Saturday, March 9, 2002

The Refining Principle: Alchemical Symbolism in the Wheel of Time

By Linda

As I read A Memory of Light, I became increasingly aware of crucial conjunctions, calcinations and mortifications, operations in alchemy, taking place in the battle of good against evil. However, it was the culmination of this battle, with conjunction piled on conjunction, and the closing of the Bore with a triple conjunction no less—alchemical symbolism meeting Number Symbolism—that made me certain I was not over-emphasising it. So, I decided to analyse the alchemical symbolism of the whole series and relate it to psychologist Carl Jung’s writings on alchemy as a path to self-development and psychological wholeness. Late in the writing of this essay I found this quote from Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis (such an apt name!) that proved I was right on the money:

“I am an infirm and weak old man, surnamed the dragon; therefore am I shut up in a cave, that I may be ransomed by my kingly crown…A fiery sword inflicts great torments upon me; death makes weak my flesh and bones…My soul and my spirit depart; a terrible poison, I am likened to the black raven, for that is the wages of sin: in dust and earth I lie, that out of Three may come One. O soul and spirit, leave me not, that I may see again the light of day, and the hero of peace whom the whole world shall behold may arise from me.”

- Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis

So when I say that the fifteen books of The Wheel of Time series is Robert Jordan’s opus, this is not just stating the obvious, it is also something profound because in the light of alchemical symbolism, this Opus takes on a whole new meaning.

The central idea of alchemy is the idea of the Opus. The alchemist thought of himself as committed to a sacred work—a search for the supreme and ultimate value.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

Similarly, within the Wheel of Time books many characters, especially Rand and Perrin, are consciously dedicated to the Opus or Great Work, in this case the supreme task of removing the threat of the Shadow from the Land.

Alchemy is mostly known as the quest to turn base metals such as lead into gold, but there is a spiritual side to alchemy which aims to refine the spirit in the same way:

The key to understanding alchemy is to realize that alchemical thought is extremely dynamic and takes places on three levels at once: the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual. Thus turning lead into gold meant not only physically changing the base metal into the noble metal, but also transforming base habits and emotions into golden thoughts and feelings, as well as transmuting our dark and ignoble souls into the golden light of spirit. By developing this ability to think and work on all three levels of reality at once (becoming "thrice-greatest"), the alchemists created a spiritual technology that applied not only to their laboratories but also to their own personalities and to their relationships with other people—and with God.

- Nigel Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation

This dedication to self-improvement and advancing or preserving the common good fits with the ideals of Freemasonry. Jordan was a Freemason and they, likewise, are dedicated to a path of self-improvement with rich store of symbols to guide their way. Freemasonry symbolism is based on the craft of building, whereas alchemical symbolism is about refining, but both are influenced by Hermeticism and aimed at making a better self and community. Jordan’s books contain both symbolism systems, but the alchemical symbolism is to the foreground.

For the alchemist, there are multiple levels of reality, with hidden links between them all, and a correspondence between upper and lower, inner and outer (“as above, so below”). In the Wheel of Time series, the Pattern of all worlds and Ages, Tel’aran’rhiod and the One Power underlying everything, and the Dragon being one with the Land, bound to the Land, bound to the people, all illustrate this.

The worldview of the alchemist is based on the principle of the harmony of opposites, with the alchemist respecting the laws of nature, indeed, aiming to perfect or accelerate natural processes and ultimately function on all levels of existence. This is where alchemy, Taoism, and also the Hero’s journey all meet, and it is this common ground where Jordan positioned his world, and this world view which underpins Wheel of Time philosophy. The reversal of the proper order of things was the Dark One’s tactic to weaken the Light by creating chaos, fear and despair.

Jordan emphasized the difficulty, but necessity, of balance by having the One Power divided into two, each half working with and against the other and one unusable for most of an Age, and the Shadow having its own antagonistic Power, the True Power: alchemy with an extra layer of Taoism.

Central to the Opus, indeed for many alchemists the entire goal of it, is the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone.

The purpose of the magistery is to produce a universal transmutation agent, the philosopher’s stone, which can “heal” any physical, psychological or mental imperfection. This legendary substance can transmute base metals into gold, extend human life and heal the body of all ills; it is actually a metaphor for the spiritual elevation that the initiated reach, culminating in Hermetic wisdom.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

The One Power is a universal transmutation agent and rather than turn base metals into gold, channellers can use it to transmute various substances into ter’angreal and angreal, or iron into cuendillar (which is worth more than its weight in gold).

In spiritual alchemy

the Great Work is considered a metaphor for the adept regaining the lost Paradise (a symbol of an integrated personality).

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

Rand’s personality was integrated upon his epiphany, and he gained further enlightenment in the ultimate Opus of contending with the Dark One and then sealing it away.

In the concrete sense—on the physical level—alchemists were the first chemists and they discovered many chemicals. Gunpowder was invented through alchemy by the Chinese. Aludra and the other ironically named Illuminators are physical alchemists rather than spiritual ones, and Aludra has developed gunpowder weapons.

The Great Work is achieved through a synthesis of matter and spirit.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

Perrin is an excellent example of this. As is discussed below, his forge is a metaphor for the alchemical laboratory where base metals were made into something much stronger. Perrin’s physical Great Work was forging his hammer; his spiritual Great Work was forging himself and mastering the dream and himself to the extent that he overcame Lanfear’s Compulsion.

Alchemical endeavour has a slow path and a fast path, just as the Aes Sedai (and probably the Windfinders) believe in long slow training, whereas other groups force their channellers along.

The Elixir of the alchemists is regarded as a liquid form of the Philosopher's Stone and has the same ability to perfect any substance, including the body, where it not only cures diseases but restores youth. The One Power is equivalent to the Elixir of Life since it keeps channellers young and healthy for much longer than for the general population, and induces a genuine feeling of aliveness.

In The Wheel of Time world, channellers have access to half this substance and can perform great works with it, but if they combine their flows with those of the opposite gender they can achieve even greater, seemingly miraculous things. Jordan’s Great Work requires cooperation to achieve balance.

For so long, using the One Power was itself considered the Great Work, but the series shows the error of this thinking. Ridding the land of the Shadow and serving the People are the true Great Works and the One Power is the Elixir with which to do that. This is where so many people, notably the Aes Sedai, lost their way.

Like the Philosopher’s Stone, the One Power is central to the Great Work. Its role in the books is as the agent of alchemical operations, the physical manifestation—an acting out if you like—of alchemical symbolism.

The philosopher’s stone is produced by a final union of the purified opposites, and, because it combined the opposites, it mitigates and rectifies all one-sidedness. Thus, the Philosopher’s Stone is described as “a stone having power to give life to all mortal, to purify all corrupt, to soften all hard and harden all soft bodies.”

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

As Rand discovered during his battle with the Dark One, the world needs balance and cannot be one-sided (neither all good, nor all evil). The union of purified opposites sealed the Dark One away from the world and rid the Land of the Shadow.

Channellers have used the Power to heal the dying, remove Compulsion and the taint of the Dark One, soften metal and harden air. Saidin was tainted for thousands of years with the only pure saidin contained at the Eye. (Tellingly, that well of saidin was formed by one of the last unions of channellers of both genders and they turned the base, tainted saidin into something pure, knowing they would not survive the work but that it was vital to the Land—surely an Opus.) It follows that there could be only limited production of Great Works with the One Power until Rand and Nynaeve cleansed the taint:

Elayne had heard of the great works performed by large circles of men and women. Every woman in the White Tower was taught of these feats from the past, stories of different days, better days. Days when one half of the One Power had not been a thing to fear, when two halves of one whole had worked together to create incredible wonders.

- A Memory of Light, The Way of the Predator

The cleansing itself was an Opus so miraculous as to be regarded impossible and it was performed by a man and a woman combining their opposite powers.

The Philosopher’s Stone is described as “a stone which is not a stone” (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche), a phrase which sounds familiar. The alchemical fortress, the sacred precinct which is inaccessible to anyone of an impure heart that guards the philosopher’s stone, is also considered an allegory of the Great Work. The warded and hidden city of Rhuidean was one of these, guarding access to ancient history and also to the Choedan Kal, and the well-guarded Stone of Tear, off-limits to channellers, was another, guarding the warded Callandor. Mat used fireworks, created by an (al)chemist, to break into the Stone. The Stone of Tear, long thought impregnable, was a Great Work presumably created with both saidin and saidar late in the Breaking or very early in the Third Age since it harboured Callandor, which was warded with a weave made by a circle of male and female channellers. Appropriately the Sword which was not a Sword set in the Stone which was not a Stone was the major agent of alchemical transformation in the series.

The essence of saidin actually dissolved a rock at the Eye of the World:

The stone struck the glassy surface and slid into the pool without a splash, or so much as a ripple. As it sank, the rock began to swell, growing ever larger, larger and more attenuated, a blob the size of his head that Rand could almost see through, a faint blur as wide as his arm was long. Then it was gone. He thought his skin would creep right off his body.

"What is it?" he demanded, and was shocked at the hoarse harshness of his own voice.
"It might be called the essence of Saidin." The Aes Sedai's words echoed round the dome. "The essence of the male half of the True Source, the pure essence of the Power wielded by men before the Time of Madness.”

- The Eye of the World, Meetings at the Eye

so it did indeed soften a rock-hard body.

Alchemists believed that the Philosopher’s Stone could

artificially reproduce the vital spark that gave life to inert matter at the time of creation.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

In the Age of Legends, One Power technologists created constructs—sentient beings such as Nym and chora trees—in the laboratory with the One Power, and later Aginor made the monstrous Shadowspawn with the True Power. These hybrids are not well regarded in alchemical thought:

Human, vegetable, animal hybrids denounce the degradation of the human being and the demonic mixture or “confusion” between the three kingdoms of nature.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

and ultimately the Age of Legends constructs either failed mankind or mankind them, or they were inimical.

To make the Philosopher’s Stone, the undifferentiated material of creation, which in the West was believed composed of four elements (fire, earth, air and water), was subjected to a series of alchemical operations (which are each detailed below) and repeated reversals (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). The Wheel of Time world has five elements or Powers, not four, reflecting the five phases of Eastern thought (fire, earth, wood, water, metal), and also the Quintessence.

