WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A MEMORY OF LIGHT
This is first of two essays on the laws and customs of Aes Sedai.
Just about everything Aes Sedai do is according to, or influenced by, custom or law, and consequently there are a great many of both. There are far more customs than laws, some enforced as strictly as Tower law, and yet there are more laws than any Aes Sedai can remember:
The Light knew there were more laws than anyone really knew, often contradictory layers of law laid down over the centuries, but tradition and custom ruled Aes Sedai as much as Tower law ever had, perhaps more so.Excuses are not accepted in Tower law:
- Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises
"If anyone could break any rule they chose, do whatever they chose, and escape punishment merely by doing some good to balance it, the world would be chaos."and as a result customs are often followed or enforced as firmly as law. This leads to reluctance to change, and also to an accretion of laws and customs, as we shall see.
- Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again
However, three thousand years has led to some changes, and also to the acknowledgement that sometimes it is valid to break custom, at least, if not law:
“You must know the rules to the letter and live with them before you can know which rules you may break and when.”The multitude of Aes Sedai laws and customs have been divided into two and grouped according to subject. This essay will describe those of the Aes Sedai administration, while the second essay will cover those of the Aes Sedai society.
That said right out that sometimes you can break the rules.
- New Spring, Practice
WHITE TOWER and TAR VALON
The Aes Sedai have one administrative centre, the White Tower, in its own city, Tar Valon, where all training, initiating, judging and planning takes place.
In 47 AB, a conference of women representing 12 sizeable groups and several small groups decided to unify all Aes Sedai into one organisation and build a new city with a very large tower as a centre of their power. Construction of Tar Valon and the White Tower began in 98 AB and was completed in 202 AB (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).
The Tower was designed as a symbol of Aes Sedai power, a link with the Age of Legends, a haven from the chaos after the Breaking, a secure place for training, research and planning, and lastly a place of mystery to inspire awe and fear in non Aes Sedai. There are three main real world parallels to the Tower: as a link with the Utopian Age of Legends it alludes to Ancient Rome, a parallel of the Age of Legends (see The Age of Legends essay), but it has even stronger similarities with another great institution modelled after Rome, the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy See (or Vatican City), the centre of learning and guidance for Western Europe through the Dark Ages, and lastly to Catholic convents at about the time of the 15th to 16th centuries.
Tar Valon is thus equivalent to the city of Ancient Rome and also to the Vatican City. Earlier in the Third Age the area of Aes Sedai held lands was larger than the island of Tar Valon, just as the papacy held the Papal States in the past but this territory has shrunk to the Vatican City.
By Tower law, no one can enter Tar Valon lands with more than twenty armed retainers and a like number unarmed unless their forces are those sworn to the White Tower (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). This is a parallel with Ancient Rome, where by law no general holding imperium could enter Rome with his army. The law was violated by Artur Hawkwing, who brought his entire army into Aes Sedai held lands accompanying the Aes Sedai taking Amalasan to Tar Valon. The Amyrlin, Bonwhin, gave him five days to rest his army and then they had to leave without delay. When Amalasan’s supporters attacked the Tower, Hawkwing was asked to bring his army back and drive them off. The Aes Sedai who brought Amalasan to the Tower were given a heroes’ welcome in public and then stiff penances in secret.
The city of Tar Valon is governed by a council of Aes Sedai chosen by the Hall of the Tower. This council oversees a staff of non-Aes Sedai clerks and bureaucrats that actually handles the day-to-day administration of the city.The Tower maintains a large bureaucracy (as the Vatican does) and Tower Guards (equivalent to the Swiss Guard). Serving on the Tower Guard is regarded by Aes Sedai as a sacred duty (The Gathering Storm, A Fount of the Power). The Tower is set within considerable grounds in the charge of the groundsmaster. There are various gardens, including the shady Spring Garden between two walls and the Amyrlin’s Garden. The exterior of the Tower must be kept pristine, with not even vines in the Aes Sedai’s balcony gardens allowed to grow over the surface (The Gathering Storm, In the White Tower).
- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
The main building of the White Tower has forty levels and is approximately six hundred feet tall (183m) and about two hundred feet (61m) in diameter at the top and slightly wider at the base. The roof is flat. The wider, bottom half of the Tower is reserved for communal and administrative purposes, with the colours of the Ajahs used in equal proportions in these areas, while in the top half of the Tower, more than three thousand sisters can be accommodated in the seven equal pie-shaped sections of the seven Ajahs (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Each Ajah’s section also contains meeting rooms and workrooms. The ceilings are fifteen feet (4.6m) high in the lower levels and twelve feet (3.7m) in the upper levels. In The Gathering Storm the Ajahs are described as having whole floors to themselves: the White on the 3rd level (The Gathering Storm, In the white Tower), the Yellow was on the 6th (The Gathering Storm, In Darkness) and the Brown was on the 21st and 22nd (The Gathering Storm, In Darkness). The second kitchen was in the basement until it was moved by the Dark One’s touch on the Pattern.
The novices and Accepted are housed in the domed wings (The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again) which are 300 feet (91m) long and 150 feet (46m) tall and have 15 levels; the Accepted in the western wing (New Spring, Practice) and the novices in the eastern. There are 200 rooms for Accepted and almost 400 for novices. Once both novices and Accepted were housed two to a room (New Spring, Practice). The Library is the second largest building of the Aes Sedai and it contains offices, workrooms and rooms for Brown sisters as well as vast storage, and perhaps as many secret rooms as open ones (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). It is a beautiful building of pale stone streak with blue in the shape of crashing waves and contains many rooms.
One of the women present at the original conference in 47 AB, Elisane Tishar, was selected as the first Amyrlin Seat by 98 AB, with a Hall of the Tower chosen and a council of seven (six of whom were at the unification conference; all seven probably being the Ajah Heads) closely advising her (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).
The difficulty in achieving the original union is evidenced by the seven advisors of the Amyrlin Seat in addition to the Hall, the large amount of autonomy and variation of rules and ideals each Ajah retains, the equal size of the separate quarters for each Ajah (having separate quarters ensured that the Ajahs would retain their autonomy and secrets) and the equal representation of Ajah colours in communal areas. A further sign of the difficulty of the unification was the severity of Tower reaction to, and punishment of, “women claiming to be Aes Sedai”, a custom which began immediately union was reached (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). 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. More recently and against custom, Egwene is considering instigating a new wave of unification and catholicism aimed at having every female channeller attached to and recognised by the White Tower.
By the end of the second century AB and the completion of the White Tower, the seven Ajahs definitely were in existence, each focussed on a particular purpose and each associated with a particular colour (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).
Ajahs played an important part in the organisation of Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends. They were composed of men and women brought together informally in various numbers to achieve a specific task or aim. After the stated aim was achieved, the ajah would disband, and the members would return to their normal life.
In the first centuries after the Breaking, the nature of ajahs changed. At the unification conference in 47 AB there were more than 12 women “each sitting for her ajah” (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). By 200 AB Ajahs had reduced in number, were regarded as “a sisterhood of Aes Sedai” and were no longer temporary, but permanent.
The Ajahs have retained their autonomy as well as their original purposes:
The world saw Aes Sedai as a monolith, towering and solid, or it had before the current division in the Tower became common knowledge, yet the pure fact was that the Ajahs stood apart in all but name, the Hall their only true meeting point, and the sisters themselves were little more than a convocation of hermits, speaking three words beyond what was absolutely required only with a few friends. Or with another sister they had joined in some design.All three historic parallels to the White Tower have similar groupings to Ajahs. The situation in the Senate of Ancient Rome closely parallels that of ajahs in the Age of Legends and prior to the founding of the Tower:
- Crossroads of Twilight, Secrets
For a very long time there was nothing resembling a divergence of party programmes. It was rather a matter of shifting networks of personal and collective associations, as clans and families, and sometimes individuals, combined temporarily with one another in rival groups.An Ajah after the founding of the Tower can be likened to a Congregation, which is a religious order of the Catholic Church with its own set of rules, customs and leader, yet under the papacy. Like the Catholic religious orders, Ajahs became formal, stable groups with their own rules and leadership under the Amyrlin and, perhaps to a lesser degree, the Hall.
- Michael Grant, History of Rome
Convents in Renaissance times were often internally divided into families, cliques of friends or groups of similar social status or occupations (Virgins of Venice, Mary Laven).
Each Aes Sedai except the Amyrlin Seat belongs to one of the seven societies or Ajahs of the White Tower. Each follows a specific philosophy of the use of the One Power and the purposes of the Aes Sedai; each has its own agenda, its own internal style of rule, and its own traditions.By custom Ajahs zealously guard their independence, agenda, traditions and secrets. Some general customs or rules illustrate this:
- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
- Members of the same Ajah must give at least the appearance of a common front and not argue or scold each other in public (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
- They must not reveal the actual identity of their Ajah Head to any outside the Ajah (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).
- ’Eyes-and-ears’ gather information for, and report to, a particular Ajah (or a particular Aes Sedai). The Aes Sedai in charge of the Ajah’s spy network is also a secret within the Ajah (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). By strong tradition the Ajahs send only a little of their gathered information to the Amyrlin via the Keeper (A Crown of Swords, Prologue).
- Accepted are taught that they will have almost as much to learn once they gain the shawl as before (New Spring, Just Before Dawn).
- Weaves are included among the Ajah secrets (New Spring, Changes).
Aes Sedai are guided to the right Ajah during their training. A new Aes Sedai once “asked admission” or “begged and entreated admission” to an Ajah, though this custom is now invoked only in exceptional circumstances, for example after Siuan and Leane were judicially stilled, Healed and reinstated as Aes Sedai.
