What is the Sharmat?

When we find the word in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, it’s a term that is implied to mean or be the same thing as “false dreamer”, and is applied to Dagoth Ur, a devil figure of Tribunal theology that the good guys (whoever they are at that point) fight against. However, it’s not quite the same thing as the  I might go as far as to say that the Sharmat is the devil figure of the Dunmer people, in various guises. From that, Dagoth Ur is perhaps, a Sharmat, rather than the Sharmat, necessarily.

The Nature of the Sharmat

Despite its use in Tribunal theology, the term isn’t exclusive to the Tribunal Temple. The word also gets used by Nibani Maesa, an Ashlander Wise Woman that you speak to in The Elder Scrolls III, suggesting that the Sharmat is a more long-standing enemy than just the Tribunal temple.

The Sharmat is always opposed by the Hortator. This is made it’s most explicit in Sermon 11 of the 36 Lessons, which says:

“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.”

In this, the 36 Lessons are calling out that Hortator and Sharmat are two parts of an enantiomorph, and highlighting that they are two roles in an ongoing cycle of conflict. That the Rebel will defeat the King, but we do not know who the Rebel and King are until the Observer decides which is which. That’s the role that Vivec is assigning hirself here, and marks the Hortator specifically to face Dagoth Ur in Sermon 17:

“But they both knew that the time was not ready to contest the Sharmat and so they engaged in combat with each other. Vivec marked the Hortator in this way for all of the Velothi to see.”

 If that’s the case, then Vivec may also be assigning the role of the Sharmat, although I think it’s more likely that what Vivec is doing is simply calling the pattern out for what it is, rather than making it whole cloth.

The Sharmat and Dagoth Ur

I think there’s a definite difference between Dagoth Ur and the Sharmat; it’s not something that Vivec and the Tribunal created to legitimise their rule, otherwise we wouldn’t see an Urshilaku wise woman using the term. There are hints that it’s a bit more long-standing than Dagoth Ur. The document Dagoth Ur’s Plans, written by the Tribunal Temple, claims that “Dagoth Ur has apparently adopted the views and motivations of the Dwemer High Craftlord Kagrenac.” This suggests that it is the Dwemer, not Dagoth Ur necessarily, that is the source of the Sharmat’s motivation. This is driven home a little further by Sermon 36, which gives Kagrenac the title of “the Blighter”. This repositions the idea of spreading the blight essentially a Dwemeri thing, not necessarily something that Voryn Dagoth is doing on his own. The guy is even making a second Numidium. It feels quite obvious that Dagoth is following some pre-established pattern, which means that the Sharmat is older than Dagoth, and different from Dagoth.

In that case, what sort of thing is the Sharmat? If we look at some of Nibani Maesa’s words, I think we will get a bit more of an answer. She says that Dagoth Ur is “dead, but he dreams he lives”. This gives me a lot of Call of Cthulhu vibes, to start with, as there’s that big statement that “”In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”. I think there’s the intent to involve that sort of creeping fear and so on into the thematic of Dagoth Ur, particularly the cultish stuff, where dreams are also frequently invoked, but there’s also a deeper Elder Scrolls theme going on here. Who else can we think of that’s dead but not, and has a connection with Vvardenfell, particularly Red Mountain?

The Sharmat, Lorkhan and the Dwemer

Lorkhan is both the deadest of the Aedra, having had his heart ripped out, and the most alive, in the form of Shezzarines. We can also make the Dwemer match this description, if we squint a little. They are a dead race in that they’re not around, but also potentially alive in some form, somewhere. If we take the idea of them being part of the Numidium as the case (I do, check out out the episode I did on the Dwemer to see why), then they’re definitely still around but neither alive nor entirely dead.

They were also fiddling around with the Heart of Lorkhan, and potentially changed its nature. We have this line from the Five Songs of King Wulfharth that’s just full of possibilities: 

“The Heart had been made solid by Sunder’s tuning blow and Keening could now cut it out”

This means that the Heart was potentially becoming something else through the Dwemer’s actions, and corrupting it. So while the Heart was the thing ultimately used by Dagoth Ur to spread the Blight, Kagrenac was a Blighter because he contaminated the Heart of the World using the Tools.

Sharmats, Blighters, Dreamers

We also have another Blighter in the 36 Lessons, although we know very little about him for sure. The character called CHEMUA in Sermon 9 is sometimes called First Blighter, according to that sermon. Does that make him the first Sharmat? HIs powers and ideology seem a little simpler than the Dwemer, so it could be that the Dwemer came to epitomise a form of cultural villain that the Nords had previously filled. Maybe that’s all there is to the Sharmat, and the Blight. Maybe, if we take the linguistic route; this is purely me speculating, but if “blight” originally just meant “bad thing”, then we’re possibly looking at the Sharmat, and the Blighter before it, as purely a social construct that was used to denote “thing we all hate”, or something like that. I do think there is a deeper significance to it, however; there are themes within some of the supposed sharmats that make me think it’s tapping into something deeper.

Dreams are a recurring theme throughout much of The Elder Scrolls III, and Dagoth Ur uses them to control his followers, who are explicitly “Dreamers” in the game. There’s another meaning to this in TES metaphysics, but we’ll get to that later. First, I want to think about where else we’ve seen this sort of thing. My mind immediately goes to Miraak in the Dragonborn expansion of The Elder Scrolls V. Like Dagoth Ur, he appealed to his followers through dreams, and wielded them like extensions of himself. As a result of this, Miraak has been equated with the Sharmat by several fans. The biggest support for this is Miraak’s chant:

“Here in my temple, here in my shrine, that you have forgotten. Here do you toil, that you might remember. Here you reclaim, what faithless minds have stolen. Far from yourself, I grow ever nearer to you. Your eyes once were blinded, now through me do you see. Your hands once were idle, now through them do I speak. And when the world shall listen, and when the world shall see, and when the world remembers, that world will cease to be.”