In a literal sense the product of five distillations, the Quintessence

vivifies the universe and is the philosophical and operating key of all physical and spiritual transmutations. Equated with life itself, the Quintessence encloses and harmonises within itself the different polarities animating the real (“it is neither hot, nor moist, nor cold, nor dry, neither male nor female”). It is incorruptible and immutable.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

This seems to also be the definition of the One Power. Even though the True Power can destroy whatever the One Power makes, it cannot corrupt the One Power, only the channeller accessing it, as we saw with the men made mad by the taint. For a long time it was believed that tainting half the One Power was the same as actually corrupting it but this was a misconception.

The hexagram or seal of Solomon, two interlocked triangles forming a six-pointed star symbolic of the intersection/union of the male active (upward) and female passive (downward triangle) principles, is the symbol of the Quintessence. It is also one of the symbols of the Philosopher’s Stone, thereby linking the two; the other being the septenary, the seven pre-Copernican “planets” and their corresponding metals (Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art).

The Aes Sedai use the hexagram in the test for Aes Sedai to lead the candidate to each trial, symbolic of testing their mastery over the Quintessence of saidar. It is also a reminder that the One Power has two halves, and once, men, too, mastered the five powers and used them for the common good. The One Power has aspects of both Elixir and Quintessence. Perhaps it is true to say that in the Wheel of Time series mastering the Quintessence is the Philosopher’s Stone and makes a Great Work not only possible but a responsibility. The oval ter’angreal where prospective Aes Sedai are tested represents the cosmic egg, which is a sign of readiness to be a master. Unofficially, gaining the shawl proves they are ready to truly learn and will learn almost as much once Aes Sedai as they did as trainees.

After his tribulations and enlightenment, Rand no longer can channel, but he doesn’t need to; he can light a spark with Thought or Will alone. This is a pointer to Rand having moved beyond channelling, beyond needing a system or conceptual framework to access the power of the Creator, but to just will his desires into being (while realising that he must take responsibility for any outcome.)

The knowledge of alchemical processes with which to make the Philosopher’s Stone (and presumably other compounds) was for the trustworthy alone:

The alchemists considered themselves to be the guardians of a mystery that was not to be divulged to the unworthy.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

Texts recommended that students be selected for a suitably reverent and responsible attitude and bound by a sacred oath to respect the alchemical Art and not divulge its secrets. In The Wheel of Time world, the techniques of channelling and Dreamwalking are likewise only divulged to those judged worthy among the Aes Sedai, Sea Folk and Wise Ones. The Shadow (Forsaken and Dreadlords) and, in a different way, the Seanchan show the consequences of the unworthy also having access to this knowledge and training. The White Tower literally bind their initiates on the Oath Rod. The Illuminators and the Children of the Light also have secrets only for initiates—technological and religious, respectively.

Egwene took a dim view of Rand’s qualities at times, and an even dimmer view of his actions, but she conceded that he was totally trustworthy:

The type of man you could trust with anything. Even the fate of the world.

- Towers of Midnight, The Amyrlin’s Anger

The consequences of misplaced trust in those with alchemical knowledge were believed potentially large:

If any wicked man should learn to practice this Art, the event would be fraught with great danger to Christendom.

- A E Waite, The Hermetic Museum

Whitecloaks think the danger is so great that none should learn it, that the desire to learn how to access the driving force of creation is evil.

And evil people have learned to master the elixir of the One Power, although only Ishamael/Moridin regularly used the essence of evil or elixir of death that is the True Power. At first the Forsaken’s intent was to prevent the Great Works of the three tav’eren, and then, as the climax of the Age approached, to help the Dark One undo the Opus of the Creator with balefire.

Alchemists describe the tactics of the Shadow very well:

The devil will do his utmost to frustrate your search by one or the other of the three stumbling blocks, namely haste, despair or deception…if the enemy does not prevail against you by hurry [achieved with distraction and fear], he will assault you with despondency and will be constantly putting into your minds discouraging thoughts, how those who seek this Art are many, while they are few that find it, and how those who fail are often wiser men than yourself…The third enemy against whom you must guard is deceit, and this is perhaps more dangerous than the other two. The servants whom you must employ to feed your furnaces are frequently most untrustworthy.

- A E Waite, The Hermetic Museum

All these tactics were used by the Shadow to varying degrees of success, although despair was probably more effective than deceit in derailing the three ta’veren’s tasks, while deceit was extremely effective in the White Tower.

Since Rand’s Opus is the greatest of all—as Elaida says, he stands at the heart of the pain and division visited upon the whole world (The Eye of the World, The Web Tightens)—let’s look at the role of his alchemical equivalent, variously named as the Alchemical Adam or Hermes Trismegistus or Mercury-Christ. All three figures are said to reconcile opposites within themselves and master the power by which the cosmos was created.

Alchemical Adam

While the earthly Adam is the expression of the vulnerability of humanity to weaknesses and death, the Alchemical Adam contains within himself the expression of harmony in the universe. He

represents the harmonious union of the opposite polarities that rule reality

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

and is also

the divine spark that triggers all initiatory and creative processes.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

Lews Therin has parallels with the earthly Adam (and Lanfear with Lilith), and one of Rand’s tasks as Alchemical Adam and a parallel of Christ was to right Lews Therin’s wrongs:

By the Dragon came our pain, and by the Dragon was the wound repaired.

- Towers of Midnight, A Rabbit For Supper

and he did harmoniously unite opposites within himself to remake the Bore. Rand’s advent set off so many events and changes; his presence sparked war and also discovery. For so long the Dragon Reborn expressed the imbalance of the world which it was his task to right.

In the Aurelia Occulta from the Theatrum Chemicum (1613), one of the most extensive compilations of alchemical texts, the dragon is equated with Mercury, the god and the metal, especially as philosophic chaos not yet subject to the purification process. In The Wheel of Time series the Dragon Reborn was Lord of Chaos (“order burns to clean his path” (Lord of Chaos, Closing prophecy)). Mercury is the principal agent of alchemical transmutations because it forms amalgams with other metals, making them stronger. It is associated with the Roman God Mercury and the Greek god Hermes. Mat is a parallel of Hermes, but Rand is Hermes Trismegistus (see illustration, right), thrice a mage as master of matter, mind and spirit (and three times makes something more potent or true in Jordan’s world), and also

the sage who can tame creative fire, the spiritual substance that unifies cosmic polarities.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

(While the Dragon is mercury, Perrin is antimony, called the wolf of metals because it united with (devoured) all known metals except gold (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). Perrin gathered and united a huge force from disparate groups and psychically reached out in the dream.)

The flowing fountain is one of the principal symbols of mercury. Jung interprets it as a symbol of the collective unconscious. It may have three tiers or three spouts, or water the Tree of Life. Rand reactivated a fountain with three women statues in Rhuidean, where Avendesora, the Tree of Life, was harboured, to mark his entry into the alchemical fortress of Rhuidean to gain ancestral memories (knowledge from the collective unconscious) and become chief of chiefs, and later all the fountains in Rhuidean “to remember him by”, to commemorate to the Aiel his advent and revelation of their history.

Mercury-Christ is so named because the double nature of Christ was seen in the double nature of mercury—a metal and liquid able to purify other metals and liquids. With such a dualistic and alchemical universe as the Wheel of Time world, the Creator’s champion/ son of God links the Platonic and physical worlds and plays the role of transforming agent.

Mercury’s caduceus is formed of two intertwined snakes. In Wheel of Time symbology, these are the Shadow and the Dragon, with the Dragon balancing Shadow. In Mat, the snake and dragon represent his moral ambivalence and his fears, in Rand,

the snake-dragon intertwined express the union of sulphur [as brimstone] and mercury, in addition to being a symbol of totality and the harmony of opposites.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

The Shadow always regrows and the Dragon is there to fight it. Good and evil are part of the Pattern and both Light and Dark Alchemical Adams, Rand and Moridin, were necessary to seal the Dark One away. The ouroboros symbol (the Great Serpent symbol of eternity used by the Aes Sedai) is sometimes depicted as a dragon, rather than a snake, swallowing its own tail:

When the alchemist speaks of Mercurius, on the face of it he means quicksilver, but inwardly he means the world-creating spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter. The dragon is probably the oldest pictorial symbol in alchemy of which we have documentary evidence. It appears as the ouroboros, the tail-eater in the Codex Marcianus, which dates from the tenth or eleventh century, together with the legend: the One, the All. Time and again,, the alchemists reiterate that the Opus proceeds from the one and leads back to the one, that it is a sort of circle like a dragon biting its own tail. For this reason the opus was often called circulare (circular) or else rota (the wheel).
Mercurius stands at the beginning and end of the work: he is the prima materia, the caput corvi, the nigredo; as dragon he devours himself and as dragon he dies to rise again as the lapis [philosopher’s stone].

- Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

The Ouroboros, or great serpent devouring itself, represents the idea that "All Is One," even though the universe undergoes periodic cycles of destruction and creation (or resurrection). In Orphic and Mithraic symbology, the Ouroboros was called the Agathos Daimon or "Good Spirit" and was a symbol for the "Operation of the Sun." In Greek terminology, the Ouroboros was the Aion, defined as the cosmic period between the creation and destruction of the universe.

- Nigel Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation

The Dragon is the One, the Creator’s champion spun out by the Wheel to save the world and die in so doing. (The wheel is an image of the universe and its endless changes in alchemical symbolism (Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art).) Lews Therin started the Work and the Dragon Reborn finished it. Both were consumed in the task. The practice of alchemy involves “sacrifice, salvation and eschatology” (Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art) and this certainly is the case in the Wheel of Time series, where the Good Spirit, the Dragon, sacrificed himself to save the world from ending and in doing so, renewed the Land and himself.

