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Elder Scrolls: Who (Or What) Is The Dark Brotherhood's Night Mother?

The Night Mother is amongst the most mysterious characters in The Elder Scrolls series. Though she is a corpse, she serves as the spiritual leader of the assassin group the Dark Brotherhood. How she came into this role and what grants her the ability to communicate from the dead remain part of a story that has become muddled by the killers who worship her.

What is known to be true about the Night Mother is her association with the Dark Brotherhood. In one of Skyrim's hidden quests “Innocence Lost,” the Dragonborn finds out that people who want to hire an assassin must contact the Night Mother through the Black Sacrament, a ritual that includes the gathering of body parts from the dead. The Night Mother then communicates information regarding the assassination to the Dark Brotherhood, who proceed to carry out the murder. The Night Mother’s spiritual powers are so strong that she knows when the assassination is carried out and by whom regardless of whether she communicates to the assassin, as she knows the Dragonborn completes the job in the “Innocence Lost” quest despite never speaking with them before.

Related: Elder Scrolls: Why The Dark Brotherhood Makes You Kill Someone First

To find out who the Night Mother really is in The Elder Scrolls games, one has to look to her history with Sithis, one of the primordial beings of the Elder Scrolls universe. While the story of their relationship teeters on the edge of myth, it unveils the mystery behind her powers and her affiliation with assassins across the continent of Tamriel. However much people may want to discover more about the Night Mother, though, the way she came to affiliate with Sithis and become the patron saint of murderers is a horrifying tale.

Before one can understand the Night Mother, one must know who Sithis is. In the Elder Scrolls creation myth, there are two primordial concepts who existed even before the Aedra and Daedra known as Anu and Padomay. The two forces were polar opposites of one another, with Anu “The Everything” representing the matter of the world and Padomay representing the Void - the realm of nothingness and non-existence. The battles between Anu and Padomay resulted in the creation of Aubris, the Elder Scrolls universe. Anu eventually created a soul he could inhabit named Anui-El, the spirit of everything. Padomay followed suit and is embodied by the soul of Sithis.

Followers of Sithis hold interest in him because, in the Elder Scrolls' pantheon of gods, Sithis ranks so high that it is believed he created the Daedra. But when it comes specifically to killers, it is Sithis's wish to return Aubris to the Void that has made him an idol, as his wish to end humanity and all matter in general relates to the careers of assassins. Sithis thus became the Dread Father of the Dark Brotherhood. But if he is the Dread Father, who would come to be the Night Mother?

The Dark Brotherhood’s story for the Night Mother is murky at best, but other historical efforts in the Elder Scrolls corroborate certain details about the group’s mythology. In either the First or Second Era of Elder Scrolls history, a Dunmer (Dark Elf) woman believed Sithis was communicating with her. Her belief was validated when she then bore five of Sithis’s children. However, Sithis asked her to bring their children to the Void. The Dunmer woman proceeded to murder all of the children, believing this to be the only way for her to send them to Sithis. In return for this favor, Sithis granted her powers and made her his wife.

Related: Morrowind & Oblivion Characters Who Return After Death In Skyrim

Further validating this history is the Night Mother’s grave in Oblivion. The Crypt of the Night Mother is located in the city of Bravil beneath the statue of The Lucky Old Lady, whose story is the mirror opposite of the Night Mother’s: The Lucky Old Lady was a beggar who a prince fell in love after she helped him, and the two married and shared five children. Players who find the Night Mother’s burial site will see her skeletal remains buried with her five children. Specific dates and times about the death of the Night Mother’s corporeal form and even the statue are unknown, suggesting that the story of the Lucky Old Lady may have been a sick joke made by worshippers of Sithis. And while they may have just been one of the changes between Oblivion and Skyrim, the Night Mother’s remains, too, may be a darkly humorous reference to her story rather than her actual body, for Skyrim confirms that her body is a rotten corpse rather than a skeleton.

Once the Night Mother sent her children to Sithis, he made her the head of the Morag Tong. An ancient, vicious, yet organized cult, Morag Tong was a religious group from the First Era based in Morrowind that followed Mephala, the Daedric prince of obfuscation and secrecy. Morag Tong would commit ritualistic murders to honor Mephala, but this quickly escalated into Morag Tong becoming an assassin group. Unlike the Dark Brotherhood, though, the Morag Tong’s business was considered legal by the Morrowind government, and their assassinations were referred to as “writs” people obtain for a price.

However, Morag Tong lacked cohesion near the end of First Era before the Night Mother, and early into the Second Era things looked worse for the group. Morag Tong assassins were hired to kill Reman III by his successor Versidue-Shaie, who they also killed. The Morrowind government considered outlawing the group because of their involvement in major assassinations. Scholars in the Elder Scrolls universe have theorized that Morag Tong opted to worship Lord Vivec, the Warrior-Poet deity of the Dunmer who came back to the series in the Elder Scrolls Online expansions, in order to regain the favor of the Morrowind government. The Night Mother and her followers then broke off from the group for not respecting the Dread Father’s creation Mephala and formed the Dark Brotherhood.

The Night Mother’s identity is still unclear despite all that is known about her involvement with Sithis and Morag Tong. The scholars of the Elder Scrolls' books seem to have countless theories on the woman, and most them tend to vary widely after the story of how the Dunmer lady killed her children. Nevertheless, there is one in-game book that gathers several theories regarding the Night Mother and posits what might be the most grounded of them all. The Sacred Witness by Enric Milres - a famous poet in the Elder Scrolls universe whose works are present as far back as Daggerfall - writes about how he met with scholars on the Dark Brotherhood and even his own interactions with the Night Mother.

Related: How Elder Scrolls' Blades Changed, From Morrowind To Skyrim

Enric’s book states that in a conversation he shared with scholars who study the Dark Brotherhood, he was told the two most popular theories behind the group’s ring leader: The first was that she was a manifestation of Mephala herself, and the second was that the Night Mother was a role taken on by women in the group and that there had been many Night Mothers overtime. Enric’s story then steeply escalates when he claims that he followed a Dark Brotherhood assassin that one of the scholars pointed out to him during their conversation. This took Enric to a burial site where he met the Night Mother.

Enric shares that the Night Mother was a "little old lady with fluffy white hair, cheeks like wrinkled apples that still carried the flush of youth, friendly eyes, blue as the Iliac Bay," a far cry from the Dunmer others claimed her to be or even the rotten corpse she would become by the time of Skyrim. When speaking to her about who she was, the Night Mother apparently revealed that she was never a part of Morag Tong as she was "not that old." Instead, she was a member of the Elder Scrolls' Thieves Guild who began strangling people to facilitate her stealing, and would place a white and black stone on the eyelids of those she killed. Her killing resulted in her leaving the Thieves Guild to form the Dark Brotherhood. Enric finishes his story by claiming the Night Mother only let him live after telling him this because he swore to not tell anyone and to do deeds for the Dark Brotherhood.

Of all the theories postulated in the Elder Scrolls series about the Night Mother, Enric’s is the least substantiated by others’ claims while also being the most grounded in reality. After all, even though Enric published Sacred Witness anonymously, sources found him dead with black and white stones over his eyes and were able to connect him to the book. But still, his story raised more questions than answers. The Night Mother’s body is no longer living by the time of Skyrim, and whether she is a Dunmer, other Elvan race, or even Mephala is still unclear. Bethesda more than likely wanted the mystery surrounding the Night Mother to be enshrouded in mystery in this way. The ambiguities of her identity make her one of the most interesting characters in all of The Elder Scrolls.

Next: Elder Scrolls: Why Oblivion's Character Dialog Is So Bad

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