Eldar Mythology (or the Eldar Myth Cycles) is an ancient cultural force which binds the surviving members of the Eldar race together and forms a basis for much of their thinking about their ancient past. There were several Gods in Eldar myth, yet all but three (Cegorach, Isha and Khaela Mensha Khaine) were destroyed in the Fall of the Eldar and the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh. A new Eldar God, Ynnead, who is not part of the original mythology, is said to be forming from the souls of the Eldar dead within the Infinity Circuits of the Craftworlds.
The Genesis of the Eldar
The Eldar are the children of Isha, the Goddess of the Harvest and Kurnous the God of the Hunt. In the early days, there was no barrier between Gods and mortals -- the deities walked among the early Eldar, teaching them and leading them in an age of peace and prosperity.
Yet one day, Lileath, the maiden Goddess of Dreams, dreamed that the Eldar would cause the destruction of Khaela Mensha Khaine, the God of War. As Lileath was well-known for her prophetic dreams, Khaine took it very seriously and resolved to wipe out the Eldar race rather than let them destroy him. The ensuing slaughter was of such proportions that Isha, goddess of the earth, petitioned Asuryan, the Phoenix King and leader of the Eldar pantheon, to stop it. Asuryan did so, and created a barrier between the Eldar and their gods, forever separating the two, and decreed that no god was to intervene or communicate with the Eldar ever again, thus creatiing the barrier that seprates the physical universe from the Immaterium. So, Khaine's war on the Eldar was stopped, for a time. This was too much for Isha, though, and her consort Kurnous, god of the hunt. Isha and Kurnous loved their children the Eldar and could not bear to separated from them. They approached Vaul, the Smith God, with their woes, and the kindly Vaul agreed to help them. With Vaul's aid, they forged spirit stones through which mortal Eldar could communicate with the gods. With these stones, Isha and Kurnous continued to teach and mentor their mortal children in secrecy. Peace was not to last, though, as one day Khaine stumbled upon the two as they communicated with the Eldar, and took the information straight to Asuryan. Though Asuryan was sympathetic with Isha and Kurnous, they had broken his own laws and he reluctantly decreed that the two gods be given to Khaine, to do with as he wished.
The War in Heaven
Khaine tortured Isha and Kurnous, utilising every cruel art he knew. Many of the Eldar gods thought Khaine was going too far and secretly supported Isha and Kurnous, but only one was willing to stand up for them in public. Vaul petitioned for their release, and eventually he and Khaine came to an agreement. In one year's time, Khaine would release Isha and Kurnous in exchange for one hundred swords. Vaul was such a master smith that a single blade of his was of incalculable value -- indeed, a single mortal armed with a Sword of Vaul could stand against a thousand with mundane weapons.
Vaul immediately set to work, rejoicing. Unfortunately though, when the year was up, he had only completed ninety-nine swords, rendering the bargain void. He took an ordinary mortal blade and mixed it in with the others, hoping that Khaine would not notice. Upon delivery, Khaine was so pleased with the weapons that he released Isha and Kurnous forthwith, delighting in the craftsmanship that had gone into the swords. It was only when Isha and Kurnous were long gone that Khaine discovered the one mortal sword.
Khaine roared in anger, calling Vaul a cheat, a liar, and a thief. He immediately set off to track Vaul down and make him pay. The wars that followed polarized the gods, Khaine's faction and Vaul's faction engaging in bloody warfare for an eternity. Gods changed sides, great deeds of heroism and of craven evil were performed on both sides, and the war was mirrored in a struggle between the Eldar in the mortal realms. Asuryan himself never took a side, watching the carnage impassively, slowly coming to regret his impetuosity in sentencing Isha and Kurnous. This is not the only version of the Eldar myth of the hundred Swords of Vaul; another consists of the Eldar and Khaine going to war with the Necrons and failing because of the one "mortal" sword, thus encapsulating in Eldar mythology more of the truth of their race--that they were created as a psychic warrior race by the Old Ones to help defeat their enemies the Necrons and the C'tan.
