Aes Sedai

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The Aes Sedai are a special society in the fictional universe of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time book series. Aes Sedai means "Servant to All" in the Old Tongue, the language used for most official documents during the Age of Legends, and now mostly used by nobles and scholars. They are the wielders of the One Power. Their organization is headquartered in the White Tower in the city of Tar Valon.

Brief history[edit]

Hall of Servants[edit]

The Hall of the Servants was the center of Aes Sedai power in the Age of Legends, analogous to the White Tower in the Third Age. It is unclear if the name referred to the organization of Aes Sedai as well their headquarters.

The Hall of the Servants was located in Paaran Disen, which was also the center of world government at the end of the Second Age.

The leader of the Servants was known simply as the First Amongst Servants. He or she wore the ring of Tamyrlin as a symbol of their leadership. Tamyrlin was the first person to channel the One Power, and the ring may have been a construct of his or hers, perhaps even the first angreal.

Just before the War of Power, Lews Therin Telamon was First Amongst Servants. He was also said to have summoned the Nine Rods of Dominion, which were regional governors of the planet, making him similar in power to a global president. Given the attitude of Aes Sedai and non-channelers in the Third Age it is not likely that all leaders of the Hall of Servants could summon the Nine Rods, but that this power was linked to the individual's ability rather than his or her station as First Amongst Servants.

In the Age of Legends[edit]

The Age of Legends is a relatively utopian society. Men and women with the ability to channel the One Power are scientists, healers, philosophers, etc., constantly developing new labor-saving technology. In the series, these people are therefore known as Aes Sedai, meaning "Servants of All", and hold considerable status and respect. Their headquarters occupy the Hall of the Servants in the city of Paaran Disen, and their most powerful exponent was Lews Therin Telamon, called the Dragon.

It is explained at various points throughout the story that certain Aes Sedai felt the separation of their Power into male and female halves, known respectively as saidin and saidar, constrained them needlessly. Believing that they had discovered a new source of power, Mierin Sedai (later Lanfear) and Beidomon Sedai mistakenly enabled the Dark One, formerly imprisoned outside of Time, to influence the world. This influence later caused the War of Power, in which many Aes Sedai commanded the armies of the Dark One. Of these, the most powerful called themselves the Chosen, but were later called the Forsaken, whereof 13 survived the war. To suppress the war, Lews Therin Telamon and his 'Hundred Companions' (all males and actually numbering 113) sealed the Bore and trapped the Dark One, as well as almost all the Forsaken; whereupon the Dark One polluted saidin itself, and the surviving 68 Companions became insane. Lews Therin himself murdered his entire family, earning the title "Kinslayer". Over time all surviving male Aes Sedai were driven mad, and began to channel wildly, even altering the landscape. This catastrophic period was called the Breaking of the World.

Among Aes Sedai in the novels, some Aes Sedai, primarily the Red Ajah, believe that male Aes Sedai sheltering in stedding (which slowed their insanity) exacerbated the Breaking. 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. 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 provide him with what he needed.

After the Breaking[edit]

On the eastern continent of Robert Jordan’s world, the remaining female Aes Sedai eventually reorganized 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, educated through years of hard training. Their elected leader held the title Amyrlin Seat and became as powerful as any government. Any man with the ability to channel was 'gentled' (i.e. severed from the Power). The common people of Jordan’s series fear the Aes Sedai, knowing that they channeled the same power that had caused the Breaking of the World. As a result, Aes Sedai have often been the focus of mistrust and even hatred. To make themselves more trustworthy, Aes Sedai employed the Oath Rod and developed the Warders.

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 imprison women who can channel, was invented. Aes Sedai on the continent were eventually rendered extinct by Luthair Paendrag's successors, 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, and it is speculated within the series that, if that discovery were to be made, Seanchan society might suddenly collapse. Men and women who cannot channel are unable to control damane by a'dam, while men who can channel or learn to channel feel great pain upon contact with a'dam, and may die.

Ajahs[edit]

In the 'Age of Legends', an Ajah was a temporary group of people for a specific purpose. In the main plot of the novels, the Ajahs are seven sub-societies among which all Aes Sedai, except for the Amyrlin, of the White Tower are divided. These societies each have representatives in the legislation of the Tower; have personal ideologies, customs, and purposes; and their own ruling heads, and all except the White have networks of spies. Only the members of a certain Ajah are supposed to know their head's identity; but the heads of the Ajahs know each other.

