Friday, September 25, 2020

Character Parallels: Egwene and Gawyn

By Linda

Egwene is the first female character we see in the series. Forthright, active and enterprising, she sets the standard for all the women. The inn-keeper’s daughter was originally expected to marry her childhood sweetheart, Rand the shepherd, but both became powerful magic users and world leaders, rivals that must remember their original ties of love and friendship, and have faith in, and respect for, each other, for the world to be saved.

With a name sounding very like Guinevere, Egwene al’Vere might be expected to be prone to capture like any Arthurian damsel—which she is—but she is also a witch and does not bestow sovereignty on a champion. (In fact, her champion Gawyn’s problem is that he wanted sovereignty and not a supportive role, as we see in his character section below). As Amyrlin, the Mother is sovereign in herself, and not encouraged to have a marital consort. Her channelling strengths are in Spirit—manifesting in a Talent for Dreaming—and Earth. These are very similar to Perrin’s non-channelling affinities, and it is hardly surprising that the Pattern pushed these two Emond’s Fielders into the wild together early in the series. Egwene was a seeress and literally an earth and mother goddess who sacrificed herself to save the Land from balefire.

Arthurian Myth
Earth Goddess
Mother Goddess
Warrior Goddess, Warrior Priestess
Moon Goddess
Dream Goddess
Historic Parallels

Arthurian Myth
Castor or Pollux?


Mythic Parallels

Arthurian Myth Parallels


As her full name clearly implies, Egwene al’Vere is a Guinevere parallel. From the time they were small children it was assumed that Egwene and Rand (a parallel of King Arthur) would marry. But as Min told Rand at the start:

“She loves you too, but she’s not for you, or you for her. Not the way you both want.”
- The Eye of the World, Strangers and Friends

Merlin tells Arthur not to marry Guinevere, because she will cause the fall of Camelot (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book III, Chapter I). At Falme, Egwene told Min that she and Elayne were also pulled to Rand, and then reminded Min that Rand was not safe to marry:

Egwene did not come any further into the room. "I — I felt him pulling at me. Needing me. Elayne felt it, too. I thought it must be something to do with — with what he is, but Nynaeve didn't feel anything." She drew a deep, unsteady breath. "Elayne and Nynaeve are getting the horses. We found Bela. The Seanchan left most of their horses behind. Nynaeve says we should go as soon as we can, and — and . . . Min, you know what he is, don't you, now?"
"I know." Min wanted to take her arm from under Rand's head, but she could not make herself move. "I think I do, anyway. Whatever he is, he is hurt. I can do nothing for him except keep him warm. Maybe Nynaeve can."
"Min, you know . . . you do know that he cannot marry. He isn't safe . . . for any of us, Min.
"Speak for yourself," Min said. She pulled Rand's face against her breast. "It's like Elayne said. You tossed him aside for the White Tower. What should you care if I pick him up?"
Egwene looked at her for what seemed a long time. Not at Rand, not at all, only at her. She felt her face growing hotter and wanted to look away, but she could not.
"I will bring Nynaeve," Egwene said finally, and walked out of the room with her back straight and her head high.
Min wanted to call out, to go after her, but she lay there as if frozen. Frustrated tears stung her eyes. It's what has to be. I know it. I read it in all of them. Light, I don't want to be part of this. "It's all your fault," she told Rand's still shape. "No, it isn't. But you will pay for it, I think. We're all caught like flies in a spiderweb. What if I told her there's another woman yet to come, one she doesn't even know?”

- The Great Hunt, First Claiming

Yet Egwene remained one of Rand’s Guineveres until she told him she no longer loved him, upon which Aviendha was pulled to him, as fated. Rand and Egwene were eventually brought together for a brief alliance as leaders, only to be sundered for this life.

In the mid-13th century Latin romance The Rise of Sir Gawain, Guinevere was a powerful sorceress as well as Arthur's wife and had the ability of foretelling. Egwene was a powerful channeller who had prophetic dreams. After the battle of Camlann, where Arthur and Modred fatally wounded each other, Guinevere finished out her life in a convent as a nun, instead of returning to Lancelot, and eventually became the convent’s abbess. In contrast, Egwene chose to enter the White Tower early in her life to become Aes Sedai, an organisation with strong parallels to 15th‒16th century convents, and eventually became Amyrlin (equivalent of abbess) herself. While Rand fought Moridin at Shayol Ghul, Egwene did not flee or wait passively as the Arthurian ladies usually did, but fought in the Last Battle (an equivalent of the battle of Camlann), where she fell.

