A Guide To The World of Wheel of Time: Who Are The Aes Sedai?
We are only a few short months from the premiere of Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time. The recently released trailer is certainly building buzz around this highly anticipated fantasy show. However, much of the promotional material has been aimed at long-time fans of the books. It is clear that Amazon needs to appeal to fans of the genre who haven’t made it through all 15 of the lengthy titles in The Wheel of Time. And maybe you found yourself with questions after viewing The Wheel of Time trailer last week, like what is an Aes Sedai?
Welcome To The World Of The Wheel of Time
Image via Tor
Well I’m here to help you out with a new series of guides to the world of The Wheel of Time. These articles are aimed at introducing characters, factions, and exploring the history of Wheel of Time for newcomers. I will do my best to keep major spoilers out of the articles. However, I am drawing details from the books that spoiler-sensitive readers may want to avoid. So proceed with caution, and please let me know if there are any aspects of The Wheel of Time that you would like to see explored in future articles.
First up is our guide to a major faction in The Wheel of Time: The Aes Sedai. Who are they? What can they do? Why is it that only women are allowed in? Let’s take a deep dive and find some of those answers for you.
Who Are The Aes Sedai?
Tar Valon with The White Tower in the foreground and Dragonmount in the background | Image via Amazon Prime
In the trailer for The Wheel of Time we are introduced to a number of Aes Sedai who are color-coded in significant ways. The most important Aes Sedai in the first season is Moiraine, played by Rosamund Pike. But there are other Aes Sedai glimpsed in the trailer as well, along with their home base of The White Tower in the city of Tar Valon. As Moraine explains in the trailer, the women who have the ability to touch the magic known as The One Power are the ones who ‘protect the world.’ In the Old Tongue of the world, the word Aes Sedai literally translates to “Servants of All.” The Aes Sedai is a group that formed to put their magical abilities to good use: to build, heal, and protect.
The Aes Sedai go through multiple stages of initiation before they become full sisters of the order. First a woman is a Novice, who learns to control her power enough to keep from harming herself or others. Many women who only have a weak connection to the One Power pass through Novice stage without ever progressing to Accepted. Their power is not great enough for them to become full Aes Sedai, and once they can control their abilities they are often allowed to return to their regular lives. Once a woman becomes Accepted, she is on the path to becoming a full Aes Sedai. There are dramatic magical trials that occur between each rank.
Obtaining The Ring And The Shawl
Image via Prime Video
The final test to become a full Aes Sedai involves swearing upon a magical artifact called a ter’angreal (more on these magical items in another article!). Aes Sedai must swear three oaths that magically bind them. The first is to ‘speak no word that is not true.’ The second is to ‘make no weapon with which one man may kill another.’ And the third oath is to ‘Never use the One Power as a weapon except against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme defense of her life, the life of her Warder, or another Aes Sedai.’
The Oath Rod creates a magical binding that prevents the Aes Sedai from being able to do any of these things. For example: an attempt to lie would leave an Aes Sedai physically unable to speak. These oaths were created in order to establish trust in the Aes Sedai amongst the common people. Of course that doesn’t mean that some Aes Sedai don’t find ways around these oaths…
When a woman becomes a full Aes Sedai she is given a ring – the familiar ouroboros of the serpent eating its own tail. She also gains a shawl that matches the color of her chosen Ajah. In the trailer, it looks more like the Aes Sedai will be wearing colorful cloaks as opposed to shawls. But they may have various clothing options tied to their status.
How Does Channeling Work?
Moiraine Channeling | Image via Amazon Prime
The One Power that the Aes Sedai can access is a bit of complicated magic. It is called The One Power, even though there are technically two sides to it. There is the side that women can access – called Saidar. And there is the side that men can use – called Saidin. In the trailer for The Wheel of Time we see Moiraine and a few other Aes Sedai channeling the One Power. The way this works is vividly described in the books. Essentially women with the ability to touch The One Power can see different elemental forces.
