The Triforce. More than just an object of immense magical power that when fully combined can summon the gods themselves to fulfill the user’s bidding, the Triforce also has intricate ties to the three virtues of the Hyrule universe: Power, Wisdom, and Courage. In our journey through the thematic themes of each of the individual chapters in the Zelda legend, we’ve seen how the construction of Hyrule and its mythology serves to teach us valuable life lessons such as the power of redemption and the importance of growing up and moving on from the ways of our youth. How, then, can we see the Triforce as a symbol for our own lives?
After all, the virtues of the Triforce bear little resemblance to the virtues we typically encounter in various real-world religions. The seven virtues of the Catholic catechism are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility, all moral virtues at their core. This list has a parallel list of cardinal and theological virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance (the last of which returns from the moral virtues), along with faith, hope, and love, respectively. Of these, we find no possible relationship to Power, although we do find traits that correspond to Wisdom and Courage in prudence and fortitude. We can see, then, that the basis for the Three Virtues of Hyrule lore does not wholly rest in Western tradition.
What about in Japan’s own Shinto tradition? As it turns out, Shinto is full of virtues, from purity and honesty to the virtue of simply being or becoming, of enacting one’s own creation. Its multiplicity goes far beyond our Western example, so it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to trace it to three core virtues that resemble those found in Hyrule.
Why Power, Wisdom, and Courage, then? I think the answer lies in the Triforce’s fundamental purpose as a scale of sorts that weighs the soul of the user. While it can’t judge intent, it does serve to identity which of these three virtues is most exemplified in the person who touches it. The idea that moderation and balance are the keys to attaining spiritual power is fairly common in both Western and Eastern thought. The Christian saints are believed to have either performed or played party to countless miracles due to their extraordinary faith in God and their excellent moral humility. As a parallel in Eastern religion, it is believed that through practice and moderation one can attain enlightenment, and some circles even believe that reaching this stage will liberate one from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
Power, Wisdom, and Courage are in a way the ultimate categories of virtue in the sense that all the other virtues can be packed into them. Wisdom and Courage are easier to distinguish, as in order to be just or prudent one must have great wisdom and in order to practice temperance and love one much be courageous enough to dedicate himself to them. Power still has a place, however, in the sense that we are all given our own unique degree of abilities, social power and status, and natural mastery over certain of the other virtues. When taken together with Wisdom and Courage, having great Power can lead to wonderful and lasting change and progress. On its own, however, Power often leads to disaster.
We see this in Zelda constantly when villains forgo the greater good for their greedy desires and seek out power to accomplish their own ends, but we also see it in a very real way in our own world. The events in Libya are driven by a desperately power-hungry dictator who flexes his military might and squashes social freedom in order to secure his own political authority. Like the ages of chaos in Hyrule, people of peace find themselves afraid for their lives as terror reigns the streets. And this scenario reveals another side to the Triforce: only by exercising Wisdom and Courage can the people hope to shake off oppression – symbolized in Zelda by Zelda and Link teaming up to battle against the darkness with their respective Triforces at their side.
In that sense, perhaps we can see Power as only truly legitimate when it issues forth from Wisdom and Courage, which themselves grant power in their own right. But this sort of power is virtuous, the real Divine Right once asserted by the kings of old, now made manifest in true people of virtue. We can see here why the Triforce is so deeply associated with the Royal Family – ideally, they should be the ones to inherit this right to rule, so long as they maintain order and justice with Wisdom and Courage. The union of these three virtues produces something extraordinary, so that it seems as though the gods have literally come down and bestowed their blessing on the world.
Themes in Motion is a regular article series that plans to cover the major story themes of the Zelda series. The series began by going through the primary themes of each game; now it treats broader series elements such as the Triforce or the Master Sword. As you read, please consider your own reactions to the games and feel free to reply in the comment sections with any thoughts you may have that differ from or go beyond what is explained in the article. Entries in the series will release every other Tuesday, each covering a different theme.