In the Great Work, usually seven alchemical operations are named: calcination, solution/dissolution, coagulation, sublimation/distillation, mortification/putrefaction, separation, conjunction (Edward Edlinger Anatomy of the Psyche), although the order in which they may be performed varies. The alchemical operations bring order out of confusion and re-create the creation of the cosmos out of chaos. There are repeated examples of these operations in the Wheel of Time, with many of characters—minor as well as major—experiencing them, some in a positive way, some negative. Mat, a trickster and King of the Underworld, does not have as much alchemical symbolism as Rand and Perrin, or indeed as most characters, he more usually has Orphic symbolism instead. Each operation has its negative side; each operation can lead to more than one of the other operations.


Calcination is an operation of fire, and when performed to completion the material is heated until it becomes as white as snow. The usual purpose is tempering or purification:

I will smelt away your dross in the furnace. I will remove all your base metal from you.

- Isaiah 1:24-5

A person has to have mental and spiritual fortitude to endure calcination. The fire for calcination comes from frustrated desires and rage. Rand and Perrin have had these feelings and experienced repeated calcinations.

The nature of the substance to be calcined is called the Dragon in some texts; in others the ‘raven wolf’.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

The Dragon Lews Therin calcined himself in his maddened anguish by overdrawing the One Power, and created a fiery volcano. The Dragon Reborn has calcined others (eg Rahvin, Semirhage, Aginor, Liah, Aran’gar), but also re-forged himself in the fire of calcination on Dragonmount. A few characters have wolf symbolism (Perrin, Elyas, and Isam, notably), and the Seanchan and the Shadow have raven symbolism, but Isam could be said to have both.

Burning out—so aptly named—is a calcination caused by an excess of the One Power. Rand used the Eye of the World to calcine Aginor and Ishamael, the former by burning out, the latter by burning, and was himself affected by fire or heat during this scene of extended calcination:

Light filled him, and heat that should have burned yet only warmed as if it took the chill of the grave from his bones…

Warmth built in Rand, the warmth of the sun, the radiance of the sun, bursting, the awful radiance of light, of the Light. Away! "Mine!" Flame shot from Aginor's mouth, broke through his eyes like spears of fire, and he screamed…

And Rand was no longer on the hilltop. He quivered with the Light that suffused him. His mind would not work; light and heat blinded it. The Light. In the midst of the void, the Light blinded his mind, stunned him with awe. Heat filled him, the burning heat of the touched sun. He could see the Draghkar clearly, soulless eyes in pale men's faces on winged bodies that had nothing of humanity about them. Terrible heat. Crackling heat.

From the clear sky lightning came, each bolt crisp and sharp, searing his eyes, each bolt striking a winged black shape. Hunting cries became shrieks of death, and charred forms fell to leave the sky clean again. The heat. The terrible heat of the Light.

He fell to his knees; he thought he could hear his tears sizzling on his cheeks. "No!" He clutched at tufts of wiry grass for some hold on reality; the grass burst in flame. "Please, nooooooo!"…

The void boiled in his mind. His sword was in his hand. Not the heron-mark blade, but a blade of light, a blade of the Light. Even as he raised it, a fiery white bolt shot from the point, as if the blade itself had reached out. It touched the nearest Fade, and blinding candescence filled the chamber, shining through the Halfmen like a candle through paper, burning through them, blinding his eyes to the scene. From the midst of the brilliance, he heard a whisper. "Thank you, my son. The Light. The blessed Light."…

Light lanced from the blade, coruscating in a shower of fiery sparks like droplets of molten, white metal. Wailing, Ba'alzamon threw up his arms in a vain effort to shield himself. Flames shrieked in his eyes, joining with other flames as the stone ignited, the stone of the cracking walls, the stone of the pitching floor, the stone showering from the ceiling. Rand felt the bright thread attached to him thinning, till only the glow itself remained, but he strained harder, not knowing what he did, or how, only that this had to be ended. It has to be ended!

Fire filled the chamber, a solid flame. He could see Ba'alzamon withering like a leaf, hear him howling, feel the shrieks grating on his bones. The flame became pure, white light, brighter than the sun.

- The Eye of the World, Against the Shadow

The well of saidin at the Eye was used mainly for calcination (although Rand also carried out separation when he cut Ishamael off from the black cords) appropriate since seizing saidin has been described as being scoured by fire even after the taint was removed (Crossroads of Twilight, A Strengthening Storm), and weaves of fire are one of the easiest things men make with saidin.

Mat was calcined in the White Tower to purify him of Mashadar, and in Caemlyn with balefire by Rahvin.

Perrin performed calcination twice—in Tear and in Andor—by heating metal white-hot to temper it and shape it into something more useful. His forge, representing Vulcan’s forge (see right, and Perrin is a parallel of blacksmith gods), is also a metaphor for the alchemical laboratory. (Work such as crafts, domestic chores and artistic work has always been associated with the alchemical quest for mastery (Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art) and these form an important part of the background in The Wheel of Time.)

As Perrin shaped the white-hot metal he shaped himself. One can’t occur without the other. The temporary softening is a metaphor for the mystical opening of the soul necessary to integrate Perrin and to imbue the hammer with ‘something else’. His hammer was especially refined by calcination in the forge as Perrin consciously reforged himself, and was the only weapon in the camp that did not respond to the bubble of evil (Towers of Midnight, A Terrible Feeling). It has special properties and is resistant to the Dark One’s touch. The process was fuelled by his frustration at not knowing the nature of the Shadow’s trap that he had escaped.

Baptism in blood is symbolic of a baptism of fire and thus a calcination. The blood of battle brings on Perrin’s fiery battle rage, and such rage is typical of calcination, being a bonfire of the emotions and the fuel for refining.

Jordan shows the dark side of every alchemical operation. If calcination is done wrongly, it corrodes metal (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche) and the blood and saliva of Shadowspawn such as Myrddraal and Darkhounds etch metal and burn flesh respectively. The True Power also calcines in a dark, tainted way; those who use it often develop eyes and mouth of flame, a precursor to a terrible death.

Balefire is an evil calcination which burns body and soul from the Pattern backwards in time, undermining causality and order (though thankfully the soul is reborn and not burned from it forever). The balefired object turns white and then dissipates or vanishes:

Fire thrust through the carved window-screens above Rand, fingers of it filling every hole, dancing toward the colonnade. As it did, the struggle within him ceased abruptly. He was himself so suddenly it was almost a shock...

And Rahvin stumbled backwards out onto the colonnade, face turned to something inside. Rahvin wreathed in fire, yet somehow standing as though untouched. If untouched now, it had not been so before. Only the size of the figure, the impossibility of it being anyone else, told Rand it was him. The Forsaken was a figure of char and cracked red flesh that would have strained any Healer to mend...

Saidin raged inside Rand, and he loosed it all. Not to Heal.

“Rahvin!” he screamed, and balefire flew from his hands, molten light thicker than a man, driven by all the Power he could draw.

It struck the Forsaken, and Rahvin ceased to exist. The Darkhounds in Rhuidean had become motes before they vanished, whatever kind of life they had had struggling to continue, or the Pattern struggling to maintain itself even for them. Before this, Rahvin simply . . .ceased.

- The Fires of Heaven, The Threads Burn

Rahvin was calcined twice in this scene, once with fire by Nynaeve via Moghedien, and again with balefire by Rand. Balefire was used more and more often as the Last Day approached to damage the Pattern rather than purify it.

In A Memory of Light Egwene undid the effects of balefire with another calcining weave, using her rage to fuel the power of the calcination:

Through this, she drew as much strength as she could hold through Vora's sa'angreal. She felt as she had when fighting the Seanchan, only somehow more in control. Then, her rage had been fringed by desperation and terror.

This time, it was a white-hot thing, like a metal heated beyond the point of being worked by a smith…Egwene stepped forward, swollen with power. She began two weaves, one above each hand, and spouted fire at him.

He responded with a bar of pure whiteness, wire-thin, which missed her by less than a handspan. The balefire left an afterimage in Egwene's eyes, and the ground groaned beneath them as the air warped. Those spiderwebs sprang out across the ground, fractures into nothingness… She screamed in fury, weaving column after column of fire, one after another…
Egwene launched a wave of fire like a moving wall. Corpses went up in flames as the wall passed, leaving behind smoking piles of bones. Her attack scored the ground, blackening it, and the Sharans banded together to fight back against the weave. She killed a few of them before they shattered the attack….

M'Hael released balefire, and Egwene did . . . something. The weave she'd tried before on the cracks, but of a much greater power and scope: a majestic, marvelous weave, a combination of all Five Powers. It slid into place before her. She yelled, releasing it as if from her very soul, a column of pure white that struck M'Hael's weave at its center.

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

She yelled, forcing herself to her feet. She would not face him on her knees! She drew every scrap of the Power she could hold, throwing it at the Forsaken with the fury of the Amyrlin. The two streams of power sprayed light against one another, the ground around M'Hael cracking as the ground near Egwene rebuilt itself. She still did not know what it was she wove. The opposite of balefire. A fire of her own, a weave of light and rebuilding.

The Flame of Tar Valon. …

Her body was spent. She offered it up and became a column of light, releasing the Flame of Tar Valon into the ground beneath her and high into the sky. The Power left her in a quiet, beautiful explosion, washing across the Sharans and sealing the cracks created by her fight with M'Hael.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

Two opposite burning white lights, one violent and vile, the other peaceful and restoring. The first and last books of the series both end with a long sequence of calcinations.

The Last Judgment is explicitly a calcination in alchemical texts (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). The fire of the Last Judgment in The Wheel of Time books is the Pit of Doom. Even the Dark One’s own power is calcining there:

“Channeling the True Power is death here, Elan!" Rand yelled. "It will burn you to a cinder!"

- A Memory of Light, Watching the Flow Writhe

In that place light exploded from Rand at the end of his battle with the Dark One (A Memory of Light, Watching the Flow Writhe), enough to be seen over the whole continent; it was the Dark One’s moment of judgment as much as Rand’s or the world’s. There is the widespread idea that the world will end in fire, as some Wheel of Time Ages did. In The Eye of the World, The Gleeman, Thom said that previous Ages ended in fire (calcination) or ice (solution).

