Thursday, February 28, 2002

Some Sort of Balance is Perfect: Wheel of Time Theology



By Linda

Jordan’s original idea for The Wheel of Time was to explore what it felt like for someone to realise they must save the world, a world that resists change, even while its time cycles endlessly and distorts its knowledge base. However, this continual erosion and rewriting of knowledge—even the knowledge of its past and future messiah—is not the chief theme:

The main thrust of the story will not be how fact becomes legend, however. Rather it will explore the nature of good and evil, of free will and the duty owed by the individual to humanity as a whole, of why and how mankind makes the choice to oppose evil, and the harm that can be done in the name of good.

- Robert Jordan, Notes on Books 2 through 6

This is not a black and white morality:

“I hope readers see that it is not always as easy as it seems on the surface to tell right from wrong, or even good from evil. I like to say, "If the answer is easy, you've probably asked the wrong question." Sometimes great harm comes from the most well-intentioned efforts to do good, and sometimes people become so enamored of the good they want to do that they will stamp everyone and everything into the ground in order to see it done. We always have to be careful. And ask the hard questions.”

- Robert Jordan, Walden Books Legends interview 1998

As Jordan said about the cycle of the various Ages: “It’s never simple.”

In such a story, theology and philosophy come strongly to the fore. This essay discusses the theology underlying the series, its influence on the plot and its real-world parallels.

Here is a list of the topics covered:

Deities
Creator
Salvation
Reincarnation
Dark One
Contending Deities
Surrogates
Dragon
Antichrist
Interfering in the World
Tel’aran’rhiod
Other Worlds: Parallel and Alternate/Mirror Worlds
Other Evils: Shaisam and Mordeth
Pattern


Deities

There are two deities in the Wheel of Time series: the Creator and the Dark One. They are neither male nor female, but are referred to in the series as masculine for convenience. I will follow Jordan’s convention.

The gods are antithetical—each balances, yet repels, the other. Followers of one god kill followers of the other, with the notable exception of the Seanchan. In the Third Age, the Sharans may have followed the Pattern, rather than either god.


Creator

The Creator is a benevolent deity who ‘shaped the Wheel, the One Power that drives it and the plan for the Great Pattern’ (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). He created all the worlds, and also variations of those worlds where the denizens made different choices. The Creator is outside of time and the Pattern, and exists everywhere at once for all the worlds (The Dragon Reborn, A World of Dreams).

If he has any other name there is no hint of it. Those dedicated to the Light are said to “shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand.”

Readers have said that a perfect Creator should make a perfect creation, and not one where evil is incorporated. However, since balance is what the Creator wants, perhaps it is perfect. The Wheel is better programmed, with more effective corrective mechanisms, than people think.

Evil is present in people as well as originating from the Dark One. People have to fight evil themselves, rather than stand back and let more powerful beings such as the Heroes, or even the channellers, do it all for them. This was a major point of Jordan’s theology, as was the Creator not taking a direct hand in the Last Battle:

This is a thread which must run through: mankind must depend on itself, not on the help of all-powerful gods.

- Robert Jordan, White Goddess Notes

One thing people hope and pray for is salvation.


Salvation

The strongest and most sacred oath in the Wheel of Time world refers not only to hope of rebirth but also salvation:

”By the Light and my hope of salvation and rebirth, I swear to… or may the Creator’s face turn from me forever and darkness consume my soul.”

- The Fires of Heaven, Fanning the Sparks

There may be two types of salvation referred to here: personal and the world’s salvation. Personal salvation would mean protection from harm, including protection from the Shadow, plus the hope of continued reincarnation as the Wheel turns. Protection from the Shadow is linked with the world’s salvation—the success of the saviour-figure, the Dragon Reborn, and the forces of the Light in delivering the world from the Shadow. So people pray to be kept safe from harm and from the Shadow and also to be born again. Egwene found comfort in her hope of rebirth and upon her heroic death her soul was described as riding the Flame of Tar Valon weave into the Light (A Memory of Light, The Last Battle).

As for safety from the Shadow, Jordan explained at a booksigning that the Dark One can’t grab any soul because he does not have access to all souls. However, people may fear that he might grab their soul.

The reference to darkness consuming a person’s soul may mean that people believe that if they are sufficiently undeserving they may be denied salvation and would not be born again. Their soul will be extinguished or consumed by the Dark One as he does that of a Grey Man/Woman’s. (Presumably the Dark One makes a special arrangement for his surrogate/s’ natural rebirth.) This is different to Hinduism or Buddhism, where such a soul would be reborn as an animal to relearn the ethics it had abandoned. Judging by the wolves, an animal’s soul is reborn into the same species. There is also no hint here of the possibility or desirability of souls being freed of the Wheel of Time and achieving enlightenment or nirvana as in Hinduism or Buddhism. Ishamael, who aided the Dark One’s attempt to break out of his prison and destroy the Pattern so he would be free of the cycle of rebirth, was an evil reversal of Hinduism’s view of cyclic time and reincarnation.

Reincarnation

Reincarnation is consistent with a cyclic view of time: the eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism believe that souls are born, die and reborn as the Ages cycle. Similarly, in The Wheel of Time world:

No ending, even death, is necessarily final within the turning of the Wheel. Reincarnation is a part of the way of the world.

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

As Rand muses:

He was Lews Therin reborn, the Dragon Reborn, no denying that, but everybody was someone reborn, a hundred someones, a thousand, more. That was how the Pattern worked; everyone died and was reborn, again and again as the Wheel turned, forever without end.

- A Crown of Swords, Pitfalls and Tripwires

Jordan has stated at a book-signing that between lives there is an ordinary afterlife for all souls except those bound to the Horn of Valere. For what it’s worth, Masema’s soul is not exactly welcomed anywhere when he dies:

It's over, then, he thought, unable to keep his eyes open. He closed them, falling as if through an endless void. Did I do well, Father, or did I fail?
There was no answer. And he joined with the void, tumbling into an endless sea of blackness.

- The Gathering Storm, Prologue

It may be that the Creator’s face has turned away from Masema and darkness consumed his soul.

Once a soul is selected to be a Hero of the Horn (and according to Jordan they cannot refuse this linking) they await rebirth in Tel’aran’rhiod.

Normally, if you lose your soul, you would also lose your mind. An example of this is the Ogier Trayal, who was partly consumed by the Black Wind. However Grey Men and Women voluntarily resign their souls to the Dark One, and are exceptions by special arrangement, so that they still have a functioning mind. Their souls however have been utterly consumed by the Dark One and they will never be reborn (Robert Jordan at a booksigning). (We also see an example of someone with a soul but no mind: Mesaana after losing her duel with Egwene.)

Shadowspawn have souls, although corrupted ones, while Nym are constructs with the Power that are instilled with a soul:

Nym and Trollocs both have souls, and either could be reborn, but since Nym were a pure construct (i.e. each of them was individually made, like hand-crafting) a Nym would not be reborn as a Nym. You might say that a Nym's soul was borrowed temporarily from the supply of souls awaiting rebirth. A Trolloc, however, bears a twisted, or corrupted soul, and would be reborn as a Trolloc. Though frankly, a Trolloc's soul is such a pitiful thing, it hardly seems worth calling a soul.

- Robert Jordan, Wotmania and Dragonmount Q&A

Ogier and *Finn souls are also reborn into the same species.

Gender is binary, in Jordan’s world—with the only person of non-binary gender that we know of (Aran’gar) being an example of Wrongness that the Dark One inflicts on the Pattern—and each soul is always born into the same gender. For example, Jordan said at booksignings that the Dragon soul will always be born male and Birgitte always female.

The three most important tenets of the Creator’s world are belief, choice (free will) and balance.


Belief

One of the underlying philosophies is that belief and order give strength. It’s not specified who is strengthened by belief, and, in fact, belief gives strength to all; not just to the good guys, but to the Dark One as well as the Creator and his Pattern. Whatever is believed in becomes stronger due to that belief, and whatever is not believed in is weakened by that lack of belief:

Perhaps it is not only the seals alone that have held the Dark One's prison shut. Perhaps a part of what has helped hold the shields is the belief of the people; their belief that the Dark One is and should be held, their belief in good as opposed to evil. Perhaps the more people cease to believe in the reality of the Dark One and his imprisonment, the more they cease to believe in order and good, and the need to struggle for them, the easier it is for the Dark One to reach out to the world. And of course, the more he reaches out to the world, the more he can taint it. And again, the more the people accept that taint, or at least don't struggle against it, the easier it becomes for him. Another circle.

- Robert Jordan, TDR Notes

The more belief in good and active opposition to the Dark One declines, the easier it becomes for the Dark One to corrupt. However, the Dark One can’t exist if people don’t believe, and weak belief in both the Creator and the Dark One weakens both. That’s why a prerequisite for becoming a Darkfriend is belief in Shaitan’s powers—because this aids his strength. Silvie/Lanfear showed this to Egwene by laughing at Ishamael and the Dark One with her (not taking the Shadow seriously) in Tel’aran’rhiod:

It turns the Forsaken’s power, calling them fools. Makes you feel good, and safe. Even the Shadow can’t take being called a fool. Try it, my Lady. Say, Ba’alzamon is a fool!”
Egwene’s lips twitched on the edge of a smile. “Ba’alzamon is a fool! You are right, Silvie.” It actually did feel good, laughing at the Dark One.

- The Dragon Reborn, Tel’aran’rhiod

Lanfear was quite happy to undermine other Forsaken, or even the Dark One, since she wanted to ultimately supplant them all.

Conversely, false Dragons have tapped into the Dark One, or gained support from belief in him in the past:

Some of these false Dragons have actually claimed to be Sha’tan [original spelling]. Some have called on Sha’tan, and even managed to get some aid from him. These callings are among the things that have weakened Sha’tan’s prison to the point where he might actually be loosed upon the world of men…

- Robert Jordan, Notes for Wheel of Time 1

(This is the true explanation of why saying the Dark One’s name is considered evil. It strengthens belief in the Dark One and therefore strengthens the Dark One’s power in the world.)

Another idea Jordan explored in his notes was that the more people believe in prophecies, the more likely they are to be fulfilled, and conversely if people ignore or disbelieve the prophecies, the less likely they are to be fulfilled. This ties in with Taim’s comment that if people had believed he was the Dragon, it would be shown that he had fulfilled the prophecies. (This character was originally an alias of Demandred in Jordan’s early notes. Demandred wanted to take over Lews Therin’s role as the prophesied one, the Dragon, and mistakenly believed that he had done so to the Sharans, at least, as Bao the Wyld—itself an example of belief giving power to a person, and ultimately to an entire people.)

