Channeling Attitudes Across Cultures and Groups

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Author: Rehtaeh al'Navi


According to Robert Jordan, “The act of drawing and controlling the flow of the One Power from the True Source is known as channeling.” A small percentage of both males and females, approximately 2-3%, may be born with the ability to touch the True Source and eventually taught to channel (TWoRJTWoT, p 17-18. saidin is the male half of the True Source and saidar is the female half. At the time of the Breaking of the World, saidin was tainted due to the touch of the Dark One. A man who channels with the tainted saidin will eventually go crazy and destroy everything around him until he is killed, or gentled. “Gentling” often results in the loss of the will to continue living and the individual eventually dies. Men who are not cut off from saidin will also suffer a wasting sickness and rot alive. (TWoRJTWoT, p 21) During the Third Age, the Age of the setting of the Wheel of Time series, the only Aes Sedai are female.

Although Tar Valon is a powerful city and many across the world hold the Aes Sedai in reverence and awe, attitudes toward channeling are held differently across city-states, countries, and even cultural groups. The Aes Sedai believe that their attitude toward channeling is the prevailing and correct approach. Their proprietary stance in this matter stems from customs since the Age of Legends and perceived safeguards following the Breaking. However, in fact, many countries and cultures view the Aes Sedai, and therefore the ability to channel with distrust, if not contempt, and continue to hold the Aes Sedai responsible for the Breaking of the World (TWoRJTWoT, p 208) We shall now examine some of these other attitudes toward channeling.

Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends

General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a responsibility and a privilege, to be used for the service of others

During the Age of Legends, males and females worked in unison with the saidin and saidar as Servants of All to create and perform amazing feats for the good of the world. These Servants of All were known as Aes Sedai.

Aes Sedai following the Breaking of the World

General View of Channeling: A birthright for women, a curse for men, an honor, a responsibility and a privilege, to be used for the service of others and for the White Tower

The Aes Sedai have a complex society woven around the responsibility of having the ability to channel. The year 47 AB began discussion of creating a city as the center of Aes Sedai power. The year 98 AB saw the beginning of construction using Ogier stonemasonry. The White Tower was planned in 98 AB as the central construct for the City. In 202 AB, after 104 years of construction, Tar Valon was built (TWoRJTWoT, pp 90-91). It is the prevailing belief and practice of the Aes Sedai that all females who show the ability to channel shall be sent to the Tower for training. Touching the One Power is highly seductive and difficult to release. Additionally, controlling the One Power can be unpredictable and even dangerous. The Aes Sedai believe that without proper training, an individual may harm herself, burn herself out of the ability to touch the True Source, or even die. In fact, approximately 80% of women born with the ability to draw on saidar and channel will die without proper guidance (TWoRJTWoT, p 20).

In most countries, young women who show the spark of the ability to channel are sent to the White Tower for training. In some countries, such as Cairhien this is a time for celebration, in others such as Tear, the girl is sent away immediately and encouraged to not return. Young women who arrive at the White Tower of Tar Valon begin training as novices. Novices follow a course of study which involves learning discipline of the mind and body to help them realize that the ability to channel is a natural-born gift of powerful responsibility. Women who fail to meet the strict requirements of the Tower are sent away. In some rare cases of transgression requiring severe punishment, women may be “stilled”, or cut off from the Source.

Typically, within five to ten years a novice is ready to be tested for Accepted. She is required to go through a three-ringed ter'angreal to test her commitment. A novice may refuse the test twice, but at the third time she will be sent from the Tower. Once Accepted, she may wear the Great Serpent ring and change her plain white novice dress to a white dress with multi-color Ajah bands on the cuffs and hem. She has more freedoms within the Tower including her fields of study. It typically takes several years to be raised from Accepted to full Aes Sedai. Once an Accepted demonstrates her “ability to channel and maintain calm under ‘extreme conditions’” and swears the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod, she is raised to Aes Sedai. She then declares her Ajah and is given a shawl of the color of her new Ajah (TWoRJTWoT, p 214-215).

The Three Oaths are taken seriously and were considered necessary by the Aes Sedai following the Breaking. The Oath Rod is actually a ter’angreal that physically binds the Oaths. The Three Oaths are: To speak no word that is not true; to make no weapon with which one man may kill another; and to never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme defense of her own life or that of her Warder or another Aes Sedai (TWoRJTWoT p 213).