The end product of calcination is white ash. Ashes signify despair, mourning and repentance, but on another level are the purified body, the goal of the work. They are both bitterness and wisdom. After the Last Battle, as Rand’s old body was burnt on a pyre, Ishamael’s departed spirit perhaps escaped the Dark One’s usual punishment of calcination inflicted for major errors—the fire of its purgatory. Rand gained much wisdom and knowledge from his ordeals, but he left behind a grieving father, his loves, and children who will not know him for some period of time, if at all.

While seizing saidin is a minor calcination, to embrace saidar is to passively dissolve, a solution.


Solution is an operation of water; and other liquids such as mercury, which dissolves or amalgamates with gold and silver.

While anger and frustration are the fuel of calcination, love and lust are agents of solution (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). According to alchemists, the Great Work required love as well as study, meditation and patience. As the Prophecies of the Dragon warned:

Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears, and the soul of fire, love.

- A Crown of Swords, Opening prophecy

This refers to the operation of solution, which softens that which is hard. It is a sign of gentleness and nobility:

The best of men is like water; water benefits all things and does not compete with them.

- Lao Tse, Tao Te Ching

Overly hard material or nature is impure. As well as consolidating the spirit, solution removes all separateness and individual distinctions, and is thus a communion (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). The emptiness of the void, ko’di, also called the Oneness, is an example of solution:

After years of practice, achieving ko'di, the oneness, needed less than a heartbeat. Thought and even his own body seemed distant, but in this state he was more aware than usual, becoming one with the bale beneath him, the stable, the scabbarded sword folded behind him. He could 'feel' the horses, cropping at their mangers, and flies buzzing in the corners. They were all part of him.

- New Spring, The Hook

When Ishamael offered each of the three ta’veren wine in the dream in The Great Hunt, he had in mind trapping them into a na├»ve communion with the Shadow in an evil example of solution.

Cleansing is a type of solution; the Amyrlin’s baptism of newly initiated Accepted, washing them clean of their sins so that they are fit to join the communion of the Tower, is an example.

Linking is solution par excellence:

Saidar swept through Nynaeve to Anaiya, and when she attempted to pull back—it was her, she realized, not the flow itself—her flow was held, melting into a larger.

A sense of awe came over her. She found herself looking at the faces of the others, wondering if they felt the same. She was a part of something more than herself, greater than herself. Not just the One Power. Emotions tumbled in her head, fear and hope and relief—and yes, awe, more than any other—a sense of calm that had to come from the Aes Sedai, and she could not tell which emotions were hers. It should have been chilling, but she felt closer to these women than she could have to any sister, as if they were all one flesh.

- Lord of Chaos, Dreams and Nightmares

(It also has aspects of conjunction because the strength of the channellers is added—with some losses.)

Solution can lead to swamping, regression or drowning. Moghedien made Birgitte regress in Tel’aran’rhiod by swamping Birgitte’s self-image in Tel’aran’rhiod:

Birgitte was gone. A child of perhaps three or four, in short white coat and wide yellow trousers, stood there playing with a toy-sized silver bow. Flipping her golden braid back, the child aimed the bow at Nynaeve and giggled, then stuck a finger in her mouth as though unsure whether she had done something wrong…

Birgitte—the child who was, or had been, Birgitte—stood eyeing them curiously. Nynaeve formed the image of her as a grown woman, concentrated. The little girl put her finger back in her mouth and began studying the toy bow. Nynaeve breathed angrily. It was hard changing what someone else was already maintaining. And on top of that, Moghedien had claimed she could make changes permanent. But what she could do, she could undo. “Restore her.”…

“I was a child, but at the, same time, what was me—really me—was just some fancy floating in the back of that child’s mind. And I knew it. I knew I was just going to watch what happened and play...”

- The Fires of Heaven, To Caemlyn

The weave of Compulsion is a negative type of solution. Compulsion is death by drowning in the admiration for, and will of, another, and strong Compulsion cannot be removed without the Compelled dying. Eros and Aphrodite, deities of love and lust and parallels of Graendal, were associated with solution:

Only a touch of Compulsion had been needed to make Nazran nearly as avid to obey as they, not to mention certain that he might yet taste her charms again. She laughed softly. Well, he believed he had tasted them; just a little prettier, and he might have. Of course, he would have been useless for anything else then.

- The Path of Daggers, New Alliances

He [Rhuarc] looked up, and someone beautiful stepped through the storm to inspect him. She had wonderful eyes, though the two were offset from one another. He'd never before realized how horribly balanced everyone else's eyes were. Thinking of it nauseated him. And all other women had too much hair on their heads. This creature, with thinning hair, was far more marvelous.

She neared, wonderful, amazing. Incredible. She touched his chin as he knelt on the ground, and her fingertips were as soft as clouds.

"Yes, you'll do," she said. "Come, my pet. Join the others."

She gestured toward a group following her. Several Wise Ones, a pair of Aes Sedai, a man with a spear. Rhuarc growled. Would this man try to take the affection of his beloved? He would kill the man for that. He would—

His mistress chuckled. "And Moridin thinks this face a punishment. Well, you don't care what face I wear, do you, my pet?" Her voice grew softer, and at the same time harsher. "When I'm through, nobody will. Moridin himself will praise my beauty, for he will see through eyes that I grant him. Just like you, pet. Just like you."

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

In a scene full of solution imagery, Lanfear interrupted Rand’s dreams of bathing with his three loves, intending to seduce or Compel him in the Dream so that he would always desire her:

Suddenly two bodies hurtled through the air, knees clutched to chest, landing with great splashes that blinded him. Shaking the water out of his eyes, he found Elayne and Min smiling at him from either side, just their heads showing above the pale green surface. Two strokes would take him to either woman. Away from the other. He could not love both of them. Love? Why had that popped into his head?

"You do not know who you love."

He spun about in a swirl of water. Aviendha stood on the bank, in cadin'sor rather than skirt and blouse. Not glaring, though, just looking. "Come into the water," he said. "I'll teach you how to swim."

Musical laughter pulled his head around to the opposite bank. The woman who stood there, palely naked, was the most beautiful he had ever seen, with big, dark eyes that made his head whirl. He thought he knew her.

"Should I allow you to be unfaithful to me, even in your dreams?" she said. Somehow he was aware without looking that Elayne and Min and Aviendha were not there anymore. This was beginning to feel very odd.

For a long moment she considered him, completely unconscious of her nudity. Slowly she posed on toetips, arms swept back, then dove cleanly into the pond. When her head popped above the surface, her shining black hair was not wet. That seemed surprising, for a moment. Then she had reached him—had she swum, or was she just there!—tangling arms and legs around him. The water was cool, her flesh hot.

"You cannot escape me," she murmured. Those dark eyes seemed far deeper than the pond. "I will make you enjoy this so you never forget, asleep or awake."

- The Shadow Rising, Traps

The offer of drink, as Ishamael made, is a spur to solution, whereas the offer of food is a spur to coagulation.


Coagulation is an operation of earth expressed as concretion, fixation or firming. Rand did this to himself in error, when he made himself hard rather than strong:

"I have made my choice, Min," he said, turning toward the door. "You have asked for flexibility and laughter from me, but such things are no longer mine to give. I am sorry."

Once, weeks ago, he had decided that he must become stronger— where he had been iron, he had decided to become steel. It appeared that steel was too weak.

He would be harder, now. He understood how. Where he had once been steel, he became something else. From now on, he was cuendillar. He had entered a place like the void that Tam had trained him to seek, so long ago. But within this void he had no emotion. None at all.

They could not break or bend him.

- The Gathering Storm, The Last That Could Be Done

It seemed right at the time to stop himself being overwhelmed by duty and responsibility, and pain, but long term it was a mistake. Rand hardened himself in the Aes Sedai’s box, then in Far Madding, and finally against Semirhage, until on Dragonmount Perrin though that Rand’s face was like stone (Towers of Midnight, Men Dream Here). The desire for power and control coagulates. Rand made himself hard to try to control his anguish and the responsibility that power gave him.

Many examples of coagulation in the books are negative, such as fixation on power, or love, or avoiding pain, leading to evil. Perrin was so fixated on rescuing Faile that he hardened himself to the point where he mutilated a random captive for information.

A more positive aspect to coagulation is creation. It is promoted by action—such as Perrin hammering at his forge to create Mah’alleinir, his masterpiece:

And, with an understanding that cooled in him like molten rock forming into a shape, he realized that he wanted to lead… Mere moments ago, this process had fed off his anger. But now it seemed to draw forth his resolution, his determination.

- Towers of Midnight, A Making

The forging started out as calcination, but end up as coagulation—a very positive and timely one.

Being incarnated and born into a particular body or fate is a coagulation:

Coagulatio is experienced as a bondage because it confined individuals to their actual reality, the portion they were given by destiny.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

This and the resulting interplay between fate and choice is discussed by characters:

"The Pattern does not see ji'e'toh," Bair told her, with only a hint of sympathy, if that. "Only what must and will be. Men and Maidens struggle against fate even when it is clear the Pattern weaves on despite their struggles, but you are no longer Far Dareis Mai. You must learn to ride fate. Only by surrendering to the Pattern can you begin to have some control over the course of your own life. If you fight, the Pattern will still force you, and you will find only misery where you might have found contentment instead."

- The Fires of Heaven, Among the Wise Ones

“You see, the Wheel of Time weaves the Pattern of the Ages, and the threads it uses are lives. It is not fixed, the Pattern, not always. If a man tries to change the direction of his life and the Pattern has room for it, the Wheel just weaves on and takes it in. There is always room for small changes, but sometimes the Pattern simply won't accept a big change, no matter how hard you try. You understand?"

Rand nodded. "I could live on the farm or in Emond's Field, and that would be a small change. If I wanted to be a king, though . . . ." He laughed, and Loial gave a grin that almost split his face in two. His teeth were white, and as broad as chisels.

"Yes, that's it. But sometimes the change chooses you, or the Wheel chooses it for you. And sometimes the Wheel bends a life-thread, or several threads, in such a way that all the surrounding threads are forced to swirl around it, and those force other threads, and those still others, and on and on. That first bending to make the Web, that is ta'veren, and there is nothing you can do to change it, not until the Pattern itself changes.

