Thursday, February 28, 2002

There Are No Beginnings or Endings...The Paradox of WOT's Eschatology




By Linda

A series that has as its heart a messiah’s quest to win the Last Battle between the Shadow and the Light must surely have much to say on the subject of eschatology—the end-times of a world. This essay will look at the theme of eschatology in The Wheel of Time and discuss the symbols and events of end times in the series, and also the origins of Jordan’s ideas. To do this, it will also look at the nature of time in The Wheel of Time world. The essay could have contained more detail on any of these areas, but will instead be limited to what I consider to be the most important details. I hope you agree.

Here is a list of the topics covered:

Time
Wheel of Time
Length of Ages
Why Cyclic Time?
Time Parallels
Eschatology
Millenarianism
Messianism
Messianism Parallels
Apocalypticism
Apocalypticism Parallels
Victory

Each book starts with the reminder that there are no beginnings or endings in the Wheel, and that as time cycles on through the Ages memories of events gradually morph into legends and myth. However, this is not the most important theme in the books:

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’s Notes on Books 2 through 6

Two opposing deities in the Wheel of Time series—the Creator and the Dark One—are the fount of good and evil respectively and have contended since the Pattern was formed. (These gods, their tenets and powers and the contention between them are discussed in the Wheel of Time Theology essay). 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; if he can break free on one world, he is freed on all, but while he remains imprisoned on one he is imprisoned on all. Sealed away, the Dark One can do very little to the world and the Pattern, but even a small hole can allow him to slowly corrupt it. Should the Dark One break free from his prison, he can gain enough power through killing and corruption to destroy the worlds and Pattern: end Time.

TIME

Time is cyclic in The Wheel of Time world, cycling without end, which is why the symbols for time in the series (the great serpent and the wheel, sometimes intertwined together) are symbols for eternity:

He [Rand] recognised the Great Serpent, an even older symbol for eternity than the Wheel of Time.

- The Eye of the World, Strangers

These symbols and their meanings are from our world. The serpent swallowing its own tail (ouroboros) is indeed an older symbol of eternity than the Wheel of Time in our world. With this symbol, time is portrayed as a living entity which the Dark One wants to kill (“strangle the Great Serpent”). Since he gains power from death, killing all living things in this way will give him enough power to refashion creation:

Sha’tan [original spelling] will tear 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, White Goddess Notes 2

Time is also described as a wheel that the Dark One wants to break.

Wheel of Time

Time is represented as a wheel with seven spokes, each spoke an Age. As the Wheel turns, the Ages come and go, each leaving memories that fade to legend, then to myth and are forgotten by the time that Age comes again. 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.”

- Background Notes on the Wheel of Time 2

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

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, it has 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. People think of events as being woven in the Pattern—fated—and are resigned to, or accepting of, changes as foreordained. However, not all events are fated, although no one knows which ones are.

Length of Ages

We know the Third Age is over three thousand years long; it has three one thousand year epochs with shorter periods of chaos of unknown length in between. We know nothing about the length of the other Ages, or the length of a full turn of the Wheel, so we cannot say if the lengths of the other Ages are multiples of one thousand years (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).

My comments therefore can really only apply to the Third Age, but many peoples in our world have divided time into sections that are multiples of one thousand years in length. A thousand is popular because it is a ‘number of perfection’ as St Augustine stated in his City of God, being the cube of ten.

Parallels

Many religions believe God has a fixed plan for creation, Christianity and The Wheel of Time theology included. However, time and history in Christianity is not cyclical, as it is in The Wheel of Time world, it progresses in a straight line and has a beginning and an end. Early Christian thought envisaged four ages:

(1) from the creation of the world and of humanity to the Fall into sin and out of Eden; (2) from the Fall to the first coming of Christ; (3) from the first to the second advent of Christ, which includes the 1,000-year reign of Christ and his saints and the Last Judgment; and (4) the creation of a new heaven and a new earth in which those who have chosen the good (i.e., Christ) will live in eternity.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

In Christian belief, souls are born once only.

Judging from the Third Age, and to a lesser degree the Age of Legends, the cycle of time in the Wheel of Time series is divided into seven ages of multiples of (rough) thousands of years and they can be subdivided into (roughly) thousand-year epochs, each age and epoch ending in a catastrophe. These Ages cycle continually and souls are born and reborn through the Ages.

Greco-Oriental

The Babylonians believed time was cyclic with four epochs in a cycle, but their wheel reversed direction at the end of each cycle. The ancient Greeks also had a cyclic view of time and a fourfold division of history:

In the 8th century BC in Greece, the poet Hesiod described the ages of the world as four in number and symbolized by gold, silver, bronze, and iron [note these have nothing to do with the stone, iron and bronze ages of archaeology], each age successively declining in morality.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Overlaid on the cyclicity of history is the nature of time. The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus thought that the world is dynamic and continually changing, so that one moment is completely different from the next, whereas Parmenides thought that reality is timeless and unchanging. While Jordan’s world has cyclic time divided into Ages, events eventually repeat (with variations) to a Pattern. The Hindu and Buddhist religions have strong parallels with this concept.

Hindu/Buddhist

Hindus and Buddhists envisage the pattern of history as a never-ending cycle—the wheel of life constantly turns in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth or reincarnation. They divide time into four ages called yugas, with the yugas decreasing in length in each cycle (an indication that each cycle descends into moral chaos): the Satya-yuga, the first yuga in a cycle, is 4,800 ‘years’, the Treta-yuga is 3,600 ‘years’, the Dvapara-yuga is 2,400 ‘years’ and the Kali-yuga is 1,200 ‘years’ long. Each ‘year’ represents 360 human years. A cycle of 4 yugas is a mahayuga, and a thousand mahayugas make one kalpa, or one day in the life of Brahma the Creator, and represent the life of a world from its creation to its destruction by fire and water. After a period of quiescence lasting one kalpa (Brahma’s night), the world is recreated by Brahma for another kalpa. And so on, endlessly.

Hindus believe that since about 3,200–3,100 BC we have been living in the Kali Yuga, the age of destruction. The main difficulty during the Kali Yuga is to maintain the order of the world and the integrity of one’s own actions, which are intimately connected in Indian thought, because people are in part responsible for the smooth running of the universe. If each person accomplishes what they came into existence for accomplishing, the universe will proceed along its course and one day the world will be reborn. Despite this prospect of inevitable destruction, people must continue to strive for order and integrity (Jean-Claude Carriere in Conversations about the End of Time).

The end of the Third Age has a feel of the Kali Yuga and the people of this time have a similar moral dilemma. As a thread of the Pattern, the integrity of an individual’s life makes a difference. With the Shadow gaining in power every day, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to maintain integrity and order, though crucial they do so, because the Shadow feeds on chaos and uses it to gain strength and to corrupt the Pattern.

The appearance of an Avatar or of a new Buddha will signal the end of the Kali Yuga and the beginning of a new cosmic cycle. Similarly, in the Wheel of Time, the death of the Dragon ended the Age of Legends and Rand’s death ended the Third Age. The appearance of the Dark One’s avatar, Shaidar Haran also signalled the end of the Third Age, and the very real risk of the end of time.

The phrase ‘the Wheel of Time’ occurs in Hinduism and Buddhism:

With its twelve spokes, this wheel of eternal time
Knows no decay and revolves round the heavens high.

- Atharva Veda, 9-9-13

One of the god Vishnu’s hands holds a discus (chakra), which is a reminder of the Wheel of Time, and to lead a good life. However, the Wheel’s twelve spokes represent the twelve gods and twelve moral principles of the world, not Ages. Another religion where the Wheel of Time is prominent is Jainism, the religion on which the moral code of the Da’shain Aiel was based (see The Age of Legends essay).

Jain

Jainism is an ascetic religion originating in India that teaches a path to spiritual purity and enlightenment through a disciplined mode of life founded upon the tradition of strict non-violence to all living creatures. Time, according to the Jains, is eternal and formless. It is understood as a wheel with twelve spokes, each spoke representing an age, just as each of the seven spokes of the Wheel represents an Age. (Image from www.satipanya.org.uk.)

Taoistic

Taoists believe in the cyclic nature of change and the universe.

The Chinese gave this idea of cyclical patterns a definite structure by introducing the polar opposites yin and yang, the two poles that set the limits for the cycles of change…All manifestations of the Tao [everything] are generated by the dynamic interplay of these two archetypal poles.

- Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point

Likewise, in Jordan’s world, saidin (yang) and saidar (yin) working with and against each other, are the forces that turn the Wheel of Time. The ancient symbol for Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends, when both powers were used together, is a borrowing of the Taoist yin yang symbol (with the important difference that the dots of opposite poles within each half of the symbol are omitted to show the imbalance in his world). Rand is prophesied to conquer under this symbol, keeping balance in the Pattern and preventing the Dark One from taking over.

Zoroastrian

Zoroastrians believe that time is linear and that world history can be subdivided into periods of 3,000 years. The forces of light and darkness battle continually through the Ages. This system appears to be similar to that of the Wheel of Time world, although time is cyclic in the Wheel of Time. As has been described in the theology essay, the theologies of Zoroastrianism and the Wheel of Time are also very similar, however their end times are different. In Zoroastrianism, there is moral deterioration, a saviour figure and a last battle, but also a final cleansing fire at the end of the world and then eternal paradise. This will be discussed in the eschatology section below.

Judaic

Judaism was influenced by the Ancient Greek idea of social morality declining over time and also the Zoroastrian idea of non-cyclic time and a saviour figure; but it divided history into seven phases, based on the seven-day week, the Great Week. Each Day was a millennium, since, as written in Psalm 90:4:

A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past…

Jordan has seven Ages in his cycle of time, but the length of the Ages is closer to Zoroastrian ideas. The Qumran texts were also a source for Jordan’s ideas on time and eschatology. Text 4Q180 says:

Interpretation concerning the ages which God has made: An age to achieve {all that there is} and all that will be. Before creating them he determined their operations {according to the precise sequence of the ages}. One age after another age. And this is engraved on the {heavenly} tablets {for the sons of men} for all the ages of their dominion.