In the Arthurian stories, Queen Guinevere, as a Sovereignty figure, is abducted at least twice, and confined against her will more than once, including by Arthur himself after he learns of her infidelity with Lancelot, from where she is rescued in dramatic circumstances by her knight champion (see painting right). The villainous knight Meleagant was another of Guinevere’s abductors, and Demandred, his darker parallel, ordered M’Hael to destroy Egwene al’Vere. Egwene was rescued twice from the Seanchan and once from Demandred’s Sharan channellers by a Seanchan. Gawyn, rather than Lancelot, is Egwene’s champion, and he rescued her from assassination by Bloodknives as her body lay abed while her mind was in the dream, prior to his ill-fated duel with Demandred.

In Towers of Midnight, Rand and Egwene were widely separated in their opinions regarding Rand breaking the remaining Seals, just as Arthur and Guinevere were apart. Arthur had doubts about Guinevere’s faithfulness. Rand accused Egwene of being obstructionist and undermining him, while Egwene doubted Rand’s sanity.

Ragnelle, Sir Gawain’s Loathly Lady

Egwene and her unconventional marriage to Gawyn is a parallel of the marriage of Sir Gawain to Ragnelle, the loathly lady. She had arrived at King Arthur’s court offering to answer the question “what do women most desire?” that had been posed to King Arthur on pain of death, and her price was to marry Sir Gawain. To save the life of his liege lord, Gawain agreed to marry her and on his wedding night was surprised to find that the hag-like lady was a beautiful young woman under a spell. She asked Gawain to choose whether she should be hideous by day and beautiful at night, or vice versa. Gawain could not decide and asked the lady to choose. Since sovereignty, the right to make their own decisions, is what women most desire, his answer broke the spell and she remained beautiful.

Channelling—weaving magic—slows aging, greatly delaying an aged appearance, and the magic of the Oath Rod ter’angreal forces an ageless appearance. People fear and distrust Aes Sedai due to their channelling and the way they work around their three oaths, so they are loathly ladies. Egwene wanted sovereignty because she is a sovereign. (Furthermore, any man who becomes a Warder grants sovereignty in the relationship to his Aes Sedai.) Gawyn wanted to marry Egwene because he loved her, not as a sacrifice to save someone, but didn’t take her position seriously or want to support her, and she admonished him over it. In fact, Gawyn felt granting his wife sovereignty and supporting her was a great sacrifice. His dereliction of duty in leaving her side to find honour on the battlefield cost both of them their lives.

Lyones in the Castle Perilous

When the Lady Lynet came to Camelot in search of a knight to rescue her sister Lyones from the besieging tyrant Sir Ironside the Red Knight of the Red Lands, Gareth volunteered for the job. Lynet criticised him constantly, but he bore it well and acted chivalrously towards her, and earned her respect. Gareth Bryne followed the sharp-tongued Siuan to Salidar and ‘volunteered’ for the job of besieging Tar Valon and ousting the usurper Elaida of the Red Ajah (a parallel of the tyrannical Red Knight) in favour of Amyrlin Egwene. Egwene was captured by Elaida’s Aes Sedai and held in the White Tower. Gareth treated Siuan less chivalrously than Sir Gareth did Lynet, but earned Siuan’s respect.

When Gareth and Lynet came to the Castle Perilous where Lyones was besieged, Gareth fought the Red Knight immediately even though Lynet counselled him to wait. The fight was long and terrible, but the Red Knight finally yielded. Gareth fell in love with the Lady Lyones, and she claimed to return his love, but she insisted that he wander another year. Upon his return, Gareth married Lyones and his brother Gaheris married Lynet. The notable difference in this parallel is that Bryne loved Siuan (Lynet) and Gawyn (who was also Gareth’s brother in Arthurian myth) loved Egwene (Lyones), and it was Gareth and Siuan who delayed their marriage, not Gawain and Egwene. The Castle Perilous is an apt metaphor for the White Tower, wherein the Red Amyrlin held Egwene captive. Egwene told Gareth not to attack the Tower without her order and he gave his word that he would not. After she was captured, it was Siuan and Gawyn who pressed for a rescue attempt until Gareth reluctantly agreed.

Earth Goddess

Egwene was remarkably strong in Earth for a woman and was able to move the land on a large scale and find ores, but also checked the health of the land by sensing underground animals and searching for green shoots in the dying grass. This affinity with the natural world is why the Pattern sent her into the Wild alongside Perrin as part of her early development. It was in the wild that she channelled unsupervised for the first time in the appropriately named chapter A Path Chosen. As an archetypal Green, which is the colour of life and nature, Egwene saved the Land from balefire, using herself up in the process.


Egwene has parallels to Ceres, the Ancient Roman earth and agriculture goddess, who had the power to fertilize and multiply plants and animals and taught humanity agriculture. Ceres protected all phases of the agricultural cycle and also all phases of a woman’s life from girlhood through to old age. A plebeian goddess, she was the protector of plebeian rights and laws, so that the patricians could not run roughshod over the plebs. Over time, the Romans connected Ceres with a couple of other Roman goddesses: Libera (Freedom) and Tellus. Tellus, also called Terra Mater, was a rather stern ancient Roman earth mother goddess who was offered sacrifices, notably the holocaust, which were animal sacrifices wholly consumed by fire.

