Definitions

Hundred Companions

One Power

In The Wheel of Time fantasy series by Robert Jordan, the One Power is the force that maintains the continuous motion of the Wheel of Time. It comes from the True Source, and it is separated into two halves: saidin (pronounced 'sah-ih-DIHN'), the male half, and saidar (pronounced 'sah-ih-DAHR'), the female half. It is used in the series (like magic) by people who can wield it, who are known as channelers.

Nature of the One Power

The One Power is divided into male and female halves, saidin and saidar respectively, that work both with and against each other to drive the Wheel of Time. The True Source cannot be consumed by channellers, as a river cannot be consumed by a waterwheel. Each half of the One Power is able to be used only by people of the associated sex (the only known exception is the Forsaken Aran'gar, a male channeler who was re-incarnated into a female body but still uses saidin), and men and women have very different experiences in channeling.

Channelers

Not everyone has the ability to "channel" the One Power. Most men and women cannot reach it at all; of those who can, most must be taught to access it to varying extents, and can go their entire lives without touching (or even knowing they can touch) the Source. Generally they find out when a member of the series' only formally-organized group of channelers, the Aes Sedai, visit their town on a recruiting trip. Aes Sedai visitors also search for the few channelers who are born with "the spark," an innate gift that will inevitably lead them to touch the Source. If left untrained, these gifted channelers often die without ever gaining control over their innate ability; the Aes Sedai estimate the mortality rate at 75% or more. Those who do survive, called "wilders" by the Aes Sedai, do not realize that they have channeled, only that "things happen" if they want them to. To aid in this self-deception, they are frequently saddled with a "block," an instinctive self-preservation behavior that keeps them from channeling in all but exceptional circumstances. Known blocks include only being able to channel while angry, in the presence of men, with one's eyes closed, and so on. These blocks can be eventually overcome, but only after significant and sometimes drastic counseling. The trainee, Theodrin Dabei, who could only channel in the presence of men, for instance, was broken of her block when the handsome young stableboy who had been attending her training sessions revealed that "he" was actually the handsome young stableboy's twin sister.

Channelers must first tap into the One Power before being able to channel it, and can "hold" the Power within themselves without using it; the feeling of accessing the Source is described as being "more alive than ever before," a powerful feeling of joy for women, and a feeling of "holding a river of frozen fire and burning ice" for men, as well as a significant increase of sensory acuity. The "sweet" and addictive nature of the Power is problematic in itself, as drawing too much of it can kill the channeler, render them brain-dead, or—if they are lucky, relatively speaking—only "burn out" the ability to channel permanently. Channelers can also be temporarily cut off from touching the Source using shields woven of Spirit, and or permanently cut off from it by outsiders; modern Aes Sedai call it "stilling" when done to women and "gentling" when done to men, while historically it was called "severing" for either sex. Regardless of the circumstances, those who lose the ability permanently also tend to lose the will to live, and are often dead within a year. Very recently, Aes Sedai Nynaeve al'Meara and Asha'man Damer Flinn have (independently) discovered how to heal severing, but the process only works completely when the healer is of the opposite sex to the healed; when Nynaeve healed fellow Aes Sedai Siuan Sanche and Leane Sharif from their stillings, they were left with significantly reduced strength.

Channelers are not born equal: some are stronger in the Power and can handle larger quantities of it than others. Men and women, furthermore, are different in many regards when it comes to the One Power, as covered below.

Differences between Male and Female Channelers

The One Power is "woven" (or "spun" in the terminology of those from the Age of Legends) in "flows" or "threads" (or "webs") consisting of one of five elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Spirit. Men are generally stronger with Fire and Earth, while women are generally stronger with Air and Water; strength in Spirit is typically equal, and equally rare. Male channelers, in general, are capable of holding more of the Power than female ones, while women generally are more dextrous in weaving the Power. Also, male channelers cannot link to form a "Circle" of multiple channelers working together without a woman's aid; only women can initiate a Circle, although there cannot be more men than women in a circle and no more than thirteen women may be joined without including any men. These differences allow for rough parity between male and female channeling, and it is known that the greatest works of the Age of Legends (a golden age that ended some 3,000 years before the start of the novels) were performed by men and women channeling in cooperation.

Female channelers can tell when other women are touching the Source: a white glowing aura appears around their body, though only visible to those trained to touch the One Power. It is also relatively easy for them to gauge each other's strength in the Power. Men, on the other hand, can only sense intuitively when another man is channeling (and roughly how much of the power they are weilding), and both must weave saidin in each other's presence for a length of time (half an hour or more) before being able to even guess at the other's strength. Male channelers can sense a woman holding saidar as goose bumps on their skin; women have no innate method of sensing male channeling, though certain ter'angreal and weaves have been crafted which do the job for them.