Similarly, the Creator made not only the Wheel, but also the Patterns of each of the Ages.

Why Cyclic Time?

Cyclic theories of time have reappeared in modern scientific thought. The universe is believed to have begun with the Big Bang and is now expanding. This expansion is likely to continue indefinitely, but there may be enough gravitational attraction to ultimately contract the matter back into a Big Crunch. And perhaps a Big Bang again in a cycle:

Present theories concerning the death of the universe do not exclude the hypothesis of the creation of a new universe, somewhat after the fashion of the Great Year in Greco-Oriental speculation or the yuga cycle in the thought of India.

- Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return

So Jordan’s ideas have some basis in modern astronomy.

In philosophy, there are two main ways of looking at time: A-theory, where time is directional and characterised by tenses indicating past, present and future, and B-theory, where events are not ordered into past, present and future but described as occurring before, simultaneously and after other events. A-theorists do not think that the past, present and future are equally real, and maintain that the future is not fixed and determinate like the past, while B-theorists consider that the future is just as real as the past and present, but we just know less about it. Jordan’s world explores what a B-theory world would be like, especially if, thanks to prophesiers and the Pattern of Ages, people know something of what will happen in the future. His world is both our past and future because, as Jordan said, “You can look both ways along a wheel.” The four-dimensionality of physics provides some support for B-theory.

Implications

We are assured at the start of every book in the series that there are no beginnings or endings in the Wheel of Time. Taking this at face value, this would mean that the Ages have turned endlessly and will continue to do so. However, since we know the Wheel was created in some very distant past, there was a beginning. At the other end, the Wheel may come to an end in an impossibly distant future, but as far as we know it is set up to exist eternally unless the Dark One wins.

Not everyone likes the cycle of Ages. Some feel chewed up by their eternal role; notably those who have the most demanding of roles… Rand, for instance:

"We live the same lives!" he yelled at them. "Over and over and over. We make the same mistakes. Kingdoms do the same stupid things. Rulers fail their people time and time again. Men continue to hurt and hate and die and kill!"
Winds buffeted him, whipping at his brown cloak and his fine Tairen trousers. But his words carried, echoing across the broken rocks of Dragonmount. It was cold and crisp, the air new. His weave kept him warm enough to survive, but it did not stop the chill. He hadn't wanted it to.
"What if I think it's all meaningless?" he demanded with the loud voice of a king.
"What if I don't want it to keep turning? We live our lives by the blood of others! And those others become forgotten. What good is it if everything we know will fade? Great deeds or great tragedies, neither means anything! They will become legends, then those legends will be forgotten, then it will all start over again!"
The access key began to glow in his hands. The clouds above seemed to grow darker. Rand's anger beat in rhythm with his heart, demanding to be set free.
"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!"

- Towers of Midnight, Veins of Gold

Rand objects to the loss of knowledge and the repetition of mistakes and evils—since he was a victim of this. Finally, he realised that his rebirth allowed a second chance to fix errors and to meet and love others again:

Maybe...Lews Therin said, shockingly lucid, not a hint of madness to him. He spoke softly, reverently. Why? Could it be...Maybe it's so that we can have a second chance…
Why? Rand thought with wonder. Because each time we live, we get to love again.
That was the answer. It all swept over him, lives lived, mistakes made, love changing everything. He saw the entire world in his mind's eye, lit by the glow in his hand. He remembered lives, hundreds of them, thousands of them, stretching to infinity. He remembered love, and peace, and joy, and hope.
Within that moment, suddenly something amazing occurred to him. If I live again, then she might as well!
That's why he fought. That's why he lived again, and that was the answer to Tam's question. I fight because last time, I failed. I fight because I want to fix what I did wrong.
I want to do it right this time.

- Towers of Midnight, Veins of Gold

Rand wasn’t the first to experience existential despair; Ishamael was. And considering that the two of them are linked, Rand was probably infected by Ishamael’s views as much as by Graendal’s manipulations. Ironically, Ishamael commanded her to agonise Rand’s spirit and he shared in Rand’s resulting angst and despair and then fed that back to Rand through the bond. While the two men were literally linked by the crossing of balefire streams in this Age, their souls are often woven together in the Pattern (Brandon Sanderson on a book tour), just as groups of souls can be in Buddhism. Another pair of linked souls are Birgitte and Gaidal Cain.

Summary of Time

Time is cyclic and souls are born, die and are reborn according to Hindu/Buddhist/Jain beliefs. The Dragon, the Creator’s surrogate, appears at the end of some Ages (but NOT all), just as the appearance of an Avatar or new Buddha ends a cycle in Hinduism and Buddhism. The Wheel of Time symbol with spokes representing Ages is Jain, and The Wheel is turned by the interaction of saidin and saidar, a Tao concept. There are seven Ages as in Judaism, and a strong influence from Zoroastrianism in the way history is divided into ages of multiples of thousands of years.

Many world views are convinced that times have declined and that we are living during the crucial last period before the end of a great cycle. The Wheel of Time is no exception. As Lan says:

“This may be the end of an Age. We may see a new Age born before we die. Or perhaps it is the end of Ages, the end of time itself. The end of the world.”

- The Eye of the World, Rescue

The late Third Age is concerned with end-times; it is concerned with preventing the Dark One from being freed and ending time. Which leads us to the end of the world: eschatology.

ESCHATOLOGY

Eschatology is the study of the end times of the world. Special forms of eschatology are: apocalypticism (belief in the world’s progress to a prophesied cataclysmic appointed end), messianism (belief in a future salvation figure) and millenarianism (belief in a periodisation of history into multiples of a thousand years and in the idea of a return to conditions of peace and happiness). These types of eschatology are not always all present in the end times of a theology. However, in the Wheel of Time series, all three are present. (Three is a highly significant number in the series.)

Prophecy is a part of apocalypticism, messianism and millenarianism in our world and is correspondingly prominent in the books. We have seen prophecy come true in the Wheel of Time world, showing what the Pattern is and helping to guide people through the change from one Age to another. Prophecy warns, inspires and also consoles. It can also mislead people and lead to fatalism or to complacency.

The prophesiers in the books are all seers, although they use different media—visions (Min), dreams (Egwene, Perrin and Aiel Dreamwalkers), and clairvoyance or soothsaying (Elaida, Nicola, Gitara and the Foretellings that make up the Prophecies of the Dragon) (see Fate, Free Will and Divining the Pattern article).

Rand sees that prophecy is not always fulfilled as it seems to say it should be and that just because something is prophesied doesn't mean it will happen, only that it must if certain other things are to happen. Fulfilled prophecies are those remembered; failed prophecies are forgotten eventually as the world goes another way (Robert Jordan, Rand Notes). However, if Rand doesn’t fulfil the prophecies the Pattern will be broken (by the Dark One winning).

Millenarianism

Prior to the year 2000, the Wheel of Time series owed some of its popularity and ‘timeliness’ to the theme of millenarianism. It cannot be stressed too much that millenarianism is used here in the broadest and most general sense : the belief that history is divided into periods that are multiples of thousand years (as in the Wheel of Time calendar, where the Third Age of roughly three thousand years is subdivided into periods of roughly one thousand years), some good, some bad, with each period ending in a trauma and with the promise of a return to an Age of happiness, rather than the specific evangelical Christian sense of a period of one thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth. Jordan explicitly explored in his TDR Notes the idea of people believing that Tarmon Gai’don will occur in 1000 NE because of the Third Age having roughly one thousand year epochs punctuated by catastrophic wars.

The specific evangelical Christian sense of a period of one thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth is NOT what millenarianism refers to here. After all, the Age of Legends was a period of Utopian peace and prosperity. There are regular recurrences of Golden Ages in The Wheel of Time world, which fits with the cyclic view of time and the dualistic theology. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the Fourth Age will be one such Golden Age. There is much to repair after Tarmon Gai’don and much to resolve even while the Dragon’s peace lasts. However, since it is not an Age of the Shadow, it could be considered a Peace in comparison.

While in Christian millenarianism the victory of good over evil is assured, even fore-ordained, this is not the case in the Wheel of Time series, where evil and good are evenly matched and the Shadow may in some Age have the victory. 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.

Interestingly, while Jordan uses millenarianism in the general sense, he does show us the negative result of millenarian extremism. According to Damian Thompson in The End of Time, millenarian extremism:

often arises from feelings of deprivation in matters of status, wealth, security or self-esteem…All millenarian movements are distinguished by the abnormal behaviour of their adherents, which can range from retreat to the wilderness to await the End to acts of unimaginable violence to bring it about…The millenarian sense of identity, too, is distinctive. It invariably possesses a narcissistic, self-righteous quality…It is also paranoid.

Three groups are millenarian 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, both have followers who are millenarian extremists: the Amayar and the Dragonsworn for the Light and the Forsaken/Darkfriends for the Shadow. They were all dark and are largely gone. (While the Whitecloaks are religious extremists, they showed little acceptance of the Dragon as the Creator’s surrogate and little interest in the Last Battle at all until Galad took charge.)

Dragonsworn

The Dragonsworn were recently established, but they rapidly became millenarian extremists thanks to Masema:

“It was a sign,” [Masema] said, turning in a circle to address everyone. “A sign to confirm our faith…In the Last Battle, the Lord Dragon will summon even the beasts of the forest to fight at our sides. It is a sign for us to go forth. Only Darkfriends will fail to join us…He has gone out alone to spread the word of his coming. We must spread the word, too.”

- The Dragon Reborn, Nightmares Walking

“There is justice in the hereafter, when we are born again. Concern with things of this world is useless…The Lord Dragon has been Reborn. The Shadow hangs over the world, and only the Lord Dragon can save us. Only belief in the Lord Dragon, submission and obedience to the word of the Lord Dragon. All else is useless, even where it is not blasphemy.”

