Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society

By Linda

This is the second of two essays on the laws and customs of Aes Sedai, an organisation with historic parallels to Ancient Rome, the Catholic Church and to convents of the 15th to 16th centuries. The first essay details the laws and customs of the Aes Sedai administration, while this one will cover those of Aes Sedai society.

The Aes Sedai are a powerful and ambitious organization aiming to increase their influence to its maximum extent internationally and to minimise hate, distrust and attacks on channellers, and so they customarily send Aes Sedai advisors to all rulers that will accept them.

The Tower constantly influences international politics with a similar attitude of supremacy to that expressed in the Dictatus Papae of medieval times (that the Pope as supreme ruler over spiritual and secular affairs could choose or depose rulers). We have seen Elaida’s embassy putting Colavaere on the Sun Throne in Cairhien, Merana preparing the ground in Caemlyn for Elayne and Cadsuane doing pretty much whatever she wants with rulers and ambassadors. The 15th to 16th century convents were accused of political intervention on a more local scale:

In around 1580, the pope’s nuncio Alberto Bolognetti complained of the behind-the-scenes intervention of nuns in the deals and counter-deals characteristic of Venetian politics, and especially in the pursuit of offices. According to Bolognetti, “these women, by calling upon their fathers, brothers and other close relatives, and by begging them to favour one man or another, can well help or harm them in their political dealings.” The eagerness of nuns to play a role in secular politics may, as the nuncio believed, have been motivated by the hope of obtaining favours and concessions from those in power; it may also have been an end in itself.

- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice

In order to quell any objections to the Aes Sedai’s political influence, a public stance of neutrality is carefully maintained and an aura of power and mystery projected.

The White Tower has claimed that it has:
maintained its influence in the world not by force of arms, or persuasion, or even by plotting or manipulation, though those two [are] brushed past lightly. Rather the White Tower controlled or influenced events to whatever extent they did because everyone saw the Tower as standing apart and above, as more even than kings or queens. That in turn depended on every Aes Sedai being seen that way, as mysterious and apart, different from everyone else. A different flesh. Historically, Aes Sedai who could not manage that - and there were a few - were kept out of public view as much as possible.

- The Path of Daggers, A Pleasant Ride

Interestingly, Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve have not followed this approach of mysterious untouchability due to their lack of ‘training’ or indoctrination by the Tower.

The Tower does give aid to the populace: advice to rulers and petitioners, Healing to the sick, prevention of wars – although the aid is said to always have a hook in it. Richer people come to the Tower with payment for aid. As a benevolence, those who bring their sick to the Tower are always permitted to silently watch while the Healing is performed (The Dragon Reborn, The Red Sister). In Tar Valon, an Aes Sedai is assigned the duty of caring for the beggars (The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone).

Elaida’s proclamation which declares anathema on any who approach the Dragon Reborn save through the Tower (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return) would mean the Tower refuses service to those people, just as the papacy used the interdict – refusal to perform baptisms, communions, marriages, burials, etc – as a means of pressuring groups to obey or as a powerful retribution for those who displeased the papacy.

There have been times when the Tower has been cautious, but until the advent of the Dragon Reborn it has collectively never feared anyone (The Fires of Heaven, Prologue), and certainly no Aes Sedai has ever before sworn fealty to any man (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea). Aes Sedai loyalty is to the Tower and to the Aes Sedai as a whole, even above the lands of their birth. Until now, all Aes Sedai have presented a united front even before their servants (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike) and have never let the world know of any schisms or rebellion (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences). The Catholic Church has at times similarly played down or denied any schisms.

General Philosophy of Aes Sedai

The Aes Sedai have much experience in influencing events and have formulated the Law of Unintended Consequences as a guide or warning of what can happen:

Whether or not what you do has the effect you want, it will have three at least you never expected, and one of those is usually unpleasant.

- The Path of Daggers, Stronger Than Written Law

While each Ajah has its particular philosophy of the One Power, all Aes Sedai believe that hard work builds character, just as the monastic orders of the Catholic Church believe/d that hard physical work was spiritual. The Aes Sedai are an elitist organisation, often even cultivating humility in an arrogant fashion (see Discipline section below). As Egwene says:

"The Tower has always been severe about excluding people, Elayne. If you aren't strong enough, you're put out. Refuse to take a test, and you're sent away. Fail a test, and out.”

- Lord of Chaos, When Battle Begins

In part this severity is to ensure that no Aes Sedai lacks the required skill, dedication, persistence, strength and endurance, or endangers other Aes Sedai with any weakness (The Great Hunt, To The White Tower).

The Aes Sedai have a three tiered training and initiation system: novices (treated as children to be protected, guided and disciplined), Accepted (young women old enough to be allowed some independence) and Aes Sedai (full grown women). This closely parallels the three stage ordination of nuns in the Catholic Church in the 15th to 16th centuries: clothing, profession and consecration (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice). The laws and customs associated with the three levels of initiation will be examined in turn.


Arrival and Clothing

When a novice arrives at the Tower, her ability to channel is confirmed and her name entered in the novice book. She is now an initiate of the Tower and is confined to it. The clothes she wore to the White Tower are burned as a symbolic severance from her former life (The Shadow Rising, Beyond the Stone), the rest stored away and she is clothed completely in white – outer and under garments, belt, pouch and shoes (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled). White is the customary colour of mourning in the Wheel of Time world, not of marriage, so a novice does not ‘marry’ into the Tower. The novice’s former life is over (even if only temporarily) and she is now a blank page upon which the Tower will imprint its training. Tower novices abandon any titles they formerly held (Crossroads of Twilight, Secrets). Novices in convents also had a:

sharp uprooting. “Forget your people, and your father’s home” was the injunction that newly accepted novices received at their clothing. Casting off their lay-garments, the incomers allowed their hair to be cut short before taking the veil; then they made the physical transition from the public church to the enclosed convent.

- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice

Entrance Age

Most novices enter the Tower at 15 to 16 years of age. The Tower accepts girls younger than 15 only if they have already begun channelling (Winter’s Heart, Prologue). For convent nuns, the Council of Trent in the 16th century imposed a minimum age requirement of 12 years for the initial clothing ceremony, when the novice donned the religious habit (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).

The Tower’s customary upper age for new novices is 18, believed to be the maximum age a woman would submit to the discipline (Knife of Dreams, The Dark One’s Touch). This leaves a narrow window in a woman’s life when she may enter the Tower. A number of novices have lied about their age (mostly by a few years only) and had their names entered in the novice book (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). Once a woman’s name is entered in the book, there are strict provisions for putting her out of the Tower (eg below a certain strength in the Power, refusal to take or complete the test for Accepted (see below), committing certain crimes (see Crime section below)) and of course, a novice cannot decide to leave the Tower of her own accord (see Running Away section below). Egwene has violated this custom and declared women of any age eligible for the noviciate. The Aes Sedai are slowly seeing the sense of this as they discover the great strength of some of the older novices and their speed of learning (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting) but traditionalists are unhappy with the change and may well try to sabotage the careers of the older novices:

Now that the new novices had been entered into the novice book, it would be very difficult to put them out of the Tower. But that didn't mean the Aes Sedai would continue to let older women in. Beyond that, there was a good chance that Lelaine—or whoever ended up with the Amyrlin Seat—would find a way to delay or disrupt the progression of the women who had been accepted against tradition. That would certainly include Sharina.

- The Gathering Storm, A Message in Haste


Aes Sedai have an ambivalent attitude to a novice’s vocation, her desire to be Aes Sedai. On one hand, they force the girls able to learn to channel who are strong enough to become Aes Sedai and those born with the spark to enter the Tower to train – a forced vocation - yet on the other hand, they dislike actively searching for potential channellers and by custom wait for a prospective novice to willingly approach an Aes Sedai, or better still present herself at the Tower (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike). The Tower is often unwilling to accept wilders (unless of considerable strength) because too many weaves might have been learned that could not be unlearned (The Path of Daggers, New Alliances). Convents in the 15th to 16th centuries were the same, at times firmly against forced vocations (women being made to enter convents), at other times more lenient.


Like convent novices, Tower novices live a humble life of simplicity, hard work and discipline. Their rooms, located in the east wing (and also now on the twentyfirst level thanks to the Dark One’s touch), are small and stark, the furnishings bare and plain. They eat communally in a utilitarian hall, with little choice in menu and rarely get luxuries like honey. The wearing of jewellery is strongly discouraged (Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin). As well as cleaning out their rooms daily they are:

always given chores. Often it was make-work, since the Tower had well over a thousand serving men and women without counting laborers, but physical work helped build character, so the Tower had always believed. Plus, it helped keep the novices too tired to think of men, supposedly.

- Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea

They run messages, labour in the kitchens, wait at table in the Aes Sedai dining hall and work in the Tower gardens and grounds.

Novices who complained received a gentle if firm explanation of why matters were how they were.

- New Spring, Shreds of Serenity


Novices have an intensive schedule designed to strengthen their minds and bodies and develop them into Aes Sedai. They commence work well before dawn, doing chores until breakfast, then they train from breakfast until High, do more chores from High until dinner and train again from dinner to Trine. Those requiring extra training (the very fast or the very slow) will study from supper to Full [curfew], otherwise they do more chores at this time (The Great Hunt, New Friends and Old Enemies). The gap from Trine until supper may be ‘free’ time when the novice relaxes or studies privately.


As well as channelling, novices are taught the Old Tongue (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled), the history of the White Tower and Aes Sedai including the names and crimes of every woman stilled, information on the Forsaken and on Shadar Logoth (The Great Hunt, Watchers), the nature of reality (Lord of Chaos, Like Lightning and Rain), and, if required, general literacy and numeracy. Novices may borrow books from the Tower library and must enter by the Novice Door, a small door at the southwest corner of the library, when they do so (A Crown Of Swords, Small Sacrifices).

The Tower is careful when it teaches novices to channel. Novices are forbidden to even embrace the Source without an Accepted or Aes Sedai supervising (New Spring, Practise). The forcing of a novice in her training is strongly discouraged because it is dangerous (A Crown Of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike) and the death or stilling of a novice during her training would be something spoken of with horror for years (A Crown Of Swords Glossary).


