Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The Age of Legends

By Linda

This essay describes what we know about the Age of Legends and the role of the Aes Sedai, the cataclysmic events that heralded the end of the Age and the resultant splintering of important groups. Real-world parallels of people and events are included.

Here is a list of topics covered:

Lifestyle in the Age of Legends
Aes Sedai
Da’Shain Aiel
Ishamael’s Philosophy
The War of Power
The Breaking of the World – The End of the Age


It was a very advanced society technologically, with a huge population.

This society was supported by a stable worldwide economy; it is doubtful that the people of the Age would have been able to reach such a high level of advancement without it. The global capitalistic economy gave the greatest rewards for the greatest service, and while Aes Sedai handled many important roles, they represented such a small percentage of the community that the majority of jobs was left open to non-channellers. Financial gain was not difficult to achieve, but meant little in a world where most material things were plentiful. Individuals gained financial reward based on their work and its value to society…There was no poverty. Everyone who wished had a place to serve.

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

Life was very comfortable for all citizens. Moghedien complained that even a humble night labourer had an easier life than the average Third Age citizen (Lord of Chaos, The Storm Gathers).

Since the standard of living was so high for all:

The people of this age had long outgrown any interest in material wealth as a goal unto itself. Status and honour were all-important, and could only be gained through service to the community. All hoped to be allowed to serve according to their gifts and to be found worthy of that service. Several sources mention the fact that even names reflect a person’s status and honor. Everyone was born with two names and could earn the third one only through accomplishment, apparently possible in many fields.

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

This naming system is similar to that of Ancient Rome, where each person was born with two names and a man could be given a third (or more) name celebrating his victory (other third names in Roman times were more like nicknames), and may be one of several parallels of the Age of Legends with the Roman Republic (see below). Those we know who earned third names in the Age of Legends are:

Barid Bel Medar (Demandred)
Duram Laddel Cham (Be’lal)
Elan Morin Tedronai (Ishamael)
Ilyena Moerelle Dalisar
Ishar Morrad Chuain (Aginor)
Joar Addam Nessosin (Asmodean)
Jorlan Corbesan (very probably—although we don’t know his extra name—since he was a famous and brilliant ter’angreal maker whose research facility was the Sharom. He was killed when the drilling of the Bore smashed the Sharom (The Gathering Storm, A Tale of Blood)
Kamarile Maradim Nindar (Graendal)
Latra Posae Decume
Lews Therin Telamon
Nemene Damendar Boann (Semirhage)
Tel Janin Aellinsar (Sammael)

As can be seen, only eight out of the thirteen Forsaken earned this distinction. It was not easy, even for strong channellers.

With such emphasis on status, the Age of Legends was not always egalitarian. Hence Graendal’s metaphor:

By her demeanor, she might have been a Prime Counselor forced to endure the company of common laborers and intent on ignoring their existence.

- The Path of Daggers, New Alliances

Another result was that those who achieved great status could become proud or arrogant. Even Lews Therin Telamon, who did so much for the Light, succumbed to this. He was described as an arrogant man (The Shadow Rising, Veils) and himself admitted:

Because in his pride he had believed that men could match the Creator, could mend what the Creator had made and they had broken. In his pride he had believed.

- The Eye of the World Prologue

Lifestyle in the Age of Legends

The advanced technology of the Age of Legends was environmentally friendly due to the use of the One Power. The weather was carefully regulated by ter’angreal, each ter’angreal affecting a part of a continent (The Path of Daggers, Unweaving). With a safe, clean environment, excellent nutrition and living conditions, and regular Healing with the One Power, average life expectancy for citizens was between one hundred and fifty and two hundred years, considerably longer for Aes Sedai, some of whom lived over 700 years (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ). However mental illness was not easily Healed with the One Power to the extent that many in the Age of Legends believed it could not be done (Towers of Midnight, Use a Pebble).

The One Power was shared so none need feel deprived:

Energy to propel vehicles and operate devices was dispersed through a broadcast process that made it available to anyone with the proper receiving equipment.

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

The ‘standing flows’ made it possible for non-channellers to use almost any ter’angreal (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark).

Life was not only comfortable, but beautiful. Each of the major metropolitan centres was ‘a work of art unto itself’ (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ). View-walls could bring a perfect semblance of the natural world into buildings (Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News).

Some citizens rejected the advanced technology and One Power usage of the Age of Legends:

"Always a thorn in our side, Aren Deshar was.
The enclave of the Incastar—those afraid of progress, afraid of wonder. Turns out they had a right to be afraid."

- Towers of Midnight, A Testing

or at least were much more conservative of what technology they adopted.


Since poverty and unequal standards of living had been eliminated, major conflict between groups of classes of people did not exist.

There were no wars—even the word for war was lost, known only to scholars.

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

Furthermore, financial rewards and high status were earned by serving others, reducing the temptation for political manipulation or financial crime. Crime, including violent crimes and crimes of passion, was not common, but it did occur. The perpetrators of violent acts were bound against repeat offences rather than incarcerated. The binding was done on ter’angreal. Channellers guilty of violent crimes were bound on what is now called an ‘oath rod’ in the Third Age (see Oath Rod section of Ter'angreal article). Once bound, the channeller was unable to repeat their crimes and their lifespan was halved. Multiple bindings were very rare and produced the ageless look (Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow).

Rehabilitation for criminals was described as “quick and certain” (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ), which may account for the low percentage of re-offenders. But there were re-offenders so the rehabilitation success rate was far from 100%.

Rand thought that believing that they were living in a perfect society caused its own problems:

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

- A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon


In the Age of Legends, they spoke the language that is called the Old Tongue in the Third Age. The Old Tongue is like Hebrew, in having shades and layers of meaning in one word.


Paaren Disen was the main city in the Age of Legends. Its name is an allusion to Paradise, so let’s examine possible paradisiacal parallels to the Utopian Age of Legends.

The Greek philosopher Plato described an ideal Republic based on ethics. His ideal city is depicted as being governed by philosopher-kings, the Guardians (also a parallel with the Asha’man); disinterested persons who ruled not for their personal enjoyment but for the good of the City-State. Apart from this, there aren’t many other parallels with Plato’s Republic.

However, there are parallels between the Age of Legends and Thomas More’s Utopia, which was influenced by Plato’s Republic, but went beyond a theoretical republic to describe a living society.

Utopian society was a true commonwealth; founded indeed on common wealth. The Utopians’ abolition of private property, their holding of everything in common—as friends should and early Christians had done—guarded the Utopians against the malign tendencies of human nature to pride, greed and envy. In Utopia nothing was private. Labour was a communal, universal duty. There was no money, no ownership, yet everyone was rich, for there could be no greater riches than to live happily and peacefully, without worries about making a living (Jordan went further and added superb health care). The Utopians were freed to concern themselves with the common good. Once they had been ruled by a king, but now they elected their own governors, choosing them for their virtue… Their society was pacific, benevolent, tolerant and temperate.

Utopia was a society without hierarchies save of virtue, where deference was given only where it was deserved…

- Susan Brigden, New Worlds, Lost Worlds

Jordan’s Age of Legends is a capitalist Utopia, not a communist one like More’s, but has the same emphasis on ethics and service to society.

Citizens of Utopia were discouraged from committing crimes by the threat of bondage, but also were encouraged to virtue with rewards of honour. Thieves were condemned to be common labourers, rather than confined or fettered, and were called bondmen. They were not allowed to touch weapons and were all clad in clothes of the same colour. (This is a cross between binding in the Age of Legends and being made ga’shain by Aiel, or damane or da'covale by the Seanchan). Apart from their daily labour, their life was not hard or uncomfortable.

