Hiding Weaves and Masking the Ability to Channel

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Theory proposed by Tazren Talamar and originally published in the Tar Valon Times, February 2011 issue.


Channelers can hide the fact that they are using the One Power by inverting/reversing their weaves and hiding the ability to channel. Some of these things are explained quite thoroughly in the books, whereas others are very much open to discussion. This article is going to try and shed some light on these subjects, and discuss the different interpretations that can be made.

First, we are going to start with some definitions.

There is an article at [13depository] that makes a very nice categorization of channelers, and describes how the different categories can be detected. There is a lot of information there outside the scope of this article, but I would like to give credit to the author, since it was that article that inspired me to delve deeper into this particular subject. And I will use the same categories, with some alteration.

Inactive channelers: people who are not holding the One Power, but who can channel.

Potential channelers: people who are holding the One Power but not channeling it.

Active channelers: people who are holding the One Power and are actively weaving the One Power.

Passive channelers: people who are maintaining a weave that has already been woven, but aren't doing anything with it.

Note: Since most of the channeling in the book is done and described by women, this article will, unless mentioned otherwise, always refer to women using saidar.

Hiding the Ability to Channel

A channeler can hide her ability to channel, that is, make it so that another female channeler cannot know that she can channel. Mesaana does this when she meets Alviarin.

She (Alviarin) had felt the strength of Lanfear and Graendal, had known from the first instant how much stronger in the Power they were than she, but in Mesaana she sensed ... nothing. As if the woman could not channel at all. -- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

This masking of the ability does not only include preventing somebody else from sensing your potential to channel; it also masks the glow, as seen during the fight at the Cleansing, when Verin saw Graendal.

Using the full strength of her circle, she wove her shield, and watched aghast as it rebounded. The woman was already embracing saidar, though no light shone around her, and she was immensely strong!

Then she had no time for thought of anything as the golden-haired woman spun around and began channeling. Verin could not see the weaves, but she knew when she was fighting off an attack on her life, and she had come too far to die here.

-- Winter's Heart, With the Choedan Kal

Now that it has been concluded that the ability to channel and the glow can be hidden, we can move on the more interesting area of hiding the act of channeling, which has been something of a controversy. The reason for this controversy is because of some seemingly contradictory quotes from the books. First, we will differentiate between two ways of hiding weaves: inverting and reversing.

Weaves can be inverted after they are woven, so that no one can see or sense them.

In truth, no one gave her (Elayne) and Birgitte a second glance, though Birgitte's aged face was often challenging and she herself was tall for an Ebou Dari woman. That was what they saw, by way of not so simple weaves of Air and Fire that Elayne had inverted and tied off herself.

... With the addition of the even more complex weave of Spirit that masked a woman's ability to channel, Elayne had walked right by Merilille on her way out of the palace that morning. She wore it still; they had seen Vandene and Adeleas on his side of the river more than once.

-- Lord of Chaos, Chapter 52

If an inverted weave could be sensed or seen, Merilille would undoubtedly have wondered why two ordinary women walked around with weaves of Spirit, Air and Fire on them.

Aside from simply inverting weaves after they have been woven, a weave can also be reversed while it is being woven, preventing anyone from ever seeing it.

And just in case she (Alivia) proved to be what they called a wilder, Cyndane prepared a small present for her, a reversed web she would not even see until it was too late. -- Winter's Heart, With the Choedan Kal

So there is a difference between reversing and inverting; if the words had merely been synonyms for the same thing, Cyndane would have had to first weave the weave, and then invert it, which Alivia could have detected. There is also the fact that "reversing" is only mentioned twice; by Cyndane here, and by Demandred earlier in the chapter. Inverting, however, is mentioned more frequently. Moghedien taught Elayne and Nynaeve how to invert weaves, but Graendal and Asmodean also mentions it.