In order to cast a specific spell, a woman must combine many of the various elements. It is called channeling when a woman can draw upon the One Power, but you’ll also hear it described as ‘weaving.’ This hearkens back to the pattern of The Wheel of Time that is often talked about. But practically it is a useful descriptive word, as an Aes Sedai literally weaves together threads of elemental forces in order to achieve her purpose. For example, a healing spell would typically weave together Water, Air, and Spirit. A vast amount of psychic energy is required from the Aes Sedai, and physical energy is required from the patient in order to make the spell work.
What Unique Abilities Do The Aes Sedai Have?
Image via Amazon Prime
Some Aes Sedai are naturally powerful Healers, and this is one of the many Talents that Aes Sedai possess. While any Aes Sedai can learn basic healing spells, some women have an innate skill. These rare skills are referred to as Talents. There are a number of Talents that are manifest in powerful Aes Sedai, Healing being the most common. A few of the most important Talents are Foretelling, Dreaming, and the ability to see Ta’Veren (these are important people whose existence will fundamentally change the world. More on the Ta’Veren in another article!)
Foretelling is a form of prophecy, where the Aes Sedai enters a trance-like state and often speaks in riddles that portend some future event. It is an extremely rare ability, and Aes Sedai who possess this talent often do not remember what they Foretold. Typically another Aes Sedai is present at the Foretelling who writes down the prophecy.
You May Say I’m A Dreamer, But I’m Not The Only One
Wheel of Time Ebook Artwork by Julie Bell
Dreaming is another form of prophecy, where an Aes Sedai can dream visions of the future. However, there is another side to this Talent that involves Dreamwalking. This is where an Aes Sedai can traverse her own dreams, as well as the dreams of others. There is also a physical dream world that exists as a kind of separate plane of existence called Tel’aran’rhiod. Some rare Dreamers possess the ability to enter this realm in the flesh. Although it is extremely dangerous for them to do so. And they are not the only ones with this rare Talent. More on Tel’aran’rhiod and the different types of Dreamers to come in another article!
There are of course many other types of Talents that Aes Sedai can possess including the ability to Travel by opening a portal between two places. Some channelers can Unweave a spell, leaving no trace behind for others to trace. And some members of the Black Ajah (or the Forsaken – more on them in another article) can use Compulsion as mind control.
What Do The Ajah Colors Mean?
Image via Amazon Prime
The Aes Sedai are broken down into various factions according to their strengths and specializations. To continue our example of Healers in the Aes Sedai, they are typically found in the Yellow Ajah. Moiraine is a member of the Blue Ajah. Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah dedicate themselves to righteous causes and the pursuit of justice. They are closely tied to the Green Ajah, whose members are called ‘the battle ajah.’ The Green sisters seek to prepare the White Tower for The Last Battle.
We also see many women in red cloaks in the trailer for The Wheel of Time. The sisters of the Red Ajah are dedicated to preventing misuse of the One Power. They are the ones who hunt down men who can channel and capture them, in order to prevent another cataclysm. Other Ajahs include the gray (diplomats), brown (knowledge and scholarship), and white (philosophers). There is also a rumored black ajah, made up of Aes Sedai who have dedicated themselves to the Dark One. This secretive sect seeks to undermine the work that the other women of the White Tower accomplish.
Who Is The Amyrlin Seat?
Image via Amazon Prime
There is one Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time who is considered to be a member of “All Ajahs and None.” This is the head of The White Tower, known as the Amyrlin Seat: Watcher of the Seals and The Flame of Tar Valon. (Did you miss all of the titles that Daenerys used to recite in Game of Thrones? Well Wheel of Time is ready to put those titles to shame with the amount of titles everyone has.)
The Amyrlin Seat is raised to become the leader of the Aes Sedai by a council known as The Hall of the Tower. The Amyrlin Seat must care for all of the Ajahs equally (except for the Black Ajah which is not an official Ajah). She is the supreme authority of the Aes Sedai, and is often referred to as the Mother of the Aes Sedai, no matter what her age. Her second in command holds the title “The Keeper of the Chronicles.” (See what I’m saying about the titles?)
