Hyrule has been portrayed as a very magical place, from its creation, the hidden structures hidden throughout, to the very people that inhabit the land. Magic is everywhere. The mystical forces that few can use and fewer can master appear in every Zelda title— sometimes as a direct intervention from a deity or fairy, sometimes as a spell cast from a character, and most often in the form of a helpful item that Link can carry and use when needed. It comes in many forms and is used by several tribes, and even more individuals.
Magic in Creatures and People
The creation of magic in Hyrule was attributed to Nayru according to the A Link to the Past backstory.
The “god of wisdom” made science and magic, and awarded the land with natural order.– A Link to the Past Manual
It goes even further to explain that they Hylian tribe were especially gifted in the area of magic.
This documentation was written by the race of Hylia, the chosen people capable of hearing the voices of the gods. For that reason, the Hylians have high ears, unsurpassed senses, and the ability to use magic. It is said that they passed on stories of their magic and prophecies to their descendants, who rooted themselves in all parts of the world. Hyrule, where many Hylian relics have been left, is an area very much tied to myth.– A Link to the Past Manual
However, in the story as told by Lanayru, all tribes were given power equally:
When all was chaos, the goddesses descended and gave order and life to the world. They granted power equally to all who dwelt in the light, and then returned to the heavens. The lands where the goddesses descended came to be known as the Sacred Realm.” — Lanayru
The words of the Light Spirit sent from the gods would have a little bit more meaning than the tale told in the origin story of A Link to the Past as it was recorded by Hylian scholars. They might place their own extra opinions on the story, possibly for personal or political reasons, possibly to authenticate the Hylian throne or a sense of self value. But later in Lanayru’s story we are told that the Dark Interlopers excelled in sorcery.
“For ages, the people lived at ease, content in mind and body… But soon, word of the Sacred Realm spread through Hyrule, and a great battle ensued… Among those living in the light, interlopers who excelled at magic appeared. Wielding powerful sorcery, they tried to establish dominion over the Sacred Realm. It was then that the goddesses ordered us three light spirits to intervene. We sealed away the great magic those individuals had mastered.” — Lanayru
So people skilled in wizardry unaffiliated with the Triforce have appeared in Hyrule’s history, as testified by Midna and the Light Spirits. The Dark Interlopers were so skilled that the gods themselves had to intervene, separate the interlopers from their power, and seal them off in a separate world entirely. There are similar stories to this one involving the Dark Tribe and their creation of the cursed trident and the pyramid, as well as the dark ones who made the mask of Majora, A creature who was evil and powerful enough to bring down the moon.
Adventure of Link introduced the magic meter and spells for Link to use. Link actively learns spells in Adventure of Link, making him a great mage later in the game. The mages from whom Link learns the spells only teach them to those who are worthy of receiving them. Later in sequels great fairies teach Link various spells such as Nayru’s Love, Farore’s Wind, and Din’s Fire. All spells draw from the magic meter which acts as a gauge displaying how much Link can cast. The meter itself is a representation of Link’s magical capability and how much he can cast within a period of time. Since its introduction, the meter has become an essential element of the series reappearing in majority of the sequels. It is often used in association with certain magical items Link obtains in his adventures as opposed to simply casting spells. The decanter was introduced as a way to refill the magic meter.
Link can restore Magic Power, which is used to power different magic items, by finding Magical Decanters. These Magical Decanters come in two sizes, big and small. A big Decanter completely refills your magic meter, and a small one restores one eighth of your magic meter. As with small hearts, you can also get these from enemies you defeat.-A Link to the Past Manual
What it contains is never revealed, nor how it restores Link’s magical energy—only that it restores him. Decanters can be found randomly placed in hidden areas and are most often found when defeating enemies. The enemies Link fights could be carrying these to restore their vitality, similar to Link carrying potions in jars. Later games introduced Chu jelly, which came from creatures called Chuchus; the magic restoring one is often green.
There’s a gelatinous substance in the green jelly that is filled with magic power, but you can’t use it in its current form.” — Inventory
This quote leads me to believe that the potion made from green jelly is actually an extraction of the magical properties the chu normally has. Skilled potion brewers can produce medicines from chu jelly or other substances such as deku baba seeds or rare mushrooms.
Magic in Objects
The magic of Hyrule can most often be seen in the form of various weapons and tools found throughout. The amount of magical artifacts is overwhelming at times. Some have their own unique source of power unknown to the player, while others draw off Link’s personal supply and cannot be used until he can recharge himself. Another type might not be magical at all but lost technology from a bygone era or long lost tribe of the past.
As Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Hyrule is filled with technology that the common (or even uncommon) Hylian would genuinely accept as magical. Observing beamos, the spinner, the dominion rod, and the various mechanical traps found in the Temple of Time and the City in the Sky would be no different. To an unknowing observer, the City in the Sky looks to be an incredible magical place held aloft by totally unknown means. Propellers might not be recognizable to an uneducated Hylian.