- The Eye of the World, Web of the Pattern

Rand’s fate as a ta’veren definitely felt like a harsh bondage, ascending from farmer to King and saviour of the world. Without that firming by the Pattern, he would have remained lowly, which would have caused a very large change in the Pattern indeed. Paradoxically, the bondage of coagulation caused Rand’s elevation or sublimation.


Sublimation is an operation of air where a low substance is translated into a higher form by an ascending movement (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). It results in dissociation: the capacity to rise above and see oneself objectively, but also to lose contact.

Shamanism, whether positive as in the Wolfbrothers or negative as in seeing with an animal’s eyes as the Forsaken can do with the True Power, is a type of sublimation, and Dreamwalking in general has aspects of sublimation, as shown in how the Dreamwalker’s psyche loses contact with the body as it searches for knowledge and understanding in the Dream. Perrin nearly died more than once by projecting his psyche too strongly into the Dream. He feared dissociating—losing his human side—when he communed with the wolves, yet did not worry about being cut off from his body when Dreamwalking.

Floating in the void where dreams are is also a type of sublimation:

Formless, she floated in the infinity between Tel'aran'rhiod and the waking world, the narrow gap between dream and reality.

- Lord of Chaos, Dreams and Nightmares

Rand’s first journey to Rhuidean, city among clouds, is one of sublimation, the operation of air. In the glass columns Rand feels his body hair stir without a breeze blowing, as his consciousness rides behind a set of ancestral eyes, and toward the end of his journey the wind is strong enough to howl. The experience raised him to Car’a’carn.

Perrin ascended Dragonmount in Tel’aran’rhiod to witness Rand’s epiphany in a double sublimation scene. The journey up a mountain corresponds:

to the ascent of the soul through the planetary spheres, an initiatory journey that aims to purify the divine part hidden in man from all contact with matter.

- Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

This ascent gradually frees the soul from contact with the body, which Dreamwalking also does, but Perrin’s ascent was more than an “ordinary” Dreaming experience because no other wolf, not even Perrin’s teacher or spirit guide, could keep with him against the wild air:

A small bubble of calm air opened around him. The tempest continued to blow just inches from his face, and he had to strain to keep from being claimed by it again.

This storm wasn't a nightmare or a dream; it was something more vast, something more real. This time, Perrin was the one creating something abnormal with the bubble of safety.

He pressed forward, soon leaving tracks in snow. Hopper strode against the wind, lessening its effect on him as well. He was stronger at it than Perrin was—Perrin barely managed to keep his own bubble up. He feared that without it, he would be sucked into the storm and tossed into the air. He saw large branches rip past in the air, and even some smaller trees.

Hopper slowed, then sat down in the snow. He looked upward, toward the peak. I cannot stay, the wolf sent. This is not my place.
"I understand," Perrin said.

The wolf vanished, but Perrin continued. He couldn't explain what drew him, but he knew that he needed to witness. Someone did. He walked for what seemed like hours, focused completely on only two things: keeping the winds off him and putting one foot in front of the other.

The storm grew increasingly violent. It was so bad here that he couldn't keep all of the storm off, just the worst of it. He passed the ridged lip where the mountaintop was broken, picking his way alongside it, hunkered against the gusts, a steep fall on either side. Wind began to whip at his clothing, and he had to squint his eyes against the dust and snow in the air.

But he continued on. Striving for the peak, which rose ahead, rising above the blasted out side of the mountain. He knew that atop that point, he would find what he searched for.

- Towers of Midnight, Men Dream Here

The purpose of the Hermetic ascent is to integrate the various components of human nature—physical, psychic and mental—all of which are necessary and complement each other. This was especially the case for Rand, who was integrated with all memories of his past lives, and gained an understanding of the purpose of existence in his epiphany high upon Dragonmount:

Why had the Creator done this to them? Why?
Why do we live again? Lews Therin asked, suddenly. His voice was crisp and distinct.
Yes, Rand said, pleading. Tell me. Why?
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.

Rand froze. The winds blew against him, but he could not be moved by them. The Power hesitated inside him, like the headsman's axe, held quivering above the criminal's neck. You may not have a choice about which duties are given you, Tam's voice, just a memory, said in his mind. But you can choose why you fulfil them.

Why, Rand? Why do you go to battle? What is the point?

All was still. Even with the tempest, the winds, the crashes of thunder. All was still.

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.

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold

Rand Travelled from sea level at Ebou Dar to the highest point on the mainland, perhaps the world, a rapid ascending movement physically, but at the same time made an arduous and painful psychological ascent from despair and mortification. Rand was exalted on that sublime peak buffeted by raging wind. For Perrin the ascent was part of integrating his roles as a Dreamwalker, Wolf King and protector of Rand.

Done wrongly sublimation results in a descent from the heights, or repeated descent and ascent until it is done right (eg reincarnation). The height of the White Tower is a symbol of sublimation in its good and bad aspects; the Aes Sedai aspiring to maintain knowledge and ideals of the Age of Legends but dissociating from the rest of the world. Elaida moved the Amyrlin’s rooms from the centre to the top of the Tower, symbolic of how she held her position above all others. In so doing, she cut herself off and could not be defended, or help in the defence of the Tower, and her status plummeted as a result. The change was literally and symbolically mortifying.


Mortification/Putrefaction is a breaking down so that something new can be made. This could be with humiliation, as Cadsuane did with Semirhage, torture, as Semirhage did to others, suffering, defeat, mutilation, poisoning, corruption, rotting, madness, sacrifice or death. Not surprisingly, since the series is about evil trying to destroy the world, it is the most common operation in the series, with every form of mortification and putrefaction taking place. For Aes Sedai, mortification is conscious: they use it to discipline self and others and distinguish between mortification of the flesh and mortification of the spirit.

Mortification is the most negative alchemical operation, but it often leads to highly positive outcomes of growth, resurrection and rebirth:

Putrefaction is of so great efficacy that it blots out the old nature and transmutes everything into another new nature, and bears another new fruit.

- Paracelsus, Hermetic and Alchemical Writings

In Taoism whenever one extreme is reached, it becomes its opposite. The Shadow never understood this. They always pushed too hard and were undone when conditions reached extremes and changed to their opposite. Rand’s epiphany on Dragonmount is a great example.

Mortification in alchemical symbolism and myth is often depicted as the slaying of a dragon which was harrying the Land. The dragon is equivalent to mercury, and alchemists describe the breakdown of mercury in the alchemical flask as flagellation, a type of mortification. Another frequent subject for mortification is the king; he is abused and/or killed to renew the Land.

Rand was flagellated by the Aes Sedai and physically abused by others; as Taoism would predict, each time Rand started to break he reforged himself into something harder (coagulation brought on by mortification). He was mortified by Ishamael at Falme, then by Fain in Cairhien; then the taint on saidin sent him mad, or increased his madness, depending on your point of view. Ishamael commanded Graendal to make Rand suffer (and inadvertently made himself suffer and despair). Rand’s sacrifice of his corrupt, wounded body to save the world is conscious mortification, and his earlier tribulations played their part, which he did not understand until he stood atop Dragonmount:

Suffering alone is sufficient preparation for God’s dwelling in a man’s heart…God is always with a man in suffering.

- Meister Eckhart 1:263

The Wheel of Time series is unusual in the Dragon also being a King. In his turn, the Lord Dragon mortified a lot of people, including Ishamael (three times), Semirhage, Graendal, and Rahvin.

For over three thousand years the taint on saidin putrefied all male channellers not specifically protected from it by the Dark One. Madness is part of mortification. Their bodies rotted and their minds went mad.

At the Eye of the World, Balthamel underwent final putrefaction (he was already corrupt and also physically decrepit):

one long stride and massive, leafy arms wrapped themselves around Balthamel, raising him high, crushing him against a chest of thick creepers, black leather mask laughing into hazelnut eyes dark with anger. Like serpents Balthamel's arms writhed free, his gloved hands grasping the Green Man's head as though he would wrench it off. Flames shot up where those hands touched, vines withering, leaves falling. The Green Man bellowed as thick, dark smoke poured out between the vines of his body. On and on he roared, as if all of him were coming out of his mouth with the smoke that billowed between his lips.

Suddenly Balthamel jerked in the Green Man's grasp. The Forsaken's hands tried to push him away instead of clutching him. One gloved hand flung wide . . . and a tiny creeper burst through the black leather. A fungus, such as rings trees in the deep shadows of the forest, ringed his arm, sprang from nowhere to fullgrown, swelling to cover the length of it. Balthamel thrashed, and a shoot of stinkweed ripped open his carapace, lichens dug in their roots and split tiny cracks across the leather of his face, nettles broke the eyes of his mask, deathshead mushrooms tore open the mouth.

The Green Man threw the Forsaken down. Balthamel twisted and jerked as all the things that grew in the dark places, all the things with spores, all the things that loved the dank, swelled and grew, tore cloth and leather and flesh—Was it flesh, seen in that brief moment of verdant rage?—to tattered shreds and covered him until only a mound remained, indistinguishable from many in the shaded depths of the green forest, and the mound moved no more than they.

- The Eye of the World, Meetings at the Eye

(Balthamel in his turn calcined the Green Man. It took time since it is hard to burn moist greenery.)

Shadowspawn inflict putrefaction. Darkhounds corrupt the souls of wolves to become evil hounds like themselves. Their symbolism is interesting. Dogs signify primitive matter, natural sulphur, or raw gold. A dog being devoured by a wolf symbolizes the process of purifying gold using antimony. Therefore, a wolf being devoured by a dog is a sign of corruption, the reverse of purification. The Dark-hounds are aptly named since they are unnatural and corrupting.

The Blight is a mortification of the Land:

As the mountains drew closer, so did the true Blight. Where a leaf had been spotted black and mottled yellow before, now foliage fell wetly while he watched, breaking apart from the weight of its own corruption.

The trees themselves were tortured, crippled things, twisted branches clawing at the sky as if begging mercy from some power that refused to hear. Ooze slid like pus from bark cracked and split.