- The Fires of Heaven, Encounters in Samara

Masema’s followers are renowned for their abnormal, often violent, behaviour in their efforts to recruit for the Dragon. Masema’s concentration on the Dragon’s rebirth and imminent salvation of the world (messianism) and rejection of everything else is typically millenarian. He preached that belief in the Dragon and obedience to his word is enough to ensure the defeat of the Shadow. Everything else is useless.

Shadow

The Forsaken/Darkfriends are far more developed as a millenarian cult. This is hardly surprising, since they were established more than three thousand years ago and it is their master, the Dark One, who wants to end the world as it currently is. From the Shadow’s point of view, their 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. Not for nothing do the Forsaken call themselves the Chosen.

The Forsaken have highly abnormal behaviour and have committed acts of incredible violence to free the Dark One and usher in the Age of the Shadow. Their first attempt to free him resulted in the War of the Power in the Age of Legends. All of them are narcissistic, self-righteous and paranoid. Many Darkfriends are in the same mould:

Unlike the Forsaken, Darkfriends have not known immortality, yet they have survived as a society for over three thousand years, serving and waiting for Tarmon Gai’don: the Last Battle…Some extremists are deeply dedicated to obtaining freedom for the Dark One and thus immortality and dominion for themselves.

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

The Shadow has a millenarian catechism:

“The Great Lord of the Dark is my Master, and most heartily do I serve him to the last shred of my very soul…Lo, my Master is death’s Master. Asking nothing do I serve against the Day of his coming, yet do I serve in the sure and certain hope of life everlasting…Surely the faithful shall be exalted in the land, exalted above the unbelievers, exalted above thrones, yet do I serve humbly against the Day of his Return…Swift come the Day of Return. Swift come the Great Lord of the Dark to guide us and rule the world for ever and ever.”

- The Great Hunt Prologue

In that scene, Ishamael assures the Darkfriends that the Day of Return is near:

“Fear not, for the Day of your Master’s rising upon the world is near at hand. The Day of Return draws nigh. Does it not tell you so that I am here, to be seen by you favoured few among your brothers and sisters? Soon the Wheel of Time will be broken. Soon the Great Serpent will die, and with the power of that death, the death of Time itself, your Master will remake the world in his own image for this Age and for all Ages to come. And those who serve me, faithful and steadfast, will sit at my feet above the stars in the sky and rule the world of men forever. So have I promised, and so shall it be, without end. You shall live and rule forever.”

This is the ultimate millenarian cult and is a reversal of evangelical millenarianism. It is more extreme than the general millenarianism pervading the Third Age.

Amayar

Unlike the first two groups, the Amayar were pacific millenarians, waiting throughout the Third Age for the end of Illusion (see Time of Illusions article) or the end of days on their island retreats. Only when the hand of the female Choedan Kal melted after the cleansing of saidar, an event prophesied to signal the end of time, did they suddenly violate their ethics and resort to acts of violence, committing mass murder (of their children) and suicide (Knife of Dreams, To Make An Anchor Weep). The millenarianism of the Amayar was a dark millenarianism, with more than a touch of apocalypticism (see below), offering no hope or faith in a messiah, only the certainty that Time is at an end.

A summary of the tenets of the general millenarianism in the series would be:

  • Prior to the beginning of the next Age, human society will have declined—morally, socially or technologically. This will culminate in a global trauma (eg the Breaking of the World, Tarmon Gai’don) which is man-made, natural, divine (Dark One) or a combination of these three.
  • Appropriate evidence is sought and found to justify such theories of decline and global trauma (eg the Prophecies of the Dragon).
  • The coming Age will potentially be a distinct improvement on the present one, although decline eventually returns as the next Age nears. (An Age where the Dark One doesn’t touch the world would be an improvement although there is the risk that the coming age will be that of the Shadow and therefore much worse.)
  • The end of some Ages is heralded by the appearance of the world saviour, the Dragon, his death ending the Age. (Some Ages don’t have a Dragon according to Jordan, See Apocalypticism section below).
  • The entire historical process moves forward according to a plan that is in outline preordained (the Wheel of Time spins the Age Lace to make the Web of Ages according to the Pattern).
  • It is the duty of every citizen to actively prepare for the next phase of history, since their lives are the threads from which the Pattern is woven, although not all follow this path.
  • The Transformation is imminent, since the Dragon has been reborn…

Messianism

Messianism is the belief in a future saviour figure who will overcome evil in the world with his/her sacrifice. It is even more integral to the series than millenarianism. Jordan’s original impulse to write his story came from wondering how it would feel to discover you were a messiah:

"What if you were tapped on the shoulder and told you had to save the world?"

Messianism is the Wheel’s counter to the Shadow’s millenarian extremism. We have seen the Creator’s surrogate soul acting as the saviour figure in two Ages in the person of Lews Therin and Rand. Understandably, there is not a great deal of information on Lews Therin as a saviour, especially in his early years. Lews Therin did great deeds, including resealing the Dark One in the Bore, but was reviled anyway for thousands of years and his deeds discounted. A saviour rejected by those he saved. While he saved the world, he was not a messiah in the sense of sacrificing his body. However, thanks to the Dark One’s counterstroke, he did unwittingly make a blood sacrifice in the death of all his kin. The trauma of this drove him to suicide.

Rand is a more Christ-like saviour figure, as will be seen below (and also in the Rand parallels essay), and he also inspires strong negative feelings and even threats.

The Shadow threatens Rand with eternal death:

You will serve me or die! And this time the cycle will not begin anew with your death. The grave belongs to the Great Lord of the Dark. This time if you die, you will be destroyed utterly.”

- The Great Hunt, Kinslayer

Ishamael is trying to mislead Rand here and make him despair. (He also tempts him, as the devil tempted Christ, see Dragon section of Theology article). If Rand died before Tarmon Gai’don, the Dark One would lose the opportunity to win the Battle and be freed and so neither side wins. Stalemate. The Dark One can try again at another suitable time in another Age. This is why Ishamael was ambivalent about wanting Rand dead. Naturally the Shadow would rather Rand died than they lost the Last Battle, but if they have the upper hand in the conflict, then it is definitely in their interest to push for a Last Battle and kill Rand there. If Rand died during Tarmon Gai’don without sealing up Dark One then the Dark One would win and remake the world in the Shadow’s image. Rand’s soul would never be born again. Only if the Dark One is sealed away would the Light gain the victory. With his sacrifice, Jordan’s saviour aimed to prevent the end of the world. For all, not just the elect. Note that some Ages are not Dragon Ages; ie they have no messianic figure.

There are aspects of Christ in Rand, but he is intended to be a general “messiah figure”. Many religions and mythologies have messiah figures that will appear at the end of a period (absolute or cycle) to overcome chaos or evil and usher in a golden era.

Parallels

Taoist

In Taoism, Li Hong is prophesied to appear at the end of the world cycle to rescue the chosen and set heaven and earth to rights. Prophesies concerning Li Hong's appearance have been used to legitimize numerous rebellions and insurgencies in China, all of which rallied around a Li Hong, just as false Dragons attracted armies in the Third Age. Apocalyptic Taoist texts such as the Divine Incantations Scripture (太上洞渊神咒经) prophesise the return of a messianic figure who will take the faithful and destroy the rest of society and create a new society based upon Taoist teachings. Time is eternally cycling in Taoism, just as it is in the Wheel of Time, and Li Hong is prophesied to reshape society, just as the Dragon has done by breaking the nations, changing customs and laws and fostering new alliances.

Hindu

Kalki is the tenth and final avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu the Preserver. He is depicted with sword in hand and riding a white horse, and will overcome the demon Kali who rules the Kali Yuga, the Age of Destruction, rid the world of evil, reconcile opposites and restore righteous rule to the Earth. This was more or less Rand’s task: to defeat the Shadow, remove the Dark One’s touch from the world, restore balance and bring about the end of the Age. Rand’s peace is of the sword (The Dragon Reborn, The Hunt Begins) and as winter’s heart he is said to ride a black horse due to the Shadow’s influence.

Buddhist

Buddha was born Siddhartha and had two possible destinies. If he embraced a worldly life, he would become a chakravartin (a “wheel-turner”), a great emperor over a unified India. If he embraced asceticism, he would become a world saviour—a Buddha (Robert M Place, The Life of Buddha). A wheel-turner sounds rather like a ta’veren and is also reminiscent of the prophecy: “spinner-out of fate. Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time, may learn the truth too late” (A Crown of Swords, closing prophecy).

Dissatisfied with his life, Siddhartha went on a spiritual quest and chose the Middle Way, between extremes of denial and indulgence. Rand steered an uneasy course between denial and indulgence and between attachment and detachment, support and isolation, and peace and violence, too. Rand’s choice at Shayol Ghul was whether to destroy the Dark One, or seal him away. During their spiritual battle, Rand let go of negative feelings such as fear and guilt in order to survive the Dark One’s onslaught without being broken by suffering. His body was destroyed but his soul transmigrated to Moridin’s body to remain on earth and gained power over the Pattern.

Zoroastrian

In Zoroastrianism, Saoshyans is the final saviour of the world who will overcome the power of evil at the end of time. Two previous saviours appeared, one at the end of the two previous millennia. Saoshyans will be conceived by a virgin. He will overcome the forces of evil and resurrect the bodies of the dead. Saoshyans and six helpers will then lead the work in the world, communicating with each other miraculously (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

The series has some similarities and some differences to this. Lews Therin saved the world three millennia previously and the three ta’veren together defeated the Shadow, to prevent the end of time. Rand, was “born of the Maiden, according to Prophecy” (The Shadow Rising, opening prophecy), and Rand is prophesied to be a sacrifice for world salvation. The three ta’veren are each able to see what the others are doing by a vision through swirling colours.

Judaism

Messianism is not prominent in the Old Testament:

The biblical Old Testament never speaks of an eschatological messiah, and even the “messianic” passages that contain prophecies of a future golden age under an ideal king never use the term messiah.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

It is since the time of Hellenistic rule over the Hebrews (200–165 BC) that the idea of the Messiah became established in Judaism; the King of Israel who will deliver the people from their enemies and establish the New Jerusalem on earth where he will reign for a period in righteousness, equity, justice, and truth. This is first shown in Intertestamental (or Apocryphal; this is the period between the Old and New Testaments) texts and some of these have interesting parallels with Rand.