An Aes Sedai is privy to many secrets of the Tower and those of her Ajah. She may have duties bestowed upon her by the Amyrlin or her own Ajah which require the use of channeling. The “Red Ajah’s primary goal is to protect the Land from all men who can touch the True Source.” The Blue Ajah’s primary focus “is to champion worthy causes…and to promote justice.” The “Brown Ajah are dedicated to seeking and preserving knowledge.” The Green Ajah is the Battle Ajah, holding “themselves ready for Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle.” The Yellow Ajah are devoted Healers. The “Gray Ajah are mediators, seeking harmony and consensus.” The White Ajah “search for truth” and are devoted to questions of philosophy (TWoRJTWoT p 219-220).


General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a responsibility and a privilege, to be used for the service of others

The Aiel are governed both by clan chiefs and Wise Ones. Women who have the ability to touch the True Source are required to be trained by the Wise Ones and eventually take on her role as a Wise One. Not all Wise Ones can channel, however all women who can channel become Wise Ones. Wise Ones learn many skills including healing, herbs and in some cases the non-Power Talent of Dreamwalking. In fact, Dreamwalking is used as a means to communicate between clans. The Aiel Wise Ones are strict in their training and require the utmost obedience. The Wise Ones typically avoid contact with Aes Sedai presumably to avoid notice of the ability in many to channel (TWoRJTWoT, pp 186-187). Following the Breaking, the Jenn Aiel and Aes Sedai, whom they served, began building a city called Rhuidean. In this city there are two ter’angreal. Wise Ones go through a process of raising using the ter’angreal in a manner similar to that used in the White Tower. One, almost identical to the three-ringed ter’angreal in the basement of the White Tower is used for a woman’s first visit to Rhuidean as she begins her journey toward becoming a Wise One. The second ter’angreal, built with tall glass columns, is used to forge both clan chiefs and Wise Ones by showing them the whole history of the Aiel. Not all who enter emerge again. In fact, only 33% who enter the glass columns typically are strong enough to face the truth and return. (TWoRJTWoT, pp 184-185).


General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a responsibility and a privilege, to be used for the service of others, to aid in the fight against the Dark One

The Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah had made it their mission of mercy since the Breaking to find men who could channel and gentle them. “Gentling” is a means by which a man may be cut off from the True Source. It often results in a loss of the will to live and ultimately death. The Aes Sedai, and especially the Red Ajah feel that this is their duty to help protect the men and the world from the havoc and possible destruction due to the taint on saidin. However, Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn has created a Black Tower designed to help train men who have the ability to channel so that they may help him fight the Dark One. Men begin as “Soldiers”, are raised to “Dedicated” and eventually to “Asha’man”, or “one who defended truth and justice for everyone, a guardian who would not yield even when hope was gone” (TWoRJTWoT, p 294). Men who can channel have generally been held in fear and loathing since the Breaking. The Aes Sedai of the White Tower continue to fear them. It appears to be forgotten that in the Age of Legends, both male and female channelers had worked together using their complementary strengths in the One Power to perform great feats and act as Servants of All. Now that Nynaeve and Rand al’Thor have linked to cleanse saidin, perhaps this alliance will return to memory and practice.

Atha'an Miere (Sea Folk)

General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a responsibility and a privilege, to be used for the good of the ship, to be kept secret from the Aes Sedai

The ancestors of the Atha’an Miere fled to the sea during the Breaking. Over time, these non-seafaring people became the Sea Folk of today who are more at home on the sea than on land. The Jendai Prophecy states that the Atha’an Miere are fated to wander the seas until the return of the Coramoor. The Atha’an Miere ships are commanded by a Sailmistress. She is aided by a Windfinder who is the second officer and chief navigator. Windfinders are almost always women who can channel. Windfinders who can channel not only help guide the ship, but also help protect him against storms and other threats. The Atha’an Miere avoid contact with Aes Sedai for fear that the channeling abilities of their Windfinders will be discovered. (TWoRJTWoT, p 174-175)

The Black Ajah

General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a right, to be used as needed in the interest of oneself and in the interest of serving the Shadow, which may include killing

The Black Ajah are Aes Sedai, trained in the White Tower, who have foresworn their oaths and are dedicated to serving the Shadow. The White Tower does not speak openly about the Black Ajah, but are aware of their existence and how dangerous they are. The Black Ajah generally hold their “Sisters” in the White Tower in disdain. Members of the Black Ajah rarely know more than one or two other members to help maintain secrecy.