The priests of Utopia were very holy; their equivalent in the Age of Legends may have been the Da’shain Aiel.

Rhuidean follows Utopian urban design of an open area or market place for every quarter, and indicates that Age of Legend cities probably did the same.


The percentage of the population that had the ability to learn to channel the One Power was small, only two to three percent. This ability enabled them to perform great service to society and as a consequence they had high status, although they still had to earn their third name. These male and female channellers were called Aes Sedai, which meant ‘servant of all’ in the Old Tongue. (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ). This title, ‘servant of all’, for these people with great status recalls the verse from Mark 9:35 in the New Testament:

He sat down and called the twelve and says to them, “If any of you wants to be the ‘number one’, you have to be last of all and servant of all.”

The Aes Sedai symbol:

was a circle, half white and half black with the colours separated by a sinuous line, representing the equal and opposing balance of the saidin and saidar that make up the halves of the True Source.

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

It is a borrowing of the yin-yang symbol of Taoism (see Eschatology essay), and symbolises the balance and dynamism of opposing forces that provides the energy to turn the Wheel of Time. Jordan deliberately left out the dots that the real-world symbol contains because his world did not understand the potential of one extreme to turn into its opposite, and so was at risk of becoming very unbalanced.

Aes Sedai Organisation

The Aes Sedai were ruled from the Hall of Servants located in Paaren Disen. The Hall of Servants was both the guild of the Aes Sedai and the building it was housed in. Aes Sedai performed other jobs besides channelling and could be representatives on the government like any other citizens could be. The guild appears to have been a fairly democratic organisation, judging by the discussion, dissension and voluntary alliances that occurred during the War of Power and the Breaking. The Aes Sedai organised themselves into ajah:

Almost nothing is known about the organisation of Aes Sedai during the Age of Legends, but it is generally accepted that ajah played an important part, though they were nothing like the present day Ajah. In the surviving twenty-three consecutive pages of a dictionary from circa 50 AB, ajah, in the Old Tongue, is defined as “an informal and temporary group of people gathered together for a common purpose or goal, or by a common set of beliefs.” In thirty-one pages all in the same hand, located in the Royal Library in Cairhien, which appear to be random survivors of a larger manuscript reliably dated from the same period, the organization of Aes Sedai in the Age of Legends, or perhaps their manner of functioning, is described as “a vast sea of ajah, all constantly shrinking, growing, dividing, combining, melting away only to be reborn in some new guise and begin the process once more.”

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

This arrangement is similar to that of the Senate in Ancient Rome:

That is not, of course, to deny that there were dissensions within the ranks of the Senate itself. No doubt there were, at all periods. Yet for a very long time there was nothing resembling a divergence of party programmes. It was rather a matter of shifting networks of personal and collective associations, as clans and families, and sometimes individuals, combined temporarily with one another in rival groups.

- Michael Grant, History of Rome

The Head of the Aes Sedai was usually styled as ‘First Among Servants” and sat on the High Seat. At the end of the Age of Legends, Lews Therin held this position. He wore the Ring of Tamyrlin and summoned the Seventeen Generals of Dawn's Gate and the Nine Rods of Dominion (The Eye of the World Prologue). These were people:

Q: What were the Nine Rods of Dominion? Who were the Seventeen Generals of Dawns Gate?
A: The Oath Rod was not one of the Nine Rods of Dominion. The Nine Rods of Dominion that Lews Therin summoned were the regional governors of the earth; a rod—but not an Oath Rod—was the symbol of their office. The Seventeen Generals of Dawn’s Gate were a group of military commanders of high rank who led the fight against the Shadow in the War of Power; their names are unknown.

- Waygate Foundation Q & A

They [the Nine Rods of Dominion] were actual people, and they were, but you might call them regional governors of the earth, regional governors of the planet. So if I say, summon them, then we’ve got a guy who has been given in effect ultimate power.

- Robert Jordan, Dragoncon, September 2005

The title ‘First Among Servants’ is another parallel to Ancient Rome. The Princeps Senatus was the senior member on the roll of the house, and the first to be consulted during a debate. He was a man of unimpeachable integrity and morals chosen by the censors, and the position was reviewed every five years.

The Emperor Augustus was the princeps civitatus (‘first citizen’) and described himself as ‘first among equals’ so as not to reduce the status of the Senate.

How Aes Sedai Worked

Most Aes Sedai worked in teams so individual strength did not matter greatly. Some Aes Sedai were not strong enough to Travel, indicating that channellers did not have to be very strong to be Aes Sedai (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ).

The emphasis on service encouraged all who could channel to train as Aes Sedai. Even weak channellers could have strengths or skills in certain areas. The usage of circles of Aes Sedai for most tasks meant that greater consideration would be given to skill, talents and experience in selecting channellers for a circle rather than mere additive strength.

Certain professions were primarily dominated by Aes Sedai. All Healers were channellers called Restorers. Aes Sedai strong in Earth could find and mine ores without any damage to the structure or ecology of the land. Most technological research and development was done by Aes Sedai. Aes Sedai also manipulated the weather so that droughts, floods and other natural disasters were unknown (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ).

However, many Aes Sedai followed vocations that had nothing to do with the One Power or being Aes Sedai. When it was necessary to form a circle to perform some task, these Aes Sedai were summoned from their other careers by the Hall of the Servants to assist with their particular strengths and skills (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ).

Aes Sedai Lifespans

We have a little information on Aes Sedai lifespans. Moghedien

had lived over two hundred years when the Bore was opened, and was still young, for an Aes Sedai

- The Shadow Rising, Into the Palace

whereas Mesaana

had lived over three hundred years, quite aside from her time sealed in the Bore, and had only been considered just into her middle years.

- Lord of Chaos Prologue

Lews Therin was four hundred when he died (Towers of Midnight, A Testing).

The stronger a channeller, the longer their lifespan (see Age of Aes Sedai characters article). If a strong Aes Sedai such as Moghedien or Mesaana was young at over two hundred, and just into their middle years at over three hundred, then this is roughly equivalent to a tenfold increase in current human lifespans. Therefore an old Aes Sedai who was a strong channeller would be about seven hundred to eight hundred years old and a very old, very strong Aes Sedai would be about one thousand years old (equivalent to a centenarian in our times).


The Hall of Servants controlled and regulated all those who could channel and had branches in every city, town and village that housed Aes Sedai.

Since Aes Sedai of this time often worked in teams, rules of conduct and procedure were essential to the guild. All law and punishment for Aes Sedai were handled within the guild.

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

The Hall was careful to make sure that channellers did not break the law or violate the rights of citizens. Those, like Semirhage, who were found to have done so were given the choice to be bound with a ter’angreal (the Oath Rod of the Third Age) to prevent a repeat of their crime (and have their life span halved, see Oath Rod section of Ter'angreal article) or else to be severed from the source and cast out as Aes Sedai (which also shortened the lifespan drastically). According to Semirhage, binding was usually chosen:

They had expected her to accept binding; that was the rational, proper thing to do, and they were rational, proper men and women…

- Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

Jordan has said that ethics are a very important part of the series, and this is certainly the case in the Age of Legends, not only in the negative sense of the Dark One, Forsaken and the War of the Power, but also, more positively, as the Da’shain Aiel.


