Thursday, February 28, 2002


By Linda

Balefire Rod

The rod is of fluted black stone, a full pace in length (The Dragon Reborn Questions). It produces balefire, probably by channeling into it since the effort of using the rod made Jeaine Caide clutch her head (The Shadow Rising, Into the Palace), and is extremely dangerous since it is almost impossible to control (The Dragon Reborn, Questions). Liandrin’s group were ordered to take it, though they don’t know why. Moghedien removed it from Liandrin’s group and hid it, but Asne found it and secretly took it to Caemlyn (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds), where she used it against Elayne’s rescuers in Knife of Dreams, To Keep the Bargain. If it survived the lightning strike it was added to Elayne’s store (Knife of Dreams, Nine Out of Ten) but it may not have survived the sacking of Caemlyn.

Oath Rod/Binder

The Oath Rod is a white rod about a foot long and a little slimmer than a woman’s wrist. It feels cool and smoother than glass and has a numeral incised in one end. The White Tower’s Oath Rod is marked with the number 3 and the rod Sammael probably obtained from the Ebou Dar cache (see The Cache from Ebou Dar article) and gave to Shaido is marked with 111. This is an indication that there were many of these ter’angreal in the Age of Legends. The Oath Rods are NOT the Nine Rods of Dominion from the Age of Legends (confirmed by Jordan at Dragoncon, September 2005) but something far humbler (see below).

The Oath Rod makes oaths binding. It was believed to only work on channellers (Knife of Dreams, Prologue), but according to (The Wheel of Time Companion and Robert Jordan’s Aes Sedai notes, non-channellers can be bound to their oath if a channeller activates it (The Wheel of Time Companion). Sammael told Sevanna that the Oath Rod works only on female channellers, not on male (A Crown of Swords, Spears), but he may have been lying in case she ever captured Rand. Binding male channellers may require touching the Oath Rod numeral with Spirit woven from saidin, or a different Oath Rod, or a different ter’angreal altogether. (Binding non-channellers can also be done on a binding chair (see Chairs section).)

For women, a saidar channeller touches the numeral with a thin flow of Spirit, while the woman to be bound swears her oath while touching the Rod. A woman can both swear and channel the Spirit to activate the Rod—bind herself—as Pevara demonstrated in The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit. Someone can be released from their oath in a similar way: channelling Spirit into the end and forswearing their oath/s while touching the Rod. It is possible, as Galina speculates, that oaths sworn on one rod are particular to that rod and cannot be forsworn on another (Knife of Dreams, Prologue). This could be a security measure, but would make removing binding less easy and would have unfortunate consequences if one were mislaid or damaged.

With each oath that is sworn, the swearer feels their skin tighten over their entire body; the more oaths taken, the greater the pressure:

Seaine retook the Oaths in turn, each producing a slight momentary pressure everywhere from her scalp to the soles of her feet. In truth, the pressure was difficult to detect at all, with her skin still feeling too tight from retaking the Oath against speaking a lie.

- The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit

The feeling of compression will fade with time, though for the Three Oaths it takes a whole year (New Spring, Just Before Dawn). This is the cause of the ageless look, the look which only Aes Sedai have, which takes up to 5 years (or even 10 years for a weak channeller) to develop fully:

"I don't think anyone has ever reached that [the Ageless look] until they've worn the shawl at least a year or two, sometimes five or more."

The stronger the channeller, the sooner, in general, the agelessness comes on (Robert Jordan, Aes Sedai notes).

The ageless look is distinctive:

…he had pictured her as old, but she was not. He could not put any age to her at all. At first he thought she was as young as Nynaeve but the longer he looked the more he thought she was older than that. There was a maturity about her large, dark eyes, a hint of knowing that no one could have gotten young.

- The Eye of the World, Strangers

The others looked ageless, of course, maybe in their twenties, maybe in their forties, changing from one glance to the next, always uncertain. That was what their faces said, though several showed gray in their hair.