However, people can’t be forced into believing or not believing in either good or evil because that is evil indeed.


Choice

A second important tenet of Wheel of Time theology is the free will granted to all by the Creator.

Human souls must have choices: choice in what to do, in what to believe and how fervently. They are not fated as to what they choose in response to events. In Jordan’s world there is the paradox that history is broadly determined but each individual has the choice—in fact, must have the choice—to work towards the fulfilment of the Pattern. This was Tam’s timely reminder to Rand:

“You may not have a choice about which duties are given you,” Tam's voice, just a memory, said in his mind. “But you can choose why you fulfil them.”

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold

Choice shows that souls are independent of the Creator. People can choose to dedicate their soul to the Dark One—and perhaps also, by extension, to the Creator, although that would likely be a surrender of free will, which is bad—but they are also free to not believe in either Creator or Dark One, and to ignore the battle between the Light and Shadow completely. The ‘best’ of the non-participants continued their everyday activities in the cities or farms during the Last Battle, the ‘worst’ raided the abandoned properties, or even the bodies of either side on the battlefields.

One of the most important things about souls is their choices; they seem to matter at least as much as the events of the Age. That’s why there are the alternative or ‘If’ worlds (see below). If people’s choices weren’t important, there would not be alternative worlds showing souls’ different choices.

In the Age of Legends, people were allowed one choice to do evil, and then, when found guilty of their crime, were bound on a binding or oath rod against doing that evil again. Once bound, they could not knowingly commit their evil (see Oath Rod article). However, they can still want to commit crimes, and can still think evil thoughts. A few committed multiple crimes and were bound with multiple oaths. These developed a stigma—the ageless look. While binding helped make the Age of Legends do so well for so long, it did not remove evil from society, just repressed it, and perhaps was a contributing factor to why the Second Age ended badly. Rand explains:

"You would consider most of what we did during the Age of Legends to be crackbrained and irresponsible. That was a different time, Aviendha. There were many more channelers, and we were trained from a young age. We didn't need to know things like warfare, or how to kill. We had eliminated pain, hunger, suffering, war. Instead, we used the One Power for things that might seem common."

"You'd only assumed that you'd eliminated war," Aviendha said with a sniff. "You were wrong. Your ignorance left you weak."

"It did. I can't decide if I would have changed things, though. There were many good years. Good decades, good centuries. We believed we were living in paradise. Perhaps that was our downfall. We wanted our lives to be perfect, so we ignored imperfections. Problems were magnified through inattention, and war might have become inevitable if the Bore hadn't ever been made."

- A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

The society didn’t deal with conflict or evil, it just non-violently stopped people from being able to commit crimes—and reduced their lifespan. Binding worked, but it’s corrupting. The reduction in inequity and suffering was the good side of Second Age society.

Aes Sedai of the Third Age bound themselves against lying or using the Power as a weapon to make themselves more trustworthy, but were not morally trustworthy due to working their way around the Oaths. This is another example of the suppression of choice—even if voluntarily—leading to corruption.

The Seanchan’s enslavement of channellers with a’dam is recognised as evil by most people on the mainland. Damane are regarded as less than human by the Seanchan, which is an evil attitude, and is the only instance in their society of punishment before any evil action is performed. They assume the damane will commit evil actions and they must be restrained and repurposed; their channelling is a crime—unless done at the state’s or their owner’s behest. (This is similar to the reason why male channellers were executed, and why some Aes Sedai, such as Elaida, thought male channellers were unbelievers in the Light, apostates.) Unlike the mainlanders, the Seanchan do not execute Darkfriends until they actually commit crimes. (As explained in the Belief section, the mainlanders’ execution for apostasy is due to belief giving strength: the Darkfriends’ crime is that their belief increases the Dark One’s power in the world.)

The biggest choice a soul can make is between good and evil and between the Creator and Dark One. They are not exactly the same thing. The Creator epitomises good and the Dark One evil, but they are not responsible for all good or all evil. For instance, it is possible for people to choose to do evil even when Dark One is not touching world, as Semirhage did in the Age of Legends for over 100 years before the Bore was drilled. This is what Jordan meant in the quote at the beginning of this essay about grey areas and it never being simple. Another choice is to not do good—this can have consequences as grave (or bad!) as doing evil:

People who do not champion and support good are acquiescing in the press of evil. Some people who believe they are championing good actually fight the cause of evil, for they would bind the free will given by the Creator.

- Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time Continuity Notes

When Rand tried to impose his will upon every individual he encountered, he was committing evil. Even for a good cause such as uniting the world against the Shadow it was wrong (and increased the Wrongness that was rife in the Pattern at that time) because he was taking away their free will that the Creator made a central part of all humans.

As Leane instructed Faolain in The Dragon Reborn, Punishments: “To lead is neither to push nor to pull.” She is correct. A leader should not deprive others of their choice to willingly follow or cooperate. On a simple, practical level, Rand was carrying those he bullied or coerced and weighing himself down, as he finally understood when Egwene died and he let go of the responsibility and guilt for his and other people’s choices. He was also making others less and reducing what they could contribute to him and his cause.

On another level, in keeping with Taoist philosophy and balance, the harder Rand tried to force people to unite behind him to avoid bloodshed, the more he failed to do so. People knew he was prophesied to do this, and that it was essential in order to prevent the Dark One winning, but they didn’t want the Last Battle to happen, especially in their time. They didn’t want the Dark One to triumph, but neither did they want to have to be saved by the Dragon Reborn, or to go through another Breaking. Therefore, despite the prophecies, some refused to believe in a Dragon, or to believe that Rand is the Dragon Reborn, or they sought to destroy Rand to stop a new Breaking. [And from the wars over this, new nations were formed. This was Rand’s actual Breaking.] The harder Rand pushed, the more events swung to the other extreme. The Pattern must have balance.

Rand’s world without evil that he created was still evil due to its absence of choice or free will:

without Evil as a counter-balance to Good, free will is no more. The removal of Evil, or the possibility of Evil, from the world would destroy humanity as surely as the removal of Good, or the possibility of Good, for free will is an integral part of humankind. Humanity, to be human, must have something to oppose, and something to support, and the free choice of which will be which.

- Robert Jordan, Notes Book 2 through 6

A world without evil is as evil as a world without good. In either, nobody has any choice anymore or even understands what good or evil are. Having the polar opposites is essential to humanity and the Pattern, and balance between the two is the ultimate goal.


Balance

The Wheel of Time world is built on the flux of polar opposites such as good and evil, saidin and saidar, Fate and choice; as one pair comes into balance at the end of the Third Age, so do the others.

Jordan’s two halves of the One Power are:

from the female and male principles that represented the balance of nature. The two sources of power were compliments, yin and yang, like yet unlike, touching yet not blending, and each was unreachable by a member of the wrong sex. Each had some abilities not available to the other, each did many things that the other did, but in a different way, but neither could be said to be superior to the other.

- Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time Outline Book 1

Each channeller, no matter how strong, can only access half the True Source; no one can ‘have it all’. Cooperation is essential. In contrast, the True Power is secret (until it leaves its marks), selfish and potentially unlimited as well as destructive.

When the Amyrlin battles the Dark Asha’man Leader (now Forsaken) and counters his balefire with her Flame, the two countering halves of the Source are in extreme opposition in intent as well as origin:

They matched one another, in stasis, for an eternal moment. In that moment, Egwene felt a peace come upon her. The pain of Gawyn's death faded. He would be reborn. The Pattern would continue. The very weave she wielded calmed her anger and replaced it with peace…
Somehow Egwene knew that the Flame would have had much less effect on a person who had not given himself to the Shadow.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

Another example of opposites nullifying each other was the Dark One’s taint and Shadar Logoth at the cleansing of saidin.

It was the Shadow’s extreme usage of balefire that spurred Egwene to develop a weave to counter it. This is an example of Taoism in the Wheel of Time world: if events become too extreme, their opposite polarity is formed.

After Rand draws on the True Power to save himself from Semirhage, killing her with balefire (another grave evil), he found it a terrifying temptation—it and the male Choedan Kal:

The access key had allowed him to tap an unimaginable river, a tempest as vast as the ocean. It had been the greatest thing he had ever experienced.
Until the moment when he had used the unnamed power.
That other force called to him, sang to him, tempted him. So much power, so much divine wonder. But it terrified him. He didn't dare touch it, not again.
And so he carried the key. He was not certain which of the two sources of energy was more dangerous, but as long as both called to him, he was able to resist both. Like two people, both yelling for his attention, they drowned one another out. For the moment.

- The Gathering Storm, Into Bandar Eban

When the Shadow forced Rand to become dark, so dark he almost destroyed the world, a few women in his circle were concerned, Nynaeve and Min included:

"The Last Battle is nearly upon us, Min. The Last Battle! Can we dare send a man to fight the Dark One who won't sacrifice for what needs to be done?"
Min shook her head. "Dare we send him as he is, with that look in his eyes? Nynaeve, he's stopped caring. Nothing matters to him anymore but defeating the Dark One."
"Isn't that what we want him to do?"
"I…" She stopped. "Winning won't be winning at all if Rand becomes something as bad as the Forsaken.”

- The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

Rand’s ruthless violence and extreme concentration on killing Dark One is the opposite of the Tinkers, who ruthlessly refuse to use violence to save others or themselves from evil, only pacifically resist. The middle ground is what works best:

For some time he [Rand] reluctantly accepts that some wrong must be done for a greater good, but comes to realise that although the struggle against evil cannot be accomplished painlessly, great care must be taken that the harm is not greater than the good that comes of it.

- Robert Jordan, Notes on Books 2 Through 6

Balance is needed between the two extremes. At this time, Rand was literally unbalanced.

The Shadow pushed Rand too far, and he converted to the opposite—enlightened Rand. At first, he nearly used himself up trying to counter evil (eg at Maradon) but then found…balance.

Nevertheless, the Dragon went to Shayol Ghul intending to kill the Dark One. However, the Dark One can’t be killed without destroying the Pattern; as Rand’s all-good world showed, the Dark One is integral to the Pattern to provide choice. That is why Moridin, the Shadow’s great philosopher and counter to and probably murderer of the Light’s philosopher, was scornful:

"There is a way to win, Moridin," Rand said. "I mean to kill him. Slay the Dark One. Let the Wheel turn without his constant taint."
Moridin gave no reaction. He was still staring at the flames. "We are connected," Moridin finally said. "That is how you came here, I suspect, though I do not understand our bond myself. I doubt you can understand the magnitude of the stupidity in your statement."

