Age of LegendsEdit
- Main article: Aes Sedai (Age of Legends)
In the Old Tongue, Aes Sedai means "servants of all," and the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends lived up to this definition. They aided mankind as scientists, healers, and philosophers. Women use saidar and men saidin, although it is believed that channelers in the Age of Legends were much stronger, or at least more knowledgeable, in the Power than their modern equivalents; it is believed that they could fly, and things that would seem miraculous today were supposedly commonplace to them. Some of their lost Talents, such as Traveling and Dreaming, have only just been rediscovered. One thing is clear, however; the greatest works were wrought by male and female channelers working together.
The Collapse and War of PowerEdit
It was an Aes Sedai research team at the Collam Daan that ripped open the Dark One's prison. The researchers, headed by Mierin Eronaile, thought they had found a power that both men and women could wield. They were not entirely mistaken (see the True Power), but it allowed the Dark One to manipulate the darkest desires of those that lived in the Age of Legends. What followed was a general collapse of civilization over the course of 100-110 years, concluding in the War of Power. It is said that, during this time, almost half of all Aes Sedai went over to the Shadow.
In the end, the Dragon, with the help of the Hundred Companions, sealed the Dark One and the Forsaken in his prison at Shayol Ghul, and the Dark One's final counterattack tainted saidin itself, eventually driving all male channelers mad.
- Main article: Breaking of the World
The female Aes Sedai could not control them, and the men rampaged across the known world, boiling oceans, raising mountains where there were none, killing countless innocents. This was the Breaking of the World. While some of the men managed to find refuge in Ogier stedding (where they could not touch the Power, and therefore could harm no one and were protected from the effects of the taint), after a time they left the stedding hoping that the taint on saidin had disappeared. It had not, and they went insane, prolonging the breaking of the world according to some. Others hold to the view that this was not as disastrous as if all the men had gone insane all at once.
Current Aes Sedai differ greatly from those from before the Breaking, most notably in their organization and their level of knowledge. Present day Aes Sedai are organized into what is known as the White Tower. Only those women accepted by the White Tower can be called Aes Sedai, and all other channelers are known as wilders.
The White Tower was established in 98 AB, over one hundred years before the building of the same name was completed in 202 AB. Elisane Tishar was raised at this time as the first Amyrlin Seat, the supreme head of the Tower. The city of Tar Valon was likewise established at this time and is presently ruled by a governing body selected by the Hall of the Tower. It is said that the White Tower's reign in Tar Valon is the longest of any kingdom save for the Ogier.
After consolidating their power, they began punishing those "pretending" to be Aes Sedai. It is suggested that many of those punished in the beginning may actually have been Aes Sedai who did not submit to the authority of the Tower. Eventually, the current hierarchy and seven Ajahs developed.
Though still "servants of all," the present day Aes Sedai keep their own agenda. They still provide aid to any who ask, but it is said that any gift from an Aes Sedai has a price, and often one you never see coming. The Amyrlin Seat, the woman chosen to govern the Aes Sedai, has become as powerful as any king, queen, or legislative body.
Aes Sedai rank themselves according to a strict hierarchy. Holders of certain positions rank at the top.
The Amyrlin SeatEdit
- Main article: Amyrlin Seat
The Amyrlin Seat is the leader of the Aes Sedai, along with the Hall of the Tower. She, as the public leader of the White Tower, is considered more powerful than any monarch in the land. The Amyrlin Seat does not always act as ambassador to other nations, but has been known to do so.
The Keeper of the ChroniclesEdit
- Main article: Keeper of the Chronicles
The Amyrlin's second-in-command, the duties of the Keeper of the Chronicles include being secretary to the Amyrlin and overseeing the official business of the Tower. The Amyrlin chooses her upon being raised. Unlike the Amyrlin, the Keeper does not officially shed her Ajah affiliation; the Keeper wears a stole in the color of the Ajah she was raised from.