Most vividly, male and female channelers experience the Power differently: a woman would describe it as a gentle force that she must submerge herself in, as trying to exert control over it would lead to being instantly consumed; a man, on the other hand, faces a cataclysmic torrent requiring perfect control, immense willpower and ceaseless vigilance. In short, women "embrace" saidar, surrendering to it and influencing it from within, while men "seize" saidin, manipulating it by force. This essential difference in the "feeling" of the Power means that a woman cannot teach a man to channel, and vice-versa (though it has been tried—many, many times), especially since many weaves which work for one sex do not work the same way (or at all) for the other. As an example, men can use flows of Fire to transfer the heat of a candle flame to another location (for instance, the stones of a fireplace), but women who try that have been grievously injured, some even bursting into flame—just from a candle. (Women use a thread of Water or Air to snuff a candle.) Male and females also grow in the One Power differently; women gradually increase in strength, whereas men gain strength in sudden leaps.

Terminology differs between the sexes, as well. Women, as stated before, "embrace" saidar while males "seize" saidin. Males "weild" their half of the One Power as females "guide" it. Women are "stilled" when they are cut off from the True Source while men a re "gentled"; a gender neutral term was used in the Age of Legends, "severing". "Burning out" (an accidental self-severing from the One Power occurring when one mis-handles or tries to use too much of the One Power) is gender neutral as well.

Some other differences include:

  1. A woman's shield for her dreams is a crystal barrier between the dreamwalker and the dream, while a man's shield for his dreams is described as a barrier showing dreams as if looking into "muddy water."
  2. The weaves for healing with saidin are specific to each ailment, whereas Aes Sedai use the same weave of Air, Water and Spirit no matter the condition or the degree; results vary based on that Aes Sedai's particular affinity for Healing. However, it has since been discovered that the Aes Sedai use a relatively primitive weave of Healing, whereas Damer Flinn has re-discovered a number of more advanced (and, presumably, efficient) weaves. It is also known that, after the Yellow Ajah discovered Nynaeve's use of all five powers in Healing, they began to discuss the use of different combinations of elements for treating different ailments.
  3. A female gateway for Traveling is made by "folding" the Pattern of an Age, making the two places to be Travelled as one (similar to a tesseract). A male gateway is made by "boring" a hole through the Pattern, from one place to another.
  4. Two women in a circle can usually beat a man who is in the same comparative power level, even if they are weaker than he individually.
  5. Women are more susceptible to compelled Circles like the a'dam. A female a'dam, which allows a "sul'dam" controller to control her leashed damane's channeling ability, is essentially flawless and allows perfect control of the captured woman. A male a'dam, on the other hand, requires two women to safely handle and maintain the link to the man, though one would do for a short time, and the man will eventually be able to reverse the flow of control to some extent, causing the three to fight for dominance.
  6. Women are able to create a bridge of Air further than men can, regardless of the fact that men are generally stronger in the Power.
  7. Saidin seems to be more based in brute force, being complete will and pure instinct and thus, it is done bluntly, whereas saidar is more organized, more like weaving silk into patterns.

The Taint on Saidin

In the current age, the Dark One's taint on saidin causes any male with "the spark," whether or not he learns to channel safely, to inevitably go mad and succumb to a wasting sickness which causes the sufferer to rot alive (these curses may come in either order, or concurrently, at varying speeds for each male channeler). The taint came into being at the end of the Age of Legends, when Lews Therin Telamon and the Hundred Companions (actually 113 male channelers) re-sealed the Dark One into his prison, but not before the Dark One caused saidin to become tainted, driving all of those attempting to seal him immediately and irrevocably insane (other male Aes Sedai took longer for the taint to affect them). The ensuing chaos and destruction caused The Breaking of the World or the Time of Madness. Men who can channel, in short, are a threat. With this in mind, members of the Aes Sedai formed a faction, the Red Ajah, dedicated to the hunting down and gentling of male channelers before they can cause (much) trouble. As with all severed channelers, these men rarely live for long afterwards, and few have children. Coincidentally, by the time of the novels, fewer and fewer people of either gender are being born with any channeling ability. The logic-minded White Ajah have suggested that there is a link between this and the thousand-plus years of gentling, comparing it to the breeding-out of distasteful traits in domesticated animals. Despite this, increasingly powerful channelers have been discovered throughout the series, though this could be due to the effects of Ta'veren.

At the conclusion of Winter's Heart, the ninth book in the series, saidin has purportedly been cleansed through the use of two of the most powerful sa'angreal ever made, called the Choedan Kal. They were used by Nynaeve al'Meara and Rand al'Thor in a linked Circle. The complex process destroyed the ruined city of Shadar Logoth and was "felt" by most, if not all, channelers of both genders in the Westlands. However, some have confessed doubt over the effectiveness of the cleansing, due to three thousand years of fear. The question was not answered definitively until the eleventh book, Knife of Dreams, in which both Rand al'Thor and various Asha'man confirm that saidin has been cleansed completely of the taint. However, any taint absorbed by a male channeler before saidin was cleansed was not removed from that channeler; men who had gone half- or entirely mad due to the taint were not returned to sanity, though they will also not suffer further deterioration.

