Aes Sedai

In the Age of Legends

The Age of Legends is a relatively utopian society. Men and women with the ability to channel used the One Power to aid all of mankind—as scientists, healers, philosophers, etc.—constantly developing new innovations and technology to make everyone’s life easier. In the series these people were therefore known as Aes Sedai, meaning “Servants of All” in the Old Tongue. In spite of the use of the word “servant,” Aes Sedai had considerable status and respect, gained from their use of the One Power. The characters called Aes Sedai convened in the Hall of the Servants in the city of Paaran Disen. The greatest Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends was a man named Lews Therin Telamon, also known as The Dragon.

In the Wheel of Time story, The One Power is divided into male and female halves, known respectively as saidin and saidar. Men who can channel do so using the male half and women use the female half. The greatest works of the Aes Sedai were always performed by groups of men and women channeling together.

It is explained at various points throughout the story, certain Aes Sedai felt that the separation of the two halves of the Power constrained them. Researchers working at the Collam Daan discovered what they thought was a new source of power able to be channelled by both genders. Mierin Sedai (later Lanfear) and Beidomon Sedai bored into it, soon discovering that they had unwittingly enabled the Dark One, formerly imprisoned outside of Time, to influence the world. The power they sensed was in fact the True Power, a dark force akin to the One Power that stems from the Dark One. The former utopia began to slowly decline, until the outbreak of the War of Power, in which many Aes Sedai went over to the Shadow and commanded the armies of the Dark One. The most powerful “dark” Aes Sedai were selected by the Dark One and called themselves the Chosen, although the rest of the world named them the Forsaken. By the end of the War of Power, thirteen of the Forsaken remained, although there had been others who died before the resealing of the Dark One.

Later revealed by Jordan, in a desperate move to end the devastating conflict, Lews Therin Telamon and the Hundred Companions led a last-ditch assault on Shayol Ghul, successfully resealing the Bore and trapping the Dark One, as well as (almost) all the Forsaken, outside of the world. However, the Dark One’s final counterattack tainted saidin itself, and over time all male Aes Sedai, including Lews Therin, were driven mad. In their madness, they began to channel wildly, causing almost total destruction to everything that hadn’t already been wiped out by the war. Some few male Aes Sedai sought shelter in stedding, areas of the world in which channeling was impossible and the taint had no effect, but eventually all male Aes Sedai abandoned the stedding and went mad. By the time the last male Aes Sedai had died, the world map was all but unrecognisable, and the remains of humanity were scattered and destitute. This catastrophic period was called the Breaking of the World.

Among Aes Sedai in the time period of the series, some Aes Sedai, primarily the Red Ajah, believe that male Aes Sedai sheltering in stedding exacerbated the Breaking, making it longer and more damaging than it might have otherwise been. Others, primarily the Blue Ajah, hold that the Breaking might have destroyed the world entirely had all male Aes Sedai gone insane at the same time.

However, female Aes Sedai of the time Foresaw the Rebirth of the Dragon, and undertook several wonders (the Eye of the World, the Stone of Tear, Callandor, etc.) to guide his path and provide him with what he needed.

After the Breaking

On the eastern continent of Robert Jordan’s world, the remaining female Aes Sedai eventually reorganised themselves on the island of Tar Valon, where, with the assistance of the Ogier, they built the White Tower. The Aes Sedai there became a monastic order, taking in initiates and shaping them into fully-fledged sisters through years of hard training. Their elected leader held the title Amyrlin Seat and became as powerful or more powerful than any king, queen or legislative body. The Aes Sedai ensured that any man with the ability to channel would be gentled, i.e. severed from the Power. The common people of Jordan’s series had a tendency to fear the Aes Sedai, knowing that they channelled the same power that had caused the Breaking of the World. As a result, paired with their general aloofness, Aes Sedai have often been the focus of mistrust and even hate, some being convinced that all of them were Darkfriends in service to the Shadow. As a way of making themselves “safer” and more trustworthy, Aes Sedai began to employ the Oath Rod, taking binding oaths that might make them seem less dangerous. They also developed the weave for bonding Warders at this time, as narration from the point of view of the Forsaken indicates that this weave did not exist during the Age of Legends.