Entering an Ajah[edit]

Traditionally, every sister chooses an Ajah immediately after being raised beyond the rank of Accepted. The stories' principal exception is Egwene al’Vere, raised directly from Accepted to Amyrlin without being made Aes Sedai first; according to a technicality in the law, the act of raising her to the Amyrlin Seat made her Aes Sedai. Generally Ajahs accept entrance almost immediately. Aes Sedai cannot change Ajahs after being accepted into one; however, when Leane Sharif, a former member of the Blue Ajah, was Stilled (deprived of Power) and then Healed (restored), she was allowed to choose a new Ajah, the Green. She and Siuan Sanche are also the only known Aes Sedai to assume the rank twice.

The Ajahs, in alphabetical order, are as follows:

Blue Ajah[edit]

The Blue Sisters involve themselves with causes and justice. The Blue Ajah is the second smallest one, but it has the most extensive network of espionage. The head of the Blue Ajah is called the First Selector.

Brown Ajah[edit]

Sisters of the Brown Ajah are dedicated to the search for knowledge and spend much of their time engrossed in study. They are led by a Ruling Council, and the head of the Council is called the First Chair.[1]

Green Ajah[edit]

Sisters of the Green Ajah (informally called the 'Battle Ajah') prepare for Tarmon Gai'don. They are the most tolerant of men and many even marry. The head of the Battle Ajah is called Captain-General.

Gray Ajah[edit]

Sisters of the Gray Ajah are mediators, and are often used for this purpose. The head of the Gray Ajah is called the Head Clerk.

Red Ajah[edit]

The purpose of the Red Ajah is ostensibly to prevent a second Breaking of the World; but their principal business is to deprive gifted men of access to Power. As such, they are often opposed to the Blue. The Red is the largest of all the Ajahs. The head of the Red Ajah is called the Highest.

White Ajah[edit]

The White Sisters devote themselves to questions of philosophy and truth. The head of the White Ajah is called the First Reasoner. They tend to serenity.

Yellow Ajah[edit]

Sisters of the Yellow Ajah are Healers. The head of the Yellow Ajah is called the First Weaver.

Black Ajah[edit]

An eighth, and mostly secret, Ajah. Sisters of the Black Ajah are dedicated to the Dark One. The existence of the Black Ajah was consistently denied by all, until its presence was revealed by Egwene in The Gathering Storm.

Size[edit]

Between book six and book ten of the saga we have enough information to know approximately the size of every Ajah: Red Ajah 195/190 sisters; Green Ajah 190/180 sisters; Gray Ajah 150/140 sisters; Brown Ajah 140/130 sisters; Yellow Ajah 130/120 sisters; Blue Ajah 120/110 sisters; White Ajah 110/100 sisters.[2] In the twelfth book we also discover that the Black Ajah sisters number more than 210; this number is taken from all of the other Ajah populations, as members of the Black Ajah pose as members of their original Ajah.

Becoming Aes Sedai[edit]

Novice[edit]

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 laboring 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 channeler 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 channelers, 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 organize 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[edit]

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 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[edit]

Where novices wear plain white, Accepted wear the same dress with seven bands of color at hem and cuffs - the color 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[edit]

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 to 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[edit]

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 sometime 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 who were able to channel 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:

  1. Speak no word that is not true
  2. Make no weapon for one man to kill another
  3. 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 channelers 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. Channelers are also freed from the oaths when severed from the Power. The sisters who later hunt the 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 channeler 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 channeler'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 channelers 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.

Exceptions[edit]

Since the Tower became divided against itself, certain women among the rebel faction, beyond reach of any of the aforementioned ter'angreal, have become Aes Sedai by exceptional means. The first was Egwene al'Vere, who is technically Aes Sedai by virtue of having been raised Amyrlin Seat, despite never having tested for the shawl. After becoming Amyrlin, she had four other Accepted raised to the shawl (including Elayne Trakand and Nynaeve al'Meara) by proclamation, a move that most sisters objected to. At the end of The Gathering Storm, Egwene takes the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod, though Elayne and Nynaeve remained unbound. During The Towers of Midnight, Nynaeve volunteers to take the formal test and (narrowly) passes, after which she swears her oaths and becomes bound. However, during the testing, Nynaeve modifies the formal lines as she is already Aes Sedai and therefore does not need to be tested to establish her worth, but rather to prove it as she sees. Elayne remains unsworn as she is worried of the effect on her unborn babies, and the remaining two unsworn Aes Sedai are at the Black tower.

