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A pleasant-faced man steps up to greet youTake it off, he's got three eyes
He smiles and says he's pleased to meet you
Beneath his hat, the strangeness lies
—Rush, "The Twilight Zone"
An eye grants sight, and thus symbolizes perception and understanding of the world. Two eyes gives the ability to perceive depth, so what new dimension might we be able to perceive with a third?
This is an Older Than Print trope that goes at least back to the Hindu Puranas, and shows up in various other religions as well. The Third Eye takes the eye's symbolism Up to Eleven, representing supernatural and mystical perception, possibly even spiritual enlightenment. As such it's not necessarily biological, characters might make a glowing eye tattoo appear on their forehead when using their magical perception abilities such as Aura Vision and Blindfolded Vision.
As the picture shows, it might be parallel or perpendicular to the two normal eyes. It may also be made more otherworldly by being a different color than the two normal eyes. While this trope is pretty neutral as to heroes and villains, usually evil characters have the mutant type third eye while heroes sport the more "enlightened" mystical one. Either way, expect the owner of the eye to suffer from But Your Wings Are Beautiful if not outright persecution.
It's frequently paired with other Eye Tropes and Fate and Prophecy Tropes. One of the few ways to put Extra Eyes in odd places without incurring Eyes Do Not Belong There. Compare Pineal Weirdness -- the third eye is sometimes identified with the pineal gland. Many characters make do with placing a Power Crystal over this spot. Extra points if it's eye shaped... or used to be an eye! Beware, though, sometimes having a third eye sets you up for a Poke in the Third Eye.
Anime and Manga
- ~3x3 Eyes~: Pai.
- Dragon Ball: Tenshinhan. Subverted in that it doesn't give him any powers. It's just an extra eye.
- Yu Yu Hakusho: Hiei.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei: Chiri.
- Osamu Tezuka's The Three-Eyed One, about a dimwitted young boy who becomes an Evil Genius with Psychic Powers whenever the bandage over his third eye is removed.
- The Kishin Asura from Soul Eater has a major eye motif so naturally he has a third eye on his forehead.
- A great deal of demon Digimon (most notably Beeelzebumon and Baalmon) have a third eye.
- ~The Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye~: All of the Third have a third eye that allows them to interact with technology. ( Honoka has one that enhances her ability to use Ki Attacks.)
- In Tanabata no Kuni, members of a certain family from a Town with a Dark Secret have special abilities which reference the idea of a "window into the soul". One of them involves creating balls of energy which cleanly destroy anything they come into contact with. Using the ability causes a jewel-like eye to form in the middle of one's head. Continual use causes the "jewel" to get larger, and the person to start looking like one of The Grays- the precursors who were the source of these powers.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Big Bad Father has been shown to open up a third eye in his forehead and pop out a spare philosopher's stone.
- In Bleach Aizen get one in the final fight against Ichigo.
- End of Evangelion featured Lilith temporarily growing a third eye to absorb the Tree of Knowledge. There were... other connotations to its appearance, however...
- In RG Veda, Taishakuten and Kujaku each have one, although in this case the third eye is a symbol of "sins even a demon wouldn't commit." Taishakuten got his by eating Ashura-ou, and Kujaku's was because his parents were siblings.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! has several characters with glowing psychic eyes on the forehead. The above image is from the card "Goddess with the Third Eye."
- Vampires in Hellsing have a third eye which they can open through visualization to see through illusions and use as one would use the sight on a sniper rifle. The third eye does not materialize physically, though Alucard is rather fond of having multiple eyes when he transforms into shadows.
- Runa in Fairy Navigator Runa has one on the back of her neck.
- Doctor Strange's Eye of Agamotto, a talisman that sees the true nature of things. He can call it up to his forehead and see through it like a third eye.
- One of the Global Guardians in the DC Universe, Tuatara, hero of New Zealand, had a third eye, allowing him to see things in 4-D (forwards and backwards in time.)
- The title character in Madman has a third eye that pops out of his forehead in the form of an antennae.
- The Justice League of America's alien foe Despero's psychic powers are linked to his third eye.
- In The Dresden Files, Harry refers to using The Sight, which allows him to see the mystical threads and symbolic meaning behind things, as opening his Third Eye, and it's a skill/power inherent to wizards. One subplot of Storm Front involves a magical drug called ThirdEye which does the same thing, but inevitably drives the users mad because they aren't trained to handle what they're seeing, and can't turn it off.
- Bran Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire has a metaphysical third eye opened by a dream crow with three eyes. She pecks it open. This all leads to what is perhaps the most densely supernatural plot in the books so far.
- The Star Wars juvenile series The Glove of Darth Vader has Trioculus, the three-eyed son of the Emperor. Except he's not really the Emperor's son, he's just some random guy with an extra eye on his forehead. The real son of the Emperor has his third eye on the back of his head. I wish I were making this up.