- A Crown of Swords, High Chasaline

and peculiar to Aes Sedai. Anyone who has the ageless look can never be pegged as being a certain age; just not old, even if they have grey hair. Mostly it is due to their skin being too tight to wrinkle. This is why when they first swear the Oaths Aes Sedai feel their skin compress. No other channellers have it, no matter how long they channel:

With saidar in her, Cyndane could see the faint lines at the corners of the woman's [Alivia] eyes. Not one of those who called themselves Aes Sedai, then.

- Winter’s Heart, With The Choedan Kal

Every Wise One who had come here from Cairhien was able to channel, though none had the ageless look.

- A Crown of Swords, High Chasaline

“This is Taval din Chanai Nine Gulls, Windfinder of White Spray”…She looked younger than Shalon, no older than himself.

- A Crown of Swords, Ta’veren

There had to be a reason why the Kin looked neither ageless nor anything near the ages they claimed.

- The Path of Daggers, A Pleasant Ride

Aes Sedai are the only channellers that have the ageless look and they are also the only channellers to swear on an Oath Rod.

Being released from an oath is much more painful; again, the more oaths unbound, the greater the pain. Three oaths being unbound simultaneously is excruciating (Winter’s Heart, Prologue) and make the person’s body spasm wildly—perhaps as the skin tightening is suddenly undone—and after a short while they lose the ageless look (unless new oaths are sworn). Other possible temporary side effects are physical weakness, inability to channel and loss of will. A stilled or burned out Aes Sedai is also cut from the Three Oaths, since they only work on a person who can channel. She also loses the ageless look, as we saw with Amico:

Amico looked young, perhaps younger than her years, but it was not quite the agelessness of Aes Sedai who had worked years with the One Power. "You have sharp eyes, Aviendha, but I don't know if this has anything to do with stilling. It must, though, I suppose. I don't know what else could cause it."

- The Shadow Rising, Questioners

and Siuan and Leane. Siuan said she now looked as if she had lost 15 years after she was stilled and freed of her Oaths.

Oaths thus sworn cannot be consciously violated. The motivation may still be there, but the muscles won’t obey the brain. For example, the person can think a lie but cannot say it if they know it is a lie. However, if they believe something to be true they can say it, even if it is untrue.

Conflicting oaths or orders under the oaths will kill the person unless one oath is foresworn promptly or one order is countermanded by the person who gave it. For example, Zerah was bound to speak the truth and to obey Pevara, who ordered her to say something Zerah believed was a lie. She nearly choked to death until Pevara countermanded her order (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit).

Aes Sedai Ceremony of Binding

A ring of seven sisters, one from each Ajah, surrounds a successful candidate all the way to the Aes Sedai ter’angreal room. She and they remain outside the room while the prospective Aes Sedai is questioned by the Amyrlin:

“For what reason do you come?”
“To swear the Three Oaths and thereby claim the shawl of an Aes Sedai.”
“By what right do you claim this burden?”
“By right of having made the passage, submitting myself to the will of the White Tower.”
“Then enter if you dare, and bind yourself to the White Tower.”

- New Spring, Just Before Dawn

There is heavy irony here, since the Oath Rod was originally a binder for criminals in the Age of Legends (see below).

The candidate then enters and steps through the Aes Sedai oval ring ter’angreal to the Keeper and Amyrlin and swears the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod while the Amyrlin activates the Rod and all the Sitters in the Tower and a newest Sister of each Ajah watch. In order, the Oaths are:

“Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will speak no word that is not true.”
“Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will make no weapon for one man to kill another.”
“Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will never use the One Power as a weapon except against Shadowspawn, or in the last extremity of defending my life or that of my Warder or another sister.”

- New Spring, Just Before Dawn.

and they remain unchanged whatever Ajah the candidate intends to join.

Aes Sedai and the Three Oaths

"Once, Aes Sedai were not required to swear oaths. It was known what Aes Sedai were and what they stood for, and there was no need for more.

- The Great Hunt, The Testing

They were adopted some time after the Breaking, when all memory of what an Oath Rod was had been lost. The Second Oath, against making weapons, was probably adopted first (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Sheriam believes the Oaths were adopted between the Trolloc Wars and the War of Hundred Years, but she may be wrong, since Aes Sedai were identified as such before that. For instance, Black sisters were identifiable in the Shadow’s armies in the Trolloc Wars.