The Forsaken (The Chosen)

General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a right, to be used as needed in the interest of oneself and in the interest of rising in the ranks of the Dark One which may include killing and destruction

After the drilling of the Bore during the Age of Legends, the Dark One touched the world. He made promises of glory and domination which proved to be irresistible to some Aes Sedai who answered his call. Forsaking their oaths of service and the Light they traveled to the Pit of Doom in Shayol Ghul. There, they dedicated their souls to the service of the Dark Lord and were called Dreadlords. In competition with one another, only the thirteen Chosen, the strongest of the Dreadlords, were still alive by the last year of the War of Power. These “Chosen” became commonly known to the general population as “the Forsaken” (TWoRJTWoT, pp 49-50).

The Kin

General View of Channeling: A birthright, an honor, a responsibility and a privilege, to be used for the service of others, to be kept secret from the Aes Sedai and the general population

The Kin are a society of women who are able to channel. They live near Ebou Dar in Altara. The Kin started as a group of women who had been put out of the White Tower for failing to meet the Tower’s standards, as far back as the Trolloc Wars. Later, the Kin began accepting Tower runaways as well. The Kin believe that their group’s identity is a secret, but unbeknownst to them Aes Sedai of the White Tower have been aware of them and have chosen to let them be, knowing where to find many of their runaways if need be. The Kin’s greatest fear is that they will be discovered by the Aes Sedai and thus severely punished. Some of the Kin work as Wise Women in Ebou Dar. Wise Women are Healers and are identified by their red sashes. The Kin are led by a group of the thirteen eldest women in Ebou Dar, known as “The Knitting Circle”. Status within the Kin is based on age, not strength in the Power. Women of the Kin do not stay in any place longer than ten years at a time for fear that their slow aging process will be noticed. When Nynaeve and Elayne meet the Kin, they are startled to learn that there are more Kin than there are Aes Sedai and many of the Kin are quite a bit older than any living Aes Sedai. The Kin age slowly, but do not have the same ageless look of Aes Sedai. Theories abound that this may somehow be linked to lack of swearing the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod. The Kin are fearful of Aes Sedai and feel it is a betrayal to ally with any Aes Sedai. However, they do agree to work with Nynaeve and Elayne who stumble upon them in Ebou Dar (ACoS, Ch. 23). When the Seanchan overtook Ebou Dar, all the Wise Women left the city.


General View of Channeling: Tolerant, but not feasible within the stedding

Ogier and Aes Sedai worked alongside each other in the Age of Legends. Ogier are known as masterful stonemasons and some have the non-Power related gift of “Treesinging”. Ogier were commissioned to build Tar Valon following the Breaking. During the Breaking, the surviving male Aes Sedai who had not yet gone mad were offered refuge in the stedding. However, cut off from the True Source, they were unable to stay. As a gift to the Ogier, they built the Ways which connected the stedding. However, the Ways are corrupted by the taint of saidin and by Machin Shin, the Black Wind.


General View of Channeling: A dishonor to one’s family, “dirty”, subhuman, to be used in a controlled manner as a weapon against one’s enemies

The Seanchan hail from the continent of the same name across the Aryth Ocean. Artur Hawkwing’s son, Luthair Paendrag began a process called the Consolidation in an effort to unite the fractious countries housed on the continent. Most of these countries were ruled by Aes Sedai and assassinations of Aes Sedai rulers was common. Luthair and his descendants had very little respect for the Aes Sedai and came to view channeling as “dirty” and anyone with the ability to channel as sub-human. Over 300 years, the Seanchan were clearly ruled by Luthair’s heirs. The Crystal Throne in Seanchan is a ter’angreal which inspires awe and wonder. The Seanchan use the One Power as a weapon. Once it is discovered that a woman can channel, she is taken from her home and her name is stricken from the family record. Women who can channel are leashed as damane, highly valued sub-human slaves. marath’damane are women who are capable of channeling, but have yet to be “leashed”. The Seanchan view Aes Sedai as marath’damane. Damane are collared by an a'dam which is linked by a leash to the wrist of a sul’dam. The a’dam creates a powerful link between damane and sul’dam. The sul’dam is able to control the damane’s ability to channel and also to deliver punishment and pleasure as appropriate. The result is the use of damane as a powerful weapon. Although damane are less than human and treated as pets, it is with their power in channeling and the sul’dam’s ability in controlling her damane that Luthair’s heirs obtained domain over the continent of Seanchan and over their enemies. This view of women who can channel and the Seanchan’s treatment of women who can channel is viewed by the Aes Sedai as inhumane, both intolerable and terrifying.