Novices are referred to as child by Aes Sedai and Accepted no matter what their age (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled) due to their (perceived) inexperience and need to be guided. Being the lowest rank of initiation, they are expected to curtsey on encountering, or departing from, and on receipt of an order from, Accepted or Aes Sedai and to obey both promptly and respectfully. They are not allowed to speak to an Aes Sedai unless she speaks to them first (The Great Hunt, New Friends and Old Enemies) and must use the honorific Sedai when addressing her.

It is considered improper for an Aes Sedai to befriend a novice (and to a lesser degree for an Accepted to), nor should a novice be made a fuss of for her strength or achievements lest she feel above herself and get into trouble for it (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea) or incite jealousy in others. It is customary for an Aes Sedai to send for a novice if she wants to speak to one; an Aes Sedai going to meet a novice in the novice quarters herself is looked on with misgiving (The Great Hunt, Practise).

If a novice wishes to see the Amyrlin Seat, she asks the Mistress of Novices to request an audience for her, but it is unlikely the Mistress of Novices would do so (A Crown Of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike).


There are a lot of prohibitions for novices because they are tightly disciplined to keep them safe, to develop strength in all areas and for the convenience of the higher ranks. Novices are closely watched: they have an evening curfew when they are confined to their rooms with the light out (The Great Hunt, Practise) and even their mail is checked or censored (New Spring, Business in the City).


Novices are sent to the Mistress of Novices for a switching if they are disobedient or disrespectful to a sister (this includes speaking of her age or strength in the Power), unpunctual (Crossroads of Twilight, What the Oath Rod Can Do), noisy (New Spring, The Human Heart), swear (New Spring, Entering Home) or mention their former rank (The Great Hunt, New Friends and Old Enemies). They are expected to keep silent during meals (New Spring, The Human Heart). If they refuse every order they may be confined to a cell for a time (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea).


Novices are not punished for learning slowly, but are if they experiment with the Power or if they do their chores poorly (The Great Hunt, New Friends and Old Enemies).

Due to the addictive nature of channelling and the danger of channelling while untrained, novices are not allowed to do chores with the Power (Lord of Chaos, Under the Dust) or even embrace the Source without an Accepted or Aes Sedai watching (New Spring, Practice). There is some hypocrisy in this because a novice is also expected to advance as fast as she can, and this means practising channelling outside of supervision.

Any wilder who developed a weave for making people do things they want is disciplined until she can no longer make the weave (The Path of Daggers, Prologue). One notable failure of the Tower in this area was Liandrin (The Great Hunt, The Shadow in Shienar).

Tower Institutions

There are two reasons a novice is allowed in the Hall: to carry messages or to be expelled from the Tower for a crime; and she is not allowed to speak while there (A Crown of Swords, Small Sacrifices).

Novices going to the library may only use the Novice Door (if they are borrowing for themselves) or the main door in the east (if they are sent by an Aes Sedai) (A Crown of Swords, Small Sacrifices).


Men are not allowed in the novices’ quarters (The Dragon Reborn, The Gray Man) because the Tower bars novices from not only having children but from “anything that might lead to them” (Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know). The White Tower wants to prevent novices from having babies before their (long) years of training are complete, since the responsibility of caring for a baby (breastfeeding, etc) would inevitably compete with studies and novices do not appreciate that they will have long lifespans, far exceeding that of their non-channelling loved ones.

Since they are forbidden sexual relations with men, novices often have sexual relationships among themselves (pillowfriends, see Pillowfriends article).

Running Away

Novices are not allowed to leave the Tower without permission (The Dragon Reborn, Punishments) for their own safety, and to prevent them meeting up with a man or running away. Setting foot on one of Tar Valon’s bridges constitutes an attempt to run away, which is a serious crime for a novice, almost as bad as murder (New Spring, Leaving the Tower). Since the Trolloc Wars, few novices have successfully run away because the Tower knows the Kin will find her and take her to Ebou Dar. They retake nine out of ten runaways by knowing where the novice will go (A Crown of Swords, The First Cup). Prior to the Trolloc Wars and the founding of the Kin, the Tower retrieved about 25-35% of runaways. If for some reason the Tower doesn’t hunt for the runaway promptly, the Kin take her in.

It is the law that:

a [found] runaway must be put back in white as soon as possible and kept under strict discipline until she can be returned to the Tower for proper punishment.

- The Path of Daggers, Crimsonthorn

This punishment includes a public birching (Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin), but it is lessened a little if the novice surrenders before being caught (The Path of Daggers, Crimsonthorn). By Tower law, a returned runaway is required to be the model of absolute perfection, worked very hard and strictly and is strongly punished for any slip in behaviour for at least a year (Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin).

Test For Accepted

Once a novice is considered to have advanced sufficiently far in her studies, she is asked to take the test for Accepted. This involves facing her greatest fears in a ter’angreal of three arches. Found during the Trolloc Wars, the ter’angreal may have been introduced to assess the dedication of, and effectively increase the mental toughness of, Tower trainees, since those dangerous times showed the Shadow to be rising. A novice is given three tries at facing her fears and if she still cannot at the third trial, she is put out of the Tower with enough money to support her for a year (The Great Hunt, The Testing). However, once she has begun and entered an arch, she must continue to the end of the testing. If she refuses at any point, she is put out of the Tower. This is because each person can only use the ter’angreal once, so they cannot make subsequent attempts to pass the test, although the reason for this custom has been forgotten.

By the end of the test, the candidate is considered washed clean of any crimes she may have committed, and of any committed against her; she is also washed clean of false pride and false ambition and of her former identity; and is regarded as clean and pure, in heart and soul (The Great Hunt, The Testing) and sealed to the Tower. She receives a great serpent ring from the Amyrlin which she must wear on the third finger of her left hand. This is an allusion to the profession ceremony, the second stage in the consecration of a nun in the 15th to 16th century convents, where the nun received her ring as a bride of Christ (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).

In the late Third Age, on average, about one in five novices progresses to Accepted (The Great Hunt, New Friends and Old Enemies) and has her name added to the roll. Until Elaida’s decision to demote Egwene, this has always been a one-way progression: no woman has ever before had her name re-entered in the novice book, another one of Elaida’s edicts that go against custom, if not law. Silviana kindly told Egwene that she would not have to take the Accepted test again (Knife of Dreams, Prologue), not realising that Egwene would not be able to enter the ter’angreal a second time (see Ter’angreal article).



A woman usually trains for at least 3 years before she tests for Accepted. For convent nuns in the 15th to 16th centuries, a novice had to have been clothed for at least a year prior to her profession (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).

On extremely rare occasions, wilders, women who already know how to channel, are allowed to bypass the novitiate level and move immediately to becoming Accepted, depending on their skills and maturity; but in the entire history of the White Tower this has been done only a handful of times and it is more than controversial.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

since there is far more to Tower training than channelling. Accepted still dress in white, but with bands of Ajah colours - a partially written page of Tower training, barely above novice but considering her future Ajah.


An Accepted’s room, located in the west wing, is considerably larger than a novice’s room and has a bed rather than a bunk and better quality furnishings though still plain (The Dragon Reborn, Hunters Three). Accepted eat communally, drink watered wine with their meals and serve and clear away their own plain pottery plates (New Spring, Business in the City). Rarely, an Accepted may be invited to the Aes Sedai dining hall (New Spring, Business in the City). Unlike novices:

Accepted have no chores beyond those necessary to keep themselves and their rooms tidy, unless they get into trouble at least, but they are expected to work hard at their studies, harder than novices dream of.

- New Spring, Practice

Accepted are expected to know better than to complain about their conditions or to hope for an apology from an Aes Sedai, because they are required to learn endurance (New Spring, Shreds of Serenity) and to protect themselves (The Dragon Reborn, Sealed).


Training is particularly hard in the first few weeks to reveal any Accepted that is not yet up to standard (The Great Hunt, To The White Tower). They are less confined by rules than the novices, and are allowed within limits to choose their own areas of study (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). They attend lectures on such topics as: philosophy, the Wise Women of various countries (a first year subject) (New Spring, The Human Heart), the laws of all lands, history eg of Malkier (New Spring, An Answer), and the customs and laws of Aes Sedai, especially which customs have been in existence so long they have the force of law, and the penalties for violating them (New Spring, Changes). They also have private lessons with sisters which they must schedule (New Spring, Shreds of Serenity). By the time they are nearly ready to test for Aes Sedai, their private lessons may be on complex subjects:

Kerene met with her to discuss the relatively few facts known to historians of Artur Hawkwing’s empire, Meilyn tested her on the ancient writer Willim of Manaches and his influence on the Saldaean philosopher Shivena Kayenzi, and Aisha questioned her closely on the differences in the structure of law in Shienar and Amadicia.

- New Spring, Shreds of Serenity


Accepted, having left novicehood behind, should no longer have friends among the novices (The Great Hunt, Practise). While novices treat Accepted with respect and obedience, Accepted are referred to as ‘child’ by Aes Sedai and must obey them promptly and respectfully. By law, Accepted can’t choose which sisters to obey or be punished severely if led astray by a sister (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). They are expected to curtsey when encountering, departing from, or on receipt of an order from an Aes Sedai and must stand until invited by her to sit. Accepted can speak to an Aes Sedai without waiting for the Aes Sedai to speak first, but they must use the honorific Sedai when doing so (The Great Hunt, Practise).

They are expected to question things because they are considered experienced enough to know what questions to ask and when (The Great Hunt, Woven in the Pattern). However, an Accepted cannot be called to account for not thinking as Aes Sedai (The Fires of Heaven, To Teach and to Learn). An Accepted in the role of teacher has the status of an Aes Sedai while the lesson lasts.


Accepted have more freedom than novices and are watched less closely, yet their mail is still checked or censored (New Spring, Business in the City). If they break the prohibitions, especially the major strictures of disrespect to a sister (including speaking of her age or strength of the Power), running away, or crimes such as theft, they will be sent to the Mistress of Novices for a beating (New Spring, Practise). Being given chores is a more common punishment for minor misdemeanours. Accepted often play pranks, but must be caught in the act; it is against custom to ask an Accepted directly if she did it (New Spring, Practise).


Accepted must be dignified (eating and talking quietly, never running unless ordered to), punctual and obedient. They are not allowed to be childish, defiant or ostentatious (for example no wearing much jewellery, or buying themselves something expensive such as a horse or jumping fences on horseback (New Spring, Leaving the Tower)). Any violent behaviour, even under provocation, results in a beating (The Great Hunt, Practise).

