Thursday, February 28, 2002

The Time of Illusions

By Linda

This article aims to explain the Time of Illusions—what it means and where it may have been derived.

The Amayar, followers of the pacifist Water Way, believed that the Time of Illusions was ending (Winter’s Heart, With the Choedan Kal). Like the Way of the Leaf of the Travelling Folk, the Water Way of the Amayar is a pacifist philosophy:

The Water Way, while not as pacifistic as the Way of the Leaf, still prizes acceptance of what is rather than what might be wished for. There is a strong strain of belief among them that what we call ‘reality’ is not truly real, but only a waypost on the path to another existence. Violence is frowned upon. While young men might get into a fistfight or wrestling match, they would be held up to public shame for it.

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

The Amayar ignored the world beyond their scattered islands, for the Water Way taught that this world was only illusion, a mirrored reflection of belief.

- The Path Of Daggers, To Keep the Bargain

Robert Jordan’s Sea Folk notes explain further:

The Water Way is very fatalistic in many ways, teaching the acceptance of what is, teaching against any desire for change. After all, this world is only an illusion—"the shadow of a dream"—and changes in it do not matter. To them, it is the inner life, the spiritual life within, that is truly important.

Both the Water Way and the Way of the Leaf may have a similar origin: the covenant of the Da’shain Aiel of the Age of Legends (see The Age of Legends essay). There is no evidence that the Travelling Folk have a belief in the Time of Illusions though. However, the third group descended from the Da’shain, the totally non-pacifist Aiel, also believe that life has an illusory quality, that it is a dream from which they wake:

“Life is a dream,” Rhuarc told him, and Han and the others nodded agreement. Life was only a dream, and all dreams had to end.

- The Fires of Heaven, This Place, This Day

The Aiel have had Dreamwalkers among them since the Breaking, with knowledge of and expertise in Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, which in some ways is more real than the waking world, and this may be why they have this attitude to life.

The idea that reality is illusory is a Hindu/Buddhist one: maya is the powerful force that creates the illusion that the perceived world is real (Encyclopaedia Britannica). In Sikhism, maya—the world as it is normally perceived—is said to be no more manifest than a dream. Since reality is Illusion to the Amayar, the Dark One ending time and reality as they know it would indeed be the end of the Time of Illusions.

The Amayar have a Prophecy that they have been living in the Time of Illusions and that when the female Choedan Kal glows Prophecy is about to be fulfilled:

The Amayar had their own prophecies, and some of those spoke of the hand and the sphere. And the end of Illusions.

- The Path of Daggers, To Keep the Bargain

A great stone hand stuck out of the ground clasping a clear sphere as large as a house. And that sphere was shining like a glorious summer sun. All thoughts of the Atha'an Miere gone, Timna gathered her cloak and sat down on the ground, smiling to think that she might see the fulfilment of prophecy and the end of Illusion.

- Winter’s Heart, With the Choedan Kal

The sphere shone because the sa’angreal was being used in the cleansing of saidin. When the cleansing was completed, both the female access key and the female sa’angreal melted:

”The Great Hand on Tremalking melted. The hill where it stood reportedly is now a deep hollow. It seems the Amayar had prophecies that spoke of Hand, and when it was destroyed, they believed this signalled the end of time, what they called the end of Illusion. They believed it was time for them to leave this… this illusion”—she laughed the word bitterly—“we call the world.”

- Knife of Dreams, To Make An Anchor Weep

And on distant Tremalking, the word began to spread that the Time of Illusions was at an end.

- Winter’s Heart, With the Choedan Kal

Messengers left Tremalking for the other islands with Amayar to inform them that the sign was given that their prophecy was being fulfilled. On the islands held by the Seanchan, the Amayar did not want the Sea Folk captured, and so asked to be dropped off out to sea. Those Amayar in the Sea Folk ports left for the Amayar villages, even if they were owed money. The Sea Folk thought nothing of this until some days later; they had no idea of the Amayar’s apocalyptic beliefs They had their own ideas on end times: tales of "the end of wind and water and world" (Sea Folk notes) but strongly believe in the earthly world (especially the commercial world). When they investigated, they found that Amayar adults on Tremalking and all the other islands had given their children an overdose of sedatives. The adults themselves took other poisons when the sedatives ran out.