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin
A world without evil can’t offer the choice to be good, or even the knowledge of what goodness is. When Rand realised the necessity of evil, he called himself a fool.

Conversely, I doubt that a solely evil world would last. I think that, just as in the ‘If’, or Mirror, World where the Trollocs won there was almost nothing, just barrenness, so too if the Dark One remade the world in his image, it would consume itself to nothingness within a few hundred years. After all, the Pit of Doom is rather like a black hole.

Jordan wasn’t understating the case when he said balance is necessary; if his world gets sufficiently unbalanced, reality breaks apart, as we saw in A Memory of Light.
Readers object to the fact that evil can “win” but good can’t. One or the other side succeeding in finally “winning” is very much a linear time concept (see Time section of Eschatology article). The Creator’s world is NOT linear, it is cyclic. In order to keep cycling it needs to be in balance or to strive for that rarely achieved perfection. So it needs good and evil; it needs both poles of each and every quality to keep that flow and change cycling. Evil and good are both essential, or else there is no free will. The removal of evil from the world would destroy humanity as surely as the removal of good.

Put simply, to “win” (destroy the opposition) is to “lose” (destroy creation). Killing the Dark One would end the cycle and perhaps destroy the Pattern and the Wheel. The Dark One is needed for balance and choice and Rand had to realise this.

Of course, he had to become balanced himself:

Rand al'Thor, such an odd mixture of self-effacement and pride. Did he finally have the balance right?

- A Memory of Light, A Silence Like Screaming


Extremists

In keeping with the dualistic nature of The Wheel of Time theology and Jordan’s Taoistic theme of balance, the Creator and his equal and opposite, the Dark One, each have followers who are extremists: the Whitecloaks, Amayar, Tinkers and Dragonsworn for the Light and the Forsaken/Darkfriends for the Shadow. All these religious groups violated the free will of others on a large scale.

The Whitecloaks are religious extremists who had a narrow definition of good and the most extreme view of Darkfriends, in which they included Aes Sedai. They conducted book burnings, and showed little acceptance of the Dragon, and little interest in the Last Battle at all, until Galad changed them.

The Tinkers also follow an extreme pacifistic philosophy. They refuse to do any violence, even if it would save others. And harp on others’ well-meaning, but different, choices.

The Amayar were a very fatalistic group who abandoned their pacifism and ethics to commit mass murder and suicide in the belief they had been given a sign (the activation and destruction of the female Choedan Kal during the cleansing of saidin) that time would end soon, see Time of Illusions article. They were dark millenarians who did not believe in the Dragon as world saviour (see Millenarian extremists).

The Forsaken/Darkfriends are far more developed as an extremist and millenarian cult. From the Shadow’s point of view, the Dark One’s victory will usher in an eternity of rule under the Dark One—a dark eternity of an evil paradise where they will be the elect—and they will commit any atrocity to bring this about. They were the ultimate millenarian cult; more extreme than the general millenarianism pervading the Third Age.


Dark One

The Dark One is a malevolent deity, the equal and opposite of the Creator. His force, the True Power, is the opposite of the Creator’s One Power. The Dark One was sealed away in all worlds by the Creator at the moment of creation. He also exists in all the worlds at once and is imprisoned on all of them:

“If he is freed from the prison the Creator made in one world, he is freed on all. So long as he is kept prisoner in one, he remains imprisoned on all.”

- The Dragon Reborn, A World of Dreams

The Dark One:

does not, however, have the ability to break free of his prison without assistance from our world. The fact that the War of the Shadow began with an attempt by his followers to complete what the Bore began is proof of this.

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

The drilling of the Bore by Mierin (later Lanfear) and Beidomon in the Age of Legends in the hope of accessing a power that was undivided was an example of fatal hubris in thinking that anything humans can do, they should do. Like a Second Age Pandora, Lanfear accidentally let the Dark One touch the world in a restricted fashion. This access was enough to create war, famine and corruption on a large scale.

At the end of the War of Power, Lews Therin and the Hundred Companions fixed a patch over the Bore using seven cuendillar discs, the Seals, that Lews Therin had personally made, as focal points (A Memory of Light, The Choice of a Patch).

According to Jordan at a booksigning, the Bore

doesn't really exist in Shayol Ghul, the Bore exists everywhere, it's simply in Shayol Ghul where it can be perceived most easily.

Verin accurately described the Dark One as the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the unmaker of order (The Dragon Reborn, A World of Dreams). The paradox she refers to is about the nature of the Dark One’s imprisonment in all the worlds being effective only until he is freed on one world; then he is freed on all.

Another paradox is that he is literally a necessary evil—without him, the world would cease cycling, with too much of him, the world risks ending, just as death is a necessary evil. While good and evil are part of the Pattern—the human evil within each person—the Dark One is unnatural and inimical to the Pattern. The Pattern reacts to the Dark One’s activities like antibodies react to a virus. So even though the Creator has invested much in the Pattern, the virus of evil deeds is in the Pattern too. The Pattern has to correct for them. In some Ages it can weave most evil out; in Ages such as the Third, the best it can do is some sort of balance. It’s interesting that we’re getting two opposite extreme Ages consecutively.

Shadowy Belief

However, belief and order give strength against the Shadow as Herid Fel deduced, and this was a key factor in defeating the Dark One and his minions. That is why the Dark One commanded chaos to be unleashed in Lord of Chaos, to reduce order and so weaken the Light. The belief and fervour of Darkfriends gives the Dark One strength, as does saying his name.

Belief was a factor in the weakening of the Seals on his prison, as the philosopher Ishamael determined. He:

knows that time will work on the seals of the Dark One's prison, and he has discovered that each call by a human for the aid of Shai'tan acts on the seals like grit rubbed on granite. An infinitesimal wearing away. Each is small, though if that person has some ability to channel the One Power the effect is greater, but the cumulative effect is to hasten the decay of the seals. His long-range plan, therefore, is to do his best to keep the world of men in a state of disunion and even chaos while attempting to increase the numbers of darkfriends.

- Robert Jordan, The Great Hunt Background Notes

The Dark One and the Father of Lies are two of many euphemisms for this deity to get around the issue of belief. His true name, Shaitan, is forbidden: those on the side of the Light fear drawing his malevolent attention; those allied to the Shadow believe it is blasphemy. Only the Dark One’s surrogate, Ishamael, is allowed to utter his name, an indication of his special favour.

Due to the power of belief, and the contagious nature of the Dark One’s evil,

Spending too much time in the presence of one of Sha’tan’s [early spelling] more powerful minions when you yourself are neither protected nor an Aes Sedai can put you well on the way to being under the Shadow.

- Robert Jordan, Names List Notes 8

Channelling offers protection from the Shadow. The wolves afforded Perrin protection, at least in Tel’aran’rhiod. Conversely, once Rand believed the Dark One a feeble thing, his power over Rand evaporated.

The Dark One’s intended destruction of the world after defeating the Dragon has been described as tearing:

loose the Great Serpent’s grip on its own tail. He will end the ceaseless cycles of Time; the Serpent will die. Sha’tan can use the powers that come from death. The death of Time itself will loose such powers that the Dark One will be able to remake the universe (creation) in his own image.

- Robert Jordan, Notes from White Goddess Part 2

His intention to “blind the Eye of the World” was believed by most people in the world to mean strike at the Creator (Robert Jordan, Notes for the Wheel of Time 2), but Moiraine and other Aes Sedai knew it meant destroy or use up the pool of saidin at the Eye.

The Dark One had an avatar, an embodiment, Shaidar Haran, although his avatar was not human, but Myrddraal. Shaidar Haran and other Myrddraal are slightly out of phase with time and reality. This avatar terrifies even Semirhage and no doubt earned the Dark One strength by inducing fearful fervour in any Darkfriends it visited. It was discarded as unnecessary once Rand entered the Pit of Doom. Jordan confirmed that there was an earlier version that appeared to Carridin:

Was the Fade who visited Jaichim Carridin in the Prologue of The Dragon Reborn an early version of Shaidar Haran? Its response that it likes to keep an eye on 'all who serve me' and its apparent sense of humor are behavior atypical of a Fade.

Robert Jordan: I was wondering who would spot that. Shadar Haran Version 0.5! The Dark One doesn't get it spot on the first time every time.

- TOR Question of the Week

At first, the Dark One’s limited access to the world restricted what Shaidar Haran did and where it went. It appeared to mainly check up on Forsaken and Darkfriends and issue them orders or punishments.

The Dark One has a complete lack of trust (as those who are untrustworthy usually do) and wanted his chief henchmen to be predictable as well as manipulable, as Verin explains:

"The Chosen are like a bunch of squabbling children, each trying to scream the loudest and attract their father's attention. It's easy to determine what they want: power over the other children, proof that they are the most important. I'm convinced that it isn't intelligence, craftiness, or skill that makes one Chosen—though of course, those things are important. No, I believe it is selfishness the Great Lord seeks in his greatest leaders."
Egwene frowned. Were they really having a quiet chat about the Forsaken? "Why would he choose that quality?"
"It makes them predictable. A tool you can depend upon to act as expected is far more valuable than one you cannot understand. Or perhaps because when they struggle against one another, it makes only the strong ones survive."

- The Gathering Storm, A Visit from Verin Sedai

Swearing to the Shadow means surrendering a fair amount of autonomy as well as integrity:

This led to lots of discussion about swearing to the Shadow—basically, it's a very bad idea and you forfeit some very basic protections when you do. Shaidar Haran has special power over those that swear to the Dark One, and the Forsaken in particular… The implication is that there are lots of ramifications for swearing to the Dark One. Brandon mentioned that this makes Verin all the more remarkable.

- Brandon Sanderson at a booksigning

Unlike the Creator, the Dark One doesn’t like free will, let alone believe people should have it. It’s a one-way event, a choice that can rarely be undone—except by death, as Verin explained:

"Well, there really isn't a way out, not once the Great Lord has his claws in you. But there was a way to fight, to make up for a little of what you've done.”

- The Gathering Storm, A Visit from Verin Sedai

Ingtar was another who was redeemed from the Shadow.

True Power

At the Pit of Doom, Rand, Moiraine and Nynaeve encountered a void:

Nynaeve clutched the stalagmite deep within the Pit of Doom, holding herself from being pulled by the winds into that nothingness in front of her. Moiraine had called it the Dark One's essence, but wouldn't that make it the True Power?... It pulled with a powerful force, drawing all that was nearby into it. She feared that if she let go, she would be yanked in. Already, it had stolen her shawl, making it vanish. If that nothingness pulled her in, her life would end. Perhaps her soul as well.