In the Intertestamental text Psalms of Solomon 17:21–46, God is implored to raise up the future king of Israel, the son of David, who will destroy all God’s enemies, shatter unrighteous rulers, destroy the pride of the sinner, smite the earth with the word of his mouth and destroy the godless nations. At his rebuke nations shall flee before him. This is similar in content to a couple of the Prophecies of the Dragon:

”Soul of fire, heart of stone, in pride he conquers, forcing the proud to yield. He calls upon the mountains to kneel, and the seas to give way, and the very skies to bow.”

- A Crown of Swords, opening prophecy

“As the plough breaks the earth shall he break the lives of men and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice and he shall wear a crown of swords.”

- A Crown of Swords, As the Plough Breaks the Earth

The Qumran sect:

a Jewish monastic group known in modern times for its preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, held a doctrine—found also in later Jewish sects—of a messianic pair: a priestly messiah of the House of Aaron (the brother of Moses) and a royal messiah of the House of David. This messianic detail, incidentally, shows that these “anointed ones” were not thought of as saviours—as in later Christian thought—but rather as ideal leaders presiding over an ideal, divinely-willed, and “messianic” socio-religious order.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

In this sect’s Damascus Document, The Guardian “shall loosen all the fetters which bind them that in his Congregation there may be none that are oppressed or broken”, just as the Dragon Reborn is said to “tear apart all ties that bind” (The Great Hunt opening prophecy) and “break all oaths, shatter all ties.” (The Great Hunt, What Was Meant To Be). Interestingly, the Qumran sect believed they were not just a ‘remnant’ of their time, but of all times—the final remnant.

In Jewish apocalyptic literature of medieval to modern times, another messianic figure gained some prominence: the warrior-messiah of the House of Joseph (or Ephraim) who will precede the triumphant royal messiah of the House of David—but would himself fall in the battle against Gog and Magog, two legendary powers under Satan and opposed to the people of God (Ezek. 38:2; Rev. 20:8) (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

So there are three messianic figures in various Jewish writings and sects: a royal messiah (the one that most texts refer to), plus a priest-messiah and a warrior messiah. In some writings the royal messiah is a saviour figure, in others his role is more of an earthly king. Similarly, ideas on the duration of the messiah’s kingdom vary: some think it will be conquered by enemy nations and that then God may intervene, while others think that the end of time will follow immediately after and the dead will be resurrected. The latter is close to New Testament writings.

Jordan has one messiah, but his success depends on two helpers, Mat and Perrin. Mat may be the equivalent of the warrior messiah, though it could also be Logain. The priest messiah could be Perrin, a gentle man who hates to think of evil as part of the Pattern. Rand would be the equivalent of the royal messiah: his mother was Daughter Heir to the throne of Andor and his father was an Aiel Clan Chief. There is no known prophecy of Rand ruling in the Fourth Age after the Shadow was defeated (and he is currently an eternal wanderer), as the royal messiah does in Judaic writings. Nor will the Fourth Age necessarily be a paradise, as stated above in the millenarianism section, since there is much to repair after the Last Battle. Far from the Light’s victory signalling the end of time, the Light aimed to prevent the Shadow from ending time. This is different from Judaic thought, where in some writings, time will end and eternity begin after the messiah comes; and also from Christian thought, where eternity will begin after evil is defeated by the messiah.

Christian

For Christians, Jesus died for mankind’s salvation: a sacrifice offered to God as atonement for human sin and as the price paid to redeem man from the devil. Not surprisingly, Rand as saviour of his world, has quite a few similarities with Christ: he was born in a place of discomfort (the side of a mountain rather than a stable), his mother was a Maiden (but not a virgin), he was hidden away as a baby, his adoptive father did carpentry (but was a shepherd), he was wounded in the hands, foot and the side (equivalent to the stigmata), he was tempted by the devil (through the Dark One’s surrogate Ishamael), he had disciples who helped him in his task, he had a prickly crown (of swords, not thorns), he violated custom and changed law (Aiel, Tear, Cairhien), he was despised by many and abused by some (who violated their office, as ambassadors, to do so), he was associated with miracles (ta’veren twistings of the Pattern), he tried to bring peace (though often by the sword), he faced the Dark One in the Pit of Doom (a descent into hell) and, most importantly, he was prepared to sacrifice himself to save the world from evil.

In Luke 7:38, a female follower wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair. This is similar to the Sea Folk prophecy of the Coramoor:

Aes Sedai shall kneel to wash his feet and dry them with their hair.

- The Shadow Rising, The Wavedancer

Jordan has combined messianic elements from the Zoroastrian, Judaic and Christian faiths along with characteristics of Buddha and has split them and combined them among his major leaders of forces of the Light.

Messiahs often herald the end of the world, and may or may not be associated with catastrophic events—apocalypses.

Apocalypticism

Apocalypticism is the belief in the world’s progress to a prophesied cataclysmic end. The classic features of apocalyptic thought are: an obsession with prophecy in its many forms and a sense of approaching crisis, in which the polarisation of good and evil become increasingly marked. This is strongly to the fore in the Wheel of Time series. In particular, the approach of the Last Battle looms over the series making quite a few people seek guidance from prophecy. Noal Charin, for instance, was mulling over the Karaethon Cycle in Crossroads of Twilight. Prophecy led the Amayar to kill themselves in the belief that Time would soon end (Knife of Dreams, To Make An Anchor Weep).

The Dark One wants to stop the cycle of time, break the Wheel and remake the world in his image; to end the world as it currently is. The Light fought to retain the current Pattern and Wheel. The Last Battle is only the last if the Dark One wins and ends time. Otherwise the cycle of time will continue.

The third of seven Ages is an odd time for a “last” battle, even if for a few Ages. A world with a cyclic time frame shouldn’t have a Last Battle—the paradox that Herid Fel pointed out. So the odds of a final battle are against the Dark One.

We know a bit about how previous Ages ended. The First Age may not have been a Dragon Age. While channelling was discovered at the end of the Age, the Age appears to have ended in 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, White Goddess Notes

The sin of pride or hubris is always the undoing of humanity in Jordan’s work. The Age of Legends knew of people going into space, or perhaps they achieved this feat again themselves, only to be cut down.

At a booksigning, Jordan has described the end of the Utopian Age of Legends, the Second Age, as a ‘long drawn-out apocalypse’. There was extensive balefire usage in the War of Power, and saidin was tainted by the Dark One when the Dragon led men to patch the Bore, resulting in the Time of Madness and the Breaking.

The Third Age was one of decline and knowledge loss, with imbalance due to half the One Power being all but unusable, until a renaissance and industrial revolution occurred at its very end. There was limited balefire usage during the Last Battle until the Bore was Sealed anew. Channelling continues into the Fourth Age, which may not be a Dragon Age.

Fel also pointed out to Rand that not only is it possible to seal the Bore (since it has been at some time previously) but it must be made whole before the Second Age comes around again so that some fool drills a Bore into it. This got Min and Rand thinking about how to win against the Dark One and survive. There are three main aspects to this: belief, choice and balance.

Belief

One of the underlying philosophies is that belief and order give strength. It’s not specified to who. 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. Each is strong when belief in them is strong and, correspondingly, weak if belief is weak:

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

Patterns within patterns, just as in one of the chapter titles. The more belief in good and opposition to the Dark One declines, the easier it becomes for the Dark One to corrupt. The Dark One can’t exist if people don’t believe. That’s why a prerequisite for becoming a Darkfriend is belief in his 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):

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

Choice

Another of the fundamentals of Wheel of Time theology is the free will granted to all by the Creator.

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 trying to forcibly unite the world against the Shadow 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. 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.

In keeping with Taoist philosophy, 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 people didn’t want the Last Battle to come. 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 believe that Rand is the Dragon Reborn, or 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.

Balance

Creator and Dark One, saidin and saidar, Fate and choice: as one comes into balance, so do the others. Both evil and good are 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. 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

People 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.

Everything has a cyclic nature.

Timing

Rand was resisted by other characters for going to Shayol Ghul sooner rather than later. Later was seen as giving everyone more time to “get ready”. But more time gave the Shadow more time to infiltrate and undermine the Light and therefore for the Dark One to increase his touch on the world. Some believed that the Last Battle couldn’t take place until all the Seals were broken, and others that it couldn’t take place unless the Seals were broken (therefore it was obvious how to prevent the Last Battle from occurring at all).

Method

While Herid Fel helped Rand to solve the Aelfinn's answers to his questions about his fate, he left some riddles of his own. His cryptic comment that Rand had to clear the rubble before he can build was finally interpreted by Min as the necessity to break the Seals and clear away the patch to rebuild. Min thought Rand would break them, and Moiraine that it should be Egwene, but it fell to Logain to actually do the deed.

If Min had been less reluctant to think about it, due to the danger it imposed on the world, and less afraid of Rand’s reaction, she might have spoken sooner, and that might not have been the right timing:

Min glanced at her books. Herid's little slip of paper still peeked from the depths of “Thoughts Among the Ruins”. "Rand," she said. "You have to destroy the seals to the Dark One's prison."
He looked at her, frowning.
"I'm sure of it," she said. "I've been reading Herid's books all this time, and I believe that's what he meant by 'clearing away the rubble.' In order to rebuild the Dark One's prison, you will first need to open it. Clear away the patch made on the Bore."
She had expected him to be incredulous. Shockingly, he just nodded. "Yes," he said. "Yes, that sounds right. I doubt that many will wish to hear it. If those seals are broken, there is no way to tell what will happen. If I fail to contain him ..."

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

Which brings us to the next step: actually sealing the Dark One away.

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

Rand used the True Power from the Dark One to coat his weaves to prevent the Dark One from tainting saidin and saidar while he resealed the Bore. The Dragon went to Shayol Ghul intending to kill the Dark One. In some ways it was a carryover from when Rand toted the access key around and considered nuking everything with it. 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. A world without evil can’t offer the choice to be good, or even the knowledge of what goodness is. Choice and balance.