Items such as the magic wand, magical boomerang, and the magic key do not require any outside source of power. They either have their own internal power or require such a minuscule amount that they are not even noticeable to Link when he uses them. They function with no real drain on Link or any apparent outside help by a fairy or deity. They simply continue working no matter how many times Link uses them. They appear to have some form of internal source of power that creates the magical effects for Link’s use. Or they might also utilize technology that would still be just as indistinguishable from magic to Hylian eyes. To a Hylian, the capabilities of the hookshot could be just as supernatural and mysterious.
Other items such as the Cane of Somaria, Staff of Byrna, and the Magic Cape require more power to function and drain the magical energy from Link directly; they can continue to work until he is drained of all magical energies and then he must recover it through various means. Normally, he recovers magic through potion created by chu jelly or the magic decanters often dropped by enemies. Many of these items act as if they were spells themselves, as they are items that actively cast spells such as the Ether or Bombos medallions. They are objects that either contain the spell or require someone to hold and give their own magic energies for the spell to be cast.
There are other objects that only function because they are connected to or contain a spirit of some type within them. The various transformation masks of Majora’s Mask each hold the spirit of a deceased individual. When Link places the mask on his face he takes on the form of that specific individual incorporated within the mask. The Gale Boomerang was said to hold the fairy of wind within it. The Rod of Seasons gains its power from the four season spirits. The Four Sword was a reforged Picori Blade with the four elements, crystalline forms of the elemental energies present in Hyrule, empowering it. In Four Swords Adventures, the blade contained spirits known as force fairies, while an inscription found in pyramid in the Desert of Doubt tells of the evil spirit of the trident Ganon holds grants the power of darkness. In The Wind Waker, the Master Sword itself required the prayers of the sages to the gods to maintain it’s evil-repelling nature. Without these prayers, it is simply a sword described by Ganondorf to have dull edges and no power.
The fact that the Master Sword lost the power to repel evil suggests to me that something has happened to the sages who infused the blade with the gods’ power.” — King of Red Lions
You cannot defeat me with a blade that does not sparkle with the power to repel evil! What you hold is useless. Go back to the world below, and tell that to the pathetic fools who made this blade! Its power is gone, and its edges are dull!” — Ganon
Very rarely is there any interaction with the spirits housed within the items Link uses. Force fairies are sometimes seen leaving the Four Sword upon Link’s death, while Majora and the Fierce deity can overcome the wearer of their masks and influence the wearer’s mind causing them to act outside of their character. However, in the case of the Gale Boomerang and the lesser transformation masks, the spirit housed inside the item acts more like a source of power for whatever magical reaction than an intelligence or living creature.
The capability to capture and bottle spirits is not unusual in Hyrule. The shops in Castle Town in Ocarina of Time sell fairy spirits held in bottles while Link on his travels may sell captured Poe souls. So the trade of bottled spirits is not a new concept. It actually seems to be a common event; these bottled spirits/souls might very well be used in the creation of future magic items by a knowledgeable craftsman or sage.
There are a great many examples of various tribes and individuals that are especially skilled in magic use. The dark interlopers immediately come to mind as their skill in shadow magic caught the attention of the gods and they were banished for their misdeeds. The tiny Picori are another well known example of a magical race skilled in crafting magical objects. They were also known for hiding magic items in random areas around Hyrule. In fact, many items Link discovers in his journeys could be attributed to the intervention of the Picori placing them there to be discovered. This was the original intent with the hat of sorcery that Vaati used in Minish Cap. The hat was originally intended to be given to the Hylians before Vaati took it for his own use, which granted him the ability to transform into a Hylian sorcerer of winds. The Wind Tribe moved their society to the cloud tops held aloft by magical means.
The Sheikah were another tribe rumored to be skilled in the use of magic. Evidence for this is scattered all over Hyrule in their artifacts such as the gossip stones, the Lens of Truth, the Mask of Truth, and the Shadow Temple. They were obviously skilled crafters of magical tools and objects as well.
Certain individuals among the separate tribes with magical capabilities are seen in many games. Koume and Kotake are examples of non Hylian elemental witches skilled in use of fire and ice magic. The Gerudo tribe seems to revere the twin elements of fire and ice as Ganondorf wears a mix red and blue Gerudo symbol. He talks about the burning winds of the day and the frigid gale of night in his home of the desert. The Gerudo are said to respect those with skill in archery and grant the ice arrows as a reward for completing the training ground test in Ocarina of Time.
Interestingly enough, the queen of fairies grants the fire and ice arrows in The Wind Waker, revealing some possible connection. The Great fairies, already a magical race, grant Link help in the form of items and spells throughout his journey. Din’s Fire, Nayru’s Love, and Farore’s Wind are all spells granted to Link from the Great Fairies, as well as the great fairy’s sword, the silver arrow, the light arrow, and numerous arrow quiver and rupee wallet upgrades. However, it is unknown if Link truly learns the spells himself, if they are an item to be activated by command, an extension of the great fairy’s own magical ability or an extension of the golden goddesses power. The spells do still require an amount of Link’s own magical power to cast.
