Who is Mannimarco?

Mannimarco in brief

Mannimarco was born an Altmer, at some point in the First Era. He was taken at an early age by the Psijic Order, and struck up a friendship with Vanus Galerion, at that point also a Psijic. He was, however, rather more taken with soul magic and necromancy than Vanus, and went on to develop that particular art to heights that no other necromancers had until that point, and so I’d be confident to call him the “father of modern necromancy” on Tamriel. He’s certainly gone out of his way to stifle alternative uses for the craft, which I’ll get to. Some have called him the first lich, but I can’t see any evidence for that outside of the poem Mannimarco, King of Worms, which may just have been using flowery language.

Possibly his biggest achievement while still a mortal was the creation of Black Soul Gems, which circumvent the Mages Guild restrictions on soul trapping sapient beings and allow even weak soul trapping spells to capture the souls of what we can reasonably call people.

He clung on to some form of life throughout all of Tamrielic history, despite being imprisoned by Molag Bal during the Interregnum; I’m expecting future expansions to The Elder Scrolls: Online to provide some story linked to his escape. He probably ascended to godhood following the Warp in the West in the Third Era, using the power of the Numidium. He also may have existed in some fashion as a mortal after that point, too.

I’ll use the various different types of person he may or may not have been as a framework for talking about him in a little more depth in the following sections*.*

Mannimarco, King of Worms? God of Worms? High Priest of Maggots? Who?

Before we get to that, I want to talk about the reason that he’s got lots of potentially different ways of being seen, and that’s because we have different appearances of Mannimarco in the games.

We first hear about Mannimarco in the first Elder Scrolls game, where the Necromancer’s Amulet is mentioned as “the last surviving relic of the mad sorceror Mannimarco”. That sets up Mannimarco as a necromancer, but the tone is a little strange. It sounds like he’s already dead by the time we come across the amulet. Living things don’t typically have relics.

We then have a character called the King of Worms in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, who is very often equated with Mannimarco. The poem I mentioned earlier even spells it out. However, this wasn’t necessarily the case in Daggerfall itself. I have to thank Rock from Syfri’s Artaeum Lore Pub for pointing that out, it’s not something I noticed when first going through material for this episode. There’s no mention of Mannimarco as the King of Worms in the game. It’s only in later games that they became the same thing, and that shows in the writing that happens in later games. The first text in this world’s chronology to equate them is Where Were You When the Dragon Broke?, which calls Mannimarco the God of Worms. We have to wait until Elder Scrolls: Online to get to the King of Worms title explicitly.

Mannimarco (probably) gets to be the God of Worms by using the Totem of Tiber Septim to control the Numidium. He then ascends to godhood in the Warp in the West, becoming the Necromancer’s Moon and that could have been the end of it. However, we see Mannimarco again in The Elder Scrolls IV, where he’s attempting to subvert the Mages Guild, and he’s a mortal. There have been a bunch of attempts to explain this over the years, many of which hinge on the notion of dragon breaks. The gist of most of them is that part of the fix for the Warp in the West made all timelines true, which means that Mannimarco both ascended to godhood and did not. One version of him became a god, and one carried on as a mortal. There are quite a few people who doubt that the altmer we meet in Elder Scrolls IV is actually Mannimarco, mainly because it’s a relatively simple fight to defeat him and they think that the King of Worms who’s survived for centuries shouldn’t be such a pushover. This sort of thing was argued for Alduin in Elder Scrolls V as well, but I’m always a little hesitant to equate game performance with lore capabilities, so I wouldn’t say that was definite. However, I can certainly see Mannimarco being the type to create a simulacrum of himself in order to ensure his survival.

Or we take the King of Worms/Mannimarco distinction to be the entirety of the matter, and he never became the Necromancer’s Moon, which sidesteps the whole question. However that does then leave us with the question of why ESO equates the two, which feels like too big an obstacle for me.

