I’ve noted previously that the Ancient Nords, during the rule of the Dragon Priests, worshiped nine animal gods – six shown as male, and three as female. The Moth, depicted as female, is said to be a representation of Dibella, one of the Nine (Eight) Divines…and it’s true that she’s part of the modern Nordic pantheon. But, why Dibella? What makes people associate the Moth with her?
I’ve read explanations that attribute the moth to Dibella because she is depicted with flowers, and both butterflies and moths are drawn to blooming plants (for obvious reasons). Some say, too, that the most luxurious finery is made from silk, and since Dibella is goddess of beauty and silk (usually) comes from moths, the two must be connected. While there’s no doubt in my mind that the moth/silk association is present, I don’t think it ties the Moth to Dibella.
I believe the Moth depicted by the Ancient Nords is actually meant to represent an Elder Scroll, and this means the Moth is a symbol of creation, transformation, and knowledge rather than love and beauty.
If we take this to be true, that the Moth is a symbol of the Elder Scrolls, a lot of things fall into place. We can tie moths, especially Ancestor Moths, directly to creation and transformation – the silk extruded by a larval moth is turned into a cocoon which will house the larva until it transforms into an adult moth. Likewise, that silk can be transformed by man and mer into other forms – yarn into cloth, for example. Silk from an Ancestor Moth is quite different, though. It can still be made into cloth, but the ritual by which the Moth Priests gather it, and spin it, and turn it into clothing imbues it with ancestral hymns and the movement of the garments made from the silk thus carry the songs of one’s ancestors. Each of these garments is created according to the genealogy of the buyer and envelops the wearer (provided the genealogy is accurate) in that ancestral chorus.
The elder priests of the Order of the Ancestor Moth become so attuned to the Ancestor Moths themselves that they are able to garb themselves in the moths rather than in garments spun of ancestor-silk. They do this by applying the ground bark of the Canticle Tree to their own bodies and by chanting mantras only audible to the moths. It is also this communion with the Ancestor Moths that enables the elder Moth Priests to read the Elder Scrolls; the trilling of the moths are said to form a sort of augury which can be tapped into by the priests and used to decipher the knowledge in the Elder Scrolls. Which, everyone knows, can drive people mad if read directly.
Of course, it is said that even the Moth Priests go mad eventually.
The Elder Scrolls themselves (Kelle in the Dragon Language) are said to be fragments of the creation of Nirn itself, and simultaneously record past and future events. The best description of what/how an Elder Scroll that I’ve come across is in Ruminations on the Elder Scrolls by Septimus Signus; here’s an excerpt:
“Imagine living beneath the waves with a strong-sighted blessing of most excellent fabric. Holding the fabric over your gills, you would begin to breathe-drink its warp and weft. Though the plantmatter fibers imbue your soul, the wretched plankton would pollute the cloth until it stank to heavens of prophecy. This is one manner in which the Scrolls first came to pass, but are we the sea, or the breather, or the fabric? Or are we the breath itself?”
If Moth is meant to depict an Elder Scroll, as I believe, and thus encompasses knowledge that was, is, and has not yet come to pass, she has many possibilities for application to daily life. She is the ka that passed to me from my ancestors and that I pass to my descendants. She is connection and community – the ties that bind past to present to future. She is transformation; those who read an Elder Scroll are forever changed, just as so many of us are when we truly begin to practice.
I think I’m going to add a moth to my shrine.