Traditionally, the Keeper comes from the same Ajah as the Amyrlin, but there have been exceptions, including two relatively recent Amyrlins, Sierin Vayu and Elaida a'Roihan. Sierin, a Gray "with a touch of Red", chose a Red Keeper. Elaida, a Red, had little choice but to raise a White, Alviarin Freidhen, because of her help in deposing Siuan Sanche.
Egwene al'Vere, though without an Ajah, also picked a surprising Keeper in Silviana Brehon, choosing a Red both because she respected her choices and in an attempt to heal the rift between the Red Ajah and the rest of the Tower.
The Hall of the TowerEdit
- Main article: Hall of the Tower
The Hall of the Tower is the deliberative body of the White Tower. It comprises twenty-one Sitters , three from each Ajah. The Amyrlin Seat presides over meetings of the Hall. The Hall authorizes all official policy for Tar Valon and the Aes Sedai, although some actions originate with the Amyrlin Seat. This functions as a system of checks and balances for the White Tower. The Hall is also responsible for selecting a new Amyrlin when the office falls vacant, and can remove an Amyrlin or Keeper. In that function, they are similar to the College of Cardinals in the Vatican, which elects the new Pope.
Sitters are highly esteemed sisters who have been chosen by their Ajahs to represent their interests in the Hall of the Tower. Each Ajah has its own method for selecting new Sitters, but the Ajah Heads generally have a significant role. The Sitters also vote to raise a new Amyrlin Seat.
- Main article: Ajah Heads
Each Ajah has its own hierarchy and internal positions of authority, and the women in charge of each Ajah are collectively known as Ajah heads, though the nature of the position differs from Ajah to Ajah. It is unusual for an Ajah head to also be a Sitter, but not unheard of. Sitters are answerable to their Ajah heads for their actions in the Hall, and for the most part all Aes Sedai must obey the authority of their Ajah heads in general, especially regarding Ajah matters. Though the names of Sitters are public knowledge, the identities of the Ajah Heads are a closely guarded secret of each Ajah and as such they have no extra authority outside their Ajahs.
Other Aes SedaiEdit
Although Aes Sedai enjoy almost unrestricted power among the wider world, they have their own strict hierarchy that allows little room for deviation. The hierarchy is a custom as strong as law, and failure to defer to a higher ranking can lead to the offended sister setting the other a penance. The hierarchy is based on four factors:
- Granted authority: Where the Amyrlin sets one sister to lead a group, all in the group defer to that sister. In the Blue Ajah, and presumably most others, the Ajah Head can set a sister above others within the Ajah in the same way, giving her specific authority over a single matter, as the Eyes-and-ears system of information. Also the Hall has the power to grant authority to one sister to lead a group, as we can see with Merana Ambrey and the embassy sent to the Dragon Reborn in Caemlyn
- Strength in the One Power: Aes Sedai defer to those that are stronger in the One Power than themselves. If there is a large gap in strength, that deferral becomes obedience. See also: One Power#Strength for more information about the qualities linked to the strength in saidar
- Training Time: Where there is little difference in strength, a woman is deemed higher up in the Aes Sedai hierarchy if she spent less time as novice and Accepted than another. This may be a way of measuring pure ability among Aes Sedai, since training in the Tower involves both skill in the One Power and knowledge of non-Power information such as law, history, and the Old Tongue. Nevertheless, there is still a bias towards those who are stronger in the Power.
- Age: Lastly, where women have roughly the same strength in the One Power and the same training time, the place on the hierarchy is based on age. Only in this case the older Aes Sedai are higher up in the hierarchy.
Becoming an Aes SedaiEdit
Though Aes Sedai do not openly recruit, all women found by Aes Sedai who were born with the spark and all other women of appropriate age who can channel and wish to learn how are entered in the novice book to begin training.
The laziness of this policy in recruitment during the last century caused a dramatic drop in the total number of living Aes Sedai, in fact the White Tower was built to host 3000 sisters but when the Dragon manifested his return announcing the coming of the Last Battle there were only a little less than 1000 Aes Sedai.
