“Suddenly bereft of both demons and spirits, this land was entrusted to us.”
~Niko, Spirit Tracks
“And the people who live on that great island will be able to join hands and, together, create a better world. Such is my dream.”
~Great Deku Tree, The Wind Waker
Please be aware that this article addresses matters of a religious, spiritual and philosophical nature which some may consider offensive, even blasphemous. Also note that it contains spoilers for games in The Legend of Zelda series, as well as Xenoblade Chronicles, Fantasy Life and the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. Enjoy.
Dedicated to humanity: because we can do better.
PART I – SKYWARD SWORD: THE INDIVIDUAL
PART II – THE WIND WAKER: THE COLLECTIVE
Why does it have to be human or divine? Maybe human is divine.”
So echo the words of Professor Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, in Ron Howard’s film adaption of the bestselling Dan Brown novel,
The Da Vinci Code. They are words begging for discussion.
For many, the notion of human divinity is controversial, insulting and even blasphemous. For others it sparks a deep philosophical debate on whether humanity and divinity are really mutually exclusive or if they could overlap, even be one and the same.
It’s been somewhat of a hot-topic recently in Japanese role-playing games for the protagonists to overthrow self-declared ‘almighty’ gods through the power of their bonds of friendship and love. They then create worlds without the need for deities; worlds where people forge their own paths, for better or worse, without divine beings using them as playthings.
Xenoblade Chronicles told this motif through Shulk overcoming the reign of Zanza. The contentious Final Fantasy XIII trilogy featured the protagonists negating many fal’Cie gods, before eventually taking down ‘almighty’ Bhunivelze in Lightning Returns.
Lightning Returns was a game with a profound parallel to Christianity. Bhunivelze only wished to save those who would accept him and his savior, Lightning, who heralded the coming doom. He intended to destroy every other soul, but the savior rebelled, defeating him and creating a new world for every soul to enjoy.
Even the less intense role-playing game
Fantasy Life told the tale of humanity discovering that their Gods, Divinus and Celestia, were really just people living their own modest lives, not almighty beings to be revered and worshiped.
With its array of demons, deities, divine relics and everything in-between, the mythology of
The Legend of Zelda series delves headlong into this debate. Zelda has much to say on the relationship between humanity and divinity. One possible interpretation of the Zelda series’ lore being that there is the potential for divinity in all of us individually, as well as in humanity as a collective whole.
(i) Fallible Deities
Of the many deities and demons throughout
The Legend of Zelda series, one point is consistently made clear: divine beings are not invincible. They are not almighty or perfect, but rather, they are finite and wholly conquerable. Similarly to many mythologies, deities are humanized as being driven by emotions and, thus, make mistakes and fail to see all ends.
The Wind Waker Cyclos, The God of Winds, becomes consumed by petty wrath from a miniscule monument to him falling into disrepair:
“It saddens me to say that my brother, Cyclos, is miffed about his monument here being broken, and now he spends his time creating cyclones to torment people with.”
At the bidding of Cyclos’s brother, Zephos, Link calms the god’s anger. The transformation in Cyclos is like what many Christians refer to as the contrast between the Old Testament God of wrath and the New Testament God of love.
Link’s actions have a divine impact. His interactions with Cyclos are parallel to the biblical story of God and Moses. God tires of the people of Israel and desires for his “wrath” to “consume them.” Moses beseeches the Lord on their behalf, and manages to talk god down from a mass slaughter to a mere plague (Exodus 32).
A similar occurrence also happens where 14,700 Israelites die before Moses can appease the Lord to stay the plague (Numbers 16). Like with Link and Cyclos, a man pleads with a god and sways the deity’s mind, because their will is not consistently absolute.
Time and time again deities within the
Zelda universe are overcome, succumb to sickness and even perish. In Ocarina of Time, the Guardian spirit of Kokiri Forest, the Great Deku Tree, is cursed by the man, Ganondorf, and passes away. The Patron Deity of the Zoras, Lord Jabu Jabu is similarly hexed, never to be seen again and presumed deceased.
Twilight Princess, Hyrule succumbs to Twilight as Zant and his shadow beasts steal the power of light from the four Light Spirit deities. It is up to Link to restore their light and their power. Consider also the guardian deity, the Ocean King of Phantom Hourglass, who is attacked and subdued by the evil life-sucking Bellum, also requiring a human to save his life.
