How the Numbers Fall
Numbers have great significance in a series so permeated with symbolism: the One Power with its Two halves, the Three ta’veren, the Five Powers, the Seven Ajahs of Aes Sedai and the Thirteen Forsaken are just a few examples. Notice that these, the most important numbers in The Wheel of Time, are nearly all prime numbers, that is they are evenly divisible by only One and themselves, and even One is often still regarded as a prime. Mathematicians are fond of primes and Jordan, who was a physicist, has included this in his world-building.
Let’s have a quick look at how this symbolism works for a few of the numbers and then relate this to Lord of Chaos by examining the number symbolism of the Tower Embassy.
One symbolises unity, beginning, the Source (True Source!), the centre from which everything else radiates and, by association, the Sun.
Rand, that most solar of figures (see Rand's parallels as Mithra and Sol Invictus), is often named as ‘the one’ in some way:
And men cried out to the Creator, saying, O Light of the Heavens, Light of the World, let the Promised One be born of the mountain, according to the prophecies...Sole rulers, monarchs, also fall under the symbolism of one and many have ‘first’ included in their title. Rand’s previous incarnation, Lews Therin, was First Among Servants with ultimate power according to Jordan, and was the originator of the strike which resealed the Dark One and resulted in the corruption of half of the One Power, so that saidar effectively became ‘the’ One Power for over three thousand years.
- The Eye of the World, Opening prophecy
Yet one shall be born to face the Shadow, born once more as he was born
before and shall be born again, time without end.
- The Great Hunt, Opening prophecy
Rand and Lan have much in common and Lan often echoes many of Rand’s issues. Both men are formidable fighters who use the Oneness, both have trouble expressing their emotions, both are bonded against their will. Lan is a hidden monarch with the epithet One Man (Aan’allein) who may unite (make one) the Borderlands, and Rand is trying to forcibly make the world one and becoming increasingly autocratic about it.
The dark side of ‘one’ is selfishness, egomania and aggression, epitomised by the Dark One. This common euphemism for Shaitan emphasises that he is the origin or source of all evil. He wants to remake the world in his own image.
Three is the most positive number in symbolism as well as in religious thought, legend, mythology and folklore. It represents harmony, synthesis, strength and productivity. It is probably the most important number in the series.
Rand himself has three loves, Aviendha, Elayne and Min, who are united in their support for him. The three women also represent the Goddess (also known as the Mother, the Goddess of the Land or the Goddess of Sovereignty) in her triple aspect of Maiden (Aviendha), Mother (pregnant Elayne) and Crone (Min will age before the others). It’s not surprising Rand has three loves, since a Dragon is a three-fold creature. In An Instinct for Dragons, David E Jones postulates that the dragon is a construct of the three predators that most threatened humankind in its infancy: the raptor (eagle), the snake, and the big cat.
While Rand has a triple nature, he is also part of a triad. Both Forsaken and Aes Sedai made the mistake of concentrating on One (Rand) when there are Three ta’veren. Many religions and mythologies have a triad or trinity of three gods, or one god of three aspects. Some triads are male, some female. A few male examples are:
- Father – Son – Holy Spirit of Christianity;
- Brahma (Creator, Perrin) - Vishnu (Preserver, Mat) - Shiva (Destroyer, Rand) of Hinduism; and
- Zeus - Poseidon – Hades of Greek Mythology.
It was not until The Dragon Reborn that Moiraine finally realised the significance of three closely-tied ta’veren and the crucial role the three of them working together will play in the defeat of the Shadow. Ishamael may have worked this out sooner:
“You will not have many chances,” the man said behind him in a hard voice. “Three threads woven together share one another’s doom. When one is cut, all are.”A Myrddraal even referred to the three ta’veren as a tripod:
- The Great Hunt, Shadows Sleeping
“Cut one leg of the tripod,” it said softly, “and all fall down.”The function of a tripod is to support: the three ta’veren were spun out by the Wheel to support the Pattern against the Shadow and to gather the support of humanity.
- The Dragon Reborn, Nightmares Walking
The dark side of Three is shown by Moridin and the two mind-trapped women Cyndane and Moghedien, and by the dark triad of Semirhage-Demandred-Mesaana; both triads are a mockery of the three ta’veren.
Five, due to its association with the five senses, and five digits on the hand, is the number of humanity (Jack Tressider, Symbols and Their Meanings). It symbolises physical matter given intelligence (especially in Freemasonry and Jordan was a Freemason), intellect, mental inspiration, creativity, health and integration.