With a membership encompassing nearly one in five of Aes Sedai, the Red Ajah is certainly the largest. Close behind comes the Green, followed in order by the Grey, the Brown, the Yellow, the Blue and finally the White Ajah. It seems that these sizes have remained roughly in the same proportions since the Breaking, with seldom a shift of more than one place in the ranking.Blue Ajah
- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
The Blue Ajah is run by a single very powerful woman, the First Selector, and is perhaps the most influential of the Ajahs, despite being one of the smaller ones. The primary focus of the Blue Ajah is to champion worthy causes (from an Aes Sedai point of view) and right wrongs, which they do in a focussed, passionate manner. Along with the Geens, they are considered the most emotional sisters. Blues are skilled politicians and administrators. Since Artur Hawkwing's time, more Amyrlins have been raised from the Blue than from any other Ajah (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).
The Blues are an ambitious Ajah and make full use of any ability of each sister (New Spring, Entering Home), which is why they achieve so much and have so much influence even though they are a small Ajah. At the time of the Last Battle there were about one hundred Blue sisters, make it the second smallest Ajah.
The histories were filled with accounts of how dogged the Blues could be at getting their way, particularly when they were forced into a corner.Their ‘eyes-and-ears’ networks, both Ajah and personal, is the most extensive of the Ajahs and their informants report on matters of political intrigue (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). The networks are used for passing messages out as well as for sending reports in (New Spring, Entering Home).
- The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame
The Blue Ajah could be compared with the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church. Both are known for their dedication to causes, for their extensive use of - and rumoured involvement in – pragmatic politics, for their large spy network, for their great influence on the leadership (papacy or Amyrlin), and for their belief that the Order should use all their members' skills to the optimum. Like the Blues, the Jesuits were disbanded under one Pope (Clement XIV), hunted and forced into hiding, and then later reinstated by another Pope (Pius VII in 1814).
Customs of the Blue Ajah:
The title of the Ajah Head, First Selector, must never be revealed (New Spring, Just Before Dawn). It would be interesting to know what the First Selector is selector of—causes? The Blue Ajah Head is not usually a Sitter while she is Head (New Spring, Entering Home).
All Blue sisters residing in Tar Valon line the corridor in their shawls to greet a new Blue sister (Cetalia had enough rank to flout this rule) (New Spring, Just Before Dawn). A new sister is given dresses, carpets and furnishings out of the Ajah’s finances (New Spring, Entering Home). These may be customs of all Ajahs.
Another possible custom is that they do not channel to open the doors when entering the Ajah quarters (New Spring, Just Before Dawn).
Blue sisters must refrain from marriage (New Spring, Just Before Dawn).
A newly raised Blue sister makes a pie for the sister who gave her the sixth welcome kiss (New Spring, Just Before Dawn).
Blues must wear all blue on the first day of the month and wear blue stockings when leaving Tar Valon (New Spring, Just Before Dawn). (This is an allusion to ‘blue-stocking’, an early Twentieth Century derogatory name for an intellectual woman – the White Tower being an ivory tower). They are not allowed to wear red clothing inside the Tower:
Red gems were allowed… but the colour was forbidden in clothing, a matter of some long-standing animosity between the Blue and the Red, so old no one was actually certain what had begun it or when. Blue and Red opposed each other as a matter of course, at times bringing the Hall to a near standstill.Secret weaves of the Blue Ajah include a weave that stirs those it is woven on to feel unease ranging from slight anticipation to complete panic depending on the tightness of the weave (New Spring, The Evening Star), and a weave that can repel insects or make them gather and bite or sting, though it is not intended for the insects to sting people (New Spring, Some Tricks of the Power).
- New Spring, Changes
The Brown Ajah forsakes involvement with the mundane world and dedicates itself to seeking and preserving knowledge.
That, among all things, is the most sacred duty of the Brown—to arm the world with knowledge.Their quarters are plain (New Spring, Entering Home) and Brown sisters tend to also dress plainly. A council rules the Ajah, and the Ajah Head is simply the head of this council, although she may be informally referred to as First Chair. Browns have little interest in politics and administration, believing there are more important and interesting things to do (see RJ at DragonCon05). There is always an odd number of Council members–to avoid time-wasting deadlocks–between five and thirteen (The Wheel of Time Companion). The Browns are primarily responsible for the procurement and preservation of the books and scrolls in the vast Tower library and for discovering new knowledge, such as of ter’angreal or new Talents. The Tower’s secret archives, the Thirteenth Depository, is maintained by trusted Browns and they often report information from it to the other Ajahs (The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame). Informants loyal to the Browns look for caches of books and knowledge (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). At the time of the Last Battle there were ~130 Brown sisters (The Wheel of Time Companion).
- The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai
"Every woman in the Brown," Verin said, "seeks to produce something lasting. Research or study that will be meaningful. Others often accuse us of ignoring the world around us. They think we only look backward. Well, that is inaccurate. If we are distracted, it is because we look forward, toward those who will come. And the information, the knowledge we gather . . . we leave it for them. The other Ajahs worry about making today better; we yearn to make tomorrow better."
- The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai
It is against custom for the Brown Ajah Head to forcefully order a Brown Sister to undergo a mission (Lord of Chaos, Gifts). As Cadsuane was surprised to observe, Brown Sisters do not refuse to discuss neutral matters even if they are in opposing factions (Crossroads of Twilight, Ornaments).
The Green Ajah (called the Battle Ajah during the Trolloc Wars) holds itself ready for Tarmon Gai'don and specialises in battle weaves. Until then, Greens fight for justice often through their Warders’ swords, but that is just what they do while they wait for the Last Battle (New Spring, The Itch). Green ‘eyes-and-ears’ report information on military matters (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). At the time of the Last Battle, there were ~180 Green sisters (The Wheel of Time Companion).
Considered arrogant and forthright by the other Ajahs, the Green Ajah is also militaristic: the Ajah Head is titled Captain-General, they customarily stick to their hierarchies in everything (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark) and the decor of the Ajah quarters features weapons and battle scenes:
Every door along the hallways was carved with a sword, point-up, gilded for the rooms of Sitters and silvered or lacquered for many others… Kerene’s door, bearing a sword lacquered in red, gold and black, also stood open…Moiraine had no idea what the lacquering meant, or the colours, and she suspected she never would unless she chose the Green.The colour of the swords on the doors probably indicates the rank of the sister, hence the gold swords for the Sitters. The three colours on Kerene’s door sword may indicate she was the Ajah Head at that time, though she was often out of the Tower (New Spring, The Itch).
- New Spring, The Itch
The custom for selecting Sitters is that Green sisters nominate choices and the Captain-General selects one (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue).
A primary requisite for the Ajah is a love of men. Unlike in other Ajahs, by custom Greens may bond as many Warders as they wish and their Warders often live in their Aes Sedai’s apartments instead of in quarters in Tar Valon or in the Guards’ barracks. The Green Ajah does not forbid marriage and Greens with one Warder are often married to them.
The Grey Ajah are mediators, seeking harmony and consensus.and the presence of a Grey sister leading a delegation immediately implies negotiations. They are knowledgeable in the laws of all nations, and many kingdoms ask the advice of Grey sisters to ensure their treaties will hold, though such treaties may further the Tower’s goals more than those of the original parties (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).
- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
Greys consider travel to be an important part of their profession (A Memory of Light, Just Another Sell Sword) and take particular interest in Travelling weaves. Many of the Aes Sedai making gateways for messengers, forces and supplies in the Last Battle were Grays. At the time of the Last Battle, there were ~140 Grey sisters (The Wheel of Time Companion).
By custom, the Greys select Sitters by discussing possible candidates until a consensus is reached on two or three and then holding a secret ballot (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). The Greys are thus the most democratic of the Ajahs. The Grey Ajah Head is titled Head Clerk, and this “really describes what she does, in a manner of speaking” (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). It is thus an ‘officially’ administrative position.
The Red Ajah is focused on finding men who can channel and gentling them; or more properly, bringing them to Tar Valon to be tried and gentled. The Reds regard such men as so dangerous that the Blues believe a Red might kill a sister she thought intended to protect a man who could channel (New Spring, An Arrival). Their task leads many Reds to end up looking at all men negatively. Reds practice fighting other channellers and battling weaves they cannot see (A Memory of Light, A Dangerous Place).
The Red Ajah 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). Male channellers are regarded as tainted or abandoned of the Light (The Dragon Reborn, The Price of the Ring) (see Male Channellers section in Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society), or even as unbelievers (see Unbelievers article). By Tower law male channellers must be brought to Tar Valon (equivalent to Rome) to be tried and sentenced. The Inquisition was replaced in 1908 by Pope Saint Pius X with the Congregation of the Holy Office, whose members are canon lawyers advising the Pope, with no judicial power. The Congregation of the Holy Office is first among the Roman congregations. Interestingly, the Red Ajah, the largest Ajah, with about 200 members at the time of the Last Battle, will probably be reformed, due to Elaida’s actions and the fact that saidin is no longer tainted:
"This will be a difficult time for the Red Ajah, daughter," Egwene said. "Their nature has always been to capture men who can channel, but reports claim that saidin is cleansed."The Red Ajah is led by a single woman, the Highest, who is considered by other Reds as the equal of the Amyrlin Seat (A Crown of Swords, Spears). Hence the Red Ajah Law that:
"There will still be rogue channelers, Mother," Silviana said. "And men are not to be trusted."
Someday, we will have to move beyond that last sentiment, Egwene thought. But for now, it is true enough to let stand. "I didn't say that your purpose would vanish, only that it would change. I see great things for the Red Ajah in the future—an expanding of vision, a renewal of duty.”
