpa, maybe? We’ve also got the phrase and the book “Waters of Oblivion”. Oblivion as a place of stuff that’s ever-changing, not necessarily nothingness, forever changing substance at places where nothing is constant, where the rules are constantly changing is it’s very natural to associate it with water if you have turbulent seas and that sort of thing. But going deeper than that, is Oblivion potentially a reflection of what the surface was beforehand? Is it somehow containing memories of the previous kalpa? It’s not really a question I have an answer to, but it’s an interesting thing to me to think about if you’re thinking about what the symbolism of water as memory is, and if the previous kalpa is also something to do with water, then the links that you can make between those two, and what water means in Mundus’ current kalpa are really interesting. I also think that it’s therefore not or any sort of coincidence that the Redguards are the best sailors on Tamriel.

Is there an “end goal” of the kalpic cycle?

If kalpas are sequential and if water is the memory or some sort of overspill of the previous kalpa, then is there some point to kalpas? Is the kalpic cycle trying to produce something? I think definitely yes if we take Shor son of Shor as literally as we can, because it implies that Shor./Lorkhan is trying to achieve something in the “then maybe this time you will win” line. I think that this is the Psijic Endeavour, the way of escaping Mundus, breaking boundaries and moving beyond them and potentially then also creating new Amaranth out of it.

What is the Amaranth? I don’t really want to get into that whole can of worms here but I will give a quick two sentence definition here: Amaranth is the process whereby an entity becomes another universe, where they disconnect from the Aurbis as it is currently and start dreaming/hallucinating a new universe.

This probably isn’t the most appealing image for Mundus, but it’s a useful metaphor. Possibly.

I think that’s what Lorkhan is trying to do here. I’ve talked previously about how Lorkhan is a scarab or is associated with the Scarab in various Tamrielic religions, and you think about how scarabs (dung beetles) operate, they pushed on balls around and lay their eggs in them. The new dung beetles hatch and fly away from the dung ball. Consdering Mundus as a dung ball is a weird image, but I think it’s quite an appropriate one, particularly given how the Redguard describe it, which again we will get to later.

ANother potential illustration of what’s happening here is fight one in the Seven Fights of
the Aldudagga the quote in particular is:

“Oh crap,” said the Leaper Demon King, “You have found us out, World-Eater! Yes, just after the two bells of the All-Maker’s Goat sound the Greedy Man and I and our servants hoard bits and bobs of the world so you can’t eat it all. And when the world comes back we sort of just stick these portions back on and so that’s why it is all bigger and bigger for you to eat each time. But it wasn’t my idea! The Greedy Man hates you so much and it was his idea to finally trap you one kalpa when it was all much too big and so you would explode out from your belly and die so that the world would never have to die again!”

Now, that’s  a little different from the Scarab metaphor, so maybe my ideas are a bit off. The idea is that you essentially have a world that last forever that you break the kalpic cycle altogether, and you therefore have a world that just carries on.

Is this kalpa special?

I think we do have some hints of that when we look at some of the creation myths. If you look at the Annotated Anuad you have this quote:

Anu awoke, and fought Padomay again. The long and furious battle ended with Anu the victor. He cast aside the body of his brother, who he believed was dead, and attempted to save Creation by forming the remnants of the 12 worlds into one — Nirn, the world of Tamriel.

Just a little bit of context here. The Twelve Worlds were birthed by Nir as part of her union with Anu and they had previously had life which had flourished on them. The Ehlnofey  and the Hist both come from the remnants of the Twelve Worlds, but the key takeaway here is that Nirn is remnants of worlds smashed together and combined to try and make them into one thing, which we also have in the Redguard creation myth. To quote from The Monomyth:

Ruptga was able to sire many children through the cycles and so he became known as the Tall Papa. He continued to place stars to map out the void for others, but after so many cycles there were almost too many spirits to help out. He made himself a helper from the detritus of past skins and this was Sep, or Second Serpent. Sep had much of the Hungry Stomach still left in him, multiple hungers from multiple skins. He was so hungry he could not think straight. Sometimes he would just eat the spirits he was supposed to help, but Tall Papa would always reach in and take them back out. Finally, tired of helping Tall Papa, Sep went and gathered the rest of the old skins and balled them up, tricking spirits to help him, promising them this was how you reached the new world, by making one out of the old.