Anaris, the Dawnlight
Vaul reforged the final sword, the one that he had failed to finish for Khaine, the greatest of all, and called it Anaris, "the Dawnlight." Armed with this weapon, Vaul strode forth to do battle with Khaine. It was a long, hard-fought struggle, but even with Anaris, Vaul was no match for the war god. Khaine cast down Vaul, maiming the smith, and bound Vaul to his own anvil. However, the falcon, Faolchú, consort of the Great Hawk Asuryan, who had fought for Vaul, took the sword Anaris and delivered it straight to Eldanesh, the greatest of the mortal Eldar heroes. With Anaris in hand, Eldanesh of the Red Moon took up the fight and faced Khaine in single combat. Eldanesh fought well, but in the end he too was defeated by Khaine, his body crushed by the god of war. As Khaine slew Eldanesh his hands began to drip with red blood. Forever after, he was to become known as Khaela Mensha Khaine, which means "Khaine the Bloody-Handed." Asuryan had seen enough of the slaughter and proclaimed the war over. Khaine had had his vengeance and left the field satisfied.
Fall of the Eldar Gods
Millions of years later in the 29th Millennium of the Imperial Calendar, after the Eldar race had traveled to the stars and forged a great empire through the creation of their Webway in the Immaterium, they grew decadent and indulgent. Their thoughts and emotions coalesced in the Warp into a new and deadly God of Chaos - Slaanesh, the Prince of Pleasure. The birth of Slaanesh and the Fall of the Eldar heralded the end of the Eldar pantheon. Slaanesh slew the Eldar gods viciously - Lileath, Asuryan, even the old, blind Morai-Heg, the Goddess of Fate, all were murdered by Slaanesh. Khaine, the mightiest warrior of the gods, did battle with Slaanesh and was cast down and eventually shattered into a million pieces which became the Avatars of Khaine that now belong within the Infinity Circuit of every Eldar Craftworld. Thus did Lileath's ancient prophecy come true, for the Eldar were the cause of Khaine's destruction - even as he battled to save them. Slaanesh is the youngest God in the Chaos pantheon.
Though this is certainly the most well known of their myths, Eldar mythology contains many stories, and each Eldar is expected to know at least all of the major ones. The effect of these myths upon the Eldar language is profound as it is said to be amazingly complex and almost incomprehensible to human ears, mainly due to the constant and intricate references to these myths. For example, the Eldar word Faolchú, which commonly refers to the Eldar gravitic tank known as the Falcon, also refers to the legendary bird and its actions, lending the word connotations beyond the immediate meaning.
Near the end of the Eldar's version of the War in Heaven, it is believed by one Craftworld that when Slaanesh claimed Isha as his own, Nurgle the Plague Lord heard her cries for help and came to her aid. Nurgle took Isha from the jaws of Slaneesh and now she is caged within his cauldron chamber in his realm in the Warp, making her taste all of the poisons and poxes that he designs. If the results please him, he empties the contents into a bottomless drain, making it rain upon the mortal worlds. If it does not please him, he swallows the concoction, vomits it back into his cauldron and starts afresh. It is said that while Nurgle is busy with his plagues, Isha whispers to mortals, seeking to tell them the cures for the poxes she has tasted.
Note that the War in Heaven is also a term occasionally used to describe the war between the Necrontyr and the Old Ones sixty million Terran years ago in the days when the galaxy was young. This war is not the same as that conflict of the same name described in the Eldar myths - it merely shares the same name, though some Imperial and even Eldar scholars contend that one is based upon the other. It is also important to remember that the War in Heaven may be a myth, not actual history - the Eldar believe it happened, but believe it as a religious myth or metaphor rather than as an actual sequence of events. However, it should be noted that "gods" do exist in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, often as the psychic manifestation of the collective unconsciousness of a large group of sentient beings built up over time. Slaanesh was created in this way, as the new Eldar god Ynnead is forming even now within the protected Immaterium of the Craftworlds' Infinity Circuits. The C'tan (also called Star Gods; in fact, C'tan is said to translate from the ancient Necrontyr tongue as "Star God") are incredibly powerful, god-like entities which feed on the energy provided by stars and souls, though their energies exist solely within the material universe, which is why they are so vulnerable to psychic energies.
