Friday, May 4, 2018

Meet the Evanuris: The Dalish Origins of the Elven Pantheon

Up on Mount Sundermount with Flemeth, in Dragon Age 2. We're not
aware of it here, but we're actually getting a pep talk from Mythal herself!
It's no accident, of course, that we're near to an altar dedicated to Mythal
The elves called to their ancient gods, but there was no answer.

SPOILERS as always, for all of Dragon Age!

Welcome back! And apologies for the silence—my research on this topic just seemed to go on endlessly... I'd assemble codex after codex, go through interviews with Bioware writers, and still feel like I'd barely scratched the surface... it's a tribute to Bioware and the Dragon Age universe that the lore is so rich and full of potential discovery. But it also meant that creating this post (and the one post-Trespasser, as well as Mythal's, to follow shortly after) took me longer than I expected. 

I still feel like I haven't covered as much as I wanted to, explored as richly as I should have, and... yeah. I'm pooped. 

So of course, this means you'll have to prepare for even more walls of text in the future on these subjects. Instead of my original plan, of a post or two (oh, I was so, so young!), it will now be part of a brand-new post series.

And it's been interesting. As noted above, I've found that the real peril of investigating the Evanuris is that you can read a hundred pages, posts, and codices and you'll still always find more. So it's definitely been a challenge, and one I'll admit was not quite as much fun as the research I did on Bull's sex life (dammit). Has it been fascinating? Yes. Sexy? Not so much. But I think it's going to be essential for making additional connections as we look forward to Dragon Age 4

So here we go, with a preliminary look at the elven gods—please note spoilers, as always, on all of Dragon Age!

A Closer Look at the Elven Pantheon

Ancient, dangerous, complicated and endlessly fascinating, the Evanuris are some of the most tantalizing mysteries to be found in the Dragon Age universe. Stories of the Evanuris are inexorably tied with stories of the even more mysterious "Forgotten Ones," their ancient enemies (and whom I'll be exploring later in a separate post, along with the Old Gods, as well).

It's probably crazy of me, but I find the
portrait of Dirthamen at the Temple of
Mythal far creepier than Falon'Din's.
Note the black eyes here—unique to
the portraits of the twins alone.
However, if we go way, way back, in the very beginning of the Dragon Age story, in Dragon Age: Origins, we're introduced to the elven pantheon (or as we later know them, the Evanuris) as a classically polytheistic counterpoint to the monotheistic and pseudo-Christian vision of the Chantry and its Maker. We first get to know them as members of the Dalish pantheon, and as an echo of many of the classical Greek/Roman and Norse archetypes, and since they're a nomadic people, the Dalish versions could also be said to evoke many deities of several of the indigenous Native American tribes, as well. 

Upon introduction, we're given an assortment of common divine archetypes: Mythal (The Mother-Protector), Elgar'nan (the All-Father, god of Vengeance, Wrath and Thunder), Andruil (the Huntress, along with Ghilan'nain), Falon'Din (the Death-master), Dirthamen (the Knowledge-Keeper), June (Crafts and Weapons), Sylaise (Hearth and Healing)... and (of course) the much-loved, feared, and hated Trickster, Fen'Harel.

First, let's take a look at the Dalish visions of the Evanuris gods and goddesses... and then I'll make a second examination of their more complex Evanuris selves, based on clues we're given further in The Masked Empire, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The World of Thedas Volume 2, and the DAI DLC "Trespasser."

The Dalish Origin Story

The Dalish origin story has echoes of many tales and legends from our own world, and most especially of course in the universe of classical myth and fantasy literature. It's beautifully evocative of everything from Greek/Roman, Norse, Arabic, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and other classical myths and legends, with possible tips of the hat to universes including Tolkien and LeGuin, as well.

As former Bioware writer (and the original Maker of Thedas himself) David Gaider noted years back, when we look at the origin stories of the elves, it's interesting to note that, unlike the tales told by the Chantry about the Maker, the elven gods did not create the universe, or the world, as in most other such myths and stories—the world was here before them. The World and Sun were preexisting. Who created them? We don't know. We do know that the stories of the Old Gods came long after the elven gods, so it wasn't them. As did (cough) stories of the Maker.

I love this little detail, by the way—that the elves either do not speculate on the creation of the universe, they have no theories on what was involved, or, most intriguingly, perhaps the story starts after the beginning because some shred of memory remained to the Dalish—some ghost of memory that, in fact, the gods (the Evanuris) came after the beginnings of things. 

