Before we begin: what follows is a discussion of the gods as they appear in Skyrim and other fantasy settings. It is not to be taken as a discussion of any real-world religions or deities.
In fantasy settings like that of the Elder Scrolls, the gods are presented as nearly omnipotent and omniscient forces. Mortals worship these beings because they are not only far more powerful than any mortal, but they are supposedly smarter and wiser.
What if we have this backwards? What if the gods are actually pretty dumb by human standards? What if they deserve our worship not in spite of but because of their limited mental capacity? What if this totally ties into what I’ve been saying about lagom and Aemilian’s current adventure in Skyrim?
So many questions, and way too much time.
The Will of the Goddess
Every time Aemilian visited the Temple of Kynareth in Whiterun, his attention fell on the lavender blooms growing in neat rows between columns and pools of clear water. If someone noticed his gaze, he could make something up about how the delicate purple petals represented the balance of nature and the grace of the goddess, and that was what drew him to them.
Truth was, he saw only alchemical ingredients, and his fingers itched to snatch a flower or two while nobody was looking.
Would Kynareth be displeased by his thoughts? Was he supposed to revere nature as an end in itself, appreciating the beauty of the plant as it grew? Or, by putting the plant to use, taking the gifts of nature and creating something beautiful from them, had he achieved a higher worship than those who only observed the plant?
These would probably be good questions to put to Danica Pure-Spring, the local priestess, but she was occupied. An Imperial man stood before her, hands on his hips, professing himself to be a pilgrim and proclaiming his disappointment at finding the sacred tree dying.
With a sidelong glance at Rayya, who only shrugged, Aemilian cleared his throat and approached the haggard priestess and her indignant supplicant.
“I was actually hoping to do something about that.”
Since we’re already talking religion, I might as well throw some politics on this ideological tinderbox. I’ve never known how to feel about single-issue voters–say, someone who will vote for the candidate that is for gay marriage, or the one who wants to lower taxes, regardless of how they fall on any other issue. On the one hand I can respect that: they know what’s really important to them and they take a stand for it. On the other hand, how much evil can you justify a politician doing as long as he gives you what you want?
In fantasy settings, including Skyrim, the gods are claimed to be super-intelligent and complex, yet what they represent can be summed up in a handful of words: nature, or protecting the weak, or logic and magic, or whatever the hell Talos actually represents depending on who you ask. The point is, the gods come off as having the logical capacity of a hungry five-year-old. “I want food!” “But we’re eating with friends in an hour.” “I want food.” “You should learn to be patient.” “I want food!”
A discussion with Kynareth might go the same way. “What is your will, Goddess?” “SERVE NATURE.” “Okay, but we need to cut down some trees to make you a temple, is that okay?” “SERVE NATURE.” “Do I have to serve nature all the time, or can I take weekends off?” “SERVE NATURE.”
Though some people might disagree–my apologies–I think it’s generally accepted that nature itself does not have a grand plan or destiny. Nature simply does nature. As the embodiment of nature, it follows that Kynareth simply does nature too. Moral quandaries and rational arguments are beyond her. The point of nature is nature, and you should nature because nature. What we would call stupidity in one of our own is what makes Kynareth the most pure representative of nature. Because of our intelligence, we cannot escape questions about what nature really means or really should mean, or how we should weigh what’s best for nature against what’s best for humanity.
Due to our genius, we are incapable of comprehending the simplest truths. That’s what makes the gods, figurative or literal, valuable to us. I will never understand nature the way Kynareth does, but by reflecting on Kynareth, I can borrow some of her understanding when it comes time to make decisions.
The Lagom Identity
Lagom applies to a lot of practical situations, like shopping and work-life balance, but it can also apply to how you see yourself. We’ve talked before about finding your real-world tribe or “faction” by identifying your most core values.
Let’s throw the principle of lagom into the mix. What does it look like to have not too few and not too many core values? Start be looking for the lowest common denominators among your values. Earlier, I talked about how I value both travel and diversity, and I could boil those down to a general value of difference.
I also found I could reduce my loves of gaming and fitness to a love of self-improvement. Can I reduce further? I suppose I could. Self-improvement implies change, which is becoming different than you already are, so I could say both self-improvement and difference stem from the fact I value change. Change doesn’t resonate with me the same way either self-improvement or difference do, however.
Breaking these values down into more distinct values makes them less useful, and so does reducing them further. These are lagom values. Once you identify these values, reflect on them without binding yourself to them. Like Kynareth, you might revere nature, but if there’s a wildfire–an expression of nature–you would still fight it if it threatened your community. Yet day-to-day, making nature a priority keeps you aligned with your purpose.
I like diversity of both people and experience, and keeping that in the forefront of my mind keeps me from getting stuck in a rut. Still, it’s okay for me to go through a period of sameness every now and then, as long as I’m conscious of the fact I’m doing it and why.
Speaking of core values….
There’s a reason I’ve been thinking so much about tribes and values. When I started Desdenada, it was because I recognized that I belong to a very, very small tribe, and if I want to find other people like me, I’ll have to be proactive about it. Since the beginning I’ve had a handful of “Desdenada Core Values” in mind, though they, like Desdenada itself, are a work in progress. The first one, at least, is pretty set in my mind. It’s the value that spawned the Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play to begin with.
So come back next time as we discuss why Desdenada is ridiculously slow.