- A Memory of Light, Unchangeable Things

The husk of Shaidar Haran gave birth to the void according to Sanderson at a book signing. Imbued with part of the Dark One (or his essence) this void or black hole sucks everything into it and consumes them. It’s not the same as the True Power.

Nor is the Dark One the True Power (Robert Jordan interview). The Dark One rarely grants access to his power, rarely invests his power outside himself, and controls that power even so. The True Power is a great hook, being extremely addictive as well as extremely powerful in a destructive way, which is why the Dark One allows usage as a mark of special favour. Even so, these favoured few are wary of using it because it is lethally corrupting and addictive.

A third paradox is that the True Power’s weaves mainly destroy or corrupt the Pattern, and if there is no Pattern what can the True Power do then? It’s very much a case of “death, thou shalt die”.

Any channeller of the One Power can use the True Power (if allowed) by weaving it largely the same as the One Power:

You don’t have to learn, and so that should tell you that the weaves are similar if not identical to the One Power. There are certain things the True Power can do that are different and it goes about things in different ways, but you don’t have to relearn everything.

- Brandon Sanderson in conversation with Matt Hatch

In keeping with the devil being the ape of god, its weaves are not very original, except in their unpleasant side effects.


Death

The Dark One has power over death, (The Eye of the World, Eyes without Pity) and he can give life in death or death in life as he chooses (The Eye of the World, Four Kings in Shadow). Characters believe he can punish the dead in the afterlife:

Perhaps the Pattern would be kinder to her [Sheriam] next time she was allowed a thread in its great tapestry. But perhaps not. Death was not an escape from the Dark One. Sheriam's horror at the end indicated that she might have been thinking that very thing as the axe took her head.

- The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands

In Lord of Chaos prologue, the Dark One threatened that those who betray him, in his opinion, shall die the final death (ie never be reborn). As Lord of the Grave, the Dark One has transmigrated the souls of five Forsaken into new adult bodies.

The Dark One might have power over death, but he does not over time, which is why he cannot catch and transmigrate the souls of those Forsaken killed by balefire, since the weave burns back in time.

"Long ago, I promised you that the Great Lord could restore your lost love. Do you not think that he can easily recover one who serves him?"
Another name for the Dark One was Lord of the Grave. Yes, it was true, even if Rand wished he could deny it. Why should he be surprised to see his enemies return, when the Dark One could restore the dead to life?
"We are all reborn," Moridin continued, "spun back into the Pattern time and time again. Death is no barrier to my master save for those who have known balefire. They are beyond his grasp. It is a wonder we can remember them."

- The Gatherings Storm, A Place to Begin

The downside to this is that balefire damages the Pattern and is thus a grave sin, but was necessary to eliminate the Forsaken. This fits in with the Dark One’s tactic of luring the Dragon to commit evil to damage the Land further and decrease belief in good. The Dark One forces others to commit evil as well as tempts them with supposed benefits of power, immortality and transmigration.

This affinity for death is why the Dark One is most powerful at twilight and dawn:

Twilight was a troubled time for Liandrin of late, twilight and dawn. At dawn the day was born, just as twilight gave birth to night, but at dawn, night died, and at twilight, day. The Dark One’s power was rooted in death; he gained power from death, and at those times she thought she could feel his power stirring.

- The Great Hunt, The Shadow in Shienar

During those Ages when the Dark One was completely sealed away, for instance during the early Age of Legends, he was all but unknown and therefore the theology of those times would be less dualistic. The Dark One would inevitably be allocated a lesser role. However, the Dark One is the equal of the Creator as stated by Jordan at a booksigning; he is not a fallen angel originally created by the Creator, but:

“the dark counterpart, the dark balance if you will, to the Creator carrying on the theme, the yin yang, light dark, necessity of balance theme that has run through the books...it's somewhat Manichean, I know, but I think it works.”

At the Pit of Doom, Rand found the Dark One to be less of a physical being and more of a consuming void, a jealous and hungry energy—a Platonic idea of a devil. That doesn’t make the Dark One less real or powerful. In fact, as Tel’aran’rhiod shows, it makes him more real.

Aviendha thought Rand’s intention to kill the Dark One reasonable, but then suggested that the most honorable way to win would be to take the Dark One gai'shain. And effectively that was what Rand did: touched the Dark One unarmed and chose to take him prisoner rather than kill him.

For both these steps, the Dark One’s own power was used against him: to provide the knowledge, and to provide the insulation:

"For that…I need the voice, Min. Lews Therin knows things. Or…or I know things. Whichever it is, the knowledge is there. In a way, the Dark One's own taint will destroy him, for it is what gave me access to Lews Therin."

- The Gathering Storm,A Place to Begin

The Shadow represents or promotes Wrongness, but is also its own undoing.


Satan

As his name indicates, the Dark One is an analogue of Satan or, as he is known in Arabic, Shaitan (see Names of the Shadow article), which makes the Forsaken literally Shaitanists or Satanists. At the end of Armageddon, Satan will be sealed in the Abyss (bottomless pit) for a thousand years (Revelation 20:2–3). He will then be released from his prison and will deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth and gather them in a huge force to encircle the forces of the Lord. His armies will be destroyed and Satan captured and thrown in to the lake of burning sulphur (Revelation 20:10).

The Dark One aimed to be free of the Pit of Doom at the end of the Last Battle. Instead, his armies were destroyed and he was re-sealed by the Dragon, whom he called Adversary. In the Bible Satan is the Adversary.

For a long while, Rand thought the Dark One was his adversary, but realised at the end that the Dark One was not a threat to him. Lack of choice was his enemy, and despair: his own negative traits. Only to Rand, and only at the end, was the Dark One nothing much.


Dualism Parallels

Taoism

Jordan’s theme of the necessity of balance has a parallel in Taoism, a philosophy and religion originating in China. Indeed, yin and yang are Tao concepts and represent extremes of a single whole. Balance is the heart of Taoism: the idea that nothing exists without its opposite, and that opposites are only the ends of a continuum. Push too hard one way, and events will suddenly change to their polar opposite. Stability will eventually be re-established (see Tao of the Pattern article). Taoism has had thinkers espousing a messianic figure (Li Hong) who freed society and restored order, and periodic apocalypticism, where the end of a cycle was heralded by bloody rebellion and chaos, which was eventually quelled by a new government.

Jordan does see his opposing gods as discrete entities however.

Manichaeism

Manichaeism was a dualistic Gnostic religious movement founded in Persia in the 3rd century AD by Mani:

Like all forms of Gnosticism, Manichaeism taught that life in this world is unbearably painful and radically evil. Inner illumination or gnosis reveals that the soul, which shares in the nature of God, has fallen into the evil world of matter and must be saved by means of the spirit or intelligence (nous)...At death the soul of the righteous person returns to Paradise. The soul of the person who persisted in things of the flesh is condemned to rebirth in a succession of bodies…In Manichaeism, to know one's self is to see one's soul as sharing in the very nature of God and as coming from a transcendent world. Thus, knowledge is the only way to salvation.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

(Likewise, knowledge is very important in the Wheel of Time world, see the Price and Prize of Knowledge essay).

The Wheel of Time world’s theology is not monotheistic like Judaism, Christianity and Islam are. It is dualistic: the Creator and the Dark One are equals as well as opposites. However, while Jordan describes his theology for the Wheel of Time world as somewhat Manichean, there is no evidence in the series that either life or matter in that world is regarded so negatively as in Manichaeism. Therefore, a closer parallel to the Wheel of Time world’s theology would be another dualistic religion, Zoroastrianism.


Zoroastrianism

In Zoroastrianism, a religion originating in Persia prior to 600 BC, the benign god of light, Ohrmazd or Ahura Mazda, and his angels contend throughout time with the god of darkness, Angra Mainyu or Ahriman (Ahura Mazda’s evil twin) and his demons. Ormazd appears with three masculine archangels on his right, and three feminine archangels on his left, while he himself is both father and mother of creation (Omens of Millennium, Harold Bloom). This cosmic struggle is portrayed as more or less evenly matched, although some day Ahura Mazda will triumph over his evil twin and establish peace and joy forever—the end of time.

Zoroastrianism is a religion with a thoroughly eschatological orientation: for it, world history is a battlefield on which the forces of light and good fight the powers of darkness and evil...In this struggle man must enlist because of his capacity of free choice...

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Zoroastrianism symbol of a winged disc with a man's upper body shown above represents the guardian spirit who sends each person's soul into the material world to fight the battle of good against evil.

The Wheel of Time world’s equally dualistic theology has the benign Creator (equivalent to Ahura Mazda) equal in Power to the malign Dark One (equivalent to Angra Mainyu) and battling with him for all of creation. The idea of the supporting angels and demons also occurs in the Wheel of Time’s theology: there were three masculine beings with extraordinary powers rallying the Light’s forces (Rand, Mat and Perrin). The identity of the trio of feminine ‘angels’ aiding the Light is more moot. In one way it was Egwene, Nynaeve and Moiraine, in another, Elayne, Aviendha and Min. As for the ‘demons’ supporting the Dark One, these are the Forsaken. It should be noted that a number of Forsaken have names derived from demons, monsters or evil gods (see Names of the Shadow article).

Like Zoroastrianism, the late Third Age is concerned with end-times; it is concerned with preventing the Dark One from being freed and ending time. The hope of the Light is that the threat of the Dark One remaking the world can be removed. The people of the world are being confronted with the choice on whether to actively participate in this battle, and on which side, just as those following Zoroastrianism are:

urged to align themselves with the forces of light, and are judged according to the predominance of their good and evil deeds.

Zoroastrianism exercised a powerful influence over Judaism—and, through Judaism, a decisive influence on Christianity and Islam—introducing such ideas as a powerful evil god (devil) which is locked in conflict with the good god, a final judgment, an apocalypse, hell, and the resurrection of the dead.

- James R Lewis, Doomsday Prophecies

Although in Judaism, Christianity and Islam the devil is a less powerful being than God. Our ultimate heritage from Zoroaster is the sense of a possible end-time. Before Zoroaster, all religions envisioned time as cycling continually.

In the Middle Ages, the devil in Christianity was considered to be the “ape of God,” imitating God by creating malicious creatures that he used to oppose the divine creations. The idea of the devil as ‘ape of God’ can be seen in the Shadowspawn, malevolent creations of the Shadow that battle the forces of the Light.