Conversely, I doubt that a world all evil would last. I think that just as in the If 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.

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.

Rand himself 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 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 is the opposite of Tinkers, who ruthlessly refuse to use violence to save others or themselves from evil, only pacifically resist:

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.

People have to fight evil themselves, rather than rely on someone else. Even the Tinkers Raen and Ila understood this in the end, although they still didn’t fight, but stopped looking down on those who did. Humans could not 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



Parallels: Apocalypticism in an East-meets-west Way

Consideration of non-cyclic time inevitably brings consideration of its demise, perhaps in an abrupt manner—apocalypticism. Zoroastrianism introduced the idea of an absolute final apocalypse, and this reached its most extreme in Norse mythology. Periodic apocalypticism is present in Buddhism and Hinduism, religions with cyclic time. All these and more are present in the series, including a large influence from biblical texts. The Wheel of Time’s impact comes from myths and beliefs colliding and combining in original ways.

Taoist

A cyclic world—and in the Wheel of Time everything is cyclic—with no definite end is Taoist. Nevertheless, a Taoist cycle may end in an apocalypse. Periods described as the end of days in Taoist apocalyptic texts were the end of a cycle. Chinese history is viewed as cyclic, and the end of periods were heralded by bloody rebellion and chaos, which was eventually quelled by new governance. The world as people knew it ended and a new one began. Stability would eventually form, just as the Breaking quelled at the beginning of the Third Age.

In the Wheel of Time world, even if there is a catastrophe—in fact the more extreme the catastrophe—the more strongly the Pattern swings the other way through its corrective agencies (ta’veren, Dragon, and Heroes of the Horn) as well as the general populace. The last four books of the series showed the resulting bloodbath to bring that about. However, the Pattern always comes back around to balance eventually. But people have to actively do something. Evil aims to push the world so off-balance that they break it before its corrective mechanisms cut in.

Hindu

In Hinduism, the universe is destroyed at the end of one thousand cycles and eventually recreated by Brahma to exist for another one thousand cycles of the wheel of time. This cycle of destruction and renewal is continuous; it is not a once-only event as in ideologies with linear time. But the destruction and renewal are complete, just as in the Wheel of Time series where the Dark One aims to completely break Time and the Pattern and recreate the world. A hellish world, however, since the Dark One is malign, and therefore completely different from Hindu ideas. After the Light’s victory—or the Shadow’s failure to win—evil remains in the Pattern, and the best that can be hoped for is an eternal balance in the endless struggle between light and darkness as the Pattern’s cycle continues. But that’s just it: the Pattern does continue.

Norse

Norse mythology is remarkable for its bleak view of the end of the world, where the forces of evil and chaos outnumber and overcome the forces of good and order. Loki and his demonic children break free and the dead would sail from Niflheim to attack the living. Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, summons the heavenly host with a blast on his horn. A final battle between good and evil then ensues, which the gods lose, as is their fate (Ragnarok). Everybody dies. Odin will be killed by the evil wolf Fenrir. Thor will battle the World Serpent, and they will kill each other. Tyr is the last of the gods to fall; he and the infernal dog Garm fatally wound each other. The world ends in the chaos from which it was born. (Alternately, the "good" beings and the "evil" mutually destroy each other in battle and the world comes to an end. Some people survive Ragnarok and re-populate earth, living in the beautiful Hall of Gimle. (Yes, this is another borrowing by Tolkien.))

There are some similarities and some differences. In the Wheel of Time, a lot die, but most main characters live. Loki and his monstrous children bursting their bonds are equivalent to the Forsaken breaking free of the Seals and the Dark One trying to do so. Shaisam, too, is a failed Loki who was freed of his tie to Shadar Logoth. Just as Heimdall blows his horn to summon the gods and their helpers to fight the dead and the monstrous, Olver sounds the Horn of Valere to summon the dead Heroes to the Last Battle. Late in the Last Battle, the former Hornsounder, Mat, rides beside Olver.

Unlike Norse mythology, the wolves are on the side of the Light in the Last Battle, not the Shadow. It is their Shadowbrothers, the Darkhounds, who attack one of Light’s captains. In the series, the Great Serpent is Time, not a monster, and the Light must prevent the Shadow from killing it. As for which character is the equivalent of which Norse god, Mat has strong parallels to Odin, Perrin to Thor, and Rand to Tyr; although Rand also has a few parallels to Thor. Both Mat and Olver have strong parallels to Heimdall.

There are two Wild Hunts: one of human Heroes summoned by the Horn’s first blast, and led by Artur Hawkwing (King Arthur) and Mat (Odin), and the other of hero Wolves by its last blast, and led by Perrin (King of the Wild) to fight the Darkhounds of the Shadow’s Wild Hunt.

Zoroastrian

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

This cosmic struggle between benign Ahura Mazda and his evil twin god Ahriman is portrayed as fairly even, although some day Ahura Mazda will win and establish peace and joy forever—the end of time.

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. People’s capacity for free choice is an important part of Zoroastrianism. Their duty is to participate in the struggle between good and evil.

There is a strong theme of balance in Zoroastrianism, not just in the dualistic theology, but between the beginning of time and the end of time as well. The mountains that were upthrust at the beginning of time will flatten at the end of time as lava and molten metal pour out of them and fill the valleys. The dragon that was killed at the beginning of time will return at the end to be killed by another hero. Each soldier of the benign god Ormazd will defeat and kill his own special adversary. This will restore the state of peace that existed initially at the beginning of time. There will then be a final cleansing fire that purges evil from the earth. The suffering of the wicked will last only three days, however, after which people will live in an eternal paradise. Hell will be sealed forever, and the evil god Ahriman will be either powerless or annihilated (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

There are quite a few similarities with the series. The earth opened up as channellers fought, and as reality weakened from the Dreadlords’ balefire. The purging by fire has a parallel with one of the Prophecies of the Dragon which says that ‘The fires of heaven purge the earth’ (The Fires of Heaven opening prophecy). The dragon that battled at the beginning of time and again at the end equates with the Dragon battling at the end of the Age of Legends and again at the end of the Third Age. In Zoroastrianism the Dragon is an evil figure, but in the Wheel of Time, the Dragon is the Creator’s champion, a good soul who unwillingly does bad things. He considered killing the Dark One, but instead rendered him powerless for a time by re-sealing him in the Bore. This sealing will not last forever, since time is cyclic in the Wheel of Time, not linear, as in Zoroastrianism. Likewise, there is no eternal paradise at the end of the Last Battle. Some of the major ‘captains’ of the Light had their counterpart in the Shadow which they fought: Aviendha fought Graendal, Egwene Taim, Perrin Isam and Lanfear, and Mat and Lan Demandred.

Islam

Islâm, too, though it has no room for a saviour-messiah, developed the idea of an eschatological restorer of the faith, usually called the Mahdi (Arabic: “Rightly Guided One”). The doctrine of the Mahdi is an essential part of the Shi’ite creed.

Mahdi is the title of the leader of each group of the Travelling Folk. His role is a Seeker of the song which, if found, will restore the paradise of the Age of Legends. Late in the Last Battle, Raen and Ila realised that without the Light fighting the Shadow the Pattern and everything in it would be destroyed; that sometimes violence has a good purpose. This was perhaps the greatest change of view in the series.

Old Testament

Ancient Judaism prophesied that the earth will be radically transformed by God (Jean Delumeau, Conversations about the End of Time). The later Old Testament books show this. In Isaiah 24:1–12, at the end of time:

The Lord is going to devastate the earth and leave it desolate. He will twist the earth’s surface and scatter its people. Everyone will meet the same fate—the priests and the people, slaves and masters, buyers and sellers, lenders and borrowers, rich and poor. The earth will lie shattered and ruined. The Lord has spoken and it will be done. The earth dries up and withers; the whole world grows weak; both earth and sky decay.

The Creator doesn’t intervene in history, his chosen one fights in his place. The Dark One does intervene, though. Channelling, especially balefire, broke up the land and weakened reality so that the earth did decay. The land was covered with decaying dead.

The Prophecies of the Dragon foretold that at the end of the Third Age:

And it shall come to pass that what men made shall be shattered, and the Shadow shall lie across the Pattern of the Age, and the Dark One shall once more lay his hand upon the world of man. Women shall weep and men quail as the nations of the earth are rent like rotting cloth. Neither shall anything stand nor abide...

- The Great Hunt opening prophecy

The hills burn, and the land turns sere. The tides of men run out, and the hours dwindle.

- The Fires of Heaven opening prophecy

The Dark One tried to dry up the earth and weaken the people but the seasons were restored by Elayne and Nynaeve and the Bowl of Winds. The nations were torn apart by war and then the Light’s forces were decimated by the Last Battle.

Isaiah says that on the Day of the Lord:

The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.

- Isaiah 13:10

All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine.

- Isaiah 34:4

Matthew 29 and 2 Peter in the New Testament have similar prophecies. The Day of the Lord is the day God intervenes in the world and ends history. This would be equivalent to the climax of the Last Battle (although the Creator leaves the battle to his chosen one). Rand entered Shayol Ghul during the solar eclipse—when the moon darkened the sun. The darkened sun and moon and falling stars described in Isaiah are similar to the subconscious images Ishamael implanted in Carridin in The Great Hunt prologue:

The skies rained fire, and the moon and stars fell; rivers ran in blood and the dead walked; the earth split open and fountained molten rock.

and were an indication of the type of destruction unleashed during the Last Battle.

Joel 2: 1–3 adds a huge army on earth to the darkness in the heavens on the day of Judgement:

The day of the Lord is coming, it is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste—nothing escapes them.

These armies are parallels of the Sharans, Shadowspawn and Dreadlords that fought at Tarmon Gai’don as Ishamael warned Rand:

"Other armies can be raised, fool. Armies you have not dreamed of will yet come.”