- The Eye of the World, The Dark One Stirs

Balefire is even worse since it mortifies reality:

each shot of balefire sent ripples through the air. The ground cracked with spiderwebs of black, but now tendrils of something sickly began to sprout from those cracks. It spread like a disease across the broken stones of the hillside.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

The Shadow is responsible for most putrefaction and mortification, but balefire has been used by both sides, despite proscriptions by the Light due to the ruination balefire brings to the Pattern. Rand consciously took on the sin of using balefire to rid the world of the Forsaken:

"Before condemning me, let us first determine if my sins have achieved anything beyond my own damnation."

- The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

Rand experienced the worst corruption during his duel with the Dark One when he saw worlds where the Dark One won—one where the good channellers were turned to the Shadow, and another where people knew nothing but the Dark One:


No Light. No love of men. The horror of it sank deep within Rand, shaking him. This was one of the possibilities that the Dark One could choose, if he won. It didn't mean he would, or that it had to happen, but . . . oh Light, this was terrible. Far more terrible than a world of captives, far more terrible than a dark land with a broken landscape.

This was true horror. This was a full corruption of the world, it was taking everything beautiful from it, leaving behind only a husk. A pretty husk, but still a husk.

Rand would rather live a thousand years of torture, retaining the piece of himself that gave him the capacity for good, than live a moment in this world without Light.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

The Dark One’s power was not the only evil power that brought mortification and putrefaction, so did Mashadar, an evil which is contagious. It is as much a disease as a power. Mat was made paranoid and wasted by Mashadar.

The Turning of channellers to the Shadow is mortification/putrefaction of the Soul:

Emarin bore the worst scars, most of them emotional. He, like Logain, had been subjected to the Turning process. Pevara noticed him staring blankly, sometimes, face etched by fear as if remembering something horrible…Logain had . . . changed since the ordeal. Androl whispered to her that he was darker now. He spoke less. He did still seem determined to get to the Last Battle, but for now, he gathered the men in and pored over things they'd found in Taim's rooms. Pevara worried that the Turning had broken him inside.

- A Memory of Light, Not A Mistake to Ignore

The melting of Leane’s cell in Towers of Midnight into a wax-like substance was a mortification/putrefaction:

Egwene took her hands off of the bars and looked at her palms. They seemed to be coated with a reflective, waxy substance. Frowning, Leane looked at the bars, and was shocked to see Egwene's handprints on the iron.
What in the Light—" Leane said, poking at one of the bars. It bent beneath her finger like warm wax on the lip of a candle's bowl.
Suddenly, the stones beneath Leane's feet shifted, and she felt herself sinking. She cried out. Globs of melted wax starting to rain down from the ceiling, splattering across her face. They weren't warm, but they were somehow liquid. They had the color of stone!

- The Gathering Storm, When Iron Melts

This formation of a waxy material is called ceration and is part of the fermentation process of mortification.

The skull as a momento mori is an emblem for the operation of mortification. It generates reflections on one’s personal mortality and serves as a touchstone for true and false values. To reflect on death can lead one to view life under the aspect of eternity, and thus the black death head can turn to gold.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

Verin kept a Trolloc skull in her room seemingly to confirm to other Black Sisters her allegiance to the Shadow, but also as a personal reminder of her true values and what she was doing.


The separation operation involves division, divorce, dismemberment, dissection, surgery, healing, judgment, discrimination, balance and justice (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). Symbols of separation include sharp cutting edges of all kinds such as swords, scythes, arrows, knives, and hatchets. The figure of Justice usually carries a sword.

Nicola’s Foretelling:

The land divided by the return, and the guardians balance the servants. The future teeters on the edge of a blade.

- Lord of Chaos, Dreams and Nightmares

contains much separation imagery. It also fits with the Wise Ones’ dream of Rand cutting the Wetlands in two with a sword (Lord of Chaos, Matters of Toh). The Seanchan did take over weaker lands by force and Rand ratified their gains to get their participation in the Last Battle. Both Tuon and Hawkwing are Justice figures and both intended to hold the Westlands and Seanchan (though Tuon was emulating Hawkwing). They mirror each other; one expanded from the Westlands to Seanchan, the other attempted the reverse.

The result of separation into two is awareness of opposites; good from evil, obviously, but also male and female channellers. Both Asha’man and Aes Sedai were riven by division and had to drive out the Darkfriends among them. Violent separation usually leads to mortification (eg war or execution) but less extreme separation leads to conjunction (such as occurred when the Bore was Sealed and the Dark One separated from the world.)

The severing of the link between Aes Sedai and Warder leads to unbalanced emotions. Even more painful is the severing of a channeller from the One Power, during which the conduit is literally cut according to Nynaeve. Rand cut the black cords he believed linked Asmodean to the Dark One; they protected Asmodean from the taint. The taint itself was separated from saidin in one of the Great Works of the Age. The Shadow can hold the mind separate from the body in a mindtrap.

The Stedding are a positive form of separation, sheltered from evil and violence. This comes at a price, since they are separated from the One Power also. They are probably separate from the world.

At the last, under extreme mortification, Rand cut himself free of his burdens in another positive separation:

The Dark One flayed him. He huddled before that vast nothingness, unable to move. He screamed in agony. And then, he let go. He let go of the guilt. He let go of the shame for having not saved Egwene and all the others. He let go of the need to protect her, to protect all of them.

He let them be heroes.

Names streamed from his head. Egwene, Hurin, Bashere, Isan of the Chareen Aiel, Somara and thousands more. One by one—first slowly, but with increasing speed—he counted backward through the list he had once maintained in his head. The list had once been only women, but had grown to include everyone he knew had died for him. He hadn't realized how large it had become, how much he had let himself carry.

The names ripped from him like physical things, like doves aflight, and each one carried away a burden. Weight vanished from his shoulders. His breathing grew steadier. It was as if Perrin had come with his hammer and shattered a thousand chains that had been dragging behind Rand.

Ilyena was last. We are reborn, Rand thought, so we can do better the next time.

- A Memory of Light, The Place That Was Not

Separation is being freed from chains, but conjunction is being bound by them.


The union of two (or more) is the conjunction. Opposites are reconciled in this operation and love is both its cause and its effect (Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche). Symbols of the conjunction are marriage, union of opposites, community, connections, allegiance, society, guild, nation, and chains.

Chains and bondage are negative forms of conjunction and lead to coagulation. They are present in the series as the a’dam, both male and female. The bondage is particularly obvious in the female form which contains a leash. The a’dam forms an unequal link, where one channeller is forced to channel when and as another wants. As Moghedien complained, the controlling channeller contributes nothing, and can abuse the subject channeller with no consequences or recourse. (There are also some aspects of solution in the way the controller feels what the subject channeller feels, and in the way there is “seepage” through the male a’dam and how he can gradually take control back.)

Linking in general has aspects of conjunction and solution: union and communion. The strengths of channellers are added in the circle, but not their full strengths. Only one person at a time can use the circle, which is both positive, since it enables great precision, but also negative in that other members of the circle can’t channel to ward off sudden danger.

Aran’gar, a male soul in a female body, and Slayer, two souls in one body, were the Dark One’s perversions of the conjunction. So, arguably, is the mindtrap, where one person can hold the mind of another. (It is also a separation operation). Fain/Mordeth was another evil form of conjunction, this one being of the Shadow and Mashadar to form Shaisam.

Perrin has a dual nature—both human and wolf—a type of conjunction that is difficult to manage, but if successful allows great mastery of Tel’aran’rhiod.

The Warder bond is a conjunction with some positive effects, but since one person is more dominant than the other, it is unbalanced. In A Memory of Light, we saw a double Warder bond—both sides bonding each other—and this produced an equal, and very intimate, even telepathic, partnership.

The Wheel of Time sacred conjunction is male and female channellers working together:

Elayne had heard of the great works performed by large circles of men and women. Every woman in the White Tower was taught of these feats from the past, stories of different days, better days. Days when one half of the One Power had not been a thing to fear, when two halves of one whole had worked together to create incredible wonders.

- A Memory of Light, The Way of the Predator

Until saidin was cleansed (by a circle of the two genders), the sacred conjunction was not desirable, and so not likely. It brings balance and healing to the Land and is an example of reciprocal action, a mutual Opus.

The conjunction is the culmination of the opus.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

This was the case for The Wheel of Time series: the Greatest Work was concluded with a triple conjunction of saidin and saidar and the True Power:

He shall hold a blade of light in his hands, and the three shall be one.

- The Gathering Storm, Reading the Commentary

The balanced One Power united with the True Power re-sealed the Bore and brought wholeness and haleness to the Land again. It was a triple conjunction of purified opposites—male and female complements of the One Power used in their pure forms (A Memory of Light, Light and Shadow), plus the True Power so inimical to the One Power. All through the series something said or done three times is stronger or more true, and this was certainly the case here. And it was sealed in blood:

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

- The Shadow Rising, Reflection

Rand’s wound bled as he entered Shayol Ghul and also as the Sealing was achieved. His entry into the Pit of Doom was heralded by a solar eclipse, which in astrology is the strongest type of conjunction of sun and moon. According to Rand, his time spent in the Pit of Doom was only minutes (A Memory of Light, To Awaken), though much more time elapsed elsewhere, and Nynaeve’s estimate was a bit longer than Rand’s, perhaps because she was a bit further away from the Bore, and therefore most, perhaps the whole, of the duel took place within the duration of the eclipse (which would be up to seven minutes) as far as Rand and the Dark One were concerned.

During this time, Dragonmount and Shayol Ghul pulled toward one another in Tel’aran’rhiod (A Memory of Light, Light and Shadow); in one way symbolising the danger that the Light could become overwhelmed and corrupted by the Shadow, in another way, heralding the sacred conjunction and the successful completion of the Great Work.

The body swap of Rand and Moridin was a union of opposites. Rand now has dark hair like Lews Therin had, but blue eyes like his own were. It is as though the body of Moridin is midway between those of Rand and Lews Therin: this is not a coincidence. Moridin himself is specifically commemorated in the single remaining static saa. The dragon’s fang-shaped saa is also a reminder that Rand too once channelled the True Power and saidin.