Either way, as the Dalish tell it, when the gods were born, the world was already here. It's worth asking though... what if the Titans, those beings immeasurably large and mysterious, larger than mountains, whose hearts beat with a magic and energy we cannot understand... were in fact the world itself, and the true parents of Elgar'nan and Mythal? 

I think, for myself, that the Titans came first... and the gods came after.

The Births of Elgar'nan and Mythal

In the accepted beginning of the story among the elves, the myths say that in the early moments of time itself, there were only the Sun and the Land. The light of the Sun (his father) upon the Land (his mother) created Elgar'nan, the first of the elven gods, and he rejoiced in his life, in his closeness to the Land, and he celebrated the life he found around him. At first, both of his parents (Sun and Land) loved him, but as the earth brought forth the plants and animals as gifts and companions, the Sun grew jealous of their closeness, and burned away the beautiful birds, beasts, and green places until all that covered the land was ash and dust. In her agony, the Land wept, creating the oceans, rivers and streams, all from the cracking of the land in its torment, leading to the first (and of course, inevitable) clash between the son and the father.

For me, there are inevitable echoes immediately here of the Greek gods and Titans (a sly bit of wordplay since here, too, I believe the Titans may be the parents of the gods, albeit in a completely different way), as well as nods to Joseph Campbell's Hero archetype, as Elgar'nan must, in classical mythological tradition, defeat his own father to attain the throne, exiling Dad to the Abyss (the Void?). Which he does. Elgar'nan's mother pleads with him to reconsider since the world needs the sun for growth, but his vengeance is at first inexorable.

The Dalish believe that Elgar'nan is born when the Sun touches the Land
for the first time. It's a nice counterpoint that Elgar'nan is born of land, while
Mythal herself walks out of the sea.
It's interesting that Mythal, meanwhile, only appears because Elgar'nan refuses to countenance the return of the sun. The world weeps in pain and sadness, creating the oceans, and much like Aphrodite, Mythal then walks out of the sea itself, and calms Elgar'nan's rage enough for him to realize that the sun is essential for the world's survival and healing, also (I believe) setting a clear pattern for their path forward through millennia as rulers of the elven people—a pattern in which Elgar'nan loses his temper or becomes enraged, and then Mythal must act as peacemaker.

Regardless, once he meets his wife, Elgar'nan then realizes his folly, unearths his father (on condition of behavior, to which the Sun agrees), and light is returned to the world. Then together Mythal shapes the sphere of the earth from the light of the Sun and both she and Elgar'nan help it to recover and thrive in its warmth.

While Mythal is generally considered maternal, gentle, just and benevolent, she could also be wrathful, often assumed by the Dalish legends to pursue those objects of her wrath in an unending vengeance. But it's interesting that, overall, she is far more frequently associated, even in myth, with justice, judgment, and wisdom—appropriate to a goddess whose first act was to walk out of the sea and calm the anger of her future husband.

But then she was betrayed, her spirit howling for vengeance and justice into the air itself. And then Mythal met Flemeth, and her rage found a matching rage in a  kindred spirit and a similar and female power. And things got a lot more interesting... for all of Thedas (and beyond)!

Meet the Evanuris (the Dalish Interpretations)

The Dalish view of the Evanuris is what we witness in the earliest chapters of Dragon Age, and in Origins we're treated to a rich array of lovely myths and stories about the Evanuris that are both charming and occasionally disturbing. Which is as it should be. They're myths—simple stories designed to teach, to frighten, to entertain. As with most myths, the stories of the Dalish elven gods are about evening the playing field, about spotlighting the gods' all-too-human failings. So we get stories and fairytales about little glimpses of capriciousness or cruelty, little moments of weakness or corruption or vanity.

We, of course, learn far more about the elven pantheon through Dragon Age: Inquisition and especially into Trespasser, learning that they are the fierce and far more complex Evanuris, and that they may have been darker and, of course, not gods at all.

So let's meet these gods and goddesses, and examine both what they are assumed to be by the Dalish in the beginning, and then at what seem to be the actual facts—the darker revelations and interpretations we gain, and what they may mean both now and in the future.

Mythal (The All-Mother and Great Protector)
As the goddess of love and justice, Mythal walked out of the sea of the world's tears in order to calm the anger of Elgar'nan and return peace and healing to the world. She convinces Elgar'nan to return the sun, creates the Moon, and serves for countless years as the dispenser of law and wisdom to her people. 

While Mythal is generally considered maternal, gentle, just and benevolent, she could also be wrathful, often assumed by the Dalish legends to pursue those objects of her wrath in an unending vengeance. But it's interesting that, overall, she is far more frequently associated, even in myth, with justice, judgment, and wisdom—appropriate to a goddess whose very first act was one of peace.