On the continent of Seanchan, Aes Sedai set themselves up as local governors and rulers rather than establishing a single, united order. During the conquest of Seanchan by the armies of Luthair Paendrag, these Aes Sedai were turned against each other and a device called an a’dam, able to hold women who can channel against their will, was invented. Aes Sedai on the continent were eventually rendered extinct as Luthair Paendrag’s successors consolidated control over the entire continent, and Aes Sedai are outlawed in the Seanchan Empire. Instead, all women are tested for the ability to channel at a young age. Those who can channel are made damane and leashed with a’dam, while those who can learn to channel are made sul’dam, who control the damane using a’dam. The Seanchan themselves are unaware that sul’dam can learn to channel, only that they can control damane through a’dam, and it is speculated by characters within the series that, if that discovery were to be made, the fabric of Seanchan society might suddenly collapse. Men and women who cannot channel are unable to control damane using a’dam, while men who can channel or learn to channel feel great pain upon contact with a’dam, and if the contact is long they die.

Becoming Aes Sedai

Novice

Traditionally the White Tower only accepts girls for training who are between sixteen and eighteen years old, though the rules are bent sometimes for a novice of great potential. Becoming a novice is known as being “put in white”, because they are held to a strict dress code: white dresses, stockings, shoes, and even hair ribbons.

Recently among the rebel (Salidar) Aes Sedai the age restrictions have been lifted, and there are novices of all ages, even as old as grandmothers. This is causing consternation among some traditional sisters, but most are happy that the number of Tower initiates has ceased dwindling. A novice’s life is deliberately harsh, in order to prepare her for the difficult life of an Aes Sedai. Her room is tiny, the bed uncomfortable and hard, and she must wake every day before dawn to scrub the floor and sweep the room. Meals are taken in silence and are extremely brief, so the novice must eat quickly or go hungry. She will have lessons and classes; some on learning to channel but just as many on history, the Old Tongue, geography, politics and philosophy, and if needed reading and arithmetic – to all of which she must pay strict attention or face punishment. However, most of her day will be taken up with such chores and duties as labouring in the kitchens, scrubbing floors, doing errands for Aes Sedai, and working in the gardens.

Novices are not permitted to channel except when supervised by an Accepted or Aes Sedai (though many do so anyway in secret), and must do all their chores by hand. The idea is that the hard work builds character, though it is likely that there is a desire to keep them too busy, and too tired, to start playing around and experimenting with the Power. Novices are strictly confined to the Tower, and there are no days off, except for occasional freedays.

Novices are subject to strict discipline, decided and handed out by a sister appointed to the post of Mistress of Novices. She is both disciplinarian and confidante, punishing those who have broken the rules and comforting those who are finding novice life too tough to handle. It is she who decides when a novice or Accepted is ready to be tested, or if the girl will be put out of the Tower for good. Punishment ranges from a lecture to a severe switching, and extra chores are usually involved. Although it is known what happens in the study, no one ever makes references to the punishment a person receives. For all that Aes Sedai act like they rule the world, within the Tower there are hierarchies and rules, and discipline and obedience are instilled from the earliest days. In addition novices are carefully cloistered from men. It isn’t that the Tower disapproves of intimacy, but that they don’t want their novices thinking too much about heart and family, especially if they are successful because they will outlive all their relatives and friends. If two novices get into a relationship, the Mistress of Novices will usually turn a blind eye.