- The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again
when the Highest spoke, everyone obeyed, including Sitters. The sole exception, by Ajah law, was voting in the Hall, though some women who held the title had managed to ensure that any vote near to their hearts went as they wished.Red Customs:
- Knife of Dreams, Prologue
By ancient and very strong custom, Reds do not bond Warders, and Red sisters who suggest otherwise have a penance imposed. A Red Sitter can suggest Warders would be useful without repercussions (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame). This custom was changed recently:
”Custom can be as hard to change as law, harder at times, but it has been decided to change ours. Henceforth, Red sisters may bond Warders, but only men who can channel. Each sister may bond as many as she feels comfortable with. Given the Green, for example, I think that is unlikely to be more than three or four."By custom, the Red Ajah strongly discourages friendships outside the Ajah (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame), even forcing new sisters to snub their former friends. The Reds hold themselves separate to a degree from the other Ajahs, just as Inquisitors in the Whitecloaks do.
- Knife of Dreams, Epilogue
The Reds are likely to have a ban on wearing blue in the Tower, just as the Blues are banned from wearing red.
The White, largely eschewing both the world and the value of worldly knowledge, devotes itself to questions of philosophy and truth.White sisters pride themselves on viewing the world dispassionately and logically, but other Aes Sedai consider them lacking in empathy. They have a very small network of eyes and ears that matches their small interest in the external world. Being sent on external missions is not regarded favourably by any White. Since they rarely desire to leave the Tower, Whites usually don’t bond a Warder.
- A Crown of Swords, Glossary
The Head of the White Ajah is the First Reasoner, and she has largely autocratic control due to the lack of other official positions in the White. Potential candidates for Sitters must have the support of ten sisters. Actual campaigning is considered unseemly, and voting is by an open show of hands. At the time of the Last Battle, there were ~80 White sisters (The Wheel of Time Companion), making the White Ajah the smallest.
Consistent with their disregard for the world, their quarters are plain (New Spring, Entering Home). Whites wear their Ajah colours most of the time (Lord of Chaos, Gifts). Since they usually wear full mourning (all white, see forthcoming Wheel of Time Fashion and Real World Nations article), Whites wear black ribbons as a sign of mourning (New Spring, Changes).
Yellow sisters are wholly devoted to Healing sickness and injury as well as researching new weaves to restore health (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Being a Yellow isn’t about skill with Healing, but about having a passion to make things well and fix what is broken (The Gathering Storm, Unexpected Encounters), so much so that dedicated Yellows such as Romanda and Samitsu hate to use the One Power for death (The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone) or anything trivial or mundane (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue).
The Yellows’ informants look for outbreaks of disease. The Yellow Ajah may also take on responsibilities such as caring for beggars in Tar Valon (The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone).
The emergency signal is a bunch of broom weed hanging upside down with their stalks wrapped their whole length in a white ribbon and then tied with a yellow ribbon with the ends split in three (The Fires of Heaven, A Signal).
Yellows have flamboyant quarters (New Spring, Entering Home) and are considered arrogant because they are convinced that Healing is the only worthwhile, and therefore important, use of the Power. At the time of the Last Battle there were ~120 Yellow sisters (The Wheel of Time Companion). They are led by the First Weaver.
The public official positions of the Aes Sedai are the Amyrlin, the Keeper, the twenty-one Sitters (three for each Ajah) of the Hall and the Mistress of Novices. There are also the seven Ajah Heads, but these are secret, each known only within her Ajah. The convents of the 15th to 16th centuries were founded on a slightly more mixed constitution, based on the sharing of authority between the abbess (equivalent to the Amyrlin), a group of elders (‘the discreet ones’ or ‘mothers of advice’, similar to Sitters in some aspects and Ajah Heads in others) and the chapter, which encompassed the professed nuns (more broadly based than the Hall) (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).
The Amyrlin and Sitters are political and legislative positions, while the Ajah Heads and Keeper are more administrative. Those in executive positions (including Ajah Heads within their Ajah, the only place they are known) outrank other Aes Sedai, no matter their strength. The customs and laws associated with each position will be discussed in turn.
AMYRLIN SEAT (AHM-her-lin SEAT)
The name Amyrlin may refer to Tamyrlin, the person who discovered how to channel and the Ring of Tamyrlin worn by the First Among Servants in the Age of Legends. It also may allude to Merlin of Arthurian myth.
Many laws and customs, and a lot of ceremony, surround the Amyrlin.
The Amyrlin Seat rules the Hall from a chair of the same name and is elected for life by the Hall of the Tower. She is the supreme head of the Tower, and is a member of all Ajahs, denoted by all seven colours upon her stole, regardless of the Ajah she was raised from. [Stoles can vary in width]. At the same time, she is considered to be of no Ajah, favoring none above another. Considered equal, if not slightly superior, to any king or queen, theoretically at least she has absolute power over all the Aes Sedai. In actuality, the Amyrlin Seat must usually engage in fairly sophisticated political give and take with the Hall to keep her reign strong.The Amyrlin is elected by the Sitters of the Hall. Her closest real world equivalent, the Pope, is elected by the Cardinals of the Catholic Church.
- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
The number of Amyrlins raised from each Ajah since Bonwhin are: 11 Blue, 9 Grey, 7 Green, 5 Brown, 4 White, 3 Yellow and 2 Red. From Deane Aryman to Siuan Sanche, their reign lengths range from Egwene’s few months and 4 years for Marith Jaen to the 92 years of Deane with an average reign of 29 years. Candidates from the White or Yellow are typically of average age for an Amyrlin.
This seems to indicate the Hall almost always raises Amyrlins who are expected to have two to three decades left to live, deemed the ‘proper’ length for a rule. Further support comes from Jordan’s statement that:
Just as it is unusual for a sister to be raised to Sitter before she had worn the shawl for a hundred years, it is unusual for a sister to be raised to the Amyrlin Seat short of having worn the shawl for a hundred and fifty to two hundred years, and above two hundred years is most common.Similarly, candidates for the equivalent of the Amyrlin in the Renaissance convents, the abbess or prioress, had to be at least forty years of age, and to have been professed at least 8 years previously (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).
- Robert Jordan’s blog
Sometimes the Hall raised an Amyrlin who had been Aes Sedai for 150 to 200 years, and in reaction the next Amyrlin afterward was very old and had one of the shorter reigns on the list. This is similar to what the Cardinals do when selecting a Pope; for example it was correctly expected that the successor of Pope John Paul II would be quite old.
There is an ironic parallel that the Cardinals elect the oldest of their number when they can't settle on a candidate for Pope, whereas the Aes Sedai are electing their youngest in times of indecision and turmoil. Siuan, Elaida and Egwene were all raised young. In Siuan’s case no candidate could gain enough support, since there was a lack of strong experienced candidates due to the large number of Aes Sedai killed after the Aiel War. Siuan became a compromise candidate whom various Sitters thought they could influence or control due to her inexperience (see Robert Jordan’s blog). Some of the Sitters like Seaine might have wanted to stop the ‘turmoil’ and changes of direction caused by short reigns by choosing a very young Amyrlin, while the Cardinals opt for weaker transitional reigns.
Amyrlins are customarily raised for their wisdom, skill and/or experience, not their strength in the Power (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). Social standing of the Aes Sedai’s background does not count either (New Spring, Practice).
The law on selecting an Amyrlin assumes, rather than states, that the candidate is an Aes Sedai (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). Egwene was the first non-Aes Sedai initiate of the Tower to be raised (A Crown of Swords,An Oath) and the rebel Aes Sedai were originally embarrassed by this break in custom, but it does have a real life parallel in the Catholic Church. Any man baptised into the Catholic Church can be Pope, although the last Pope who was not already a Cardinal when elected was Pope Urban VI in 1378. Canon law requires that if a layman or non-bishop is elected, he receives episcopal consecration from the Dean of the College of Cardinals before assuming the Pontificate. This is an ironic parallel with the newly raised Egwene, who promptly raised four other Accepted Aes Sedai and by implication, herself, (in contradiction to the law on raising Aes Sedai) in her inaugural speech. Interestingly, she did swear the Three Oaths before she was raised by the Hall of the Tower, although the Tower Sitters did not know that.
After the death, resignation or deposition of an Amyrlin, the Hall reigns over the Tower until a new Amyrlin is raised, with increasingly strict measures to see that they don’t take too long (New Spring, Changes). This is a parallel of the sede vacante, as the papal vacancy is known, when certain limited powers pass to the College of Cardinals, which is convoked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals. The Cardinal electors are pressed to elect a new Pope too; they must meet in conclave within ten days of the Pope's death, and remain in seclusion until a Pope has been elected.
The Hall meets to discuss and select a candidate for Amyrlin that the majority agree to, a parallel of the prattiche, a discussion of possible candidates that takes place between the death of the Pope and the beginning of the conclave of Cardinals. Candidates are usually proposed by Sitters but can also be put forward by any six sisters. A woman with the support of three Sitters or any six other sisters can demand a vote be taken for her candidacy. This is the case for Egwene, who was sponsored by six sisters.
Three Aes Sedai formally summon the candidate before the Hall in the same phrases used for a trial (see Crime section, Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society). The summons to become Amyrlin cannot be refused (Lord of Chaos, Summoned in Haste and In the Hall of the Sitters), although Cadsuane avoided a summons by vanishing from the Tower for ten years (A Crown of Swords, Diamonds and Stars).
A gong sounds three loud beats three times within the Hall to let the Tower known an Amyrlin is to be raised and the candidate enters with three sponsoring Aes Sedai surrounding her like guards (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). Egwene’s raising ceremony in the Tower was atypical because the Hall had already voted to raise her (The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands). The oldest Sitter asks who comes before the Hall of the Tower and the youngest Sitter examines all present to see that they are women. The verification of sex dates from the Breaking of the World, when men had to be excluded as Aes Sedai. The whole ceremony used to be performed with all naked as proof that no one was a man. This is a parallel with the legendary female Pope, Pope Joan, and also with the requirement that the Pope and all Cardinals be male.
