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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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. 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 Mistress of Novices is in charge of the training, care, and punishment of all trainees, and she has the last word regarding them. 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.
- 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.
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.
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.