The Snow Elves were a race of mer who inhabited Skyrim long before the Nords. It is commonly believed that centuries of underground living and Dwemer slavery twisted the race into the blind merciless Falmer. Amongst the few Snow Elf survivors, they prefer the name Snow Elf over their original name of Falmer, as it tends to refer to their now degenerated brethren, which the survivors call The Betrayed.
Though most of the race's history has been lost, A surviving Snow Elf by the name of Knight-Paladin Gelebor answers several questions about the origins and fate of his race, prior to their degeneration.
The Snow Elves were originally a wealthy and prosperous society that made their home in portions of Skyrim. Prior to the arrival of the Nords, the Snow Elves prospered along side the Dwemer, but they maintained an uneasy alliance.
When the first humans of Tamriel, the Nords, arrived; the Snow Elves struck up a somewhat comfortable relationship with the humans. While at first peaceful, the Snow Elves soon discovered that the humans, though they lived shorter lives, grew in population rapidly. Seeing that the humans were rapidly beginning to outnumber the Elves in the land, the Snow Elves began to cull down the population en masse.
As they only saw the humans as a lesser species, the elves had little qualms about the genocide they would commit. This genocidal spree would be known as the Night of Tears. However, this genocide would cost the Snow Elves greatly, almost their entire society, as Ysgramor would survive and return to the original Nord homeland of Atmora to raise an army.
Conflict with the Nords
As time passed, the humans once again returned to Tamriel. The Nords of Nede lineage that had immigrated to Skyrim from Atmora had returned under the leadership of Ysgramor and his sons. An army of 500 men and women, known as the Companions, marched across Skyrim under Ysgramor's leadership to avenge the fallen. The elves would wage war with the humans for years, slowly losing to the very "creatures" they had culled in years prior.
The Snow Elves in Mereth (Skyrim's original name) were broken and scattered following numerous losses to Ysgramor and the Companions and retreated to the island of Solstheim for safe harbor. Led by an elf only known as the Snow Prince, the Snow Elves took a final stand against the Nordic peoples and, inspired by their leader, it seemed as though they'd come out victorious.
However at the Battle of the Moesring, which was to be the last battle against the Nords, the Snow Prince was slain by a child, who in her grief after the death of her mother had stabbed him. Due to the death of the Snow Prince, the elves' hope was shattered and a great deal of them attempted to flee the battle. It's not known what the exact date was, but it was sometime at the start of the second Era.
With the elves finally broken once and for all, the Nords then mounted a genocidal campaign and killed Snow Elves by the thousands. The Snow Elves retreated underground where they sought refuge with the Dwemer. The Dwemer agreed to grant refuge on the condition that the Snow Elves ingest toxins to blind themselves.
Methods of survival
In order to ensure their race's survival, the Falmer turned to the Dwemer for safe harbor, help that the Dwemer surprisingly offered. In exchange for protection from the Nords, the Snow elves were ordered to ingest a toxin that would blind them.
Not all elves agreed to such a price. Splinter groups had formed up to try and find alternate solutions. These elves sought out other alliances, but, ultimately, most were slaughtered, vanished, or gave in and accepted the Dwemer's offers.
Over time, the Snow elves began to devolve into twisted, blinded creatures. They acted as slaves to the Dwemer, and over time their history was lost as the race became more and more primal. Because of this, it is commonly believed that the Snow elves were actually tricked into blindness and slavery, rather than having agreed to the blindness to survive.
Modern Snow Elves
Not all Snow elves suffered the fate of slavery under the Dwemer, however. It appears that elves such as Knight-Paladin Gelebor and various other religious followers were able to evade demise under the Nords or enslavement to the Dwarves. Living in seclusion, they appear to have kept mostly to their various shrines.
They show pity on their primal brethren, whom they refuse to call Falmer, instead refering to them as the Betrayed. They also refuse to be called Falmer, themselves, calling themselves Snow Elves.
Up until the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard, the largest gathering of these elves were at the Chantry of Auri-El; however, after a massive raid by the Betrayed, Knight-Paladin Gelebor seems to be the only survivor (excluding Arch-Curate Vyrthur).
It is unknown how many other sanctuaries exist where Snow elves can be found—assuming there are any left to begin with.
During the First Era, the elves erected monuments and shrines around their home dedicated to the elven gods. The center of their worship however was dedicated to Auri-El, also known as Akatosh. The Chantry of Auri-El was known as the epicenter of the Falmer's religion, having several rituals for initiates who sought out enlightenment.
Following the de-evolution of their race, many of the holy priests of these shrines were killed by Falmer raids. However, according to Gelebor, Auri-El evoked their spirits, allowing them to continue their work in Tamriel as spectral Prelates at way shrines. Initiates must visit each of these wayshrines on their paths to enlightenment.
Unfortunately the Prelates are unaware of the disrepair of the chantry and will not respond to anyone unless that person is on the path of the initiate.
Misconception in history
According to The Falmer: A Study, it was thought that the Dwemer betrayed the Snow Elves by force-feeding them a toxic fungi that inflicted blindness after they sought safe harbor in their lands. The poisoning effects of the fungi caused the Snow Elves to devolve into the twisted beings they have become, the Falmer.
However, according to Gelebor, this is not the case. Faced with near extinction, the Falmer and Dwemer struck up a deal: in exchange for safe harbor, the Snow Elves would have to ingest a toxin (likely from the mushrooms), which would blind them. With little option left, the Falmer accepted and became the Dwemer's slaves. Gelebor states that the toxin was not enough to de-evolve the Falmer as they are now, and as such it must have happened gradually as time passed.
Two living Snow elves are found in the add-on The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard: Knight-Paladin Gelebor and his evil brother, Arch-Curate Vyrthur. They appear very similar to High elves, but have white skin and white hair. It is unknown how long Snow elves live, as Gelebor states the Chantry was in disrepair long before he arrived. As the Chantry did not enter disrepair until after the fall of the Snow Elves, his age cannot be determined.
There is speculation that the Snow Elf will eventually become a surface-dwelling race once again as there have been reports of more and more organized surface raids of Falmer attacking cattle and crops for food. Ursa Uthrax, the author of The Falmer: A Study, writes, "I fear a horror neither man nor gods could possibly stand against."
During the Dawnguard expansion, you will meet two living snow elves. When you come across Knight-Paladin Gelebor, he gives you Auriel's Bow if you kill his brother, who he believes has been corrupted by the Falmer.
Gelebor mentions that the Falmer are becoming more intelligent, and if a line of communication could be established, relations could improve.
It is also speculated that the toxin was merely a supressant that devolved the once great race, and since the Falmer would no longer need to ingest the toxin, they might, over generations, re-evolve back into snow elves since the evolutionary status of the falmer is no longer being supress by the toxin.
|Humans||Atmoran • Breton • Imperial • Keptu • Kothringi • Nede • Nord • Orma • Redguard|
|Mer||Aldmer • Altmer • Ayleid • Bosmer • Chimer • Dunmer • Dwemer • Lefthanded Elf • Maormer • Orsimer • Snow Elf|
|Beast||Argonian • Imga • Khajiit • Lilmothiit • Sload|
|Akaviri||Ka Po' Tun • Kamal • Tang Mo • Tsaesci • Dragon|
|Et'Ada||Aedra • Daedra|
|Other||Atronach • Giant • Goblin|