Like the Wheel of Time Zoroastrianism has strong millenarian overtones, where the deities openly contend at the end of multiples of one thousand years. In the Bundahishn, Ahriman confronts Ormuzd and “seeing valor and supremacy superior to his own, he fled back to the darkness and fashioned many demons — a creation destructive and ready for battle” (Bundahishn 4.12). Ormazd knows that Ahriman will inevitably attack again and reinforces the universe with life and goodness. Ahriman’s attack fails and he retreats for another three thousand years, only to be urged by his demons at the end of this second cosmic age to have another go…


Contending Deities

The Dark One and the Creator have been contending since Creation using surrogates, and in some Ages the Dark One has achieved minor victories.

Evidence of this would be when Rand takes Verin and the others through a portal stone in The Great Hunt, and he hears the words "I have won again Lews Therin" at the end of each life. Jordan confirmed this at a book signing:

There are degrees of victory. The Dark One can achieve victory by breaking free, but can also achieve lesser victories. Such as by stopping the Dragon Reborn from doing other things he was born to do. It isn't as simple as him being born to fight The Dark One. It's never simple.

Certainly Ishamael is aware of this:

And Ishamael said that it had happened in the past, the Creator's champion made a creature of the Shadow and raised up as the Shadow's champion.

- Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

With the weakening of the Seals, the Dark One felt the time was ripe for an attempt at complete and lasting victory and planned the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai’don. As Ishamael said:

“The battle we two have fought…That battle will soon end. The Last Battle is coming. The last, Lews Therin.”

- The Great Hunt, Kinslayer

This contention between good and evil is all the keener because the two deities are evenly matched. They balance each other and this is an important part of the Pattern and the books.

“Ten years! You pitiful fool! This war has not lasted ten years, but since the beginning of time. You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant!”

- The Eye of the World, Prologue

Since both deities are outside time and the Pattern and fight their war with surrogates, let’s examine surrogates further.


Surrogates

Both the Dark One and the Creator each have a main soul (and other souls) to stand in their places and conduct their battle for them through the Ages of the world. (The Dark One also temporarily had an avatar, Shaidar Haran.) Rand is the Creator’s ‘chosen one’ (The Eye of the World, Against the Shadow), while Ishamael is the Naeblis, the Dark One’s surrogate whom he trusted above all others. They have fought this battle in different incarnations over thousands of times before. In part the use of surrogates is a safeguard, since if the two deities fought each other in person, they would probably destroy creation long before one had succeeded in destroying the other; but it also explains how good and evil co-exist in the world and the Pattern.

Surrogates are linked with the very ancient idea of the sacred role of leadership. In early times the king was often believed to be the incarnation of supernatural power, possibly even a god; but more commonly he was considered the surrogate of a god carrying out the work of the god on earth. His task was to bring the god’s blessings to his people and realm and thus influence the people’s welfare, the fertility of the land and the coming of rain. He was believed to have power over the forces of nature. If the people were troubled by misfortune, illness, famine or floods, the king could be held responsible. The king was sometimes described as a gardener, fisherman, or shepherd.

Rand was a shepherd before he was revealed to be the Creator’s chosen one and is considered to be the Fisher King, whose wounds represent the land’s wounds. The dualistic theology and Taoist theme of balance in the series logically leads to the Dark One having a surrogate as well. The devil has always been believed to have powerful minions to do his bidding and a surrogate or evil agent on earth would be an extension of this: hence the Forsaken, with Ishamael chief among them. In the series the Dark One fixed the seasons and deprived the land of rain on order to despoil it and weaken the people. There is a passage in the Karaethon cycle where the Dragon Reborn is associated with the health of the land:

"There can be no health in us, nor any good thing grow, for the land is one with the Dragon Reborn, and he one with the land."

- A Crown of Swords, opening prophecy

and by implication can influence, even heal it. When the Dragon was dark, the Land was foul and rotten; when the Dragon had a victory, the Land’s fertility and health improved; and when the Dragon bled on the rocks of Shayol Ghul, the people died and bled on the land in huge numbers.

The most evocative and telling texts are the psalm-like passages from the Fourth Age which describe the Third Age’s people pleading for the Dragon to be reborn so the fertility and health of the land can be restored:

Let the Prince of the Morning sing to the land that green things will grow and the valleys give forth lambs.

- The Eye of the World opening text

Dragon

Why is the Creator’s surrogate called the Dragon? And specifically, as seen on the Dragon icon and banner, represented as a Dragon with five claws? The dragon is a beast of great power that is found in myths world-wide, but inspires very different reactions in different cultures (see Animal Symbolism article). In eastern Asia it is viewed as benevolent, with the five-clawed dragon in particular symbolising the active yang principle (roughly equated with saidin in The Wheel of Time), the East, the rising sun, fertility, happiness, and the gifts of spiritual knowledge and immortality of imperial authority. In the West the dragon is often considered a particularly dangerous type of serpent being associated with Satan (the Dark One) through the sin of pride, just as Lews Therin and Rand were considered as destructive as the Dark One or the Forsaken.

In Revelation of the New Testament, Satan battles as a dragon at Armageddon, fighting the armies of the Lord. There is a major difference between the Wheel of Time series and Revelation here: the Dragon is the Creator’s champion, not the Dark One (Shaitan or Satan), although this soul is incarnated as a Dragon in some ages only. Jordan said at a booksigning:

This soul is one of the Heroes, and bound to the Wheel, spun out as the Pattern wills. It is born in other ages, but in a non-Dragon incarnation, to suit the pattern of that Age.

The Dark One also named Rand as the Dragon in the Lord of Chaos Prologue:

DONE BY MY ANCIENT ENEMY, THE ONE CALLED DRAGON.

Due to the drastic actions and treatment forced upon the Dragon by the Shadow, the Dragon is so reviled that he is confused with the Dark One:

"The Dragon!" someone moaned. "The Dark One's loose in Ghealdan!"
"Not the Dark One," Haral Luhhan growled. "The Dragon's not the Dark One. And this is a false Dragon, anyway."…
"Just as bad as the Dark One!"
"The Dragon broke the world, didn't he?"
"He started it! He caused the Time of Madness!"
"You know the prophecies! When the Dragon is reborn, your worst nightmares will seem like your fondest dreams!"

- The Eye of the World, The Peddler

The Shadow has deliberately contributed to this; it is part of their campaign of slander, deceit and confusion to make their victory easier and more complete. The Black Ajah was possibly ordered to set up Taim as a duplicate Dragon to do evil in Rand’s name. The wars caused by false Dragons in the past also contribute to the hatred and fear surrounding the Dragon. Furthermore, the Creator’s champion has changed sides in Ages past and fought for the Dark One, so it is easy to see how a dim memory of this equates the Dragon with the Shadow.

Jordan has tried to increase the deceit and confusion caused by evil in The Wheel of Time compared to that in Revelation by having the Dragon on the side of the Light. Alternatively, he is trying to ‘explain’ how the dragon came to have a mixed reputation in our world. Like the dragon in Revelation, Rand amassed great forces—at first aiming to force unity on the nations so they could fight the Shadow effectively at Tarmon Gai’don. He wanted to avoid wars and breaking the world again—things he was prophesied to do—but the wars occurred over whether he was the Dragon Reborn and if so whether they should kill him, help him, hinder him or ignore him, resulting in the breaking of old nations and forming of new ones. (This was the Breaking described in the prophecies.) Forcing people to do something, even in a good cause, is evil. Whatever Rand does is hugely significant, so if he does something wrong, it is very damaging. Hence the Dragon is both good and bad.

In Ages where the Dark One touches the world, there are:

Blights, famines, droughts, the twisting of good into evil. Horrors and abominations. Foulness. Pestilence. The health of the world is warped, and only the Dragon Reborn can heal it.

- Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time Outline Book 1 notes

The Creator will not stop him [the Dark One]. For to do so would be to deny the free will the Creator gave to humankind. If humanity is to survive as human, if the Wheel of Time is to spin forever, bringing the Ages in their turn, the Dragon must return.

- Robert Jordan, Book 1 Outline expanded notes

The Dragon’s role is to counter the Dark One and remove wrongness from the Pattern. He represents everyman, but also the ultimate Chosen One; Christ repairing the wrongs of Adam and carrying the stigma of channelling saidin and unhealing stigmata on his body; the Saviour of the world, and Leader of the world but not, like he thought, king of the world. Rand questioned his role:

What was he? What was the Dragon Reborn? A symbol? A sacrifice? A sword, meant to destroy? A sheltering hand, meant to protect?
A puppet, playing a part over and over again?

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold

The Dragon is all those things, including being a puppet of the Shadow as well as the Light, if he is not careful. It took Rand a long while to realise, and in the meantime, he found the responsibility and pressure overwhelming:

He was angry. Angry at the world, angry at the Pattern, angry at the Creator for leaving humans to fight against the Dark One with no direction. What right did any of them have to demand Rand's life of him?
Well, Rand had offered that life to them. It had taken him a great while to accept his death, but he had made his peace. Wasn't that enough? Did he have to be in pain until the end?
He had thought that if he made himself hard enough, it would take away the pain. If he couldn't feel, then he couldn't hurt…
Die to protect people he didn't know? Chosen to save mankind? Chosen to force the kingdoms of the world to unite behind him, destroying those who refused to listen? Chosen to cause the deaths of thousands who fought in his name, to hold those souls upon his shoulders, a weight that must be borne? What man could do these things and remain sane? The only way he had seen had been to cut off his emotions, to make himself cuendillar.
But he had failed. He hadn't been able to stamp his feelings out.

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold

If he had no feelings for people, he would be the wrong person for the job; he would not have seen the world as worth dying for, worth saving. In fact, he nearly did destroy it until he remembered the positive side of cyclic time: having another chance to fix wrongs, to live again with loved ones close to him. Some of this nihilistic despair was his own, some was leakage from Moridin, who was linked to him:

"What if he is right?" Rand bellowed. "What if it's better for this all to end? What if the Light was a lie all along, and this is all just a punishment? We live again and again, growing feeble, dying, trapped forever. We are to be tortured for all time!"

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold

His flashbacks from the other personality in his head don’t help; as Nynaeve wisely said: “No man should have to remember the failures of Lews Therin Telamon” (The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon). Rand’s multiple personality disorder is due to the taint on saidin exacerbated by PTSD and using the True Power—to make balefire, no less; the ultimate wrongness, even for a good cause. Jordan warned that Rand had to be very careful about how he fought off the Shadow or he would be corrupted himself and the Land and Pattern would be further blighted.

After all, a Dragon can be a monster, and Rand became monstrous, reaching the stage where he imposed his will on all around him and intimidated them into silence or compliance with unspoken threats of violence so that Min and Nynaeve feared that Rand’s victory would be as bad as the Shadow’s if he didn’t regain some more feeling (The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light). At this time, Rand was a sociopath turned psychopath—like the Forsaken. There is always the risk that the Dragon becomes one. The dragon symbolism indicates that.