The Accepted are prohibited from channelling to do chores and from channelling in front of Aes Sedai (The Fires of Heaven, To Teach and to Learn) without permission.

Aes Sedai

Under no circumstances can an Accepted claim to be Aes Sedai, claim an Ajah, or even act like an Aes Sedai, such as by bonding a Warder. The punishment is severe, and if a particular Ajah is claimed, that Ajah punishes the Accepted first. Duhara claimed Elayne would have to appoint a regent while she was punished for claiming to be Green Ajah, finished her Accepted training and gained the shawl (Knife of Dreams, House on Full Moon Street), a course of action sure to fail in the present turmoil.


Men are not forbidden in the Accepted’s quarters (The Dragon Reborn, Hunters Three), since by the time they reach Accepted, the young women have been tested in their commitment to be Aes Sedai. They can be relied upon to accept the dedication required to become Aes Sedai and to understand the problems and pain of marrying a non-channeller and perhaps having non-channelling children and the distraction they would be from their work. Many Accepted continue to have pillowfriends.

Running Away

Accepted need permission to leave the Tower grounds outside certain hours (The Fires of Heaven, Sallie Daera) and are not allowed to leave Tar Valon without permission (The Dragon Reborn, Punishments). They are rarely given permission to leave the city, and even then are almost always with an Aes Sedai (New Spring, Practice).

Setting foot on a Tar Valon bridge constitutes an attempt to run away, which is a serious crime almost as bad as murder (New Spring, Leaving the Tower). Since the Trolloc Wars, an Accepted attempting to runaway encountered the Kin and was either retaken by the Aes Sedai or, if not found promptly by the Tower, joined the Kin.

It is the law that a returned runaway is publicly birched and then strictly worked and disciplined for at least a year (Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin).

Test For Aes Sedai

An Accepted is summoned to be tested for the shawl by a formally dressed Mistress of the Novices (New Spring, Surprises).

Once below ground she must be silent until addressed…[and] according to ancient custom she must test clad in the Light [naked], symbolizing that she trusted to the Light’s protection alone.

- New Spring, It Begins

The conditions for being raised Aes Sedai are set in law (Lord of Chaos, The Amyrlin is Raised) and involve entering an oval ring ter’angreal and making 100 weaves correctly in order and in perfect composure while attempts are made with the Power to distract the candidate, and then swearing the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod and choosing an Ajah. The distractions are deliberately tailored to the individual candidate (New Spring, It Finishes). None of those present are allowed to speak of what happened during the test. Seven Aes Sedai, one from each Ajah, operate the ter’angreal. They are not usually Sitters, yet this was the case for Nynaeve’s test and, even more unusually, the Amyrlin participated also (Towers of Midnight, A Choice).

Those who fail the test by losing composure or making a mistake in the weaves and survive, immediately gather their belongings, say their goodbyes and are put out of the Tower (New Spring, It Finishes). The Tower makes no announcement about those who die in the ter’angreal – regarded as a great failure on the Tower’s part – but allow a day of mourning, although by custom none speak of the dead candidate (New Spring, Changes).

Those who pass the ter’angreal test can no longer be friends with any Accepted and spend the night in prayer and contemplation of the responsibility of being an Aes Sedai, although they will not be an Aes Sedai until they swear on the Oath Rod and receive the shawl of their chosen Ajah.


The Three Oaths: to speak no word that is not true, to make no weapon with which one man may kill another, and never to use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of defense of her own life, or that of her Warder or another Aes Sedai, are the heart of being Aes Sedai, reducing people’s fears that Aes Sedai will use the Power against them. The Oaths are the same no matter which Ajah an Aes Sedai joins. This is just as well, since the Reds are contemplating bonding Warders.

These oaths were not always required, but various events before and since the Breaking caused them to be necessary. The second oath was the first adopted after the War of the Shadow.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

Even though bound against lying, Aes Sedai still manipulate or mislead to further their schemes by choosing words carefully, as Machiavelli recommends:

How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live by integrity and not by deceit everyone knows; nevertheless, one sees from experience of our times that the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have known how to manipulate the minds of men by shrewdness; and in the end they have surpassed those who laid their foundations on loyalty... It is necessary to know how to disguise this nature well and to be a great hypocrite and liar; and men are so simple-minded and so controlled by their present needs that one who deceives will always find another who will allow himself to be deceived...Alexander VI [Borgia Pope] did nothing else, he thought about nothing else, except to deceive men, and he always found the occasion to do this. And never was a man who had more forcefulness in his oaths, who affirmed a thing with more promises, and who honoured his word less; nevertheless his tricks always succeeded perfectly since he was well acquainted with this aspect of the world. It is not necessary for a prince to have [honesty and other related qualities] but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them.

- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter XVIII How A Prince Should Keep His Word


After a night of solitary contemplation in her room in the Accepted quarters, the woman to be raised is silently escorted by seven formally dressed sisters, one from each Ajah, down to the room with the oval ring ter’angreal. She is dared to enter and bind herself to the White Tower by swearing the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod with the Amyrlin, Keeper, and the Sitters and the newest sister from each Ajah present. After swearing, she kisses the Amyrlin’s ring and chooses her Ajah. The new Aes Sedai is draped in her shawl by the (former) newest sister of her Ajah and kissed by the Sitters in order of decreasing age and then she is escorted by the former newest sister through the White Tower. A thousand years ago, the entire ceremony was conducted with all present naked except for their shawls, but the only part of this custom remaining is keeping the corridors clear until the new Aes Sedai reaches her Ajah’s quarters. The new sister was paraded through the quarters of all Ajahs, with the second newest sister calling out for the other Ajahs to come and see a new sister (New Spring, Just Before Dawn) – perhaps an indication of Ajah rivalry.

Until recently, women were Accepted for at least three years (apart from a handful of wilders) before achieving the shawl and no woman has ever worn the shawl at 19 (A Crown of Swords, Small Sacrifices). A full Aes Sedai may wear her ring on any finger or remove it completely as circumstances dictate (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).

The testing with the oval ring ter’angreal, the swearing of the Three Oaths and the choosing of an Ajah is the legal requirement for a woman to become Aes Sedai, and is equivalent to the consecration ceremony for a convent nun of the 15th to 16th centuries, where she made her final vows (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice). Egwene raised four Aes Sedai by decree, and by implication herself, but the sisters did not consider them to be full Aes Sedai. Theodrin and Faolain may have had to beg admittance to their Ajahs and have guardians to oversee their behaviour (A Crown of Swords, An Oath).

Lifestyle and Money

An Aes Sedai lives comfortably in a well-furnished apartment in her Ajah quarters. She eats off porcelain either in her rooms or in the Aes Sedai dining hall and chooses her meal from a menu (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea). The Blue Ajah pays for the furnishings in a newly raised Aes Sedai’s rooms and also for four fine wool dresses. At least some of the other Ajahs probably do similarly. When Aes Sedai dress formally they wear their shawls and Ajah colours. Shawls are required for a meeting of the Hall, ceremonies such as the testing and raising of novices and Accepted, and for an audience with the Amyrlin (The Great Hunt, Summoned). Aes Sedai never dress completely in white for full mourning, but wear long white ribbons in their hair and tied around their arms as partial mourning. Sisters of the White Ajah do not consider their white attire to be full mourning, and wear glossy black ribbons (the sole use of black as a mourning colour in the Wheel of Time world we know of) for partial mourning (New Spring, Changes).

An Aes Sedai’s salary is 1000 gold crowns paid on the day she was raised and at each anniversary. It is either handed to her personally or deposited with the bank she specifies. She can obtain more from the Tower if necessary, but if she continues to overspend she will be questioned in the Hall (New Spring, Business in the City). In the 15th to 16th century convents,

it was common for noble nuns to receive extensive annual allowances from their relatives, which would be placed in the hands of the convent superior, but made readily available for their ‘needs’ and ‘necessities’.

- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice

Many Aes Sedai would choose to invest their money in the Tower’s own bank, the first bank founded after the Breaking. The Vatican, too, has its own bank, the Institute for Religious Works, which is run by a professional banker who reports directly to a committee of cardinals (equivalent to a committee from the Hall), and ultimately to the Pope (= the Amyrlin) or during an interregnum, the Cardinal Camerlengo (= Keeper). The Tower bank would receive duties and tolls from trade in Tar Valon and rents in Tar Valon and other places where the Tower owns property. Some nations, such as many of the Borderland kingdoms, send monthly tributes or donations to the White Tower (The Gathering Storm, A Message in Haste). This practice is a relic of much earlier centuries when the White Tower was first dependent on the generosity of nations, and then established itself as above the nations and made them feel an obligation for the Tower's services such as protection from men who can channel.

Moneyed petitioners would perhaps leave assets to the Tower in their wills or donate gifts in gratitude for the Tower’s aid, as they did to the Catholic Church. Convents in the 15th to 16th centuries:

were in possession of extensive ‘immobile assets’ ranging from agricultural land to urban dwellings and shops…Through the institution of the chapter, nuns were collectively responsible for managing the finances of their convent. It was the duty of the chapter to ensure the profitable investment of capital, and in particular of the payments of cash it received from nuns’ dowries. To this end, convents invested most commonly in property, trade (by making loans to guilds under the supervision of the state) or private loans that avoided the prohibitions on usury, since they were released under the guise of fictional property sales.

- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice

This is why Tower law requires all Ajahs to be equally represented in the administration of the Tower’s bank (New Spring, Business in the City).


While marriage is discouraged, if not forbidden, in all Ajahs except the Green, celibacy is not. Nor are children: in the books we hear of an Aes Sedai who bore a child for a man, and one who offered to (Samitsu (A Crown of Swords, Blades)). In the Catholic Church, celibacy is doctrine for all regular clergy and the religious orders.


The Aes Sedai of an Ajah show public solidarity and are faithful and obedient to their Sitters and Ajah Head.

Many Aes Sedai retain friendships with those Aes Sedai who trained with them, but their closest friendships are within their Ajah, just as in the 15th to 16th century convents, where there was a tendency for nuns of similar ages to club together within the convent, but the toughest bonds were those of kinship (equivalent to Ajahs) (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice). No Ajah refuses a new Aes Sedai, since an Accepted is guided to the right Ajah whether she is aware of it or not (Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again). An Aes Sedai cannot change Ajah. While Leane and Siuan were stilled they were not Aes Sedai and so could choose a new Ajah once Healed, which Leane did.