The Aes Sedai, the ‘servants of all’, were themselves apparently served by the Da’shain Aiel. Da’shain Aiel means ‘those dedicated to peace’ in the Old Tongue, and the Da’shain swore a covenant—a vow—that bound them to serve the Aes Sedai and uphold the Way of the Leaf, a pacifistic code of honour. Each Da’shain was pledged to a particular Aes Sedai, although an Aes Sedai could be served by more than one Aiel:

Today was his twenty-fifth naming day, and tonight he intended to accept Nalla’s latest offer of marriage…It would mean changing his service to Zorelle Sedai, whom Nalla served, but Mierin Sedai had already given her blessing.

- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated

This also seems to indicate that Da’shain couples (possibly even families) served the same Aes Sedai and that Da’shain families were organised on matrilineal lines.

The Da’shain’s vows to serve were taken very seriously:

[Jonai] added, “We must obey. We are Da’shain Aiel, and we obey the Aes Sedai.”

[Charn] was sworn to serve Aes Sedai, and he was too late. Tears rolled down his face as he ran.

- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated

Even more sacred was the vow to live the Way of the Leaf. Solinda Sedai refers to it as ‘the Covenant’ and asks for the Da’shain to keep that vow even if they lose everything else:

“Keep the Covenant, Jonai. If the Da’shain lose everything else, see they keep the Way of the Leaf. Promise me.”
“Of course, Aes Sedai,” he said, shocked. The Covenant was the Aiel, and the Aiel were the Covenant; to abandon the Way would be to abandon what they were.

- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated

What is the Way of the Leaf?

The Way of the Leaf is a code of peace, sharing and non-violence.

Within this code all trials were to be accepted and endured. There was no excuse for violence.

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

“We harm no one. No one! There is no reason good enough to justify killing another human being. None!…We must accept what comes. Our sufferings are sent to test our faithfulness. We accept and endure!”

- The Shadow Rising, The Road of the Spear

"The Way of the Leaf is not only to do no violence," Ila said gently, "but to accept what comes. The leaf falls in its proper time, uncomplaining. The Light will keep us safe for our time."

- The Eye of the World, The Travelling People

The Da’shain Aiel were literally dedicated to peace and non-violence and would not be violent even to save their lives or the lives of loved ones. (The Fires of Heaven, Rhuidean). Not through lack of courage though:

“You Da’shain have more courage than . . . . Ten thousand Aiel linking arms and singing, trying to remind a madman of who they were and who he had been, trying to turn him with their bodies and a song. Jaric Mondoran killed them. He stood there, staring as though at a puzzle, killing them, and they kept closing their lines and singing...”
“Many people had time to flee, Aes Sedai. The Da’shain earned them time to flee. We are not afraid.”

- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated

The followers of the Way of the Leaf believe violence harms the perpetrator as well as the victim:

"If a man hit me, I would ask him why he wanted to do such a thing. If he still wanted to hit me, I would run away, as I would if he wanted to rob or kill me. Much better that I let him take what he wanted, even my life, than that I should do violence. And I would hope that he was not harmed too greatly."
"But you said you wouldn't hurt him," Perrin said.
"I would not, but violence harms the one who does it as much as the one who receives it."

- The Eye of the World, The Travelling People

Even the Tinkers’ guard dogs are trained according to the Way:

"They will not harm you. They make a show to frighten away danger, and warn us, but they are trained according to the Way of the Leaf. "

- The Eye of the World, The Travelling People

Consistent with a code of non-violence is a vegetarian diet. The Tinkers have a vegetarian diet (The Eye of the World, Shelter From the Storm); most likely the Da’shain did too.

The followers of the Way of the Leaf avoid violence of speech:

Raen's patience seemed inexhaustible. He certainly did not appear to be getting angry at all.

- The Eye of the World, The Travelling People

Even if assaulted, they don’t verbally abuse people, but merely ask them why they are doing such a thing.

They share in the name of peace:

To share was the way. To give freely.

- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated

"You came in peace," Raen intoned, bowing formally, hands on his chest. "Depart now in peace. Always will our fires welcome you, in peace. The Way of the Leaf is peace."

- The Eye of the World, The Travelling People

The Da’shain wore distinctive dress to separate them from other citizens:

They wore their hair short except for a tail in the back. They usually dressed in plain coat, breeches, and soft laced boots, usually in shades of brown or gray.

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

Da’shain wore modest practical clothes. ‘Working clothes’ implies that other clothes, perhaps more formal or ceremonial clothes, were also worn by the Da’shain.

The Way of the Leaf is as much about sharing, warmth and compassion as about peace and non-violence.

Perrin wanted to argue with them, but behind all the warmth and compassion on their faces lay a stony firmness. He thought he would get Bain and Chiad to don dresses and give up their spears—or Gaul to!—before he made these people budge an inch.

- The Shadow Rising, A Missing Leaf

The followers of the Way of the Leaf are unswerving in their faith, even unto death.

What Were Da’shain Able To Do Because They Follow The Way of the Leaf?

The service and purity of the Da’shain appears to have given them empathy for the Creator’s One Power, allowing them to "often enhance channelling" with their singing (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). For example, during ‘seed singing’, the Ogier (a separate race of beings gifted with the ability to aid and enhance growing things), Nym and Da’shain Aiel worked as a team, focussing the One Power to ensure perfect growth for every field they ‘sang’.

This is only one type of Singing that took place. There were probably others, such as when they aided Aes Sedai. As well as aiding channelling, Singing may have had a religious or meditative role:

Lew Therin turned, seeming unsurprised. “Ah, a guest. Have you the Voice, stranger? It will soon be time for the Singing, and here all are welcome to take part.”

- The Eye of the World, Prologue

(This also shows the close relationship between Lews Therin Telamon and the Da’shain Aiel. It may also explain Moghedien’s description of Lews Therin Telamon as ‘stinking of piety and goodness' (The Shadow Rising, Veils)).

It is this ability to enhance channelling with song that the Tinkers are probably searching for (see Tinker section below).

Second Covenant

As well as their Covenant to serve the Aes Sedai and follow the Way of the Leaf, the Da’shain swore a second covenant:

The Da’shain never knew that this task [of taking the angreal and ter’angreal to a place of safety] was also meant to get the Aiel themselves out of harm’s way because the Aes Sedai could no longer protect them. The second covenant, occasionally spoken of by Aiel and Tinkers, probably refers to this last duty the Aes Sedai laid upon the Aiel.

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

This shows that the Da’shain swore more than one vow, or that they regarded a promise to be a vow.

The Da’shain were honoured for their faithfulness and devotion to their vows:

Their loyalty to the covenant and their service earned the Da’shain a level of respect second only to that accorded to the Aes Sedai…Before the Breaking it was unheard of to harm or even threaten the Da’shain Aiel.

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

Lews Therin Telamon and the Aes Sedai protected the Da’shain Aiel after the War with the Shadow began, while accepting their service in all non-military matters. Perhaps it was this mutual service and protection under Lews Therin that led to the Da’shain being called the People of the Dragon (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time):

“You are a Child of the Dragon, are you not?”
Jonai winced. That name had caused trouble, no less for not being true. But how many citizens now believed the Da’shain Aiel had once served the Dragon and no other Aes Sedai?

- The Shadow Rising, The Dedicated

Once the Breaking began and Lews Therin was reviled above all other mad male Aes Sedai, reverence for the Da’shain ceased.

In summary, the Way of the Leaf is a code of non-violence, vegetarianism, sharing, compassion, modesty, service, acceptance, fearlessness, and unswerving faithfulness even until death. This code has a real-world parallel in Jainism.


Jainism is an ancient, highly ethical and austere Indian religion which practices complete non-violence. Jains are also described as ‘those who treat everything with equanimity’ and ‘those who have conquered passions’ (such as desire, greed, anger, hatred and pride in one’s efforts).