General View of Channeling: Dangerous in males, a birthright in some females, secretive

The Sharans are highly secretive. Individuals in Shara who are born with the ability to channel live separately from other Sharans and are known as the Ayyad. Male Ayyad are kept as breeding stock until they show signs of channeling, when they are summarily killed. The Ayyad are the true power in Shara, although it is run by a Monarchy. The Sharan ruler, known as Sh’boan (female) or Sh’botay (male) rules for seven years and then “dies”. However, it is believed that the Monarch is actually killed by the Ayyad.


General View of Channeling: Necessary in the fight against the Shadow

Aes Sedai of all Ajahs, other than Red, may choose to bond Warders. This is done through a complicated weave of Spirit and is a process that is both amenable to the Warder and the Aes Sedai who bonds him. To attempt otherwise is akin to rape. Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah may bond more than one Warder and occasionally marry one of their bonded Warders. The Warder bond may be transferred and is severed upon death. The Warder bond gives both the Aes Sedai and her Warder additional strength and stamina. (TWoRJTWoT p 217-218).

Whitecloaks (Children of the Light)

General View of Channeling: An abomination, evidence of being a Darkfriend – in league with the Dark One.

The Children of the Light were founded during the War of the Hundred Years and are devoted to proselytizing against and destroying Darkfriends. Their seat of power is located in Amadicia where channeling and Aes Sedai are forbidden. They are not rulers of Amadicia, but their Fortress of Light is housed there as well as their leader, the Lord Captain Commander. The Children believe that their firm stance against channeling is necessary to protect the world in their fight against the Shadow.


General View of Channeling: In some cases these individuals are unaware of what their gift is, once known it is often viewed as something to be kept secret from the general population due to fear of mistrust and prejudice, and secret from the Aes Sedai for fear of severe punishment at potentially being viewed as impersonating an Aes Sedai

Wilders are women who survive the effects of touching the Source and teach themselves to channel without guidance. Often these women fail to reach their full potential because they have created barriers to protect themselves from the ill effects of channeling and possible prejudice from the community. Many wilders are among the strongest in the use of the Power, especially once they break free of their mental barriers. “Wilder” is a derogatory term used by those who were “properly” trained in the Tower (TWoRJTWoT, pp 20-21). Nynaeve al’Maera is a famous “wilder” from the Wheel of Time series. She was a “Wisdom” in her home village of Emond's Field located in Two Rivers. Some wilders had originally undergone training at the White Tower in Tar Valon, but had run away for some reason. Wilders often find themselves moving from community to community to hide their identity for fear of prejudice or to hide from the White Tower. The Aes Sedai believe that all wilders must be trained. In rare cases, a wilder with sufficient maturity and strength may forego the novice initiate level and be raised immediately to Accepted.

Wolves and Wolfbrothers

General View of Channeling: Both Wolves and Wolfbrothers are mistrustful of “two-leg shes who touch the wind that moves the sun and call fire” (Aes Sedai). Wolves can sense a woman who can channel and will not go near Aes Sedai. Wolfbrothers cannot sense a woman who can channel.

While Wolves and Wolfbrothers can communicate mind-to-mind and through the Wolf Dream (a manifestation of Tel'aran'rhiod), these abilities are not linked to the One Power. Aes Sedai are generally curious about this ability in Wolves and with Wolfbrothers in general. There is not a lot known about them other than a book from the Age of Legends and what we know about Perrin Aybara and Elyas Machera, (a former Warder who the Aes Sedai wanted to attempt to gentle).