The first visit had been after Asmodean taught him [Rand] to invert his weaves. -- Lord of Chaos, Chapter 32
"Be careful how you channel in leaving; I (Graendal) have set a few inverted webs, and you would not want to trigger one." -- The Path of Daggers, chapter 12

In addition to this, if Alivia had known how to reverse her weaves, she should have used it. So should everyone at the Cleansing, since it obviously provides a major advantage. Yet they did not, and they all knew how to invert their weaves.

Lightnings such as Cadsuane had never seen streaked down from the cloudless sky, not jagged bolts but lances of silver - blue that struck at the hilltop where she stood, and struck instead the inverted shield she had woven, erupting with a deafening roar fifty feet above her head. -- Winter's Heart, with the Choedan Kal

Cadsuane knows how to invert her weaves, and if that meant knowing how to reverse them, it seems likely she would have passed this knowledge on to the defending circles, since it was a very crucial moment.

The controversy regarding all of this is, however, not about inverting, but reversing – and whether or not it allows the weaves to be sensed or not. It obviously makes them invisible, but it is never said outright that it makes them undetectable. It is hinted at that weavings can be made undetectable, but whether this is the reversing, or a combination or reversing the weaves and having your ability to channel hidden is not clear. Even though this is hinted at, there are certain passages that suggest that a reversed weave woven by someone who's hiding her ability should be detectable.

She (Moghedien) was struggling to speak, to say her name was Marigan, when suddenly she became truly aware of the light. A small glowing white ball, pale, hanging in the air near her head. With the a'dam on her, she could not do more than think of using saidar without permission, but she could still feel it channeled, see the webs woven. This time she felt nothing, saw nothing. Just a tiny ball of pure light. She stared at the woman who had called herself Aran'gar

... A woman. But that ball of light had to be saidin!

-- Lord of Chaos, The Answer

The argument here is that Moghedien leaps to an extraordinary conclusion. Women cannot channel saidin, that's a fact. So, if reversing the weaves and masking your ability makes the weaves undetectable, she should have concluded that the woman was doing just that. That she makes the conclusion that the woman is channeling saidin seems to indicate that you cannot mask active channeling like that. The only other explanation is that she panicked and thus did not think clearly. However, just like she did not consider the True Power because of the rareness of it, she might not have considered a masked ability because only the Forsaken (apart from the Lightfriends she had taught) should know about it. We see more about Moghedien's thoughts on the matter later on:

The woman {Aran'gar) channeled to make a light, and Moghedien saw only the light. It had to be saidin - among the living, only the Chosen knew how to tap the True Power—the Power that came from the Dark One—and few were fool enough to except in direst need - but that was impossible! Blurring quickness. The woman named herself Aran'gar and called Moghedien by name, she gave summons to the Pit of Doom and removed the a'dam necklace, flinching at pain no woman should have felt. -- A Crown of Swords, Mindtrap

Here, Moghedien seems to be past the shock of the encounter with Aran'gar, and she does consider the True Power. Had it been possible to completely hide active channeling, should she have thought about it as well? It is possible that the lack of thoughts on the matter does indeed suggest that it cannot be done. However, look at the last sentence. "Flinching at pain no woman should have felt". Aran'gar, who can channel saidin, flinches when she touches the a'dam. Since she had a reaction that no woman should have had, Moghedien does have reason to believe that something is very much wrong with Aran'gar, even after the shock has subsided. Since no woman who can channel should feel any pain from the a'dam, Aran'gar cannot be an ordinary woman. If she cannot channel saidar, and it is not the True Power, that leaves saidin, unlikely as it is. Since we are not shown any more of Moghedien's thoughts on the matter, it is difficult to draw a conclusion either way.

A second similar extraordinary conclusion is made by Lews Therin/Rand.

When our streams of balefire touched in Shadar Logoth, it must have created some sort of link between us. I can't think of any other explanation. That was the only time we ever met. He was using their so-called True Power. It had to be that. I felt nothing, saw nothing except his stream of balefire. Having bits of knowledge seem his when

he knew they came from Lews Therin no longer seemed odd, either.