Jains do not believe in God as creator of the universe, or as a supernatural power who helps those who please him; nor in God’s reincarnation as a human to save mankind from evil. They believe that the universe is eternal and self-regulated and that the Wheel of Time turns without beginning or end. They envision Time as a wheel with twelve spokes, each spoke representing an Age, with six Ages forming an ascending arc and six a descending one. In the ascending arc, human prosperity, happiness, and lifespan increase and in the descending arc, prosperity, happiness, and lifespan decrease. Image from www.satipanya.org.uk.

They also believe in reincarnation of souls into different living forms in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, and in the interdependence of all things in the universe. They do not accept one-sided views, but consider all angles and aspects of a given situation, including the positive viewpoints of other species, other communities and nations and other human beings.

The ultimate goal in Jainism is to get rid of the karma (the results of selfishness and materialism) on one’s soul so that it is liberated from this cycle and rests in the heavens forever, free from pain, suffering and the bondage of birth and death. Such self-realised souls are regarded as gods in Jainism. Jains rely on their own efforts, not only in making their way in the world, but also in attaining salvation. Karma can be destroyed through a process of ‘wearing away’:

which includes fasting, restricting diet, controlling taste, retreating to lonely places, along with mortifications of the body, atonement and expiation for sins, modesty, service, study, meditation, and renunciation of the ego.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

The supreme ideal of the Jain religion is non-violence, equal kindness, and reverence for all forms of life in speech, thought, and action. Above all, it is a religion of love and compassion to all living beings. Jain scriptures say: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." Jains take five major vows: to protect all life and abstain from violence, to speak the truth, not to steal, to be chaste, and to limit possessions. Other vows

involve avoidance of unnecessary travel, of harmful activities, and of the pursuit of pleasure; fasting and control of diet; offering gifts and service to monks, the poor, and fellow believers; and voluntary death if the observance of the major vows proves impossible.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Non-violence refers not only to wars and visible physical acts of violence, but to violence in the hearts and minds of human beings and their lack of concern and compassion for fellow humans or for any other living being. Ancient Jain texts explain that violence is not defined by actual harm, for this may be unintentional. It is the intention to harm and the absence of compassion that makes actions violent. Without violent thought there could be no violent actions. Anger, pride, greed, deceit, jealousy, etc constitute mental violence, and harsh language, lying, character assassination, insisting on own ideas and not listening to others constitute violence of speech. All lying is prohibited unless the truth results in greater violence. Theft is also considered a form of violence.

In a positive sense, non-violence means caring for and sharing with all living beings and tending, protecting and serving them. It entails universal friendliness, universal forgiveness and universal fearlessness. The Jains have a strong determination to follow the path of righteousness without any fear and refuse to approve in thought, word, or deed the path of wrong belief.

Jains not only eat a vegetarian diet, but also don’t kill plants for vegetables; they merely take leaves and fruits off the plants. They drink water which has been boiled or filtered to make sure there are no life forms in it.

Jains choose a profession or a business that has a minimum amount of violence. They stay away from the trades that involve suffering and killing of animals or that adversely affect the environment and ecology, and pollute or dry-up natural resources. Trades that involve weapons and explosives, fire, heavy water use, cutting of trees, fermented products, animal parts, animal testing, poisonous and toxic substances, or prostitution are discouraged. Nor do they buy stocks or invest in such businesses or buy or sell such goods, since creating demand encourages others to kill and is thus equivalent to committing the deed.

The acceptable professions are trade in ethically sound goods, medicine, mathematics, agriculture, artisan crafts, raising animals, service to a ruler or mendicancy.

Jains must be completely faithful to their own spouse, dress modestly and not flirt or ogle. Jain ascetics have no possessions and the laity are encouraged to minimize the accumulation of possessions and enjoyment for personal ends. Using any resource beyond one’s needs is regarded as a form of theft.

Jains are divided into monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. There are two groups of Jain monks and nuns:

The Shvetambaras (literally "white clad"): their monks wear simple white robes and a white piece of cloth to cover the mouth, so that they don’t inhale and kill microbes and insects, and carry a broom with which they sweep the ground in front of them as they walk so as to clear away insects and other living beings that would be hurt or killed by being stepped on.

The Digambaras (literally "sky clad" or naked): Their monks carry asceticism to the point of rejecting even clothing (even when they appear in public). Under Muslim rule this custom was banned, and since then (15th century) the Digambara monks have been wearing the white robe like the Úvetâmbaras. Digambara monks use a peacock-feather duster to sweep the ground where they walk to avoid injuring any life forms and drink water from a gourd. They beg for their only meal of the day using the cupped palms of their hand as an alms bowl (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

After initiation a monk must adhere to the “great vows” to avoid injuring any life-form, lying, stealing, having sexual intercourse, or accepting personal possessions. Monks are expected to suffer with equanimity hardships imposed by the weather, geographic terrain, travel, or physical abuse.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica


There are several similarities between the Da’shain and the Jain, and some also between the Jain and the descendants of the Da’shain (Aiel and Tinkers).

The Wheel of Time symbol, with spokes representing Ages, cycling eternally, is borrowed from Hindu and Jain religions (see Eschatology essay). The change from the Age of Legends (where people had longer lifespans, better health, living standards and prosperity) to the Third Age is similar to the change from an ascending arc to a descending one of the Jain Wheel of Time. As well as cyclic time, reincarnation and salvation are part of the Jain and Wheel of Time world theologies.

While the Jains do not believe in a Creator, their belief in a self-regulating universe is a parallel of the Creator’s role of non-interference in the Wheel of Time world. The Da’shain (and many others in the Age of Legends) may not have believed in the Dark One contending with the Creator since the Dark One was sealed away for so long. Prior to the drilling of the Bore, the Dark One was all but unknown and therefore would inevitably be allocated a lesser role (or none at all). The theology at this time would be less dualistic than in the Third Age. Jordan derived this dualistic theology from real-world religions, notably Zoroastrianism. From the drilling of the Bore to the end of the Third Age, we see the interplay between the dualistic theology of the Wheel of Time world derived from West Asian religions, and the austere, ethical religion of the Jain-like Da’shain (see Theology essay). The Da’shain Aiel’s total adherence to their vows and their dedication to personal purification may indicate that they, like the Jains, believe that each person reaches salvation through their own efforts.

There is a great emphasis on vows (covenants) in both philosophies. Both Jains and Da’shain are prepared to die rather than break their vows. Non-violence is the most important of these vows.

Those following Jainism and the Way of the Leaf are vegetarian. They are also kind to animals. The Tinkers, for instance, are careful not to work their horses hard (The Eye of the World, Shelter From the Storm.)

Jain and Da’shain both accept what comes with equanimity and without fear, as do the Tinkers and Aiel.

The undemonstrative, reserved nature of Aiel, who won’t embrace where they can be seen by others, may be a custom derived from their Da’shain ancestors. If so, this would be a parallel of the chaste and modest Jain. The Jains wear modest, practical clothing; so do the Da’shain and Aiel. The Tinkers apparently abandoned this, since their clothes are garish, but fairly decorous. The white-clad Gai’shain of the Aiel are dressed like Jain monks and are the only Aiel that follow the non-violence of the Da’shain. Perhaps there were ascetics among the Da’shain who dressed similarly and had more restrictive vows, or perhaps the white clothes were ceremonial clothes or meditative clothes for all Da’shain. (Furthermore, a gai’shain is naked until white clothes can be provided; the Jains have a sect of naked monks.)

The Da’shain occupation of service to Aes Sedai equates with service to a ruler, an acceptable occupation for Jains and one that many have followed.

