The One Power
From Tar Valon Library
Author: Toral Delvar
Unless stated otherwise, all information herein is taken from The World of Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time", Chapter 2.
The One Power is drawn from the True Source and is the energy used to power the turning of the Wheel of Time. It is made up of two complementary parts: saidin, the male half, and saidar, the female half, which working together and against each other, provide the driving force that turns the Wheel. Along with the Creator and the Dark One, the One Power is the only known force outside of the Wheel (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 1).
Only men can touch saidin and only women can touch saidar and neither can even sense the other half. In the Age of Legends, around two to three percent of the population were able to draw on the One Power once taught; by the time of the books, this is only about one percent (Robert Jordan's Blog, Sunday, October 2nd, 2005). The act of controlling the One Power is known as channelling and the use of the One Power is in the form of a weave. Most of the people with the potential to use the One Power need to be taught, but a small percentage will touch the Source whether they wish it or not.
When holding the Power, the channeler feels more alive than otherwise. His or her senses are heightened and there is a much greater awareness of the world around them. There are, however, dangers to channeling. A person can draw too much, overloading themselves and losing the ability to channel, or worse, killing themselves. People who have lost the ability to channel typically die after a few years, with life holding no more meaning for them. In addition, from the end of the Age of Legends until Rand al'Thor cleansed it, saidin was tainted and no man could channel without going horribly mad.
The Five Powers
The One Power is composed of five different threads, called the Five Powers. They are Earth, Air (Wind), Fire, Water and Spirit. Different weaves will use different combinations of them. Manipulating the weather, for example uses Air, Water and Spirit, traditional Healing uses the same three and the advanced Healing, as used in the Age of Legends, uses all five (LoC, Ch. 30). People are usually stronger in one or two of the Powers than the others; in rare instances they may even have strength in three or four of them. In general, men are stronger in Earth and Fire, women in Air and Water. High strength in Spirit is equally found in men and women. This has led to a saying amongst the Aes Sedai: "There is no rock so strong that water and wind cannot wear it away, no fire so fierce that water cannot quench it or wind snuff it out."
The different flows have different feels, though saying that they have different flavors might be as accurate (Robert Jordan's Blog, Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005)
Saidar is the half of the One Power accessible to women. For those who are not guided through their first experience, four in five will die. The first reaction will occur a few days after touching the Source and be relatively mild, such as fevers, chills and dizziness. Each time the person touches the Source, the response occurs, the reaction coming closer and closer to the time that it was touched until they are almost simultaneous. After this, unless some control has been learned, death is certain. Those that survive, known as wilders, typically form mental blocks so that they are unaware they have the ability to channel. Many also have one or two special weaves, commonly some mild form of compulsion, though versions of Healing are not uncommon (LoC, Ch. 8; TPoD, Prologue; KoD, Ch. 23).
For women to use the Power, they must surrender to it. They begin by imagining a flower bud and picture it blooming, with the light of saidar shining on it, and let saidar fill them, guiding it to what they want to do (TSR, Ch. 7). An alternate way of touching saidar is for the channeler to imagine saidar as a river and themselves as the banks of the river, gently guiding it (LoC, Ch. 13).
Any woman who can channel is able to sense the presence of another (unless that person has masked the ability) (TEotW, Ch. 21) and to see a glow around any other woman who is channeling (TGH, Ch. 24).
Saidin is the half of the One Power accessible to men. Since the final strike on the Dark One at the end of the War of the Shadow, saidin has been tainted due to the Dark One’s counterstroke. Saidin itself is pure, but overtop it is a layer of corruption, which the man must reach through in order to touch saidin.
For men, seizing the Source is entirely different from the women. They imagine a flame and feed all emotion into it, the void. Those who can sense the Source are able to feel it in this state, just out of the corner of their eye, almost as though it is calling to them. They have to reach out to it and seize it, or it will do nothing. Once they have seized it, they must struggle constantly or risk being swept away (TSR, Ch. 7).