- In The Wheel of Time, Moiraine wears a blue jewel on her forehead. This is a fashion in her country, but it's later revealed she can use the stone for limited scrying.
- The Celestines in the Witches of Eileanan universe.
Live Action TV
- In the Doctor Who story "The Silurians", the eponymous creatures had a third eye in their foreheads that glowed when they used their psychic powers.
- Also from Doctor Who, Davros, creator of the Daleks, has a cybernetic blue eye in his forehead in place of his real sunken eyes.
- One of the aliens in The Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" has a third eye.
- From Power Rangers Wild Force, we have Master Org, who wears a helmet with a mechanical third eye to hide his human heritage, then grows an actual third eye after his org powers reawaken.
- One of the villains in Charmed has a third eye. This comes complete with Eye Beams.
- Gong's song "Perfect Mystery" - "Look up in the air, the Octave Doctor's there, and when he strokes his Gong, your middle eye comes on."
- "PRY-ING O-PEN MY THIRD EYE! PRY-ING O-PEN MY THIRD EYE!"
- The Chakra in Hinduism.
- The Hindu Matsya Purana tells of the fear of the gods when Shiva mourned unceasingly for his dead wife Sati, because a prophecy stated that a new son of Shiva was needed to save the gods from a coming catastrophe. Kama, god of love, shot Shiva with a love arrow to make him fall in love with Parvati, so Shiva grew a third eye and burnt Kama to a crisp with Eye Beams.
- Kali is sometimes portrayed with a third eye in a very personal part of her anatomy.
- Er Lang Shen, a Chinese deity, has one. It can see through disguises.
- Navigators in Warhammer 40000 have a third eye which allows them to see in the Warp and navigate starships through it.
- Old World of Darkness:
- The Salubri clan from Vampire: The Masquerade had a third eye that would open when they used their clan-specific healing powers.
- The Werewolf: The Apocalypse book Guardians of the Caerns makes a Shout-Out to the Salubri with the third eye as a Metis deformity. Unlike some third eyes, it provides no mechanical bonus (except preserving depth perception if you lose an eye). The book hilariously notes that Metis characters with this deformity may find that Tremere vampires (the traditional enemies of Salubri) attack them on sight for no apparent reason.
- There is a villainous Prestige Class in D&D that has this -- there are sects that worship beholders and some of the most devout cultists can end with a small beholder-kin eye grafted into their foreheads. It can be used to fire various eye-beams but, due to beholders' genetic memory, isn't very conducive to the recipient's sanity.
- Sepharans, in the Talislanta supplement Midnight Realm. It's called the Demon Eye, and can be used to invoke various nasty magical effects.
- In Lost Souls MUD, characters have a number of chakras which can be energized, one of which is the ajna chakra, the third eye. Energizing it grants various perceptual benefits, including astral perception.
- The Pokémon Jirachi has one...on its stomach.
- There's also Gastrodon and Sigilyph.
- In Puzzle Pirates, high-ranking cultists on the Cursed Isles wear tribal masks with a perpendicular third eye.
- Ruby Quest.
- A rare unintentional example. The Daisy trophy in Super Smash Bros Melee has a third eye in the back of its head. You're able to zoom in close enough behind the hair to see it. Later revisions of Melee removed the eye, but it's still kinda creepy to realize it was there in the first place, especially if you weren't aware of it, beforehand.
- Done oddly in Touhou. The Komeiji sisters have third eyes. On their hearts. Which are external and don't particularly look like hearts. The third eye lets them read minds.
- Utsuho has a Sauron-esque third eye on her chest.
- In Breath of Fire III, the hero, Ryu, gains an ability called this, though actually what it does is point the direction he must go with a beam of light.
- World from the Magical Drop series.
- Agarest Senki: Vira-lorr.
- Discussed Trope and Conversed in Ever 17, though no one has one. But it marks the point where the Kid is slowly starting to figure out that something is definitely wrong here with the way time is going.
- Juno in Atomic Laundromat plays this trope straight.
- In more than one case, early stages of The Corruption in Ruby Quest involve both healing a crippled body part, and getting extras of that part. Ruby was born blind, and gets a third eye that sometimes has strange visions.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Combustion Man" has an eye-shaped Power Tattoo (we hope) on his forehead and he can fire explosive blasts from it.
- On Celebrity Deathmatch Willie Nelson defeated Tony Bennett when he took off his bandanna, revealing his third eye which vaporized his opponent.
- The late-great comedian Bill Hicks claimed that after eating psychedelic drugs, his (metaphorical) third eye opened.
- The Tuatara has a third eye on top it's head call a parietal eye. It's useless for sight but it has it's own lens, cornea, and retina, which suggests that it evolved from a real eye. It is only visible in hatchlings and it gets covered with scales as it ages.