The oldest Sitter asks who pledges heart, soul and life for the candidate and after the three sponsors declare themselves and the candidate takes three steps forward and kneels, asks the candidate why she is there and how and where she would serve (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters).
The Sitters of the Hall vote by standing to signify acceptance. There must be no talking aside from the ritual phrases, just as during the election of a Pope. The vote has to be the greater consensus: at least one Sitter from each Ajah is required, with a minimum of eleven Sitters present and every Sitter who is present must stand (A Crown of Swords, Glossary). (This never happened in Egwene’s case; the Red Ajah was effectively disbarred representation by the other Ajahs (The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again). A Pope is elected by a two thirds majority (a lesser consensus). For the raising of the Amyrlin in the Salidar Hall, less than nine votes signified an outright rejection (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). We do not know if nine is the absolute minimum for a vote on a particular candidate for Amyrlin or whether the minimum is half the Sitters present in the Hall (which in Salidar in that session was 18, making the minimum nine). Those Sitters remaining seated show they will not be lapdogs:
One could gain some measure of power by being the only person who remained seated, forcing Egwene to wash her feet and ask for permission to serve. Of course, that also could have singled the woman out, and earned her the dislike of the new Amyrlin.Up to three rounds of voting can take place for the greater consensus to be reached, with the candidate making up to two rounds washing the feet of each Sitter and asking to serve. This is an allusion to Christ washing the feet of His disciples and His instruction to them:
- The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again
He sat down and called the twelve and says to them, “If any of you wants to be the ‘number one’, you have to be last of all and servant of all.”and finally to the title of the Pope as Servant of the Servants of God (the Aes Sedai being ‘Servants of All’).
- Mark 9: 35
The Amyrlin is thus selected by a committee, the Hall, which was one of the three ways a Pope could be elected until Pope John Paul II abolished vote by acclamation and by selection by committee in favour of the secret ballot.
If the greater consensus is reached, the oldest two Sitters lead the new Amyrlin to the Amyrlin Seat and drape her in the stole of the Amyrlin. All the Sitters proclaim: "You are raised to the Amyrlin Seat, in the glory of the Light, that the White Tower may endure forever. The Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat. May the Light illumine the Amyrlin Seat and the White Tower” (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). The new Amyrlin is not asked formally if she freely accepts her election as the Pope is. Saerin did so to Egwene out of compassion for her youth (The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again).
Strictly speaking, neither Elaida nor Egwene were elected legally, since neither had all Ajahs represented when they were elected. However, Elaida had the moral high ground, because she can claim that the Blues had since abandoned the Tower. Her decree disbanding the Blue Ajah was probably as much political necessity as a result of her hatred of the Blues, allowing her Hall to pass proposals requiring the greater consensus and thus the representation of all Ajahs. Egwene believes the Reds would resent their exclusion from the vote (The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again) and would be reluctant to re-unite and tardy in acting on her decrees. After all. on Elaida’s accession the Blues ultimately fled the Tower. However, Egwene’s earlier urging that the Reds save their Ajah and the Hall not disband the Red plus her promotion of a Red as her Keeper may have mitigated this.
The three sponsors, and then the Sitters in order of increasing age, ask to serve the Amyrlin and kiss her ring, similar to the Pope assuming a place of honor as the rest of the Cardinals wait in turn to offer their first ’obedience’ (‘adoratio’ ), and to receive his blessing. The oldest Sitter then announces the Amyrlin to the Tower, and the Sitters raise her and surround her with shimmering light with the Power. The senior Cardinal Deacon announces the Pope from a balcony over St. Peter's Square. The new Pope used to be borne in procession through Rome in the sedia gestatoria (a palanquin) and then give his first public blessing. While raised in the air, the Amyrlin gives a speech in which she names her Keeper. (The new Pope either reconfirms the Cardinal Camerlengo, or appoints another.) It is customary for the new Amyrlin to grant indulgences and relief from penances in honour of the day and for the day to be a day of feasting and celebration, with celebrations continuing for a month (Lord of Chaos, The Colour of Trust). She then blesses the crowd (Lord of Chaos, The Amyrlin is Raised and New Spring, Changes). The new Amyrlin is supposed to spend her first night in contemplation and prayer, (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters).
If the candidate is rejected by the Hall (which seldom happens), she is usually exiled by the Hall lest she cause political instability, and also her three sponsors who stood pledge for her (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). While the fact that an Amyrlin and her sponsors mutually pledge heart, soul and life for each other implies that unsatisfactory behaviour of one of her sponsors can affect an Amyrlin’s reign (or life) and that of an Amyrlin her sponsors’ careers or lives, this didn’t happen. Sheriam, one of Egwene’s original sponsors, being Black has had no effect on how Egwene is regarded.
Resignation of the Amyrlin
Resignation has happened in times of rebellion, or turbulence and stalemate with the Hall and when the rank and file Aes Sedai mutinied against the Hall and Amyrlin, although we have no information on the procedure. In the Catholic Church the resignation of the Pope has been the typical means for ending schisms. In 1417, at the end of the Great Western Schism, one Pope resigned and the other Pope and an antipope were deposed.
Deposing an Amyrlin
This requires the greater consensus in the Hall: a minimum of eleven Sitters with the presence of at least one Sitter from each Ajah except the Amyrlin’s former Ajah (which won’t be informed of the vote until afterwards) and all Sitters standing (A Crown of Swords, Glossary).
The Amyrlin is supposed to be publicly charged and tried first, and given the opportunity to defend herself against the charges (The Fires of Heaven, The Practice of Diffidence). Elaida broke custom, and came very close to breaking law, in the way she deposed Siuan (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences).
An Amyrlin can expect to be deposed for hiding one of the Forsaken from justice and for unsuccessful scheming and large scale failures such as kidnapping the Dragon Reborn (or unsuccessfully attempting to do so) or sending a large, but inadequate, number of sisters to capture male channellers so that they are captured instead (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return). It is considered probably too harsh a penalty for not informing the Hall of the Dragon Reborn and hiding him from the Tower (The Fires of Heaven, The Practice of Diffidence). Deposed Amyrlins are often stilled as well, if they broke serious laws or brought the Tower into disrepute. The Aes Sedai try to ensure that a deposed Amyrlin will not be a rival to any new Amyrlin.
There have been rebellions which raised their own Amyrlin, an equivalent to schisms which elected antipopes. A false Amyrlin, by definition the Amyrlin of the losing side, must be stilled and executed by law (Knife of Dreams, Prologue).
Function and Responsibility
The Amyrlin is a largely political and executive position with some administrative and religious duties. In the convents of the 15th to 16th centuries, the abbess’ role was:
to oversee all aspects of conventual life, from economic affairs to discipline and devotion. While all important business had to pass before the chapter [roughly equivalent to the Hall of the Tower], and while certain offices had particular administrative duties, overall responsibility for managing the nunnery’s resources fell to the abbess.The Amyrlin:
- Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice
- is deeply involved in politics with the Hall and frequently meets with Sitters to discuss matters before the Hall. None of the Hall’s proposals can become law unless she decrees it (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences) but conversely the Hall can hamper her decrees, or even overturn them with the greater consensus.
- grants private and public audiences to delegations or individuals through her Keeper, just as the Pope grants papal audiences though his Private Secretary. Any woman has the right to speak to the Amyrlin in person (The Shadow Rising, Seeds of Shadow). The Amyrlin has private apartments with an anteroom capable of holding a few visitors. Larger delegations are seen in the Amyrlin’s study next door, or in one of the audience halls (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled).
- receives petitions via the Keeper or Aes Sedai. Anyone has the right to petition the Amyrlin, but those in service to the Tower seldom do, and never novices (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). This is why the petitions the Aes Sedai sent Tamra requesting a return to normal routines caused comment (New Spring, Shreds of Serenity).
- gives blessings both formally – during a speech or if requested by petition - or informally such as a simple "The Light bless you, my child." These are a parallel with papal blessings, which may be public or private.
- pronounces anathemas such as when Elaida threatened to do so to any who disobeyed her edict to only approach the Dragon Reborn though the Tower (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return). This would be equivalent to the Pope pronouncing excommunication.
- receives information from her extensive spy network with which she formulates Tower policy or influences international politics, and
- is supposed to watch over the Seals of the Dark One’s prison, though until recently no Amyrlin Seat has known the location of any of the Seals since the Trolloc Wars (The Great Hunt, The Shadow in Shienar).
No wonder she is rarely alone, being usually accompanied by Aes Sedai (New Spring, Practice).
The Amyrlin speaks for all Aes Sedai and all Ajahs. Her word is law and has been for over 3000 years (The Great Hunt, Summoned). The Pope's position as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church is not open to debate or dispute within the Roman Catholic Church; the First Vatican Council anathematised all who dispute the Pope's primacy of honor and of jurisdiction. Not only must she not show bias to or against any Ajah, but she needs to exhibit the interests and qualities exemplified by each Ajah:
She swayed before the needs of the moment, but her actions were well-considered. She had to be as logical as a White, as thoughtful as a Brown, as passionate as a Blue, as decisive as a Green, as merciful as a Yellow, as diplomatic as a Gray. And yes, as vengeful as a Red, when necessary.The Amyrlin can issue any decree she wishes, and we have seen three young Amyrlins each make decrees which contravened laws and yet were accepted. They suffered political difficulties, because there are vital checks and balances to the Amyrlin’s power in the form of the Hall and perhaps also the Ajah Heads. Sisters can respond so slowly to decrees that they fail. The Hall can also overturn decrees with the greater consensus, although this usually triggers a power struggle. However, when the Hall of the Tower declares war, by law 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).