In reality the potential number of channellers that can be trained to become Aes Sedai is elevated, as it was clearly demonstrated by the Amyrlin Egwene who opened the book of recruitment to all the women that desired to be tested and just in her expedition from Salidar to the border between Murandy and Andor was able to recruit almost 1000 new novices, many of them with a very great potential as Sharina Melloy showed.
The Mistress of Novices is in charge of the training, care, and punishment of all trainees, and she has the last word regarding them.
- Main article: Mistress of Novices
There are two levels of training: novice and Accepted.
- Main article: Novices
Novices attend classes taught by full sisters and by Accepted concerning the One Power. They are treated as children because they could easily harm themselves with the Power and lack the knowledge to protect themselves. They have hardly any time for themselves, because when they are not training they are usually doing chores.
Novices who have little potential in the Power or who are otherwise unsuitable to eventually become Aes Sedai are taught just enough to keep them from hurting themselves. For the others, when the Mistress of Novices determines that a candidate is ready, the novice is summoned to a ceremony to be raised to Accepted. She has the right to refuse the ceremony twice, but on the third time if she refuses she will be put out of the Tower. Once she starts she cannot stop, or she will be put out of the Tower.
- Main article: Accepted
Once Accepted, the women have more privileges and are not usually forced to do chores. They can also wear the Great Serpent ring of the Aes Sedai, but only on the ring finger of their left hand. They train harder and also teach courses to novices. They usually spend several years more as Accepted, and when they are deemed ready to become full Aes Sedai they are summoned for another testing ceremony.
The Accepted is brought to a chamber with a specialized ter'angreal. The Accepted steps in, seeks out a symbol on the ground, and weaves one hundred very complex weaves while retaining perfect composure, seeking the symbol after each one. Sisters use the ter'angreal to attempt to distract; some of the distractions can be rather personal.
If an Accepted passes the test, she spends one last night in the Accepted quarters in quiet contemplation. The next day, she is brought to another ceremony with the Amyrlin and representatives of all seven Ajahs present. The Accepted then swears the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod. Once she has sworn the oaths, the Accepted is now an Aes Sedai and asks the sisters of a particular Ajah if she may join. Once an Accepted is raised to Aes Sedai, she has generally all but chosen her Ajah already.
The period of training usually depends on the strength in saidar of the single channeller, for instance high ranking Aes Sedai, and so strong Aes Sedai as Elaida, Moiraine or Siuan have spent only 3 years as Novices and 3 as Accepted in the training to learn the necessary weaves, medium ranking Aes Sedai usually take a dozen years (6+6), instead the most weak Aes Seday as Elin Warrel have remained in training for more than twenty five years before they were able to gain the shawl.
- Main article: White Tower Schism
While the Aes Sedai overcame great crises such as the Trolloc Wars, the War of the Hundred Years, the Aiel War, and even a few corrupt Amyrlins, an event in 999 NE broke the Tower's unity. Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan, a Sitter of the Red Ajah, overthrew the Amyrlin Siuan Sanche, formerly of the Blue Ajah, and was elected to the Amyrlin Seat herself.
Those sisters who did not support Elaida fled to Salidar and reorganized. They elected an opposing Amyrlin, Egwene al'Vere, and declared open war against Elaida. This group also, for the first time since the Breaking, allied itself with male channelers.
The two factions eventually reached a compromise and have since been reunified under Egwene al'Vere.
Aes Sedai numbers and distributionEdit
The White Tower was built to host around 3000 Aes Sedai, but at the time of the Aiel War there were only 1250 living sisters, and among them only 1/3 at that moment were present at Tar Valon (these numbers are described in the prequel New Spring).
Twenty years later, at the moment of the White Tower Schism, the number of sisters was dramatically reduced, in fact there were only 1000 living Aes Sedai.
