Shezarrines are basically considered to be fragments or embodiments of Lorkhan that inhabit the mortal world. They are associated with Shezarr because, going by the book Shezzar and the Divines, he became “the spirit behind all human undertaking” following the creation of the Eight Divines pantheon. While that pretty much began Shezarr’s slide into irrelevance in Cyrodilic worship, I think it’s a pretty decent description of the idea that undergirds much of the talk about Shezarrines. They are seen, often not by name, as figures that advance the cause of the mannish races.
Precisely how that works in relation to the “parent” deity is unclear at the moment, as we have some different accounts both of how many Shezarrines there can be, as well as the precise nature of the relation between the two. We’ll get to that relation a little later.
Shezarrine or Shezarrines?
You’ll hear talk of “Shezarrines” plural in many corners of the Elder Scrolls lore community, whereas most sources talk about the Shezarrine. This seems to be the most persistent picture of the figure that we have. In volume 5 of The Song of Pelinal, we have this line:
“It is a solid truth that Morihaus was the son of Kyne, but whether or not Pelinal was indeed the Shezarrine is best left unsaid”(empasis mine)
This is actually the only time we see the word “Shezarrine” in any text. We also have from the Words of Clan Mother Ahnissi, that Lorkhaj was cursed to “walk Nirni for many phases.” Before the Ages of Man has possibly the neatest answer to this sort of question, where it describes a time when, to quote:
“the legendary immortal hero, warrior, sorceror [sic], and king variously known as Pelinal Whitestrake, Harrald Hairy Breeks, Ysmir, Hans the Fox, etc., wandered Tamriel, gathering armies, conquering lands, ruling, then abandoning his kingdoms to wander again.”
So by this account, we have one Shezarrine, called many names. That would be all nice and neat, and I’m inclined to think that’s the answer, personally. However, you will see a list of several Shezarrines bandied around the community that several people are inclined to think may be different people. In a forum thread from 2004, Michael Kirkbride gave a list of “Lorkhan and his avatars”, which sounds pretty close to what a Shezarrine is. After all, Lorkhan created the mortal world, and, particularly if you listen to the Altmer, made men too. It would make sense if he was in the Shezarrines’ corner, right?
Except that we get a very bizarre set of names in this list, seemingly. The list is Wulfharth, Hjalti, Ysmir, Talos, Arctus and Septim, and a missing seventh avatar. All of that list are part of the plot we see in the Arcturian Heresy in some way, so identity is a bit messy, but if you look into those they are, probably, distinct people that all existed at the same time. There’s no “mantle of the Shezarrine” to pass on here from person to person. Also, quite a few of the names in the list are potentially titles rather than names of distinct entities, like Ysmir and maybe Tiber Septim. Or, at least, if you take the Arcturian Heresy as true. Can a title, or a role, be a Shezzarine? Also, why would characters which are likely the same person (like both Hjalti and Wulfharth being Ysmir) merit separate entries on the list? In fact, all possible Shezarrines on this list are part of the possible Talos enantiomorph.
Shezzarines & Identity
The above problem doesn’t seem to make sense, unless we consider the Shezarrine to be something like a role in itself. That plays well with a few hints that we have about the nature of prophecy in The Elder Scrolls; the Chosen Hero is the one who pulls off the Grand Feat, but that’s all that’s needed; pulling off the Great Feat in and of itself makes you a Chosen Hero, if the event is foretold by Prophecy. To quote Zurin Arctus:
“Each Event is Preceded by Prophecy. But without the Hero, there is no Event.”
The Hero, the Chosen One, makes things happen. That’s the only qualifier for being the Chosen One. It’s less a Chosen One, more a Doing One, I guess. This is particularly hammered home in The Elder Scrolls III, when the Nerevarine is revealed to be the one who succeeds at defeating Dagoth Ur. The Prophecy of the Stranger explicitly states “many fall, but one remains”, which emphasises that while many may be an incarnation only one can get the job done.
However, we also have the possibility of destiny being involved, if this quote from Michael Kirkbride is anything to go by:
“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.”
There isn’t a whole lot of clarity on what this passage actually means; most focus on the stuff about mantling rather than incarnation, but I still think this is something that can be applied to incarnation, like the Nerevarine or Shezarrines. This is not imitation in the sense of mantling, where you do what another being did so that the universe can’t tell you apart. IT’s not walking with, it’s walking beyond. It’s the extrapolation of a thing, carrying on the purpose of the entity that has now found its incarnate form, to express its will in a new way. The Nerevarine defeated Dagoth Ur in a way Nerevra could not. The Shezarrine, or Shezarrines, were advancing the cause of the mannish races in a way that Shezzar could not.