Understandably some novices find the pressure too much, and resolve to run away. They rarely get away with it, usually being caught and returned. Life for a captured runaway makes ordinary novice life look pleasant, with anything less than perfection being swiftly and harshly punished. The reason given is that a half-trained channeller is a danger to herself and those around her, which is not untrue, but it is also the case that the Tower considers itself to have absolute right over all channellers, and does not permit them to leave until it is finished with them. The novices studying under the rebel Aes Sedai have been arranged into “families” of seven or eight women, making them much easier to organise and also establishing close friendships that help novices to get through the day. This new development has meant that this faction has almost no runaways to deal with.

The expected time spent as a novice for most girls is ten years. Those showing greater potential might be raised Accepted after five or six years, and there have been cases of, gifted novices like Moiriane Damodred, Siuan Sanche and Elaida a’Roihan being raised after only three, and truly exceptional ones, like Egwene al’Vere and Elayne Trakand after a few months. When the Mistress of Novices decides that a girl is ready, she arranges for her to face the Arches. In only one known instance has a Tower initiate bypassed novice training completely. Nynaeve al’Meara began her training as one of the Accepted at the insistence of Amyrlin Siuan Sanche, but many Aes Sedai and Tower initiates (especially Accepted) disagreed with this decision.

The Arches

When a novice is raised to the Accepted, it is after completing a trial in a ter’angreal deep in the lower levels of the White Tower. It consists of three silver arches which, when the ter’angreal is activated, are filled with odd flickering light. The novice is warned only at the actual testing that if she enters the arches, she might not come back, and is given the option to refuse the test. She may refuse twice, but at the third time if she does not go on she is put out of the Tower.

The workings of the Arches is not completely understood, though they are known to involve tel’aran’rhiod. When the novice walks through the first arch she is faced with a fear from her past, one she must conquer to return back through the arch. The second arch is a fear of the present, and the third a fear of the future. To return, a novice must enter an arch inside the ter’angreal, which is said to only appear once. Each is harder to fight than the last. The novice must enter completely naked and unprotected, and once inside the arch are not allowed to channel due to risks of burning out or dying inside of them. The only people who have channeled inside of the arches and survived have been Nynaeve and some of the first people to use the arches. Traditionally what is experienced in the Arches is not spoken of to anyone, but many novices come out weeping or furious, which can last for weeks, so it is known to be a terrible experience. Should she return through the third Arch, she will be given a banded dress and a Great Serpent ring, proclaiming her to be one of the Accepted.

Accepted

Where novices wear plain white, Accepted wear the same dress with seven bands of colour at hem and cuffs – the colour of the seven Ajahs. She must wear her Great Serpent ring on the third finger (ring finger) of her left hand.

The Accepted have larger and more comfortable rooms, and are trusted to channel alone and to direct their own studies. The Accepted also have the greater responsibilities of her own studies while being expected to prepare and teach novice lessons on a wide range of topics (the purpose of doing so is to learn how to manage and control others, and she can expect to be reprimanded if she runs to the Mistress of Novices for every little problem). Being Accepted does not mean less deference to Aes Sedai, and while she has more freedom – she is allowed to visit the city, for example – if she does break a rule, her punishment will be all the harsher.

An Accepted must learn much, as the Tower will not permit ignorant Aes Sedai. It is expected that she will be ten years in the banded white before being tested for the Shawl, though again there are exceptions to this. Elaida a’Roihan, Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche all spent three years as novices and three as Accepted before being raised Aes Sedai. Egwene al’Vere, and Elayne Trakand spent a matter of months in both novicehood and the status of Accepted.

The Test for the Shawl

Long before she is ready to be tested, the Accepted will learn by heart a sequence of one hundred complex weaves, often whose purposes are just for the testing. The test for the shawl is to perform all these weaves, perfectly, in order, while maintaining outward serenity. The exact nature of the test is kept secret, but Accepted do what they can to try distracting each other while practicing the weaves. She enters a spinning ring structure, and the sisters conducting the test create illusions to try and break her concentration and serenity. These illusions are far from harmless, involving anything from armies of Shadowspawn to frigid temperatures, from minor embarrassments like having all her clothes disappear, to heart-rending choices and decisions. For every weave, a separate illusion is created, and if there is any hesitation, or any break in composure, the Accepted fails. And that’s if she’s lucky, as many women die in the test for the shawl.