The dimension of every Ajah at that moment is easily calculated, because we know:
- the rank list by dimension about every Ajah
- that the Red Ajah was grouping almost 1/5 of all the Aes Sedai
- that the Green Ajah was large almost as the Red
- the difference in numbers between the remaining five Ajah was very small
So the Red Ajah was collecting a little more than 195 sisters, the Green Ajah around 190, the Grey Ajah around 135-130, the Brown Ajah around 130-125, the Yellow Ajah around 125-120, the Blue Ajah around 120-115, and the White Ajah around 115-110.
After the SchismEdit
After the Schism 294 sisters remained in the White Tower under the leadership of Elaida. Among them there were almost all the Reds, 33 White sisters and around 1/3 of each of the remaining Ajah sisters (obviously not including the Blue Ajah). But in a very short time Elaida lost more than 75 sisters in the unfortunate expeditions that tried to capture the Dragon Reborn or to destroy the Black Tower; 39 sisters were sent to the first expedition and 50 to the second: some of them were killed, the majority captured and only a dozen were able to return and take a secret refuge in the village of Dorlan, near Tar Valon.
The remaining Aes Sedai, who choose to not take a position between the Rebels and the loyalist to Elaida were called Unaligned sisters, and Elayne suspected that somehow the majority of them were coordinate by someone, in particular she suspected Cadsuane. They were a little more than a third of the total of the living sisters, but among them probably there were many of the older sisters which were in retirement in some remote place and so they were cut apart from the main events.
After the Seanchan Raid, the discovery and purge or escape of more than 210 Black Ajah Sisters, only 650-700 living Aes Sedai remained under the leadership of the Amyrlin Egwene in a White Tower reunited.
Meanwhile 28 sisters (9 from the rebels, the others from the Tower) sworn fealty to the Dragon Reborn and 50 were bonded as Warders by Asha'man. Many among this last group were later turned to the Shadow in the Black Tower along half a dozen of Red sisters, sent there to bond Warders.
The White Tower loss during the Last Battle was heavy, because more than 250 sisters were killed, but recently a new policy of recruitment was introduced by Egwene, granting admission to the Book of Novices to older women, and it has raised the total number of new novices to almost 1500.
Aes Sedai limitations Edit
During the last three millenniums Aes Sedai developed a very specific method of training to teach how to form weaves using saidar. Their first goal was to ensure no danger in the trainees, the second to teach the most effective kind of weaves in every matter; despite it this method showed some limitations if confronted to the methods followed by other groups of female channelers.
In weaving the threads Aes Sedai developed unnecessary gestures, so particular and specific that you could trace who taught the weave originally based on minor quirks.
On the contrary Aiel Wise Ones do not use a lot of gestures, their weaves can seem rough and in some cases less effective, but this avoided some problems linked to gesturing. The first problem is that if you have the hands occupied or bonded you can't form a weave properly. The second problem is that a specific gesture, repeated many and many time to form the same weave, imprints itself in the mind of the channeller, so she can't easily learn a new manner to form it. For example when new effective healing weaves were invented or rediscovered, many Aes Sedai imprinted by the traditional healing weaves were not able to learn easily the new ones.
Another limitation demonstrated by Aes Sedai is their behaviour in experimenting with the One Power, they are very conservative, they are inclined to use only the weaves that they knew well, discarding innovation and originality as dangerous.
The hierarchical system based only on the strength in the One Power (See also: One Power#Strength for more information about the qualities linked to the strength in saidar) is another kind of limitation among Aes Sedai, because also weak sisters can have a lot of quality in other matters that are not very well capitalized.
Other female groups of channelersEdit
Seanchan Damane and Sul'DamEdit
Before the arrival of Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, the Seanchan continent was a place ruled by shifting alliances of dictators, and the worst among them were the women who called themselves Aes Sedai. They bore little resemblance to the Aes Sedai of the White Tower; they used the One Power in battle, enslaved the people of the continent, and killed each other for power.
One of these Aes Sedai, Deain, sought an alliance with Luthair, and gave him information on how to recreate a ter'angreal she had invented, the a'dam. She was to eventually become chained by the device herself, after Luthair used the invention to create a fighting force of female channelers. Eventually, all Seanchan Aes Sedai were captured and turned into damane.