Faced with monstrous pressures and dangers, Rand remembered Tam’s timely advice:

You may not have a choice about which duties are given you, Tam's voice, just a memory, said in his mind. But you can choose why you fulfil them.

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold

The shock and horror at nearly killing his own father in his rage was something that he couldn’t pass off as due to the influence of the Shadow (The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man). The Devil didn’t make him do it. True, Rand has been corrupted by Shadow, but he took responsibility for his own anger. Killing the Dark One won’t get rid of this sort of human evil. Pushed into the extremes of darkness and despair by his self-loathing, he had an epiphany and turned into their opposite, as Taoism would predict, and became enlightened.

The result was that Rand went to Shayol Ghul as a willing sacrifice, saving humanity out of respect and love. This only increased as he battled the Dark One and saw humanity doing the same. Had he not, had he remained uncaring and enraged, his victory—if there were one—would have been as bad as losing to the Dark One.

The Dark One repeatedly referred to Rand as his adversary. This is a reversal of the bible, where Satan is called the Adversary. The Dark One feels threatened by Rand, but Rand sees that the Dark One is not a threat to him at the end; his own negative traits of despair, selfishness and refusing others their free will are his enemy. Only to Rand, and only at end, is the Dark One nothing much. And his ally? All the people who are making their own contribution; the nobility of humanity. This is what he forgot about. It wasn’t all about him.

And so, in the last stages of the solar eclipse at Shayol Ghul, he reconciled opposites: saidin and saidar and the One and True Powers. A scene of great alchemical symbolism. He did not amalgamate the True Power with the One Power, but used both side by side in a balanced way: one power to reseal the Dark One, the other as a barrier for the Dark One.

By reaching this new perspective, Rand was granted a new body to wander the world in (as an eternal—more likely, long-lived—wanderer figure?) and to manipulate the Pattern directly and not with half of the One Power.

Early in the books, Ishamael, the Dark One’s surrogate, tried very hard to tempt the Dragon to serve the Dark One. In The Eye of the World Prologue, he assured Lews Therin that Ilyena would live again if he went over to the Shadow. He offered Rand dominion over all the world (under Ishamael) in The Eye of the World, Decisions and Apparitions (a parallel with Satan tempting Christ, see Messianism section of End Times article), and then instruction in channelling, protection from the taint on saidin, and immortality in The Great Hunt, Kinslayer, if Rand would only serve the Dark One. This would not be a victory, but a draw, according to Jordan at a booksigning. Ishamael also haunted Mat’s and Perrin’s dreams throughout The Eye of the World, to get them to serve the Dark One. Lanfear also tried to persuade the Creator’s surrogate to change side: she tempted Rand in The Great Hunt, and his supporters Perrin and Mat in The Dragon Reborn.

Conversely all the Dark One’s surrogate, Ishamael/Moridin, wanted in the end was death. Final death, to never be reborn again. Since he contributed, however unwillingly, to the Dark One’s reimprisonment, the Dark One at least would want to grant him that.


Antichrist

The first beast in Revelation is usually equated with the antichrist. The beast utters ‘proud words and blasphemies’ (Rev 13:5). He has a fatal wound, which has been healed (Rev 13:12); he was wounded by a sword and yet lived (Rev 13:14). He makes war against the saints, gathers a force at Armageddon and battles the rider called Faithful and True before being captured and thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. (Rev 19:20).

An antichrist is a human figure of great power whose activities are a perverse reflection of those of the true Christ, with the function above all of deceiving and misleading the faithful (Paula Clifford, A Brief History of End-time). In 2 Thessalonians he is described as the ‘man of lawlessness’, who “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” (2 Thess 2), and has miraculous powers (given him by Satan). Antichrists can take any appearance, even that of an "angel of light" and “their end will be what their actions deserve" (2 Corinthians 11:13‒15).

Jordan certainly devised fitting ends, often banal, for all his Darkfriends (see Who is a Darkfriend? article). Able to deceive some of the faithful, the antichrist is most likely a parallel of Ishamael/Moridin, the Dark One’s champion. Moridin was Rand’s equal and opposite, was named Naeblis and given exclusive access to the True Power. He claimed to have deceived people among Rand’s forces that didn’t know they were serving him.

As for the antichrist’s fatal sword wound that was healed, Ishamael was twice wounded by a sword, the second time fatally. Moridin, the reincarnated Ishamael, sent great armies of Shadowspawn against the Light’s forces. In a close parallel of Revelation, his soul died at the end of Tarmon Gai’don. He fought Rand at the Pit of Doom, a lake of magma, and the equivalent of the fiery lake of sulphur.

Mark 13:22 confirms that counterfeit Messiahs and phoney prophets will show up, and they will provide “portents and miracles so as to delude, if possible, even the chosen people”. Any of the Forsaken could be described as antichrists, since they are countering Rand and are also able to perform ‘signs and wonders’ (channelling) as well as every sort of evil. Taim, a new Forsaken, is also a candidate to be an antichrist. He claimed to be the Dragon, and even told Rand that had Taim not been captured, history would have shown that he satisfied all the prophecies regarding the Dragon’s birth, etc (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival). There was a supposed plot by the Shadow to proclaim Taim as the Dragon and have him do evil in Rand’s name to confuse the populace—a counterfeit messiah.

Demandred is another antichrist. He was strongly anti-Rand (who is an analogue of Christ), and claimed to be an alternative messiah that fulfilled the Sharan prophecies. While in Shara, he encouraged the male Ayyad to rebel against the laws and customs surrounding them. The Forsaken was killed by the rider that epitomises Faithful and True, Lan.

However, the Dark One trusted Ishamael the most because he identified with the Dark One’s aims, and promoted them without being bribed or forced to. What motivated Ishamael to follow? In the Age of Legends, before the Bore was even drilled,

Ishamael called for the complete destruction of the old order—indeed the complete destruction of everything

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

and wrote Reality and the Absence of Meaning, indicating that he was a proponent of nihilism and of perceived meaning, just as the 19th Century philosopher Nietzsche wrote about perspectivism, a concept which holds that knowledge is always perspectival, that there are no perfect, ideal perceptions and that all knowledge depends on the point of view of the thinker (see Age of Legends article).

He signed up to the Shadow because he believed they will definitely eventually win:

“The Great Lord will have you soon enough. His victory is assured."
"He has failed before and will fail again," Rand said. "I will defeat him."
Moridin laughed again, the same heartless laugh as before. "Perhaps you will," he said. "But do you think that matters? Consider it. The Wheel turns, time and time again. Over and over the Ages turn, and men fight the Great Lord. But someday, he will win, and when he does, the Wheel will stop.
"That is why his victory is assured. I think it will be this Age, but if not, then in another. When you are victorious, it only leads to another battle. When he is victorious, all things will end. Can you not see that there is no hope for you?"

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

Like Herid Fel, Ishamael understood the Pattern of Ages with the Dark One Sealed away, partially freed and being Sealed again, but unlike Fel, he saw the cycling of Ages as playing in the Dark One’s favour and how he could improve on that. In his Miscellaneous Notes No. 2 , Jordan explained that Ishamael knew:

that time will work on the seals of the Dark One's prison, and he has discovered that each call by a human for the aid of Shai'tan acts on the seals like grit rubbed on granite. An infinitesimal wearing away. Each is small, though if that person has some ability to channel the One Power the effect is greater, but the cumulative effect is to hasten the decay of the seals. His long-range plan, therefore, is to do his best to keep the world of men in a state of disunion and even chaos while attempting to increase the numbers of Darkfriends.

And so Moridin made the most of the time available to him in these last days. Unlike the other Forsaken, he had no belief in eternities. Perhaps he deduced that the Dark One may not be able to make his own world and, even if he could, it would consume itself after a short time.

When Moridin told Rand that his idea to kill the Dark One was very stupid, he was correct. Ironically, it would have achieved the very outcome Moridin longed for and used to promote: the destruction of the Pattern in an act of true nihilism. What he did not know was what would happen if he and Rand killed each other. Quite possibly the mutual destruction of the two surrogates even in a designated axis mundi such as the Pit of Doom would have been caused a rift in the Pattern.

The fireside chat between Moridin and Rand showed they have a long familiarity with each other, more than just their linking from simultaneously weaving opposite Powers. Since Moridin’s soul is the Dark One’s surrogate in the Third Age, and maybe in other Dragon Ages, it is frequently woven together in the Pattern with the Dragon’s soul (confirmed by Sanderson at a booksigning). They have felt like the two sacrificial goats at the Jewish Day of Atonement as practiced in ancient times, where the Kohen Gadol (a possible origin for Gaidal Cain’s name), the High Priest, selected a goat for the Lord, and another for Azazel (a demon). He slaughtered the goat for the Lord as a blood sacrifice, catching its blood in a bowl for sprinkling in the temple’s Holy of Holies. The blood of a bull sacrificed for any sin the Kohen Gadol may have unintentionally committed was also sprinkled there. The Kohen Gadol confessed the sins of the people of Israel on the goat for Azazel, the scapegoat destined for absolute removal, and it was driven out into the desert.

Ishamael wanted absolute removal from the Pattern. Knowing that his blood would be sprinkled on the rocks of Shayol Ghul as a sacrifice for man’s salvation and that he would die to save the world, Rand felt like a sacrificial goat. Unsurprisingly, Perrin, as the sacrificial bull, also struggled with his role. It cost him his entire family, and nearly his wife. As for Rand, his body was sacrificed, and Moridin’s soul, who wanted to die, did so in Rand’s place.


Interfering in the World

The Dark One increasingly interfered directly in the world (he even had an avatar), whereas the Creator did not. In The Eye of the World, Against the Shadow, the Creator said “I WILL TAKE NO PART” in destroying the Dark One’s forces. “ONLY THE CHOSEN ONE CAN DO WHAT MUST BE DONE, IF HE WILL.” The Creator told Rand that he would not interfere and that Rand was his Chosen One and that only he can do what must be done to defeat the Shadow. This is a parallel to God in the New Testament announcing at Jesus’ baptism that Jesus was his son and he was well pleased with him (Matthew 3:17, Luke 3:22). Furthermore, at Jesus’ transfiguration:

A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him."

- Luke 9:35

which is even closer to the Creator’s words.

There may be a reason for this rule of non-interference. While some have speculated that the Creator has invested so much of himself in Creation that he can’t interfere directly, or that it might put too much strain on the Pattern or on Time if he did so, Jordan has stated at a book-signing that people are expected to help themselves, not ask for the Creator to help them:

Another point he pressed was that "no one's going to rescue you", there are not going to be any miracles. The Creator shaped the world and set the rules, but does not interfere. Humankind messed things up, and have to fix it too, as well as finding the truth themselves.