The Ajah has many secrets to reveal to a new Aes Sedai: weaves such as the Warder bond which are only for Aes Sedai, the trick of ignoring external temperature, and customs and secret weaves of the Ajah (New Spring, Changes). There are antagonisms and rivalries between other Ajahs to learn of, too.

Most Aes Sedai have their own personal secret weaves which only become common knowledge if enough Aes Sedai learn of them (Lord of Chaos, Prologue).

Aes Sedai Ranking

In the 15th to 16th century convents, the nuns were ranked according to age:

Deprived of every sign of worldly rank, by common clothing and customs, each nun was assigned a place in the community based on the date of her entrance. For the rest of her life, she was defined only by that seniority, which controlled her seating at table, her place in procession, and her authority in the chain of deference from ‘junior’ to ‘senior’ nuns.

- Jo Ann Kay McNamara Sisters in Arms

Likewise, Aes Sedai abandon their original social rank and are bound by common customs to their Ajahs and the Tower. Any Aes Sedai can be appointed to any post if she has the required skill or judgement. Those Aes Sedai in executive positions - Amyrlin, Keeper, Ajah Heads, Sitters and Mistress of the Novices, in approximate decreasing order - rank highest. They are deferred to and have the right to speak first. Below these positions, the social ranking is quite rigid, with current strength in saidar, not ultimate strength, the main criterion.

Weaker Aes Sedai defer to stronger Aes Sedai; with a significant difference in their strengths (eg two or more levels on the scale in the Strength in Saidar article) this deference becomes obedience. With a large difference in strengths (eg four or more levels) a suggestion or opinion from the stronger Aes Sedai is a command to the weaker Aes Sedai. A weaker Aes Sedai curtseys when she meets a much stronger Aes Sedai, stands when the stronger sister enters the room (The Path of Daggers, Unweaving) and is silent until the stronger gives her permission to speak (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). A very weak Aes Sedai such as Daighian is treated almost like a servant by most sisters (The Path of Daggers, New Alliances).

For Aes Sedai of apparently equal strength, the older sister has precedence over the younger, and then for contemporaries, distinction is made between those who trained fastest (higher) over those who took more time (Lord of Chaos, The Crown of Roses). In this ranking scheme, a sister who was a wilder is considered to be slightly weaker than her actual strength in the Power due to the stigma attached to wilders (Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again).

The hierarchy isn't supposed to rule anything except everyday life, but it does. Advice from somebody with higher standing is given more weight than from somebody with lower.

- Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again

If an Aes Sedai does not follow the hierarchy, she will be set a penance (see Discipline section below). This is common for new sisters. So important is this pecking order to Aes Sedai social life that Merean assumed that Cadsuane would know that two newly raised Aes Sedai, Moiraine and Siuan, trained very quickly, even though Cadsuane was last in the Tower two years earlier and in retirement before that (New Spring, An Arrival).

Cadsuane is exceptional in being polite and considerate in public and private to much weaker sisters (until The Gathering Storm). She is careful not to be overly complementary or consultative to weak sisters or pay too much attention to them in front of other sisters lest they be considered her ‘pets’. Becoming a ‘pet’ lowers one’s ranking among Aes Sedai.

This ranking is for Aes Sedai only and is kept secret from novices and Accepted (one of the reasons why it is forbidden to speak of another’s age or strength in the Power). This ignorance prevents novices and Accepted from forcing themselves to gain rank and stops strong novices and Accepted from thinking they outrank weak sisters.


The ranking also does not apply if a sister’s Ajah or the Tower sets someone over her. For example, if she is part of an embassy, she obeys the appointed head of the embassy, the ambassador, no matter her strength (New Spring, Entering Home). An ambassador appointed by the Amyrlin has precedence over one appointed by the Hall (A Crown of Swords, The First Cup) and any refusal to recognise this could be construed as rebellion. The more Aes Sedai in an embassy, the more the ruler is being honoured (Lord of Chaos, Prologue). Embassies seldom have more than three Aes Sedai. The embassy to Rand with nine Aes Sedai was considered an exceptional honour.

The Tower’s permanent ambassadors to rulers, such as Teslyn and Joline, or Merilille (all to Ebou Dar), are equivalent to papal nuncios, ordinary and permanent representatives of the Pope who are vested with both political and ecclesiastical powers to promote the interests of the Holy See, and are assigned to a particular nation with which the papacy has a regular diplomatic relationship. Special envoys such as Tarna Feir (to Salidar) or Merana (to Caemlyn) could be likened to papal legates, which are the pope’s representatives for a specific mission to specific national churches or national leaders.

Failure and the current turmoil among Aes Sedai have affected the authority and stability of official missions. We have seen an embassy from the rebels (to Caemlyn) and an expedition from the Tower (to the Black Tower) crumble as events stymied them and the sisters within them fall back into the usual Aes Sedai hierarchy.


A code of courtesy and privacy governs sisters’ lives and provides relief from the strict hierarchy. It is forbidden by strong custom to question another sister’s actions (including asking where she is Travelling), or to interfere with them unless it is believed those actions are leading to certain disaster (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Nor is interfering between an Aes Sedai and her Warder allowed. Aes Sedai must be civil to each other, addressing one another as sister (a parallel with convent nuns). They even offer Healing before performing it (New Spring, It Finishes) unlike their treatment of non-Aes Sedai.

By custom, rudeness to another Aes Sedai is forbidden under any circumstances (Crossroads of Twilight, Talk of Debts). The greatest rudeness is speaking of an Aes Sedai’s age (Lord of Chaos, A Pile of Sand) and the second greatest rudeness is to speak directly of a sister’s strength in the One Power (New Spring, Entering Home). The third greatest rudeness, almost as rude as the second, is not following the Aes Sedai hierarchy. The penance for not deferring as required is set by the offended sister and is usually stiff – at least a month or two of Labour or Deprivation, possibly Mortification of the Spirit or Mortification of the Flesh (see Discipline section below). Naming likely Ajah Heads is also considered very rude (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue).

It is improper for any sisters to argue in public (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). In private, disagreements only occur between sisters of the same or slightly differing strengths (say one level on the saidar ranking scale). Physical violence is forbidden by custom (New Spring, An Arrival) and threats are specifically forbidden by the Tower (Knife of Dreams, Prologue).


In a public place, the Amyrlin if present decides whether to ward against eavesdropping, otherwise the strongest sister decides (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). In a private room, the room’s owner weaves the ward (Knife of Dreams, When Last Sounds).


Being stilled or burned out is effectively a demotion for an Aes Sedai (Lord of Chaos, A Matter of Thought) and she usually moves a long way away from the Tower. Prior to Elaida’s decree, no Aes Sedai has ever been reduced back to Accepted or novice. Such a demotion is neither legal nor illegal, it is not mentioned in Tower law at all (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea), but some Aes Sedai consider it to be an abuse of the Amyrlin’s power (The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone). The demoted Aes Sedai, Shemerin, was advised by other Aes Sedai to ignore the edict, but she did not have the confidence to do so, believing the Amyrlin should always be obeyed.


Most Aes Sedai go into retreat at the close of their lives, usually keeping in touch with the Tower and perhaps still drawing their salary (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting).

If an Aes Sedai dies in the Tower, by custom her funeral is held the day after her death (New Spring, Practice). When the Amyrlin Tamra died, she appears to have been accepted back into the Blue Ajah. Her body was enclosed in a blue shroud, placed on a bier and taken into the Tower grounds. Any sisters who wished could say a prayer or some words in her memory. Then she was cremated according to her wishes expressed in her will and her ashes scattered in the Tower grounds by Blue sisters (New Spring, Changes).


Six times in Tower history, when the Hall and Amyrlin were locked in turmoil or stalemate, so that inconsistent or ill-advised decisions are made, or even none at all, the rank and file sisters mutinied – rose up and forced the Hall and Amyrlin to resign and caused the election of a new Amyrlin and Hall. This is only recorded in the secret histories (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory) and maybe not the full story even then (for example whether Ajah Heads played a role). Egwene considered inciting one, but decided against it.

During medieval times, at least five popes were deposed by popular uprising (and often killed) including Benedict IX, Shein Chunla’s parallel, see Shein section of New Era history.

In the Ancient Roman republic, the plebeians mutinied and seceded five times:

A proportion of the plebeians moved away from the city to one of the hills beyond its periphery: a remarkable example of organised collective bargaining, which virtually created a temporary state within a state, and split the nation in two. What is more, the plebeians were reported to have made withdrawals of this kind no less than five times during the first two and a quarter centuries of the Republic.

- Michael Grant, History of Rome

The patrician government could not do without the plebeians, since those with sufficient property were needed as soldiers, just as Aes Sedai of substantial saidar strength are required for important tasks and positions by the Tower. The plebeians were aware of their importance and hence were emboldened to resort to collective protests.

The first secession in 494 BC resulted in the patrician authorities agreeing to the creation of a small number of officials to represent plebeian interests. Another secession forced the publication of the correct forms of legal procedure since the knowledge of the technicalities of Roman law had previously been a monopoly of the patrician college of priests and was unavailable to lay jurists (Michael Grant, History of Rome). The rank and file Aes Sedai have similarly been kept in the dark about true Tower history and of the existence of secret records until Egwene committed treason by informing a Brown sister. If word spreads, the sisters are likely to demand better representation and an end to secret histories.


Tower law is so complex that even interpreting it, let alone determining appropriate punishment, can be complicated (The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod).



Non-initiates can be disciplined with the Power but not harshly (The Path of Daggers, Prologue).

Initiates (novices, Accepted and Aes Sedai)

It is against the law to use the Power to discipline or punish an initiate of the Tower, although a smack is considered acceptable (The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place). Elaida broke this law when she savagely beat Egwene and was formally censured by the Hall and given the maximum penance of one month, plus an additional two months for committing such an offense while Amyrlin (conduct unbecoming an Amyrlin (The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai)).

Physical punishment is allowed and it must be performed by the Mistress of Novices, who uses a switch, leather paddle or split-tailed strap (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea) and must not shed any blood during the punishment. Healing is used to prevent bloodshed. (Public birching is for serious crimes and is discussed in the Punishment section below).