-- Knife of Dreams, News for the Dragon

Just as with Moghedien, if reversing weaves and hiding your ability completely masks your channeling, Rand/Lews Therin should simply have concluded that. It should be noted, though, that while they thought about not sensing them, they also thought about not seeing the weave, and we know that weaves can be made invisible, at least. It is also unclear exactly how balefire is treated and what flows are used, aside from Air and Fire. It is possible the creation of balefire cannot, for some reason, be hidden. While nothing is known for certain, balefire has been used on numerous occasions without the details being given away, which might indicate that there is something special about the weave. Or it might just be meant to be mysterious. We simply do not know.

The third argument made against the ability to completely make channeling undetectable is Jahar Narashima's testimony before the Salidar Hall.

"It might be impossible, but she [Aran'gar] did it. Daigain told us what Eben said, and she couldn't detect anything at all even while the woman was channeling. It had to be saidin." --Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting

Here, people who fought the Forsaken at the cleansing make the assumption that if a woman cannot sense anything from another woman, then that woman cannot possibly be channeling saidar, so she must be channeling saidin. However, since this is a second hand account, it carries less weight than Moghedien's and Rand's conclusions. We know from Daigian's Point-of-View in Winter's Heart that Eben shouted that the woman channeled saidin. We do not, however, know exactly what Daigian said afterwards. We only know what Jahar claims she said, and at the moment, he was clearly upset over Eben's death, and had just had his statements about a woman channeling saidin questioned by Moria, a Sitter in the Rebel Hall. It is not beyond reason to think that he exaggerated Daigian's story somewhat to make it sound more convincing to the Hall. Jahar had good reason to trust completely in what Eben said; the Rebel Aes Sedai had not. Whatever Daigian might have said, referring to what an Aes Sedai said on the subject gives the Hall more reason to trust him.

Depending on the interpretation, there is another scene that could indicate either theory.

And just in case she (Alivia) proved to be what they called a wilder, Cyndane prepared a small present for her, a reversed web she would not even see until it was too late.

Abruptly the light of saidar appeared around the woman, but the ready ball of fire streaked from Cyndane's hand, small enough to escape detection she hoped, but enough to burn a hole through this woman who--

--Winter's Heart, With the Choedan Kal

Cyndane hopes that the ball of fire is small enough to escape detection. How, exactly, does she mean? She could mean that she hopes that the actual weave will not be sensed. If that is the case, it clearly indicates that reversed weaves can be sensed. However, it is equally likely that she hopes that the physical ball of flames is so small that Alivia will simply not see it before it's too late. Since either interpretation is possible, it is difficult to draw a conclusion from it, but it should still be considered.

There is one passage that strongly speaks for complete masking of active channeling.

Suddenly the light in the room dimmed, enveloping the chamber in swirling twilight shadows.

.. But Alviarin could not see the weaves that made the Illusion any more than she had felt those the woman [Mesaana] had used to arrive or cast the room in shadows.

-- Crossroads of Twilight, Chapter 21

While Mesaana's Illusion can certainly be tied off and inverted as we have seen such things before, Alviarin could not sense her gateway, nor her weave that cast the room in shadows. Since Alviarin notes that she could not sense the arrival, it seems that she thinks she should have sensed it. At this point, Alviarin knows about Traveling, so she should be quite sure whether or not the creation of such a gateway can be sensed or not. Since a gateway happens instantaneously when the weave is woven, it seems unlikely that you could first invert the weave, and then use it. Which means that the creation must have been made undetectable. There is also the weave that Mesaana used to create shadows in the room; this is undoubtedly active channeling. Otherwise, she must have prepared the weave on the other side of the gateway, and it would have been difficult to prepare a spacious enough weave to cover a room, and bring it through a gateway. This is strongly indicative of the ability to hide active channeling.

There is another quote to consider.