Unlike women, men cannot immediately tell if another man is able to channel and cannot see when another is holding the Power, though they can feel it as a sense of Power and menace, and can judge how much is being held. They can also feel when women are holding the power, through a sensation of goosebumps (TSR, Ch. 7). In order to test if a man can learn to channel, they create a flame, an inch tall, dancing in mid-air between them. The applicant concentrates on the flame. If the candidate can learn, a resonance is felt (LoC, Ch. 3).
There are many other differences between saidin and saidar; for example, men can extinguish a flame by taking the heat and spreading it elsewhere. For a woman to do this is highly dangerous and could even lead to them bursting into flames. To put out a fire, they need to extinguish it with Air or Water (TSR, Ch. 7).
Since the Dark One was sealed in the bore, no man other than the Forsaken, who receive protection from the Dark One, has been able to touch the Source without going insane. Even those that manage some control over the madness at first may still succumb to a terrible wasting disease, causing their body to rot away. Despite this, and the sickening sensation felt from the taint, resisting touching the Source is almost impossible. The madness can take many forms; Lews Therin Telamon killed all his family and didn't even know it (TEotW, Prologue), Fedwin Morr regressed to the mind of a small child (TPoD, Ch. 29), an unnamed Asha'man simply began screaming that spiders were crawling under his skin (TPoD, Ch. 14). For many years, during the Breaking, the surviving Aes Sedai tried to Heal or prevent the madness but were unable to find any way of doing so and eventually gave up on the idea (This passage needs a reference).
Saidin was eventually cleansed by Rand al'Thor at Shadar Logoth (WH, Ch. 35). Using the Choedan Kal in conjunction with Nynaeve, he was able to use the evil of that place to counteract the evil of the taint, causing them to destroy each other. The city was also destroyed in the process. The only other known example of the removal of the taint up till that point was the Eye of the World, a large Well of pure saidin, made by male and female Aes Sedai working together (TEotW, Ch. 50; TSR, Ch. 26).
After the cleansing, men who had begun to go mad did not progress, but their madness remained. It was discovered by Nynaeve al'Meara that the madness left a mark on the brain, like a dark network of veins that seeme to pulse and was reminiscent of compulsion. She was able to Heal this, the first time since Ishamael Healed Lews Therin that madness is known to have been Healed (ToM, Ch. 15).
Role of People Who Can Channel
- Main article: Channeling Attitudes Across Cultures and Groups
Those who can channel the One Power have different roles according to their culture. In the Age of Legends, those who wished to learn became Aes Sedai, though as this was a great responsibility, some chose not to. Due to the culture of the time, most did choose to (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 3). Since that time, only women have been able to channel safely and only they have been taught to do so.
- Main article: Aes Sedai
On the main continent, Aes Sedai continued to teach during the Breaking, though much of what they knew was forgotten. Once the Breaking was over, they organized themselves into building Tar Valon and the White Tower and since that time have had control over who may learn, putting a stop to any other group that tries to teach (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 9; ACoS, Ch. 29; TPoD, Ch. 26). As such, they believe that they are the only people who actually are taught how to channel.
Amongst the Aiel and the Sea Folk, all women capable of learning are found and taught to be Wise Ones and Windfinders respectively. They keep this a secret from Aes Sedai for fear that if the Aes Sedai knew that the ability to channel ran strongly in their peoples, they would come looking, and take away girls to train them (TSR, Ch. 20; Ch. 23).
On the other continents, there are other roles. In Shara, the women who are able to channel, the Ayyad, live in their own villages and are the true power in the land, though the other inhabitants of that land believe they only channel when they have permission (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 16). In Seanchan, some Aes Sedai also survived through the Breaking, but did not form a unified structure and fought amongst themselves. When Artur Hawkwing's armies arrived, one of these Aes Sedai, seeking an advantage, collared another, creating the first damane. Since that time, the distrust felt by Seanchan for those who can channel has been high, and all with the spark are taken as damane at a young age. Those who can learn to channel become sul'dam, as it is unknown that they have the ability to learn (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 17).
