So what is this blog about, exactly?
So I was recently reading Children of the Root, our first example of an Argonian creation myth. The in-universe reason that this one is probably the first one to be made known to players is because Argonian myths are known in Tamriel to be "obscure and contradictory" and too difficult to reconcile with those of other races, whereas this one (despite not being "otherwise attested" outside of the Adzi-Kostleel tribe) does seem to have clear(er) parallels to myths we already know. However, I think there is a danger in jumping to familiar explanations with this myth rather than accepting it on its own terms, and therefore I have decided to do my own analysis of it. I feel that I have uncovered some very interesting insights in the process of doing this which I hope to share with the rest of the wiki.
Feedback is welcome and encouraged!
Breaking Down the Story:
The myth begins thusly:
'There was first only Atak, the Great Root. It knew of nothing but itself, so it decided to be everything. It grew and grew, trying to fill the nothing with itself. As it grew it formed new roots, and those roots took names, and they wanted space of their own to grow.
'Then Atak learned that there were things other than itself. They were just like Atak, but went a different way from it. They saw and made strange new things that did not last except in how it changed them.'
Given this set-up it is tempting therefore to take Atak as the Anu analogue in this story, but I think this is mistaken. Atak is only a root: the Great Root, but a root nonetheless, unaware that there are beings that may also be conscious apart from itself until, of course, Atak grows roots of its own. Remember also that time has not yet been fully established in this part of the story, so the story is being told subjectively from the point-of-view of Atak rather than in a chronological play-by-play sort of way that is common to most other myths. We're not necessarily starting the story at the absolute beginning in the cosmological sense.
So who is Anu in this analogy? The not-nothing! The "tree" from which Atak and others are growing! And Padomay could be analogized to the void ('the nothing'). But as is fitting for entities associated with stasis and chaos, they are relegated to background elements; the story begins with the dawning of a consciousness, not before then. In Aldmeri myths, this dawning takes the form of the collective of all souls, Anui-El, but in this myth we follow an individual primordial consciousness in the form of Atak who exists as distinct from "things other than itself".
But let us continue:
'Atak continued to grow until something came back from the nothing. It was like a root but had scales and eyes and a mouth. It told Atak that it was called Kota, and it had been growing, too. Now that it had a mouth, it was hungry.'
This leads us to this myth's first important theme: change is intrinsic to reality. There is no such thing as a truly static entity in Argonian thought. Even the most static entities in the story, the tree and the void, are not completely static, because the tree is growing roots like Atak and Kota learns hunger in the nothing. In the Argonian worldview, change is not restricted to the forces of chaos (i.e. Padomay) but is also part of their opponents (i.e. Anu). Heck, it's even possible that Kota was another root of the same tree Atak grew from at some point before breaking off and becoming one with the nothing, as Kota is described as 'like a root'.
Another interesting aside to this is that in most T.E.S. myths, even the very Padomaic Sithis story, Anu is the everything/nothing: the space in which everything else takes place and in which all other beings exist (except in stories in which it coexists at the beginning alongside Padomay and sometimes Nir). It's not always a conscious entity or creator (for example in Sithis), but it is the thing from which creation is derived. The T.E.S. cosmology is sometimes called 'Anu's Dream', even. But in this story, the Anu/Anuiel analogue, the not-nothing tree (and its roots), is growing inside the chaos/void, presumably Padomay/Sithis, either having always existed in it, having randomly materialized within it, or having grown as a lesser extension of it, which is common in real-world myths (for example Greco-Roman mythology which begins with Chaos) but until now not so in T.E.S.. Of course, it could easily be argued that, in this case, the tree is Padomay and the nothing/void is Anu, but because Kota becomes "hungry" from gaining a mouth in the nothing, the void being Padomay/Sithis convinces me more, especially when one considers that hunger is the result of "lack" or an absence in the body: ideas that are associated in T.E.S. with Sithis.
Onwards to the next part:
'Atak named Kota for what it was: serpent! It put roots through the serpent's eyes. But Kota was old and strong like the root, and had grown fangs while it was away. It bit Atak. They coiled around each other. From their struggle, new things came to be. Atak learned things Kota had learned, including hunger, and so it bit Kota back. They ate and roiled for so long they became one and forgot their conflict.'