As a side note, the Third Age Aes Sedai currently bind themselves with the Oath Rod to a semblance of Jainism (or Da’shain philosophy), including truthfulness, when in actual fact they violate it in spirit.


This section will discuss Ishamael’s philosophy and how it fits into the thought and events of the Age of Legends.

As Elan Morin Tedronai, he was one of the foremost philosophers of his time, possibly the foremost. His books (among them Analysis of Perceived Meaning, Reality and the Absence of Meaning, and the Disassembly of Reason), while too esoteric for wide popularity, were extremely influential in many areas beyond philosophy, especially in the arts…

He called for the complete destruction of the old order—indeed the complete destruction of everything.

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

Ishamael’s philosophy is a philosophy of nihilism (from Latin nihil, “nothing”) or destruction. In our world, nihilism is a philosophy of scepticism that originated in Germany and Russia, although the term is an old one applied to certain heretics in the Middle Ages. It was equated by many as synonymous with revolution; a social menace due its negation of all moral principles:

Fundamentally, nihilism represented a philosophy of negation of all forms of aestheticism; it advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism. The social sciences and classical philosophical systems were rejected entirely. Nihilism represented a crude form of positivism and materialism, a revolt against the established social order; it negated all authority exercised by the state, by the church, or by the family.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

It is a corruption of the rational philosophies, such as Jainism, that encourage self-development and self-realisation. Speculation: Ishamael’s ideas grew out of the Da’shain Aiel’s Jain-like philosophy.

Nihilists denied the duality of man as a combination of body and soul, of spiritual and material substance and came into violent conflict with ecclesiastical authorities. They questioned the doctrine of divine right, social bonds and family authority, and came into similar conflict with secular authorities. Nihilism changed from a faith in science into a justification of terror and destruction as a means to attain set goals. Nihilists were profoundly influenced by Charles Darwin’s ideas on the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. The Dark One also believes in the survival of the fittest, and so do his minions, the Forsaken.

The philosopher Nietzsche used the term “nihilism” to describe the devaluation of the highest moral values and ideals:

With the collapse of metaphysical and theological foundations and sanctions for traditional morality only a pervasive sense of purposelessness and meaninglessness would remain. And the triumph of meaninglessness is the triumph of nihilism: “God is dead.”

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Ishamael wrote a book entitled Reality and the Absence of Meaning, indicating that he is following this philosophy and actively aiding the Dark One to defeat the Creator.

Nietzsche thought, however, that most men could not accept the intrinsic meaninglessness of existence but would supplant God with another absolute (such as the nation-state) to invest life with meaning. The slaughter of rivals and conquest of the earth would occur in the name of these new absolutes. In the Wheel of Time world, the Forsaken have not replaced the Creator with nationalism, but want to replace him with the Dark One. They are indeed slaughtering and conquering in the Dark One’s name, Ishamael most of all. Nietzsche’s philosophy also greatly influenced the Nazis, who are parallels for the Forsaken (see Three Strands Common to the Forsaken essay).

Nietzsche seems to be a parallel for Ishamael. Both of them made a contribution to the theory of knowledge in their respective times. Just as Ishamael wrote a book on analysis of perceived meaning, Nietzsche wrote about perspectivism, a concept which holds that knowledge is always perspectival, that there are no perfect, ideal perceptions and that all knowledge depends on the point of view of the thinker, just as all sights depend on the vantage point of the viewer.

The Jains (from which the Da’shain Aiel were derived) also hold to perspectivism. In their doctrine of manifold aspects, absolute truth cannot be determined from one viewpoint, but is the sum total of the individual truth of each different viewpoint. Again, Ishamael has taken this philosophy to its (negative) extreme, manipulating truth—and through truth, people—to his own ends.

The doctrine of eternal recurrence, the basic conception of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, asks the question “How well disposed would a person have to become to himself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than the infinite repetition, without alteration, of each and every moment?” …The person who could accept recurrence without self-deception or evasion would be a superhuman being (Übermensch), a superman whose distance from the ordinary man is greater than the distance between man and ape, Nietzsche says (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Zarathrustra is another name for Zoroaster, the prophet of Zoroastrianism, a major influence on Wheel of Time theology (see Theology essay). Eternal recurrence is an equivalent of the cyclic time of Indian and Greco-Oriental religions. In the Wheel of Time world theology, where Time is cyclic, the Forsaken, who regard themselves as superhuman, are actively aiding the Dark One to kill time and remake the world in his own image.

Ishamael’s philosophy stands at the crossroads of the cyclic time derived from Indian and Greco-Oriental philosophies, the Jainism of the Da’shain, and the dualistic Zoroastrian theology of the Wheel of Time world. How apt then, that the Dark One and Shadowspawn are linked with crossroads and that the interplay between these three philosophies has been corrupted by the Shadow and desire to cause the death of time, the defeat of the Creator, and the re-creation of the world in the Dark One’s image.


The Drilling of the Bore and the Collapse

The Bore was drilled by Mierin (later Lanfear) and Beidomon to obtain access to a power that both men and women could use. Unbeknownst to these researchers, this power was the Dark One’s True Power emanating from the Dark One in his Prison, and could be sensed at that point due to a thinness in the Pattern. So the Bore was a scientific experiment gone wrong.

Lanfear’s fateful decision to drill into the Bore (with Beidomon’s assistance) to find a single Power men and women could both use, combines the ambition of Lilith with the fatal curiosity of Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (see Lanfear parallels essay).

Another parallel of such fatal curiosity in a beautiful woman is Pandora, a woman from Greek mythology upon whom the gods bestowed their choicest gifts. She found a jar or vase—the so-called Pandora's box—containing all manner of misery and evil. Pandora opened the jar out of curiosity, and evils flew out over the earth. Only hope remained in the vase (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

It is important to note that at this time Mierin was not evil. The resulting backlash from the Bore created:

ripples in the fabric of reality as shock waves from the breach shook the Pattern.

Up to this time, the denizens of the world had only to deal with the evil within themselves. If motivations for war and hate were removed, then so were the resultant activities. The Bore changed all of that.

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

For the first time in this Age, the Dark One could touch the world and corrupt it:

The fabric of society began to unravel under the onslaught of the Dark One’s influence. A large part of the horror came from the simple fact that for many years, no one knew why this was all happening; chaos seemed to be welling up from nowhere, without cause.

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

Society became increasingly violent:

“You were a greater swordsman, once, Lews Therin,” he [Be’lal] said mockingly. “Do you remember when we took that tame sport called swords and learned to kill with it, as the old volumes said men once had?”

- The Dragon Reborn, What is Written in Prophecy

It was during this time that such brutal sports as sha’je dueling came briefly into vogue. Sha’je duels, held at Qual, involved the use of left- and right-hand daggers, called respectively osan’gar and aran’gar, tipped with slow poison… In some parts of the world, in the years immediately preceding the final collapse into war, murder, rape and even torture became regular parts of many spectator sports.

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

This social and moral decline induced by the Dark One’s touch is called the Collapse and lasted approximately one hundred to one hundred and ten years after the drilling of the Bore. It is an apt name, since order (along with belief, the mainstay of the Light against the Shadow) did collapse, and civilisation nearly did as well. A real-world parallel to this period would be the later Roman Empire, when society became increasingly violent and decadent.

During the Collapse some channellers chose to serve the Dark One and:

all of these Dreadlords, as they were known, travelled to the Pit of Doom in Shayol Ghul to dedicate their souls to the Dark Lord.

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

The War

The Dark One cannot break free of his prison without assistance from our world which is why the War of the Shadow began with an attempt to release the Dark One from his prison and take control of the world.