So both these myths have Mundus being created through everything being combined from the detritus of previous kalpas and the Seven Fights has something similar in that the Leaper Demon King was hoarding things and then just tacking them back onto the world as they go.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition as well. The attitude in the Nords’ presentation in the Seven Fights, this is a good thing: the world won’t have to die that you won’t have Alduin swooping down and killing you. The Redguards, however, see that this is a break of the natural cycle. It’s similar to how the Altmer view things if you think back to the cast on the mannish/merish view of the world, that the natural place for the spirits is in the stars, and so to deprive them of that is to ultimately divorced them from the “real world”,  as this particular myth has it, Nirn is a bad place, it’s a prison where lots of things will die and lots of bad things will happen.

If we take all three of these creation myths together (if you can call the Seven Fights a creation myth), this particular version of Mundus has an awful lot that’s quite different about it; it’s got an awful lot of things from previous kalpas, that means that it potentially represents some form of culmination, maybe, that we’ve got this enduring cycle that is finally broken, which is quite a Buddhist idea, if you think about how reincarnation is supposed to work in Buddhism. Something that each soul has to go through, you get rebirth and rebirth and rebirth in a purifying process and ultimately, you then are removed from the cycle of rebirth following enlightenment and then just get broken down. That’s not quite what’s happening here, because we do have an eternity of matter rather than being dissolved into nothingness, but that’s that series of cycle that try to resolve something definitely feels like the progression that we were talking about earlier, that it’s working its way towards something and like reincarnation.

Where do the Redguards come from?

It doesn’t really seem like most of the cultures of Tamriel really are aware of this; it’s not something that features prominently in most of their religions, but the big exception to this is the Redguards. They look at their whole metaphysics as something that is inherently kalpic; the Walkabout, their version of good behavior, is ultimately a way to skip between the skins, a way to transcend kalpas. It’s a way of returning to the space between and this got misinterpreted/reinterpreted as the Redguards coming from a previous kalpa, and this is particularly thanks to a comment that Michael Kirkbride made on /r/teslore subreddit, which is:

Tamriel is the present. It is literally the center of time.

Akavir is the East and it is in the future.

Hammerfell is to the West and is in the past.

Traveling from west to east means more than taking time to sail, it means sailing across time.

Atmora to the North is frozen in time. As such, it didn’t really exist at all.

Aldmeris to the South is outside of time. As such, it didn’t really exist at all.

The moons? Now they’re really weird when it comes to time.

Apart from MK conflating/mistaking Hammerfell and Yokuda, there’s some interesting implications there that Yokuda is the past is potentially something that is literally talking about time zones and just being the progression of time, that’s not really been the way it’s been interpreted, that it’s just the progression of time. This is particularly as in the games the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The West is the future in quite a few real world conceptions of how time works because of that progression, which Tamriel may be trying to distance itself from in the way it’s presented, simply because it’s a common way of doing things, but the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, so I’m not sure that’s too likely.

This comment effectively spawned the idea of that Yokuda is a previous kalpa, that the Redguards have come from a previous kalpa and invaded Tamriel. This was mostly a fan theory based on implications until The Elder Scrolls: Online, which produced a book called The Hunger of Sep, which pretty much backs this up:

Then evil came to Yokuda, and red war, and forbidden rites were practiced, and fell things were summoned that should never have been called forth. It was a Time of Ending. Satakal arose from the starry deeps, and Yokuda was pulled down beneath the waves.

But after every End Time comes a New Time, and it was even so in this case. For some of the people were permitted to sojourn to Tamriel, where we took Hammefell for our own. There we were given a chance to once again worship the gods in proper reverence.

This sounds very like if we’re thinking of the waters of Oblivion as waters from which everything rises and the water is the general chaotic mess of Atherius and the Aurbis in general, then Yokuda being pulled down into the depths is not just an Atlantis myth. It is a way of saying saying it’s something being ended, and begun again in a new kalpa.

However, what also throws a spanner in the works with this idea is this particular line from Ulfgar Fog-Eye, an NPC in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion who says:

“Ships sail from Anvil harbor for ports-of-call in Hammerfell, Summerset Isle, Yokuda, and the Western Isles.”