This trend conveys divinity as fallible, and to that end, humanizes them. Like people, they must make amendments to their oversights and errors.
In the biblical account of creation God creates Adam, but it is not until later that he realizes “
it is not good that man should live alone.” Once the animals then prove to not be wholly satisfying company, it is only then that God takes the rib and makes Eve, apparently unplanned of prior (see Genesis 1:18-20).
Skyward Sword learns very directly of the fallibility and mortality of deities. He encounters the Great Spirit of the Sky, Levias, who is infected and controlled by the parasitic Bilocyte.
Later, Link meets the thunder dragon deity Lanayru, or at least, he finds his skeleton. Through some timeshift-stone enabled time-travel, Link is able to prevent the deity’s death.
“Just because I have eternal life doesn’t mean I can’t get mighty sick.”
Given the state Link first came across the dragon in, his quote might as well read: “
just because my life-span is seemingly infinite, it doesn’t mean I can’t die of sickness or be slain.”
Having lived for unfathomably long periods of time, deities often stubbornly assume their immortality. Yet despite his belief of an eternal life, Lanayru revealed that, albeit rare, a deity can pass away. Just as man cannot see beyond death, a god may struggle to see beyond life, but the beyond is there nonetheless. It’s possible, probable, and even inevitable.
Link learns in
Skyward Sword that nothing is absolute and even immortality is relative. He learns that being born human or god does not dictate your fate, and this realization leads to a personal enlightenment, a type of renaissance. Link now knows that gods aren’t absolute.
The narrative of
Skyward Sword is comparable to our own human history, to the time when humanity developed a sense of confidence. Through the centuries of the second millennia humans developed a sense of self-worth that their lives were more than just as the playthings of divine beings.
The game’s protagonist in Link is the harbinger of change. He aligns with the Goddess Hylia to use the divine power of the Triforce to fell a demon. This is a drastic leap forward from the cowardly, helpless humans of millennia past.
“The humans I’ve known were weak things. Hardly more than insects, shivering under rocks and ready to flee at a mere glimpse of me. When I last walked this world, they did little more than scream and cling to their goddess, mewling and praying… Counting on her to protect them.”
Be it demons or deities, early Hylians steered clear of the affairs of the divine. Either they fled in fear from a demon or turned to a deity to protect them. Never did they consider partaking, or even that they could have an impact.
Indeed, humanity was kept in the sheltered paradise known as Skyloft where they were separate and safe from the battle below.
“The goddess gathered the surviving humans on an outcropping of earth. She sent it skyward, beyond the reach of the demonic hordes. Beyond even the clouds. With the humans safe, the goddess joined forces with the land dwellers and fought the evil forces.”
~Skyward Sword prologue
While the land-dwelling Gorons, Kikwis, Parella and Mogma fought as the Goddess’s army, humans were hidden away like precious, fragile cargo. The Loftwings that each Skyloftian shared their life with was a guardian ensuring the human did not penetrate below the cloud barrier.
“Each of us in Skyloft is but one half of a pair. We are only made whole by our loftwings, the guardian birds that the goddess bestows upon each of us as a symbol of her divine protection.”
This stereotype of the frail, defenseless human is why it is to Demise’s shock, and his ultimate undoing, that Link stands against him. No longer a dependent human, Link stands as a new paradigm.
“How amusing to think those cowards begot someone like you. . . You grow more fascinating by the second, human. I never imagined I’d meet one of your kind who wished to stand against me in battle.”
Demise, like Lanayru the dragon, never considered his own demise possible, let alone at the hands of a human, but he is defeated by Link. Demise’s eradication is humanity’s defining moment where they take control of their lives.
Many leave the sheltered paradise of Skyloft and settle in Hyrule, establishing the Hyrulean Monarchy and finally shaping their own futures. Humans were no longer playthings, no longer sheltered in their little Eden. They had realized their potential.
Biblically, God refers to man as having been made in his own image, in that he has the power to “
subdue” and “have dominion over every living creature that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28.)
Skyward Sword is humanity realizing their inner potential for divinity. Not only their ability to rule their own affairs, or even their ability to rule over the other races and creatures of Hyrule, but their ability to transcend, to become divine themselves.
