Whitecloaks and Witch Trials
Author: Nairah Tarak
"On the similarities of the Children of the Light and the medieval witch-hunts"
I wanted to learn more about Whitecloaks and their hate against the Aes Sedai. I also wanted to see if I could find similarities to our world's medieval witch trials. This turned out to be a rather difficult project, because I didn't really know how to write down my ideas and formulate them, and I had no idea where to start.
I asked two people to help me: Allisa and Cursor. They have gathered a lot of information about the witch trials. The information they gave me has been very useful; maybe you won't find everything in this text, but it has helped me a lot in order to understand things.
The Children of the Light
I have done research on what the Whitecloaks could be based on from our world.
My first though were the Knight Templars. The Knight Templars was an order of Knights whose main goal was to re-conquer the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Grave from the pagan Scaracens (today's Arabs). The Pope took their order under his immediate protection, exempting them from other jurisdiction, episcopal or secular. The Knight Templars had strict ascetic beliefs, owing allegiance to no nation, only to the Pope. However, the Templars were not as fanatic as the Whitecloaks are.
My second thought was The Holy Inquisition, whose members were judges in witch trials held by the Catholic Church in medieval central and southern Europe. They were a religious special court of law. They questioned the accused in secrecy behind closed doors, so what was said would not form a ground for rumors and gossip. Torture had hard restrictions, and only two situations could motivate it: 1) when the evidence said the accused was guilty, but the accused still denied this without being able to put forward any evidence to prove his innocence, and 2) when the court had good reasons to suspect the confession to be incomplete regarding people who had also committed the crime. The Inquisitors released more accused people than they convicted, and this does not sound like the Whitecloaks; I know that. But there were people who convicted women and men as witches in the name of the Inquisition, and I believe the Whitecloaks are, to a certain extent, based on those people.
The Whitecloaks have, like the Templars, strict ascetic beliefs and follow the principles of The Way of the Light (the book written by Lothair Mantelar). They also owe allegiance to no nation, although they are in truth the rulers of Amadicia.
The Hand of the Light
The Hand of the Light is a part of the Children of the Light, and they have Inquisitors who are dedicated to unmask Darkfriends. They believe that any use of the One Power is a work of the Dark One, and thus consider all channelers, particularly Aes Sedai, to be Darkfriends.
The High Inquisitor of The Hand of the Light is Rhadam Asunawa. He is described as a man who really likes to put possible Darkfriends to the question under torture. I think that he doesn't take pleasure in torturing people, but as a fanatic champion of the Light and searcher for the Truth, he will rule out no means in order to uncover it. Here we might see similarities with the Templars.
There is little information from Robert Jordan regarding the Whitecloak's hate of Aes Sedai and how they conduct their hunting and questioning. They cannot just arrest an Aes Sedai, because she is allowed to use the One Power if she feels threatened. Thus, they ought to prefer to kill them immediately.
But if all the Inquisitors of the Hand of the Light are more or less like Asunawa, they should like to question the woman and then torture her into confessing that she is a Darkfriend. Since we have earlier seen similarities to the judges of the witch trials, we can guess that the questioning and torturing is done in similar ways as in reality.
One episode in the history of the medieval witch hunts that can be re-experienced on the Internet are the events in Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.A. In Salem, there were two trials to discover if a person was guilty of witchery. The first was preformed standing on a stool with a noose around your neck. It was believed that those in league with Satan could not recite the Lord's Prayer without error. If you made an error, the stool was immediately kicked away from under you. Only one man was successful at this test, but he was hanged anyway - for good measures?
The second trial was actually a lose-lose situation. The suspect was tied to rocks and thrown into a lake. Simply put, if the suspect managed to survive he must be a witch and have called on magic to save himself and was therefore soon hanged. If he drowned, he was innocent and then his good name was cleared.
Many of the trials used to discover witches were often loose-loose situations. One trial was the "Iron burden" (sw. J?rnb?rd). The suspect had to carry white-hot irons on his bare lower arms and walk a certain distance. If he was unharmed he was considered not guilty... (However, this trial was not only used in cases of witchery, but was used as a trial in many other crimes that were otherwise considered grave.)
This is something that differs between the witch trials and Questioners, because it is not mentioned in the books that the Hand of the Light uses such methods.
Methods, common in the fantasy-world, to torture people are often such as the following: putting them on the rack, burn them with white-hot metal or cut off a finger, an ear or maybe the whole hand, etc. The point is to cause as much pain as possible without killing the person in order to get a confession. Maybe the Questioners use something like this when they torture people. I believe they usually hang people when they are sentenced to death, if they don't die from the torture in the first place.
One must bear in mind that there is a major difference between trials and torture. The torturer is doing his handiwork in order to get the victim to confess to one crime or the other (often to the one the accusation concerns) and then to convict the witch on the confession. On the other hand, the trial was used to pass divine judgement on the accused. If he managed to come through the trial unharmed, he was considered innocent. If not he was guilty as accused, and there was no need to force a confession through torture.