Gods of the Eldar
The Pantheon of the Eldar is considered to have been destroyed by the creation of Slaanesh. While the Eldar still revere all the gods and preserve their stories within the mythic cycles, they do not call on them for aid or hope for their intervention any longer.
- Asuryan: Sometimes known as the Phoenix King, Asuryan was the king of the pantheon of Eldar gods. While the mythic cycles seem to indicate that he held sway over all the others, he was nevertheless consumed by Slaanesh. He is often depicted in relation to fire and light, his chief symbols.
- Gia (or Gea): A consort of both Khaine and Asuryan.
- Cegorach (or The Laughing God): The God of the Harlequins is the other surviving god of the Eldar Pantheon after Isha. The Laughing God was the trickster and artist of the pantheon. When all the other gods were destroyed, Cegorach fled before Slaanesh until Khaine rose to do battle with it. The Laughing God took this chance to escape into the realm of the Webway, as only he is said to know all the secrets of its passages. The master of the Harlequins, Cegorach is the only Eldar god that still remains in his original form.
- Isha: The Mother of the Eldar race, Isha is a fertility goddess in many respects. She was imprisoned by Khaine for a period of time, until Vaul paid her ransom. She is often depicted crying, and her symbol is a teared eye, symbolic of her sorrow in being separated from her mortal children. Her tears are said to have been formed into runes by Vaul so that she could communicate with her children. It is also whispered the Isha was taken from the jaws of Slaanesh by Nurgle and she currently remains his prisoner.6
- Kaela Mensha Khaine: The God of War, whose Avatars can still be summoned into the material universe to protect the Eldar from its place in each Craftworld's Infinity Circuit, as long as a powerful Eldar warrior sacrifices his life to serve as a vessel for the possessing god.
- Kurnous: God of the Hunt, the Father of the Eldar race, and the consort of Isha. He is often shown in conjunction with hounds, hawks, and other trappings of the hunt.
- Lileath (also known as Lilcarth): the Maiden, Goddess of Dreams.
- Morai-Heg: the Crone, the Goddess of Fate and Soul.
- Vaul: The Artificer, Vaul is one of the central gods of the pantheon, and an enemy to Khaine. In order to purchase the freedom of Kurnous and Isha, Khaine demanded one hundred potent divine blades from the smith god. Vaul was unable to finish the last blade in time, and so hid a mortal blade amid the others. This fooled Khaine long enough to get Isha and Kurnous to freedom, but when he realised the trick he cried out for vengeance. Vaul finished the final blade, Anaris the Dawnlight, and took it to do battle with Khaine. Though it was the greatest of all swords, Khaine was the better warrior and crippled Vaul. The smith is often shown chained to his anvil, the punishment that Khaine set upon him.
- Ynnead: The God of the Dead. A potential god formed of the souls of the dead Eldar contained in the Infinity Circuits of the Craftworlds. Ynnead represents the last, faint hope of the Eldar that they will overthrow Slaanesh and free themselves of his curse. The Eldar believe the Eldar souls contained within the Infinity Circuits of all the Craftworlds are collectively forming a new god which will have the power to destroy Slaanesh, freeing their racial soul from destruction and consumption by the Prince of Chaos. As yet the souls contained in the Circuit can muster only a tiny amount of power compared to Slaanesh - the Eldar believe that only once every last Eldar has died and their souls combined into what they call Ynnead, will it have the power to finally confront and destroy Slaanesh--and the Eldar race can be reborn.7 p. 42, 8
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition)
- Codex: Craftworld Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (4th Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (3rd Edition)
- Codex: Eldar (2nd Edition)
- Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition)
- Codex Titanicus, p. 35
- Dawn of the C'tan - Translations of Pertinent Eldar Mythic Cycles
- Path of the Warrior (Novel) by Gav Thorpe, pg. 27
- Warhammer 40,000: Compilation (1st Edition)