Although Link stands as an example of the human who broke free from the bonds imposed upon humanity, the Goddess Hylia’s role in Link’s actions is important to address. It can be argued that Link was actually just a plaything of Hylia, but we must consider Hylia’s motives and her plan.
The Goddess wanted to liberate humanity from its seclusion and oppression. Her plan was to rid them of Demise and empower them with the divine Triforce. If Link is considered a pawn, he was intended as the last. Through her final plaything Hylia provided a new paradigm of a human as a demon-slayer who forged his own future.
Hylia’s motives were not selfish, nor was her commitment to her plan to sacrifice her divinity to become human:
“Her second plan… was to abandon her divine form and transfer her soul to the body of a mortal. She made this sacrifice, as you likely guessed, so that the supreme power created by the old gods could one day be used. For while the supreme power of the Triforce was created by the gods, all of its power can never be wielded by one.”
It is a common element of religion and myth for gods to become human to achieve some end. Notably, Jesus Christ, the ‘son’ of the Christian Godhead, or Trinity, who sacrificed himself to atone for the sins of man.
Hylia gave up her “
divine powers and her immortal form” to close the divide between the almighty demons and deities, and the defenseless humans. While she can be seen as using Link, her sacrifice was so she could personally lead him on a path to claiming the Triforce for humanity as a means for their own benefit.
“To face Demise and give the land hope, the goddess, Hylia, needed someone with an unbreakable spirit. That someone is you Link. But spirit alone wasn’t enough. You had to overcome many trials and awaken the hero within yourself so that you could wield that supreme power. And so Hylia… I mean, and so I…
I knew that if it meant saving Zelda, you would throw yourself headfirst into any danger, without even a moment’s doubt. I… I used you. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am for pulling you into all of this, Link.”
Twilight Princess assumes it as common knowledge that Hylians “are the closest race to the gods.” However, pre-Skyward Sword this is merely an excuse to protect Hylia’s people and restrict them from their potential.
Hylia’s goal is to enable them to reach that potential. She sacrifices her own divinity so that humanity can achieve their own divinity through obtaining the Triforce: three mighty force gems left behind by the Golden Goddesses.
“The old gods created a supreme power that gave anyone who possessed it the ability to shape reality and fulfill any desire. They called it the Triforce. . . yet they specifically designed it so that their own kind could never use its power. Somehow, I think that may have been their way of giving hope to all the mortal beings of the land.”
The Triforce is a tool which enables humans to craft their own destinies. In
Skyward Sword Link and Zelda use the Triforce to eradicate Demise and, coupled with the loftwing’s wings, to stand as the crest of their new kingdom. A symbol of hope combined with wings to soar.
A similar wish is made in A Link to the Past; to repair the devastation Ganondorf had caused to the land. In the game-manual backstory to The Adventure of Link there is a great ruler who “maintained the peace in Hyrule using the Triforce.” It was humanity’s way to maintain peace, balance and harmony in Hyrule and to have a divine influence in the world.
At other times throughout the series we see the Triforce in parts, dwelling within chosen humans, strengthening and guiding them, but never controlling or influencing them. For good and for worse, the Triforce merely reflects the desires of the hearts and aids humans in where they want to go.
In this sense, the Triforce acts like the biblical Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, dwelling within the chosen and believers respectively. Humans are temples, resting places of the divine.
“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God.”
~1 Corinthians 6:19
A comparable tale to
Skyward Sword takes place on a lesser scale in Majora’s Mask. Link rescues the Four Guardian Giant deities, donning the Giants Mask to become like them along the way. He then slays the demon who imprisoned the Giants, Majora, by becoming the divine Fierce Deity.
More fleshed out than
Majora’s Mask in this regard, Skyward Sword is the tale of humanity and divinity converging. The Goddess Hylia becomes human, and the human Link obtains the divine Triforce. The mark on his hand was the sign that he, that humanity, had the potential to attain divinity.
Skyward Sword tells of the divine becoming human, and the human becoming divine. It is the blurring of the bounds of what is human and what is divine. God became man and man became god.
(i) Divided and Desperate
The Wind Waker opens with its iconic pan-flute music and ancient scrolls telling the game’s backstory. The evil Ganon has escaped from his prison and the people fall into their old, pre-Skyward Sword human habit of pleading to the Gods to save them.