Rand, a Christ-like figure, has been marked with an equivalent of the five stigmata to indicate his sacrifice for humanity. His sigil is a dragon with five claws (see Animal Symbolism essay). These both support the theory that Rand is strong in all five powers of the One Power.
Five Emond’s Fielders are leaders in humanity’s fight against the Shadow, restoring health to the land and bringing about a renaissance in knowledge.
On the negative side, the five female Forsaken have been busy corrupting the minds of humanity via dreams, Compulsion, torture and education.
Seven is a mystical number symbolising magic, cosmic and spiritual order, and the completion of a natural cycle (Jack Tressider, Symbols and Their Meanings). The Pattern of the Wheel of Time world has seven Ages – a cosmic week – cycling endlessly.
The performance of magic, the channelling of the One Power, is meant to be spiritual, a responsibility and a privilege of the lucky few. It is no accident that the Aes Sedai organisation is ordered around seven Ajahs, seven different philosophies on the usage of magic. Seven is considered ‘lucky’, just as male channellers seem at first, and certainly the Aes Sedai have been unlucky since they split into rival Halls of six Ajahs.
The seven Seals on the Dark One’s prison (a parallel with the seven seals of Revelation in the Bible, see Eschatology essay) symbolise both the magic used to contain the Bore and the end of a natural cycle.
Thirteen is one more than the popular and easily divisible number Twelve and is traditionally a very unlucky number in real world Western culture. Jordan has reverse-engineered an explanation for this; one that is also consistent with the other main association of thirteen: witchcraft.
Witches’ covens traditionally contain thirteen members. Another tradition is that Satan was said to be the thirteenth figure at witches’ rites. Thirteen is much associated with magic in the Wheel of Time world, particularly in an ‘unlucky’ manner: the maximum number of women (witches!) who can link together without a man is thirteen and such a circle can overwhelm and gentle any male channeller, resulting in his early death.
An even darker example is the Thirteen Forsaken, who use magic evilly and, since they have bound bound themselves to Shai'tan, are Satanists.
In Lord of Chaos, the most instructive number symbolism is that associated with Elaida’s embassy to Rand.
Elaida sent thirty-nine Aes Sedai in the embassy to Rand (Lord of Chaos, The Feast of Lights). As Three times Thirteen, this is three full circles of Aes Sedai, three times the amount of women who can shield any man, and triple bad luck for Rand. This shows that the embassy never meant any good to Rand whatever his reception of them. Galina arranged for most, if not all, of the thirty-nine Aes Sedai to beat Rand once he was captured (Lord of Chaos, Dumai’s Wells), a parallel of the thirty-nine lashes Christ received before He was crucified (Rand has many parallels to Christ).
Rand captured twenty-three Aes Sedai from Elaida’s embassy, the same number of Aes Sedai as in a full sitting of the Hall– twenty-one Sitters plus the Amyrlin and Keeper. Aes Sedai from all Ajahs in Elaida’s Hall were captured, even though there was only one representative from each of the Brown, Grey and Yellow Ajahs in the embassy. This is against chance and so is part of the symbolism. It’s true that Elaida’s Hall only has eighteen Sitters, but then three of the captives were stilled, and they represent the absent and politically impotent (as far as the Tower is concerned) Blue Sitters.
The number Twelve represents cosmic organisation, renewal, salvation and a full cycle of time (twelve calendar months in the real world) (Jack Tressider, Symbols and Their Meanings). The twelve Aes Sedai who returned were all that could be salvaged of an embassy which by its violation of ethics indicates an organisation which is at the end of its time and is in dire need of renewal. They may even be the trigger for his renewal once their return and the manner of the embassy’s behaviour and failure is publicly known. Certainly Elaida fears the Hall’s reaction and has taken pains to keep their return secret.
Three Aes Sedai are the usual number in an embassy to a ruler (Lord of Chaos, Prologue). Rand killed three sisters when he escaped Elaida’s embassy, symbolically destroying the embassy.
So in summing up, the symbolism shows that the embassy was inimical to Rand from the first. Rand destroyed it and effectively holds Elaida’s Hall captive and to account and this failure of Aes Sedai ethics and action will ultimately bring about renewal. It is the end of an area for the Tower. (Incidentally on the same momentous day, nine rebel Aes Sedai swore fealty to Rand, representing half the Sitters of the rebel Hall, so Rand made great gains there too).
I have really only touched upon this very interesting aspect of the series. It is explored further in the Number Symbolism essay I wrote in 2007 which is now released in the Reference Library.