Should she manage to complete the hundred weaves, she will certainly be badly injured. She is given Healing and sent off for a night of meditation. She is expected to stay awake all night, despite her certain exhaustion, and reflect on her new duties.

The Oath Rod

Once an Accepted passes the test, she is brought to another ceremony with the Amyrlin Seat and representatives of all seven Ajahs present. They are presented with the Oath Rod, a ter’angreal, that binds Aes Sedai to whatever oaths they swear while channeling into it. The Accepted then swears the Three Oaths. The Oaths were not always a part of the Aes Sedai tradition, and some sisters wish it still wasn’t. The Rod was discovered some time between the Trolloc Wars and the War of the Hundred Years. It is unknown to the Aes Sedai that the Oath Rod is in fact a ter’angreal which was used in the Age of Legends to bind criminals against further acts of law breaking.

Even though all sisters were bound to their respective Ajahs, they needed a common set of goals and principles to bind sisters of every Ajah together. _The Accepted swears to:

Speak no word that is not true

Make no weapon for one man to kill another

Never use the One Power as a weapon, except against Shadowspawn (Darkfriends also qualify), to save her own life, or her Warder’s, or the life of another sister_

Sisters physically cannot break these oaths, though they can be circumvented – for instance, an Aes Sedai may deliberately put herself in danger to remove the constraint on using the Power as a weapon, or she could make a statement that is misleading but technically true (giving rise to the saying, “An Aes Sedai never lies, but the truth she tells you isn’t the one you think you hear.”). Once she has sworn the oaths, the Accepted is an Aes Sedai and is allowed to choose her Ajah.

Unknown to most channellers is that the Oath Rod also has the facility to unbind, useful for those sisters who become members of the Black Ajah and swear new oaths to the Dark One. Channellers are also freed from the oaths when severed from the Power. The sisters who are hunting Black Ajah (due to misunderstanding of Elaida’s order) in the Tower have used it to make the sisters they suspect are Black to re-swear the old oaths and swear allegiance to them. Recent evidence has come up that shows that the Oath Rod might in fact also lower the life expectancy of a channeller bound by it. The Oath Rod’s original purpose was to bind channelers convicted of an offense in order to stop them committing more crimes. It is known that Semirhage was ordered to be bound, but joined the Shadow to escape this. The ability to channel the One Power dramatically slows the channeller’s aging process and extends her lifespan by centuries. When Elayne was in Ebou Dar, however, she came across a group calling itself the Kin which was composed mainly of women who failed, at some point or another, in their training to become Aes Sedai and were put out of the Tower. Some of these women have lived up to a hundred years longer than the longest recorded Aes Sedai lifespan and still have much life left in them. Egwene has declared, as Amyrlin Seat (of the Salidar Aes Sedai), that any woman who wishes to be a full Aes Sedai must swear the oaths on the Oath Rod. Some fear that this might hasten the death of those potential sisters who have already exceeded the normal Aes Sedai lifespan. Another significant difference between Aes Sedai bound by the Oath Rod and female channellers who are not, is the fact that while Aes Sedai look “ageless” (looking as if they’re in their 20’s from one angle, then in their 40’s from another), the latter simply look much younger than their years. Egwene has plans to allow older sisters to retire into the Kin (freeing them of their Oaths, but no longer considering them true Aes Sedai) in the hopes that this will allow them to live the longer lives enjoyed by those who have not sworn on the Rod.

The oath rod has only been shown to prevent actions that would break the oaths. For example, a Sister’s tongue will cleave to the top of her mouth if she tries to lie, preventing speech. It is unknown if the Oath Rod can force actions to fulfill the oaths.

Aes Sedai

Wheel of Time DirkVanleeuw