- The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame
Elaida believes the Amyrlin is an absolute monarch, not first among equals; even the Roman Emperor Augustus was careful to name himself ‘first citizen’ to maintain the Senate’s prestige. She claimed that she is Tower Law, and has limitless power, a parallel with Louis XIV of France who said “I am the State” in a judicial context. And like Louis XIV, she was constructing a personal palace. She was ensuring her downfall and probably that of the Hall which complied with her. Her treatment of Shemerin is a good example of both her absolutism and the Hall’s lack of objection (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea). The Hall finally informed Elaida she
”was not an absolute ruler, and that she couldn't continue to make decrees and demands without consulting them.”The Amyrlin does not have sufficient authority to declare a Sitter guilty of a crime such as being a Darkfriend without proof (The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame) or order Aes Sedai to take a Warder (Towers of Midnight, Writings). Nor does she have the power to summarily demote Aes Sedai (The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone) or Accepted. Her authority isn’t invested in her power to channel, except in so far as she has the ability to channel intact (The Gathering Storm, Unexpected Encounters). She can, however, decree any penance short of stilling for any sister or Sitter (The Wheel of Time Companion), although this may alienate the Ajahs an weaken her position rather than strengthen it.
Egwene nodded. "Not an unexpected turn," she said. More than one Amyrlin had become only a figurehead because she'd overextended herself in a similar way. It was what Elaida had been heading for, and that would have been satisfactory, had these not been the end of days.
- The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai
One advantage the Amyrlin has is that whatever the Hall votes, none of the proposals can be carried forward without a decree from her (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences). The Amyrlin’s formal edicts issued under her personal seal, such as Elaida’s edict about approaching the Dragon Reborn (described variously in the books as a proclamation or an edict), with its formal language, authority and threat of permanent anathema, are like a papal bull. The less formal decrees issued through the Keeper (and perhaps with the Keeper’s seal of the Tower) are most similar to papal briefs. The Amyrlin’s instructions 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 (see Information section, Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society).
The Amyrlin can lose authority, especially with the Hall, by going against custom and law (Lord of Chaos, The Amyrlin is Raised) or making unwise decisions. She may find herself forced into taking on a public penance (A Crown of Swords, Prologue and The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai), or unable to get the Hall to accept or act on her decrees, or have her activities restricted (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike), or even be deposed or forced to resign. If she undertakes a voluntary penance, this may appease the Hall and restore some support (The Wheel of Time Companion). The pressure of the position is considerable:
"Everyone you meet will always be testing you, Mother," Siuan said. "You must be prepared for surprises; at any moment someone could throw one at you just to see how you respond."the duties and responsibilities extensive enough to be onerous. Consequently:
- The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod
The Amyrlin needs to learn to ration her strength; some in your place have failed not because they lacked the capacity for greatness, but because they stretched that capacity too thin, sprinting when they should have walked." Egwene refrained from pointing out that Siuan herself had spent much of her tenure as Amyrlin sprinting at a breakneck speed. But it could very well be argued that Siuan had stretched herself too thin, and had fallen as a result.Every Aes Sedai is pledged to obey the Amyrlin and an order from her is to be obeyed as an oath (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled). Elaida believed the pledge the Sitters made at her raising was an actual oath of fealty (The Fires of Heaven, Prologue), but swearing fealty to an Amyrlin is either very rare (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences) or had never happened, even according to the secret histories, prior to Egwene (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory).
- The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod
The Amyrlin Seat may even:
call for any Sitter to resign her chair, or indeed for all to, and that call must be heeded.She can hand out penances to the Hall if they don’t convene as and when she orders (Knife of Dreams, Prologue).
- A Crown of Swords, Glossary
Disobeying the Amyrlin is a crime:
once was bad enough. Twice, and very likely sisters would be sent to bring her back.as is defying her (The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai). Deliberately countermanding an Amyrlin’s order is treason (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame). Even remaining silent too long when instructed to report could be seen as treason (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic).
- New Spring, An Arrival
Respect to the Amyrlin by all is mandatory, with rudeness to her a crime, even for a monarch. A Sitter could be unchaired and set a penance if disrespectful (The Path of Daggers, The Law). The penalty for assaulting an Amyrlin is execution (New Spring, An Arrival); in the Catholic Church the penalty for physical force against the Pope is excommunication.
The Amyrlin is always curtseyed to or bowed to on greeting, the degree of curtsey depending on the person’s rank. She is always addressed as ‘mother’ (a parallel to abbesses of convents, and to the Pope as ‘father’) and she addresses others as ‘son’, ‘daughter’ or ‘child’.
The Keeper knocks before entering the Amyrlin’s room. All others are announced into her presence by the Keeper for an audience. The person makes obeisance, says “as you called me, so have I come” if they were summoned, and kisses her ring. Formal dress is required for an audience with the Amyrlin, which for Aes Sedai means wearing their shawl (The Great Hunt, Summoned).
All must stand in her presence – even in their own apartments – until given permission to sit (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame), nor should they stand close to her. No one can channel in her presence without her permission and must stop when she says (Knife of Dreams, The Dark One’s Touch). By custom, it is the Amyrlin’s choice whether to ward a conversation if she is present (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). No one leaves her presence until she gives them leave or tells them to go.
A new Amyrlin chooses her Keeper and can choose a new Mistress of Novices. It is expected that they would be from the Amyrlin’s former Ajah, although there is no law or custom for this. Such favouritism is equivalent to nepotism in the Catholic Church, where in former centuries Popes would install a nephew as their Cardinal Camerlengo or Private Secretary. Popes unable to do this were weak ones yielding to the most powerful faction in the College of Cardinals, as Elaida installed Alviarin as Keeper to gain the support of the White (and the Black) Ajah in the Hall (The Fires of Heaven, Prologue). With the Hall claiming Siuan favoured her former Ajah (The Great Hunt, Summoned), there are signs this practice may cease.
Nepotism is a difficult issue for Amyrlins; on one hand they are expected to appoint officials from their former Ajah and to have an ideology and leadership style consistent with their former Ajah, and on the other, they are considered to be of no Ajah, favouring none.
Warders and the Amyrlin
When summoned by the Amyrlin, Warders identify themselves to the Keeper and state their readiness (The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn). They are allowed armed before the Amyrlin and go on one knee when they go before her. (Two knees is for supplicants (The Great Hunt, Blood Calls Blood)). If offered a seat they bow their head, glance at the chair and touch their sword. They ask leave to stand as a sign that “The watch is not done" (The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn).
Warders put their hand over their heart if the Amyrlin stands and refuse any drink but water (to show their sobriety), when they sprinkle three drops on the ground and say “The land thirsts” (The Great Hunt, Blood Calls Blood). Before leaving the audience, they twisted the sword behind them, one hand on scabbard and the other on hilt, bow with their arms straight and ask leave to depart her presence.
Progressions and Travel
The Amyrlin makes progressions through nations, visiting rulers and important nobles, though they are not frequent. She travels with her Keeper under the banner of the Aes Sedai and with Tower drummers and trumpets to announce her and an entourage of Tower Guards and Aes Sedai and their Warders (The Great Hunt, The Flame of Tar Valon).
In Shienar, upon her arrival, the chamberlain of the ruler or noble raps his staff on the ground three times and exchanges phrases with the Keeper reminding all that the Amyrlin continues the guard against the Shadow (The Great Hunt, The Welcome). When departing, the Shienaran noble ceremonially offers the Amyrlin a farewell cup and gives her his good wishes (The Great Hunt, Woven in the Pattern).
On progression, the Keeper announces: "You are beneath the eyes of the Watcher of the Seals. You are before the Flame of Tar Valon. You may present your supplications to the Amyrlin Seat" to those granted an audience (The Path of Daggers, Out on the Ice).
Unless martial law is operating, the Amyrlin has to inform the Hall of any intended travel, so they can establish there is no danger, since it is against the law for her to deliberately endanger herself without the Hall’s agreement:
The Amyrlin Seat being valued with the White Tower itself, as the very heart of the White Tower, she must not be endangered without dire necessity, therefore unless the White Tower be at war by declaration of the Hall of the Tower, the Amyrlin Seat shall seek the lesser consensus of the Hall of the Tower before deliberately placing herself in the way of any danger, and she shall abide by the consensus that stands.The law has been in existence for over two thousand years, which could mean that there was a reckless Amyrlin about the time of the Trolloc Wars.
- A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike
The abbesses of convents were also restricted in their travels:
The Council of Friuli in 796-797 forbade abbesses to go to Rome on pilgrimage, which would also have ruled out chances of direct appeal to the Pope against Episcopal decisions. Abbesses (as opposed to abbots) could leave their convents only once a year when the king commanded it and only with Episcopal permission. At other times, they were supposed to send any message they had to the king or synods through couriers.Regalia
- Jo Ann Kay McNamara, Sisters in Arms
The Amyrlin wears a stole striped with the colours of the seven Ajahs. This is a parallel to the pallium of the Pope, particularly that of the earlier centuries which was a narrow stole. The Amyrlin also wears an Aes Sedai ring, which people kiss. The Pope has the fisherman’s ring, with which documents are sealed. The Amyrlin also has a seal – of the flame of Tar Valon (The Fires of Heaven, News Comes to Cairhien). The Amyrlin Seat in the Hall alludes to the Pope’s cathedra in the Holy See. The Keeper carries a staff topped with the flame of Tar Valon when she announces the Amyrlin. The Pope has a staff topped by a crucifix. The Amyrlin is the Watcher over the Seals of the Dark One’s prison, perhaps an allusion to the papal “Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven”.