Again, this is different to the Bible, where in the Old Testament, and to a lesser degree the New Testament, God does interfere directly in events. Whatever the reason, the Creator obeys the rules. At the end of the Third Age, he interfered directly three times (three being the most significant number of the series): reassuring Rand at the Eye, reassuring Rand at Shayol Ghul and putting Rand's soul into Moridin's body.

The Creator’s rule of non-interference can seem impersonal and hard to bear. Pedron Niall, the commander of the Children of the Light, believed that the Creator abandoned mankind to its own devices long ago (Lord of Chaos Prologue). Rand and Lews Therin, in particular, chafed under this non-interference, as Rand’s thoughts show:

Did [Logain] think the Creator had decided to stretch out a merciful hand after three thousand years of suffering [and cleanse saidin]? The Creator had made the world and then left humankind to make of it what they would, a heaven or the Pit of Doom by their choosing. The Creator had made many worlds, watched each flower or die, and gone on to make endless worlds beyond. A gardener did not weep for each blossom that fell.

- Crossroads of Twilight, A Strengthening Storm

Lews Therin nods in agreement with Rand. Understandably Rand resented his role as saviour and wanted the Creator to do more. However, the Creator did care; he provided three graces to help the Pattern and humanity, and granted dispensations. The Creator reassured Rand, much to Moiraine’s surprise, provided Nakomi (perhaps a Grace in the form of a soul/Hero that wanted the job anyway), and allowed Birgitte to hang around for a while after the Last Battle ended.

Summary of Theology

Two equal and opposite deities, Creator and Dark One, both outside Time and the Pattern, are contending for creation. This is a Manichean or Zoroastrian idea. Both Light and Shadow are using surrogates, a far older idea linked to the belief that leaders are earthly agents of a god. The Dark One interferes directly with the Pattern and events, while the Creator with a few exceptions does not. The balance that is part of the Pattern is a Taoist idea.


Tel’aran’rhiod

Verin tells us that apart from the Creator and the Dark One, there is only one other thing that exists everywhere in all the worlds:

There is one Creator, who exists everywhere at once for all of these worlds. In the same way, there is only one Dark One, who also exists in all of these worlds at once…The point is that there is a third constant besides the Creator and the Dark One. There is a world that lies within each of these others, inside all of them at the same time. Or perhaps surrounding them. Writers in the Age of Legends called it Tel’aran’rhiod, “the Unseen World.” Perhaps “the World of Dreams” is a better translation.”

- The Dragon Reborn, A World of Dreams

While he was fighting Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod during the Last Battle, Perrin saw beings in alien worlds fighting each other in a parallel battle of their own. However, there are places that cannot be accessed in Tel’aran’rhiod: Stedding, Sindhol (the realm of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn) and, while it was shielded, Rhuidean. Channelling is also problematic in Sindhol and in Stedding. The Stedding appear to be otherworldly, to have arrived with the Ogier when they Translated themselves to the main world. Verin said that the Blight also did not appear in Tel’aran’rhiod, but Perrin did access the Blight and Shayol Ghul from the Dream. Humans can reach Tel’aran’rhiod when they sleep but otherwise have to be dual-souled or channellers to access it bodily (and it takes a minute part of their humanity each time they do). Domesticated animals never appear in Tel’aran’rhiod, but wild animals do.

Domesticated animals have lost a certain amount of free will. Their absence from Tel’aran’rhiod indicates that choice or freedom is an important factor in whether a being reaches the world of dreams, and how easily. You ‘choose your own reality’ there. Humans and domesticated animals do work, or more correctly, stuff they wouldn’t do if they had a choice. Wild animals have no reason to do work. When people sleep, their dreaming soul shows up in the starry void. Occasionally they will touch Tel’aran’rhiod in their dreams for a short while. This can be dangerous because what happens to a person’s body or mind in Tel’aran’rhiod happens to them in the waking world. Nightmares can break away from the person dreaming and drift through Tel’aran’rhiod to snare the unwary or inexperienced who foolishly accept it as real.

When someone has a nightmare while in Tel'aran 'rhiod, it is real too. And sometimes it survives after the dreamer has gone.

- The Fires of Heaven, What Can be Learned in Dreams
Perhaps Tel’aran’rhiod is inspired by Plato's Theory of Forms, and may be like Plato’s highest and most fundamental reality where ideal forms can exist and are more ‘real’ than those of the material world. But with the difference that each person could choose those that are most ‘real’ to them. I think Tel’aran’rhiod has to do with choice, imagination and ideals. It is interesting that Aiel, a people who retained knowledge of the World of Dreams from the Age of Legends, regard life as a dream.

In Jordan’s early notes, Tel’aran’rhiod was described as a place of waiting, and is, in fact, where the souls of the Heroes of the Horn await rebirth or for the Horn of Valere to call them.

Wolves or Heroes of the Horn that are killed in Tel’aran’rhiod die forever (ie are never reborn, according to Birgitte in The Fires of Heaven, Meetings), whereas if humans die there they are found to have died in their sleep and are reborn in the normal way (Sanderson at a booksigning).


Other Worlds: Parallel and Alternate/Mirror Worlds

The Creator made worlds that are separate to the main world, worlds parallel to the main world. He also made worlds that mirror these major worlds, but where the people made different choices. The place that Lanfear, Rand, Loial and Hurin went to in The Great Hunt was a Mirror World—one where the Trollocs won against Artur Hawkwing, the muted colours of the world indicating that it was improbable—as were all of the worlds that Rand took his group to that in the Portal Stone incident. The Portal Stones were designed to transport people between these ‘If’ or alternate Worlds (see Portal Stone article).

On the other hand, the worlds of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn are parallel worlds, as is the Ogier world (Robert Jordan at a booksigning). The worlds of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn have a “radically different set of natural laws” according to Robert Jordan at a booksigning. With the aid of ter’angreal, they touched the main world at three tangents that we know of. Regarding the Ogier, it appears that the stedding are bits of their home world that were transported with the Ogier when they used the Book of Translation to come to the main world. The saying Elyas quoted that “it’s the stedding makes the Ogier, not the Ogier the stedding” may be literally true.

Late in the Last Battle, Perrin glimpsed beings, including humans, from the “shadows of other worlds” fighting in Tel’aran’rhiod. These may be parallel worlds as well as Mirror Worlds of the main world. Perrin killed Slayer in all the Mirror Worlds:

In all of those moments, in all of those places, Perrin's hammer struck and Young Bull's fangs grabbed Slayer by the neck.

- A Memory of Light, To Awaken

Verin told Egwene that there is one Dark One for all the different worlds, and he is imprisoned on all of them. If he is freed in one of these worlds, he will be freed on all.

However, since there are mirror worlds of all the parallel worlds, there would be mirror worlds that show the Shadow winning against the Light, but the Dark One isn’t freed, due to these having a low chance of existence and not being the real or main “version” of that world.


Other Evils: Shaisam and Mordeth

In the Third Age we also see the rise (and fall) of a new evil that developed in a new direction to the Dualism described above, and ultimately was not part of the Pattern. Mordeth was so obsessed with fighting the Shadow that he researched not only ways to fight it but also researched the Shadow’s power itself. Originally good, he became so obsessed with not only eliminating evil but enforcing good that he turned full circle as it were and developed an evil power—another example in the series of an extreme turning into its opposite, as would be expected in Taoism. This evil became imbued in Mordeth and then Aridhol, when he went there to found a bastion against the Shadow. Sanderson confirmed in an interview with Matt Hatch that Mordeth found multiple evil things and knowledge, including from the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. Mordeth’s corruption was so strong that it infected others (eg through the power of belief) and physical objects.

What Mordeth found and spread is an ancient evil and enemy of the Shadow, as Aginor described at the Eye of the World, that has nothing to do with the One Power. A natural, but also unnatural, power, as Sanderson described it.

Padan Fain, on the other hand, had been made a hound of the Shadow so strongly that the Dark One’s intentions were impressed upon his mind, according to Moiraine in The Eye of the World. When Mordeth seized Fain in Shadar Logoth, the result was an accidental hybrid of opposing extremes:

He is unique to this particular Age. A very unique fellow, indeed. In some ways, you might say he has unwittingly side-stepped the Pattern.

- Robert Jordan at a booksigning

This freed Mordeth from his ties to Shadar Logoth. Once Shadar Logoth was destroyed, all of Mordeth’s power that remained in the world was in Fain’s body and the dagger he carried. This power killed Myrddraal, and converted Trollocs to his zombie minions.

The Fain/Mordeth hybrid was insane and had two obsessions:

His abiding concerns are hatred of Rand al'Thor (and to a lesser degree Mat and Perrin) because he blames them for what the Dark One did to him in order to turn him into the Shadow's Hound, and hatred for the Dark One because of what the Dark One did to him.

- TOR Question of the Week

He greatly desired to kill both Rand and the Dark One.

In many ways he mirrored all three ta’veren as well as the Dark One. As a complete wild card, he was a dark fool and joker, as much a trickster as Mat. His dual personality and mental illness arising from trauma inflicted by the Dark One was a negative version of Rand’s. His power was a non-channelling type and thus similar to Perrin’s. And of course, he aspired to become an evil god—Shaisam.

Since he was outside the Pattern, he could have lasted indefinitely if his opposite, Mat, had not killed him. Shaisam saw himself as a triple god: Mash’adar the mist, Fain the man and Mordeth the master.

The power of Shadar Logoth was a virulent soul sickness in many ways, and it’s not surprising that Shaisam was likened to a disease in the end—a dangerous mutant one—just as the Dark One was also downgraded. Both evils were powerful enough, if you aren’t strong minded and don’t see through them.


Pattern

In Jordan’s world there is the paradox that history is broadly determined but each individual has the choice to work towards the fulfilment of the Pattern. The series explores the perennial philosophical question of destiny versus free will, or, in scientific thought, a person’s basic characteristics (genetics) versus how they live (environment). As Loial discusses with Rand, both are important; the broad outline of the Pattern has been set by the Creator, but people’s individual choices can change that to a degree.

The Wheel obtains the energy to maintain itself and its Pattern from the One Power, which is made up of two conflicting yet complementary parts, saidin and saidar. Working both together and against each other they provide the driving force that turns the Wheel of Time. Perhaps because saidin and saidar stem from the Creator, they have the effect of enriching the lives of those who use them, and also increasing their longevity and well-being (see The Tao of the Pattern essay).

