2012-09-20

Something About Zelda

I'm still hoping for some responses to the previous post's call for suggested directions you'd like me to take in examining the Zelda franchise, but before anything else I want to make note of something perhaps obvious yet of no small significance to any consideration of religion in Zelda. It is simply this: in Hyrule, the Goddesses and other deities are genuinely real, and accordingly, Hylian religion is indisputably true.

This quality of truth is what our old friend Rappaport calls sanctity, and it's the glue that holds together religious traditions. Trickling down from ultimate sacred postulates (the powerfully vague concepts atop the hierarchy of religious ideas), sanctity imbues the elements of religious idea systems with the same quality of unquestionableness definitive of ultimate sacred postulates themselves. Simply put, if you buy into an ultimate sacred postulate, then you're also buying into the other concepts arranged below it (albeit perhaps to a lesser extent the further you go down the hierarchy) because you're accepting the truth of the ultimate sacred postulate.

In our world, where getting people to accept the truth of postulates that can't be proven and to believe in the existence of deities who (apparently) can't be seen is an ever more tenuous prospect, sanctity is a precious commodity for religious traditions. A religion needs adherents to bring it sanctity. Even though sanctity flows from the religion's ultimate sacred postulate, it does so for the religion's adherents because they themselves accept the truth of the ultimate sacred postulate, and thus bestow the very force that sanctifies the whole idea system and the tradition surrounding it. Without adherents to impart this ideological force, religions wither and die.

The situation is different in Hyrule. It doesn't really matter whether Hylians believe the Goddesses created the world or in the power of the Triforce. The Goddesses really did create the world. The Triforce really exists, and really has fabulous wish-granting potency and other powers. Disbelieving these things is a matter of disregarding empirical fact. Accordingly, Hylian religion, if it should even be called that, doesn't require the adherence of believers to survive.

Here in the real world, plenty of true believers regard elements of their religious idea systems as genuinely true, but sooner or later everyone must admit believing in something doesn't make it true. Of course, maybe there is a genuinely true religion, or several of them, though its truth presently can't be or isn't empirically demonstrable. However, short of such demonstration the best an accommodating rational skeptic can do is admit (probably grudgingly) the possible truth of a given ultimate sacred postulate with a great deal of caution, and the qualification that something possibly being true is quite different from something actually being true.

The simulated empirical truth of the religious elements in the Zelda franchise simply constitutes an element of  game-play. The existence of the Goddesses, the Triforce, and the rest serve practical purposes for the plot and structure of the game. From an external perspective, the fact of the Goddesses' existence is merely equivalent in significance to the presumption of the fact of any deities' existence in any other religious narratives. However, things get more interesting when we consider Zelda's religious elements from a perspective internal to the game world, where that fact isn't simply a narrative conceit but an empirical reality. Such a perspective provides opportunity to consider how people in the real world can behave as if religious ideas and entities which a rational skeptic can only conclude are (at least probably) imaginary are as real as dirt.

1 comment:

  1. I'm very interested in your thoughts on the "Official" Zelda timeline. It seems some of it matched up with events chronologically, like the Temple of Time being underwater for Wind Waker (my favorite in the series next to Twilight Princess) or Link having possession of Epona in the child era after Ocarina of Time.

    Do the rest of the divergent paths make sense? Is the Hylian creation myth present in ALL the games? And is Link actually resurrected each game or is it just coincidence that he bears a similar appearance and name? And if it is reincarnation, do the denizens of Hyrule believe in an equivalent Nirvana? I suppose the Spirit Realm would be such a place, but there's never really a mention of getting there through death. It's more like a holy place of great power in a separate dimension than a final destination for spirits that have achieved some form of enlightenment. Makes you wonder where link really went for those seven years...

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