The Three Oaths bind each Aes Sedai, and also bind them together; they are regarded as the heart of being Aes Sedai. They are designed to make people trust them (The Path of Daggers, Stronger Than Written Law), without fear that the Aes Sedai will build up their own power by using the One Power against people (as did happen in Seanchan after the Breaking, until a’dam were used).

Egwene’s attitude originally was:

The Oaths were supposed to make people trust Aes Sedai, or at least not fear their power, but Aes Sedai still had to move in secret as often as not. Wise Ones—and Windfinders, she was willing to wager—had honored places in their societies. Without being bound to supposedly make them safe. It was something to think on.

- The Shadow Rising, Sharp Lessons

But since Halima tended her headaches (after creating them in the first place), Egwene formed another view: that the Three Oaths are what make them Aes Sedai and all who wish to be Aes Sedai must swear them and remain bound by them. In his Aes Sedai notes, Jordan wrote that

Egwene will come to realize that for the Aes Sedai, the Three Oaths and the use of the Oath Rod are very much like the catechism. Giving up the Oaths, or changing them, is akin to the church abandoning or materially altering the Creed.

(There are many parallels between the Aes Sedai and the Catholic Church (see Aes Sedai Laws and Customs article).

Egwene was aware that they roughly halve an Aes Sedai’s lifespan (see below) but thought that swearing them is worth it anyway. She planned for any woman who doesn’t swear and still calls herself Aes Sedai to feel the full force of Tower justice (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). She saw the possibility that some Kin may be too old to swear on the Oath Rod safely, but that’s where the second part of her plan comes into effect. The Kin can stay as a group with their own rules, though allied with the Tower; their Knitting circle is to be beneath the Amyrlin, if not the Hall, and Kinswomen will stand below sisters. Aes Sedai who want to retire can retire into the Kin, with the Oaths removed (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). Removal of the Oaths will restore most, if not all, an Aes Sedai’s lifespan.

Naturally the Shadow do not want the Aes Sedai to abandon the Three Oaths because if Black sisters forswear their Oaths they can be forced to expose other Black Ajah, as Talene was (Winter’s Heart, Prologue), and if Black sisters avoid forswearing, they will retain the ageless look and cause comment.

Black Ajah

Galina, a Black sister, is familiar with the fact that the Oath Rod can be used to unbind a person from their oaths as well as bind them. This indicates what happens when a woman joins the Black Ajah:

She [Galina] had been broken free of the Three Oaths on joining the Black Ajah, replacing them with a new trinity. . .

- A Crown of Swords, Spears

They use the Tower’s Oath Rod to forswear the Three Oaths and then to swear three new oaths. This is one reason why there is always at least one Black Sitter, since Sitters have easy access to all ter'angreal.

The Black Ajah oaths are:

1) I shall obey all commands given by those placed above me in service to the Great Lord.
2) I shall prepare for the day of the Great Lord's return.
3) I swear not to betray the Great Lord, to keep my secrets until the hour of my death.

- Waygate Foundation Q & A

Adeleas and Vandene reported that Ispan:

spilled out volumes about old plots of the Black Ajah . . . yet even when they pressed her hard . . . and she let slip the names of Darkfriends, most were certainly dead and none was a sister. Vandene said they were beginning to fear she had taken an Oath . . . against betraying her cohorts.

- The Path of Daggers, Into Andor

They also cannot, or usually cannot, betray the names of any Black Ajah they know or the names of any living Darkfriends. Verin explains:

”You can double-cross other Darkfriends, you can turn against the Chosen if you can justify it. Selfishness must be preserved. But you can never betray him. You can never betray the order itself to outsiders. But the oaths are specific. Very specific."

- The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai

If a Black sister can justify in her mind that identifying other Darkfriends to her captors is not betraying the Dark One she could do so—if she dared think that way!