The Keeper of the Chronicles is second in authority to the Amyrlin being at least equal to the Sitters (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled). Her role is administrative rather than political and she takes no part in discussion in the Hall. (The Keeper has some influence with Sitters, but apparently none has had as much as Alviarin.) She is chosen by the Amyrlin, usually when the Amyrlin is newly raised, and is traditionally from the same Ajah—unless there is politics involved or the Amyrlin is believed to need watching. Her badge of office is a stole, about a hand wide, in the colour of her Ajah, though the Keeper does not represent her Ajah. (Bishops and deacons wear stoles). She speaks only for the Amyrlin, who represents all Aes Sedai. A Keeper’s actions and attitudes always reflect on the Amyrlin (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
The Keeper also acts as secretary to the Amyrlin, announces the Amyrlin’s visitors, is usually present at her audiences, and oversees the official business of the Tower. She may head the group of sisters who oversee Tar Valon and other Tower properties, rather like the Cardinal who administrates the Vatican in the Pope’s name. This would explain why Tar Valon rapidly descended into a bad state when Alviarin was Keeper, and would also explain why, as Keeper, Leane had a network of agents in Tar Valon to report on “the mood of the city” (The Fires of Heaven, The Practice of Diffidence).
The Chronicles the Keeper ‘keeps’ are the official history of the Aes Sedai, presenting events the Amyrlin wants known by the Tower in the way she wants them, not what actually happened (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). That is reserved for the Thirteenth Depository (see Information section in Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society), known only to the Amyrlin, Keeper, Sitters and Brown sisters maintaining it.
A Keeper combines many offices: Chamberlain, Head of the Chancery, Secretary of State, Personal Assistant, Memorialist, and Head of Intelligence. The role of Keeper was established to collect everything that was decided by the Amyrlins and the Hall into what became Tower Law and the archives, and to write the official history (Chronicles). Early in Church history it was realized that everything the Pope said was as good as law or truth and should be used later for jurisprudence as well as in debates about Faith, and so an Archivist followed him everywhere and collected everything the Pope said or wrote into what eventually became the Vatican Archives.
Speculation: It may have been a Keeper who started keeping the secret history as a record of what really happened, as against what was placed in the Chronicles and open archives. Perhaps only Keepers knew about the secret history at first. For a time, the other Aes Sedai in powerful positions accepted the difference between the records and actual events of their own time, not worrying about earlier times and that knowledge is power. Then a Sitter or an Amyrlin deduced that somewhere the real records exist and the rest is history...
While the Keeper is ranked second in the Tower, she has no real authority over Aes Sedai except what the Amyrlin gives her and no authority to dismiss anyone from the Amyrlin’s presence (Lord of Chaos, Possibilities). It is not required for an Aes Sedai to curtsey to the Keeper (A Crown of Swords, Prologue), nor conversely, should the Keeper stand if a Sitter enters the room (Knife of Dreams, When Last Sounds).
Like the Amyrlin, the Keeper has to guard against nepotism, the favouring of her (former) Ajah. It is improper for her to consider herself still a member of her Ajah while in office (New Spring, A Wish Fulfilled), nor should she visit any Sitter privately, especially one from her Ajah, or continue to live in her apartments in her Ajah’s quarters (Crossroads of Twilight, One Answer). Tarna’s displeasure at being Elaida’s Keeper was perhaps the reason why she behaved improperly and heavily involved herself still in the activities of her Ajah.
The removal of a Keeper requires the same greater consensus of the Hall as the removal of the Amyrlin (see Deposition in the Amyrlin section).
The Hall of the Tower, traditionally consisting of three Sitters in the Hall from each of the seven Ajahs, is the legislative body of the Aes Sedai (A Crown of Swords, Glossary) and has had its current form since the end of the second century AB. It has some similarities with the Senate of Ancient Rome and also to the Consistory (formal meeting of the College of Cardinals) of the Catholic Church.
The Hall is a great domed circular chamber with the floor pained with the seven Ajah colours spiralling out of the white flame of Tar Valon (The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again). Ramps rise up from the floor to a raised platform running around the outside of the room which holds seven groups of three Sitters’ chairs each the colour of an Ajah, and at the far end a platform striped in the colours of the seven Ajahs with a chair coloured the same (the Amyrlin Seat) upon it (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises and The Gathering Storm, To Be Forged Again). The Keeper stands throughout the session at the Amyrlin’s left.
By tradition, the two oldest Sitters can claim the places closest to the Amyrlin Seat, considered of higher status, for their Ajahs. After that, it is a matter of who comes first and wishes to be seated where, the first arrival always choosing her Ajah’s place (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
The Hall’s authority is not far short of the Amyrlin’s and an invitation to the Hall is actually a summons (Crossroads of Twilight, A Chat with Siuan). The Hall can conduct trials, determine failure, lay blame and propose punishment of Aes Sedai and can depose an Amyrlin. It is the Hall’s place to negotiate with dissenting groups of Aes Sedai and resolve rebellion ( Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark), or with non-Aes Sedai groups, and also to decide whether to continue using the Oath Rod ( Crossroads of Twilight, What the Oath Rod Can Do). The Hall seldom dares infringe far on the Amyrlin Seat’s authority, unless it is united against the Amyrlin ( Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark), but it has a responsibility to check the Amyrlin’s power and ultimately has the power to depose her if necessary.
The Roman Senate (a parallel of the Hall):
advised the elected officials on domestic and foreign policy, and finance and religion, and counselled them on legislative proposals as well – though it was generally willing enough to give a free hand to these officials, who were their fellow senators and belonged to the same clans and families as themselves.The Senators’ clans or families would be equivalent to Ajahs.
- Michael Grant, History of Rome
The Senate had considerable prestige in the Republic:
The individual auctoritas of each senator added up in combination to a corporate influence, which in a country that depended to an exceptional extent on collective endeavours, remained strong enough to survive all the growing pains of the Republic and keep on guiding its policies for centuries.The Hall, too, has great prestige and has served the Tower well since the Breaking.
- Michael Grant, History of Rome
In the Hall, the oldest Sitter has the highest status and the right to speak first (a parallel with the princeps senatus of the Roman Senate), while the Amyrlin and especially the Keeper have less status than usual. The principle of seniority prevailed in the Roman Senate too, with older senators, especially ex-officials, having greater respect (Michael Grant, History of Rome). Sitters do not curtsey to the Amyrlin when she enters the Hall and may not even incline their heads to acknowledge her (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). At best, the Amyrlin’s suggestions are listened to politely (Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night).
Under the formality of the Hall are some very complex and keenly fought politics, such as rivalries between Ajahs and personal rivalries between Sitters. This was also the case in convents in the 15th to 16th centuries:
The convent government was based on “secret ballots, records of divisions, rotation of offices, gerontocracy, the exclusion of interested parties and shared authority”. The reality of convent politics was that it was riddled with partialities and special interests imported from the lay world. In the parlours of convents, nuns dealt and schemed, pursued their private concerns and formed factions.However the convents had:
– Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice
regulations designed to prevent the interests of any one individual or group from dominating in the convent… Nuns with personal interests in the matter to be decided upon were to be excluded temporarily from the chapter.One example of this in the Hall is that Sitters of an Amyrlin’s or Keeper’s former Ajah are not informed when the Hall votes on their removal; another is that collusion (as against open alliances) between Sitters or Ajahs is a serious crime (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences) (see Crime section of Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society).
– Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice
There is also much political rivalry between the Amyrlin Seat and the Hall:
While the Amyrlin Seat is by law the absolute power in the White Tower, in fact her power has always depended on how well she could lead, manage or intimidate the Hall, as there are many ways that the Hall can balk any Amyrlin's plans.Both young Amyrlins found their Halls stood up to them: until the declaration of war, the rebel Hall passed little that Egwene suggested, in fact little of anything (A Crown of Swords, An Oath) and Elaida’s Hall was mostly passing only what Alviarin agreed with (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). Egwene did not dare leave the rebel Hall while it was sitting, even though nothing required her to stay, lest it pass a plan and act on it without her knowledge (Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night).
- A Crown of Swords Glossary
Tower law provides a way to forestall these shenanigans when the Tower has declared war: the Amyrlin directs the war by decree and the Hall must approve any decree regarding the war with the greater consensus and carry them out as promptly as possible (The Path of Daggers, The Law). On the other hand, if the Amyrlin assents, there is provision in the Law of War for the Hall itself to prosecute a war (Towers of Midnight, A Call To Stand).
If the Amyrlin finds the Hall unworkable, she
may call for any Sitter to resign her chair, or indeed for all to, and that call must be heeded. This is seldom done, however, as nothing stops an Ajah from returning the same Sitter or Sitters except a custom that sisters not serve again in the Hall after leaving it. As an indication of how serious such a call for mass resignation would be, it is reliably believed that it has happened exactly four times in the more than three-thousand-year history of the White Tower, and that while two of those resulted in the selection of an entirely, or nearly, new Hall, the other two resulted in the resignation and exile of the Amyrlin involved.So it is risky and thus only a last resort. Interestingly, mutiny against the Hall and Amyrlin (see Failure subsection) has occurred more often than mass resignation.
- A Crown of Swords, Glossary
It is traditional that no one submits a proposal to the Hall without first discussing it with Sitters (The Path of Daggers, The Law), but it is also practical since it gives the proposer a chance to garner support or discover and perhaps counter opposition. Sitters may inform the Amyrlin of what they intend to propose, but it is not mandatory (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences and Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night). Sitters can unite to put a proposal before the Hall and they stand while it is proposed and discussed as a declaration of their unity (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
An Ajah or Sitter can earn status in the Hall by their actions outside it, such as Elaida’s talent for Foretelling giving her words in the Hall greater weight, and the Red Ajah’s discovery of Elayne, a novice of considerable potential strength, strengthening their political position (The Great Hunt, Summoned).
Convening the Hall
Either the Amyrlin or one or more Sitters may convene the Hall. If a Sitter calls the Hall, by custom the Amyrlin is informed beforehand but they can start without her (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
The sun has to be above the horizon when the Hall commences to sit (The Path of Daggers, The Law) though the Sitters can be notified before dawn for a sunrise sitting (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences).