Novices and Accepted

Novices and Accepted are usually given extra chores (Labour) or corporal punishment (Mortification of the Flesh) by the Mistress of Novices for their minor misdemeanours. By custom, such punishment is private, but Siuan announced Nynaeve’s, Elayne’s and Egwene’s punishment for running away to the entire Tower (The Dragon Reborn, Punishments). This was part of the punishment and was to quell criticism of their mild punishment and Elayne’s and Egwene’s promotion to Accepted, since as runaways by law they should have had a public birching (see Running Away in Novice section above). They weren’t genuine runaways, but Siuan had to keep this quiet, because she did not want the three linked with the Black Ajah.

Novices and Accepted who refuse every order are likely to be confined to a cell (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea). Egwene’s confinement in a substandard cell and her severe physical beatings by members of the Red Ajah under Elaida’s orders were probably illegal, as Silviana said (The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod). The second last penalty for intractable novices and Accepted is exile to hard labour on an isolated farm and the final punishment is being put out of the Tower (New Spring, The Itch).

Aes Sedai

Aes Sedai do penance (punishment) to atone for misdemeanours or relieve feelings of guilt. The four types of penance are Labour, Deprivation, Mortification of the Flesh and Mortification of the Spirit (New Spring, Changes). Mortification of the Flesh is a term used in the convents of the 15th to 16th centuries (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).

The penances of specific serious crimes are discussed under those crimes below. As well as crimes, an Aes Sedai can be set a penance for violating customs of courtesy and the Tower hierarchy, allowing a woman to falsely claim to be Aes Sedai (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic) or helping an Accepted cheat in the test for the shawl (New Spring, Shreds of Serenity). An Aes Sedai who knows of a law or custom being broken by another sister and aids her shares in her punishment (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory).

Sometimes sisters set themselves penances, in order to maintain the proper balance between pride and humility—that balance [is] much prized, supposedly, and the only reason given usually—but certainly none [seeks] to have one imposed. Penance set by another could be quite harsh, and the Amyrlin [is] supposed to be harder in this than the Ajahs. Either way, though, many sisters [make] a haughty display of submission to the greater will of the Aes Sedai, an arrogant showing of their lack of arrogance. The pride of humility, Siuan [calls] it.

- A Crown of Swords, An Oath

An Aes Sedai can also ask a group of five Aes Sedai to sit in judgement and set her penance (The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place) rather than set it herself. Similarly, the convents of the 15th to 16th centuries had a ‘chapter of faults’:

a community gathering at which individual nuns were expected to come forward and confess their sins, “not excusing their own defects, but heaping accusations and blame upon themselves”; it was then the role of the abbess or prioress [Amyrlin, or perhaps Ajah Heads] to mete out penances.

- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice

Offered a choice of penances, an Aes Sedai is under a dilemma: labouring to rake garden paths for a month is time-consuming and humiliating, but a strapping from the Mistress of Novice, while over quickly, is very painful (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return).

No Aes Sedai, even one in the cells, can be set a penance or ordered punished by another sister purely because she annoyed her – she must have violated a custom in her behaviour to the sister or the sister must be in an official position of authority (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea) to set her a penance. By custom, the penance for not deferring as required is set by the offended sister and is usually stiff – at least a month or two of Labour or Deprivation, possibly Mortification of the Spirit or Mortification of the Flesh.


For both initiates and non-initiates, it is against Tower law to shed blood or break bones in questioning, or to allow others to do so in the Tower’s name (The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place). Healing must be given before a session starts, and if the questioning started after sunrise, it must end before sundown; if after sunset, then before sunrise. It is illegal to use saidar in questioning an initiate of the Tower but not a non-initiate (The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place). An initiate can be left in solitary confinement, however (The Gathering Storm, When Iron Melts).

On May 15 1252, Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull which authorized the use of torture by inquisitors, although they were forbidden to use methods that resulted in bloodshed, mutilation or death (dislocation of joints was popular), just as Aes Sedai are forbidden to shed blood, break bones, etc in discipline or interrogation.


Those who have been accused of committing crimes against Tower law are supposed to be taken to the Tower for trial. All accused criminals. Even the Black sisters captured in Tear were destined for the Tower. Summary justice is not allowed.

There are no excuses for breaking Tower law. Mitigating circumstances will reduce the penalty by a small amount only (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue).


Those non-initiates who break Tower law must be handed over to the Tower (New Spring, Business in the City). After their trial, they are subject to similar penalties as Aes Sedai – for example they are executed for treason, as Gareth Bryne is well aware (The Path of Daggers, Stronger Than Written Law).

The Chair of Remorse is regularly used on non-initiates guilty of non-capital crimes in Tar Valon. It is a ter’angreal which shows the criminal carefully selected consequences of their criminal acts until they are broken by their guilt (Winter’s Heart, Prologue).


It is against the law to use the One Power or the Chair of Remorse on initiates of the Tower.

A Sitter guilty of a crime is unchaired prior to her punishment.


There must be clear charges before an initiate of the Tower can be tried and punished. For a novice or a non-initiate to accuse a sister, these charges must be strong; unsubstantiated or unprovable charges would result in the novice being beaten by the Mistress of Novices and given a long term of Labour, while a non-initiate would also probably be beaten and forbidden access to the Tower (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike).

The Amylin cannot accuse a Sitter of a Crime without offering proof (The Gathering Storm, Sealed To The Flame). Elaida tried to impose summary justice during her reign, forestalling any trials of need for proof, successfully in the case of Siuan, not in the case of Egwene. Egwene refused to impose summary justice, for instance she insisted that all Black sisters on Verin’s list be given the chance to prove on the Oath Rod that they are not Darkfriends.


Once charged, the accused is taken to a cell to await trial. The Tower has six grill-walled (‘open’) cells in the first basement for:

men who could channel, as well as initiates of the Tower under close arrest, wilders who claimed to be Aes Sedai, and anyone else who must be both confined and blocked off from the Source.

- The Path of Daggers, Prologue

By custom a woman or man in the open cells is always shielded. These cells have reasonable living conditions:

Her cell wasn't bad as cells went—she had a small bed, meals, plenty of water, a chamber pot that was changed daily. But she was never allowed out, and was always guarded by two sisters who kept her shielded.

The Gathering Storm, When Iron Melts

Leane was not allowed soap, either, or a change of clothing.

Those to be ‘closely confined’ are placed in small dark substandard cells:

"The cell is narrow enough for me to touch opposite walls at once," Egwene said. "And isn't very long, either. When I lie down, I have to bend my knees to fit. I can't stand, since the ceiling is so low it makes me stoop, and I can't sit without pain, for they no longer Heal me between beatings. The straw is old and itches. The door is thick and the cracks don't allow in much light."

The Gathering Storm, News in Tel'aran'rhiod

Each convent in the 15th to 16th centuries:

was expected to maintain an ‘interior cloister’ reserved for women of chronic disobedience and intractability in following the rule.

- Jo Ann Kay McNamara, Sisters in Arms

Silviana questioned the legality of confining Egwene in one of these, especially in combination with severe beatings (The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod).

By Tower law, all prisoners are allowed visitors each day for a set duration (The Gathering Storm, In Darkness).


The summons to be tried cannot be ignored (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). The summoned person is not told of the charges, but is commanded to obey the summons promptly and without questioning why they are summoned (Lord of Chaos, Summoned in Haste).

In the trial, three Aes Sedai judges sit opposite the accused with the Seat of Rebuke (prosecuting Aes Sedai) on the judges’ right and the Seat of Pardon (defending Aes Sedai) to their left (A Crown of Swords, The First Cup). For some charges the Chair of Pardon faces the same penalty as the accused she defends (Knife of Dreams, Prologue). (This may be the case for the charge of falsely claiming to be Amyrlin). The accused must be given a chance to speak for themselves at their trial (The Gathering Storm, In Darkness).

In the real world, heretics identified by the inquisitors of the Catholic Church were granted a trial which generally favored the prosecution (the Church). The accused would be allowed a lawyer, although most lawyers refused to defend heretics because if the charge of heresy was proven (and there was no appeal for a sentence) the lawyer would lose their authority to practise. Similarly, Egwene wondered if the charge of being a false Amyrlin is one which the Chair of Pardon shares in the punishment if they lose the case.

The charge of falsely claiming to be Amyrlin requires a High Court, which is a Court of Sitters, probably the entire Hall (Knife of Dreams, Prologue) and the charge of being Black Ajah requires three Sitters to be the judges, perhaps even the entire Hall (Knife of Dreams, Outside the Gates).

The Tower claims the right to try all Aes Sedai no matter where their crime was committed. This is a parallel with English law in medieval times, where the religious accused of crimes invoked benefit of clergy, the right to be tried under canon law. Benefit of clergy was:

the exemption from the jurisdiction of the secular courts, which in England, in the Middle Ages, was accorded to clergymen. This exemption included all who had been tonsured and wore the ecclesiastical dress, and was shared in by monks and nuns. In Saxon days ecclesiastical and civil cases were decided in shire and hundred courts where the bishop sat side by side with the ealdorman or sheriff. From the days of the Conqueror ecclesiastical courts were held distinct from the secular courts. Gratian (cap. xlvii, 11a pars Dec., Causa XI, ix 1) sums up the privilege of the clergy thus: "From the above it is to be understood that a clergyman is not to be brought before the public courts either in a civil or criminal case, unless perhaps the bishop should not wish to decide the civil case, or unless he should, in a criminal case, degrade him". William forbade his judges and ministers and every layman to meddle with the laws regarding the bishop.

- Catholic Encyclopaedia

Some serious crimes are:

  • Administering Oaths Without a Warrant: The Black Ajah hunters’ coercion of ten Aes Sedai to swear a fourth, unauthorised, oath on the Oath Rod was a serious crime, as serious as rebellion (The Gathering Storm, Unexpected Encounters).

  • Allegiance to the Shadow: This is a capital offence. Aes Sedai who abandon the ideals of the Tower and the Light to become servants of Shaitan - Satanists -could be considered apostate since they no longer follow the dogma of the Light, and also treasonous since they betray the Tower and the sisterhood to the Shadow. (Plus they usually commit other crimes such as murder.) The penalty for apostasy in the Catholic Church is excommunication.

  • Assaulting the Amyrlin: The penalty for assaulting the Amyrlin is execution. In the Catholic Church, the penalty for physical violence against the Pope is excommunication.