“The people believed that the Hero of Time would again come to save them. …But the hero did not appear. Faced by an onslaught of evil, the people could do nothing but appeal to the gods. In their last hour, as doom drew nigh, they left their future in the hands of fate.”
~Wind Waker backstory
At first they expected someone else to do something about it, like the bystander effect. Once the people realized nobody was going to save them, they turned to their last resort, the fates of the old gods.
In their ancient history, humanity had been saved by Hylia when she sent them skyward on Skyloft and sealed the evil far below. This time around the gods responded by flooding Hyrule, scattering the people across the mountaintops, now islands, and by sealing Ganon beneath the waves.
The people were now divided, powerless and easy prey. They had turned to the gods and were saved from Ganon, but at a cost that left them vulnerable.
“So many pathetic creatures, scattered across a handful of islands, drifting on this sea like fallen leaves on a forgotten pool… What can they possibly hope to achieve? Don’t you see? All of you… Your gods destroyed you!”
Once Ganon escaped yet again, he now finds the people defenseless and alone, just as he wants them. They live in small clans on distant islands. For generations they had strove to rebuild a new life on the sea, but Ganondorf was right. Their gods had destroyed them through division.
The people are divided and despairing, not united under a collective unity. The predicament is Zelda’s very nightmare of endless oceans alienating the people of the world form one another.
“I can see this girl’s dreams… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans as far as the eye can see. They are vast seas… None can swim across them… They yield no fish to catch…”
That Zelda lives her life as the pirate Tetra, sailing the seas, is a very defiance of the world’s state. It is a refusal that most people remain isolated. She travels the world, creating her own sense of unity, connecting the world, meeting people so they are connected through her and not wholly alienated from one another.
When Ganondorf unleashes his wrath across the Great Sea, this time around there is no pleading to the gods. This time its time to take matters into their own hands.
The heroic Link is just a young ordinary boy who sets out for nothing more than to rescue his little sister. Despite not being heralded as the mighty hero, Link, an average human, obtains part of the Triforce. He achieves his own divinity and conquers the demonic Ganon, despite the doubts about him.
Jabun: “If you have sought me out… it must mean you have found the Hero of Time, does it not?”
Daphnes: “Unfortunately, that is not so.”
Jabun: “Then for what purpose have you come to see me?”
Daphnes: “The one I have brought with me has no connection to the legendary one. And yet I sense great promise in the courage that this one possesses.”
The Hylians didn’t need their gods and they didn’t need a mythical hero either. They just needed a person courageous enough to become the hero, a person strong enough to let their inner divinity shine through.
This time fate is back in human hands. Daphnes’ wish upon the Triforce encapsulates this very notion, when he wishes for a future for the children. Reading between the lines, he asks for Hyrule to wash away along with the gods and their Triforce. He wishes for humanity to have its own future, united, on their own land, not divided by sea.
“Gods of the Triforce! Hear that which I desire! Hope! I desire hope for these children! Give them a future! Wash away this ancient land of Hyrule! Let a ray of hope shine on the future of the world.”
The Triforce departs after Daphnes’ wish, and then the epilogue sees the children and the pirates setting off to find their new land, the new Hyrule as its later named in
Spirit Tracks. Here they can be free from the gods of the past, gods that have little care for the world.
(ii) The New World
From the Sixteenth Century onwards in our own human history, people began sailing west from Europe, Africa and Asia, bound for what they called the New World, now the Americas and Oceania. It was a new beginning of liberty and religious freedom.
This is the tale spun in the newly settled land of New Hyrule in
Spirit Tracks. No longer do the three divine force gems of the Triforce, now vanished from existence, rule the land. Now the land’s power comes from the force gems that people and Lokomo give to one other.
“As I’m sure you know, happiness and gratitude create energy. Well, I am deeply grateful to both of you for all of your help. I cannot help you directly, but I can at least give you this Force Gem.”
Daphnes’ wish, the children’s determination and the exchange of force gems allow for the New Hyrule to prosper. It stands as a stark contrast to Lorule in
A Link Between Worlds, who wished the Triforce out of existence to end a devastating war, but the people weren’t yet ready to cultivate their own lives.
“The Triforce was the foundation of our world, and without it, our kingdom crumbled.” ~Hilda
Lorule had grown too dependent upon divine help. Their world was too intertwined with the Triforce to thrive without it, just as removing religion wholly from our world today would be devastating to life and society.