The One Power and Health
People who can channel gain other benefits. One of these is that they age less quickly than normal people. The age at which it starts varies, later in men than women, but sometime in their twenties or thirties they start to slow (ACoS, Ch. 24). Once this occurs, they look younger than their true age, often by many years, even hundreds (LoC, Ch. 15; ACoS, Ch. 31). In the Age of Legends, they could live several hundred years; Moghedien at two hundred was still considered young (TSR, Ch. 54), though at that time, health in general was much better and normal men and women could live into the middle of their second century, with sixty three considered not yet into the middle years (TSR, Ch. 26).
In the Third Age, how long a channeler lives is dependent upon whether or not they have sworn the Three Oaths. Aes Sedai, who have sworn the Three Oaths, tend to live for between two and three hundred years and do not seem to age. Those who have not sworn the Three Oaths also age more slowly. Mora, at almost three hundred, still looked young (LoC, Ch. 15), and Sorilea, who channels weakly, is the oldest of the Aiel (LoC, Ch. 51). Similarily, Morgase, who can barely channel at all, looks perhaps a decade younger than her true age (Robert Jordan’s blog, Tuesday, October 4th, 2005). Among the Sea Folk, Windfinders rise with their Sailmistress and start again when the Sailmistress dies, and are expected to rise and fall many times in their life (KoD, Ch. 14). Those who have not sworn the Three Oaths can potentially live up to twice as long as those who have. The oldest known woman, Aloisia Nemosni of the Kin, is nearly six hundred (WH, Ch. 10) and Alivia is more than four hundred years old (WH, Ch. 8).
It may also be true that Aes Sedai do not suffer from other diseases. When Nynaeve claims that she does not get ill, Moiraine responds that this is because she has "protection" (TEotW, Ch. 41). As Aes Sedai cannot heal themselves (TEotW, Ch. 11), immunity seems the most likely explanation.
Objects of the One Power
Angreal and Sa'angreal
Angreal and sa'angreal are objects that allow a person to hold and use more of the Power than they can unaided, without burning out, with sa'angreal being the more powerful of the two. A sa’angreal “can be said to allow one to channel as much more of the One Power over that of the angreal as the angreal does over channeling unaided.”
The making of them has been lost since the Age of Legends, but some still exist, having been found again since the chaos of the Breaking. They are specific to men or women, though rumors exist of ones that can be used by either. These may have derived from Callandor, which was flawed and lacked the protection against burning out that other sa'angreal had. It could only be safely used by a male channeler linked to two women. It is not known if there is a continuous gradation between angreal and sa'angreal, or if there is a discrete difference.
- Main article: Ter'angreal
Ter'angreal are objects that use the Power to perform a specific task. Some require channeling, while others will work for anyone. The use of many is not known and these can be dangerous if a person tries to use them in the wrong way, or even simply channels around them.
- Main article: Linking Information
In order to channel greater amounts of the Power, and to use saidin and saidar together, channelers are able to link. The total amount of the Power wielded in this fashion is less than the total that each member of the circle can hold individually, but more than any of the members could hold on their own. To do this, they place themselves on the edge of embracing the Source, and the person who will control the link then embraces the source through them, in much the same way as an angreal is used (TPoD, Ch. 8). Aes Sedai believe that a person cannot be forced into a link, though an a'dam does essentially that, by the use of "absolutely essential matrices" (LoC, Prologue) and the Black Ajah are claimed to have a method of forced linking (KoD, Prologue).
Women can link with each other, up to a total of thirteen, in what is known as a circle, whereas two men, without a woman, are unable to link and cannot initiate a link. A man that is added to a circle increases the total number possible in that circle from thirteen to twenty six, with each additional man increasing the total number possible, to thirty four, forty-five, fifty-four, sixty-three and seventy-two, which can consist of any combination from six men and sixty six women, to thirty five men and thirty seven women. Other than circles of one man and one woman, there must be at least one more woman than there are men. In general, a balanced circle of near equal numbers of men and women is considered best. There are also complex rules about who leads the circle; a man must lead in a circle of two, in a circle of seventy-two, or in one of thirteen or less with more than one man present. If there is the minimum number of men present, a woman must lead. Other than that, control depends on who has the skill for the specific tasks, and can be passed during the weave.
