Unless stated otherwise, all information herein is taken from TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 22.
A similar entry appears in the Wheel of Time Companion confirming the information available in the main story arc.
The Ways are a gift from the male Aes Sedai, during the Breaking, to the Ogier, in thanks for giving them sanctuary in the stedding during those times. They were pathways, grown from the One Power, from one stedding to another, based on what could be learned from studying some of the Worlds accesible by Portal Stone (TGH, Ch. 16). They were separate from the world outside, such that even if the Breaking moved two stedding in relation to each other, the path through the Ways would be unchanged. When the last Aes Sedai left, they gave the Ogier the Talisman of Growing, so that they could create their own waygates. The ways themselves are alive in some unknown way and normal rules of physics do not apply. they were originally well lit, with islands full of grass and fruit trees, but around the time of the War of the Hundred Years, they began to deteriorate, growing dank and dim, until the became completely dark. This was gradual and not noticed at first, and even six hundred years before the events of the books, the Ogier elders were still growing the Ways and creating new Waygates (TGH, Ch. 33)
The Waygate is the means of entry into the Ways. Created by a ter'angreal, the Talisman of Growing, which is triggered by singing, they allow Ogier to expand the Ways and are the reason that the Ogier were able to create Waygates in the cities they beat after the Breaking, making a "branch" grow from an existing Way. On both the inside and outside of the the Waygate, is a key shaped as a removable Avendesora leaf. It is possible to walk round a Waygate on the inside, though it is not advised and it is unclear what would happen (TEotW, Ch. 43). Removing the key and not replacing it locks the Waygate. They are almost impossible to destroy and exist on the outskirts of most steddings and where the great Ogier built cities of the time of the Compact of Ten Nations used to lie (LoC, Ch. 20. These have been guarded to prevent Shadowspawn coming through them, though according to Verin, the Ward is not sufficient (ToM, Epilogue).
Within the Ways
The Ways normal time and space, with normal physical rules not applying and may even be alive in some way. Ramps, islands, and bridges seem to hang free and paths often spiral above or below for no obvious reason. The Wheel turns faster in the Ways and directions have no real meaning in the Ways, and a day's walk may bring a traveler to a destination more than a hundred or even five hundred miles distant from his starting point, depending on the path taken. As the world changed during the Breaking. The only way to navigate is via Guidings, tall slabs of stone inlaid with Ogier script in metal – stand at every juncture of multiple Ways. Signpost columns of stone, also in Ogier script, mark the entrance of each bridge and ramp. Ogier rarely learn how to navigate the Ways but a few still do (TEotW, Ch. 42)
Originally, the Ways were well lit and fruit trees grew on the Islands, which had railings round them for safety. There were also likely traps for Shadowspawn, to prevent them using the Ways.
Starting around the time of Artur Hawkwing, the Ways began to deteriorate. They went dark, the bridges began to crumble, and those who came out had often lost their minds and raved of Machin Shin, The darkness is not natural, and lamps emit less light than they should (TEotW, Ch. 43). some of the guidings are inscribed with trolloc script, though the Shadow does still not fully know its way around them. It is not an easy journey for them as many of the traps against Shadowspawn still function (TEotW, Ch. 45). The corruption is such that it would taint even anything created with saidar (TEotW, Ch. 45), and women are able to actually sense the taint TGH, Ch. 39)
- Main article: Machin Shin
Machin Shin, the Black Wind, is a thing of the Ways, its origins unknown. It is known to catch people who come out of the Ways completely mad, their soul stolen. As a result of this, Ogier Elders banned any from traveling the Ways. It can be felt from some distance and as it grows closer, even heard (TEotW, Ch. 45). It was believed to be totally outside any control until it tried to consume Padan Fain and has since been waiting at Waygates he didn't want people to use (TGH, Ch. 33). Thogh it cannot be controled, it can sense in some ways and Moiraine was able to force it away, through a weave of what looked like fire (TEotW, Ch. 45)
Time and distance are strange in the Ways. Different paths, different bridges, lead to different places, and how long it takes to get there depends on which path you take. ([[Loial, TEotW, Ch. 43)
"The Ways were made by men wielding Power fouled by the Dark One. About a thousand years ago, during what you humans call the War of the Hundred Years, the Ways began to change. So slowly in the beginning that none really noticed, they grew dank and dim. Then darkness fell along the bridges. Some who went in were never seen again. Travelers spoke of being watched from the dark. The numbers who vanished grew, and some who came out had gone mad, raving about Machin Shin, the Black Wind. Aes Sedai Healers could aid some, but even with Aes Sedai help they were never the same. And they never remembered anything of what had occurred. Yet it was as if the darkness had sunken into their bones. They never laughed again, and they feared the sound of the wind" (Loial, TEotW, Ch. 43).
"Something left from the Time of Madness, perhaps, or even from the War of the Shadow, the War of Power. Something hiding in the Ways so long it can no longer get out. No one, not even among the Ogier, knows how far the Ways run, or how deep. It could even be something of the Ways themselves. As Loial said, the Ways are living things, and all living things have parasites. Perhaps even a creature of the corruption itself, something born of the decay. Something that hates life and light" (Moiraine, TEotW, Ch. 45)