There are four ways to approach this:

  • Ulfgar, a maritme trader, is getting his geography very wrong
  • Some remnant of Yokuda survived the turn of the kalpa
  • Yokuda isn’t from the previous kalpa
  • You can travel between kalpas

There’s an awful lot of that seems to indicate this in the way that the your students think about time and cycles of time and then mix it takes things into account a lot more than other cultures tend to. And we’ve also got Michael Kirkbride cementing this in his texts, with Lord Vivec’s Sword-Meeting with Cyrus the Restless:

At twilight on the 12th day out of Jabbur, Coyle, long-learned in the navigations, took sighting of the non-constellation of Sep and abruptly Cyrus changed course to the north. The old hands explained to the new that they had crossed the Line that day and it was now safe to bear up for Old Yokuda.

This implies that you can get to Yokuda, but there’s a particular path to it, that you need to sail in a particular way (sail at strange angles, thinking about how the Walkabout is described?) in order to get back to Yokuda, which means that there are barriers that you have to go through in order to get there. So you can get there, it’s just difficult. That does work with Ulfgar’s line if we’re assuming that in order to trade with Yokuda that particular ships have to take a particular course get there and in doing so they switch between kalpas, but again, that’s something that I’m not really sure about.

Or Yokuda something else?

If Yokuda is the past we then need to think about Akavir as the future as was set in the above Reddit thread. There was another thread that Michael Kirkbride posted that has been interpreted as being that Akavir and Tosh Raka on not necessarily an alternative kalpa, but they are another dream altogether. It’s not a cycle of this world, it’s another world that Tosh Raka has been interpreted as being the Amaranth of the new dream and creates the world that way, but as far as I understand it, Michael Kirkbride apparently said he’s not really happy with that idea. He says there were some interesting ideas in it, but that the text wasn’t a serious idea, so you will have some people that will present Yokuda as being a different dream rather than just a different kalpa. I’m not hugely convinced if the idea because there is very little textual evidence to back it up.

Kalpas and the Orobouros

The Ouroboros feels very appropriate for kalpas…

One final image that gets used in some places in The Elder Scrolls but probably not enough and not connected to kalpas is that of the Orobouros the idea of a serpent which eats its tail which is something that feels like it should be a thing with regards to kalpas. It’s not talked about explicitly, although there are a few allusions to it again in the Yokudan Monmouth when there’s talk of Satak and Sep both eating various things in order to make way for other things. This also relates to the idea that Paarthurnax presents and The Elder Scrolls V that to let this universe carry on going is to simply deny the next kalpa. It’s to actively stop the next world from being born, which kind of goes along with the ideas that this kalpa is different in that it’s trying to be long it’s trying to be extended, which some fans have pointed out is something to do with Akatosh. Some people will talk about Akatosh, having a “favorite kalpa”. Tis comes from another comment that Kirbride has made:

Just like Akatosh-as-we-usually-know-him could time-scheme against his mirror-brother of the Nords, Alduin, to keep the present kalpa– perhaps his favorite– from being eaten.

This also implies that Akatosh is potentially part of the Greedy Man’s scheme in the Seven Fights and potentially involved with the Leaper Demon King as well. There’s nothing necessarily that links those two apart from a conspiracy theory which you will hear bandied around that Lorkhan and Akatosh are two sides of the same being, but apart from that there’s not really a huge amount to back that idea up. It also goes against the general notion of the Ouroboros as a cycle of the Dragon or the Serpent constantly eating its own tail.

So does Akatosh want to stop the kalpic cycle to keep everything as it is or is he happy to carry it on? Does he really know much about that? I’m not totally sure because we don’t really have that much information, although it’s entirely possible that what the Marukhati Selecties did to Akatosh when they danced on the Tower,  giving him more mannish sentiments made him more inclined to want to extend this particular kalpa;  having it as a thing to be grateful for and to enjoy and to prolong for as long as possible.

That’s about it for kalpas and everything for this week. Thank you ever so much for taking the time to listen. If you have enjoyed this please feel free to subscribe with your favorite podcatcher. I’m available in most places at this point.

Also, I’m beginning to reach the end of my original list of topics that I had for the initial push for this series. Please let me know if you have any other ideas for topics that you want me to cover and look at or any shorter questions. If I get enough short questions, I can easily do a q&a episode at the end to round it all off. I’m hoping to get enough content together to be able to publish things until the end of November, but if you have any other ideas, please let me know either in the comments here, the form below or in the Written in Uncertainty Discord server.

Please join me next time as I discussed things that go beyond this particular Mundus in whatever cycle it happens in, looking at what lies beyond Mundus and potentially beyond the Aurbis itself. Next week we’re asking what is the Godhead and what the flowers have to do with that?

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

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