The Wheel is a great cosmic loom, weaving the fabric of the universe as it slowly spins through eternity. This fabric is constructed from the threads of lives and events, interlaced into a design, the Great Pattern, which is the whole of existence and reality, past, present and future, even other dimensions and other possibilities (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). It is able to show the effects of free will, since there are a series of worlds where the same souls live different lives due to the different choices they made (The Great Hunt, What Might Be).

The Pattern itself is neither good nor evil. In keeping with the theme of Taoistic balance and the dualistic theology, it is:

a Pattern in which light and dark, good and evil, male and female, and life and death struggle for balance within the weave of destiny.

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

As Moiraine says:

”The Wheel of Time weaves all lives into the Pattern, all actions. A Pattern that is all one colour is no pattern. For the Pattern of an Age, good and ill are the warp and the woof.”

- The Dragon Reborn, Within the Weave.

Both are necessary to reality to provide a reason for free will.

If either warp or woof (weft) is missing, there is no fabric. These warp and woof threads are people’s lives, and each life-thread pulls at those life-threads around it. For the period of time a person is ta’veren, however, their life threads pull at the entire Pattern, forcing it to shape around them (The Dragon Reborn, Saidin).

Everything physically in the Pattern has threads:

Everything has a thread, not just souls. Even a stone in a wall has a thread in the Pattern.

- Sanderson at a booksigning

Threads are attached to living things, and when the body dies, the thread is cut. When a new living thing is born, a new thread is started. Threads are a thing of impermanence; an object or being is not immortal and does not last forever. Had the Dark One given any of the Forsaken the immortality he promised, they would then be outside the Pattern:

The Dark One is outside of the Pattern, as the Creator is outside of the Pattern, but everything human is inside of the Pattern. One of the things that the Forsaken hope to gain is immortality. And immortality would put them outside of the Pattern.

- Robert Jordan at a booksigning

Balefire works by “burning” threads, be they those of people and other living things, or objects.

The Pattern has three graces, or self-correcting mechanisms, to make sure it does not drift off-course, and remains in balance on the whole: ta’veren, Heroes of the Horn, and finally, the ultimate Hero and ta’veren, the Dragon (in some Ages). There is a female saviour equivalent, Amaresu, who we saw among the Heroes, who is born in other Ages as required (Robert Jordan at booksignings). There may be Ages where no such saviour figure, male or female, is required.

It is believed that the Wheel spins out ta’veren whenever the weave begins to drift away from the Pattern. The changes around them, while often drastic and unsettling for those who must live in the Age, are thought to be part of the Wheel’s own correcting mechanism.

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

This is the way the Wheel maintains not only the Pattern, but also the balance between good and evil and therefore its survival.

The Pattern is part of the order that the Creator imposed on chaos in the act of Creation. According to Jordan’s Wheel of Time Continuity Notes 1, there are two levels, of which the Pattern of Ages is the greater. It is the all-encompassing Pattern of all that has happened, is happening and will happen. The lesser Pattern, the Pattern of Days, is more changeable, being woven by living things, yet still has an order imposed by the Creator. The changes in the Pattern of Days are a major part of the differences in each Age compared to when it previously came around and when it will come around the next time. The majority of people think of events as being fated or woven in the Pattern and accept, or are resigned to, these as foreordained. Some people are not accepting of their place in the Pattern: Ishamael became utterly world-weary to the extent of trying to end the world, and Rand objected to both being the Dragon and the cycling of the Ages due to the suffering he endured. However, not all events are fated, although no one knows which ones are.

The Pattern of an Age is slightly different each time an Age comes, and each time it is subject to greater change, but each time it is the same Age.

- The Eye of the World Glossary

It is not a repeat exactly of what went before, when that Age last came, but close enough in its general outline that it might seem the same at a glance.

- The Wheel of Time Companion

Each Age has a unique pattern which can only be partially changed by those lives that are the threads of the weave. Jordan observed that this provides a fairly static world with limited desire for advancement due to gains being swept away as the Ages cycle on. He wanted to explore the idea of “change in a world that by its very cosmology and nature resists change” (Charlene Brusso interview, 1999).

Ages repeat, like the spokes coming around again. Each time an Age repeats it is the same in great things, but different in smaller ones, as two huge tapestries, when seen from a distance, appear identical, but when seen close up show differences of detail. This is because individuals have free will, but only within the flow of time set by the Creator—the flow that is the Great Serpent, the Serpent That Eats Its Own Tail. (Note: these details can be what seem to humankind as quite large events. Free will is quite far ranging, and such things as wars, or even the way an Age ends, are not fore-ordained.) As one character will say “We are the stuff of legends for Ages to come, and they in turn are the stuff of our own legends.”

- Robert Jordan, Background Notes on the Wheel of Time 2

“We shall be the legends of the next Age, and the myth of the Age after that and they in turn are our own myths.”

- Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time Continuity Notes – 1

There is some flow both ways between Ages, because “you can look both ways along a wheel” (Robert Jordan interview).

Much is lost during the cycling of the Ages and it is very difficult to tell what actually happened, or for society to progress. People do not remember their former lives when they are reborn, and don’t do exactly what they did in their former lives, although they will be the same kind of person. For instance, Birgitte is always an archer (Robert Jordan at a booksigning). In each rebirth people are free to decide whether to be good, evil or indifferent:

Free will means though that they may be kind or hard, good or evil. You must guide your behaviour and take responsibility for it; predestination does not work that strongly on individuals.

- Robert Jordan, Notes for Wheel of Time-1

What Tam described as choosing how to respond to events, or why you do tasks, even if you have no apparent choice over what events occur. Nor is history clear:

The Wheel puts the threads where it wills, and the truth of what happened is hidden in the Pattern beyond the hope of mortal eyes to see.

- Robert Jordan, TGH Continuity Notes v3a

Consequently we have limited information about the Ages immediately preceding the Third Age.

The only things we know about the First Age are that it had space travel and appeared to have ended with nuclear war:

The First Age ended when fire rained from the heavens. The flesh of men melted, and those who did not melt were charred like coals. Plagues, boils and sores roamed the world and famine, yet to eat or drink often meant death, for waters and fruits that once were wholesome now slew at the eating. Even the air or the dust could slay. The wind could bring death. Rivers filled with dead fish and birds fell from the sky. Invisible vapours from the land that slew. Noxious fumes that corroded men’s flesh.

Man stretched forth his hands to the heavens, and seized the stars, and called them his own. For his presumption man was purged of his greatness, purged of knowledge and abilities, reduced to an animal to begin again the climb to the Light…

- Robert Jordan, Notes from White Goddess Part 2

And also that channelling was rediscovered during the Age. While Thom recites stories about the First Age that appear to equate it with our own times, such as about John Glenn, Salyuz/Sally Ride, Mother Theresa, Queen Elizabeth and Ann Landers, and the end of the age is also something that could happen in our time, this is not conclusive due to Jordan’s theme of misinformation and distortion of history.

The Second Age reclaimed much of the technology of the First Age, but used the One Power (rediscovered at the end of the previous Age) as a super-clean energy source to operate most devices. There were standing flows of the One Power that enabled non-channelers to use these devices. By emphasising community service as the path for advancement, and providing a high standard of living that minimised conflict for resources, many causes of war and crime were eliminated. The Dark One had been sealed away so long that he had been forgotten (become myth?). The Age seemed a paradise. People lived longer lifespans. However, the Pattern of the Age was for mankind to go too far in curiosity and hubris, in this particular turning by trying to find a source of energy that was indivisible, enabling channelling without having to combine saidin and saidar. Drilling the Bore made a small opening in the Dark One’s prison and gradually the corruption emanating from the Dark One resulted in the decline and fall of the paradisiacal Age into apocalyptic war (see Age of Legends article). This Age is a Dragon Age, and Lews Therin led the Light’s forces to fight the Shadow. There was division along gender lines about end-game tactics. Lews Therin led a male strike force on Shayol Ghul and successfully resealed the Bore, but the Dark One tainted saidin and the Age ended with insane male channellers destroying society and technology. Lews Therin had Adam’s pride.

The Third Age had three periods of emergence from chaos to stability and flourishing followed by Ishamael temporarily emerging from the Bore and leading the Shadow’s forces to break society again, each time destroying much knowledge. There was a renaissance of knowledge and technology at the end of the Age promoted by the Dragon, who successfully resealed the Dark One away, a Christ-like figure redeeming the errors of the Adam-like Lews Therin.

The Fourth Age has channelling, but may not be a Dragon Age.

The Pattern of the Ages as known show various progressions and regressions of humanity, but also threats to the Pattern. Since balefire burns the threads of the Pattern, and also disrupts causality, large-scale use causes reality to break:

M'Hael and Demandred's balefire had done its work. The world here was crumbling. Black lines radiated across the Heights, and her mind's eye saw them opening, the land shattering, and a void appearing here that sucked into it all life.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

The Dark One bribed his henchmen to damage the Pattern in this way to help free him from his prison, weaken the Light’s followers and make it easier for the Dark One to destroy the Pattern. In response to this, Egwene invented a weave that held the Pattern together long enough for the Pattern to Heal itself.

A powerful flash of light overwhelmed all else, blinding Egwene, but she could feel something from what she did. A shoring up of the Pattern. The cracks stopped spreading, and something welled up inside of them, a stabilizing force. A growth, like scab on a wound. Not a perfect fix, but at least a patch.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

The Pattern has amazing powers of self-regulation, correction and recovery, designed as it is to last eternally, cycling through its Ages in endless variation.

Thom chuckled. "We can't go back, Mat. The Wheel has turned, for better or worse. And it will keep on turning, as lights die and forests dim, storms call and skies break. Turn it will. The Wheel is not hope, and the Wheel does not care, the Wheel simply is. But so long as it turns, folk may hope, folk may care. For with light that fades, another will eventually grow, and each storm that rages must eventually die. As long as the Wheel turns. As long as it turns..."

- The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

Let the Wheel turn.

Conclusion

The tenets of Wheel of Time theology and philosophy are:

acceptance at last of the burdens of responsibility; that men must not depend on gods or spirits for salvation, but find it in themselves; that men and women alone are incomplete parts of a whole; that free will is a necessary part of humanity; that evil cannot be destroyed any more than can good; that the possibility of evil is as necessary for free will to exist, and thus for humanity to be human, as is the possibility of good.

- Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time Outline TEOTW Notes 8

And what happens to the Pattern if a sufficient number of people don’t follow these? Or need reminding of them?

That is the subject of the next essay.

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Written by Linda, February, 2005 and rewritten April 2019

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