One of my earliest posts was an overview piece on culture and mythology in the Legend of Zelda series. I quickly became sidetracked and forgot about it. But here we are, with the first expanded look at this project of mine. In this first installment we’ll be looking at triplism in the Legend of Zelda.
Why is the triplet so prominent in mythology? There isn’t really a clear cut answer for this. It seems that the number three came into prominence before it specifically came to be associated with triplets of goddesses, and there just isn’t enough information to say exactly why. Triplism pops up in Egyptian mythology through the gods Isis, Osiris, and Horus, a father-mother-son scenario. This two parent and offspring formation is probably the earliest incarnation of triplism in human belief systems, since it’s the easiest one to come up with. The Hindu Trimurti may have surfaced even earlier, with its triple god cosmos of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
One of the earliest examples of goddess triplism is in Hecate, a Greek and later Roman goddess who seemed to have originated in the pre-Hellenic beliefs of southwestern Anatolia (modern day Turkey). She was originally associated with warriors, farmers, crossroads, childbirth, and a general grab-bag of concepts, but she gradually became more associated with witchcraft as the shift to the Classical Greek period occurred. She became a bogeyman, a kind of evil hag monster. Around this time she also came to be depicted as a trimorphic figure, three women fused into one, sometimes appearing as a young woman, middle aged woman, and an elderly woman.
Later, we see the Greek fates developing. These three were originally just “Fate” as a big incorporeal concept, but later came to be understood as three daughter goddesses of Zeus. There were also the three Furies, female deities of vengeance. In the medieval period, the Norse Norns came into play in Scandinavian/Germanic mythology, they were known as Urd (fate), Skuld (being), and Verdandi (necessity). They were markedly more powerful than the Greek fates since they seemed to have power over the Norse pantheon of gods. There were also the pre-Islamic daughters of Allah. The Bedouin nomads of the Arabian Peninsula were a polytheistic people before their conversion to Islam, although Allah was considered the supreme deity. During this period he was believed to have had three daughters, known as al-Lat (the goddess) al-Uzza (power), and Manat (fate, crone, the other). You’ll notice that the age setup keeps reoccurring, of youngest, middle, and oldest. This is the virgin, mother, and crone concept. In more recent history, it occurs in the Little Red Riding Hood myth, with Hood, her mother, and her grandmother. Just blew your mind, right?
Triple goddesses are mysterious, difficult to understand, sometimes alluring, sometimes scheming. Why? Well, that’s what the ancient world thought of women! In many patriarchies men were in control of how their people’s various faith stories were constructed and told. The easiest example is Greek mythology. Men, manly men, fighting a war over beautiful, passive women. Zeus is the lord of Olympus, always on the watch for his scheming, sneaky wife Hera. Who can blame her? He has sex with hundreds of women, sometimes through rape. Mythology always reflects the values of a culture at a given time. Anyway, the Zelda connection.
The Golden Goddesses created Hyrule and the world of Zelda at large. This mythology was established in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998). They were Din, the goddess of power, Naryu, the goddess of wisdom, and Farore, the goddess of courage. These titles seem a little funky, particularly for Farore. We learn in OoT that Din created the mineral and elemental “stuff” of the planet, Naryu put in the laws of nature, physics, and weather to reign in the chaos Din had produced, and Farore finally stepped in to produce all the living organisms. They then returned to…wherever it was they came from. The idea of a non-involved deity seems pretty recent in human history, since many polytheistic faiths (ie: Greek) presuppose a lot of godly involvement in worldly affairs, and the three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) assume an omnipotent and pervasive creator. The Golden Goddesses offer a rationale for the existence of evil: they are not present to stop it. So, in Zelda, we have a world with no male gods, only three female deities. Trippy!
But don’t believe them all matronly figures. Consider the character of Ganondorf. During the events of the game he steals the power of Din from the Triforce – an artifact which the Godesses left behind. It grants him frightening and destructive powers. Even though she is a creator, she is a violent, chaotic one. Hell, when he relates the creation myth to you, the Deku Tree says that Din’s arms were on fire most of the time. If we take the Golden Goddesses to compliment the virgin-mother-crone concept, Din is definitely a hyperpowered crone. Farore and Naryu…could go either way. You could make a case for either being the mother or youth. In any event, its useful to think of them as both occupying the other two positions. The virgin-mother-crone concept represents the three stages of life for women. We still tend to think in these kinds of concepts even in our lofty Socratic Western culture. Youth, which is virginal, motherhood, which is sexualized, and old age, cunning and wizened. Ganondorf, Zelda, and Link occupy a type of triplism in relation to the Goddesses, since Ganondorf is granted the power of Din, Zelda the wisdom of Naryu, and Link the courage of Farore.
The Triforce in Zelda seems to be a pretty clear reference to the Holy Trinity of Christian doctrine. Though it’s never explicitly called the Holy Trinity in the New Testament, the combination of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit into one distinct godhead is implied. However, the Trinity is just a way of understanding the relationship between the three aspects of the Judeo-Christian creator – at least that’s what I gathered from all those years in Catholic elementary school. The Triforce is a powerful, at least partially material artifact that the three Goddesses each placed a portion of their power in after they left Hyrule. Why did they leave this behind? Easy, it’s a taboo plot device. The fruit in the Garden of Eden? Taboo plot device. The One Ring in Lord of the Rings? Taboo plot device. It exists specifically for the taboo to be broken. So Ganondorf broke it. But he could not possess it fully, since he lacked wisdom and courage (I’m assuming). Those portions magically inhabited Zelda and Link, respectively, setting off the whole crazy chain of events that we call The Legend of Zelda series.
See you in the next installment.
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