An array of numerous clear glittering glass columns each nearly one hundred feet high and about a foot thick contains the history of the Aiel up to the Agreement of Rhuidean. The Aes Sedai with the Jenn thus ensured that the history of the Aiel would not be lost and that the prophecy might be fulfilled. Aviendha wondered if the Aes Sedai programmed the glass columns to show the Aiel their past or if they placed the ter’angreal and allowed it to show what it pleased to grant wisdom to the Aiel (Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora). For thousands of years since that Agreement, any Aiel man wishing to be a clan chief must enter the ter’angreal and learn their true history. They come out marked on one arm with a dragon or do not come out. Only one man in three returns. The ter’angreal was able to distinguish Rand and mark him with two dragons. Aiel women who wish to be Wise Ones also enter the ter’angreal but they do not receive any marking. The women have a much higher survival rate (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). If a person without Aiel ancestry enters the columns they see no visions at all (Crossroads of Twilight ebook Q&A).
When an Aiel enters the columns they seem to vanish immediately (The Shadow Rising, The Road to the Spear). The air is cooler within the columns. The history commences with the Agreement of Rhuidean and the person probably experiences it through the eyes of their own ancestors (The Shadow Rising, He Who Comes With the Dawn). With each step into the ter’angreal the person goes back in time starting from the first few centuries AB (The Shadow Rising, The Road to the Spear). Progress within the ter’angreal appears to depend on how quickly the person can absorb and accept the memories that they see, as evidenced by Rand catching up with and overtaking Muradin (The Shadow Rising,The Dedicated). If they can’t accept the history, they don’t come out. It is not known what happens to their bodies. As the person moves within the ter’angreal, the columns’ lights flash faster, and the air swirls increasingly strongly until:
The light from the columns was a shimmering blue haze that seemed solid, that seemed to claw the nerves out of his skin. The wind howled, one vast whirlwind sucking inward.These effects are not apparent from the outside. Traversing the array can take up to ten days (The Shadow Rising, He Who Comes With the Dawn).
- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated
Only one trip through the columns was allowed.
When Aviendha tried to read the ter’angreal she found that it was vastly more powerful and complex than she thought and that the columns had an awareness. By trying to read the ter’angreal Aviendha may have re-set it, or its awareness of her need for knowledge and her regard of the ancestral memories it gave as no longer useful, made it show her the future instead (Towers of Midnight, Near Avendesora). She still progressed backwards in time as she walked through the columns, but from a distant future to a closer one. It seems the future it showed is not definite, but likely based on the person’s memories and beliefs (and in Aviendha’s case, the buried memories of her trip through the Wise Ones apprentice rings) at that time.
Bair also made a second trip through the columns to see if she would also experience what Aviendha did. She saw something similar to Aviendha, but through different eyes – those of her descendants - and believes it is a warning of a future the Aiel must avoid (A Memory of Light, To See The Answer):
"I saw it just as she did," Bair was saying. "Though it was my own descendants who lent me their eyes. I think we will all see it now, if we return the third time. It should be required."The Wise Ones now wonder what future Aiel will see in the glass columns when they make their first traverse of it: will they see their history or their future? Either way is well worth experiencing in Bair’s opinion.
"Three visits?" Melaine said. "That brings change indeed. We still do not know if the second visit will show this, or the previous vision."
A Memory of Light, The Choice of a Patch
Written by Linda, August, 2005 and updated March 2013