Before we begin, the usual disclaimer: 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. Please leave a comment below. Please go through and read the sources rather than just taking what I say at face value, and join the conversation on the Written in Uncertainty Discord server.
I’d also like to add something to last time’s episode; I had a comment on /r/teslore that highlighted that I hadn’t properly explained a few things. In particular, why the player characters disappear once they’ve finished the events of the games. One comment pointed out that I hadn’t addressed the exile of the hero. I admit, I don’t know the precise theory that the commenter is referencing, but it feels like the alienation of the Hero after they return to where they came from, but come back changed. They are alienated from their context, because they are different. The Hero in the Elder Scrolls has no context to be alienated from, but they never stick around. Their actions still change them, in the same way that the observer of an enantiomorph is maimed.
We also have the insinuation in The Elder Scrolls III that the Hero is a scapegoat – the Nerevarine “eats the sin” of House Dagoth, in the same way as the scapegoat takes the sin of the people of Israel. Then the Nerevarine is rumoured to go away to Akavir, bearing the sin away to somewhere else. It’s not as explicit elsewhere, but it is similar; it is an outsider coming in, fixing a problem, and never attaching themself to the society in which they find themselves. They are always an outsider.
But now we should probably talk about what we’re here to talk about: mantling!
What is Mantling?
The term itself is taken from a turn of phrase that in turn comes from the Old Testament, specifically 2 Kings 2:11-14:
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
To engage in a little Biblical analysis here, in taking Elijah’s mantle, his cloak, Elisha is taking up Elijah’s role as a prophet when he picks it up, as is seen in the way that he took the cloak and performed a miracle with it. This is the essence of mantling in The Elder Scrolls: taking on the role of another, and thereby assuming their power and status as well.
So where do we hear about this in the series? Not very often, actually… there are hints at it in several places, but it’s very rarely spelled out.
Mantling and the Walking Ways
Mantling is one of the Walking Ways, a way that Vivec says “Six are the formulas to heaven by violence” in Sermon 6, which is also called the Walking Ways in the Scripture of Numbers (Sermon 29). “Reaching Heaven” in this sense is commonly seen by the fans as being a form of apotheosis. Pretty much all the Walking Ways are used to essentially “become a god”, but note that this is not the same thing as becoming an et’ada. It’s just a way of becoming… something else. Changing the kind of being that you are, but note that whether that makes you a god… depends on your definition of a god in TES. I may get round to that, but in the meantime check out the Selectives’ Lorecast on this topic.
With regard to mantling, we get the fourth Walking Way, called the Steps of the Dead in Sermon 32:
‘The sage who is not an anvil: a conventional sentence and nothing more. By which I mean dead, the fourth walking way.’
The fourth walking way is linked to mantling in Nu-Hatta and the Sphinxmoth Enquiry Tree, which says this:
Tiber Septim: “The Stormcrown manted [sic] by way of the fourth: the steps of the dead. Mantling and incarnation are separate roads; do not mistake this. The latter is built from the cobbles of drawn-bone destiny. The former: walk like them until they must walk like you. This is the death children bring as the Sons of Hora.”
Small digression here: I’ve seen this read to mean there may be different ways of mantling, of which the steps of the dead is the fourth. However, because of the quote from Sermon 32, I think it’s far more likely that it’s simply the fourth walking way.
So how do you actually do it?
The most relevant part of that quote is “walk like them until they walk like you”. It implies that someone who wishes to mantle someone else must imitate them, do the things that they would do, until you’re essentially the same person. Put simply, it’s a form of “fake it until you make it”, tricking the Aurbis into thinking that you are the person you’ve been trying to do. However, it also has a comment on identity, similar to what I talked about last time: the Hero of each Elder Scrolls game is what they are because of what they do, not the other way around. The Elder Scrolls V has muddied the waters a bit here, but it’s very explicit in most places.
In addition to imitation, mantling also seems to involve replacement; one of the best example of mantling is the Champion of Cyrodiil and Sheogorath. It even gets called out on the box to the 5th anniversary copy of the game, which says:
“Do you have the strength to survive his trials, to tame a realm fraught with paranoia and despair, and wear the mantle of a God?”