The minimum number of Sitters for a legal session of the Hall, a quorum, is eleven (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting) and they can commence once the quorum is reached.
In Towers of Midnight, A Call To Stand, Egwene proposed a new law regarding convening the Hall:
"I propose that it be written into Tower law that if any Sitter leaves the White Tower, her Ajah must appoint a surrogate to vote for her while absent. I propose that it be written into Tower law that no meeting of the Hall can be convened unless every Sitter or her surrogate either is present, or has sent word directly that she cannot attend. I propose that the Amyrlin must be informed—and given a reasonable amount of time to attend if she wishes — of every meeting of the Hall, save when she cannot be found or is indisposed in some way."It was passed by the greater consensus and was designed to stop the Hall from a practise that has been used for "treachery, backbiting and division", and was subverted by the Shadow. The new law forces the Hall to move relatively openly and prevents it from secretly circumventing the Amyrlin’s authority.
Formal or Informal Sessions
The Hall may sit formally or informally. A formal session of the Hall may be open to Aes Sedai onlookers and their Warders, or closed with all discussion warded so none but the Hall can hear (and thus Sealed to the Hall) and onlookers may also be asked to leave the Hall as well (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). Questions are debated and voted on in formal session. A formal session of the Hall is similar to a consistory of the Catholic Church, a formal meeting of the College of Cardinals. However, a consistory can only be called by the Pope, who must be present, and the Cardinals report, advise and debate, but never vote. Some consistories are secret meetings where the Pope creates Cardinals, bishops, and legates, or discusses with the Cardinals matters of conflict eg between Church and State. In such secret consistories the Cardinals have a consultative vote (Catholic Encyclopaedia).
Informal sessions are usually not closed (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). A session may commence as informal and be declared formal if secrecy or debate is required or voting desired.
The Amyrlin may enter the Hall at any time. By law, before the Amyrlin can enter the Hall, the Keeper announces her. This is so the Sitters are officially warned of the Amyrlin’s presence in case they are discussing matters about which they do not want the Amyrlin to know (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
Formal sessions of the Hall are opened by the youngest Sitter present declaring, while holding the Power, that it is against the Law for any person to intrude unasked upon the Hall for any reason (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). This ritual is very old and dates from a time when Amyrlins were commonly assassinated.
If the session is a closed session (Sealed to the Hall), onlookers may not be allowed. If this is the case, the oldest Sitter present asks them to depart. Then the second youngest Sitter weaves a ward against eavesdropping around the Hall, explaining while she does so if it is a formal session, so that none but the Hall can hear what is said, although onlookers, if present, can still see proceedings (The Path of Daggers, The Law). She holds this weave throughout the closed session to make sure no one tries to penetrate it (Knife of Dreams, Call To a Sitting).
The oldest Sitter has the right to speak first in the Hall on an issue and also runs much of the procedure. However, she can be overridden by other Sitters on whether the session should be formal or not (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). Her position is similar to that of the princeps senatus in the Roman Senate. He was a patrician with an impeccable political record, respected by his fellow senators and had the privilege of speaking first on the topic presented by the presiding magistrate and effectively set the tone of the debate in the Senate.
If Aes Sedai are summoned to the Hall to report or offer proposals, the second youngest Sitter escorts them into the Hall. Warders may accompany their Aes Sedai so summoned, although this is unusual, especially if the Hall is in closed session (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). If the Aes Sedai is reporting to the Hall, the second youngest Sitter asks her to swear by her hope of salvation and rebirth that she will tell all the truth and answer all questions fully, omitting nothing (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). The Aes Sedai is then questioned by the Amyrlin or any Sitter, after the second youngest Sitter is reseated, and by tradition she address her replies to the Amyrlin Seat if she is present, even if a Sitter asked her the question. If the Amyrlin is not, she simply answers the Sitter. If the Amyrlin is present, it is probably her place to thank and dismiss the Aes Sedai once all questions have been answered, if she is not, this is done by the oldest Sitter (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises and Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting).
Once a proposal is made to the Hall, either the Amyrlin (if she is present and it is a Sitter’s proposal) or the oldest Sitter (if the Amyrlin is not present or if the Amyrlin made the proposal) asks a series of ritual questions: first, she asks the maker of the proposal how she speaks on the issue, then she asks the Hall who speaks against the proposal, and finally she asks the Hall who stands for the proposal (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises and In the Night).
If consensus is reached, the Keeper states this and what has been agreed to. If the lesser consensus was achieved, she asks for the greater in the interest of unity (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). It is not known who does this if the Keeper is not present.
The Amyrlin can leave at any time (and the Keeper has to go with her) with some ceremony. If the Amyrlin, and thus the Keeper, stay to the end of the session, the Keeper concludes it with: “Depart now in the Light” (Crossroads of Twilight, In The Night).
A quorum of 11 Sitters is needed for voting to take place. Collusion (secret deals) between Sitters is illegal (see Crime section of Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society). The Keeper calls the results of any vote on proposals if she is present.
In the convents of the 15th and 16th centuries, decisions were passed in chapter with a simple majority (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice). In the Hall, there are two levels of agreement: the greater consensus and the lesser consensus.
For the greater consensus, at least one Sitter from each Ajah is required, with a minimum of eleven Sitters present and every Sitter who is present must stand (A Crown of Swords, Glossary). The greater consensus is required for the Amyrlin’s decrees regarding the war when the Tower has declared war, for the removal of an Amyrlin or Keeper (their former Ajah is not present) and for raising an Amyrlin.
The lesser consensus also requires a quorum of eleven Sitters, but only two-thirds of those present need stand for an item to pass. There is no requirement for all Ajahs to be represented in the lesser consensus except in the case of a declaration of war by the White Tower. The lesser consensus is required for declarations of war (all Ajahs must be represented), determination of collusion, preventing the Amyrlin from travel due to danger, and for proposals to make agreements with or accept an offer from non-Aes Sedai groups.
If the lesser consensus is reached, the Keeper asks for all Sitters to unite in the greater consensus. It is a strong custom that the Hall unites on proposals, even if it takes days to reach the greater consensus (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). By law, any dissenting Sitter is expected to follow, or at least not impede, a course of action if a consensus is reached. If she won’t do this, she is expected to resign her chair (Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night and Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). Saroiya and Faiselle violated this custom over the issue of approaching the Asha’man.
For the raising of the Amyrlin in the rebel Hall, less than nine votes signified an outright rejection (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). We do not know if nine is the absolute minimum for consideration of a proposal requiring the greater consensus or whether the minimum is half the Sitters in the Hall (which in Salidar in that session was 18, making the minimum nine). We also don’t know if there is a number below which other proposals are rejected outright (though this is likely, since it saves the Hall time).
Votes of Sitters later shown to be Darkfriends are void (The Gathering Storm, Unexpected Encounters).
It is customary to inform the Amyrlin that the Hall is convened but not to wait for her before starting (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). By law, the Amyrlin cannot enter the Hall until the Keeper announces her and the Keeper cannot be in the Hall without the Amyrlin (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). If the Amyrlin leaves, the Keeper must also (Crossroads of Twilight, In the Night).
By law, any sister can attend a sitting of the Hall unless it is a closed session (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting).
If the Hall is convened by Sitters asking a question, that question must be answered before any other (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). Similarly a question of war cannot be shelved and must be answered before any other asked after it (The Path of Daggers, The Law).
The Sitters may discuss proposals or comment on them, but speeches are forbidden (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises) and displays of anger strictly forbidden in the Hall ( The Path of Daggers, The Law). Questions are considered improper until the proposal or report has been made (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). It is customary for all in the Hall to be silent while voting takes place. Nor should the Amyrlin publicly ask the Sitters if they wish to resign their chairs (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). The Keeper must not enter discussions in the Hall (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
Channelling is forbidden in the Hall except for certain precisely described functions. If someone wishes to channel, they ask permission and inform the Hall of what they intend to weave. This custom shows that there were attacks using the Power in the Hall in earlier times (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises). The custom probably predates the Third Oath, but has been retained.
If the Hall and Amyrlin are locked in turmoil or stalemate, so that inconsistent or ill-advised decisions are made, or even none at all, the sisters can mutiny – rise up and force the Hall and Amyrlin to resign. This has happened six times in Tower history and 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). The executive doesn’t want the rank and file to get ideas! The Hall is not immune to being held accountable.
Sitters can be likened to Roman senators or to Roman Catholic Cardinals. The key difference between Sitters and Cardinals being that some Sitters are elected by their Ajahs while others are appointed by their Ajah Heads, but the Pope appoints all Cardinals.
According to The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, Sitters are believed to be answerable to the head of their Ajah for their actions in the Hall, but this is not altogether true. In the Red Ajah, for instance, by Ajah Law, Red Sitters can vote in the Hall according to their inclination and not those of the Highest (Knife of Dreams, Prologue). An Ajah Head can apply pressure however, such as insisting that all three Sitters meet with the Amyrlin to emphasise the Ajah’s support or dissent on an issue (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark). Sitters from the same Ajah must appear united in public (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises).
Due to their responsibilities in the Hall, Sitters rarely leave Tar Valon while they hold a chair (New Spring, The Itch).
Sitters have considerable prestige and authority, similar to that of Ancient Roman senators, who:
were endowed with redoubtable prestige, due to their positions and family traditions and achievements. The Latin word for this prestige, auctoritas, conveyed a very urgent call for respect and deference.Few sisters would bother even one Sitter (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences) and the Keeper cannot impede a Sitter (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return). It is customary for a sister to curtsey or bow her head in respect on meeting a Sitter and for Sitters to precede sisters through doors or along corridors (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit).