Ceres’ ancient Greek equivalent Demeter was goddess of the harvest and agriculture, particularly cereal crops, and also as Mother Earth presided over the natural order and the cycle of life and death. When these were violated, Demeter was implacable in her desire for justice and retribution.

Egwene’s origins as the daughter of a village innkeeper were plebeian, though that does not count against a woman in the White Tower. Even under duress she stood up against tyrannical leadership, and sternly pulled the Sitters into line, insisting they obey the spirit of the law and also that they should be ashamed of the way they let Elaida tyrannise the Tower. The Hall agreed to her proposed law to prevent secret meetings of the Hall. She also faced down the Empress over the enslavement of damane and called her out for her lies as well as for her unjust laws. Egwene was a highly protective Amyrlin—she protected the novices and Accepted as well as the Aes Sedai when the Seanchan attacked the Tower, and avenged those lost.

She'd fought. She'd been glorious and destructive, the Amyrlin of judgment and fury, Green Ajah to the core.

- The Gathering Storm, A Fount of Power

Then she purged the Black Sisters from her Aes Sedai and executed them.

Just before the Last Battle, the Mother saw how time-worn the Land looked in Tel’aran’rhiod, how dire its need of renewal was after being Blighted by the Dark One. In ancient Roman times, such renewal was initiated by sacrifice to Tellus and Ceres. In The Wheel of Time world, this sacrifice is that of the Dragon and also the blood sacrifice of those fighting for the Light. The Land and the Mother want vengeance for the Shadow’s damage of the natural order and of the health and fertility of the Land:

In that moment—maiming, destroying, bringing death upon the enemy—she felt as if she were one with the land itself. That she was doing the work it had longed for someone to do for so long.

- A Memory of Light, What Must Be Done

Appropriately, she uses Earth to kill Shadowspawn. These feelings of vengefulness and union are foreshadowing of Egwene’s sacrifice as she unleashes a healing holocaust to counter the Shadow’s destruction and balefire.

Ceres sought all over the earth for her daughter Proserpina, who had been seized by the Roman underworld god Pluto, and the ancient Greek earth goddess Demeter instituted harsh weather and neglected the cycle of the seasons as she mourned the violation and loss of her daughter Persephone/Kore by Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. Faced with the death of all life on earth, an agreement was made to appease Ceres and Demeter with each mother allowed to meet up with her daughter for months every year.

Egwene was just as vengeful of her daughters and mourned those that were lost. Prosperina/Persephone/Kore is a parallel of Tuon, whom Egwene met to make an agreement about their borders and sovereignty over female channellers. It is interesting that the ancient Romans officially combined their Spring Maiden goddess Proserpina with the freedom goddess Libera, just as freedom for women to channel is an issue with Tuon and Egwene. Tuon and Egwene should have been akin since Tuon has the potential to learn to channel, but the seizure and enslavement of channellers separated them.

The main theme in the Ancient Greek Eleusinian mysteries was the reunion of Persephone with her mother Demeter, when the cycle of the seasons was renewed. These mysteries gave the initiate a connection to the natural world and higher hopes in this life and the afterlife.

Egwene had deep feelings for the Pattern and the cycle of time and rebirth:

In that moment, Egwene felt a peace come upon her. The pain of Gawyn's death faded. He would be reborn. The Pattern would continue.

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

When her daughter Sheriam was being executed for apostasy, the Mother expressed her own devout view of the Pattern:

Perhaps the Pattern would be kinder to her [Sheriam] next time she was allowed a thread in its great tapestry. But perhaps not.

- The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands

Mother Goddess

As Amyrlin, Egwene is the mother of the Aes Sedai. However, Jordan considered making Egwene a biological mother and fight in the Last Battle while pregnant with Gawyn’s child (Robert Jordan, Galad notes). This idea was dropped, but Egwene takes her motherly responsibilities seriously.


Vesta is the Ancient Roman goddess of the hearth and family and in her temple on the Palatine Hill the sacred fire of the Roman state was kept burning by her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins. The Vestals held some of the few full-time clergy positions in Ancient Roman and, even more atypically, lived at her temple, reflecting the importance of Vesta and the necessity of tending her fire. They were selected from the patrician class as young girls and were legally emancipated from their father’s authority when they joined. Each Vestal swore a vow of chastity for 30 years, at the end of which they retired with a pension and were free to marry, although most chose not to so they could keep their independence.