Again, this indicates that Atak is not a force for stasis despite being presumably tied to the Anuic side of the equation. In fact, Atak is the one who instigates the conflict due to fear of Kota, whereas in pretty much every other creation myth in T.E.S. (except that of the Khajiit) the Padomaic entity attacks the Anuic one first (or tricks it in the case of the Khajiiti myth). Instead, Atak is a force for growth. Likewise, Kota is not a force for chaos: Kota is a force for hunger/loss. These are two different aspects of time: growth and erasure. And after biting each other they become one entity, drawing obvious parallels to T.E.S.'s other Ouroboros-like timey-wimey entity, Satakal. In fact, if you add an 'S' to 'Atak', you get 'Satak'.
'They shed their skin and severed their roots and called themselves Atakota, who said "Maybe."'
So now we're drawing parallels to another entity in T.E.S.: Akatosh, whose name sounds a lot like "Atakota". In fact, switch around the 'k' and the 't' and you get 'Akatota', and if you add an 'l' at the end you get 'Akatotal' or Aka-total, 'aka' being a word for time/dragon in T.E.S.. I don't know if all of this is intentional but that Akatota's name is at least meant to resemble Akatosh's definitely is intentional. This makes sense, since time has two aspects: the aspect that causes growth (continuity) and the aspect that causes involuntary loss, forgetting, or erasure (discontinuity). Both of these aspects become united in Atakota, and thus the cycle of time is established. Of course, when I call Atakota 'Akatosh', I mean the original God of Time 'Aka' and all its derivatives (Aka-Tusk, Alduin, Tosh-Raka, etc.), not just the modern Imperial god Akatosh. Note that the first, middle, and last letters of 'Atakota' are A,K, and A, spelling 'Aka'.
This is interesting because in every other T.E.S. myth Akatosh/Auriel is born without complications. It just happens. Whereas in this myth Akatosh's birth is a complicated process of two different entities, one of continuity and the other of discontinuity, joining together to become one. This fascinatingly also implies that time may have existed in a form prior to Akatosh, just in a far less structured way since only Kota and nothing-aligned entities were familiar with discontinuity prior to Kota joining with Atak. We also have an origin for the Aurbis, which like in other stories is connected to the concept of 'Maybe'.
'When Atakota said this, the skin it had shed knew itself. It ate the severed roots and even though it was dead, it followed Atakota like a shadow.
'Atakota continued to roil, and each of its scales was a world that it devoured. But now Atakota was not in conflict, and things had time to begin and end. The shadow wished it could eat these things, but its belly was full of roots that were growing.
'When the shadow could bear it no longer, it swam closer to Atakota and spat out the roots. Now that its belly was empty, the shadow almost ate them again and everything else it saw. But it had come to see the roots as its own after carrying them, so instead it told them secrets and went to sleep.'
I think it's clear at this point that Akatosh is being deliberately connected to Satakal of Yokudan/Redguard mythology, with Atakota being a sort of bridging or intermediate concept. That being said, the Satak part of Satakal resembles not only Atak but also Kota because it is a serpent, whereas the Akal/Akel part of Satakal, the "hunger" or "empty stomach", was once only in Kota but is now being shared between both Atak and Kota because, as established during their fight, Atak now also understands the concept of hunger, forming the loop which unites the two beings. So the binary division of Satakal/Atakota is different in both myths, but it's still the same entity.
We also see the introduction of the shadow, who becomes an important character as the story progresses. What's funny is that the shadow is exactly opposite to Atakota: Atakota eats in order to satisfy its hunger, whereas the shadow wants to eat but can't because its stomach is full; Atakota never hesitates to consume the spirits, whereas the shadow chooses compassion for the roots over hunger. We also see the introduction of the "spirits", who are distinct from Atak's shed roots; this becomes an important dichotomy in the next parts.
'The roots found others and told them how they had survived in the belly of the shadow and how they were still able to grow there. When they shared this knowledge with the others it changed them, and they took on new forms with new names.
'Some of these spirits wanted to keep the names and forms they had chosen, but they had learned them through the shadow, and it was now in all of them, making them temporary. They learned of hunger and conflict, and they learned to fear change and called it Death.
'These spirits were angry and afraid, but the roots showed the spirits ways between places from when Atak had made paths out of nothing. They could use these riverways to hide from Death.'