- Main article: Severing
In the Age of Legends, the process of being rendered unable to channel was known as severing. Since then, several different terms have arisen, depending on the circumstances.
Burning out is the term for a person who is unable to channel due to drawing too much of the Power. Women who have been burned out in this way are no longer able to even sense the Power, nor, it has been found, can they sense a damane's emotions through the a’dam; similarly, a damane cannot move while a burned out woman is holding her leash (ACoS, Ch. 29).
Stilling is the term for a woman who has been deliberately cut off from the Power. They are still able to sense the Source, but cannot embrace it any more. Stilled women are able to sense a damane's emotions and allow the woman to move without feeling ill. They cannot however, control the Power through the link, or add to those emotions as a sul'dam can (LoC, Prologue).
Gentling is the term for a man who has been deliberately cut off from the Power. Since the Age of Legends, it has been the only way to prevent them from going mad and harming themselves and others, though the existence of the male a'dam suggests that other ways have been tried.
- Main article: Shielding
A person can be temporarily blocked from the One Power by being shielded. The weave for shielding is similar to that for Stilling, but is less "sharp." Shields exist both around the shielded person and at a single point. Shielding against the One Power also shields against the True Power. When linked, all the members of the circle must be shielded at once. A Warder cannot tell when his Aes Sedai is shielded, other than that she feels agitated (Robert Jordan Question of the Week, week 8).
Ability to use the Power
Strength in the One Power
- Main article: Strengths in the Power
The degree to which a person is able to channel and how much of the One Power they can safely hold varies considerably. In general, men are stronger than women; while the weakest man and the weakest woman would be roughly equivalent, there are several levels of male strength on top of the female levels (Robert Jordan's Blog, Tuesday, October 4th, 2005). On a practical level, women are much more deft in their weaving and that means the strongest possible woman can do just about anything that the strongest possible man could, and to the same degree (Robert Jordan's Blog, Sunday, October 2nd, 2005). Some women, such as Morgase are barely able to channel at all (LoC, Prologue), while others such as Sharina and Lanfear may well have the maximum possible strength for any woman (CoT, Ch. 17; WH, Ch. 35). It is assumed that men show the same range of strengths, but this is not known, except that Rahvin believed that both he and Sammael were stronger than Lanfear (TFoH, Prologue).
- Main article: Talents and Weaves
People able to touch the source often have accompanying abilities, or Talents. These can be grouped into two main areas:
- Talents that don't involve a weave – such as dreaming, seeing ta'veren and Foretelling. Dreaming may not be Power related at all, as there are known dreamers who are not able to channel, such as Seana and Bair (TSR, Ch. 23). Similarly, at least amongst the Ogier, there are people who can see ta'veren (TEotW, Ch. 36; TGH, Ch. 36)
- The second class are of abilities to do a thing with the one Power that only some people have, irrespective of strength. Examples of this include Healing and manipulating the weather.
- A possible third class of abilities are abilities such as Traveling, for which the majority of channelers can form the weave, but some, such as Sorilea are too weak to make it work (TPoD, Ch. 27). Making ter'angreal may be in this category, as Elayne claimed that Escaralde wasn't strong enough to do so (LoC, Ch. 13), however, other evidence suggests that making ter'angreal may simply be something only a few have the ability to do.
- A subset of this would be weaves that are normally power dependant, but that some people have the ability to do beyond their strength in the Power. This includes Shielding and Traveling. Berowin has been shown to be able to hold people whose strength in the Power is far greater than hers (ACoS, Ch. 23) and Androl can form gateways large enough for a cart to pass through, despite being one of the weakest in the One Power at the Black Tower (ToM, Ch. 56).
- Main Article: Hiding Weaves and Masking the Ability to Channel