Hyrule’s Bloody History: The Secrets of the Shadow Temple

By Eden Roquelaire
August 31, 2018

 
The lands of The Legend of Zelda series are home to a myriad of unique and intriguing races, from the Anouki to the Zora. But perhaps no race has befuddled fans as intensely as the Sheikah. The race was said to have been completely wiped out prior to Ocarina of Time, with Impa being the only survivor. Even in the games before Ocarina, we don’t see any confirmed Sheikah other than Impa. So where were they all? Some fans speculate that they were the Dark Interlopers and were banished for betraying the Royal Family. Confusing matters further, the Sheikah have suddenly made a massive comeback in Breath of the Wild, leading to massive speculation. Some fans even believe that the Sheikah we see in Breath of the Wild aren’t real Sheikah, but a tribe that follows their teachings.

While we may not be able to answer all these questions here, we will focus on one particular Sheikah mystery: What is the nature of their temple, the Shadow Temple?

For a refresher, the Shadow Temple is the fourth full dungeon visited by adult Link in Ocarina of Time. It is located far in the back of Kakariko Village, behind the graveyard, and is sealed off in order to hide the dark secrets of the Hyrulean Civil War, and the atrocities that the servants of the Royal Family were compelled to commit. Here we find torture devices, guillotines, blood stains, bones, and crucifixes. While it may once have been a crypt, a place for paying respect to ancestors and performing rites to honor the dead, it was clearly re-purposed into a torture and execution chamber. The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia says:

“The Shadow Temple, located in the Kakariko Village graveyard. It is a place where the Sheikah, entrusted with the lives of Hyrule’s royal family, have historically taken enemies of the royal family to be interrogated or worse. Because it stands as a symbol of Hyrule’s dark history, it is taboo for the royal family to speak of this temple and its horrific purpose.”

It may be that the Sheikah were involved in some kind of Death Cult, worshiping a deity who ruled the Underworld, considering the motifs of the Shadow Temple. We see multiple statues of the Grim Reaper, and there is even a ferry similar to the kind that takes the souls of the dead into Hades in Greek mythology. Perhaps after their execution, the Sheikah placed their victims upon this barge and sent them into the dark pit below as a sacrifice to some kind of Death God. This would explain why the Sheikah were killing people in a place of worship.

Another mystery of the Shadow Temple is that of its terrifying boss, Bongo Bongo. A case has been made that he is the spirit of a Sheikah executed in the Shadow Temple, especially as his one large “eye” is red, a trait seen consistently in Impa, which is speculated to be a signifier of Sheikah relation. His hands are cut off, and in some cultures, this could indicate that he is a thief. This begs the question, what is it that he tried to steal? Could he have made an attempt to snatch the Triforce itself? Did he steal some Sheikah artifact, such as the Lens of Truth, which is required to even see the beast? Could he have tried to steal the Shadow Medallion?

There is another possibility as to the identity of Bongo Bongo. Upon entering the Shadow Temple, you are greeted with the ominous message, “Here is gathered Hyrule’s bloody history of greed and hatred.” This is a loaded statement, giving rise to many questions. The “bloody history” most likely refers to the Hyrulean Civil War, in which the Sheikah were heavily involved. “Greed and hatred” is less obvious, and we won’t analyze the possible connotations of these words in this article, as it deserves its own. For now, let’s just note that there are some very dark and evil energy generated by the Civil War, and it is being channeled and contained within the Shadow Temple. It is possible that the spirits of those tortured and executed within the temple bonded together in their post-mortem rage and formed the gigantic beast in order to take their revenge. This could also explain why Bongo Bongo is located at the very bottom of the temple, as the bodies may have been disposed of by being thrown down a pit.

Another possibility is that Bongo Bongo was some sort of spirit worshiped by the Sheikah. I speculated earlier that the Sheikah were involved in a Death Cult, and it’s possible that their victims were being sacrificed to this entity. In this fashion, it fed upon the sacrifices and grew, becoming too powerful and destructive, eventually causing the Sheikah to attempt to seal it away.

Now, how does the mini dungeon, the Bottom of the Well, fit into all of this? It seems fairly reasonable to infer that the Bottom of the Well was once connected to the Shadow Temple. However, when Bongo Bongo was sealed away, that part was completely sealed off in order to prevent the creature’s escape. The well was coincidentally built nearby. Another theory is that the Bottom of the Well was an experimentation chamber made by the man “who had an eye … that could see the truth,” a Sheikah who ostensibly created the Lens of Truth, and perhaps also the Stone of Agony and Mask of Truth. Incidentally, this does not necessarily rule out it being part of the Shadow Temple. Perhaps this man was one of the torturers, or perhaps he used his inventions to spy out enemies of the Royal Family in hiding, and to find their underground bunkers (the grottoes) so that they could be captured and taken to the Shadow Temple for interrogation and execution.

This leads us to Dead Hand. The stuff of many a 90’s kid’s nightmares. It is interesting to note that this villain reinforces the theme of cutting off hands. Was this a staple of Sheikah culture? Did they commonly cut off body parts as part of their torture? Was this, again, punishment for attempting to steal something? Could this tie into “Hyrule’s bloody history of greed”? Was it sealed away in the Bottom of the Well just as Bongo Bongo was? There is also the question of why there are two Dead Hands, and if they are the same. In my opinion, this is easily answered: They are two hands, severed from the same body. As to whose hands they are, that is up for speculation, as we really don’t get any clues. He could be the man who lived where the well was built, but there’s little actual evidence for this.

Were the acts committed in the Shadow Temple justifiable? Do they suggest that the Royal Family have a secret, villainous nature? Could the Gerudo be right for resisting a treaty with them? What does all this say about the Sheikah themselves? Are they truly the noble, trustworthy people we’ve been led to believe in all this time? We could probe the mysteries and implications of the Shadow Temple forever, and never get to the bottom of that well of mystery. There simply isn’t enough information to go on. That may change with time, with Nintendo releasing various Zelda encyclopedias explaining some of the more obscure aspects of the series. However, even that is iffy, as they have already retconned some of their supposedly canonical information. The truth is hard to get to in The Legend of Zelda, but sometimes, we can get very close to it.