There are statues of Mythal in many notable locations, from the Temple of Mythal, to the Tomb of the Emerald Knights, to the Tomb of Fairel.

Elgar'nan (God of Vengeance)
Beautiful, fierce, clever, arrogant and formidable, Elgar'nan was born of the moment the sunlight met the Land. He was the mate of Mythal who was also frequently referred to as the All-Father, was called "Eldest of the Sun" and (in a direct echo of Zeus) "He Who Overthrew His Father" stood for fatherhood, vengeance, and leadership of the pantheon alongside Mythal. Sites sacred to Elgar'nan include Elgar'nan's Keep.

Falon'Din (Guide and Friend of the Dead)
As the elven God of Death and Fortune, Falon'Din is the twin brother of Dirthamen, and both are said to be the eldest children of Mythal and Elgar'nan. Falon'Din is said to be the god who shepherds the dead into the afterlife, or Beyond. He is a benign and even positive figure to the Dalish, yet may have been much darker in actuality. Falon'Din delighted in darkness and walked "the shifting paths beyond the Veil" with ease, with his brother Dirthamen beside him. Falon'Din's sacred animal is the owl (also the messenger of Andruil), and the Tomb of the Emerald Knights appears to be linked in some way to Falon'Din and his worshippers. Like all the gods, there is a golden mosaic portrait of him in the Temple of Mythal, but unique to him and his twin, Dirthamen, Falon'Din's eyes are black. Everyone else's eyes are white. Does this reference the ability of both twins to walk the Fade? Or signify something more malevolent?

Dirthamen (Keeper of Secrets)
As the elven god of secrets and knowledge, Dirthamen, the twin brother of Falon'Din, is said to have given the elves the gift of knowledge, teaching them fidelity to family and loyalty. Most famously among the Dalish tales, Dirthamen was separated from his brother Falon'Din, and he went into the Fade to find him. While there, he was set upon by malevolent ravens Fear and Deceit, but Dirthamen was able to master both ravens and compel them to bring him to Falon'Din, and once reunited, they never parted from one another again. Dirthamen was sometimes referred to as the 'reflection' of Falon'Din, and he created the Varterral in order to battle a high dragon that attacked an ancient elven city whose name is now lost. His sacred animals are the ravens and the bear (the only animal in the world to keep the secret he whispered to it). Dirthamen's portrait in the Temple of Mythal depicts an elven figure covering his mouth with crossed hands, and as noted above, his eyes are pitch-black, unique to the portraits of the twins alone. The Lost Temple of Dirthamen is his most notable sacred location in Thedas.

Andruil (Goddess of the Hunt)
Known as "Blood and Force," "Sister of the Moon," and as the "Great Hunter," Andruil is the daughter of Mythal and Elgar'nan, who is known as the fierce and proud goddess of the Hunt. She is the provider of the sacred Vir Tanadhal, the Way of Three Trees (of the Arrow, the Bow, and of the Wood). Her sacred creatures include hawks, owls, and hares. There is a statue of Andruil in the Brecilian Outskirts, in the Dalish Camp in Dragon Age: Origins, and a mosaic portrait of her in the Temple of Mythal (one of the most off-putting, to me, with her arrow strung to her bow, eyes narrowed, and with uneven wavy lines emanating from her figure that to me denote her potential for madness).

Sylaise (Keeper of the Hearth, the Arts, Healing and Song)
Beloved of the Dalish, Sylaise (also known as the Hearthkeeper), is the more peaceable sister of Andruil, as well as the goddess of healing, hearth and home (and who is also, fittingly, the giver of fire). She is the patroness of all domestic arts and taught the elves such talents as the weaving of thread and rope, of the use of herbs and magic for healing, and more. Sylaise's beautiful mosaic in the Temple of Mythal is one of my favorites, and depicts Sylaise as wearing a crown, perhaps of flowers, flowing queenly purple robes, and she is encircled by flowering vines.

June is easily among the most mysterious
and least-known of the Dalish pantheon.
June (God of the Craft)
As the Master of Crafts, June has been referred to as both a brother to Andruil and Sylaise, or also (alternatively) as the husband or mate of Sylaise (based on the later revelations of the Temple of Mythal, I'm voting that he was a sibling to the others, not a mate). June gave the elves the knowledge they needed to thrive, not just to survive, taking the creations of Sylaise and honing them for greater purpose (hunting, smithing, etc.) by teaching them the makings of weapons -- knives, bows and arrows. As his portrait in the Temple of Mythal clearly depicts him before an anvil, as a smith he's also thematically a pretty interesting archetype (tied to the Greek Hephaestus). June's myths and legends are few compared to the others of the Evanuris, and he remains one of the most mysterious and least understood members of the elven pantheon.