In the trailer for The Wheel of Time, we get a glimpse of the Amyrlin Seat whose name is Siuan Sanche. A former member of the Blue Ajah, Siuan is a longtime friend to Moiraine. A poor fisherman’s daughter who rose through to become the leader of the Aes Sedai. Siuan is proof that the rank and position of any sister is immaterial when compared to strength in The One Power.
What Does A Warder Do?
Artwork by Jason Chan
Although the Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time is entirely matriarchal, there are men who work alongside them. Many Aes Sedai choose men to be their bodyguards, and companions. Creating a Warder entails a magical bond (much like The Oath Rod gives to full sisters). When someone is bonded as a Warder, they gain some enhanced abilities. Warders have greater stamina and physical prowess, and resistance to injuries. They also gain the ability to sense Shadowspawn (more about them in another article obviously) and can sense the location of their own Aes Sedai across many miles.
Most Aes Sedai take only one Warder, although members of the Green Ajah sometimes take several. However, the women of the Red Ajah rarely take Warders and keep their distance from men as a general rule. The most prominent Warder in The Wheel of Time can be glimpsed in the trailer as well. This is the character of Lan, who is Moiraine’s Warder. He is her closest companion and bodyguard, although he comes from a tragic and noble background.
Why Can’t Men Be Aes Sedai?
Image via Tor/Forge
In ages past, men were Aes Sedai as well. There is a time often referred to in the series as The Age of Legends. When men and women created wonders together using The One Power. The branding for The Wheel of Time often involves a symbol that looks like a ying-yang. This is representative of The One Power, and each half of the source. They are supposed to work together in harmony, to create balance.
However, a dramatic event called The Breaking of the World ended the Age of Legends and tainted the male half of the source. At that time an Aes Sedai named Lews Therin Telamon led a strike against The Dark One. For ages, this evil force had been sealed away. But a hole in one of the seals (the same seals that the Amyrlin Seat is in charge of watching) caused this evil to spread across the land. Lews Therin attempted to fix the seal, but was only partially successful. The Dark One was able to reach out and corrupt the male half of the source, driving Lews Therin and his male companions instantly mad.
The male Aes Sedai across the world were struck by the corruption and madness. This led to dramatic cataclysms that reshaped the world physically. It was the Aes Sedai women who brought an end to the madness by forming The White Tower. They found a way to cut male channelers off from The One Power. This is why any man who can channel is taken to The White Tower to be ‘gentled.’ The Aes Sedai are dedicated to preventing another Breaking of the World.
The Dragon Will Be Reborn (And The Aes Sedai Know It)
Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios
An important thing to note is that Lews Therin Telamon was known by the title of “Dragon.” And in the current age of The Wheel of Time (the Third Age) there are many prophecies about “The Dragon Reborn.” This is the prophesied hero that Moiraine is seeking at the beginning of the series. However, this is extremely complicated by the fact that Saidin is still very much tainted. Male channelers still go mad with devastating results.
There Is So Much World To Explore In The Wheel of Time
Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios
All of this history and detail is only scratching the surface of the depths of the Aes Sedai. They have been around for untold Ages of the World, in various forms. The Aes Sedai are the main faction in The Wheel of Time that channel The One Power. And they seek to maintain stability and peace. Aes Sedai are often found in positions of importance at various courts around the world, as advisors to Kings and Queens. They are both highly respected, and often deeply feared by those who cannot channel. They are a highly important organization of powerful women, and the fundamental base on which the world turns.
For more guides to the upcoming Wheel of Time series on Amazon Prime, be sure to stay tuned to Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter! Let me know in the comments what other areas of the series you’d like to learn more about as we gear up for the premiere of The Wheel of Time on November 19, 2021.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.