Avoiding the Oaths

The Black Ajah may have ditched the Three Oaths in favour of their own, but any Aes Sedai can, and does, work her way around at least two of the Oaths. While an Aes Sedai can neither speak or write something they know to be false (as the Black Ajah hunters know (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame)), the Oath against lying can be avoided by either implication or omission. Body language may also be used to give a silent, but false, impression. Aes Sedai can also tell falsehoods if they believe them to be truths.

The second Oath against making weapons is not a big issue since Aes Sedai have lost a lot of knowledge about making various kinds of objects with the Power, and many aren’t keen to do so if the process is tedious. Let alone dirty their hands working like mere craftspeople.

The third oath against using the Power as a weapon against those not allied to the Shadow is circumvented by placing themselves in danger. Aes Sedai also use the Power as punishment frequently. More mundanely there is no stipulation against killing or torturing people without using the Power.

Mesaana managed to avoid swearing the Three Oaths. Seaine worked out three ways she could have done this:

First, it is possible that the woman has another Oath Rod. Others were once said to exist, and it's plausible that one rod could release you from the oaths of another. Mesaana could have been holding one secretly. She could have taken the Three Oaths while holding our rod, then somehow used the other to negate those oaths before swearing that she was not a Darkfriend...She could have channeled Spirit into it [the second Oath Rod], then inverted the weave, leaving her linked to it. This one is the least likely of the three...
The second method would be easier. Mesaana could have sent a look-alike wearing the Mirror of Mists. Some unfortunate sister—or novice, or even some untrained woman who could channel—under heavy Compulsion. This woman could have been forced to take the oaths in Mesaana's place. Then, since this person wouldn't be a Darkfriend, she could speak truthfully that she wasn't.”
"You said there was a third possibility?" Egwene asked.
"Yes," Seaine said. "We know that some weaves play with sound. Variations on vocal weaves are used to enhance a voice to project to a crowd, and in the ward against eavesdropping—indeed, they're used in the various tricks used to listen in on what is being said nearby. Complex uses of the Mirror of Mists can change a person's voice. With some practice, Doesine and I were able to fabricate a variation on a weave that would alter the words we spoke. In effect, we said one thing, but the other person heard another thing entirely."
"I couldn't use it to lie," Seaine said. "I tried. The oaths hold—so long as the weave was there, I couldn't speak words that I knew another would hear as lies, even if they were truth when they left my lips. Regardless, it was an easy weave to develop. Tied off and inverted, it hung in front of me and altered my words in a way I'd indicated.”

- Towers of Midnight, Use a Pebble

And so long as no one present could lip-read...or Mesaana could disguise this too...

Brandon Sanderson indicated on the Towers of Midnight book tour that Mesaana did use one of these three methods to evade being caught.

Age of Legends

In the Age of Legends, criminals were bound against repeating their crimes (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). More than once Balthamel “came very close to being bound with the Power against doing violence” (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Semirhage for instance was sentenced to be either bound against sadism or severed from the Source and cast out of the Aes Sedai. With that binding, she knew that her life would be cut short:

And a delegation from the Hall of the Servants had offered her a choice that was no choice: to be bound never to know her pleasures again, and with that binding be able to see the end of life approach… They had expected her to accept binding…

- Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

Therefore one oath reduces the lifespan.

Graendal confirmed that the Oath Rod is a binder (such as was used to bind criminals against violent crimes in the Age of Legends):

She would never have learned about the binding had Mesaana not made a rare slip...How long had Mesaana been tucked away inside the White Tower?

- Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

Only the Forsaken knew that the Oath Rod was used as a binder for intractably violent criminals. Birgitte remembered what a binder is, but had never seen the Oath Rod and didn’t connect it with binders because binders took other forms besides rods (Robert Jordan, Birgitte notes). Sammael gave us more information about binding and the ageless look:

“Do they bind themselves like criminals?”…Plainly [Graendal] had not reasoned it out; there was no reason she should. Few people in their time had ever committed one violent crime, let alone more.

- Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

Sammael reasoned that Aes Sedai used a binder for their Oaths because he recognised the ageless look, having seen criminals in the Age of Legends who committed more than one violent crime and were bound on a binder each time. Not all Forsaken had seen the ageless look because it was exceedingly rare, being the mark of a multiply convicted criminal, a very uncommon individual (Robert Jordan, Aes Sedai notes).

It takes more than one oath on the Oath Rod to produce the ageless look. Aes Sedai swear three oaths: a classic example of a ter’angreal being used in the Third Age in a way different to that for which it was intended.

The fact that the ageless look is a result of swearing three oaths (not just an oath) has been confirmed by Jordan at booksignings. This is also why the Black Ajah swear a new set of three oaths (A Crown of Swords, Spears) on the Oath Rod: to maintain their ageless look.

From Semirhage’s information, we know that one oath will reduce lifespan. Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve know it too, and estimate that the lifespan of an Aes Sedai is reduced by half by swearing the Three Oaths (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds). In his Aes Sedai notes Robert Jordan elaborated on how swearing an Oath on a binder affected the lifespan of someone in the Age of Legends:

Ordinary people in that time could expect to live 200 years, Aes Sedai as much as 800. Life expectancy on being bound depended in part on how old you were, of course. Someone who could not channel, bound in twenties, could not expect to see 100; bound later, at say a hundred, would live maybe another 20‒25 years; bound at 150, probably would live no more than another 5.

A very strong channeler bound in the first fifty to seventy years of life could not expect to live much beyond 400 if that; bound at 300‒400, would have another 50‒100 years left at most, while bound in later life would have as little as 5 to 10 years remaining.

With multiple oaths, given before age 50 as they are, that is cut off at maybe roughly 300 max (for some, as much 310‒320, but rarely that). The older you are when bound, the more it restricts; that is one reason it was used relatively seldom and only if nothing else would work. It was used instead of a death penalty, too—though in a way, in the terms of the Age, it was a death penalty—to bind someone not only not to commit their crime again but to spend the rest of their lives, if necessary, making restitution.

The provision for the Oath Rod to function in reverse and unbind someone was a safeguard for those who were later proved innocent of the crime and an encouragement for criminals to reform.

The ten Aes Sedai who were sent by the rebels to undermine the White Tower and forced to swear a fourth oath of obedience to the Black Ajah hunters have been released from this Oath. Novices and Accepted temporarily swore the Oath against lying to prove they weren’t Darkfriends. The majority of Aes Sedai among the rebels and the Tower forswore and re-swore the Three Oaths to expose Darkfriends.

Galina, too, has been forced to take a fourth oath to obey the Shaido Wise ones (The Path of Daggers, Questions and an Oath).

Nynaeve’s comment in The Great Hunt, The Testing, that the Three Oaths are either too much or too little is a masterpiece of Foreshadowing. Too many, since using an Oath Rod halves lifespan, yet too few to be fully trustworthy.

Flexible Black Rod

A black rod no thicker than her little finger, a pace in length, stiff yet so flexible she thought she could have doubled it into a circle

- The Path of Daggers, Unweaving

was found in the Ebou Dar cache and was in Elayne’s store in Caemlyn. Nynaeve said that the rod feels like pain (The Path of Daggers, Unweaving) and Aviendha that the rod causes pain. The amount of pain each blow of the rod gives can be altered: one blow can feel like one, or a hundred (Knife of Dreams, A Different Skill). Jordan remarked in his Elayne notes that Semirhage would love to get hold of this ter’angreal.

Bright Red Hot Rod

A rod, as thick as her wrist, bright red and smooth and rounded, firm rather than hard for all that it seemed to be stone; it did not warm slightly in her hand, it almost felt hot! Not real heat…

- The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place

It was found by Elayne and Nynaeve in the Ebou Dar cache and was taken to Caemlyn. Elayne examined it one evening when she was alone and decided to channel Fire into it (The Path of Dagger, Into Andor). The next thing she knew was waking up the next morning, with everyone trying not to laugh and too embarrassed to tell her what happened. Birgitte spilled the beans:

”I don't know about you two, but I intend to get drunk enough to ... well ... to take off my clothes and dance on the table. And not a hair drunker."
Min did not understand that at all, or why Aviendha stared at Birgitte and suddenly began laughing about it being "a wonderful joke."