This event was the actual beginning of the War of the Shadow, which pitted the followers and minions of the Dark against those who fought to resist, and which soon involved the whole world. During the resulting ten-year struggle, all the forgotten facets of war were rediscovered, in many cases twisted by the Dark.

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

However as seen above, the Collapse was very dark long before this.

Demandred was the one to rediscover books on military strategy for the Light (A Memory of Light, Eastward the Wind Blew).

In the War of Power killing was worldwide and on a vast scale, with weapons that reached across thousands of miles (The Path of Daggers Unweaving).

The sho-wings faltered and fell, each carrying hundreds to death. Buildings shattered like glass, cities burned, the land heaved like storm-tossed seas.

- Lord of Chaos, Matters of Toh

For a year during the War of Power, both sides had used balefire…Entire cities died in balefire that year, hundreds of thousands of threads burned from the Pattern; reality itself almost unraveled, world and universe evaporating like mist.

- Lord of Chaos Prologue

Nuclear weapons, which can destroy on a large scale and vaporise people, might be a real-world equivalent to balefire.

The War of Shadow forced Lews Therin into a more autocratic role in order to lead the world through the war. An historic parallel for Lews Therin would be Julius Caesar. Both were the most acclaimed—later notorious—men of their ages, and were politicians, authors and generals who felt compelled by events into a dictatorial role. They were ungrudging in their praise of others’ merit, and were nevertheless betrayed by close colleagues:

Sammael and Demandred hated me, whatever honors I gave them. The more honors, the worse the hate, until they sold their souls and went over.

- Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival

Rand reassessed his attitude to Demandred, realising that he played a part in Demandred's fall:

Of all those to turn to the Shadow, Demandred’s betrayal seemed the most tragic. The man could have been a hero. Should have been a hero.
If I’d offered a hand instead of a smirk, if I’d congratulated instead of competed. If I’d been the man then that I am now...

- A Memory of Light, Eastward the Wind Blew

After turning to the Shadow, Demandred founded the Eighty and One and then attacked Lews Therin, his hated rival. Tellindal Tirraso, Lews Therin’s clerk, was killed, perhaps by friendly fire (Towers of Midnight, A Testing).

The war lasted ten years (The Eye of the World, Prologue), with the Light losing ground in the last few years:

It was as if with every step forward by the Shadow, disorder and chaos grew, and feeding on that, the Shadow gained strength, so that its next stride was longer, and the next after would be longer still.

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

This was due, Rand believed, to a lack of unity in their fighting forces (A Memory of Light, To Require A Boon), which is why the Light began to devise desperate plans to end the war.

Desperate End-game Plans

Lews Therin’s plan was to directly attack the Bore itself, reseal it and cut the Dark One’s access to the world so that the world would have a chance to return to normal. The risk was that the Dark One would instantly detect any channelling near Shayol Ghul and destroy the raiding party. Or if the seals were not placed precisely, the Bore could split open under the strain and free the Dark One completely.

An alternative plan involved creating two huge sa’angreal, the Choedan Kal, one attuned to saidin and one to saidar, and both so powerful that using them safely required special ter’angreal, like miniature versions of the great sa’angreal, constructed especially for the purpose. While the sa’angreal were thought to be so powerful that either one might enable a single person to channel enough of the One Power to destroy the world, and both together certainly would do so, used together they would be powerful enough to defeat the Shadow’s forces and erect a barrier around Shayol Ghul. This would give the Light’s forces time to determine how to deal with the Bore safely. However, some doubted that so much of the One Power could possibly be handled safely. Supporters of this plan had no intention of trying to seal the Bore immediately because any seals had to be placed precisely (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time ).

Irreconcilable disagreement on which plan to adopt led to Latra Posae Decume organising the fateful concord, the first division of Aes Sedai along male/female lines. Strong women channellers formally declared that they would not participate in Lews Therin’s attack on Shayol Ghul.

Judging from the Forsaken meeting in Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News, the Forsaken knew about the secret Choedan Kal project, and their forces deliberately overran the areas where the access keys were made and threatened areas where the sa’angreal were kept. Agents sent to recover the access keys were killed by the Shadow. Peace factions pressed for truce with the Shadow.

The War of the Shadow has much in common with World War II. The Nazis are historic parallels of the Forsaken (see Three Strands Common to the Forsaken essay and essays on various Forsaken). Prior to and during World War II, political and social repression, instability, and military violence were rising throughout Europe, and the same occurred during the Collapse and in the Forsaken controlled areas in the War of Power.

The Allies felt they were losing ground and developed risky plans to win the war; plans equivalent to the development of the Choedan Kal and the strike on Shayol Ghul.

The Manhattan Project, the U.S. government research project (1942–45) that produced the first atomic bombs, is probably a parallel to the Choedan Kal plan.

Similarities between the two projects are:

  • There was much argument over both plans.

  • Both sides were racing to develop these powerful weapons to end the wars.

  • Both were developed in secrecy as well as haste.

  • Research was done and parts were made at different secret locations in both projects.

  • Two bombs, one using uranium, the other plutonium as the fission material, were developed in the Manhattan Project; two sa’angreal, one attuned to saidar, the other saidin, were developed in the Choedan Kal project.

  • Both projects produced technology that gave the users god-like capabilities (“we could challenge the Dark One or the Creator”) and could be used to benefit mankind as well as destroy it.

  • In both projects, the enormous amounts of power available to the users terrified the population and inspired fear that they could destroy civilisation or the world:

    [Cyndane] spoke of the Choedan Kal as one familiar with the terror they had inspired during the War of Power. Only balefire had been more feared, and only just… So they would take al'Thor—while he was trying to use the Choedan Kal, no less, he and some woman drinking enough of the One Power to melt continents!

    - Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News

  • In both projects some feared the technology couldn’t be used safely at all.

  • There were regrets that nuclear weapons and the Choedan Kal were ever built.

The two atomic bombs were used, though many argued that this was unnecessary because the war was soon to end anyway. In the Age of Legends, the Choedan Kal were not able to be used, and the strike on Shayol Ghul occurred instead. (When the Choedan Kal were finally used during Winter’s Heart (ironically to destroy the nuclear radiation-like taint on saidin, see section below on taint), they created enormous destruction similar to that of a nuclear blast.)

The real-world parallel for the Strike on Shayol Ghul appears to be a combination of Operation Overlord (the D-Day Invasion of Europe, June 1944) and Operation Market Garden (the invasion of the Low Lands).

Both the strike on Shayol Ghul and Operation Overlord had a large "diversionary" effort supporting the main strike. Warmen supported the male channellers at Shayol Ghul and paratroopers were dropped behind the Nazis to both draw the defenders away and keep reinforcements away from the beach heads. The attacks occurred while both the Nazi and Forsaken high command were having a war meeting. The strike on Shayol Ghul was completely unexpected and only partially successful; Operation Overlord was expected by the Nazis to occur, but elsewhere and not in such marginal weather, and was a success. Both operations were costly in terms of soldiers’ lives.

Operation Market Garden (September 1944) may be a closer parallel. The Allies were under great pressure, having lost the momentum of the D-Day Invasion. The Allies were divided over whether to attack the Rhur, and disable Germany’s manufacturing centre (General Patton’s plan) or move swiftly through the Low Lands into Germany and take Berlin (Field Marshall Montgomery’s plan). It was the risky plan to aim for Berlin (as the Nazi command centre, it is equivalent to Shayol Ghul) that was adopted. Three divisions of paratroopers were dropped in daylight to secure strategic bridges to allow armoured divisions to promptly cross. The crucial factor in this operation was the tight timing, just as the crucial factor in the Shayol Ghul strike was precision. The advance was halted at the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem, which was more heavily defended than expected and the whole operation is most often called A Bridge Too Far because of it. The strike on Shayol Ghul also ran into difficulties, not due to lack of precision in placing the seals, as expected, but due to the Dark One’s counterstroke.