There is one possible text that reconciles to two perspectives quite neatly. The book Necromancer’s Moon says this:

Stay faithful to the Order of the Black Worm, and in time your loyalty will be rewarded. Soon, He will return to set the world right in due time, and those who would stand in his way will suffer enternally [sic] at his hands, just as those who stood opposed before.

This book suggests that Mannimarco will return as an avenging figure to right all wrongs and purge the world, like several religious figures in our own world. It’s possible that the Mannimarco we see in TES4 is Mannimarco returned, while the Necromancer’s Moon is then just an indicator of his divinity. Not entirely sure either way.

But regardless of his status as a god, I think we can agree that Mannimarco was a mer at one point. So I think we can talk about his career as a mage.

Mannimarco the Mage

Mannimarco was apparently picked up by the Psijics at a young age. We don’t know for sure why, but Vanus Galerion calls him a “brilliant novice” in Artaeum Lost, so maybe his talents were obvious from the start of his life. Exactly when that was, we’re not sure. We both know that Mannimarco was present during the Middle Dawn, and that he was expelled from the Order around the time of the founding of the Mages Guild in 2E 230, which puts him as a member of the Order for over a thousand years. Granted part of that was the Middle Dawn dragon break, but even so that is an incredible amount of time to be studying as a mage for. I think that puts him in parallel with Divayth Fyr and the Tribunal in terms of sheer staying power. Possibly Vanus Galerion too, but we don’t know when Galerion died, and he’s certainly the shortest-lived of all of those. Which I suppose makes Mannimarco the longest lived Altmer we know of in The Elder Scrolls.

Now I’ve said that, I’m sure I’m going to have missed someone.

The way Galerion talks about Mannimarco, it feels like they had a shared time of development at the Psijic Order, like they were novices together. That they were apparently competing from the start isn’t a real surprise, and the way this is set up as an ongoing rivalry that we all know is going to end in tears. Or shipping, one of the two. It all ended in tears, as Vanus finds Mannimarco consorting with Dark Powers, Bad Things or somesuch, and he gets exiled from Artaeum by the Order, and starts to build his Worm Cult across Tamriel.

In their way, both Galerion and Mannimarco are critiques of the Psijic Order. Galerion sought to democratise the Psijic Order, possibly as a form of industrialist while Mannimarco takes its seclusion and isolation to its logical conclusion. If the Psijics are not part of Mundus, then they should have no regard for Mundus’ cares and laws. Even the “grave and faithful counsel” provided by the Psijics, to quote the book The Old Ways, is given from a position of superiority, considering those they give counsel to to be “lesser men”. Mannimarco’s perspective is simply one that he is not bound by the rules that other people concern themselves with.

Mannimarco and Necromancy

One thing that Mannimarco is concerned about, however, is necromancy. He started studying it on Artaeum, and got banished for his trouble. He seems to show a degree of passion for the craft itself, with this quote from A World of Corpses:

Are these miserable wretches truly the inheritors of the Dark Practice? Are these the necromancers that shall carry our glorious discipline into the eras to come? Perish the thought!

That he calls it “our glorious discipline” and not just a means to the end of power, would suggest to me that he cares about how it’s done and wants capable mages to be necromancers for the good of the craft.

That isn’t to say that, even when he does encounter capable necromancers he’s not got his own agenda. The book The Legend of Vastarie recounts how Mannimarco reacted when another necromancer with different goals worked with him. Particularly this passage:

Vastarie had found what she was looking for, but Mannimarco was furious. What use was a soul gem that could not be used to fuel an enchantment? He demanded Vastarie find a way to modify her creation to his purposes.

HIs own purposes were the creation of black soul gems, which Abnur Tharn claims are a “recent invention” in a Loremaster’s Archive in the Interregnum. They allow for the accumulation of soul energy from sentient mortals, potentially even without a spell. That’s quite a ground-breaking innovation, in its way.

Mannimarco has very definite goals for necromancy, and for the Worm Cult that he founded after leaving Artaeum. That goal is essentially to increase his own power. He’s not averse to the idea of others holding power too, he offered Vanus Galerion the opportunity to join him, but that’s not his primary goal.