- The Eye of the World, Against the Shadow


Intertestamental Writings (Apocrypha and Dead Sea Scrolls)

There are some writings from the intertestamental period that also are relevant to end-times in The Wheel of Time. 2 Esdras describes the signs that indicate that the Last Battle will occur soon:

For behold, the time will come, when the signs which I have foretold to you will come to pass; the city which is not seen shall appear, and the land which is now hidden shall be disclosed…For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him…

- 2 Esdras 7:26–28

The hidden city which appeared is Rhuidean, and the land disclosed was Shara (and, to a lesser degree, Seanchan). Many people were completely unaware of these. The Seanchan arrived shortly before Rand declared himself and Rhuidean was revealed soon after, but the Sharans were a shocking revelation at the Last Battle. In Tear, when Rand was confirmed as the Dragon, all his main helpers (except Cadsuane) were present in the city.

More signs of the last times from 2 Esdras are:

there shall appear in the world earthquakes, tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders, confusion of princes.

- 2 Esdras 9: 3

And bewilderment of mind shall come over those who dwell on earth. And they shall plan to make war against one another, city against city, place against place, people against people, and kingdom against kingdom. And when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea. And when all the nations hear his voice, every man shall leave his own land and the warfare they have against one another; and an innumerable multitude shall be gathered together, as you saw, desiring to come and conquer him. But he will stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people, prepared and built as you saw the mountain carved without hands.

- 2 Esdras 13: 29–35

People left their places because they believed the prophecies that the Dragon Reborn will shatter all ties. They increased warfare against one another over Rand, and some united against Rand or to challenge him, and he had to face down a large force a few times (notably the Borderlanders, Seanchan, and also at Merrilor). Many people wanted to see him captured; not just the Shadow, but Seanchan, Whitecloaks, Shaido, Elaida, the list goes on. Rand stood atop Dragonmount, and was illuminated by light visible from afar after his epiphany. Dragonmount was formed by Lews Therin’s channelling, so it was built without hands.

The Damascus Document, an Intertestamental text from the Qumran sect, has a passage with interesting parallels with the Aiel:

But with the remnant which hold fast to the commandments of God He made His covenant with Israel for ever, revealing to them the hidden things in which all Israel had gone astray.

The passage writes of remnants and covenants and is a parallel with those who are descended from the Da’shain Aiel, who swore a covenant to follow the Way of the Leaf—the Aiel and the Travelling Folk. Rand has revealed this hidden history to the Aiel; the fact that they strayed from the covenant and abandoned the Way of the Leaf. The Prophecy of Rhuidean says that only those that follow Rand—a remnant of the Aiel—are destined to last until the Last Battle and beyond it. The Travelling Folk held to the covenant, but not to the task the Aes Sedai gave them. They, too, may learn of this hidden history eventually; it may help them find the Song that they seek.

Interestingly, the Community Rule 1QSII20 of the Qumran sect has the phrase ‘walking in the ways of the light’, another borrowing.

In summary, many of the prophecies about the end of the world from the Old Testament and the Intertestamental books occur in the Wheel of Time series, not just as sources of ideas, but to show that the Third Age is a distant Age of our own. The prophecies of the New Testament books were used in the same way.

New Testament

Like the Old Testament and Intertestamental books, the New Testament describes the time close to the end of the world. As the end nears:

Many will come using my name and claim ‘I’m the one!’ and they will delude many people. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, don’t be afraid. These are inevitable, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and empire against empire; there will be earthquakes everywhere; there will be famines. These things mark the beginning of the final agonies.

- Mark 13: 6–8

Matthew 24:7 is similar. They are an apt description of the Third Age, especially of the last few years, notably the warring nations and empires. Rand made an earthquake in the Mountains of the Mist at the beginning of The Dragon Reborn and he and Asmodean shook the earth during their duel at the end of The Shadow Rising. Frequent earthquakes occurred during the Last Battle. Famines occurred in local areas: people were starving in Cairhien, Bandar Eban, and also in Illian until Rand organised relief, and Min saw that Tairens, too, would starve. Elayne and Nynaeve probably averted some famine by using the Bowl of the Winds to restore the seasons.

Many men in the Third Age have indeed falsely claimed to be the Dragon—false Dragons became increasingly frequent until Rand declared himself. This is why Elaida refers to false Dragons such as Logain as the Unbeliever. (There have been false Messiahs in our world as well in medieval and modern times—for example, the 17th-century pseudomessiah Shabbetai Tzevi (Sabbatai Zevi) of Smyrna (Encyclopaedia Britannica)).

Demandred also claimed to be the prophesied one, the Dragon, during the Last Battle. There was also the possible plot to substitute Taim for Rand.

At the last hour, according to 1 John 2:18:

as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour.

Many antichrists certainly have appeared in the Wheel of Time series; they are the Forsaken, who were freed very late in the Third Age from their limbo and countered Rand’s actions. They were an indication that the Seals on the Dark One’s prison weakened and that the Last Battle was imminent. It was indeed the last hour.

Referring to their appearance, demons can take any desired appearance, even that of an "angel of light":

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

- 2 Corinthians 13–15

Jordan took the last sentence very much to heart.

The book that has the most detail on antichrists, false prophets, the Messiah and the end of time is Revelation.

Revelation

There are many parallels between Revelation and The Wheel of Time and it was obviously a major source for ideas on end-times for the series. However, there is an important difference between the two: there is no hint of a Last Judgement in the Wheel of Time books. After the Last Battle, and the Light’s victory, the Fourth Age dawns, not eternity. There is no final expiation of evil. The Age Lace is intact, the Wheel turns and life goes on. That’s also why evangelical millenarianism doesn’t apply to The Wheel of Time. Had the Shadow won and the Dark One been freed, he would have remade the world in his own image. A dark eternity would then dawn. Some readers are bothered by the fact that evil can win but good can’t, but Jordan’s thesis is that without evil, there is no knowledge of good.

The outline of events in Revelation is: Christ returns and there is a great tribulation prior to the judgment of the world; then a battle between Christ and the Antichrist, a false messiah or “great liar” who denies that Jesus is the Christ and who pitches the world into moral confusion and physical chaos; and the ultimate triumph over Satan, who appears as a dragon but who no longer deceives the nations of the world (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

We will now look at the many similarities between Revelation and The Wheel of Time in detail.

The final battle between good and evil in Revelation is Armageddon, a similar name to Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle in the Wheel of Time series. Winning Tarmon Gai’don prevents the end of the world.

SEALS

Seven seals are important in both Revelation and The Wheel of Time. There is a scroll with seven seals in Revelation, which only the Messiah (who “appears to have been killed”) is able to break open:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

- Revelation 5:9

In Revelation, the death of the Messiah happens before the seals are broken, but in The Wheel of Time it occurs after they are broken. After Rand sealed the Dark One away his body slowly died, but his soul was transferred to Moridin’s body and he faked his death. However, as prophesied, Rand did shed blood to save humanity from the Shadow:

His blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul, washing away the Shadow, sacrifice for man's salvation.

- The Shadow Rising, Reflection

After each of the first four seals are broken in Revelation 6:1–8, a horse and rider appears: the four horsemen of the apocalypse who let loose war, famine, pestilence and death. The breaking of the fifth seal (Rev 6:9) raises the martyrs who have died for their faith. When the sixth seal is broken (Rev 6:12), there is a great earthquake, the sun becomes black and the moon is red as blood. Stars fall to earth and the sky vanishes. Every mountain and island is removed from its place. The “great day of wrath has come.” When the seventh seal is broken (Rev 8) there is silence for about half an hour then catastrophic trumpet blasts sound.

The seals in The Wheel of Time are also almost unbreakable, being made of cuendillar. When Lews Therin made the Seals personally in the Age of Legends, he knew they would fail eventually:

"I made them to never break. But I knew, as I did it, that they would eventually fail. Everything eventually fails when he touches it . . ."

- A Memory of Light, The Choice of a Patch

By the end of The Fires of Heaven, they have weakened to the point that they can be broken physically by people. How did this happen? Jordan explained in his notes that Ba’a’zamon:

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, TGH Background Notes

At the end of Crossroads of Twilight, there were four broken seals of the Dark One’s prison and three intact ones. The fourth horseman in Revelation was Death, on a pale horse. This has a parallel in the Prophecies of the Dragon:

For winter's heart shall ride a black horse, and the name of it is Death."

- Winter’s Heart, opening prophecy

Interestingly, the fourth seal broke during The Fires of Heaven which was before Moridin (“Death” in the Old Tongue) appeared (by the time of A Crown of Swords).

War and death were rife in the land. The Dark One fixed the seasons to cause food shortages, but this was undone. However, since Winter’s Heart, vermin invaded food supplies, even those warded, and famine raised its ugly head. In Knife of Dreams we see the consequence of people being forced to eat tainted food with pestilence on the rise. All four horsemen were loose.

The last three Seals were broken at the Last Moment by Logain. While the martyrs that were raised in Revelation by the fifth seal breaking may refer to the Heroes of the Horn summoned to fight at the Last Battle, this occurred before the breaking of the last Seals, so the martyrs raised from the dead are probably Rand, whose soul was transferred over to Moridin’s body, Mat, who played dead for Shaisam, and Perrin rescuing Faile with his, and her, last strength. The catastrophic disruption of the sixth seal breaking represents the breaking up of the Land even in Tel’aran’rhiod:

The sky had gone black, the dark clouds themselves vanishing into that nothingness. As he climbed atop a ridge, an entire section of the ground behind him crumbled—his stone footing shaking violently—and was pulled into the air.

Beneath that was only emptiness.

In the wolf dream, all was being consumed. Perrin continued forward toward Shayol Ghul. He could see it, like a beacon, glowing with light. Strangely, behind, he could make out Dragonmount, though it should have been far too distant to see. As the land between them crumbled, the world seemed to be shrinking.

The two peaks, pulling toward one another, all between shattered and broken.

