The Wheel of Time - The Call of the Horn
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 used 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.
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.
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.
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 consolidated 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. 1 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, became 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 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 Amyrlin Seat does not actually need to be full Aes Sedai, as revealed when Egwene is raised to the Amyrlin Seat.
The Keeper of the Chronicles
The Amyrlin’s second-in-command, the Keeper’s duties 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. Two relatively recent Amyrlins, Sierin Vayu and Elaida a’Roihan. Sierin, a Gray “with a touch of Red”, chose a Red Keeper. Elaida had little choice but to raise a White, Alviarin, because of her help in deposing Siuan. Egwene al’Vere, though without an Ajah, also picked a surprising Keeper, choosing a Red both because she respected her choice and in an attempt to heal the rift between the Red Ajah and the rest of the Tower.
The Hall of the Tower
The Hall of the Tower is the deliberative body of the White Tower. It comprises 21 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.
Each Ajah has its own ruling council. The women in this council are known as Ajah Heads, and are not necessarily sitters of the Hall. If this is the case, Sitters are answerable to their Ajah heads for their actions in the Hall. Though sitters are public knowledge, the names of the Ajah heads are a closely guarded secret of each Ajah. Ajah Heads have no extra authority outside their Ajah.
Other Aes Sedai
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.
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.
Novices attend classes taught by sisters and 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 she is ready, she 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. The ceremony consists of the novice stepping unclothed through a special three-arched ter’angreal that forces her to face her fears to test her dedication to the White Tower.
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 a 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 by that time.
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.