Aiel Wise OnesEdit
Unknown until recently, but long suspected by various Aes Sedai, some Aiel Wise Ones are able to channel. The ability to channel is not required to become a Wise One, but all who can learn or have the spark must become one. This is one of the reasons the Wise Ones have kept away from the Aes Sedai for more than 3,000 years.
Some of the Wise Ones that are able to channel are also dreamwalkers. This Talent has not died out with them. It also reveals that not only channelers can become dreamwalkers, as Seana is unable to channel. Egwene al'Vere has been thinking that some Aes Sedai could be sent to train under the Wise Ones, not only to learn how to channel, but also to learn how to harden themselves and to control themselves better.
Sea Folk WindfindersEdit
The Atha'an Miere Windfinders are another group of women that can channel, although not all of them can. This was until recently also unknown to the White Tower. The Sea Folk usually send one of their weakest channelers to the Tower, to fool the Aes Sedai about the strength of their channelers. This is considered a great sacrifice by the Atha'an Miere because it means they are separated from their natural habitat for probably the rest of their life. The Windfinders are very strong in Air and Water, but are weaker than most female channelers in Earth and Fire, due to their way of life.
The truth is discovered by Elayne Trakand and Nynaeve al'Meara when they were traveling from Tear to Tanchico. They are amazed by how thick the weaves of the Windfinders are in comparison with their own. No Aes Sedai would ever dare to weave such thick strands. Elayne has had private tutelage from Jorin and a bargain between the Sea Folk and the White Tower states that the Aes Sedai will dispatch twenty of their members to teach the Windfinders about the One Power. This has been considered a bad deal, as no counter effort was negotiated.
Sharan Female AyyadEdit
Not much is known about this foreign country in the east, but what is known is troubling. They are advisers to the monarch. It is, however, suspected that the Ayyad really hold control over the monarchs. They kill the ruling monarch every seven years and let his/her consort take the throne. To the people of Shara, this is known as the Will of the Pattern and believed to happen naturally.
The name "Ayyad" refers to both the male and female channelers of Shara, although only the female Ayyad rule the country. They have tattoos on their face to make their identity known. They live in secluded villages where no non-Ayyad is allowed - anyone who enters is killed. The Ayyad are very rarely allowed to leave the villages. They also use the male Ayyad to breed so the channeling gene is kept active.
The Kin is a group of female channelers who help runaways from the White Tower. None of these women were Aes Sedai, but having trained in the Tower they have some similar rules and are not exactly wilders. Rank among the Kin is determined by age, not strength in the Power. The thirteen oldest members in Ebou Dar comprise the Knitting Circle and are the ruling body of the Kin.
The name Aes Sedai and their magical nature comes from Irish myth, specifically from the Aes Sidhi, a magical people of immense power, who commanded abilities that rivaled the gods. Jordan also used this source as part of his inspiration for the Aelfinn and Eelfinn.
Additionally, in Norse mythology seidr was a form of woven magic, primarily used by women. These women, called seidr-kona, were given a special place in society.
There is also a very strong similarity between them and the Bene Gesserit. Like the Aes Sedai, the all-female Bene Gesserit are a key social, religious, and political force in Frank Herbert's science fiction Dune universe. The group is described as an exclusive sisterhood whose members train their bodies and minds through years of physical and mental conditioning to obtain superhuman powers and abilities that can seem magical to outsiders. Sometimes called "witches" due to their secretive nature and misunderstood powers, the Bene Gesserit, like the Aes Sedai, are loyal only to themselves. However, to attain their goals and avoid outside interference, they often screen themselves with the illusion of being loyal to other groups or individuals. As their skills and knowledge are as desirable as an alliance with the Sisterhood itself, they are able to charge a fee to school the females from Great Houses, and install some of their initiates as leaders, wives, and prominent figures to their advantage.