That “growing ever nearer” and the sense of possession sounds very close to what Dagoth Ur was trying to do with the Blight, although through different means. It’s also possible that both Dagoth Ur and Miraak have fallen prey to a greater misunderstanding about the nature of the Aurbis, which is the core of what a Sharmat is.

The Sharmat gets called the “false dreamer” several times in the 36 Lessons, and is associated with “the wrong walking path” in Sermon 15. This has been developed by some fans, most particularly IceFireWarden, into the idea that a form of “Anti-CHIM” exists.

The beginning of this thought is from Sermon 11, where it says this:

”There is no true symbolism of the center. The Sharmat will believe there is. He will feel that he can cause years of exuberance from sitting in the sacred, when really no one can leave that state and cause anything more but strife.’

This is saying that looking inward isn’t the answer to enlightenment. That looking outward is the key, which leads to the idea of “I AM AND I ARE ALL WE” that is CHIM. The idea of Anti-CHIM is that the Sharmat looks on the Aurbic Wheel, the wheel thatis the spokes of the Aedra, the gaps in between of the Daedra and the hub of Mundus, and assumes that they are the entirety of the I, that they are not part of the Dream, but that the Dream is part of them. IFW’s version of this puts it more formally that the Sharmat is trying to create their own Amaranth within the Dream, to subvert the current Dreamer and replace them. This is why the Sharmat is a False Dreamer, because they are not the Dreamer but trying to become one, and make the self, the “centre” of Sermon 11, the core of all being. They understand they are in the Dream, but are not connected to everyone else. This inverts I AM AND I ARE ALL WE understanding of CHIM, where the understanding of a shared being is a core part of it, and changes it to I AM AND YOU ARE ALL ME. It is a wrong walking path because it is a misunderstanding of a Walking Way.

There’s also the idea that Lorkhan is acting as the avatar of the Heart, with a little caveat on what the Dwemer were up to. Proponents of this theory point out that Dagoth Ur gets corrupted by the Heart through proximity to it, and everyone considered him to be dead after the Battle of Red Mountain. Remember that Nibani Maesa said that Dagoth Ur is dead but dreams he lives? This theory takes that idea that Dagoth Ur is actually dead, and the heart is what’s steering him. Taking that logically, the wish to extend the Blight throughout Tamriel, and ultimately Mundus, is something that Lorkhan wants. It also has the possibility that the Heart also somehow got to Kagrenac and was manipulating the Dwemer too. We have this line from Nerevar at Red Mountain:

House Dagoth had discovered the source of the profane and secret power of the Dwemer: the legendary Heart of Lorkhan, which Dumac’s people had used to make themselves immortal and beyond the measure of the gods. In fact, one of the their high priests, Kagrenac, was building a New God so that the Dwemer could claim Resdayn for their own.
(emphasis mine)

Notice the “had used”. Past tense.

This suggests that the Dwemer were already using the Heart of Lorkhan, which leaves them open to being influenced by the Heart in some way before their disappearance. So if the Dwemer and Dagoth Ur are both acting in the same way, it’s possible that the corrupting influence of the Heart is behind it all.

However, it’s possible that they are not. The Selectives Lorecast episode on Dagoth Ur made the point that the Numidium and Akulakhan (the golem Dagoth Ur was building) had different objectives. If we take the Numidium’s behaviour in general and in the text Landfall: Day One in particular as what happens, then it’s about eliminating things from existence. In Day One, which I should point out is an unlicensed text, for those of you that keep track, the Altmer are wiped out of existence by an “Ancestroscythe”. Because of that, and the way the Numidium so efficiently laid siege to Alinor, the community has tended to talk about the Numidium as being the embodiment of “NO”, of non-existence. The Selectives pointed out that this isn’t what Dagoth Ur wants, or at least, insofar as we understand what he wants.

The document outlining Dagoth Ur’s suspected plans that the Tribunal Temple put together suggest that Dagoth Ur wants to take over Morrowind and spread the Blight across Tamriel. That subversion of what already exists isn’t the NO of nonexistence, it’s the corruption of existence into a single form. The Sharmat is also tied to existence somewhat through its real-world etymology; it’s possible that it’s linked to the Persian “Shah mat”, which means “the king is helpless”; it’s where we get the word “checkmate” from in chess, and you’ll hear that in some places. However, Enrico Dandolo has also pointed out that the Akkadian phrase “king of the land” can be constructed as “shar mat”. Enrico also noted that this ties in nicely with the whole Arthurian Fisher King concept, which ties the status of the kingdom to the health of the king. The Sharmat, or at least Dagoth Ur, literally transforms the land through his presence, so it fits that whole idea quite well.

Given that, Dagoth Ur and the Dwemer, and perhaps importantly the Numidium and Akulakhan, have quite different agendas. So maybe the Dwemer links isn’t exactly as strong as all that. After all, “recapitulating the ancient blasphemous folly of the Dwemer” could simply mean trying to make a new god, with nothing really said about the goals. “First Blighter” is harder to explain away, though.

One final note, possibly linked to that idea, is that you’ll often see Dagoth Ur and the Sharmat referred to as an Anuic bad guy. This is essentially saying that Dagoth Ur was striving for a form of stasis as his ultimate goal. I’m not sure I entirely buy this, although he was looking back to pre-Tribunal Resdayn for inspiration, as well as moving the Blight into all of Tamriel. 

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