Here the roots are instrumental in causing the spirits to become distinct from each other. There is now a division between the spirits who took on new forms to grow in the shadow, making them mortal, and those that did not. This seems similar to the founding of Mundus. There is also a parallel between the riverways and the place called the "Far Shores" related to the "Walkabout" of Yokudan myth, all of these being used to circumvent Atakota's/Satakal's hunger and to avoid destruction. A difference though is that the spirts go on Walkabout many times before the founding of mortality in Yokudan myth, whereas here discovery of the riverways is presented as happening either after spirits start becoming mortal or contemporaneously. On the other hand, perhaps this is not the founding of Mundus but of Oblivion, since Padomaic Daedra can "die" in the sense that they have to be remade from chaotic creatia every time their body is destroyed, which is apparently a very painful process for them. Or maybe it's an analogy for both foundings.
Rather amusingly, the roots are imitating their "foster parent", the shadow, in their willingness to share secrets with others.
'The spirits were content and set about to make things that looked like them and shared in their aspects and loved them. They kept growing until they were as big as Atakota, and they forgot it came before them, and that it had a shadow that was sleeping.'
This seems like the establishment of gods, since in T.E.S. the main thing that separates Mundus's gods and goddesses from lesser spirits is how powerful they are in the minds of mortals, especially as indicated by worship. Also the pantheon of the supposedly equal Nine Divines comes to mind. In the minds of the Argonians, it seems that any spirit that sees itself as equal to or greater than Akatosh is demonstrating dangerous hubris. Additionally, this could also be read as the rise of the Daedric Princes in Oblivion and possibly of analogous beings in Aetherius.
'In time, the worlds were too big and there was no more room. Again the spirits went to the roots to ask for more. But the roots had gone to sleep content with what they had made, because it changed so often that it did not need to grow.'
Again, Atak's shed roots are imitating the shadow, this time going to sleep akin to how the shadow did previously. Also, the roots are behaving similarly to the roots et alia at the beginning of the story who 'saw and made strange new things that did not last except in how it changed them.'
'The spirits grew so desperate and hungry that they tore at Atakota's skin and drank of its blood. They ate until they broke Atakota, so that Atak remembered growing, and Kota remembered being nothing. There was conflict again, and from the spirits Atak and Kota learned about Death, so there was violence, blood, and sap.'
Yikes! So a lot is happening in this paragraph. Atakota separates again, and here it seems that Atak and Kota are being specifically identified with Auriel and Lorkhan. If so, this would imply that Lorkhan is not so much "the Space God" as he is the god of discontinuity, like Kota, and Auriel isn't so much "the Time God" as he is the god of continuity, like Atak. Only together are they truly the God of Time, although interestingly enough the myth presents "the nothing" as being the primordial embodiment of Space, from whom Kota/Lorkhan matured but is distinct.
Alternatively, perhaps the "space" of the nothing was merely "difference" rather than physical space, and "growth" was merely an increase in complexity rather than physical growth. This begs the question of how Atak was able to "meet" others in an existence without physical space; maybe Atak merely gained enough complexity to comprehend the existence of others? This would also explain why it was that Atak did not meet Kota til later, since Kota literally introduced to Atak the concept of physical space which had been allowing Kota to move about in the nothing.
Coming back to the story, the conflict being described in the paragraph seems analogous to the Ehlnofey Wars between merkind and mankind and their leaders, Auriel and Lorkhan respectively.
'In the chaos the spirits were lost and afraid, so they ate others and themselves. They drank of blood and sap, and they grew scales and fangs and wings. And these spirits forgot why they had made anything other than to eat it.'
This seems like the Argonians' origin for dragons, whom by the analogy to monsters the Argonians don't seem to be very fond of.
'There were other spirits that still clung to what they were and what they had made. A forest spirit came and saw that the roots loved their children like she loved hers, so she taught them to walk and talk. They told her secrets with new words, and she sang the song back to them. The roots woke up when they heard this, and joined with the forest.'
The forest spirit is very likely to be Y'ffre, who is sometimes described using feminine pronouns in Bosmeri myth, but how Y'ffre comes to be in this cosmology is less clear. If we are to take the words literally, Y'ffre is a spirit like the other spirits, but clearly Y'ffre is wiser and less embroiled in the chaos than the other spirits. Maybe Y'ffre is a spirit that didn't learn to live in the shadow like the other spirits. Or maybe Y'ffre is counted among the 'other spirits that still clung to what they were and what they had made'. In either case, Y'ffre teaches other spirits who are willing to learn how to walk and talk, which indicates in the mythohistory of T.E.S. that Y'ffre aided more than just "her children", which is to say the Bosmer or mer in general. In teaching the spirits, she is also imitating the roots' prior teaching.
The last line is very telling, and I'll come back to this shortly.
