Excerpt from a TESV: Skyrim design document, with slight changes for wording. Art by Adam Adamowicz. 

The gods are cyclical, just like the world is. There are the Dead Gods, who fought and died to bring about the new cycle; the Hearth Gods, who watch over the present cycle; the Testing Gods, who threaten the Hearth and thus are watched; and the Twilight Gods, who usher in the next cycle. The end of a cycle is said to be preceded by the Dragonborn God, a god that did not exist in the previous cycle but whose presence means that the current one is almost over.

The Dead Gods

Dead Gods don’t need temples. They have the biggest one of all, Svongarde. Nord heroes and clever men visit the Underworld all the time. They bear a symbol to show that they have, which garners much respect.

The Fox - Shor

The Bear - Tsun

The Hearth Gods

The Hearth Gods have temples appropriate to their nature: Kyne’s are built on peaks, Mara’s are the halls of important Witches, Dibella’s are the halls of important Wives– the temples aren’t like those of the Imperials; as Hearth Gods, they are always homes to someone, and the highest-ranking female of that home is their de facto high priestess.

The Hawk, Kyne

The Wolf, Mara

The Moth, Dibella

The Testing Gods

The Testing Gods don’t really have temples – they are propitiated at battlegrounds or other sites where they caused some notable trouble. Nords understand that the Daedric Temples are something else entirely and think them as much of a waste of time as the formalized religion of the Nine Divines of Cyrodiil.

The Snake, Orkey

The Woodland Man, Herma Mora

The Twilight Gods

The Twilight Gods need no temples– when they show up, there won’t be any reason to build them, much less use them – another waste of time. That said, Nords do venerate them, as they always venerate the cycles of things, and especially the Last War where they will show their final, best worth.

The Dragon, Alduin

Alduin is venerated on the winter solstice by ceremonies at ancient Dragon Cult temples, where offerings are made to keep him asleep for one more year. Alduin is also the source of many common superstitious practices before any event of significance.

The Dragonborn God, Talos

Talos’ totem is the newest, but is everywhere – he is the Dragonborn Conquering Son, the first new god of this cycle, whose power is consequently unknown, so the Nords bless nearly everything with his totem, since he might very well be the god of it now, too. Yes, as first of the Twilight Gods, this practice might seem contradictory, but that’s only because, of all the gods, he will be the one that survives in whole into the next cycle.

Nord view of Imperial Religion

The Eight Divines are viewed by the Nords as a “Southern” import. They retain some of the taint of the Alessian Order, and are basically viewed as a religion for foreigners. Their gods are fine for them, but Nords need Nord gods.

Some of the gods are the same (or similar) – significantly these are the three female gods, which are far more important to the Nords than they are in the Imperial Cult. (Kyne is in fact the de facto head of the Nord pantheon.) The Nords are perplexed and disturbed by the Imperial Cult’s focus on the Dragon God – they regard this as a fundamental misunderstanding of the universe, and one likely to cause disaster in the end. (Which fits perfectly with the pessimistic Nord view of the world in general – things are likely to turn out badly, and it will probably be caused by some foreigner.) Lucky for the world that the Nords are so diligent about keeping Alduin asleep, while the southerners are busy trying to get his attention! Any mention of Akatosh in a Nord’s presence is likely to bring a muttered invocation to Alduin to stay asleep in response.

The Nords believe that, During the Oblivion Crisis, it was Talos (Dragonborn, Martin’s forefather) lending his aid, not Alduin.

“As great as it is to claim that I slayed Alduin, the World-Eater, myself.  I think it’s lame that every time he was in Sovngarde eating up souls, Shor had “Restrained the wrathful onslaught,” of ALL the heroes in Sovngarde.  And his excuse was that he supposedly was waiting for me to come.  It’s like: Come on Shor!  Thousands of souls are being consumed.  You have Ysgamor, Tsun, Jurgen, Hakon and the others, and every skilled Nord who ever lived at your disposal.  Can you really not take care of this yourself?”

Shaman’s Tambourine

Shor (Siberia, Kemerovo)

The Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography

“A tambourine has a complex cosmological symbolic meaning that originates from the archaic beliefs of the peoples of northern Asia about the structure of the Universe. In this system of beliefs, the he-deer embodied the celestial sphere and the sun, and the she-deer embodied the middle world. This is vividly expressed in the painting that covers the outer surface of the tambourine and depicts the three spheres of the Universe: the upper sphere is filled with images of anthropomorphous spirits, animals and birds of the upper world, the middle part is represented by a horizontal line with “grids”, and the lower part contains fish and reptiles that embody the lower world. In the shaman mythology, a tambourine implied the image of a mythical deer, the main helper-spirit of a shaman and his draft animal that he rode to travel to other worlds. This tambourine was often used in shaman rituals aimed at a family’s well-being and easy childbirth.”