Leadership[edit]

The Amyrlin Seat[edit]

The Amyrlin Seat, or simply the Amyrlin, is possibly the most powerful woman on the continent. She is appointed for life by the Hall, and sheds any affiliation she has to her Ajah. The Amyrlin is from no Ajah, and from all. She wears a stole with all seven Ajah colors, although Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan removed the blue from hers upon becoming Amyrlin. She is the head of all Aes Sedai, and they refer to her as Mother and she to them as Children ("Daughters"). She is assisted in her duties by the Keeper of the Chronicles, who is second in command, and usually from the same Ajah as the Amyrlin. The Amyrlin's full title is "The Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat" (in reference to the seven seals used to shut the Dark One's prison, though until quite recently, no one knew where any of the seals were). The actual chair from where the Amyrlin rules over the Hall is also called the Amyrlin Seat. The Amyrlin's relative power depends on her political power and ability. Some Amyrlins have been able to bend the Hall to their will, while others have found themselves subject to it. Although the Amyrlin is bound by Tower law and custom, any proclamations she makes are usually considered (depending on how powerful the Amyrlin is) law or as good as. But almost every time an Amyrlin proved so incompetent or otherwise problematic that she threatened the future of the Tower, sisters have risen up to remove her.

The Keeper of the Chronicles[edit]

The Amyrlin's second-in-command, the Keeper's duties include being secretary to the Amyrlin and overseeing the official business of the Tower. What is known is that the Amyrlin chooses her and that she, too, is appointed for life (either hers or the Amyrlin's, whoever passes away first). Traditionally, the Keeper comes from the same Ajah as the Amyrlin, but there have been exceptions. Recently, Elaida a'Roihan (of the Tower) chose Alviarin Freidhen, a White sister, as Keeper, although Elaida herself is a Red.

The Keeper wears a stole to indicate the Ajah she was raised from, but legally she is no longer a member of that Ajah, serving only the Amyrlin. Recent Keepers include Leane Sharif, a Blue sister, for the former Blue Siuan Sanche; Alviarin Freidhen, a White sister, for the former Red Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan; Tarna Feir, a Red sister, also for Elaida; and Sheriam Bayanar, a Blue sister, for Egwene al'Vere. Elaida's former Keeper, Alviarin, was replaced by the Hall of the Tower after her frequent absences from the Tower were deemed to be interfering with her duties. The current Keeper is Silviana Brehon, for Egwene al'Vere once she is officially recognized in the White Tower.

The Hall of the Tower[edit]

The Hall of the Tower is the administrative body of the Aes Sedai and the White Tower. It is composed of twenty-one Sitters, who act like senators, three from each Ajah. The Hall has several checks on the executive leadership of the Aes Sedai by which it maintains a balance of power in the Tower; in theory, the Hall is equal in power to the Amyrlin Seat and the Keeper of the Chronicles together. The Hall creates all official policy for Tar Valon.

Sitters[edit]

Each Ajah has three Sitters. Sitters are highly esteemed sisters who have been chosen within their Ajah to represent their Ajah and its interests in the Hall of the Tower. Typically, the leader or head of the Ajah is not a Sitter. The Sitters often jealously defend the Hall's power, and an Amyrlin's reign is often judged by how well she manages to keep the Sitters under her control.

Male Aes Sedai[edit]

The Hundred Companions[edit]

The Hundred Companions were a group of powerful male Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends. They agitated for a quick solution to the war against the Dark One, disrupting meetings and trying to force through Lews Therin's proposal. Numbering 113, the companions were led by Lews Therin Telamon himself to seal away the Dark One. The plan originally required a circle of men and women, placing seven seals on specific points of the Bore into the Dark One's prison at Shayol Ghul. The women refused the plan on the grounds it was too risky, and led by Latra Posae Decume, all female Aes Sedai of the strength required to be useful (and some less powerful) signed what became known as the Fateful Concord, leaving Telamon with only male Aes Sedai to carry out his plan.

Although they succeeded in sealing him away, the Dark One launched a final counter-stroke, the taint of his touch on saidin. The 68 surviving Companions and Lews Therin went insane immediately, and began what was to became known as the Breaking of the World.

Other Famous Male Aes Sedai[edit]

  • Jorlen Corbesan was considered one of the most talented Aes Sedai during the age of legends. Lews Therin himself was amazed at the ter'angreal that Corbesan created. Corbesan was killed when researchers bore into the Dark One's prison.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dragon*Con Reports '05, Question 82". 
  2. ^ Additional information comes from "The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time" by Teresa Patterson and also by some comments given by the author himself

Jordan, R The Eye of the World ISBN 0-312-85009-3
Jordan, R The Great Hunt ISBN 0-312-85140-5
Jordan, R (1991) The Dragon Reborn ISBN 0-312-85248-7
Jordan, R The Shadow Rising ISBN 0-312-85431-5
Jordan, R The Fires of Heaven ISBN 0-312-85427-7
Jordan, R Lord of Chaos ISBN 0-312-85428-5
Jordan, R A Crown of Swords ISBN 0-312-85767-5
Jordan, R The Path of Daggers ISBN 0-312-85769-1
Jordan, R Winter's Heart ISBN 0-312-86425-6