Aes Sedai (Hierarchy)
Hierarchy among the Aes Sedai is governed by a very strict set of rules, both subtle and unsubtle (WH, Prologue). It doesn’t matter where a Sister was born (LoC, Ch. 49); rather, the most important factor in the hierarchy is strength in the One Power. Sisters are expected to defer to others who are stronger than them, regardless of what Ajah they come from. The stronger they are, the greater the deference expected (NS, Ch. 12). According to Shalon, Aes Sedai value strength in the One Power even over experience and skill (WH, Ch. 23).
If one Aes Sedai is set above another, either within her Ajah or by the Tower, the hierarchy doesn’t apply and that Aes Sedai must be obeyed, regardless of her strength. This is the case when embassies are sent from the Tower; the emissary is placed above all those who accompany her and must be obeyed (NS, Ch. 12). Amyrlins and Heads of Ajah are also, of course, exempted from the hierarchy (LoC, Ch. 30). If an Aes Sedai stands above others or is placed above others, the others will follow her however much they might grumble about her decisions in private (ACoS, Ch. 30).
Although the hierarchy is only supposed to rule everyday life, it also affects other things. For instance, advice from a Sister who stands higher is given more weight (LoC, Ch. 30). A Sister who stands lower in the hierarchy is lucky if one who stands higher asks for advice, or even an opinion (WH, Prologue).
Aes Sedai are jealous of their places and of their prerogatives (ACoS, Ch. 30). It is considered a great rudeness for an Aes Sedai to fail to defer to a Sister who stands higher than she does. When one Sister does not show proper deference to another, the offended Sister is allowed to set a penance for the offender. One to two months of Labor or Deprivation is considered a light penance for such an offense, and Mortification of the Spirit and Mortification of the Flesh are sometimes set as penances as well. Failure to adhere to the hierarchy is the most common reason for newly raised Sisters to be given a penance (NS, Ch. 12).
Although girls are discouraged, as novices and Accepted, from even thinking about an Aes Sedai’s age or strength in the One Power, it becomes instinctual and second nature for them to do so because of the hierarchy (NS, Ch. 12; LoC, Ch. 43).
Although strength in the One Power is the most important means of delineation in the hierarchy, many other facts can influence it as well. These things especially come into play when there are two Sisters of equal or almost equal strength; in these cases, there is no way to tell who is stronger short of dueling with them, which is unacceptable (LoC, Ch. 30; LoC, Ch. 43). These additional rules are often subjective, however, and must all be taken into account together.
- Those who learned the fastest as novices and Accepted gain more standing (LoC, Ch. 30).
- Those who spend the least time as novices and Accepted gain more standing (LoC, Ch. 30).
- Wilders often lose some standing (LoC, Ch. 30).
- Leane fears that having been stilled will put her and Siuan at lower than their strength, similar to being a wilder (LoC, Ch. 30).
- Leane fears that even if Nynaeve manages to Heal her and Siuan back to their full strength, the fact that they were at a lower strength for however short a time will still affect their standing (LoC, Ch. 30).
- How long a Sister has been Aes Sedai is taken into account (LoC, Ch. 43). However, if a newly raised Sister is strong enough, even she must be deferred to. Cabriana Mecandes defers to Siuan and Moiraine even on the day of their raising (NS, Ch. 12).
- The hierarchy takes into account how long someone has been in the Hall. Even though Saerin spent much longer as a novice and an Accepted than Doesine, Pevara, Seaine and Yukiri, her experience in the Hall places her above them (WH, Prologue).