  • Blackmail: A serious crime that at the least results in a non-initiate being refused access to the Tower and a novice being put out of the Tower once she has learned enough to control her channelling (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike). Corporal punishment is also likely.

  • Collusion: This occurs when Sitters have a secret arrangement among themselves to vote a certain way, or conspire to in order to obtain a particular decision in the Hall. Open political alliances in the Hall are not collusion, merely everyday politics. The Ajah Heads conspiracy – a secret arrangement among themselves to influence selection of Sitters for the Hall – is also probably collusion. Egwene might have regarded the Black Ajah hunters’ secret basement meetings as collusion, since she said they were a serious crime (The Gathering Storm, Unexpected Encounters).

    Collusion is almost as serious as a charge of treason, and apparently is tried in the Hall, where it requires only the lesser consensus to be passed (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences).

  • Compulsion: The use of the Power to force someone to do your bidding has been forbidden since the Tower’s founding (The Path of Daggers, Prologue). The forcible swearing of an oath of obedience on the Oath Rod is almost compulsion (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue and The Gathering Storm, Unexpected Encounters). However, compelling one’s Warder to a mild degree is not a crime (see Warder section below).

  • Defying the Amyrlin: An Aes Sedai who disobeys or defies the Amyrlin may be stilled (The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame). Even if an Aes Sedai was right to disagree with the Amyrlin, she will still probably be given penance by the Hall (The Gathering Storm, A Visit from Verin Sedai). Elaida’s pronouncement of stilling and execution on Silviana for defying her or publicly disagreeing with her (The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod) is more like the punishment for treason.

  • Falsely Claiming to be Aes Sedai: Women who claim to be Aes Sedai but have not been initiated fully, if at all, cannot follow Aes Sedai laws and customs, or dogma. They are thus an heresy, which is why their treatment is so harsh (see Non-Aes Sedai Channellers section below). In the Catholic Church the penalty for heresy is excommunication (and, at times in the past, execution).

  • Fomenting Discord: The undermining of Tower unity is a serious charge under Tower law (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory), since it could incite rebellion. Egwene’s comments on the poor leadership in the Tower and mention of past mutinies would probably be regarded as fomenting discord.

  • Kidnapping: The capture and confinement of Black Sisters without proper charges is still kidnapping, a serious crime (Knife of Dreams, Prologue).

  • Male Channelling: Channelling is a crime for men due to the danger they pose to others and they are cut off from the One Power – gentled – in the Traitor’s Court. They are effectively regarded as heretical or even apostate and often treated harshly (see Male Channellers section below). The Amyrlin must give the order for a man to be gentled. This law may have been repealed now that saidin is clean.

  • Malfeasance: This is the committing of a wrongful or illegal act by an official. Bonwhin was deposed and stilled for this (The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time).

  • Murder: Murder is among the most serious crimes.

  • Reading the Amyrlin’s secret correspondence: For anyone other than the Amyrlin, breaking a seal on something labelled ‘Sealed to the Flame’ is as serious as assaulting the Amyrlin's person or committing treason (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory and Sealed to the Flame).

  • Rebellion: Rebellion is a split among the Aes Sedai in which Aes Sedai customs and laws, or dogma, are still accepted and followed – just not the leadership. It is thus not an heresy, but a schism. As has been discussed earlier, schisms have occurred in the Catholic Church, and those who sever themselves from the communion of the Church and yet believe the Church’s dogma are sometimes thought of as rebellious (Catholic Encyclopaedia). The penalty for schism in the Catholic Church is excommunication. By Tower law, a schism – rebelling against the Amyrlin - is considered treasonous. Freeing a deposed Amyrlin from the cells – and thus rejecting the leadership of the newly elected Amyrlin - is considered rebellion (Lord of Chaos, Prologue).

    Rebellion has occurred more than once in the history of the Tower or it would not be a crime. Many (most?) of the Tower’s rebellions were in the distant past, since Elaida thinks of ‘ancient rebellions’.

    Captured rebels are confined and placed on a diet of bread and water until they are returned to the Tower for trial (A Crown of Swords, A Touch on the Cheek). The leaders of rebellions are likely to be stilled and possibly executed and any woman claiming to be Amyrlin seat on the losing side (falsely claiming to be Amyrlin) must be stilled. The minimum penalty in law for rebellion is to be birched in the Grand Hall before the assembled sisters, followed by at least a year and a day in public penance (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). Novices and Accepted caught up in the losing side of a rebellion are likely to be set to unpleasant labour such as mucking out stalls (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic).

    Rebellion occurred in the 15th to 16th century convents when rival candidates for abbess each commanded considerable support and the losing candidate and her clique refused to obey the victor. The rebels were forced (by threat of imprisonment in various other convents) to show outward obedience and humility to the new abbess (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).

  • Running Away: This is a serious crime for a novice (or Accepted) and the penalty is a birching and to be strictly disciplined for at least a year (Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin). If an exiled Aes Sedai runs away she is hunted as a renegade (Winter’s Heart, Prologue).

  • Theft: The appropriation of someone’s property by stealth or force – even property the Tower regards as belonging to the Tower such as ter‘angreal - attracts a fairly harsh penance for the guilty Aes Sedai (Knife of Dreams, A Short Path). However, the ter’angreal might not be returned to its original owner…(see Items of the Power section below).

  • Treason: Those judged guilty of treason – betraying the Tower or its leadership – are executed, whether initiates or non-initiates of the Tower. Countermanding an order from the Amyrlin, aiding a deposed and jailed Amyrlin’s escape, allying with the Dragon Reborn, commanding the Hall’s army and concealing the existence of, or making arrangements with, a rival army without the Hall’s knowledge or permission (The Path of Daggers, Stronger Than Written Law), or being the oathsworn general of an army for the losing side in a Tower rebellion are all considered treason. Even remaining silent too long when instructed by the Amyrlin to report could be seen as treason (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic).


At the minimum, Egwene required Aes Sedai to take responsibility for their crimes, even those committed for the greater good (The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again) - just as Aiel meet their toh.


Birching involves the person being stripped, stretched tight on a triangle – in the New Spring graphic novel #5 this is shown to be a pyramid - and then flogged while the initiates of the Tower watch. As a deterrent to others, a ward may be woven over the area to hold in the punished person’s howls (New Spring, Changes). The Traitor’s Court and the Grand Hall are two places birching takes place. Crimes for which birching may be the punishment include rebellion, running away (for novices and Accepted), gentling and/or killing a male channeller without taking him to Tar Valon for trial, Compulsion and punishing or coercing another with the Power. It often precedes exile.


Initiates of the Tower may be exiled to hard labour on an isolated farm for short to long periods. Those who do not accept their exile and run away are hunted as renegades (Winter’s Heart, Prologue). Crimes for which exile is the likely punishment include manipulating and lying to groups of Aes Sedai or the Tower executive (Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again), making decisions without informing the Hall because some might be Darkfriends (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences), using the Chair of Remorse on initiates, gentling and/or killing a male channeller without taking him to Tar Valon for trial, intractability in novices and Accepted and being a Sitter of an Ajah whose members murdered an Amyrlin they believed was endangering their Ajah or the Tower (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit).

Women who might be a source of division in the Tower, such as one who was almost elected Amyrlin Seat and her sponsors, are usually exiled (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters).


Stilling is the judicial cutting of a woman’s ability to channel the One Power; for men it is called gentling. It is effectively a demotion for Aes Sedai and usually takes place in the Traitor’s Court. The Amyrlin must order the stilling/gentling and thirteen Aes Sedai perform it. Comparatively few women have been stilled since:

this punishment is rarely executed except for the most extreme crimes against the Tower. As a warning, all novices are required to learn the name and crimes of all women who have suffered stilling within the White Tower’s history. Until recently, no women had been judicially stilled in over one hundred years.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time,

Crimes for which stilling is the likely penalty include using, perhaps even knowing how to weave, balefire (The Dragon Reborn, Hunters), large scale use of Compulsion (The Path of Daggers, Prologue), malfeasance, channelling if a man, leaving a male channeller to go free, falsely claiming to be the Amyrlin Seat, or leading a rebellion.

Aes Sedai to be executed are usually stilled first for three reasons: the great pain of stilling is an additional punishment, it is a security measure more appealing to Aes Sedai than holding a shield until the axe falls, and most importantly, the condemned does not go to the block as an Aes Sedai.


Execution in the form of beheading takes place in the Traitor’s Court under an order from the Amyrlin. Crimes for which execution is the likely penalty include assaulting an Amyrlin, treason, revealing information Sealed to the Flame, being a Darkfriend, falsely claiming to be Amyrlin and probably murder.


The Three Oaths prevent Aes Sedai from taking part in battle unless they or the Tower are under direct attack or the battle is against Shadowspawn. Until recently, the Trolloc Wars was the last war in which Aes Sedai fought (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled) and they were under the command of the Tower, not the generals in the armies (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). The Tower has sent soldiers to wars, but only if asked by at least two rulers (The Path of Daggers, The Law). This is why few Aes Sedai know about the Tower’s Law of War.

The Tower rarely declares war on individuals. Prior to Elaida, the last person was Artur Hawkwing (The Path of Daggers, The Law). A question of war in the Hall cannot be shelved but must be answered before any question after it, and requires only the lesser consensus (with every Ajah being represented) to be passed by the Hall. Once passed, the Amyrlin directs the war by decree (martial law) and the Hall must approve any of her decrees regarding the war with the greater consensus and carry them out as promptly as possible (The Path of Daggers, The Law). There is a provision for the Hall to take up the prosecution of a war, if the Amyrlin assents (Towers of Midnight, A Call to Stand).

While the Tower is at war, the Amyrlin can place herself in danger without asking the Hall for their consent (see Travel in Amyrlin section of Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Administration); a law that has been in existence for over two thousand years (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike) which could mean that there was a reckless Amyrlin about the time of the Trolloc Wars.


The bonding of Warders is only permitted to full Aes Sedai; any Accepted who does so, for whatever reason, would face a very harsh penalty (The Fires of Heaven, Ripped Away). A sister cannot be ordered to take a Warder, even by the Amyrlin (Towers of Midnight, Writings), although some sisters (eg Myrelle) have had their arms twisted by Sitters or their Ajah Head. Warders are customarily male and have existed from very early in Tower history, possibly even earlier, since the legendary Green Aes Sedai and Amyrlin Caraighan Maconar (212-373 AB) had Warders (Lord of Chaos, Glossary).