This only happens when Sheogorath disappears and is replaced by Jyggalag. The other case that we have for mantling is Talos, which is mostly taken to be that they are mantling Lorkhan, who is the missing god. So it’s possible that mantling can only happen when there’s a gap somewhere in the Aurbis to be filled. We do however also have MK posting as Vivec during his Trial saying that the Tribunal may have mantled the Anticipations:
“And so from their basis did we spring, called to heaven by violence, our people throwing our mantles to us across stars, and across time, and magic and dream, and here we remain.”
This is a little different because the Anticipations are not gone; they are still present and doing things. However, I also think that the context of this remark means that it is not exactly mantling in the sense we discussed earlier. It feels like mantle as role, not mantle as in metaphysical status. But they do have some similarities, most explicitly in the book Vivec and Mephala, which points out that Vivec acts very similarly to Mephala in a kind of open secret. However, while ze has attributes that are similar to Mephala, and replaced her in the Dunmer faith, but I wouldn’t call it an attempt at mantling, although some do.
I also think it’s worth talking briefly about precisely what can or can’t be mantled; can the Last Dragonborn mantle Shor? is the Nerevarine mantling Nerevar? etc Given that we don’t have many confirmed examples to work with, we can’t say for sure what the limits of mantling compared to basic imitation actually are. This is what I can work out, given the examples we have, but this is not much beyond my own speculation and what I’ve seen others do similarly.
Mantling is a process whereby an entity gains more power, and another identity. I think the “more power” thing has to be a coherent part of it if mantling is to mean anything other than imitation and possible mental illness. As a result, I think that the thing that you are mantling needs to be above you in terms of creational gradients. This means that mortals imitating other mortals, even those chosen by the gods, doesn’t make much sense. There’s an usurpation of the role they take on, but not mantling as such, which I think is what happens with the Tribunal.
The mantling of Sheogorath during the Greymarch is also touched on by a Loremaster’s Archive, in which Haskill mentions that he is a Vestige, in this quote:
I am a Vestige, all that remains of a mortal from your world who ‘mantled’ Sheogorath during an event in a previous time. As a fragment, my memory of the event is … fragmentary. I am hazy on the entire concept of ‘mantling,’ but it had something to do with Lord Sheogorath, myself, and this Jyggalag of whom you speak.
This implies that there is some remnant of the original thing left over when mantling occurs, or at least there can be. Haskill is different from the Champion of Cyrodiil in that he clearly failed to free Jyggalag, while the Champion of Cyrodiil did not. However, does that mean that Haskill did not mantle Sheogorath? I’m inclined to say that there was a mantle passed here, in the sense of a missing gap in the Aurbis filled, but one that did not result in Jyggalag’s defeat. So we have a situation where Haskill both is and is not Sheogorath at once, as a result of the mantling process. Bear that in mind, while I talk about the biggest and most contentious example of mantling that we have.
Mantling by Way of the Fourth
According to the orthodox account of the Talos cult, Talos is an Atmoran who creates the first empire to conquer and unite all of Tamriel. There aren’t that many explicit accounts of how this happened; it feels like it’s just assumed. Even Heimskr just handwaves the process.
However, there’s quite a few holes in this. The most obvious is the “of Atmora” moniker. Talos exists at the end of the Second Era, while the Pocket Guide to the Empire states that the last migrants from Atmora arrived in 1E 68, well before Talos was born. Then there’s also the fact that there were no mentions of Talos before The Elder Scrolls III. This is a little weird, as you’d expect one of the most pivotal figures of the Divines pantheon to be a little more prominent. There is a whiff of retcon here, as well, as Talos is shoehorned in in The Elder Scrolls III as the deified Tiber Septim. As well as picking holes in the conventional in-universe orthodoxy, the major god that defines much of Cyrodilic faith just appears out of nowhere.
I should clarify here that I’m talking about Talos the god, not Talos the man: Talos as a name for Tiber Septim has been around since The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard, noted in the First Edition of the Pocket Guide to the Empire.
