• FFFMM VI – Shiva

    FFFMM VI – Shiva: The Transcendent Snow Sorceress.

    Only a handful of summoned creatures are as ubiquitous within the Final Fantasy universe as Shiva. Since her first appearance in Final Fantasy III this mysterious female ice spirit has grown into a popular fan favourite and is a regular member of the FF pantheon (appearing in 11 of the 14 main numbered games released so far, and with numerous spin-off and sequel appearances).

    Shiva usually takes the appearance of a young woman with light-blue skin. Her hair is often green although sometimes it is blonde, blue, or white. As an ice spirit, Shiva is immune to the effects of the cold and for the majority of the time wears only a limited amount of clothing (typically purple), with sometimes only enough clothing to censor her body for the players. This frosty female often wears lavish jewels and precious stones in headwear, necklaces, and bracelets, and she moves gracefully with a self-assured and almost regal importance.

    Shiva’s signature attack, Diamond Dust, is named for the meteorological phenomenon of ground-level clouds of tiny ice crystals (alternatively known as clear-sky precipitation), placing her firmly as an ice elemental being. The battle animations of Shiva usually depict her throwing particles of ice at the enemy, sending a frosty wind to freeze the enemy, or effortlessly snapping her fingers and gesturing to control these elements.

    (Shiva in FFVI – A typical representation of Shiva).

    Shiva is, however, a rather unusual character in that her namesake (a male Hindu god) and her wintry attributes and physical appearances are visibly mismatched. This article seeks to shed light on the confused identity of the Shiva character, and to be able to recognise and calibrate both the wintry aspects and Hindu aspects of her design.

    The Shiva Triads: Final Fantasy and Hinduism.

    Shiva’s debut in FFIII was uncharacteristic in that Shiva had three separate forms which wore unique palette swaps attached to different abilities (this tripartite nature was a feature of all FFIII summons, not Shiva exclusively). Shiva’s ‘White Summoning’ attack is Mesmerise (which casts the ‘sleep’ status effect on all enemies). Shiva’s ‘Black Summoning’ spell is Icy Stare, dealing ice damage. It is Shiva’s ‘High Summoning’ ice elemental spell, Diamond Dust, which became her signature ability, and the colour scheme of this form also became the classic look for the character with blue skin and purple clothing. All three of these forms of Shiva share the same fairy-like appearance.

    (Three forms of Shiva: White Summoning, Black Summoning, and High Summoning).

    The summonable entity in Final Fantasy which we call Shiva is generally taken to have been named after the Hindu god Shiva / Śiva (meaning ‘the auspicious one’). The Shiva from the Hindu pantheon is one of the Trimurti (a Hindu Triad of three principle deities which represent the cycle of creation, maintenance, and destruction). In the most basic and generalised description of this Triad, Shiva represents doom and destruction, Brahma represents creation, and Vishnu represents preservation and forces of maintenance.

    (The Hindu god Shiva depicted with his trademark trident, drums, tiger rug,
    and a snake around his throat).

    Frostbitten: Shiva and Gender Identity.

    The major discrepancy with Shiva’s gender can be rather puzzling for Final Fantasy players, either when first encountering the female FF character or first encountering the Hindu god. There may be a mythological precedent for this gender switch with a belief that the Shiva of Hindu faith can merge with his consort (Parvati) to become an androgynous being which is sometimes given the name Ardhanarishvara (See, for example, The Mahabharata Book XIII, the Skanda Purana, Shiva Purana, and others).

    (A relief of the androgynous Ardhanarishvara from the Elephanta Caves, east of Mumbai).

    Even Shiva as an entity by himself (in some of his beardless depictions) has a youthful, beautiful, and rather effeminate look about him. In some Hindu sources Shiva is best described with feminine pronouns and as a goddess (especially when playing an active role in stories about procreation and the creation of mankind), and so Shiva transcends the bounds of gender. Whether this was deliberately evoked by Square or not may be uncertain, but there are enough precedents within Hindu religion and mythology to be able to avoid dismissing FF’s female Shiva as a mere goof.

    Undoubtedly, the Final Fantasy Shiva is clearly intended as a fully female character, with her exposed womanly figure braving and conquering the sub-zero elements which she controls. Shiva’s femininity is an important part of her character in FF and due to this she is never male. The nearest case to an exception would be the existence in FFXII: Revenant Wings of a family for Shiva consisting of her male lover, Shivan, and her female child, Shivar. All of these beings are used as water/ice summoning spells, and their unimaginatively suffixed names may add further distance to the FF Shiva character from the Hindu counterpart and source material. Alternatively, both Shivan and Shivar are in their own ways aspects of Shiva and can, perhaps unintentionally, represent the Hindu god’s multiple identities and aspects.

    Although it may be confusing at first, in time most players become accustomed to FF’s Shiva as having her own identity which is at a first glance mostly removed from the Hindu deity. Nevertheless it is worth noting that there are many points of contact between the two characters.