There is another marker of the sacred conjunction:

The image of a miraculous growth of flowers or vegetation comes up in dreams as evidence of proximity to the coniunctio.

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

This occurred near Shayol Ghul where the Land greened as the Dark One was sealed away:

As she crept, she heard a low thrumming sound coming from the mountain. The ground began to tremble, chips of stone bouncing about. Aviendha stayed low, only to see that the valley had begun to sprout—incredibly—new plants. The once-barren ground turned vibrantly green, the plants seeming to writhe as they grew tall.

- A Memory of Light, Impossibilities

However, greening was also performed by Rand after he was integrated with Lews Therin as an indication of his readiness for his great task now that the conjunction of his personalities had occurred: immediately after his epiphany when he restored the orchard at the foot of Dragonmount, and in front of the Empress to awe her:

Green grass spread around Rand's feet. The guards nearby jumped back, hands to swords, as a swath of life extended from Rand. The brown and yellow blades colored, as if paint had been poured on them, then came upright—stretching as if after long slumber.

The greenness filled the entire garden clearing. "He's still shielded!" the sul'dam cried. "Honored One, he is still shielded!" …

Rand continued his song. The green spread to the trees, the firs strengthening their limbs. The other trees began to shoot out leaves—they were indeed peach trees—growing at great speed, life flooding into them.

- A Memory of Light, Older, More Weathered

Even making the Land green again with Song rather than by miracle is something no human has done since the Breaking, and the knowledge and probably the feel for it and the Land came with his epiphany.

In an interview, Jung summarised the process and symbolism of the Great Work and the three stages of alchemical transformation—the blackness, whiteness and redness—to achieve it:

Alchemy represents the projection of a drama both cosmic and spiritual in laboratory terms. The opus magnum had two aims: the rescue of the human soul and the salvation of the cosmos. What the alchemists called “matter” is in reality the self. The “soul of the world”, the anima mundi, which was identified with the spiritual mercurius was imprisoned in matter.…This work is difficult and strewn with obstacles; the alchemical opus is dangerous. Right at the beginning you meet the “dragon”, the chthonic spirit, the “devil” or, as the alchemists called it, the “blackness”, the nigredo, and this encounter produces suffering. “Matter” suffers right up to the final disappearance of the blackness; in psychological terms the soul finds itself in the throes of melancholy, locked in the struggle with the ‘shadow’. The mystery of the coniunctio, the central mystery of alchemy, aims precisely at the synthesis of opposites, the assimilation of the blackness, the integration of the devil …In the language of the alchemists, matter suffers until the nigredo disappears, when the “dawn” will be announced by the “peacock’s tail” and a new day will break, the leucosis or albedo. But in this state of “whiteness” one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive, it must have “blood”, it must have what the alchemists call the rubedo, the “redness” of life. Only the total experience of being can transform this ideal state of the albedo into a fully human mode of existence. Blood alone can reanimate a glorious state of consciousness in which the last trace of blackness is dissolved, in which the devil no longer has an autonomous existence but rejoins the profound unity of the psyche. Then the opus magnum is finished: the human soul is completely integrated.

This was acted out in The Wheel of Time. The series began with Rand, Prima Materia in his innocence (with “good metal “in him as Cadsuane said in an alchemical metaphor (A Crown of Swords, Diamonds and Stars)), taking on the role of Dragon, King and world saviour, and becoming increasingly wounded, tainted, mad, negative, and sinning as well as sinned against. The blackness in other words, and the whiteness and redness followed for the completion of Rand’s Opus.

Alchemical Stages


The blackness is the first stage of alchemical transformation. It is experienced as dark and chaotic, with feelings of anger, fear, frustration, and a desire to "escape from it all":


He was tempted. Oh, how he was tempted. Light. What would Nynaeve think? He could see her, fighting to save Alanna. How ashamed would she and Moiraine be if they knew that in that moment, Rand wanted to just let go?

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

and its symbol is the raven’s head, a creature of the Shadow. The Dark One brought the nigredo, the blackness, to the Land, aiming to trap Rand and the rest of the world in it in Creation’s blackest hour. Rand discovered the Dark One wanted to break Rand rather than beat him—kill the Dragon’s soul rather than his body:

The blackness, when it is not the original condition, is brought about by the slaying of something. Most commonly it is the dragon that is to be killed. The dragon is one of the synonyms of the prima material,

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

the elementary chaos which is to be broken down and refined. This aspect of Rand is recognised in the Karaethon Cycle as “the chaos of his passing” (The Gathering Storm, In the White Tower), and by the Shadow when they decide to “let the Lord of Chaos rule” (Lord of Chaos, Prologue). Another frequent subject for mortification is the “king”. Rand is both. Or it may be the Sun who is to be killed. Rand again. Rand is a triple combination of alchemical sacrificial figures. This is why the imagery is so powerful.

Since the Dragon is one with the Land, the blackness spread: to Mat, who became mentally and physically atrophied until the whiteness of Vora’s sa’angreal cleansed Masha’dar from him (in a calcination), to the Aes Sedai who were broken and revealed to be over a fifth Darkfriends, to nations which were shattered, and eventually to Perrin who became prepared to violate his principles to protect those close to him. There were respites from the blackening when the Light had victories, but always the nigredo regrew. Chaos and especially balefire brought the blackness back, as probably did using the True Power.

As Egwene was executing Black sisters, a dark hour for the Aes Sedai, she asked: “Can this day grow any darker?” (The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands). Well it could, since Rand was about to bully Hurin, then attack Tam and finally contemplate genocide. So, yes, the day did grow darker.

The nigredo stage ends with a spiritual rebirth, which is always preceded by a return to the source of life (Nigel Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation). At the culmination of Rand’s first nigredo, he returned to the place of his birth, and Lews Therin’s place of death, for his spiritual rebirth. In his despair and mortification he considered calcining the entire world.

To pass through the blackness requires patience, humility and acceptance and Rand had to rediscover these. He credits the fact that he did so to being raised better than Lews Therin was. Perrin never lost these qualities, and probably would never have succumbed to the nigredo had Faile not been captured. Artists, craftsmen, philosophers and theologians were considered to tend toward melancholy (depression) which is related to the nigredo. Perrin the craftsman and Ishamael the philosopher and theologian found it harder to shake the blackness once it touched them. (While Perrin was resistant to its onslaught for longer than most people, he really struggled to get rid of it).

At the end of the nigredo inner conflicts gradually resolve until a completely new inner state of clarity and freedom is achieved (Nigel Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation). Both Rand and Perrin had advisors who helped them through this stage: Rand’s therapists included Nynaeve, Min, Tam and Cadsuane, and Perrin’s guide was Hopper.

Rand had a spiritual rebirth on Dragonmount, but again the blackness regrew in the Last Battle and eventually affected the Dragon during his duel with the Dark One in the Pit of Doom. The Pit of Doom was like a black hole, sucking all into it:

Nynaeve clutched the stalagmite deep within the Pit of Doom, holding herself from being pulled by the winds into that nothingness in front of her. Moiraine had called it the Dark One's essence, but wouldn't that make it the True Power? …

It pulled with a powerful force, drawing all that was nearby into it. She feared that if she let go, she would be yanked in. Already, it had stolen her shawl, making it vanish. If that nothingness pulled her in, her life would end. Perhaps her soul as well.

- A Memory of Light, Unchangeable Things

Alchemy meets modern physics.

The alchemical symbol of the Black Sun refers to the darkness of the soul and the mind. From Crossroads of Twilight, the Dark One smothered the world in cloud in a misguided attempt to bring about the black sun, and succeeded for a time. Dawn is the “golden hour” denoting spiritual redemption and renewal. Rand came from Rhuidean at dawn—was even named as He Who Comes With the Dawn after he completed a major initiation there—with the promise of this. He represents Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. (According to Matilde Battistini, Mercury-Christ is the son of the Hermetic Dawn (Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art).) However, the Dark One is strong at dawn, and dusk, as night or day die respectively because the Dark One feeds on death, reflecting the vulnerable state of those on the verge of redemption. Rand was the black sun on Dragonmount, but then became the proper sun/son again. (He hid his soul from the Dark One with the blunt dagger ter’angreal to gain entry into Shayol Ghul while the sun was darkened by an eclipse.)

The final Nigredo culminated in the Dark One trying to make Rand despair by showing the blackening of the Two Rivers:

It was one path the world could take. The Dark One, here, had won the Last Battle and broken the Wheel of Time.

That had allowed him to remake it, to spin the pattern in a new way. Everyone alive had forgotten the past, and now knew only what the Dark One had inserted in their minds. Rand could read the truth, the history of this place, in the threads of the Pattern he had touched earlier.

Nynaeve, Egwene, Logain and Cadsuane were now members of the Forsaken, Turned to the Shadow against their will.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

and a world where there is no good or evil, just the Dark One, and also Rand’s own world purged of evil and also choice.

Outside of Shayol Ghul, balefire blackened the Land:

Egwene felt them. Though they seemed like ordinary cracks to the touch, they looked down into pure nothing. Blackness, far too deep for simple cracks to have caused through shadows of the light.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

Gawyn’s own nigredo led him to secretly take and use the Night’s Shade ter’angreal rings. Night’s Shade appears to be rather like Myrddraal’s powers, granting unnatural speed and concealment in shadow; since it mimics something woven by the True Power it is not unexpectedly lethal.

The sky grew darker after Egwene died until the Horn of Valere sounded the rally and Rand sealed the Dark One away in a blaze of brilliant light. After the nigredo comes the albedo (whitening).


The White Phase is the second stage of the Great Work. There were three main episodes of albedo in the series, at the Eye of the World, upon Dragonmount, and at Shayol Ghul, and each was followed by a greening of the Land, even if only temporary or local. At the Eye, the albedo was minor and arose from Rand transforming into a conscious channeller and consuming the Eye, while burning out Aginor, resisting Ishamael’s lies and cutting him off from the True Power, then burning him and his chamber. Rand’s epiphany on Dragonmount was a much more potent albedo and coated the blackness in Rand’s brain with brilliant whiteness and created a patch of sunshine that followed Rand everywhere.