The flame represented Vesta herself and the Roman state. The goddess was portrayed as a stern woman, wearing a long dress and with her head covered and a sceptre in her hand (see photo right). Her seniority was such that she had precedence in veneration and offerings over all other gods. Vesta was the only Roman goddess who was in any way connected with the fasces and the axe, the symbol of sovereign power in Rome. Her priestesses attended and blessed most important government functions and had right of way on the streets and reserved boxes at the arenas and theatres. Every Roman had the right to freely enter Vesta’s temple, although men were strictly barred from her house at night.

In such a patriarchal society, Vesta was paradoxical: she was the most chaste of the gods, but was addressed as mother and had honorary fertility. Her priestesses were dressed as married women, not unmarried, yet they wore the headdresss of a Roman bride. Each Vestal

was a consecrated virgin, married to the state, who ensured fertility. She was a woman with the legal status of a man. The Vestal was considered capable of mediating between the human and the divine precisely because she was poised in transition between all permissible social roles—she was simultaneously maiden, wife, and man, sterile and fertile, virgin and phallic.

- Jeanne L. Schroeder, The Vestal and the Fasces

Aes Sedai also have far more freedom than do any other people in The Wheel of Time mainland. By strong custom, each sister is largely able to do what she wants, apart from direct orders from the Amyrlin or their Ajah Head. Sisters have no job as such, no farm or house to tend, no realm to rule, no business to run. They live apart from people in their White Tower, although every person has the right to enter the Tower to make petitions. Outside of Tar Valon, a parallel of Rome, Aes Sedai hold themselves above monarchs. They rarely marry and even more rarely have children. Their mission was to keep alive knowledge from earlier times and the fight against the Shadow throughout the Third Age.

Like Vesta, the Amyrlin is Mother, yet she is not a mother. As Jordan usually does, he adds a negative role for the priestess-like Aes Sedai. They are regarded as untrustworthy, even though they take an Oath against lying and against using the Power as a weapon. Such ambivalence arises from combining the power and authority of earth and mother goddesses with the trickiness of the fairy folk and the machinations of the Renaissance Papacy (see below).

One of the Amyrlin’s titles is Flame of Tar Valon, as though she is the flame, saidar. Egwene embodied this title more than any other Amyrlin because of her weave that held the Pattern together long enough for it to heal after balefire. Vesta’s sceptre is represented by Vora’s sa’angreal, the strongest sa’angreal the Tower had, which Egwene used to make this weave destroy an army of channellers.

The Vestals presided over the rites of Bona Dea, the Good Goddess, who had a mystery cult in ancient Rome. At her rites, women were allowed to use strong wine and blood sacrifices, which they were forbidden elsewhere. Men were barred from her mysteries—the premises were ritually cleansed of everything male, including animals and portraits before the ceremonies.

The initiation of women into the mysteries of channelling (for so long forbidden to men) supervised by senior sisters is also a parallel of Bona Dea’s rites, which the Vestal Virgins presided over. During important ceremonies, including that of raising an Amyrlin, the Aes Sedai present all prove that they are not men. After Sierin Vayu was raised Amyrlin, she promptly dismissed all male clerks from the Tower (New Spring, Changes). As Amyrlin, Egwene could be likened to Vesta’s head priestess (see High Priestess tarot card) as well as the goddess Vesta and Vesta’s flame.


Nekhbet was a city goddess in Ancient Egypt who evolved in importance to become protectress and mother of the pharaoh. She was usually depicted as a white vulture, hovering over the pharaoh with wings outspread and clutching a shen symbol (a loop of rope knotted to form a circle representing infinity or eternity) in her claws. The Ancient Egyptians believed that white vultures were all female and reproduced asexually because the species lacks sexual dimorphism—males and females appear identical. Nekhbet’s shrine was the oldest oracle in Egypt where people went to have their fortunes told. Her priestesses were called muu (mothers) and thus Nekhbet was titled Mother of Mothers.

The Amyrlin is the mother of the Aes Sedai and rules the city of Tar Valon—one of the oldest in the mainland—as well as the White Tower. All Tower initiates are female and they wear a ring of a snake eating its tail, a symbol of eternity. Egwene had the gift of foretelling the future from dreams. As her Talent manifested, she watched over Rand (Pharaoh) in her dreams. Many of Egwene’s dreams were about threats to Rand.


Durga is the vengeful incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess Parvati, who was consort of Shiva (a parallel of Rand, Egwene’s original intended husband). She is a goddess of war who was born to fight demons, and represents the divine positive feminine power that is used to protect people by destroying evil. In this way, she preserves moral order and rightness. Egwene personally fought and overcame two Forsaken—Mesaana and M’Hael—and also used another—Moghedien—to gain knowledge. Some of the Forsaken have demonic parallels.

