[Note: I am not a professional religious scholar but these are just my views on some of the symbolism I've noticed in the game series. I've focused on the plots in A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I apologize if I've left anything out. Enjoy!]
Part 2- The Triforce
When the three Golden Goddesses had finished creating Hyrule they left behind a part of their essence creating the Triforce. The Triforce is a nearly-omnipotent sacred relic often known as the "Golden Power" which in the Sacred Realm, a parallel world or dimension, dwells at the point where the Golden Goddesses departed. Three smaller triangles known as the Triforce of Wisdom, the Triforce of Power, and the Triforce of Courage make up the Triforce each embodying the essence of their respective goddess. Within the game series the Triforce is found on statues, fountains, and on clothing but even though it may represent the balance and order created by the Divine it can still be wielded by evil.
[Photo of the Hojo family crest in Kamakura, Japan]
When united, the Triforce allows one who touches it to make a wish that will last until they die or someone else claims the Triforce. However, if the one who finds it does not possess a balance of the three virtues it represents, the pieces will split into its three components and the finder will be left with the one which represents the characteristic they value most; the other two pieces will do likewise with two other characters "chosen by destiny". [Wikipedia]
The Triforce itself does not have a choice as to who may wield it only as long as perfect balance is maintained. This balance of sacred power and the eternal conflict of good vs. evil are the main underlying themes in the series. Whenever that balance is disrupted and evil ravages the land the prophecies state that a hero, a warrior-prophet, will rise to cleanse and restore the lands, temples, and hearts of the citizens. Even though Link may only embody Courage at the beginning of his journey, by the end after facing many trials he has grown in wisdom and in strength (power). Thus he can only restore the lands of Hyrule only if he has perfect balance of the three attributes within himself. So where did the creators of the Legend of Zelda come up with such an iconic symbol as the Triforce?
The Triforce closely resembles the family crest of the Hōjō clan, a family of regents of the Kamakura Shogunate who ruled from 1203-1333. The Hōjō clan was known for fathering the spread of Zen Buddhism and Bushido, adopting Japan's first military code of law, and defying the Mongols. The first Hōjō regent, Tokimasa Hōjō (1138-1215), visited a cave at the Enoshima Jinja Shrine "dedicated to the dragon deity that has long been believed to be the guardian deity for fishermen". As Tokimasa prayed for his offspring's prosperity legend has it that the dragon appeared before him and granted his wish leaving behind three dragon scales which are the origin of the Hōjō crest. On a curious note the main object of worship at the Enoshima Jinja Shrine is three mythological goddesses. I do not know if the game creators based the Triforce on Japanese history and mythology but if so they used a perfect example of order and balance.
The Triforce also appears in mathematics as the first step in the fractalization of a triangle. The Sierpinski triangle
is a fractal named after the Polish mathematician Wacław Sierpiński who described it in 1915. Originally constructed as a curve, this is one of the basic examples of self-similar sets, i.e. it is a mathematically generated pattern that can be reproducible at any magnification or reduction.Fractals, as well as most higher math, fly way over my head but from what I understand it is a geometric construction that is self-similar at different scales, meaning it will look exactly the same no matter what size it is viewed at. By zooming in on a smaller triangle within the fractal you have an exact replica of the Sierpinski triangle ad infinitum. What better symbol is there to represent the divine then a geometric shape that is reproducible at any magnification for infinity?
So what is the purpose of the Triforce? With their work done the Goddesses left behind a portion of their essence in the artifact as a guide to the intelligent life on the world of Hyrule. Safely residing in the Sacred Realm, the artifact beckons those from the outside world to seek it and in reward bestows the titles "The Forger of Strength, Keeper of Knowledge, and Juror of Courage" to the one worthy of the titles. The Goddesses do not directly intervene with their world and its inhabitants but through the Triforce they enable them to guide themselves using a portion of their power. Eventually the search for the Triforce turned to lust for power and greed and the king of thieves, Gannondorf, obtained the Triforce and made his wish. To protect themselves from Gannondorf's spreading evil the people of Hyrule along with the Seven Wise Men (or Seven Sages) forged a sword powerful enough to resist evil granted by the Triforce. Yet even this "blade of evil's bane" can only be wielded by someone pure of heart and strong of body.
The Triforce as a religious symbol represents the balance, perfection, and infinite presence of the Divine. The people of Hyrule surround themselves with this symbol knowing that the gods are watching over them. They teach their children to balance the attributes of the goddesses (strength, wisdom, and courage) so that one day if evil were to arise they might be called to protect their world. But who is this Hero mentioned in the Prophecies? Why even leave behind a relic so powerful that it might fall into the wrong hands? And will Hyrule always need this Hero to save them?
In the next part of my series on the religious and spiritual elements of The Legend of Zelda I will be focusing on Link, what he represents, and his role as the hero destined to save Hyrule.
Part 1-The Golden Goddesses
Part 2-The Triforce
Part 3-The Warrior Prophet
Part 4-He Who Split Time
Part 5-The Temples of Hyrule
Part 6-A Link to the Future
Or Click here to read them all back to back