    Hiding beneath the ice: Locating Hindu themes in Shiva’s design.

    Although male, the Hindu Shiva does actually share some aesthetic and stylistic traits with the FF Shiva. There are some similarities on a surface level in that both characters are often depicted with blue skin, but for different reasons: FF’s Shiva is blue, presumably, due to her purpose as an ice spirit; the Hindu mythological Shiva saved the world by swallowing poison, and this gave the god blue skin around his neck and throat (though often he is depicted as entirely blue).

    (Shiva as she appears in FFVII, left, and FFIX, right).

    The similarities do extend beyond the character’s skin colouration. Some versions of Shiva (those of FFVII, FFIX, FFXI and FFXIV) have a line or jewel in the centre of her forehead, much like the ‘third eye’ of Shiva in Hindu mythology which in some accounts was used to burn Kama (the personification of Desire) to ashes. There appears to have been at least some conscious effort particularly from the PSX era of FF games onwards to bridge the gap and restore (or add for the first time) a Hindu heritage of Shiva.

    Since FFX’s planet, Spira, is a world which is in part aesthetically inspired by the Indian Subcontinent, it could be expected that Square would do something interesting with the design of Spira’s Shiva. FFX’s version keeps the definitive characteristics of the FF Shiva, with the addition of dreadlocks. This might seem like a minor change (and it may well be an unintentional connection), but among some Hindu holy men and women locks of matted hair (known as jata) are sacred, showing ascetic devotion alongside an expression of inner strength. There is also a very particular association of the Hindu Shiva with jata hair, and stories exist such as one regarding his controlling the flow of the river Ganges with his locks, or that the loosening of his hair will knock the heavenly bodies off course (in his role as a destroyer).

    (FFX's Shiva).

    As demonstrated, the Hindu Shiva does in fact have connections with ice’s sister element: water. The mythological Shiva is not without its associations of snow and frost either. In mythology Shiva is thought to live in or on Kailasa (Mount Kailash in the Tibetan Himalayas). Shiva is sometimes depicted either at home in the mountain or with the snowy peak of Mt. Kailash behind him, and so there is an association which can be adapted for a winter theme. It is almost as if someone in the creative team of Square had seen a beautiful image of the god Shiva (with his effeminate beauty, vibrant colour, and with the peak of Kailasa behind him), and felt inspired to design a frozen female spirit loosely possessing some of these qualities.

    (Above, Shiva and family at home in Kailasa. Below, the real Mount Kailash in Tibet).

    Nevertheless, despite it being possible to make connections between the two Shivas, and considering that we can even manage to locate the Hindu Shiva to a snowy landscape, there is no denying that Square(Soft/Enix) branched away from the Hindu themes more often than it followed them. FF has done its own thing in developing a winter character with designs more in common with Western mythological and fictional concepts of fairies, elves, and ice queens.

    Winter Woman: Ice goddesses and spirits from other mythological pantheons.

    The wintry aspects of FF’s Shiva’s character overshadow her rather muddled Hindu identity, and other than the snowy peak of Mt. Kailash these two aspects appear to lack an obvious mutual connection. Examining other pantheons reveal that there are a number of ice goddesses and mythical and fictional females which Square could instead have more easily adapted for their intended winter woman, but for some reason decided not to.

    In Norse mythology there is Skadi, a giantess (or jotunn), and a goddess of hunting, skiing, mountains, and winter (see Poetic Edda: Lokasenna, and Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda: Gylfaginning 51 for Skadi’s most important story: the placing of the venomous snake above the bound Loki). This character could easily have been interpreted for the FF universe, skiing into battle and throwing icy spears or shooting frosted arrows at her enemies. Possibly the introduction of Odin into the Final Fantasy universe (making his debut in FFIII alongside Shiva) was seen to have the Norse quota covered, and Square did not seek to include Skadi.

    (An illustration of Skadi from Mary Foster’s
    ‘Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology’, 1901).

    In ancient Greek mythology there was a nymph or minor goddess called Chione (or Khione, from Greek khion /chion, ‘snow’). There are scant references to Chione, but it is sometimes assumed that she was a personification of snow based on her name and her filial associations. Chione was the daughter of Boreas (the North Wind) and Orithyia (who herself for a time was worshipped as a minor goddess of mountain winds). Chione’s siblings include Zetes and Calais (two minor heroes with wind-like superpowers who at times could fly, but otherwise were as quick as the wind). Poseidon had an affair with Chione and she threw the resulting child, Eumolpus, into the sea to hide him from her father (see Pseudo-Apollodorus Bibliotheca: 3.199, 3.201, and also Pausanias Description of Greece: 1.38.2, 3.15.2, 3.15.4). All of Chione’s relationships associate her with the north, winds, and even water, and so she may well have been an anthropomorphic manifestation of snow (and, indeed, she has been firmly interpreted as such in recent popular culture).