- Winter's Heart, A Lily in Winter

Except that Elayne was not conscious when she did her dance.

Jordan explained in his Elayne notes that Elayne’s experience was due to using the ter’angreal wrongly:

One possible side-effect of channeling into this improperly is a giddiness and loss of inhibitions akin to drunkeness; the effect lasts several hours, but thankfully, on waking you can recall nothing of what you did. It can, in fact be used to induce a number of strong emotions in others, from hatred to fear, from love to lust, or to soothe those same emotions. It was actually a medical/psychiatric device originally.

Bent Black Rod 1

A bent, dull black featureless rod

as wide as a wrist—it seemed metal, yet one end accommodated itself to any hand that gripped it—made [Aviendha] think of cutting, either metal or stone if they were not too thick. Nothing that could catch fire though.

- Knife of Dreams, A Different Skill

The rod was found in the Ebou Dar Cache and was in Elayne’s collection in Caemlyn. It may have been destroyed in the sacking of Caemlyn.

Bent Black Rod 2

A second smaller bent, dull black rod about an inch in diameter is a weapon from the Age of Legends that Moghedien gave to the Black sisters. It can be used to kill someone at a hundred paces, or just stun them, without being detected by a channeller (Knife of Dreams, The House on Full Moon Street).

Presumably it ended up on Elayne’s hands when the Black sisters were captured.

Alviarin’s Small Red Rod

This ter’angreal is a brilliant red rod about the sized of her forefinger which has a few lines worked into the surface in a continuous interconnecting pattern. According to Mesaana, it cannot be broken by a hammer.

Alviarin touched the rod with hair-thin flows of Fire and Earth at two of the interconnections and pressed one end of the rod hard with a thumb, to let Mesaana know Alviarin wanted to speak with her. In the Age of Legends no channelling would have been necessary, because there were “standing flows” in that Age; pressing one end of the rod hard would be enough to activate it (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark). The rod not only let Mesaana know Alviarin needed her, but also Alviarin’s location. Shaidar Haran came to Alviarin’s room soon after Mesaana. He may have felt the rod’s summons or it was just coincidence.

Small Green Rod

According to Robert Jordan’s Aes Sedai notes, there was a small green rod as thick as Elayne’s finger and twice as long in her and Nynaeve’s part of the Ebou Dar cache. The rod has a thin gold line in the middle, and comes apart there.


Written by Linda, August, 2005 and updated March, 2013, May, 2016 and June, 2019


Gifted Designs said...

I suppose my question would be that even though Egwene knows the rod halves life-span, does she know it's what causes the ageless look?

I keep seeing sisters mentally questioning why so&so from the Aiel or Kin or whathaveyou doesn't have an ageless look. So I can't help but wonder if they just haven't figured out that it's part of Oath-taking.

Linda said...

Yes, the girls worked it out and talked about it in TAR.

No one else seems to have worked it out though.

Linda said...

Thanks Yamezt. I seem to have left out updating the Oaths here. I shall fix it.

Anonymous said...

There's also the rods of dominion that LTT could summon, though as I recall that was a title for regional governers (who probably had actual rods?). It's
likely RJ's translation from bâton de commandement, carved rods sometimes found at prehistoric burial grounds.

Linda said...

The Nine Rods of Dominion were people--regional governors--and not physical objects.

Csarmasz, Máté said...

So on Messana and the Oath Rod. I believe a much more elegant solution is that she would know the exact wording of the question being asked of them. And I bet it really is as simple as them having to say they aren't Blak Ajah, or Darkfriend.
And she's neither. The Forsaken consider darkfriends to be beneath them, and specifically, to be Ishy's fan group.
And she's not of any ajah either. I think she would be insulted by being called an Aes Sedai.
We know that at least Lanfear would react to those questions that way. I think Mesaana would, as well.