Organizations of Channelers

Aes Sedai

The current Aes Sedai are the most visible organized group of channelers; led by the Amyrlin Seat, they are a female-only organization due to the (former) taint on saidin. The Aes Sedai headquarters, the White Tower, is on the island city of Tar Valon. Aes Sedai see themselves as the guardians or caretakers of the civilized world, and serve as a neutral, altruistic party (almost theocratic, though the Aes Sedai are not and have never been a religious order) in the socio-political climate of the series' main continent.

Many other cultures have their own groups of channelers, such as the Sea Folk's Windfinders, the Aiel Wise Ones, and a network of expelled or disgraced Tower trainees, the Kin, who operate under the Tower's nose; however, these groups keep themselves secret because of the open Aes Sedai ambition to control every living female channeler. Relatedly, some Aes Sedai will disparage any female channeler who is not Tower-affiliated and Tower-trained as a "wilder," even if she has received training from her own culture's institutions.

Asha'man

Formed by Rand al'Thor in preparation for Tarmon Gai'don, the Asha'man are an all-male group of channelers. Their name, an adaptation of the Old Tongue word for "guardian" or "guardians", is meant to distinguish them from the matriarchal Aes Sedai; in addition, the word "asha'man" has connotations of nobility; they will not fight for an unrighteous cause. Their headquarters is called the Black Tower (though the name is purely symbolic; the actual territory is a farm in Andor, just outside Caemlyn).

Windfinder

Windfinders, an organization within the Atha'an Miere is primarily, though not entirely, composed of female channelers. They are especially efficient in handling thick weaves of Air and Water, in what is called the "Weaving of the Winds".

Notable Weaves

This is an incomplete list of significant or important "weaves" (spells) of the One Power. While none of the weaves are necessarily important in their own right, they illustrate the breadth, scope, limitations and dangers of channeling.

  • Healing: traditionally, this weave involves flows of Air, Water and Spirit, but (as previously mentioned) a number of characters have begun to increase the scope of weaves used and ailments healed. Almost every Aes Sedai knows the original Healing weave, but their proficiency at it varies considerably.
  • Bonding: this complex weave of Spirit is used to bond a Warder to his Aes Sedai.
  • Wards: a Ward is a standing and passive enchantment, often with its weaves "tied off," so that the channeler does not have to maintain it, and "inverted," so that no one but that channeler can see them. Wards can be made to serve a variety of purposes: in The Fires of Heaven Rand creates one in each cardinal direction, each programmed to produce a different bird call if Shadowspawn crosses it; in Lord of Chaos he places one outside a Waygate that, instead, kills any Shadowspawn that crosses it. According to Rand's narration, trying to make a ward do too many things will generally make it malfunction instead.
  • Illusion: this weave creates a false image from The Power which overrides the normal image, meaning that a character can project an Illusion over themselves. It is only useful on non-channelers, however, as anyone who can touch the Source will merely see flows of Fire and Air.
  • Balefire: This extremely dangerous weave destroys anything it touches (with the possible exception of things made of Cuendillar); furthermore, whenever it hits a living thing, it also undoes any actions they recently took, though the memory of their actions does not fade. It fell out of favor once its destructive effects on the Pattern itself became fully understood, and the Aes Sedai have forbidden its usage, though this did not stop at least one member of that organization (Moiraine Damodred) from learning it.
  • Gateways: these interdimensional portals can be used to move between any two points in any world. They can be used to move to an alternate dimension through which hyperspace-esque meta-travel is possible, which is called "Skimming;" they can be used to move between two specific points in our world, which is called "Traveling;" and they can be used as weapons, as their edges are razor-sharp. The weaves for Gateways, as mentioned above, are different between men and women, and were lost until Rand al'Thor and Egwene al'Vere (independently) re-discovered them in The Shadow Rising and Lord of Chaos, respectively. The weave requires significant strength in the One Power, and the ability to create one is considered a mark of prestige or status. The introduction of Traveling allowed author Robert Jordan to increase the scope of the series, as Traveling characters can now become involved in events separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.
  • Compulsion: this powerful weave can be used to impose limited mind control on its victims. It has been completely lost by contemporary Channelers, leaving the Forsaken as the only living characters who know how to use it; having said that, two Aes Sedai, Verin Mathwin of the Brown Ajah and Liandrin of the Black (formerly the Red), have independently discovered weaves that have similar, if weakened, effects.

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