Durga is usually depicted wearing a red sari symbolising that she is actively destroying evil and protecting mankind from pain and suffering. Egwene deliberately wore bright red on the day she purged the rebel Aes Sedai of Black Sisters and presided over their executions:

Egwene was all Ajahs. Today, the red symbolized many things to her. The impending reunification with the Red Ajah. A reminder of the division that needed to be righted. A sign of the blood that would be spilled, the blood of good men who fought to defend the White Tower.
The blood of the dead Aes Sedai, beheaded not an hour ago by Egwene’s order…
. Many of the Aes Sedai she passed in the camp gave her looks of respect, awe, and a little horror. After a long absence, the Amyrlin had returned. And she had brought destruction and judgment in her wake.

- The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands

Many Aes Sedai thought that Egwene belonged in the Red Ajah (A Memory of Light, Just Another Sell-Sword) even though she had married her Warder. Egwene thought that sometimes an Amyrlin had to be “as vengeful as a Red, when necessary” (The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame), in this case the vengeance of the Light on those who were apostate and committed evil on behalf of their evil god.

Warrior Goddess


The Amyrlin rules Tar Valon, a city whose name combines the names of two sacred places: Tara and Avalon and links Celtic and Arthurian myth. The Irish goddess of sovereignty, Medb was associated with Tara, and was territorial and forthright. (Some critics think that Madb may also be the original of Shakespeare’s Queen Mab, the fairy queen who helped people birth dreams.) Medb is a minor parallel of Egwene, who was at her best in battle, be it against the Seanchan or the Shadow. The name Aes Sedai was derived from Aes Sidhe, the people of the mound, fair(y) folk in Irish mythology, who defended their territory fiercely, as Egwene did against the Seanchan.


Like close sisters Elayne and Aviendha, Egwene has some parallels with Athena the Greek goddess of war, magic, knowledge, education and wisdom and her Roman equivalent, Minerva. Athena was the patron of the strategic side of war and preferred to use wisdom to settle conflict, using violence as the last resort, not the first, while her brother Ares was patron of the violent, bloody side.

As a damane, Egwene was forcibly trained to use her channelling for warfare at others’ direction. Egwene learned much about the different education methods of channelling groups and as Amyrlin, ruled the training and promotion of Aes Sedai, but reached out to the Sea Folk and Aiel to coordinate training of women channellers.

Egwene bested the dark Minerva Mesaana by using knowledge to overcome her fear and panic:

Egwene controlled her fear. It was not easy. Light, but it was hard! But she did it. Her face became calm. She defied the a'dam by not giving it power over her.
Mesaana hesitated, frowning. She shook the leash, and more pain flooded Egwene.
She made it vanish. "It occurs to me, Mesaana," Egwene said calmly, "that Moghedien made a mistake. She accepted the a'dam.”
"What are you—"
"In this place, an a'dam is as meaningless as the weaves it prevents," Egwene said.
"It is only a piece of metal. And it only will stop you if you accept that it will." The a'dam unlocked and fell free of her neck.
Mesaana glanced at it as it dropped to the ground with a metallic ring. Her face grew still, then cold as she looked up at Egwene. Impressively, she did not panic. She folded her arms, eyes impassive. "So, you have practiced here."

- Towers of Midnight, Wounds

After a mental duel in which both women exerted their mental control to the utmost, Egwene destroyed Mesaana’s mind, and not her body. Against M’Hael, the Amyrlin impressively invented the Flame of Tar Valon weave from first principles to patch the Pattern after balefire—the reverse of violent destructive weaves, yet used to win a battle.

The metalwork of weapons also fell under Athena’s patronage. Egwene had remarkable strength in Earth and was able to find metal ores, and convert iron into cuendillar.

In the Ancient Greek myths, Athena never consorts with a lover, nor does she ever marry. Aes Sedai are free to have lovers, and a few Greens marry, but Egwene was very atypical in being a married Amyrlin.


Egwene was very much shaped by her time with the Aiel, and was pleased that she measured up to them in toughness:

When Sorilea finally nodded and said, "You are as sound as a Maiden, girl," Egwene was swaying and gulping for air. A Maiden would not have been, she was sure. Still, she felt pride. She had never thought of herself as soft, but she knew very well that before she began living with the Aiel she would have fallen on her face halfway through the test. Another year, she thought, and I will run as well as any Far Dareis Mai.

- Lord of Chaos, An Embassy

The Maidens of the Spear have parallels in the Amazons, women warriors of Ancient Greek mythology. The only Amazonian Queen to leave the Amazons to marry, Hippolyta (“unleasher of horses”), is a minor parallel of Egwene. Hippolyta’s younger sister was Penthesilea, a parallel of Aviendha, who was a close friend, a near sister, of Egwene. It was rare for women to retire from the Amazons to marry, whereas it is the custom of Maidens who wish to marry to leave the warrior society. On the other hand, Egwene is the only Amyrlin we know of who was married. The name Hippolyta is appropriate for a Wetlander “Maiden”, since Aiel rarely ride horses.