'The roots saw that Kota's blood had made oceans, and Atak's sap had made stones, and each of these spirits had never known the shadow. The roots knew what this would mean, and asked the shadow to protect its children.'
This is a somewhat strange inversion, as Lorkhan's blood is usually associated with ebony stone, and the oceans are associated with Old Aldmeris and Auriel, unless Kota isn't actually Lorkhan and Atak isn't actually Auriel. What if Lorkhan is Atak-like-Kota and Auriel is Kota-like-Atak, Kota and Atak having traded places/personalities after breaking apart? It's an interesting thought.
'The shadow woke. It looked upon Kota and Atak and saw how different the nothing had become and how it was becoming the same as before. It remembered it was the skin of Atakota, and it was bigger than Kota or Atak alone, so it decided it would eat them both.
'And it did. The shadow ate the snake and the root, and the sap and stone, and the oceans of blood, and all of the spirits. It had eaten everything before it remembered the roots that were its children, so it looked unto itself to find them. When the shadow saw this, it remembered that it was a skin of something that came before, and it had eaten what came after, and this would be an end that always was.
'And so the shadow shed its skin, even though that was all it was, and it fell like a shroud over the roots, promising to keep them safe within its secrets.'
This is the end of the world (and the myth) and the return to the primordium at the beginning of the myth.
Interestingly, the earlier line, 'The roots woke up when they heard this, and joined with the forest', taken together in context with the final line, 'And so the shadow shed its skin, even though that was all it was, and it fell like a shroud over the roots, promising to keep them safe within its secrets', implies that Atak's shed roots become the new tree/forest of the next cycle, and the shadow becomes the nothing/void that they're in, which means that this is a repeating story: hence the line, 'When the shadow saw this, it remembered that it was a skin of something that came before, and it had eaten what came after, and this would be an end that always was.'
Insights into the T.E.S. Cosmology:
What is the shadow?
Reading the myth in its entirety, it seems extremely likely that the shadow is Sithis, in his aspect as the Dread Father if I had to guess. At first, the myth presents the nothing and the shadow as two different elements, but it turns out at the end of the myth that they are the same despite the shadow having its origin in the future; this is because by the end of the story the future has become the primordial past. Therefore, Sithis exists as two different but connected aspects in the myth: the nothing, which is the-void-that-was, and the shadow, which is the void-that-shall-be. The shadow is probably also the identity of the Aspect of Sithis that appears in T.E.S.O..
So how does this speculation help us to understand the third known aspect of Sithis, the Night Mother? The Night Mother is the aspect that transforms the shadow into the nothing; she's essentially the part of creation that helps the shadow destroy creation. If it helps, think of the Night Mother as a spirit who decides to help the shadow eat everything at the end of the story.
Additionally, Sithis represents a sort of inverted cycle to the one Atakota represents (time). In the myth, Sithis is both the precursor to the concept of space (in his aspect as the nothing-space of pre-creation) and the return to the time before time (in his aspect as the shadow), undoing all history and progress. The shadow is thus similar to Alduin the World Eater. However, whereas Alduin is the aspect of time which ends one kalpa to bring into being the next slightly different kalpa (like how Atakota eats spirits to make room for the next group of spirits), the shadow essentially resets everything to when there was no time. So the shadow could be said to be the "untime" version of Alduin, if you will, bringing an end to an even larger cosmic cycle. Sithis is therefore the entity that stands the most apart in the myth, being neither tree, nor root, nor serpent, nor spirit, nor combination thereof. Sithis is Atakota's shadow: the nothing.
What are the roots?
If the shadow and the nothing are Sithis, then the roots are representative of the class of beings the Hist belong to. There are a number of thematic elements in the myth that hint how this is the case.
For one thing, the myth sets up a structural dichotomy between the roots (material beings) and the spirits (immaterial beings), with the immaterial spirits arising from the material roots plus Kota the serpent. (As an aside, this is fascinating inversion of most myths including in T.E.S. in which the material is derived wholy from the immaterial.) In the story, the spirits correspond to the mortals, animals, dragons, et cetera that come to be as a result of Atakota's cycle of creation and destruction and that evolve into different entities over the course of the story; the spirits 'as big as Atakota' are the gods, the greatest among the Aedra and the Daedra, equally spirits, which is to say et'Ada.
But if the Aedra and Daedra are spirits, then the roots have to be some other type of being. Given the choice of word 'roots', one would assume they are some sort of supernatural plant-like entities, which the Hist seem to be. That being said, the Hist may only exist in their current forms as a result of the influence of Y'ffre (the forest spirit): a possibility indicated by the line which states that the roots 'joined with the forest.'