"One of them is channeling," Nynaeve said, just loudly enough for him to hear, as she climbed down from her saddle. "I can't see anything, so she's masked her ability and inverted the weave - and I wonder how the Seanchan learned that! - but she's channeling. Only one; there isn't enough for it to be two." Her ter'angreal could not tell whether it was saidin or saidar being channeled, but it was unlikely to be a man. -- Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box

This is from Rand's Point-of-View. That Rand thinks it's Nynaeve's ter'angreal that detects the woman who is channeling indicates that she should not be able to sense a woman who is channeling without it. It might, of course, be Rand's ignorance of certain facts, but if he knows that much about her ter'angreal, it would make sense that he knows how women detect other channeling women.

Another thing that needs to be looked at is Leane's actions at the end of Crossroads of Twilight, when she turned half the chain of Southharbor into cuendillar.

"There was something strange, though. More than strange. We couldn't find the wilder [Leane], at first. We couldn't feel her channelling. There was no glow around her, and we couldn't see her weaves."

... "Clever Leane," Egwene muttered. Leane had prepared everything in advance, before coming in sight of the harbour, all inverted and her ability masked.

--Knife of Dreams, Embers Falling on Dry Grass

Since Egwene thinks Leane inverted the weaves, it can be assumed that Leane did not know how to reverse them, or at least that inverting them in advance is easier, so she didn't actively make the weave. Another point here is that, while Leane could easily have inverted and maintained the weaves for making cuendillar, the process involves passing of the weaves through the other, so there is certainly some other activity than just holding a passive weave, and since the Aes Sedai from the White Tower could not sense her, actively using maintained weaves that are inverted seems to be undetectable.

Finally, I would like to return to the cleansing of saidin.

Fire erupted in the forest, great explosions spun of saidin that hurled trees into the air on gouts of flame that sped toward him [Demandred], but he was already weaving a gateway. Leaping through, he let it vanish and ran through the vine-draped trees as hard as he could, plowing through patches of snow, stumbling over rocks hidden in the mulch, but not slowing down, never that. The web had been reversed, for caution's sake, but so had the first, and he had been a soldier.

... So. Unless someone in this accursed Age had discovered yet another unknown ability, al'Thor must have acquired a device, a ter'angreal, that could detect a man channeling.

-- Winter's Heart, With the Choedan Kal

It seems that Demandred did not think his channeling should have been detected. His gateway was reversed, which is most likely the reason he thought so. He also thinks that Rand must have a ter'angreal to be able to sense him. Since a man is perfectly capable of sensing ordinary channeling, the only reason Demandred would conclude that Rand had a ter'angreal is if Demandred's channeling at that point should not have been detectable without aid.


Can women completely hide the fact that they are actively channeling the One Power? While there seems to be plenty of evidence supporting it, there are three instances – Daigian, Rand and Moghedien – where that conclusion is contradicted to the point that it might at first seem as if the books contradict themselves. However, in two of the instances, people making extraordinary assumptions about Aran'gar can be explained. Moghedien was shocked at first, and later, when she had had time to consider it, she had seen Aran'gar feel pain from touching the a'dam, something that only a male channeler should feel. Jahar Narishma's account of Daigian's and Eben's encounter with Aran'gar is second-hand, so we do not know exactly what Daigian said, only what Jahar said in front of a room full of Aes Sedai, all the while being upset, which makes it possible, even likely, that he might have turned to exaggeration to make the idea "see sense", from his point of view. Aside from Rand's and Lews Therin's madness and, there are not many good reasons to ignore their thoughts on the matter, except, perhaps, that we do not know the balefire weave and thus do not know it can be reversed. We have not been given any real indication that it should be impossible to do so, though. One might say that, if the thought was Rand's and not Lews Therin's, he might simply have been wrong. These are not very strong counter-arguments, so this remains the strongest evidence against complete masking of active channeling.

Even so, there is much evidence that points to complete masking of active channeling being perfectly possible. There is no single piece of evidence that is irrefutable, so the question is left unanswered until someone provides us with more information on the subject.