Ghilan'nain (Mother of the Halla)
Once a beautiful white-haired elven woman raised up to divinity, Ghilan'nain was reputedly the lover of Andruil. Referred to with reverence as the Mother of the Halla, Ghilan'nain is the goddess of navigation and of the sacred halla, the deer-like creatures beloved to the Dalish, which are both hunted by the Dalish as well as domesticated and used to pull their aravels, or land-ships. 

Ghilan'nain's Grove is found in the Exalted Plains, and Inquisitor Ameridan built a shrine to Ghilan'nain (and Andraste, as a follower of both faiths), inside Razikale's Reach in the Frostback Basin. There is a statue sacred to Ghilan'nain visible in Dragon Age: Origins in the Dalish Elf Origin interlude, as well as in the Brecilian Outskirts. There are also sacred halla statues to be found in the Crow Fens (Exalted Plains), as well as in Crestwood (in the interlude with a romanced Solas).

We find few statues of Ghilan'nain's sacred halla across Thedas, but this is a
beautiful example from a hidden temple in Crestwood, where Solas takes a
romanced Inquisitor for a date (and then stomps her heart into tiny little pieces)
Meanwhile: Is anyone else a little confused on how to reconcile the stories about Ghilan'nain? I mean, in one she's turned into the first halla, and then in the others, she is an elven woman (not of the Evanuris) who is nevertheless able to create marvelous beasts, monsters, and creatures. Andruil approaches her and offers her divinity and godhood, but only if Ghilan'nain will destroy her creations. So Ghilan'nain kills all the flying monsters (except those she gives to Andruil), then drowns most of the sea-creatures she had created (all but those of the deepest abysses), and last of all, kills the beasts she had created on land—all except the halla, her favorite above all of her animal creations. She was then made a goddess, and became the constant companion and lover of Andruil.

So. Yeah. I'm still confused about the timeline here (mythologically speaking).

Fen'Harel (The Dread Wolf)
Now accepted by the Dalish as a word for "trickster," it's interesting to note that The Dread Wolf's title of 'harellan' may have denoted 'rebel' versus 'trickster.' In other words, the "Dread Wolf" may have started out simply as "The Wolf Rebel," or "The Rebel Wolf."

One of the rare shrines to Fen'Harel, found in the outer reaches of the
Exalted Plains. I love the mournful feel of this particular statue motif, which is
rarer than the more zen-looking 'resting wolves' across so much of Thedas.
Fen'Harel is believed by the Dalish to have betrayed both his fellow Evanuris as well as the Forgotten Ones, and tales say that he alone was able to walk between the worlds of both Thedas and the Fade, or Beyond.

The Dalish tales of Fen'Harel are dark with an awareness of mortal corruptibility, of an odd kind of balance. For instance, Fen'Harel is said to have intervened between the good gods and the evil ones alike, tricking them and in one fell swoop imprisoning the lot of them, leaving him alone to rule both the physical and metaphysical worlds of land and Fade. But... hey, he did imprison the evil ones. So, presumably, those left in the world were still better off.

In another tale, Fen'Harel saves a village of children with the chilling and terrible "slow arrow," only after appearing to deliberately allow their parents to die without any attempt at intervention. (Those of you who've read The Masked Empire will understand why this reference always makes me so very sad, since I adored Felassan!)  Meanwhile, in another story, Fen'Harel advises a young man besotted with a beautiful girl at a young noblewoman's funeral to meet with her again by killing the dead girl's surviving sibling (thus recreating the original circumstances of their meeting). Yeah. He's a cheerful guy.

And then there are a variety of the trickster tales usual to figures like Fen'Harel, who whimsically finds himself in a series of dangerous and impossible predicaments, and yet who is able to extricate himself, Brer Rabbit-style, with a great deal of wit and panache, just in the nick of time. Of course, it goes without saying that he usually manages to humiliate his foes in even greater ways, as each of these tales comes to a close.

To me, though, consistently in the Dalish tales of Fen'Harel, while there's, yes, a sense of malevolence, there is also something more—the grim and fatalistic sense that everyone pays—for justice, for joy, for whatever life brings; that, ultimately, no one is exempt from payment. Thus, Fen'Harel could have saved the village without the loss of a single life, but what he seems to be doing instead is saying, "There are no deus ex machinas. Life is simply not fair."