One of the Greek hero Heracles’ twelve labours was to obtain Hippolyta’s girdle. Heracles is a parallel of Rand, who was prophesied by Elaida to face the Amyrlin Seat—a warrior Amyrlin at that—and know her anger. Nicola foretold that Rand would do nine impossible things, not twelve, but facing the Amyrlin Seat was not one of them.

Moon Goddess

Egwene is a lunar character, as evidenced by her dark hair and eyes and her talent for Dreaming and Dreamwalking.


The Ancient Greek goddess Artemis was goddess of the Moon, the Wild and the hunt, as well as patron and protector of unwed girls and young women. Egwene went into the wilderness with Perrin, King of the Wild, during The Eye of the World and channelled by herself there. When she was demoted to a novice by Elaida, Egwene helped the other novices and Accepted, giving them advice and showing them how to club together for defence when the Seanchan attacked. Her decision to allow women of all ages be tested for channelling ability resulted in hundreds of novices joining the Tower. Like Vesta/Hestia and Athena, Artemis chose to never to marry, but Egwene, in a reversal of this, did choose to marry when few Aes Sedai did so.


In Greek mythology, Selene is the goddess, indeed the personification, of the Moon. Several lovers are attributed to her in various myths, including Zeus (a parallel of Rand), Pan, and the beautiful mortal Endymion, who she watched over and visited in his dreams while he slept in his cave beside his cattle:

"Selene watched him from on high, and slid from heaven to earth; for passionate love drew down the immortal stainless Queen of Night."

- Quintus Smyrnaeus, The Fall of Troy

The Wheel of Time frequently has more than one version of a mythological figure, and often one of these versions will be dark. Lanfear, daughter of the Night, is the dark version of the goddess Selene and even names herself Selene in one of her disguises when attempting to seduce Rand. However, Egwene as the Light’s Selene watched over the sleeping Rand while the dark Selene was stalking him:

... she saw Rand sleeping on the ground, wrapped in a cloak. A woman had been standing over him, looking down. Her face was in shadow, but her eyes seemed to shine like the moon, and Egwene had known she was evil. Then there was a flash of light, and they were gone. Both of them. And behind it all, almost like another thing altogether, was the feel of danger, as if a trap was just beginning to snap shut on an unsuspecting lamb, a trap with many jaws."

- The Great Hunt, Woven in the Pattern

even though she was at the beginning of developing her Talent, as Ishamael rather patronisingly describes to Rand:

"You find odd followers," Ba'alzamon mused. "You always did. These two [Loial and Hurin]. The girl who tries to watch over you.”
- The Great Hunt, Kinslayer

Egwene correctly interpreted a lot of what was happening—more than Rand himself, who was fairly smitten with Lanfear as Selene.

Dream Goddess


Egwene has parallels to the Babylonian goddess Nanshe in her role as "interpreter of dreams". Nanshe had the ability to give prophetic messages and determine the future through dream interpretation and granted the ability to interpret and divine from other's dreams to her priests. We see Egwene give messages to others within their dreams and read what is happening in Tel’aranrhiod, as well as divine the future from her own dreams.

Historic Parallels

The Amyrlin is elected by the Sitters of the Hall, just as her closest real-world equivalent, the Pope, is elected by the Cardinals of the Catholic Church. This is confirmed in Robert Jordan’s notes, where he writes that:

People speak of the Amyrlin Seat as the Catholic Church might speak of donning the Shoes of the Fisherman or ascending to the Holy See of Rome.

- Robert Jordan, General Notes and Thoughts

Egwene instigated a new wave of unification and catholicism aimed at having every female channeller attached to and recognised by the White Tower. Her aim was to increase the prestige of the Tower as well as reform its training and reduce the cloistering of initiates. With the atypical benefit of having seen the best (and worst) of other channelling groups, she was very much a new broom tasked by the Pattern to sweep clean.

Young Popes

Normally, Amyrlins are raised at more than 180 years of age, but Egwene was elected Amyrlin at only 18—a tenth of the years. There have been two popes who were about 18 years old when elected: John XII in the 10th century and Benedict IX in the 11th century. Both obtained the papacy through the influence of a powerful parent and were considered entirely unsuitable to be Pope. Egwene was raised Amyrlin by the influence of her tutor and former ‘mother’ of the Aes Sedai, Siuan, and Sheriam’s group, and was considered entirely unsuitable to be Amyrlin. In fact, the rebels elected Egwene precisely because she was believed unsuitable, and was to be a puppet. This is where the similarities between Egwene and the two young popes end, because Egwene was an excellent Amyrlin and diligent in the duties and responsibilities of her position.