- Michael Grant, History of Rome
Not even the Amyrlin Seat can order the arrest of a Sitter without explanation (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting).
Sitters have the right to use any ter’angreal they wish although there are procedures (as yet unknown) to follow for obtaining it (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit). Their rooms are among the best the Ajah can offer, including windows and a balcony.
Raising a Sitter
Being a Sitter is a high status position, therefore it is unheard of to refuse selection, yet Cadsuane has at least twice (A Crown of Swords, Diamonds and Stars).
The Grey Ajah usually raises Sitters democratically: they discuss possible candidates, narrowing them down to a short list and hold a secret ballot. In the Green Ajah, the custom is for the Green sisters to nominate choices and the Captain-General selects one.
Aes Sedai have usually worn the shawl for one hundred years before they are raised Sitters (Crossroads of Twilight, Secrets). It is unusual to have more than one Sitter in the Hall under one hundred, yet both Halls had more than this number. When an Aes Sedai is raised to a position too young there is a reason (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences), often political turmoil. The current young Sitters were thought to be more malleable or politically naïve so that they could be instructed in their voting by their Ajah Heads or more senior Sitters, but this plan failed because the young Sitters were too full of themselves to do so. They were also considered dispensable when the two Halls united and this will probably happen.
Rank in the Hall depends on age, and to a lesser degree, length of service in the Hall and much ceremony follows this ranking. For instance, once the revealed rebel Black Sitters were constrained, the oldest Sitter reswore the Oaths on the Oath Rod first, and the youngest Sitter last (The Gathering Storm, Sealed To The Flame).
The oldest Sitter has the right to speak first in the Hall. She also makes the pronouncements from the Hall (Lord of Chaos, Pile of Sand) and relays the Amyrlin’s commands (The Path of Daggers, Beginnings).
Factional leaders such as Romanda and Lelaine could be likened to Grand Electors, influential Cardinals who lead informal factions in the College of Cardinals during conclaves for papal elections.
Resigning a Chair
Sitters can be commanded by the Amyrlin Seat to resign (usually a disciplinary measure) ( A Crown of Swords, Prologue) and they must do so.
They can also voluntarily resign.
There is a custom that Sitters not serve again in the Hall once they step down (A Crown of Swords, Prologue), but on rare occasions, a Sitter is selected for a second term. This is even rarer within ten years of stepping down from the first term (similar to Ancient Rome, where a man could sit for consul a second time – a rare event – only if at least ten years had elapsed since his first term), or if the first term was a long one. Such rare occurrences and breaking of custom have occurred in the current turmoil – Romanda was a Sitter for almost 80 years (Crossroads of Twilight, Surprises), Suana was a Sitter for 40 years and Ferane stepped down from her term less than ten years ago (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue), yet all three are sitting again. Interestingly, all three were Ajah Heads in their respective groups.
Sitters can be stripped of their chairs by the Amyrlin or assigned Labour as a penance – which would cause a serious loss of face and thus qualify as Mortification of the Spirit as well (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return). Beatings (Mortification of the Flesh) are more rare.
For serious misdemeanours or crimes, Sitters may be unchaired, birched and exiled to hard labour on a farm. All three Red Sitters were so sentenced under Marith Jaen’s rule presumably for the Red Ajah’s complicity in Sierin Vayu’s death, thus adding to the Red-Blue animosity.
The titles of the Ajah Heads among the Ajahs are: Blue: First Selector, Brown: head of the Browns’ Council, Green: Captain General, Grey: Head Clerk, Red: Highest, White: First Reasoner and Yellow: First Weaver. The Ajah Heads have a largely administrative role, organising the practical affairs of the Ajah, delegating duties, instructing new Aes Sedai on ranking, etc but they also make strategic plans according to the Ajah’s philosophies and best interests. The Ajah Heads know of the existence of the Thirteenth Depository but cannot visit it unless they are a Sitter, sending Sitters to do so in their stead.
Moreover, the Grey Ajah Head is titled Head Clerk, because that is what she is “in a manner of speaking” (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue) - administrate. Nesune was disgruntled that the head of the Browns’ Council forcefully commanded she be part of Elaida’s embassy (Lord of Chaos, Gifts), so the Browns are not used to their Ajah Head making ‘executive decisions’ or maybe even commands. The Red, Blue and Green Ajah Heads are more autocratic.
The only Ajah on which we have information about how the Ajah Head is selected is the Red. Tsutama was raised Ajah Head by near acclamation, since she is a hard woman, and many in the Red believed that hard times call for as hard a Highest as can be found (Knife of Dreams, Prologue). Since the Red Ajah is run on an autocratic system and yet the rank and file Red sisters elect the Ajah Head, chances are that other Ajahs probably do the same.
There is much we do not know about the position of Ajah Head: such as what criteria are used in selecting an Ajah Head, or whether they are elected for life or for a maximum term. This may even vary from Ajah to Ajah. Likely criteria are: strength in the Power, experience, good judgement and ‘conventional’ thinking (following the rules and the philosophy of the Ajah). If the Ajah Head is elected for a life term, sisters would probably choose a Head over the age of 200 as is done for Amyrlins. It is to be noted that if Galina was elected Ajah Head for a life term, she was elected very young, being only about 88 at the time, and of course there would be a reason for this. Normally young incumbents are chosen because they can be manipulated, but in Galina’s case, it was probably the Black Ajah wanting a Black Ajah Head.
In order for there to be a smooth transference of duties, Ajah Heads in some Ajahs may have a way of recording information (notes on policies, problems, issues and causes, etc) to be handed on in case of their untimely death, although there is no indication of such in the Red Ajah.
In public, an Aes Sedai is obedient and respectful to her Ajah Head, but does not curtsey, since she doesn’t want to reveal her Head to the other Ajahs (Lord of Chaos, Prologue). Within the Ajah quarters, more respect is given.
The Ajah Heads were obvious at the beginning of the Tower as the Amyrlin Seat’s seven advisors, but at some stage they went underground and were thenceforth known only to their Ajahs. This may be a result of a political crisis (such as the Year of the Four Amyrlins) when they stepped into the breach between the Amyrlin and Hall. And in the hostile aftermath it became prudent for them to be less visible so that the Hall and Amyrlin did not watch them constantly or interfere with their duties to prevent them doing it again. IE they were seen as a threat by the Amyrlin and Hall and had to withdraw from view.
Many Sitters at least, have an idea of who the other Ajah Heads are, since any public deference by women of the same Ajah outside of the strict ranking of strength in the Power would be a giveaway. However, naming names of likely Ajah Heads is considered very rude and any Aes Sedai not a Sitter could be granted a penance for it (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). Even those Aes Sedai who have sworn fealty to Egwene won’t tell her their Ajah Heads (Crossroads of Twilight, Secrets).
Ajah Head Conspiracy
Contrary to the custom of not knowing the Heads of other Ajahs, the Ajah Heads openly know each others’ identities. In the past, the Ajah Heads have stepped in and restored order when the Amyrlin and Hall became out of control. They ruled in place of the Hall and Amyrlin in the reign of Cemaile Sorenthaine (The Gathering Storm, Sealed To The Flame). There may be some sort of gesture (just as the Black Ajah has a gesture) or similar way to identify each other which is recorded for a new incumbent, or, more mundanely, one Ajah Head may give one of her Sitters sealed notes for Sitters of other Ajahs to hand to their Ajah Head arranging a secret meeting. Any past co-operation between Ajah Heads is completely unknown to the current Sitters and the Amyrlin and is therefore not recorded in the Thirteenth Depository (though they likely played a part in at least one of the six mutinies).
In the coup aftermath, the Tower Ajah Heads sent those Sitters not involved in raising Elaida out of the Tower after the Blues, or at least away from Elaida. Since Elaida’s faction was perhaps believed to be at least partially responsible for the murder of a Blue Sitter, other Sitters who did not stand for Elaida may also have been considered at risk. The Sitters sent out were instructed to influence the Blues and stabilise the rebels until the Tower could be united. Hence the election of the too young Sitters that can be easily influenced and are dispensable. Naturally, the Red Ajah Head was not included in this conspiracy and the Blue Ajah Head could not be either, even if the others wanted her to, since she had fled.
Such collusion over the selection of Sitters for the Hall is a serious crime (see Crime section in Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society), which is why the Black Ajah hunters are so insistent that the Hall has a right to know (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit).
The plan failed because the rebels were more effective and Elaida’s rule more divisive than expected and the inexperienced Sitters could not be influenced so the Halls were indecisive (The Gathering Storm, Sealed To The Flame).
MISTRESS OF NOVICES
This position is similar to the novice mistress in a convent. The Mistress of Novices has total educational and disciplinary authority over the novices and the Accepted and reports runaways officially to the Amyrlin (Crossroads of Twilight, What the Oath Rod Can Do and Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). Her authority is removed, however, if a novice or Accepted is being abused (Crossroads of Twilight, What the Oath Rod Can Do). If another sister noticed a novice missing before the Mistress of Novices reported it, it would look like she did her job poorly.
The Mistress of Novices also hands out beatings assigned as penances to Aes Sedai because treating them as though they were novices or Accepted is more humiliating to them.
The Mistress of Novices does not have sole authority over sending a novice (or Accepted) on a message outside the Tower - into the city say. After all, Accepted can’t choose which Aes Sedai to obey. Siuan while Amyrlin sent two Accepted, Nynaeve and Egwene, out of Tar Valon. Of course, this was (almost) never done in the past, which is why Siuan's actions were so frowned upon. But it was not illegal.
Being an official public position gives the Mistress of Novices a fair amount of status and she stands up to Sitters, Amyrlin and the Keeper, especially on the subject of novices (Crossroads of Twilight, Secrets), but ranks below Sitters otherwise (The Gathering Storm, A Fount of the Power).
Written by Linda, April, 2006 and updates September 2013