The Counterstroke

Lews Therin made an executive decision to attack Shayol Ghul with considerable success, but saidin was tainted by the Dark One’s counterstroke and the Time of Madness and Breaking of the World began.

There are two real-world parallels to the Dark One’s counterstroke. One is the Dolorous Stroke of Arthurian legend. In some tales, the stroke was delivered by Sir Balin and led to the Waste Land and the need for the Quest for the Holy Grail (or San Greal). In other versions the blame is attached to Perceval for failing to ask the Fisher King (the Fisher is an equivalent to Rand, see Sha'rah article) the meaning of the Grail (Encyclopaedia of Fantasy). Appropriately the sa’angreal (the name is derived from San Greal) were eventually used to cleanse the taint from saidin (the Dark One’s dolorous stroke) which had caused the Waste Land.

The other parallel is more modern. After a time, the taint causes men to rot alive and also to go mad. Nuclear radiation sickness is similar to the sickness from the taint. Rotting alive is comparable to the cancer and infection suffered by those with radiation sickness due to the destruction of their immune systems. In high dosages, radiation causes delirium and death. Exposure to radiation has a cumulative effect on the body; exposure to the taint appears to have the same. Interestingly, both the taint (indirectly) and radiation (directly) turn the land into a wasteland, just like the Dolorous Stroke. Jordan got a lot of his ideas for the catastrophes at the end of the Age of Legends from nuclear weapons—balefire, the Dark One’s counterstroke and also the Choedan Kal.

Lews Therin and the sixty-eight survivors of the Hundred went insane on the instant, and soon began unleashing destruction at anything that crossed their path. Other male Aes Sedai noticed the taint right away, but some time passed before these men began to go insane, and still more before anyone realised the cause.

Mad Times – Decline and Fall of the Age of Legends

Civilization survived for many years after the strike at Shayol Ghul, though the decline into barbarism was inevitable. Society was ravaged by both the mad male Aes Sedai and the remaining Shadowspawn. Eventually fighting ceased as people concentrated on surviving the Breaking.

The Breaking of the World lasted from 239 to 344 years and ended when the last male Aes Sedai died. The great cities were ruined or obliterated. The seas had moved or boiled away and the land changed out of all recognition. The population was a fraction of its former size. Many died because they could not endure the hardships. Many Ogier died of the Longing because they no longer knew where the stedding were. All the chora trees died except for a few cuttings with the Da’shain Aiel. Most of the Nym died.

As for the seven Seals:

In the chaos, the surviving Aes Sedai scattered the seven cuendillar seals that held the Bore, lest one of the maddened Aes Sedai, or even one of the Shadowsworn, find them unprotected. Only a few souls knew where they were secreted.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s the Whee of Time

Lews Therin’s achievements were forgotten; only his crime inspired by the Dark One’s taint and perhaps Ishamael’s prompting remained. Ishamael is a jealous despoiler of other’s deeds and memories, and the ultimate defamer.

A real-world parallel for this period would be the end of the western ancient Roman Empire, which was under pressure from invasion by ‘barbarian hordes’ on all sides and finally collapsed into the Dark Ages. Much knowledge and technology was lost, and urban centres declined. As the Western Empire fell, the Church rose, eventually to be influential in providing leadership and knowledge. Similarly, in the Wheel of Time world, some time after the Breaking, the White Tower was founded.

Beginning of the Third Age

At the end of the Breaking, the male Aes Sedai were all dead. The female Aes Sedai (and other female channellers) split:

  • Female Aes Sedai on the mainland amalgamated into Ajahs, and then founded the White Tower.

  • Female Aes Sedai on the Seanchan continent contended with each other.

  • Female channellers (possibly Aes Sedai) in Shara took control as Ayyad and established a system of ruling through a sequence of puppet monarchies.

  • Female channellers among the Aiel became respected as Wise Ones.

  • Female channellers among the Sea Folk became respected as Windfinders.

As the struggle for survival became increasingly hard and desperate, and the Da’shain’s pacificism was no longer respected, the Da’shain split into:

  • Jenn

  • Aiel

  • Tinkers (Tuatha’an)

  • probably Amayar

Each group kept different parts of the Da’shain customs.

Tinkers, Tuatha’an

The Tinkers were the first to separate from the Da’shain, convinced that the guardianship of the Aes Sedai relics was a hopeless mission. They decided to search for the lost Song of the Da’shain. They abandoned their vow of service (and the Da’shain mode of dress!) but retained the Way of the Leaf. Their real-world parallel is the gypsies; both groups are travelling folk that are despised by other peoples.

The Tuatha’an are not sworn to service. They have kept to most of the Way of the Leaf, but perhaps not all—the Da’shain were probably more modest than the Tinkers. It is likely that Da’shain practised frequent meditation dressed in white robes, and this, too, has probably been abandoned by the Tinkers.


The Aiel were those Da’shain who abandoned the Way of the Leaf to defend their families from attackers. They followed the Jenn in order to protect them. The Da’shain told the Aiel to hide their killers’ faces, hence the origin of the Aiel face-veiling before a kill (in complete contrast to the Jain, who cover their mouths and nose with a cloth to avoid breathing in and killing insects). They would not use swords, since a sword existed only to kill people. This attitude stems from the Way of the Leaf. They adapted the working clothes of the Da’shain to their desert environment.

Interestingly, the Aiel secretly kept the title ‘people of the Dragon’ inherited from the Da’shain, but don’t recognise the ‘Prophecies of Dragon’. They have their own prophecies.

Gai’shain are Aiel taken prisoner by other Aiel during a raid or battle. They must serve their captor humbly and obediently for one year and a day with no complaint or thought of escape. They wear white robes to clearly distinguish them from other Aiel during their service and must touch no weapon and do no violence in that time. Perhaps the gai’shain are a throwback to the obedient and non-violent service the original Da’shain Aiel used to give to the Aes Sedai (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). The Da’shain Aiel may have worn white robes for occasions of especial sanctity such as meditation or ceremonies.

The Aiel have several real-world parallels: the Israelites, Irish, American First Nations and Zulus. They will be discussed briefly in turn.

There were twelve tribes of Israelites, and there are also twelve clans of the Aiel. Both made a covenant and wandered for some time through desert lands until they found a place to settle. The Da'shain's covenant was to be dedicated to service and the Israelites were in servitude to the Egyptians. This stanza from the Psalms of Solomon 17 is very reminiscent of the Aiel and their split from the Da’shain during the trials of the Breaking and their development into skilled and dangerous warriors:

And the children of the covenant in the midst of the mingled peoples surpassed them in evil.
There was not among them one that wrought in the midst of Jerusalem mercy and truth.
They that loved the synagogues of the pious fled from them,
As sparrows that fly from their nest.
They wandered in deserts that their lives might be saved from harm,
And precious in the eyes of them that lived abroad was any that escaped alive from them…
Over the whole earth were they scattered by lawless men.
For the heavens withheld the rain from dropping upon the earth,

The Aiel are prophesied to take back their places of old, a parallel of the Israelites being promised fertile lands in Canaan. Rand performed a Moses-like role in leading the Aiel out of the Waste to their prophesied places.