There is no law limiting the number of Warders. However, by custom all Ajahs except the Green and the Red only permit one Warder. Greens can bond as many as they wish and it is a rare Green who is without one. The Greens with only one Warder are often married to them. Until recently, by strong custom Reds were not allowed to bond a Warder at all. Now they are allowed to bond as many as they wish provided they are men who can channel (Knife of Dreams, Prologue), although not too many Reds have been told the good news yet. :P

By custom, the Warder must agree to the bond, although he often does not know all it entails. Currently, bonding a man against his will is regarded as akin to rape, yet a thousand years ago it was quite common (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory).

Aes Sedai occasionally force their Warders to obedience through the bond. It is considered too close to Compulsion to be ethical unless very minor and it is impractical besides. A Warder that needs to be forced to do his job is a lot of work and will still not do it very well (TOR Questions of the Week).

It is possible for more than one Aes Sedai to bond the same man:

"One bond doesn't ward you against another. Sisters don't bond the same man because of custom, Rand, because they don't want to share him, not because it can't be done. And it isn't against Tower law, either."

- Winter’s Heart, A Lily in Winter

Passing a bond is not illegal, but is against current custom, since until Myrelle received Lan’s bond it had not been done in 400 years (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory). The penalty for passing a bond without the Warder’s consent probably includes the Aes Sedai’s Warder/s being passed to others, plus a long and painful penance (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory).

However bonded, an Aes Sedai has a responsibility to her Warder and cannot abandon him without very good reason:

An Aes Sedai who is very old or injured so badly that she knows she is going to die will, if she has the strength, release him so he doesn't suffer from her death. This does require the two of them to be together, and a little more time than laying on the bond. If they are physically apart, or she doesn't have enough time or strength remaining, tough on him.

- TOR Question of the Week

Unsuitable Warders – reckless, violently quarrelsome or criminal – are also released. Most sisters will also release a Warder who really wants to go (The Path of Daggers, Changes).

By the by, releasing a Warder except for cause (the Aes Sedai's imminent death, his own unsuitability) or because he has asked for release, is something that is JUST IS NOT DONE! It would gain the sister considerable opprobrium from other sisters. A sister certainly would be looked at askance if she released a Warder who was dying, for example, just to avoid the effects on her of his death. When an Aes Sedai bonds a Warder, she is expected to buy in for the full ride.

- TOR Question of the Week

Warders rarely run away because their Aes Sedai can locate them with the bond. However, if one is found he is punished by the Aes Sedai who finds him and then his Aes Sedai (The Path of Daggers, Changes).

An Aes Sedai regards her Warder as her property, and it is considered rude, even for a much stronger sister, to interfere between an Aes Sedai and her Warder, ask questions about them or give instructions regarding him (Lord of Chaos, The Mirror of Mists). Even a Sitter asks a sister for permission before questioning the sister’s Warder (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting).

Warders might ‘accidentally’ injure or kill an Aes Sedai in times of turmoil (The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands) and conversely Elaida’s group’s summary execution of Siuan’s Warder Alric before Siuan was brought to trial (she was never given a public trial) was a crime (The Gathering Storm, In The White Tower).


According to Tower law, all angreal, sa’angreal and ter’angreal are

the property of the White Tower, no matter who happened to possess them for the present. Very seldom did the Tower insist, at least when possession lay somewhere like the so-called Great Holding in this very Stone of Tear—eventually they would come to the Aes Sedai, and the White Tower had always been good at waiting when it needed to—but those actually in Aes Sedai hands were in the gift of the Hall, of individual Sitters. The loan, really; they were almost never given.

- A Crown of Swords, Unseen Eyes

Egwene’s proclamation to exempt the Aiel’s glass columns ter’angreal and other ter’angreal they possess from being reclaimed and to allow the Sea Folk to keep dream ter’angreal is exceptional (Towers of Midnight, An Invitation). (In exchange for the dream ter’angreal the Windfinders will release the Aes Sedai from the bargain to train Windfinders and the Aes Sedai will let any Sea Folk currently in the Tower return to their people if they wish).

Even most of the ter’angreal Elayne made are in the rebel Hall’s possession. Yet Cadsuane has had her personal set of ter'angreal for 250 years or so (see Ter'angreal Jewellery). She keeps them for good reason - they've kept her alive and allowed her to capture more male channellers than anyone else - but they legally aren't hers, even though she earned them. She is only rumoured to have one that breaks a weave, according to Setalle Anan/Martine Janata, and this shows why she has not been forced to return it/them. Nothing has been proven. No one was certain, until the Cleansing, whether she did have even one and what it looked like.

Sitters have a right to use any ter’angreal they wish, but there are proper procedures they should follow when doing so, according to Seaine (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit). (We don’t know what these are yet.) No Accepted or novice should have a ter’angreal in her possession (The Dragon Reborn, A World of Dreams). After all, even Aes Sedai must have the permission of a Sitter to use them. The penalty for removing an angreal from the store or not handing one in is usually minor. No one can remember anyone being birched for illegally possessing an item of the Power until Elaida was forced to order it (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame).

In the Tower, items of the power are stored in the basement, notably a locked storeroom in the second level basement on the northeast side (The Gathering Storm, Clean Shirts). Egwene planned to move the objects of the power around in future for security reasons:

Though, it occurs to me that we'll have to move the room with the ter'angreal. And keep the location secret and constantly warded. It won't be long before every sister with sufficient power knows the weave for Traveling, and I wouldn't put it past many of them—including those I trust—to 'borrow' angreal now and again."

- The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again


Female Channellers Who Are Not Aes Sedai

”There's no law against channeling if you aren't Aes Sedai, only against claiming to be Aes Sedai, or misusing the Power. Or bringing discredit." That meant doing anything that might possibly cast a bad light on real Aes Sedai, should anyone happen to think you were one, which was going pretty far, to her way of thinking.

- A Crown of Swords, Next Door to a Weaver

The law against falsely claiming to be Aes Sedai is enforced very strictly on both initiates and non-initiates and has been since the Tower’s founding. Any woman caught pretending to be Aes Sedai (even years after the fact) is punished harshly both in the community where her ‘offence’ occurred and again in the Tower. Such women are regarded as an heresy because they have not been initiated fully, if at all, and so cannot follow Aes Sedai laws and customs, or dogma, which is why their treatment is so harsh.

There were many such groups shortly after the founding of the Tower, just as there were many groups declared heretical and eliminated early in the history of the Catholic Church, a major parallel of the White Tower. The Aes Sedai strive for catholicism – no publicly independent groups – and follow the doctrine that only Tower Aes Sedai can be Aes Sedai. All non-complying female channellers who claim otherwise are humiliated as heretics. Even women the Tower defines as wilders (those not claiming to be Aes Sedai) are also harassed by some sisters (New Spring, An Arrival).

In the past, the Church’s punishments for heresy included a long pilgrimage for first offenders, wearing a yellow cross for life, confiscation of property, banishment, public recantation, long-term imprisonment and, for the most serious cases such as repeat offenders and unrepentant heretics, execution. Burning at the stake was done by secular officials since the Church was forbidden to kill. (Aes Sedai usually are also). More recently the penalty for a Catholic over the age of 18 who continues to insist on their heresy is excommunication.

Women who have been ‘pretending to be Aes Sedai’ are held back as novices and Accepted, humiliated publicly, forced to recant publicly and to do hard labour and disciplined harshly.

Until recently, groups of non-Aes Sedai female channellers (eg the Daughters of Silence), when found, were always dispersed, with the notable exception of the Kin. The Tower have allowed the Kin to exist for more than 2000 years because they aid runaways and the Tower know where to find them. Of course, the Tower had no idea of the large numbers of the Kin since they have kept low. Knowledge of the Kin is a secret known only to full Aes Sedai (see Information section below).

Egwene’s plan to associate all female channellers with the Tower in a two-tiered system of full Aes Sedai who are bound by the Three Oaths (higher) and associates of the Tower who are not (lower) could be likened to the two types of nun in the 15th to 16th century convents: choir nuns (Aes Sedai) and lay sisters (non-Aes Sedai such as the Kin):

The convent population was made up of two distinct categories: choir-nuns and lay-sisters. Technically, the difference between the two derived from the kind of vows they took. Choir-nuns took full, solemn vows and progressed from the status of novice to be first professed and then consecrated, whereas lay-sisters took simple vows once only…Lay-sisters were the social inferiors of choir-nuns, and they were treated as such within the convent. They did not bring great wealth to the community, but they did bring their labour. It fell to them to carry out the menial chores, and they were excluded from privileges and power. The rationale behind this system was that the presence of lay-sisters liberated the choir-nuns from the more mundane duties of convent life to enable them to devote more time to the rigours of piety.

- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice

Nun and lay sister are mutually exclusive religious paths. Whether Egwene’s plan is ever implemented in this form is another matter. The Three Oaths may be discontinued.

For the Wise Ones and the Windfinders, Egwene had a different proposal: each group should send two of their most promising apprentices or Accepted to each of the other groups for a period of no less than six months but no more than two years. The must follow the rules of the society they are billeted to. At the end of their training they must resturn to their people for at least one year. After that they can apply to join which ever group they choose (Towers of Midnight, An Invitation).

Male Channellers

Channelling is a crime for men due to the danger they pose to others and they are captured by Aes Sedai and taken to the Tower to be tried and cut off from the One Power – gentled. This law may have been repealed now that saidin is clean. Formerly, male channellers were regarded as heretical and some extremists saw them as tainted or abandoned of the Light (apostate) (The Dragon Reborn, The Price of the Ring), or even as unbelievers (see Unbelievers article). They were consequently often treated harshly. False Dragons could be likened to heresiarchs, false prophets who wrongly claim fulfilment of the Apocalypse.

The Red Ajah is devoted to hunting men who can channel and can be likened to the Congregation of the Holy Roman Inquisition, an Order of the Roman Catholic Church which was in charge of finding, instructing and sentencing heretics. Important heretics were often tried and sentenced in Rome (or Avignon when the Popes were settled there). By Tower law, male channellers must be brought to Tar Valon (equivalent to Rome) to be tried and sentenced to gentling (Lord of Chaos, The Sending). Some Red sisters are rumoured not to try hard to take male channellers alive, or may gentle them on the spot, even though these are both crimes. This is supported by what happened to Owyn, Thom’s nephew, and also Elaida’s order to Toveine to gentle and hang any Asha’man on the spot at the Black Tower (Winter’s Heart, Prologue).