- A Memory of Light, Light and Shadow

The opening of the seventh seal in Revelation 10:7 initiates seven catastrophic trumpet blasts. With the first trumpet blast there is a shower of hail and fire mixed with blood, with the second, a huge blazing mountain is thrown in to the sea, with the third, a blazing star named wormwood falls into the waters and with the fourth, a third of the sky goes dark. The fifth trumpet blast causes a star [or angel] with the key to the abyss (bottomless pit) to fall to earth. The abyss is opened and a plague of locusts comes out and also smoke, which darkens the sky further. When the sixth trumpet blast is heard, four angels with vast numbers of mounted troops are released and they kill people by fire, smoke and sulphur. Two Witnesses for the Lord are also killed. Finally, with the seventh trumpet blast God’s temple in heaven is opened amid lightning, thunder, earthquakes and hail.

In The Wheel of Time, the Horn of Valere is blown before the last three Seals are broken, but otherwise the events associated with the trumpet blasts correspond closely, although the order of the events is different.

Olver blew more than three blasts on the Horn, but it is not obvious if they totalled seven in number to equal those of the trumpet in Revelation. During the first blast of the Horn, Lan stood after killing Demandred. The Light took heart. The Heroes began fighting. Olver blew two or three more blasts, before Noal arrived to save him. Olver stopped blowing the Horn briefly. In the next few blasts, all the Light’s forces rallied and fought together and overcame the Shadow’s armies. The Heights collapsed. Mat and Olver flew wildly to Thakan’dar and saw the Darkhounds (a parallel of Odin leading the Wild Hunt). Rand understood that nobility was key. Perrin returned to Tel’aran’rhiod to help Rand.

At the last (possibly seventh) blast, Perrin killed Slayer and the Last Hunt fought the Darkhounds. Mat killed Shaisam. Graendal and Moghedien were enslaved. Moridin snatched Callandor and was forcibly linked. Rand seized the Dark One. Logain was redeemed—literally saw the Light—and broke the Seals. Perrin killed Lanfear and Rand resealed the Bore. Those still living left Shayol Ghul, which closed. Birgitte was the only Hero remaining in the waking world.

The four angels with vast forces that kill with fire, smoke and sulphur are Demandred, Moghedien, Graendal and M’Hael. (Some of the Forsaken have demonic or angelic names, see Names of the Shadow article). Regarding the blazing star called wormwood, Padan Fain’s earlier alias Ordieth means wormwood in the Old Tongue.

Logain, who broke the Seals to open the Bore, qualifies as the fallen angel opening the Pit. Moridin, most fallen of the ‘angels/demons’ was trapped into providing a buffer of the Dark One’s own power to prevent saidar and saidin from being tainted while Rand, an angel who has wobbled a time or two, resealed the Dark One away in the Pit of Doom.

Moiraine and Nynaeve were the Witnesses for the Lord, but both survived. Alanna and Lanfear died at the Pit. (In the Second Age, Lanfear was the fallen angel who opened the Pit.) Of the two champions, Rand’s body and Moridin’s soul died, although at first it seemed both would.

The black pit of nothingness that is the Dark One’s hell opened, rather than God’s temple in heaven.

DRAGON

In Revelation, Satan battles as a dragon at Armageddon. He and his angels fight Michael and his angels (Rev 12:7). The dragon loses and is hurled to earth and his angels with him. He pursues a pregnant woman, and then continues to fight on Earth and amasses great power. The dragon champions two beasts, the second of which is the false prophet. The first is probably the antichrist. The dragon, false prophet and beast gather great forces for Armageddon. After the battle, Satan, the Dragon, is thrown into the abyss by the rider called Faithful and True and is bound for a thousand years. (Rev 20:2–9).

This is a major difference between the Wheel of Time series and Revelation and is reflection of the way the Shadow has manipulated the Dragon into violent acts and even atrocities, and also committed atrocities in the Dragon’s name, to lessen belief in, and support for, the Dragon in order 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.

The Dragon and his angels fighting and losing against Michael and his angels in Revelation may be a parallel for Logain’s faction fighting and ousting the M’Hael and his supporters. (For M’Hael being a parallel of Michael, see Names of the Shadow article). In A Memory of Light, Demandred also claimed to be a prophesied one: “He is false and I am true”.

The dragon in Revelation pursues a pregnant woman. It was not until on the Field of Merrilor that Rand discovered that Elayne was pregnant. She was a target of the Shadow because she bore Rand’s twins.

Like the dragon in Revelation, Rand is trying to amass great forces—he is trying to force unity on the nations so they can fight the Shadow effectively at Tarmon Gai’don. Forcing people to do something 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.

An important parallel with Revelation is the Dragon championing two beasts: the antichrist and the false prophet. Did Rand champion an antichrist, a Forsaken? He promoted Taim, who became a Forsaken. Moridin thought that he had control over both sides of the board; that Rand was unwittingly doing what Moridin wished. What a surprise he had when Rand used Moridin to reseal the Bore. Rand was reluctant to reign in the (false) Prophet, Masema. By not Travelling personally to Masema and publicly ordering him to stop the violent and destructive behaviour of the Dragonsworn, Rand by default supported him. By staying away, he also allowed the Shadow the opportunity to subvert Masema. (A Forsaken, probably Lanfear, appeared in Masema’s dreams to increase his madness and give him instructions.)

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 with a force at Armageddon and battles the rider called Faithful and True. The beast is 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). Able to deceive some of the faithful, he is most likely a parallel of Ishamael/Moridin, the Dark One’s champion. Moridin is Rand’s equal and opposite, has been named Naeblis and given exclusive access to the True Power. He claims to have deceived people among Rand’s forces that don’t know they are 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 a 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.

FALSE PROPHET

The false prophet is closely associated with the beast (antichrist) in Revelation. In fact, he is referred to as the second beast, who acts on the authority of the first beast and make people worship it (Rev 13:12). The second beast is exposed as ‘the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf’ (Rev 19:20). Like the antichrist, the false prophet is captured and thrown into the lake of burning sulphur.

Masema is the Dragon’s prophet, preaching:

about the Dragon coming to save us, and we all have to follow, and even the beasts will fight for the Dragon.

- The Dragon Reborn, A Different Dance

At first Masema was similar to John the Baptist, preaching Christ’s coming, but he became increasingly extreme and gave ‘up the names of men’ (The Path of Daggers, Beginnings) to be called:

simply the Prophet of the Lord Dragon, may the Light illumine him and the world come to kneel before him…There is much to do here, yet. Great works.”

- The Path of Daggers, Beginnings

More ominously, he refused to let his followers utter Rand’s name, just refer to him as ‘the Lord Dragon’. This played into the Shadow’s plot to blame their atrocities on the Dragon or even set up a counterfeit Dragon.

Masema did do good—he gave all money raised to the poor, although he used coercion to raise it in the first place, which is evil because he denied others freedom of choice. Compare his attitude with Nynaeve’s:

Nynaeve shook her head. She supposed it was one way to find money for the poor. Simply rob anyone who was not poor. Of course, that would just make everyone poor in the end, but it might work for a time. …She had better feeling for the man who freely gave one copper from his own purse than for the fellow who wrested a gold crown from someone else’s.

- The Fires of Heaven, Encounters in Samara

Masema’s Dragonsworn not only caused chaos, but were extremely violent and destructive. The close association of the prophet with the beast in Revelation may be further confirmation that Masema was a proxy of the Shadow (if we needed one).

The destruction his followers unleashed in the name of the Dragon ensures that the general populace associated the Dragon with the Shadow. This would be a parallel of ‘makes the people worship the first beast’ in Revelation. The prophet did not perform any miraculous signs, however, but he did preach about Rand’s ‘miracles’:

“You [Nynaeve] will speak to the crowds of the Lord Dragon’s boyhood, of his first words of wisdom, of the miracles that accompanied him. The Light has sent you here to serve the Lord Dragon.”

- The Fires of Heaven, Encounters in Samara


BABYLON AND ROME

These two notorious cities are destroyed at the end of time in Revelation:

A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

- Revelation 4:8

The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.

While Babylon and Rome are great cities, their symbols, the Whore of Babylon and the woman dressed to kill, both sound remarkably like Graendal. Clever, manipulative Graendal lasted well into the Last Battle and was very destructive. She fell twice: once to be punished by the Dark One and given a new ugly body, and once when enslaved by her own Compulsion.

GOG AND/OF MAGOG

In Revelation 20:7–8, huge forces from Gog/Magog attack those of the Lord:

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog of Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.

In the Wheel of Time, the forces of Gog of Magog were the Sharan armies that accompanied the Shadowspawn. These forces are deceived by Satan in Revelation, while in The Wheel of Time, they followed Demandred willingly because they believed it was their role and would lead to their freedom. The Sharan channellers were almost completely destroyed by Egwene and her Aes Sedai.

The Seanchan were also nearly contenders, but Semirhage and then Moghedien were prevented from achieving this.

SATAN

At the end of Armageddon, Satan is 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. The armies of Gog of Magog are destroyed and the devil is captured and thrown in to the lake of burning sulphur (Revelation 20:10).

The Dark One in The Wheel of Time represents Satan. As discussed above, in the section on the Dragon, the Dark One and the Dragon are two separate entities in The Wheel of Time. In fact, the Dark One calls the Dragon his adversary. This is a reversal of the Bible, where Satan is the Adversary. Rand thought the Dark One was his adversary, but realised that the Dark One was not a threat to him at the end. Lack of choice was his enemy, and despair: his own negative traits. Only to Rand, and only at the end, is the Dark One nothing much.

In Revelation, the pattern of end-time events is: a gradual decline accelerating into a period of terror and war, Satan loses and is bound for a thousand years, then a last battle of good and evil with good victorious, then Judgement Day and eternity.

