Spira, the world of Final Fantasy X, is full of tradition. To keep it shorter, let’s focus solely on the summoners’ pilgrimage and the traditions that surround it.
The entire pilgrimage of the summoners and their guardians, and how they deal with every incarnation of Sin is based on a 1000 year old tradition. The summoner travels to each temple to get the blessings of the Fayth, and gains the power to summon the Aeons. With each Aeon, the summoner comes one step closer to fulfilling his/her duty in defeating Sin and bringing about the next Calm. The final stop of the pilgrimage is Zanarkand, where the summoner attains the Final Aeon, but at a steep price – the summoner’s life and the life of a chosen guardian. The Final Aeon allows the summoner and guardian to give their lives to destroy Sin and bring the Calm to Spira.
There’s a glaring problem with the tradition, though the people of Spira don’t know it. When the summoner and the guardian give their lives, Sin in its current form is destroyed, but the guardian who becomes the Final Aeon, also becomes the next incarnation of Sin. And so, the cycle continues. By following the tradition, Sin is never truly destroyed. The Calm lasts only for a short time while the new Sin is being regenerated, at which point, Sin returns to wreak havoc on the world.
On one hand, the traditions are little more than a cycle of death and destruction. On the other hand, because of the teachings of Yevon, which is really the cause of the traditions (the higher echelons know about the unending cycle), the people have hope that one day Sin will be defeated if they repent of their sins and the summoners continue the pilgrimage and sacrifices.
Now that we’ve covered the background, let’s look at how the main playable party deals with this tradition.
Near the beginning of the game, Yuna is starting her pilgrimage to become a summoner and defeat Sin, following the established tradition, and following in her father’s footsteps. In the temple on Besaid island, when Tidus is learning about the summoners’ pilgrimage, he learns about the Cloister of Trials in each temple. When he finds out that the summoner and her guardians have been in there for an entire day, he asks Wakka if it’s dangerous in there, finds out it is, and questions why he doesn’t go help (after all, Wakka is one of Yuna’s guardians). Tidus then runs up the stairs and asks “What if the summoner dies?” A priest declares that “the precepts must be obeyed” while Tidus throws both caution and tradition to the wind as he runs inside the Cloister. Lucky for him, the people in the temple are so steeped in tradition that they don’t dare step foot in there to stop him.
Tidus recognized there was something wrong with the teaching and tradition and acted on it. For him, it didn’t sit well that someone’s life should be on the line for the sake of some tradition. It probably helps that Tidus wasn’t steeped in the traditions and teachings of Yevon – he could view the situation as an outsider and see the potential issues. This can also be seen when Wakka catches up with him and tells Tidus about how only summoners and guardians can enter, specifically when he says “It’s a tradition. Very important.” Wakka didn’t know of another way, nor even thought it possible. As far as he was concerned, tradition was everything and this was the only hope that Spira had.
Eventually, when Yuna meets Yunalesca, she learns what summoning the Final Aeon truly means and that it doesn’t break the cycle. At this point, Yuna also casts aside the traditions and begins the real fight. A fight for a truly peaceful future, free from an endless and pointless cycle of death and destruction. A future free from false traditions and filled with real hope.
The realization of what the traditional pilgrimage meant and how it was actually counterproductive is ultimately what allows the party to break free of the chains of tradition, defeat Sin, and bring peace and hope to Spira.
All that being said, traditions in and of themselves aren’t necessarily bad. In my family, we have a Christmas tradition – on the night of Christmas Eve, everyone gets to open one present. For me, it’s more of a fun tradition. It’s also something I don’t live my life by – if we don’t do it some year, no big deal.
Some businesses, organizations, and religions are so tied up in traditions, they lose sight of what they’re really trying to accomplish. It becomes a matter of “this is the way we’ve always done it,” yet no one is quite sure why or what benefit it is. When a tradition becomes meaningless and counterproductive, it’s time to let it go.
Traditions should be something that are cause for celebration or remembrance. They shouldn’t involve putting someone in danger or cause physical, emotional, or spiritual damage to another person. They shouldn’t make a person question their own validity and usefulness in an organization or, especially, as a person.
If a tradition is working for you, your family, your business, your church, or whatever other organization you’re involved in, by all means, keep it up. Traditions done right are a great thing.
On the other hand, if a tradition becomes a source of pain or shackles you in some way, break that tradition as fast as possible. It’s okay to break traditions that don’t work for you. And sometimes, it’s necessary to break tradition to bring hope and life.