On every island all the Amayar were dead or dying. The Sea Folk messenger was most thorough in her search. The Amayar killed themselves and their children with poison because they believed the world was about to end. They correctly remembered the Dark One’s aim to kill Time and the real risk he might succeed, but had no hope that his victory could be prevented. While they retained the millenarianism and apocalypticism of the Wheel of Time eschatology (see Eschatology essay), they had no faith in a messiah to save the world from the Shadow.

However, this led not to despair, but to gladness that Time has ended, since reality is Illusion for them. Like heralds, they killed themselves to go on before the rest of humanity. Their belief that Time has ended would also mean they are not expecting the Wheel to spin them, or anyone else, out again in new bodies—they are free of the cycle of reincarnation and happy to be so. Hence Timna’s smiles that she was seeing the end of Illusion. The Amayar’s beliefs could be likened to an apocalyptic and millenarian Eastern religion.

In our world, two similar religious groups who lived in isolation and committed mass suicide were Heaven’s Gate and the People’s Temple Christian Church.

The beliefs of the Heaven’s Gate group were a blend of Christianity, Eastern religions and New Ageism: the world on Earth is full of sin from which people require salvation, and seekers could attempt to break out of a cycle of death and reincarnation with the aid of extra-terrestrials. They came to see their bodies as restricting their spiritual development. Learning to serve was the way to rid oneself of sinfulness and of one’s earthly body, which came to be known as a "container."

Spiritually evolved people could enter the Heavenly Kingdom, which was a physical realm that could be reached by a spacecraft. One such spacecraft was thought to be hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet approaching earth. The Heaven’s Gate group believed if they led a disciplined spiritual life their spirits could board this spacecraft to Heaven. In March 1997, when the comet was at its closest to earth, the thirty-nine group members suicided with an overdose of sedatives mixed with vodka and plastic bags over their heads, believing they were merely "exiting their human vehicles" so that their souls could board the spacecraft and go on a journey to evolve to a higher level.

There are similarities between the Amayar and the Heaven’s Gate group: the disregard of the physical world, the belief in breaking free of the cycle of birth and rebirth and the peaceful organised suicide. The Amayar were more haphazard in their haste, due to their apocalyptic belief that Time was about to end.

The beliefs of the Peoples Temple Christian Church at Jonestown were a mix of Pentecostalism, the Christian Social Gospel, socialism, communism and utopianism. In November 1978, more than 900 people of this group (including children) died in the largest mass murder/suicide in American history. Most of the deaths occurred in a jungle encampment in Guyana, South America, where the group lived in a utopian community and agricultural project known as Jonestown. A female group member killed herself and her three children in Georgetown, capital of Guyana, after hearing of the Jonestown deaths. Most died after drinking a fruit punch poisoned with cyanide and tranquillisers.

The group’s mass suicide was triggered by desperation and fear of retribution after they attacked and killed members of an investigating delegation—including a Congressman. Both the Jonestown and the Amayar groups had apocalyptic feelings: the People’s Temple believed their community would be destroyed, and the Amayar believed that the world was about to end.

The Amayar and their real-life parallels show how an acceptance of the status quo and social and geographic isolation can lead to extreme and tragic violence. And they violated their previously non-violent philosophy with this very violent act.


Written by Linda, February, 2005 and updated May 2019


Anonymous said...

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a DREAM!

Anonymous said...

And thus: the Water Way!

Chris Cottingham said...

A truly horrible belief and truly horrible outcome. It's interesting, though, that Tel'Aran'Rhiod, the World of Dreams, is said to be the place where all the mirror worlds intersect. And our experience of portal stones and the like indicates that there are parallel worlds, less real than the 'main' one, but still possible worlds. I wonder if shreds of that knowledge from the Age of Legends (that parallel possible worlds exist, that this world might in a sense be just another reflection of possibilities, that the world where everything meets is the World of Dreams) might have twisted into this notion that reality is a dream/illusion.

And given Rand's new post-AMoL ability to alter reality with his thoughts - an ability which Nakomi seemed to share, and which reminds me inescapably of dreamwalkers in T'A'R - there may be something to that.

None of which makes the Amayar's beliefs and their actions less horrible.

Linda said...

The Amayar are millenarian extremists, as are Masema's Dragonsworn and the Darkfriends. Their beliefs are all different, but all lead to unethical behaviour. I think these beliefs are the responsibility of the relevant groups. (I acknowledge that Masema was manipulated by Lanfear, which is a mitigating circumstance.)