    Chione did not make it, however, into Final Fantasy (with the exception of FFXI where Chione appears as an alternate form of Shiva which can be fought in the region of Abyssea). Incidentally, in FFXIV a mount usable by the player and associated with Shiva is called Boreas (but popularly referred to as ‘Shiva Pony’). The description attached to the mount states that the Lady of Frost, Shiva, birthed Boreas from a unicorn offered by her followers in sacrifice. This pseudo-mythology (or an in-game mythology which the inhabitants of Eorzea supposedly believe) forces a link between Shiva and Boreas based on elemental affinities.

    (The steed which many players dub the ‘Shiva Pony’,
    corrupting his identity as Boreas: the North Wind).

    Curiously, neither of these characters (or any others which centred on the elements of snow and ice) were chosen for the Final Fantasy universe for any significant roles. The representative of the elemental force of ice in the FF pantheon of summons is Shiva, and shall likely remain so due to her established popularity. This may in part be due to Shiva being a more famous and recognisable name, but FF has never been known to shy away from obscurer deities or to make up its own entirely.

    Shiver: Secular Shiva, the Ice Queen.

    Despite the attachment of a Hindu name to the character, the designs for the female summonable entity appear to have been thought out independently (with exceptions such as those outlined above). For Shiva, it seems, fictional character archetypes (particularly those surrounding her element: ice) take priority over faithfully adapting a character from a particular pantheon. The vast majority of Final Fantasy’s interpretations of Shiva (including all three of her original FFIII aspects) resemble a sprite, fairy, or elfin creature. This spirit may have more in common with William Shakespeare’s Titania or J.M. Barrie’s Tinkerbell than with the Hindu deity.

    (Some Shivas in her role as a fairy: Left, from the PSP version of FFIV; Right, from FFV).

    To understand the naming of the character, a popular idea circulating amongst fans is that the name Shiva instead stems from an awkward attempt at transliterating ‘Shiver’ in Japanese, but this theory may not hold water, and instead seems like a forced (though noble) attempt at rationalising a discrepancy rather than serving as a genuine explanation. Nonetheless, it is apparent that the ice elemental aspect of the character, alongside her femininity, are more important than Hinduism to Shiva’s identity.

    The feminine form of FF’s Shiva is at her most exposed during her appearance in FFVIII, in which she is stripped entirely naked but for markings covering her private parts, and she acts an almost seductive sequence of feminine gestures and back-arching. While she is uncharacteristically alien-like in this appearance (with traces of Star Wars’ tentacle-haired Twi’lek, among other fictional alien humanoid species in her design), her pointy ears are still suitably elfin enough to pass as a fairy or elf-like spirit.

    (FFVIII’s Shiva).

    In FFXIII Shiva is split into two characters which are collectively referred to as the ‘Shiva Sisters’: named Nix (from Latin for ‘snow’) and Stiria (from Latin for ‘icicle’). In case the winter theme is not apparent enough, the ‘Shiva Sisters’ become the personal eidolons of Snow Villiers. Rather than naming the sisters Brahma and Vishnu (the Hindu Shiva’s Triad associates), names more appropriate for their ice element were preferred, and so there are no clear Hindu intentions with the characters here. Instead, the dark-skinned sister, Stiria, seems to blend an African-style headwrap and gold jewellery into the mechanics of her design. Nix, the light-skinned sister, more closely resembles the ice fairy model which Shiva usually draws from.

    (The Shiva Sisters: When Nix and Stiria combine they become a motorcycle named Shiva).

    Shiva’s identity as an Ice Queen has developed over the course of her history in FF. Although the fairy-like aspects were present from her first appearance, from FFIX onwards Shiva has been wearing more and more crowns and other regalia in some of her appearances. FFXIV’s Shiva is particularly reminiscent of the Ice Queen archetype popularised through characters such as Hans Anderson’s Snow Queen and C.S. Lewis’ Jadis the White Witch. It appears to be these characteristics which are adapted for the Shiva character in Final Fantasy, especially when she is fought as a boss.

    (Shiva in FFXIV).

    (Tilda Swinton as Jadis the White Witch in the 2005 movie version of
    ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’).

    Conclusion: Building Shiva.

    Final Fantasy’s Shiva can form an interesting case study on what is possible when different concepts that appear entirely separated from each other are mixed together as one entity. On the exterior we have an ice fairy queen using the name of a Hindu god, but occasionally the Hindu symbolism does surface. In essence, Square created an entirely original creation for Final Fantasy, but she was built with a combination of archetypes which act like the different tiers of a snowman which have then frozen together to form a complete character.

    What are your thoughts on Shiva? Do you have a favourite version of Shiva? Discuss!

    For other current articles in the FFFMM series see:
    Issue 1: The Carbuncle
    Issue 2: Ultros
    Issue 3: Alexander
    Issue 4: Wedge and Biggs
    Issue 5: Red XIII

    Halloween Special: Phantom Train / Doomtrain.

    A special thanks goes to Six for providing the header graphic and for aid in sizing the images.