As part of an ongoing project I’ll be looking at the cultural and mythological elements of The Legend of Zelda series, expanding on the sections of my introductory post and adding in a few new topics as well. First, let’s take a look at triplism in The Legend of Zelda.
Why is the triplet so prominent in mythology? There doesn’t seem to be 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 the goddess 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. Around this time she also came to be depicted as a trimorphic figure, sortof 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. 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. It famously occurs in the Little Red Riding Hood myth, with Hood, her mother, and her grandmother. We’ll come back to it in a minute.
The Golden Goddesses created Hyrule and the world of Zelda at large. Din, goddess of power, Naryu, goddess of wisdom, and Farore, 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.
The Golden Goddesses
But don’t believe them all matronly figures. Consider the power of Ganondorf he obtains after shattering the Triforce and taking the portion associated with Din. Even though she is a creator, she is a violent, chaotic one. Hell, the Deku Tree says that her 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. The virgin-mother-crone concept represents the three stages of life, particularly for women. Youth, which is virginal, motherhood, which is sexualized, and old age, cunning and wizened. Sometimes they were three similar but distinct bodied goddesses (ie: daughters of Allah), sometimes they were one shifting form (Hecate).
Triple goddesses are mysterious, often 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. So, in Zelda, we have a world with no male gods, only three female deities. So we must be making some progress, right?
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. 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 (sad trumpet noise). 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
In the next installment we’ll be looking more closely at Arthurian legend, legend itself, and the monomyth in lZelda
. See you next time.