That’s what it means to be “built on” the cobbles of drawn-bone destiny, I think; in the same way as Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, so incarnates build their destiny by completing the tasks that others began before them. One of my patrons, Songbird, has made a fantastic point that the “drawn-bone” part may imply mean prophesied, as it could be a reference to the oracle bones from Shang Dynasty China. That would mean that incarnation is in some sense a more traditional fulfilment of destiny, although it would involve a destiny larger than the self, maybe, or part of something that’s larger than the self.
If that’s the case though, I do have to ask, if the three parts of Talos are Shezarrines, what purpose are they serving?
I may be getting a little ahead of myself here, though.
Are all the parts definitely Shezarrines? I think it would make sense for at least Wulfharth to be a Shezzarine, because of the events surrounding the Mantella. In the Heresy, Tiber Septim is trying to get the Numidium to function, and needs something like the Heart of Lorkhan. The book claims they use the Mantella as a substitute for the Heart of Lorkhan. While not quite that, the souls of Shezarrines is probably the closest thing you could get for it, given that Shezarrines are incarnations of a mannish interpretation of Lorkhan. It makes thematic sense to me that at least one of the souls bound up in the Mantella would be a Shezarrine, so I’m prepared to think that it’s possible that everyone involved was some level of Shezarrine, or, as Serithi likes to put it “Talos is 3 mini-Lorkhans in a trenchcoat”.
If that’s the case, then there is something that’s not quite right here, at least at first glance. If you read the Heresy narrative, it’s clear that various Shezarrines don’t get on particularly well, at least by the end.If they’re all part of the same being, taking on the nature of a Shezarrine, why is that?
Shezarrines as Personality Facets
I think that’s because they can express different aspects of the person, the god, whose story they’re continuing. To take an analogous example, Alduin and Akatosh are both time gods, but they have very different agendas, it seems. It’s entirely possible that different aspects of Lorkhan, Shezzar, whatever you call the mannish god, could function in a similar way, and be at odds with each other. This is particularly the case if Shezarrines exemplify particular aspects of Shezzar, or are doing something like acting out a god’s purposes, rather than being “possessed by” that being. To take the Nerevarine example again, they can be whatever they like, while Nerevar was definitely a male Dunmer who married into House Indoril and became the Hortator. The Nerevarine would not necessarily match those attributes, but is still able to carry out acts that are in accordance with Nerevar’s nature.
I think this is probably a reasonable time to summarise what I’ve been saying in different ways up until this point; that the identity of a being is not essential to that being, that they are who they are because of what they do, rather than of any property they have in and of themselves. So, Nerevar unified the Chimer because he’s Nerevar and that’s what Nerevar does. Tiber Septim conquered and unified all of Tamriel, because that’s what Tiber Septim does, and so on. There’s a necessary relation between a historical or divine figure and their deeds, but not a necessary relation between that figure and any particular being. The being is a role, rather than a person as such, and the label (or name) is simply something that is entirely incidental.
This is one possible interpretation, anyway. Part of MareloRyan’s fantastic Godhead Model analysis talks about Shezarrines and Nerevarines in particular, and proposes that the “pattern” of being a Shezzarine is basically like being part of a botnet. To quote:
I propose specifically that the AE of a given mortal can be infected by certain features (the bot) which allow for connection with an oversoul of those who have those features (the net, possibly actuated through the Dreamsleeve). Note that AE is, as always in my writing, defined as “Identity, self, selfhood, consciousness, ghost (when disembodied), story-shape, narrative-and-plot-and-narrator in one,” which, in mortals, is only part of the soul (the other part being the animus).
I do take a slight issue with his definition of AE and soul here, as I’m not sure animus and AE are necessarily distinct things, but I won’t get into that now. If you want to check out what I do think about souls, check out my episode on the topic.
Regarding Shezarrines and the like, MareloRyan is essentially saying that a Shezarrine has had its own identity imprinted with that of another being, and so it acts like the thing that has stamped its AE onto it, possibly through a connection to a larger principle, which tends to get called an Oversoul in The Elder Scrolls. The best example of an Oversoul is actually also Talos, so has some relevance here. Does the Oversoul itself, independent of its parts, have some form of existence, will and purpose? I think that The Elder Scrolls comes down with a resounding yes to this question, at least, if you believe The Arcturian Heresy. More generally, if a person has a destiny to fulfil, then that destiny (or a particular task being fulfilled) could be fulfilled by more than one person. Grouping the people driven to do that into one is one possible version of an Oversoul, I guess, particularly if, following MareloRyan’s model, it involves direct tampering with a being’s AE.
This takes a more essentialist view of identity than my own, that a being will always act in a certain way because of its nature, rather than that nature being created by a being’s actions. However, the process of making a Shezarrine or Nerevarine does allow that nature to be manipulated and changed by another pattern.