So, this is being The Elder Scrolls, the fans and a particular text put together the dots to work out what was going on here. That text was The Arcturian Heresy, which claims that Tiber Septim was an identity created by a cabal of three men who wanted to run the empire together. Apart from casting the main Tiber character in a far less flattering light and accusing him of multiple murders as part of his rise to power, it ends with a really interesting scene, which is the basis for associating Talos with mantling:
Pieces of Numidium trickle in, though. Tiber Septim, always fascinated by the Dwarves, has Zurin Arctus research this grand artifact. In doing so, Arctus stumbles upon some of the stories of the war at Red Mountain. He discovers the reason the Numidium was made and some of it’s [sic] potential. Most importantly, he learns the Underking’s place in the War. But Zurin Arctus was working from incomplete plans. He thinks it is the heart of Lorkhan’s body that is needed to power the Numidium.
While Zurin Arctus is raving about his discovery, the prophecy finally becomes clear to Tiber Septim. This Numidium is what he needs to conquer the world. It is his destiny to have it. He contacts the Underking and says he was right all along. They should kill the Tribunal, and they need to get together and make a plan. While the Underking was away he realized the true danger of Dagoth-Ur. Something must to be done. But he needs an army, and his old one is available again. The trap is set.
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.
The Numidium, while not the god Tiber Septim and the Dwemer hoped for (the Underking was not exactly Lorkhan, after all), it does the job. After its work on Summerset Isle a new threat appears — a rotting undead wizard who controls the skies. He blows the Numidium apart. But it pounds him into the ground with its last flailings, leaving only a black splotch. The Mantella falls into the sea, seemingly forever.
Meanwhile, Tiber Septim crowns himself the First Emperor of Tamriel. He lives until he is 108, the richest man in history. All aspects of his early reign are rewritten. Still, there are conflicting reports of what really happened, and this is why there is such confusion over such questions as: Why does Alcaire claim to be the birthplace of Talos, while other sources say he came from Atmora? Why does Tiber Septim seem to be a different person after his first roaring conquests? Why does Tiber Septim betray his battlemage? Is the Mantella the heart of the battlemage or is it the heart of Tiber Septim?
The key for this is the event where the Underking is deceived. We have someone being betrayed, and a heart being torn out as a part of that betrayal. This seems very like what happens to Lorkhan at Convention, when he has his heart torn out as punishment for creating the mortal world. However, there are multiple deceptions and betrayals going on here; while we have Wulfharth being soul-trapped, Zurin has a hole torn through his chest. So which is Lorkhan?
The most obvious answer, if we take MK at his word, is both. MK produced a list of people he considered Shezzarines, or shards of Lorkhan. This list includes all the various characters involved in this event. We have Talos being Lorkhan from “all angles”, so to speak, and in a sense potentially imitating Convention as a whole as well as Lorkhan, an idea I discussed in the episode on the man/mer schism. In brief, it is the idea that Talos mantles not just Lorkhan, but Convention itself, fortifying the structure of the Aurbis by taking the Missing God’s place. If you want some more discussion on this, check that episode out.
For those of you tracking the timelines here, this is a little off so far. After all, Tiber Septim unified Tamriel in the Second Era, and Talos only appeared as a god after the Warp in the West, in 3E 417. So why the difference? To understand that, we need a brief recap of the events at the end of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall.
One of the endings to Daggerfall involves allowing the Underking to use the Totem of Tiber Septim to reunite with the part of his soul trapped within the Mantella. If you take the Heresy as true, the description of Wulfharth’s heart getting torn out implies a possible mingling of souls takes place. This means that when the Underking’s soul is reunited during the Warp, it connects with Wulfharth and consequently all the other bits that are Shezarrine souls. This creates Talos, which wasn’t possible while part of the three was bound to the mortal plane.
As a result, Talos is three souls stacked into one, and moreover, three potential incarnations of Lorkhan. The various participants also take up a range of roles within their lives, if the Heresy is to be believed, which, in the most common telling of things, get linked together in various ways.