Jordan has said that he deliberately gave the Aiel Irish colouring, but the parallel with the Irish is more extensive than this. In medieval and renaissance times, Gaelic Ireland was tribal, organised by clans and septs with intense competition and often warfare between clans and even septs of clans. Feuds and raids were also common, just as among the Aiel. Great private armies were necessary in Ireland as lordship rested on a system of protection and intimidation. In neither society was rulership inherited by the chief’s children. The Aiel wedding custom of the bridegroom and his kin having to fight off the bride’s kin are similar to medieval Irish wedding customs.

The ancient system of ransoms and payments of Irish law was based on compensation and kin responsibility and is similar to Aiel ji’e’toh. If the guilty refused to pay compensation, the injured party could seize his property or that of his kin. This is equivalent to a gai’shain’s relatives offering themselves as gai’shain if their relative violates the rules of gai’shain.

The Aiel have features of the U.S. plains dwelling and the desert dwelling American First Nations. They are tribal peoples with matrilineal descent important, as the Aiel are. The crops cultivated by the Aiel are crops of the First Nations: t’mat (tomato), green beans, squash, zemai (corn/maize (scientific name: Zea mays)) and algode (Spanish word for cotton). Prior to the arrival of Europeans, there were no horses in the Americas, which is a parallel with the Aiel scorning to ride horses.

The warriors of the plains Nations are organised into warrior societies and some tribes had women warriors. They had a system of graded honours in their warfare (taking coup) and, as with the Aiel, touching an enemy rated highly. Their traditional weapons are the bow and the lance; only the former is used by the Aiel.

Aviendha’s vision in the glass columns ter’angreal of the likely future decay of the Aiel is a reference to the destruction of First Nations cultures which occurred after Europeans arrived (see Aiel Prophecy). Rand has parallels to Hiawatha (see Rand essay), Aviendha to Minnehaha and her advisor Nakomi to Hiawatha’s grandmother Nokomis (see Character Names N article).

The desert survival techniques and customs of the Aiel are derived from the desert dwelling Indians. The dwellings at Cold Rocks Hold are basically South West Nations cliff houses.

The Zulu of southern Africa, like the Aiel, are a tribal society with each clan having a chief supported by sub-chiefs (equivalent to sept chiefs). Men train to be warriors from an early age in this highly military society. Their traditional weapons consist of a cowhide shield, long spears (which the Aiel don’t use) and the assegai, a short stabbing spear.


The Jenn Aiel kept true to all of the Da’shain covenants: the Way of the Leaf, service to Aes Sedai and taking the objects of power to a place of safety. The name Jenn may have been derived from Jain, their real-world parallel described above, although the Rigney's stove was a Jenn Air (pers. comm. Maria Simons) or it was inspired by both. The Jenn built Rhuidean and then dwindled and died out.

Why did the Da’shain lose the ability to enhance channelling with song? The technique may have been lost because there were no Aes Sedai with the Da’shain for some time. The amount of violence that the Da’shain witnessed during the War and the Breaking may also have withered their ability. Perhaps meditation and religious ceremonies were necessary for their spiritual purity and were no longer performed in the harsh conditions. These things may have all contributed. “Belief and order give strength” in Wheel of Time theology and both were sorely lacking at this time.


The Amayar may also have been a group of Da’shain:

They follow what they call the Water Way, which, while not as pacifistic as the Way of the Leaf, still prizes acceptance of what is rather than what might be wished for. There is a strong strain of belief among them that what we call ‘reality’ is not truly real, but only a waypost on the path to another existence.

Violence is frowned upon. While young men might get into a fist fight or wrestling match, they would be held up to public shame for it. Murder and other violent crimes are extremely rare; a murder is a thing remembered, and considered a point of shame, for generations.

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

Their code of non-violence is similar to, but is not as extreme as, that of the Da’shain. The Amayar belief that reality is illusory is similar to the Aiel belief that life is a dream:

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

- The Fires of Heaven, This Place, This Day

This may be another indication of common descent from the Da’shain. The Amayar’s trauma and isolation resulted in changes to their Da’shain beliefs, giving them a more millenarian and apocalyptic aspect (see Eschatology essay). While the Aiel accept that life is a dream which must end, the Amayar were waiting for a sign that the Time of Illusions is over before ending their lives themselves (see Time of Illusions article).


This brings us to the end of the Age of Legends: a technologically advanced Utopian Age that declined and fell into the Dark Ages and then moved into the medieval/renaissance Third Age.


Written by Linda, June 2004 and updated October 2013 and August 2019

Contributors: Dominic, File Leader, Nessosin, MJJ Sedai


JDH1973 said...

Another name of an AoL figure seems to be Torhs Margin (or Torhs the Broken):

"How would you beat her, Nynaeve?" Rand asked. "She won't be goaded into fighting me, like Rahvin or Sammael were. She won't be easily trapped either. Graendal understands people better than anyone. Twisted she may be, but she is crafty, and should not be underestimated. Torhs Margin made that mistake, I recall, and you know his fate."

Min frowned. "Who?" she asked, looking at Nynaeve. The Aes Sedai shrugged.

Rand glanced at them. "I believe in history he was known at Torhs the Broken."

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Jack said...

During my latest listen-through of the Wheel of Time, I detected a couple of darker undercurrents to the Age of Legends, which suggest to me that the Utopian view of the era might be somewhat of an historical whitewashing.

The person who knocked the Da'shain down in Rand's viewing always seemed incongruous to me. He reacted very harshly, until noticing that Rand was Aiel - at which point his face became white and he became very, very helpful. Genuine shame and remorse could have caused that reaction, but it's more often a response of fear.

I think Jordan was trying to point out that no matter how 'perfect' the society, human nature is still violent and selfish. That is, after all, the ultimate deathblow to all Utopian ideals.(This also raises in my mind the question of whether Mierin's freeing the Dark One was truly accidental. She survived the Bore, whereas her partner did not. That seems suspicious.)

Further, in a previous viewing, Rand-Aiel was captivated by the sight of a soldier, and note what it said: the young man had been chosen to be a soldier at a young age, certainly before he could make an informed decision himself. The government in the Age of Legends could be called efficient, but it could also be called controlling to the point of tyrannical. How else does one describe a place where children are pressed into the military so young that a 16-year-old appears as a haunted veteran? (Ender's Game?) This was obviously after the Collapse, but on the other hand, there is nothing in the texts suggesting that people were allowed to choose their professions.

The Age of Legends appears to me a very comfortable place to live - as long as you stay in line and do as you're told. And what we see in these books is that the heroes of the current Age are those who do the exact opposite.

Linda said...

Jsck: Jordan describes the society of the Age of Legends as Utopian, but of course people are still going to be good and/or bad as ever. In that sociedty, they had less grievance or justification for violent or criminal tendencies.

I noted the stratification that existed in my essay above.

There was choice in profession: the guide and TSR speak of having the choice to become Aes Sedai or not. Since theirs was one of the most important functions, and yet some chose not to do it, people must have had choice in other careers as well.

Child soldiers during the War shows the depths to which that Age sank after the Bore was drilled, and how desperately fought the War was.

Jack said...

I still see some creepiness in it. Perhaps it's my knowledge of how impossible a Utopia would be, or maybe it's just the Mat in me that would find such a structured society uncomfortable.

Unknown said...

"As an aside, for those who think that Lanfear was in some way twisted against her will by being involved in drilling the Bore---I have heard the theory advanced---of all those involved in the project, she was the only major figure to go over to the Shadow. She was ripe for the Shadow's plucking long before the Bore was drilled." -- Robert Jordan according to http://13depository.blogspot.com/2009/03/tor-questions-of-week.html