Shezzarines and Nymics
What that pattern could be comes down to a thing that only surfaces in a few places in Elder Scrolls lore: that of true names, called protonymics where they are mentioned. This follows a fairly traditional folklore pattern, that if you know a being’s “true name”, then they can be controlled. This is done to various spirits in The Elder Scrolls, most notably Mehrunes Dagon during the events of the game Battlespire, and potentially to Azura during the Trial of Vivec.
The most interesting thing I’ve found on protonymics doesn’t actually mention them at all, though. The Sky Spirits says this:
“In her wisdom, Azurah lit her brother’s pyre with the Twin Lanterns of Jone and Jode, and thus the true spirit of Lorkhaj will sometimes appear—but only when called by Azurah or Khenarthi, or by his oldest name*.”*(emphasis mine)
The mention of “oldest name” here suggests that the use of Lorkhaj’s protonymic can summon him, at a first glance, but if we have that alongside the cursing of Lorkhaj in The Words of Clan Mother Ahnissi, then summoning him would be summoning his remnant – bringing forth a Shezzarine. While I don’t think that incarnate beings and their sources share a nymic – the Nerevarine and Nerevar are distinct beings, as are Pelinal and Shezzar, the invocation of a protonymic could potentially cause one to emerge. But that’s purely a maybe on my part. Or, if we consider The Favoured Daughter of Fadomai, it could simply be a way to bring forth or creature dro’Math-ra.
Exactly what the link is between the protonymics of incarnates and their original spirits, I’m not sure. I want to say that they are possibly the same notes at a different pitch or something, but I have nothing to back up why that is the case, beyond a feeling that they should be the same thing, but mildly different. Or, potentially, notes from the same chord or key signature? I’m stretching metaphors here to try and come up with a way to account for discords between the Talos shezarrines here…
Shezzarines in the Games
Shezarrines may also have an impact on the games. There have been several threads over the years talking about whether the Last Dragonborn or the Hero of Kvatch are possibly Shezzarines, with a variety of justifications given.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Last Dragonborn is a fairly trite, if I’m honest. When the Last Dragonborn goes to Sovngarde, Shor’s Throne is empty, and the player can sit in it. This echoes some events from Shivering Isles where the player can’t sit in Sheogorath’s chair until they have effectively become Sheogorath. I find it a little weird that players don’t consider this to be mantling, given the Shivering Isles is usually seen to be that process, rather than incarnation, but can’t explain that.
This one is also premised on Shor being missing from Sovngarde, and that the Last Dragonborn is somehow being his presence while there. This is disproved somewhat by a comment that one of the Heroes makes in Sovngarde, that “Shor’s high seat stands empty; his mien is too bright for mortal eyes.” Mien is a person’s bearing, so this is saying that Shor’s way of being is too bright for mortal eyes. It also implies that Shor is in Sovngarde, even if he can’t be seen. This disproves what most people seem to take as the main part of the theory. This is in spite of the Last Dragonborn defeating Alduin in the spirit plane, like a story about Shor from the Five Songs of King Wulfharth. There are definite similarities to be made here, along with various confusions of identity. Bearing in mind what we said earlier about identity, the ghost at Old Hroldan calling the Last Dragonborn Hjalti and the Greybeards calling you Ysmir start to take on some different shades of meaning…
It is however a little difficult to reconcile with the idea of the Last Dragonborn being chosen by Akatosh, rather than Shor, so I find it a little hard to swallow personally. Although Zurin was both possibly a Shezarrine and associated with Magnus, so I guess a case can be made.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
The other case we have is people claiming that the Hero of Kvatch somehow “mantles” Pelinal. I think the idea of finishing Pelinal’s task by defeating Umaril, rather than becoming Pelinal as such means that this matches incarnation more than it does mantling. Pelinal himself also foretells of Umaril’s return, so we have several pieces of “drawn-bone destiny” to put together here. Although again, the evidence is quite circumstantial. I think that’s meant to be the case with pretty much all the incarnates we’ve seen so far; the Nerevarine faces pretty legitimate doubt and accusations of being an Imperial plant, and even the Song of Pelinal says “whether Pelinal was the Shezarrine is best left unsaid”, implying there’s some doubt even there, although I think that it’s pretty conclusive given who Pelinal was. So maybe, with that uncertainty, comes the possibility of it being the case?
I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Talk Elder Scrolls lore with other fans at the Written in Uncertainty Discord: https://discord.gg/Jc3r99w
Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep in touch on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aramithius
Watch Written in Uncertainty videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzQ9_UWzSiPvTcmcPmnE-hg
Chat live during Elder Scrolls lore streams: https://www.twitch.tv/aramithius
Support the show, get early access to all Written in Uncertainty content, including exclusive access to my notes: https://www.patreon.com/writteninuncertainty
Drop me a tip: https://www.ko-fi.com/aramithius
Check out the rest of the Robots Radio Network: https://www.robotsradio.net
Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/written-in-uncertainty/message