The most important of these for mantling, I think, is Ysmir, a title that is shared by both Wulfharth and Hjalti, and is described in Varieties of Faith as the Nordic version of Talos. Ysmir, particularly given how the Greybeards talk about him, is a role that some people have taken on, similar to how Redguards consider the Hoon’Ding to be a role that can be taken on by different people. But anyway, back to the Hjalti-Wulf-Zurin Triumvirate.
In one of the more common tellings I see of this, the three characters involved in the enantiomorph in the Heresy each have two titles applied to them: Hjalti and Wulfharth is Ysmir, Hjalti and Zurin is Tiber, and Zurin and Wulfarth is the Underking, with all three making Talos.
However, this doesn’t quite match even what we’re given in the Heresy; Skeleton Man’s Interview identifies Zurin and Talos as Tiber, not Zurin and Hjalti as Tiber, while all three (Hjalti, Wulfarth and Zurin) are identified with Tiber in the Heresy. So while Talos is the three combined, it’s not as simple a combination as it’s often made out to be.
I feel I should point out here that this isn’t necessarily entirely accurate. There are quite a few leaps made in the Heresy that aren’t backed up elsewhere, most particularly the linking between Wulfharth and the Underking, where it is Zurin alone who is the Underking in the game, and no ending in Daggerfall brings up Tiber’s deification, despite the book The Warp in the West explicitly mentioning that people were aware of the change surrounding the dragon break, that there was suddenly a new set of kingdoms that people were suddenly aware of; there wasn’t a. There is no similar mention of Talos appearing as a new god. The Arcturian Heresy is the only text that makes the Talos-as-mantling-product version of events seem obvious. It’s been taken by many fans to be the truth, particularly given MK’s comments, but there isn’t too much evidence backing it up apart from that book, so there are regular questions within the fandom about how legitimate this whole thing is.
Ebonarm and Talos
There is, however, one more theory I want to discuss regarding Talos’ ascension, which may involve mantling and replacement. In the books prior to Morrowind, Ebonarm was a god of war in several pantheons. It has been suggested by some that, rather than mantling Lorkhan and taking his place, Talos has instead supplanted Ebonarm as a god of war. It would certainly fit with the militant beginnings of Tiber, and doesn’t require a huge deviation from the orthodox account that the theory surrounding mantling Lorkhan does. There’s also the possible evidence that Ebonarm was subsequently removed from everything that previously mentioned him, although this is usually thought to be an editorial out-of-universe decision that hasn’t been entirely explained. I’m also a little sceptical of that particular idea, as beyond conquering, Talos did very little that could be linked to Ebonarm. Indeed, the book The Ebon Arm, which details a manifestation of Ebonarm, describes him as a peacemaker who discouraged people from making war. You could apply that to Talos I guess, in a Pax Romana, “making a desert and calling it peace” sense, but Tiber didn’t end conflicts to the mutual benefit of both sides and make conflict seem unnecessary. So I’m a little sceptical But it’s entirely possible, given that one of the biggest pieces of the most common mantling theory relies on a single text. It feels like there’s enough material that you can take whatever story you like, although there does seem to be an unofficial consensus on the matter.
Which, I guess, is an appropriate point to draw this to a close. Mantling is a really little-understood area of TES lore, as much as there’s a lot of talk about it.The examples we have have lots of variables, which make each example pretty much unique although in theory following the same pattern. Mantling involves imitation, until the universe thinks you are a different thing, but what that means for both the original being and the being attempting the mantling feels very unclear at this point.
Thank you ever so much for taking the time to listen/read, and if you liked this podcast, please subscribe on your favourite podcatcher, I’m now most of the ones out there. If you fancy a chat, please join the discussion on the Written in Uncertainty Discord.
I’m also collating a list of the best longform essays on TES lore, from whatever source. If you have any you think should be in there, please let me know. Check out the existing ones here.
Next time, having touched on a few ways of going near godhood in TES, we’re going to look at one of the bigger underlying principles of godhood in the universe. Next time, we’re asking, what is mythopoeia, and is Alduin Akatosh?
Until then, this podcast remains a letter written in uncertainty.
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