Other magicians found in Hyrule include the sages of various titles. The sages appear to represent to the six elements of forest, fire, water, shadow, spirit, and light through the temples found hidden within Hyrule. The sages of Ocarina of Time had to discover their abilities and awaken as sages. Sheik states that the temples call out to those who are destined to become sages in a time of great need.
When evil rules all, an awakening voice from the Sacred Realm will call those destined to be Sages, who dwell in the five temples. One in a deep forest… One on a high mountain… One under a vast lake… One within the house of the dead… One inside a goddess of the sand… Together with the Hero of Time, the awakened ones will bind the evil and return the light of peace to the world… This is the legend of the temples passed down by my people, the Sheikah.” — Sheik
While they still maintain their humanoid shape, the sages of Twilight Princess are much more abstract in appearance. They appear to be physical yet they float in the air and emit light. Their masks hover in front of their faceless heads. They appear to be spiritual beings yet are mortal and may be killed through physical attack.
Other characters include the Witch Syrup and her apprentice Maple. They are experts in brewing magic potions and creating magic powder. Magic characters are often responsible for creating the various potions that Link uses on his quests in some games. Kotake and Koume are responsible for creating magic potions in Termina, while Hollow the Korok and Doc Bandam are the potion brewers of the Great Sea.
The various Mages who are followers of Vaati in Four Swords Adventures can be found throughout Hyrule. One mage gives Link the Bombos Medallon and claims to have created it, and the many fortune tellers living in Hyrule could be magic users as well as frauds.
The Wizzrobes are another great example. However, the source of their power remains in question. In A Link to the Past, Agahnim mentions the cult of the Triforce which uses the power of gold, meaning that they might be using small portions of the triforce granted to them by Ganon at the time. The wizzrobes of the original Legend of Zelda use magic wands as their weapons, one of which Link can easily use himself. And in the sequel, Adventure of Link, Ganon was defeated and had no Triforce piece, causing them to rely upon their own abilities.
There are many aspects of the the magical side of Hyrule that are seen over and over again. The most often seen is the Sheikah eye, sometimes called the eye of truth.
The Sheikah Eye is most often viewed as the symbol representing the Sheikah tribe of Hyrule. However, it has reappeared in many other places— the gossip stones, the howling stones and the Throne of Twilight in Twilight Princess, Hyrule Castle in A Link to the Past, the Four Sword shrine in Four Sword Adventures, and Ambi’s Palace in Labrynna.
The first few examples were Sheikah artifacts and it makes sense that the Sheikah would place their tribal symbol upon their works. However it has appeared in many more places that are largely unrelated to the Sheikah. The common factor is that all objects that bear the symbol are magical in nature. The Sheikah were reported to have been great masters of magic; they might know the true nature of the eye and the properties it possesses. Other magic users wear the symbol as well. This has led to theories that they might also be Sheikah, or somewhat related as they were important to the Hylian royal family. The people that wear it bring up some questions and suggestions to its nature. It is worn by Veran the Sorceress of Shadows, Agahnim the Dark Wizard, the fortune teller Madam Fanadi, and the Wind Sorcerer Vaati, who manifests it after absorbing some of the light force from Zelda, increasing his magical ability.
It is the manifestation of the eye that I find most interesting. That plus the wearing of the eye on all the various sorcerer type characters leads me to believe that it is not so much a tribe symbol but a symbol of some profound magical importance. It either enhances one’s abilities or becomes a representation of their specific skill and power. This has relevance in the real world, as the eye has been used in symbolism in many different cultures. One example is the All-Seeing Eye which was a universal symbol representing spiritual sight, inner vision, higher knowledge, insight into occult mysteries. There is also the Eye of Horus, which represents the eye lost by Egyptian sun-god Horus in a battle with Set. It was used as a charm to ward off evil. Finally, there is the Evil Eye, the symbol of a dreadful, fabled curse (believed to bring sickness, death, bad luck loss…). There are also many different objects and charms such as the Hand of Fatima or the Devil’s Horn which was made to ward off the Evil Eye.
In conclusion, I do find it refreshing that the Zelda series has avoided some of the more common magic tropes such as magical incantations to bring about spell effects and a priest/cleric class that appears in so many RPG/fantasy settings, and has avoided limiting the usage of magic is only for those who have a special innate talent or those of a certain job class. Magic in Hyrule does not follow the standard RPG rules or conventions while remaining consistent throughout the series. There are comparatively few named spells which are not organized by color, class, or element, while no specific individuals are denied certain spells due to a class restriction. There is no division between divine and arcane, just as there does not appear to be any discernible difference to Hyruleans. Magic is both a force of nature and a blessing from the gods. The magic of Hyrule seems to be restricted only by one’s ability to learn from what is available from those willing to teach or grant spells in the form of the sages, great fairies, or elders within villages who would bestow their knowledge on worthy adventurers. It is also limited by each person’s own personal magical aptitude, which is often represented by the magic meter. Hyrulean magic remains in a universe of its own and maintains its own rules independent of the mainstream fantasy RPG tradition.