I often wonder what the Dalish Fen'Harel might've thought of beings like desire demon Imshael, for instance, who is so insistent upon the issue of choice and free will, and who in similar ways could be argued to provide a similar sense of warped justice, of the concept that in life, "you reap what you sow."

The reality of the Dread Wolf is however, as we know, far more complicated. Although it may be that even in his real, flesh-and-blood actual form of Solas, his peculiar sense of balance, justice and grim humor is still very much present. Or so I'd like to think.

Next up... I'll take a look at how our knowledge evolves from those original tales of the elven gods, and will take a look at the revelations disclosed of their actual encounters post-Dragon Age: Inquisition and "Trespasser." 

Thanks as always for reading—who's YOUR favorite elven god or goddess? Beyond Mythal and Fen'Harel, those we know best, I've always been fascinated with Andruil.


  1. This is great! I think there may have been a mistake in the bit after Gilhan'nain (did Andruil kill all the beasts except a few to present to herself? I'm not familiar with the story!). Also, the bit about Fen'Harel telling the young man to kill his remaining sister made me laugh because that's the riddle you tell someone to find out if they're a psychopath (ie, tell them a man/woman met the love of their life at their sibling's funeral, and a month later they killed a relative--why?)

    I love your posts, thanks for your hard work!

    1. Hi Julia, thanks so much for reading! And great catch! I absolutely made a mistake there -- I meant to refer to Ghilan'nain not Andruil there, so thank you SO much! I'll go back and fix that ASAP.

      I didn't know that about the Fen'Harel wedding story, but it makes perfect sense! It's so uncompromising -- I kind of loved how evil it was. Fen'Harel's tales are all so expedient, about brutal answers to difficult questions.

      I so appreciate your reading and commenting, so hope you will continue to do so!

    2. if you like brutal answers to difficult questions, or the theme of sacrifice in general, you'd think you'd also like Andruil and her stories/archetype :/

  2. In 'The Births of Elgar'nan and Mythal':
    "While Mythal is generally considered maternal, gentle, just and benevolent, she could also be wrathful, often assumed by the Dalish legends to pursue those objects of her wrath in an unending vengeance. But it's interesting that, overall, she is far more frequently associated, even in myth, with justice, judgment, and wisdom—appropriate to a goddess whose first act was to walk out of the sea and calm the anger of her future husband."
    In 'Mythal (The All-Mother and Great Protector)':
    "While Mythal is generally considered maternal, gentle, just and benevolent, she could also be wrathful, often assumed by the Dalish legends to pursue those objects of her wrath in an unending vengeance. But it's interesting that, overall, she is far more frequently associated, even in myth, with justice, judgment, and wisdom—appropriate to a goddess whose very first act was one of peace."

    Be honest with us: at what hour did you post this?

  3. If I remember correctly, Titans did come first. The earthquakes from them shook Elvhenan cities, which made the elves and Mythal strike them down and mine the the Titans blood, AKA Lyrium.

  4. Most of the posts I'm reading are a few years old now, but as I've just begun my obession with this game after starting, stopping and finally finishing (as a Cullenmancer, oppositionally) I have begun again as a Solasmancer, and I've been taking both the game, codex clues and romance as slow as possible to absorb every last detail. Your posts make a wonderful companion guide, and I allow myself to get deep into my own head considering it all. All that's to say, thank you for your work, insights and companionship even if it's one-sided as I grow more and more enthusiastic about it all here in the future of 2021!

    1. Thank you so much, Rachael -- that's so great to hear! The whole point of this blog was for me to have fun, talk about the Dragon Age stuff I love, and connect with other people who love it too. So thank you.

  5. "Fen'Harel advises a young man besotted with a beautiful girl at a young noblewoman's funeral to meet with her again by killing the dead girl's surviving sibling (thus recreating the original circumstances of their meeting)."

    I've got to look that up, thanks for pointing it out. That comes from an old internet copypasta usually called "the sociopath test" or "the psychopath test" that went like this:

    'This is a genuine psychological test. It is a story about a girl. While at the funeral of her own mother, she met a guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing, so much her dream guy she believed him to be, that she fell in love with him then and there. A few days later, the girl killed her own sister. What is her motive in killing her sister?

    Answer: She was hoping the guy would come to her sister's funeral.'

    Suuuuper uncomfy there, Fen'harel.

    1. Yeah, that is SUPER dark. Which I actually like. It fits very nicely with the story of the Slow Arrow -- the idea that wish fulfillment always carries a heavy price.


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