Julius II (Warrior Pope)

Egwene’s career is like that of Pope Julius II, born Giuliano della Rovere, pope from 1503–1513. A beneficiary of nepotism, he was made a cardinal at age 18 by his uncle Pope Sixtus IV (1471–84), who took him under his special charge. As Bishop of Ostia, Giuliano della Rovere consecrated the newly elected Pope Pius III a bishop because he was not one already. This would be the equivalent of making a new Amyrlin an Aes Sedai, just as Egwene was raised Amyrlin without already being Aes Sedai. She swore the Oaths before the rebel Aes Sedai, but never had time to take the test for the shawl.

The way Egwene was demoted back to novice by Elaida is equivalent to the Borgia pope Alexander VI removing Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere from his benefices without the consent of the cardinals in consistory—and, in fact, in the face of their strenuous objections—on the grounds that he was an enemy of the Vatican.

In 1503 at age 60, della Rovere was elected Pope after the shortest conclave in history by the unanimous vote of the cardinals, almost certainly by bribery. Egwene was rapidly elected by the rebel Hall at age 18 after some manipulation by Siuan and probably also influential Black sisters like Sheriam, Delana and Moria who saw a chance to weaken the rebel Aes Sedai. She was then taken in charge by Siuan, a former Amyrlin. The Tower Hall rapidly elected her in her absence.

While Pope Julius II owed his stellar start in the church to his uncle, his actual reign was free from nepotism (Catholic Encyclopedia). Egwene owed her raising to Sheriam’s group, but she eschewed nepotism in her rule, refusing to favour any Ajah, sister or novice.

Julius II entered his regulations against simony in papal conclaves into canon law so that they could not be put aside, just as Egwene convinced the Hall that there could be no secret deals done in the Hall or decisions made without all Ajahs having full representation and also with the Amyrlin given the opportunity to be present at every sitting.

Pope Julius II increased his power and that of the Church by playing the nations against each other. He managed to regain control of the papal states, remove French influence from the rest of Italy and reconciled the two powerful Roman houses of Orsini and Colonna. Egwene played the rebel factions against each other to achieve her plans, reunited the Aes Sedai and purged the White Tower of Black sisters. In Towers of Midnight, Lelaine and Romanda (equivalents of the Orsini and Colonna) started to work together—against Egwene (Towers of Midnight, A Call To Stand) and then had their machinations shown up by Egwene as foolish politicking during a global crisis. However, Egwene was used by Rand to unite all nations that were opposed to his plans to break the Seals so he only had to persuade her and all dissenting parties would follow.

Julius II personally led the Papal armed forces to victory at the Siege of Mirandola and, despite great losses at the Battle of Ravenna, ultimately forced the French troops of Louis XII out of Italy with the aid after the arrival of Swiss mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire, thus earning his epithet of the Warrior Pope. Some historians consider the stresses of war shortened the pope’s life and reign. Egwene was on the front line in the Last Battle and fought and destroyed M’Hael and the Sharan channellers, dying as she gained victory.

One of the most powerful and influential popes, Julius II was a central figure of the High Renaissance and left a significant cultural and political legacy. He was described by Machiavelli in his works as the ideal prince. Siuan used and taught Machiavelli’s tactics to Egwene. Egwene’s life and reign was directly ended by war, but has left a very significant legacy and she is likely to be regarded as a great Amyrlin.

Martin V and the end of the Western Schism

The Aes Sedai that gathered in Salidar were in rebellion. Since the rebels still accepted and followed Aes Sedai customs and laws, or dogma, but not Elaida’s leadership, their rebellion was not a heresy, but a schism (see Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Society essay). The Shadow used the schism to tie up the Aes Sedai in useless internal conflict to prevent them from making a positive contribution to the war against the Shadow. The very public schism of the Tower Aes Sedai and the rebels is a parallel of the Great Western Schism of the Catholic Church, which lasted 40 years until 1417, and saw two papal courts operating simultaneously: one at Avignon in France and the other in Rome.

In Salidar, Egwene was elected to be head of a rival Hall—an antipope. Oddone Colonna, a parallel of Egwene, deserted the lawful pope, Gregory XII, in 1409 when the latter reneged on meeting with the antipope to negotiate the end of the Western Schism, and Gregory XII excommunicated him. Six years later upon the death of Gregory, Colonna was unanimously elected as Pope Martin V at the Council of Constance after a conclave of three days, even though he was not a cardinal, but a sub-deacon. On 12 November Martin V was ordained deacon, the next day he was ordained a priest, and then consecrated bishop the day after. His election effectively ended the Western Schism (1378–1417).

As pope, Martin V faced enormous difficulties, for he had to restore the Western church, the papacy, and the Papal States. He possessed considerable knowledge of canon law, was pledged to no party, and was well-regarded. The buildings and populace of Rome were in a very poor state and when he returned there three years after his election, he set to work establishing order and restoring the dilapidated buildings and infrastructure, and made inroads into reforming the clergy before he died.