Aes Sedai always gather a full circle of 13 to capture a powerful male channeller. The customary number of sisters to hold the shield on him after capture is 6 and they must continuously maintain the shield using all their strength and not tie it (Lord of Chaos, Weaves of the Power). At Tar Valon, the man’s trial may take several days as Guaire Amalasan’s did (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Once found guilty and sentenced the man is taken to the Traitor’s Court to be gentled under an order from the Amyrlin Seat (The Dragon Reborn, The Price of the Ring) with all those at the Tower looking on. Warders guard the courtyard lest an attempt be made to free him (as happened when Amalasan and Raolin Darksbane were gentled). Thirteen Aes Sedai perform the gentling and the Amyrlin pronounces:

This man, abandoned of the Light, has touched saidin, the male half of the True Source. Thus do we hold him. Most abominably has this man channeled the One Power, knowing that saidin is tainted by the Dark One, tainted for men’s pride, tainted for men’s sin. Thus do we chain him…

- The Dragon Reborn, The Price of the Ring


Information at the Tower is categorised into several levels indicating who is allowed to know it. From lowest to highest security rating these are:

Not sealed: The newest novice is allowed to read it or be told it (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory). Whether Aes Sedai are happy if a member of the public learns of it is another matter - Aes Sedai are not big on telling the general populace anything. :P

For higher levels of security, written information is sealed with wax and labelled with the appropriate security level.

Sealed to the Tower: Forbidden to anyone except initiates of the Tower (New Spring, An Answer). Those who inform non-initiates perform a penance.

Sealed to the Ring: Any Aes Sedai can know (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory).

Sealed to the Hall: Known only to the Sitters (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory). Closed sessions of the Hall are Sealed to the Hall (The Path of Daggers, The Law and Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). In The Gathering Storm these were mistakenly described as Sealed to the Flame, yet at least one session did not have the Amyrlin present, and she did not even know it was taking place (The Gathering Storm, A Message in Haste).

Sealed to the Flame: Known only to the Amyrlin and the person/s who informed her or who she informed. With this security level, someone can inform the Amyrlin secretly of something in writing and she can do the same to a person or a group of people in writing or verbally. For anyone other than the Amyrlin, breaking a seal on something labelled ‘Sealed to the Flame’ is as serious as assaulting the Amyrlin's person or committing treason (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory and (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame). In The Gathering Storm, secret meetings and closed sessions of the Hall were designated Sealed To The Flame, but this is inconsistent with the usage of the term in earlier books.

The instructions the Amyrlin gives Sealed to the Flame are similar to papal allocutions - secret addresses to the Cardinals – or perhaps to secret papal decrees which carry a penalty of automatic excommunication if the secrecy is broken.

Since knowledge is power, much intelligence is gathered for Aes Sedai by networks of agents:

Each Ajah has one sister as the head of the Ajah’s intelligence network, whose job is to compile and coordinate the information gathered by the eyes-and-ears and bring it to the head or ruling council of that Ajah. Each Ajah then decides what, if any, of that information it is willing to share with the Tower as a whole through their Sitters. Knowledge they decide to share with the Amyrlin Seat traditionally is passed through the Keeper…The Amyrlin has her own vast intelligence network, and is therefore not totally dependent on the Ajahs. Her designated overseer is officially the head of intelligence for the entire Tower, but in actuality is answerable only to the Amyrlin herself.

The Amyrlin is not the only Aes Sedai with a personal information network. In fact, only the Whites and those Aes Sedai who spend their lives at study inside the Tower are known to lack one. Individual Aes Sedai are not bound to share their information with either the Tower or their own Ajah, and in fact frequently share nothing. All these overlapping but unrelated networks give rise to a vast, tangled web of secrets and intrigue, with each Aes Sedai concentrating first and foremost on her own personal goals and (similarly) each Ajah.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time


The Tower library was built contemporaneously with the Tower and therefore dates from the founding of the Tower. The records in the library are divided into depositories, each containing information on a particular subject. There are 12 publicly known depositories and a thirteenth containing secret documents, records and histories which is only known and accessed by the Amyrlin, Keeper, Sitters and the few librarians who maintain the Depository (Crossroads of Twilight Glossary). This is amusing in the light of the fact that, in the US, a depository library receives information products from all three branches of the US Government free in exchange for making them freely available to all the public, not just to signed up members. This isn't quite how the White Tower library functions!

All librarians we have seen mentioned have been from the Brown Ajah. They are security conscious and man every door to ensure no items or fragments leave without their knowledge (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark). Different groups enter and leave by certain doors so the librarians can quickly determine whether the information they are accessing or removing is appropriate for their rank. For example novices enter by one door, the Novice Door, if getting books for themselves, and another, the main east door, if collecting information for a sister.

The White Tower library, with its control over who can access particular information, has a real world parallel in the Vatican library, which was founded very early in the history of the Catholic Church. Both are huge private libraries with a repository of secret archives with limited access.

The constitution and administration of the Vatican library are governed by their own laws (Pastor Bonus, June 28, 1988, art. 190) just as there are laws associated with the Tower library.


The Tower’s official histories, the Chronicles (of the Keeper’s title and for which she is, or was at one time, responsible for ‘keeping’, see Keeper section of the Aes Sedai Laws and Customs Administration), are carefully crafted to present the events of the Tower in a way that puts the Amyrlin and the Tower in the best possible light. As an example, Elaida is attempting some spin-doctoring on the subject of Taim:

The name burned her mouth; the only false Dragon ever to escape being gentled once in the hands of Aes Sedai. Not a thing she wanted in the Chronicles under her reign, certainly not until she decided how it should be recorded. At present the Chronicles told nothing after his capture.

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

No doubt she was holding off until Taim is captured or killed and consequently lost her chance to have her version as the official version. Much spin-doctoring occurs on the subject of male channellers: the Chronicles only record sixteen male channellers found in the last twenty years, when actually twenty-four were, as recorded in the Thirteenth Depository (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). Eight, including Owyn, were never taken to the Tower…Illegal gentling of men was rife right after the Aiel War.

The official histories of the White Tower are unavailable to anyone save Aes Sedai. Dissemination of their contents to non-Aes Sedai is prohibited by White Tower law.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

So even the official history of the White Tower has limited distribution. The Thirteenth Depository containing the ‘true’ (or more accurate ;)) history has even more limited access. By Tower law, only the Amyrlin, Keeper, Sitters and the trusted Brown Ajah librarians who maintain the Thirteenth Depository are authorised to access it and revealing the existence of the depository, its contents or the law regarding it is treason. Ajah Heads must send Sitters to obtain information from it; they cannot consult it personally unless they are also currently Sitters. According to Siuan, even this high security archive is not accurate; she has found hints of things that had not been recorded even there (A Crown of Swords, An Oath).

Siuan only told Egwene about the Thirteenth Depository when Egwene was Amyrlin, therefore Siuan did not commit treason because Egwene was entitled to know of it. However, Egwene’s revelation of the existence of the depository, its law and some of its contents to the rank-and-file Aes Sedai is treason. It doesn't matter if Egwene is considered a novice or an Amyrlin or anything in between; she has committed treason.

Discrepancies and errors have been noted in the Liber Pontificalis or Book of the Popes which chronicles the reigns of Popes from the very early years of the papacy to the mid-15th century, just as the Chronicles are also of variable reliability.

The Thirteenth Depository is an allusion to the Archivio Segreto (Secret Archives) of the Vatican, which were closed to all Vatican outsiders until the late 19th century and have limited access in the present day.


Written by Linda, April, 2006 and updated January 2011

Contributors: Dominic


Taura-Tierno said...

"in the books we hear of an Aes Sedai who bore a child for a man"

Where do we hear this? What's the reference? I didn't find anything about that in the same place where Samitsu offered to have Flinn's child (whether she was serious or not could be questioned, too).

Linda said...

If Samitsu wasn't serious about bearing a child or giving Damer all her gold or doing whatever Damer wished, then she shouldn't have offered in front of six witnesses, one of them Cadsuane.

Aes Sedai bearing children at the Tower's order is an example given of them being prepared to do anything told. One of these references is ACOS, Old Fear and New Fear.

Taura-Tierno said...

You mean this?

""I don't know what would be enough, Perrin." She shivered slightly. "Is there anything an Aes Sedai would not do, or put up with, if the White Tower told her to? I have studied my history, and I was taught to read between the lines. Mashera Donavelle bore seven children for a man she loathed, whatever the stories say, and Isebaille Tobanyi delivered the brothers she loved to their enemies and the throne of Arad Doman with them, and Jestian Redhill...." She shivered again, not so slightly."

It's Faile saying that. It doesn't mean that what she's been told is true.

I'm not saying that it's not a possibility, just that it's equally possible that she's got it wrong. I don't doubt that an Aes Sedai might have children if the Tower ordered it - or that Aes Sedai have at occasions had children, it feels unlikely that it's never happened - I just mean that that paragraph feels like weak evidence for it.

Unless there are other refernces. I'm been pondering the question of Aes Sedai having children myself lots of times, so if you know other references, I'd definitely be grateful if you could mention them :)

WOT Reader said...

I read this article on yahoo:

Some of the things they described like hoarding information and thousands of rules sound similar to the Aes Sedai. Do any of you consider the White Tower is a fear-based group?

Linda said...

Good observation WOT Reader. Most of the 10 signs were prevalent during Siuan's and Elaida's reigns, except perhaps no 4. Elaida rewarded sycophants like Katerine.

The White Tower was founded in fear (of men channellers, of the Shadow, and of the Breaking) back at the beginning of the Third Age and much of its structure was established then, including the secrecy of Ajah policy and the identity of the Ajah Heads. It has also been corrupted by the Black Ajah since the Trolloc Wars.

Therefore it would not be surprising if it does have signs of being fear based. There were probably times, eg a few centuries AB until the Trolloc Wars when there might have been little fear in the Tower, but that is a distant memory with the BA in the ascendant until recently and the world possibly about to end.

Perhaps Egwene will be able to undo this.