Spirit Tracks, nevertheless, is through and through a story of humanity being entrusted with control of their own lives and land from the gods. Niko opens the game with a rich narration of the game’s backstory:
“In the beginning, the people followed the spirits of good, and all was peaceful
Then arose the Demon King Malladus. A great war ensued and once the Demon was subdued, then the spirits of good, the land’s deities, departed.
“With their power drained, the spirits of good returned to the heavens. Suddenly bereft of both demons and spirits, this land was entrusted to us.”
During the time of
Spirit Tracks the spirits had left behind the angelic-like Lokomo race to watch over humanity. The game itself is people like Link and Zelda proving that humanity can look after itself and its world. They prove its their time.
“You see, as Lokomos. . . We weren’t only meant to protect the Spirit Tracks. We were also meant to watch over mankind. But our protection is no longer needed. Even without the spirits’ guidance, you will do well. . . Please watch over this land, my dear.”
Humanity became the gods of the new world, a mantra that humanity often egotistically gives to itself in our world. It was just as Daphnes had wished.
Majora’s Mask the Four Guardian Giant deities of Termina seek to empower humans by leaving them to their own devices. One day the giants announce that they will be departing.
“In those times all the people lived together, and the four giants lived among them. On the day of the festival that celebrates the harvest, the giants spoke to the people… “We have chosen to guard the people while we sleep… 100 steps north, 100 steps south, 100 steps east, 100 steps west.”
~Anju’s Grandmother’s story
The Giants decide to watch over humanity without interfering unless at the utmost end of need. This is a rule that appears to hold for all guardian deities of Termina, as the Great Bay Turtle later alludes to it:
“Now I can continue resting in peace. I too must abide the laws of ancient times and again merely watch from my deep slumber. . . I shall depart after enjoying Lulu’s voice a bit longer. I think the gods can permit that. Hyeh, hyeh, hyeh.”
Both Termina and
Spirit Track’s New Hyrule still have their divine beings, demons and conflicts, like our modern world is still very much driven by religion, but the sentiment remains strong: the course of human lives and what happens to their world is to be determined by humans.
Whatever potential divinity humans may have within themselves can still never individually equate to the sort of absolute power we associate with god, in that it’s not omniscient nor omnipresent.
However, there is a fascinating school of thought on what’s called the universal mind or collective consciousness. It suggests that while no individual is a supreme god, together every human is part of the collective conscious, an all knowing, ever present entity: god. Put simply, humans are collectively god. Divinity is claimed through unity.
The spirit of unity, of being the gods of the new world, whether literally or symbolically as caretakers, is the cumulative message of The Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks.
Together humanity’s power is god-like and can shape the world. We have the very power to destroy our world through warfare, bombs, radiation, or even more slowly through climate change and environmental destruction. One man alone cannot do that.
Even more crucial, we also have the power to collectively nurture and protect the world. That is divinity, the power to destroy the life of the world or to nurture it and create life from ourselves, in our image. In ‘God’s’ image.
The picture of a united world, not one scattered across the tiny islands of the sea is not just Tetra’s goal, but the dream of the Deku Tree and Koroks. They wish for a universal organism of human connectedness to drive the future of their world.
“Every year the Koroks perform this ceremony, they fly off to the distant islands on the sea and plant my seeds in the hopes that new forests will grow.
Forests hold great power. They can change one tiny island into a much larger land. Soon, a day will come when all the islands are one, connected by earth and grove.
And the people who live on that great island will be able to join hands and, together, create a better world. Such is my dream.”
The bottom line here is that regardless of what we do or don’t believe, we can’t pray away the problems of the world. We have to get things done ourselves, together, as people.
Hand-in-hand we can make a difference. Together we can achieve what would be impossible for just one of us. Together we can achieve god-like feats. We can reduce this world to ash or nurture a paradise. The choice is ours.
If you want more philosophy on
The Legend of Zelda check out these articles also by Dathen Boccabella.
First released in November 2012, take a balanced journey through
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Originally from Valentine’s Day 2014, explore this recurrent theme from
The Legend of Zelda series: companionship. Challenge yourself to take the leap of faith through love, loss, heartache, heartbreak and friendship in this moving reflection.