In keeping with the cyclic time in The Wheel of Time world, there is more than one freeing and sealing of the Dark One. The Dark One was sealed prior to a paradisiacal age, then the bore was drilled, there was a collapse and war, the Dark One was sealed away, and a Breaking occurred, followed by a long period of peace with two periods of chaos and war (Trolloc Wars and War of the Hundred Years—both times when the Dark One’s surrogate, Ishamael was free), then another period of terror when the Dark One tried to be freed and finally Rand, as the Wheel of Time Christ redeems the Wheel of Time Adam’s sin of pride and reforges the Dark One’s prison anew. So two cycles of sealing have been shown in the series, with mini-cycles when it is the Dark One’s main surrogate who affects world and is bound away again as the sealing draws him back. The Pattern is:

Second Age: Peace, Collapse, War of Shadow, Sealing of Dark One and Forsaken, Breaking

Third Age:
  • Peace, Collapse?, Trolloc Wars, Sealing of Ishamael
  • Peace, Collapse?, War of Hundred Years, Sealing of Ishamael
  • Peace, Collapse, Last Battle, Breaking (of nations, and nearly of reality) then Sealing of Dark One
Fourth Age: Hopefully Peace for a while

Overall, it is striking how many similarities there are between Revelation and The Wheel of Time.

What is Victory?

The hope of the Light was that the threat of the Dark One remaking the world could be removed. The people of the world were confronted with the choice on whether to actively participate in this battle, and on which side. It was, is, and will be the choice of their lives and of the Pattern. But it’s a choice they must make as Jordan explained at a booksigning:

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. The Creator has probably directly interfered 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.

Jordan also has described some of the different possible outcomes to the War against the Shadow that recurs every Second and Third Ages:

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

So what are these various victories and how are their achieved?

The Light’s victory was to reseal the Dark One. This could only be achieved at the right time (during an eclipse at an apocalyptic battle) and place (Shayol Ghul is best due to the thinness of the Pattern there; Dragonmount, perhaps, was also a possibility) by the right person (the Creator’s champion). It required three Powers used as one and for the three ta’veren to be at/near Shayol Ghul. The Pattern granted three graces—Heroes, ta’veren, Dragon—as an aid. The victory that is achieved is a lasting balance, not a final, complete victory.

Killing the Dark One would end time’s cycle and destroy the Pattern and the Wheel. Ironically, it would be true nihilism—the very outcome that Ishamael so longed for.

The Shadow’s victory to break the Dark One free so he can end the world as it is currently known could only be achieved by killing the Dragon, the Creator’s champion, at the right place and the right time. Shayol Ghul is the optimal place. Even killing the Dragon on Dragonmount—a place hugely significant to the Light, being their axis mundi, as Shayol Ghul is the Shadow’s—might be a lesser victory. Like Llew Law Gyffes of Welsh myth (a parallel of Rand’s previous incarnation) Rand cannot be killed easily: not during night or day, indoors or out of doors, in waking or dreaming worlds.

However, if the Dragon is willingly subverted to the Shadow it makes the Dark One’s victory far more likely, which is why 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), 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.

Likewise, if Rand had been forced to fight for the Shadow via the domination band, that would also likely gain at least a minor victory for the Dark One, as he explained to Merise in The Gathering Storm, Into Bandar Eban.

Something else to consider is that we assume that evil can win because the Dark One acts like it can. However, such a victory is probably pyrrhic at best (as the Dark One would define it, not us), ie a short-lasting victory that was barely worth the trouble. If you smash all the sandcastles and you can’t make any yourself, what do you have? Nothing. We saw this in the If world in The Great Hunt where the Trollocs won the Trolloc wars.

Any other result is a draw. This includes the Dragon going over to Shadow or dying before Tarmon Gai’don:

Yes, the Champion of the Light has gone over in the past. This is a game you have to win every time. Or rather, that you can only lose once—you can stay in if you get a draw. Think of a tournament with single elimination. If you lose once, that's it. In the past, when the Champion of the Light has gone over to the Shadow, the result has been a draw.

- Robert Jordan at 2003 booksigning

Then there is Lanfear’s win-win where she planned to replace the Dark One or become Naeblis, but thanks to Perrin’s strength she did not. Lanfear and Shaisam were two wild cards that could potentially win the game for themselves and had to be overcome, each by one of the supporting ta’veren.

Summary of Eschatology

The Wheel of Time series is primary concerned with end-times—in particular, preventing an end-time. Jordan combines all three types of eschatology: messianism (future salvatory figure), millenarianism (the periodisation of history into multiples of a thousand years and a prophesied return to conditions of peace and happiness) and apocalypticism (the world’s progress to a prophesied cataclysmic end) into an eastern style, cyclic time framework. A major source of symbols, figures and events for Jordan’s eschatology is Revelation of the New Testament, although other sources such as the Old Testament, Intertestamental texts, Norse Mythology and Zoroastrian ideas have also been used.

CONCLUSION : EAST MEETS WEST IN A PARADOX

Jordan has made his world’s theology and eschatological events and prophecies consistent with those of our world. This is not merely using sources; it is also an important part of his theme of how history changes over time.

The dualistic theology of The Wheel of Time is derived from Zoroastrianism, and its eschatology is strongly Judeo-Christian; yet the nature of time and the endless cycle of death and rebirth through the Ages is Eastern in origin. This ultimately leads to a paradox: the Last Battle should be final, so a world with a cyclic time frame shouldn’t have a Last Battle. (Herid Fel pointed this out to Rand in a conversation in Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude.) If either good or evil is extinguished, there will be such an imbalance in Creation that the Pattern of Ages breaks, and therefore this must not happen. Moreover, Tarmon Gai’don occurred at the end of the Third Age—in the middle of the great cycle of Ages—and not at the end of the Seventh Age. This is most unusual and is a strong hint that the Light would win in most cycles—probably the strongest possible hint. The downside of the Light’s victory is that the Dark One would be contacted in a future Age. And would try to be freed again. And the cycle continues…

That Bard par excellence, Thom, explained this to Mat:

"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.

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Written by Linda, February, 2005 and updated February 2019

9 comments:

Renee said...

Actually, Rand does have a few things to do with his feet. In the Fires of Heaven, while battling Rahvin in the Royal Palace he is stabbed through the heel by one of the red filaments I believe as well as being bitten by fish while in T'A'R. Also in The Shadow Rising, when he Skims to Rhuidean following Asmodean his gateway closes slicing off the heel of his boot.

Anonymous said...

"Furthermore, the Creator’s champion has changed sides in Ages past and fought for the Dark One"

I thought this was just Ishy making stuff up as usual? Even if it had happened, how could he possibly know? And if it had happened, how come the Dark One didn't win?

Rurouni_Kenshin

Linda said...

R-K: I'm going by this quote:

tarvalon.net Q&A 26 February 2003

Q: Was Ishamael lying when he told Rand that the hero of the Light had turned to Shadow in other lifetimes?

RJ: No, he was not. Even those who lie sometimes tell the truth when it serves their purposes.

Later RJ implied Ishy was lying - or discouraged people from believing Ishy. But this quote seems reliable. It's not early, so I doubt he changed the theology.

Anonymous said...

The description of Shayol Ghul also sounds pretty familiar.

Exodus 19:16
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

Exodus 19:18
And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

There's also this rather troubling line from the New Testament that sounds like something the Dark One would have said to the Forsaken back in the day:

Matthew 19:29
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

Linda said...

Anon: Thanks for your reply! Good points.

You've picked out some very appropriate verses.

There are many verses in the Bible that fit WOT very well.

Leyla said...

When you were talking about Zoroastrian archangels - the three female ones, you named Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne, or Elayne, Min, and Aviendha. But could it not also be Egwene, Nynaeve, and MOIRAINE, who rescued Rand and the other male archangels in the first place, and whom Min says is crucial to Rand's winning the Last Battle? It just seems more appropriate, somehow, than the two village women, then suddenly Elayne. Why not Aviendha or Min? Because Elayne is a ruler? Well, not always a very wise one. Whereas Egwene is Amyrlin, now, and VERY wise, Nynaeve is immensely powerful and has never forgotten where she came from, (unlike Egwene) and Moiraine may be the wisest of all the characters in the series. There are so many things she says in the Eye of the World that were merely "speculation", but turned out to be absolutely true. The same with her explanation of the *Finns, that they feed on emotion, etc. Anyway, if I had to guess, I would say that the three female archangels are Moiraine, Nynaeve, and Egwene, all three powerful channelers and familiar, but not sexually familiar, with Rand. Although Rand's lovers would seem equally valid, I believe that their struggle against the Shadow is different - they help as much by loving Rand and showing that he CAN love as by accomplishing their own particular goals (Min applying her acute philosophical mind to the Prophecies and reading people for Rand, Elayne and Aviendha setting the weather aright, etc.)

This is just my humble idea. You seem to be incredible at unraveling the utter complexities of these books than any other site! This is definitely my favorite WOT-based site, btw.

Linda said...

Leyla: Thanks! I'm glad you like the 13th depository.

You are right that Moiraine is also another contender for an archangel, albeit one who can't channel much unaided. Until her rescue we didn't know what condition Moiraine would be in - whether she would be able to channel at all, or whether she would have the angreal she tore from Lanfear's hand, for instance.

Paul Crider said...

This is a great piece ... though I'm gonna admit I haven't read it all yet.

Regarding the section "Interference in the world", I've been wondering if the Creator made an exception to his rule of non-interference at the end of the Gathering Storm (I assume I don't need to worry about spoiling anything here). Rand is freed from the effects of tainted saidin. In the Towers of Midnight, Nynaeve describes the taint as still infecting his mind, but it's being held back by bands of light. Is this just symbolic of Rand's internal jihad to keep the darkness at bay? Or was it one miracle the Creator chose to indulge in at exactly the right time? Thoughts?

Linda said...

Thank you, Paul, I'm glad you like it. The essay hasn't been updated for the last 3 books, because I've decided to split it into 3: theology, time and eschatology. I decided to wait until AMOL came out before I started work since I didn't want to rework it.

I think the light in Rand's mind is from his epiphany - which he did to himself.

The Creator has probably 3 times of interference: reassuring Rand at the Eye, reassuring Rand at Shayol Ghul in AMOL and putting Rand's soul into Moridin's body.

Rand's epiphany could also be regarded as an example of Taoism: he had gone so dark that he flipped to the opposite extreme which resulted in the light coating his brain.