It’s possible that he may have had some form of reverence for Daedra, as we have a very obsequious passage in On Soul Shriven:

It is by the grace of my lord and master, Molag Bal, that I, Mannimarco, was gifted this meager knowledge regarding the process of creating the Soul Shriven.

So if we take this at face value, as well as several recruitment drives he seems to have engaged in to convert other Daedra worshippers to that of Bal, then he may at one point have been a Molag Bal worshipper. However, the tone of the above passage is possibly a little too crawling for someone as powerful and proud as Mannimarco, so he may simply have been using that as a cover. I think that’s more likely, personally, particularly as this text was written when the Vestige, the PC in Elder Scrolls: Online, was alive.

Mannimarco the God: Mannimarco’s End Game?

I also think it’s likely because of that line from Where Where You When the Dragon Broke? If Mannimarco “learned [his] mystery” from the Marukhati Selectives, as he claims, then Mannimarco has likely been plotting to become a god for a long time. The Selectives had been gone for over 1,000 years by the time of the events of the Planemeld, and so Mannimarco was sitting around on that knowledge for quite a while.

Mannimarco’s key learning from the Selectives was one of the core tenets of Hermetic magic in this world, the basic sympathetic principle of “as above, so below”, that informs everything from astrology to alchemy to voodoo dolls. The act of altering things in the heavens in such a way that they affect everywhere else. I would come up with a cheesy pun here about “reach heaven by violence”, but I’m not sure that what Mannimarco actually did was a Walking Way. The voiceover of the King of Worms ending of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall indicates that he used the Mantella to power his ascension, but I think the quote from Where Were You also involves the dragon break in some way.

I’ve also seen it said that the Warp in the West was a similar and more successful effort to what he was trying to do during the Planemeld. In that, Mannimarco was trying to use the Amulet of Kings, with its oversoul of Emperors, to soul trap Molag Bal and take his place. Given his efforts with Black Soul Gems, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Mannimarco would have used Bal’s soul to power his own ascension efforts. Although that doesn’t involve a dragon break, so we’re still left with an incomplete picture. Maybe I’m getting hung up on the fact that Mannimarco tried to ascend using gems twice.

Once he ascended, Mannimarco became the Revenant, the Necromancer’s Moon. That has since become something that’s revered by necromancers and Sload the world over. It seems that since then he has continued to be of use to those who practice necromancy. To quote the book Necromancer’s Moon again:

The Revenant, the Necromancer’s Moon, watches over us all. His Form, ascended to Godhood, has taken its rightful place in the sky, and hides the enemy Arkay from us so that we may serve Him. Watch for the signs: when the heavenly light descends from above, hasten to His altars and make your offering, so that He may bless you with but a taste of His true power. Grand Soul Gems offered to Him will be darkened, and can be used to trap the souls of the unwitting; a feat even the great N’Gasta would marvel at.

This allows people to create Black Soul Gems, and carry on being necromancer’s much more easily. It may be implied, but in “[hiding] the enemy Arkay”, Mannimarco may also be weakening some of Arkay’s other rules. Maybe? It would make sense to me that Arkay’s rites don’t hold as much power when Arkay is obscured from Mundus, but that’s my own wild assumption.

Or maybe, just maybe, ascension wasn’t Mannimarco’s end goal. One of his lines from The Elder Scrolls IV says this:

“Power, my dear friend. I seek power, and so I acquire and study those who have some degree of it. We are after the same things, your guild and I. Yet you worry about ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and do not accept they are manifestations of the same thing.

Aside from sounding immensely like a more long-winded version of a line from Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this feels like Mannimarco’s ambition is unlikely to end. You can always get more power, until you control the universe. Subverting Arkay is two fingers to the ones who have often thwarted his designs, but Mannimarco may not be done. There’s always more control to be had over things, until you control everything, or all things are you. Which is functionally the same thing, if total control is your goal.

Does that make Mannimarco a Sharmat? I doubt it, but it’s an interesting thought to end on.

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