Egwene also had an albedo after the black grief of Gawyn’s death when she sealed the cracks in the Land that the Dreadlords and balefire created and made them white.

The final albedo at Shayol Ghul was extremely powerful:

Far to the north, a beam of light rose into the air, so bright that it lit the Field of Merrilor even such a great distance away. The helpers and the wounded alike blinked, stumbling to their feet, shading their faces.

That light, a brilliant lance in the heavens, burned away the clouds and opened up the sky.

- A Memory of Light, A Brilliant Lance

Thom turned Moiraine away from the corridor, but she refused to look away. She opened her eyes, though she knew that the light was too intense, and she saw something. Rand and Moridin, standing in the light as it expanded outward to consume the entire mountain in its glow.

The blackness in front of Rand hung like a hole, sucking in everything. Slowly, bit by bit, that hole shrank away until it was just a pinprick.

- A Memory of Light, Light and Shadow

After the albedo,

consciousness is transformed into "solar light." This "solar light" awakens the sense of revelation and revelatory knowledge. Inner knowing is not arrived at by study, reflection or deep thought; it is to be experienced as a direct revelation.

- Nigel Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation

On Dragonmount, Rand experienced direct revelation of his past lives and understanding of the purpose of the Wheel. His title Prince of the Dawn was a promise that he would bring the albedo, the Light, with his blood (the rubedo or reddening) and complete the Great Work. Then at Shayol Ghul Rand’s soul was completely integrated, his understanding deepened, his body renewed, and Shaitan was denied an existence in Time. Overcoming the Dark One’s repeated onslaughts of blackness was the key.

Neither the albedo at the Eye or at Dragonmount truly lasted against the Shadow because neither was sealed with the redness of blood, the Dragon’s blood.


The Red Phase of the Great Work is the final stage of transformation. The culmination of the albedo leaves the alchemist completely free in a state of pure spirit and intelligence, beyond space, time and form:

Rand faced the Dark One in that place that was not, surrounded by all time and nothing at the same time. His body still stood in the cave of Shayol Ghul, locked into that moment of battle against Moridin, but his soul was here.
He existed in this place that was not, this place outside of the Pattern, this place where evil was born. He looked into it, and he knew it. The Dark One was not a being, but a force—an essence as wide as the universe itself, which Rand could now see in complete detail. Planets, stars in their multitudes, like the motes above a bonfire.

- A Memory of Light, The Place that was Not

Once back in the body, the soul can realise its state of spiritual completeness. Heaven and earth in the alchemist are then united (Nigel Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation), as happened to Rand.

"It is oblivion!" Moridin yelled. "I will know that release, Lews Therin. I will take you with me."

The sword's glow turned a violent crimson. Rand could feel the power emanating from Moridin as he drew in the True Power…

Nynaeve and Moiraine channeled together, exploiting the flaw in Callandor as Moridin tried to bring it to bear against Rand. Wind whipped in the tunnel. The ground quivered, and Moridin yelled, eyes going wide.

They took control of him. Callandor was flawed. Any man using it could be forced to link with women, to be placed in their control. A trap . . . and one he used on Moridin.

"Link!" Rand commanded.
They fed it to him. Power.
Saidar from the women.
The True Power from Moridin.
Saidin from Rand.

Moridin's channeling the True Power here threatened to destroy them all, but they buffered it with saidin and saidar, then directed all three at the Dark One.

Rand punched through the blackness there and created a conduit of light and darkness, turning the Dark One's own essence upon him…

With a bellow—three Powers coursing through him, blood streaming down his side—the Dragon Reborn raised a hand of power and seized the Dark One through the Bore, like a man reaching through water to grab the prize at the river's bottom.

- A Memory of Light, Watching the Flow Writhe

Note that Callandor turns crimson red as Moridin pulled the True Power through it, heralding the imminent success of Rand’s trap. Moridin wanted to go to the extreme of blackness—oblivion—but he was forced into the triple conjunction, and then Rand brought on the Whiteness and Redness in quick succession as he sealed the Dark One away. The Land, one with the Dragon, did its part too in the Red phase with the spilled blood of so many faithful fighting the Last Battle.

As well as the alchemical operations, repeated reversals are required to make the Philosopher’s Stone. The Shadow made Rand unsettled and distrustful by reversing the personas of his friends in his dreams in The Dragon Reborn, and by reversing his status, but perhaps the most important example occurred during the duel of the Dark One and Rand, where each countered the others’ vision of the future with an opposite.

For the alchemical operations and reversals to work and the transformation to occur, there must be openness.


The material must be open to receive the effects of the tincture. Paracelsus says, “For if the tincture is to tinge, it is necessary that the body or material which is to be tinged should be open, and in a state of flux: for unless this were so, the tincture could not operate.”

- Edward Edlinger, Anatomy of the Psyche

After nearly killing his father, Rand was overcome with shame—mortification—and in that state of inner turmoil became aware of his darkness and open to the idea of love, and so experienced his epiphany on Dragonmount.

At the culmination of Rand’s duel with the Dark One at Shayol Ghul, when the final albedo occurred, Logain broke the remaining Seals and opened the Bore for Rand.

Callandor was considered dangerous because it left the male user open to a forced link, but while Rand was angered by this at first, the defect was meant for Ishamael, not him.

Jung wrote:

You can exert no influence if you are not susceptible to influence.

- Carl Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy

Moridin discovered this the hard way after he was linked to Rand. It inspired the desire for death in him, which led to him sacrificing his own corrupt soul, just as Rand sacrificed his corrupt body. So the Dark One who wanted to break the Creator’s champion, broke its own. Not that it cared.

Rand was told by the Aelfinn that if he would live he must die (Lord of Chaos, Connecting Lines):

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if he through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

- Romans 8:13


As I read A Memory of Light I noticed its plethora of alchemical symbolism: the three stages and all seven operations are present in abundance.

It then occurred to me that the real purpose of the One Power and channelling was not to create drama (however enchanting for the reader) but to manifest physical and spiritual alchemy.

This image recorded by Jung anticipated The Wheel of Time alchemical symbolism:

“I am an infirm and weak old man, surnamed the dragon; therefore am I shut up in a cave, that I may be ransomed by my kingly crown…A fiery sword inflicts great torments upon me; death makes weak my flesh and bones…My soul and my spirit depart; a terrible poison, I am likened to the black raven, for that is the wages of sin: in dust and earth I lie, that out of Three may come One. O soul and spirit, leave me not, that I may see again the light of day, and the hero of peace whom the whole world shall behold may arise from me.”

- Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis

and is so similar to Rand and his sacrifice at Shayol Ghul.

I deliberated on whether to put this quote at the beginning or the ending of this essay, but decided to put it in both places to complete the cycle because “in my ending is my beginning” (as Mary Queen of Scots embroidered) and so it has always been.


Written by Linda, February 2013, and updated May 2014


Anonymous said...

A brilliant analysis as usual. It really shows as well, how amazing of a writer and storyteller Robert Jordan really was. Bravo!


Linda said...

Thanks so much, Southpaw. Symbolism was an integral part of the story, and Jordan used it so well, even quite complex combinations. A classic example is how Jordan developed Rand and his destiny from the sacrificial figure in alchemical symbolism, which is usually one of the dragon, the king or the sun. He managed to make Rand all 3. And then there is this image that Carl Jung described:

“I am an infirm and weak old man, surnamed the dragon; therefore am I shut up in a cave, that I may be ransomed by the kingly crown…A fiery sword inflicts great torments upon me; death makes weak my flesh and bones…My soul and my spirit depart; a terrible poison, I am likened to the black raven, for that is the wages of sin: in dust and earth I lie, that out of Three may come One. O soul and spirit, leave me not, that I may see again the light of day, and the hero of peace whom the whole world shall behold may arise from me.”

Manetheren said...

Very interesting essay and enjoyable. Probably a bit too abstract for me, but I definitely enjoyed a different perspective.

I'm probably splitting hairs here, but in the "Conjunction" section where you said:

Linking in general has aspects of conjunction and solution: union and communion. The strengths of channellers are added in the circle, but not their full strengths. Only one person at a time can use the circle, which is both positive, since it enables great precision, but also negative in that other members of the circle can’t channel to ward off sudden danger.

This also became a more complete conjunction due to the double warder bond between male and female when Pevara was not only able to wield full, simultaneous control of her circle with Androl, who had the lead, but also exercised it using Androl's strength in gateways as if it here her own strength. Full simultaneous control with complete integration/sharing of strengths and weaknesses in the One Power.

Truly extraordinary.

I know you mentioned the double bond a couple paragraphs later, but that was more about the bond as a conjunction itself, not as a conjunction via linking and thus worthy of separation recognition.

Linda said...

Thanks Manetheren.

I noticed the different link of the 'sacred conjunction' that is the double Warder bond last night, as I updated the Weaves and Talents article. I agree that I need to word this differently in the essay, and I'll do that after River of Souls is released since I expect that novella to provide some more examples of Mortification and the Nigredo/Blackness.

eusebeia said...

It's always interesting to read an analysis of fantasy based on literary alchemy. Not done very often. Especially unusual that you used the lens of Jungian psychology. The old "Harry Potter for Seekers" website did that, iirc, but it's rare. It's good that you went back to the original works of European physical alchemy and Hermeticism as well. I posted a link to this post on my Tumblr blog, @argentive

Have you consulted Lyndy Abraham's Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery? Very handy reference to the most common symbolism.

I wish you had written a bit more on the influence of Freemasonry on Jordan. I wouldn't be surprised if Masonic alchemical ideas were more important in the writing of the series than Jungian ones were. Jung added his own ideas, an extra layer of interpretation, to the classical alchemical writings. A good example is his disciple Marie Louise von Franz' interpretation of the Aurora Consurgens.

I first learned about alchemical symbolism in English literature by reading studies of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Donne. It is also obvious in the works of Goethe and Mozart ("The Magic Flute"). All of these long predated Jung.

Linda said...

Thanks for your comments.

I have a whole article on Jordan and Freemasonry due to Jordan being a Freemason. The articles index or symbolism labels would have directed you to it.