For another thing, the roots have a unique relationship with the shadow, which is analogous to how the Hist have a unique relationship with Sithis. The roots are, after all, the only beings which can survive/exist in the time-less time of the primordium (as part of the not-nothing tree in the nothing of the void), and in no myths in T.E.S. are the gods conscious prior to Akatosh coming into existence, so the roots have to be types of entity unique unto themselves.
Strangely enough though, and something that may throw people off, is the implication that Atak, the precursor to Satak and later Auriel (and the "growing" half of Atakota/Akatosh) is a 'root' rather than a 'spirit'. Likewise, Atakota's eventual other half, Kota, is described to be 'like a root'. I do not think that this means that the Divines other than Akatosh are 'roots', but rather than in the Argonian worldview Akatosh/Atakota is a unique entity, and that other spirits (and their mortal worshipers) believe they are akin to Akatosh when in fact they are not the same. This is evidenced by the line, 'They [the spirits] kept growing until they were as big as Atakota, and they forgot it came before them, and that it had a shadow that was sleeping.' Like all et'Ada, the other Divines are spirits: only Atakota is different.
If all of this is true, then it means that Akatosh shares a kinship with the Hist, who are derived from Atak before its merger with Kota to become Atakota/Akatosh. It also means that the Hist and their relatives may exist in a strange sort of cycle, starting out as Atak's shed roots and maturing by the return of untime into a new tree, thus having 'joined the forest' of trees, only to produce their own roots and eventually the next Atak and Kota and the like. Nevertheless, since Hist and company are root-derivatives of Atak rather than of the not-nothing (the tree) directly, It would be interesting to know whether there are any "others" that exist at the same level as Atak and Kota. Alas, we need another myth to receive confirmation about that!
Bonus Edit: What are the roots, really?
We know that in the T.E.S. games the Hist appear to be a kind of plant (sentient alien plants, but plants nonetheless), but assuming this wasn't always the case (implied by the roots having 'joined the forest' only in reaction to the song of the forest spirit, presumably Y'ffre) what were the 'roots' original forms?
There are a surprising number of references to real-world mathematical and scientific terms in T.E.S. (for example the term 'subgradients'), and this may be yet another reference. If this is the case, the 'roots' can be analogous to mathematical roots such as square-roots, cube-roots, etc.. This makes some degree of sense due to Atak and Kotal, the two aspects of time, also being described as roots or root-like, and in our world time is connected to the laws of physics. This would also explain how it is that the roots are able to survive in untime, since maths are capable of surviving (albeit not capable of being understood) in the absence of space and time. However, if the Hist are, at their core, mathematical beings simulating consciousness, the level of mathematics they represent must be extremely complex: far, far, far more complex than current real-life mathematics. I suppose then that making a Hist "sick" or "insane" is akin to suppressing expression of the Hist's "full equation": its "self". I have to say, theories like this are why I love T.E.S.!
Are Padomay, Anu, and Anuiel present in this myth?
These primordial entities exist only in the story's implication. As far as can be interpreted in the myth, Padomay (Chaos) appears to be the ultimate reality, with the nothing (Sithis) and the not-nothing (Anu and Anuiel) being manifestations of the change inherent to existence.
As stated early on in the essay, there does not appear to be any example of true stasis in the Argonian worldview, change being present even during the primordial untime. The closest thing to Anu in the myth is the absence of nothing, which includes the collective of roots that is the tree and forest, which is nevertheless still affected by the nothing (case in point: Kota and its struggle with Atak). Anuiel would best be described as all the conscious entities in the story except the shadow: the emergence of consciousness from life (the tree) in turn emerging from chaos.
Intriguingly, the myth positions Sithis as the closest thing to God, surpassing even its originator/counterpart/progeny Atakota, not unlike the very different but equally Padomaic myth present in the book Sithis.
This is the End of my Analysis!
I hope you all enjoyed it.
I'm thinking about making a reddit account and sharing this on r/teslore, so comments are appreciated!
I want to thank u/Eruaniel on reddit for the detailed break-down 'Analysis of the Argonian Cosmogony' which I consulted in the process of researching this topic.
I'd also like to thank fellow The Elder Scrolls Wiki user Pelinal Whitestrake for his excellent blog, 'About Aka, Lorkhan, and Broken Windows', which I also drew inspiration from, especially with regard to the subgradients of existence and how Aka and Lorkhan relate.