Egwene was raised Amyrlin even though she was not an Aes Sedai, but an Accepted. Thanks to Siuan’s teaching, she had a good knowledge of Tower history and law. The fact that she was from no Ajah was in her favour. Egwene was elected to both rebel and Tower Halls after short conclaves and her election ended the Aes Sedai schism. Once she was elected, she began to restore the Tower and the city after the neglect under Elaida and the damage inflicted by the Seanchan. Her reforms of the Aes Sedai were the purging of the Black Ajah, laws against secret meetings of the Hall, the removal of the narrow age criterion for novices, and the agreements made to exchange advanced trainees with the Wise Ones and Windfinders.

Martin V wrote to nobles in Bohemia and Moravia demanding they deal with the heresy founded by Jan Hus, and when they refused, declared a crusade against the heretical Hussites. Prior to the cleansing of saidin, Aes Sedai regarded false Dragons and male channellers as heretical, due to the danger they posed when channelling. Jan Hus, leader of the Hussites, is a parallel of Rand. Egwene united the nations that objected to Rand breaking the Seals on the Dark One’s prison—the potential danger of releasing the Dark One made it a heretical action in her eyes. She also vigorously protested at the general council at Merrilor:

"The seals, Moiraine," Egwene said. "He's planning to break them. He defies the authority of the Amyrlin Seat."

- A Memory of Light, A Knack

Pope Martin V strongly opposed efforts that arose at the Council of Constance to substitute constitutional for monarchical government in the Church and to make the pope subject to a General Council.

As well as schism in the Catholic Church, the Aes Sedai split also has similarities with the American Civil War. The rebels gathered in the south and the White Tower with all the items of power were in the north. The rebel general Bryne, rode a horse named Traveller, just like Robert E. Lee. Egwene is portrayed as like Lincoln, trying to unite the factions.


Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) rose from humble origins to become president of the United States until his assassination. Regarded as the greatest US president, he succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery and strengthening the federal government with the careful manoeuvering of factions. He was assassinated just days after the end of the civil war.

While Egwene’s humble origins as daughter of innkeepers in a remote village don’t matter to Aes Sedai, she was an Accepted when raised rebel Amyrlin and a demoted Accepted when raised to Amyrlin of the White Tower. After manipulating the Salidar factions to consolidate her authority, Egwene united the rebels and Tower loyalists, and promoted dialogue between different Ajahs and even different groups of female channellers.

No one knew better than Egwene the horrors of slavery: she was an escaped slave who confronted the leader of a slave-using nation from a position of power. At this parley, she contended with the Empress to limit the Seanchan’s access to potential slaves (damane) and encourage their release. One of the greatest Amyrlins, she died late in the last battle after martyring herself to destroy M’Hael and the Sharan channellers.


High Priestess Tarot Card

As the ruler of a secretive group of initiates with arcane knowledge and mysterious powers, the Amyrlin is like the High Priestess tarot card. The High Priestess is a guide to all that is mysterious and mystical and advises gaining deep knowledge before acting—and hopefully wisdom will come with it. As well as arcane knowledge, she represents secret traditions and rites passed down from initiate to initiate, unlike the Hierophant or Pope figure, who represents community faith, traditions and ritual. More mundanely, the High Priestess can symbolise a seeress, a teacher or adept with archaic knowledge, a librarian, or a distant woman with uncanny insights. The Aes Sedai as a whole have secret traditions and rites, with each Ajah their own secrets and traditions, that are passed on to adepts. Aes Sedai are initiated into the mysteries of channelling and the Tower, and have always held themselves apart and above even kings and queens. Egwene was adept at channelling, and had uncanny insights into the future through the medium of dreams and also Tel’aran’rhiod. As Amyrlin she accessed and learned much from the Thirteenth Depository, the Tower’s archive of secret records dating back thousands of years that is only accessible to a select few Aes Sedai. Indeed, only these elect even know of its existence.

The High Priestess card commonly depicts a woman holding a scroll or book while seated between two pillars that have a curtain suspended between them. In modern decks, she may be crowned with a moon or have a crescent moon at her feet, indicating her lunar character (see Waite-Smith card, above right). She is a low-ranked trump, the first of a quartet of temporal rulers—the Amyrlin is respected, but also feared and distrusted.

Some of the oldest decks depict the High Priestess as a Papess, a female pope with a triple-tiered papal crown (see Lo Scarabeo Ancient Italian Tarots card below right). Pope Joan was a notorious figure in medieval miracle plays (which were a source of inspiration for the earliest tarot cards) who spent her adult life disguised as a man and gained her position through her great learning:

Aside from her usurpation of the papacy, an exclusive masculine domain, the church may have considered Joan’s greatest sin to be her learning, represented by the large book

- Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot

or scroll that she holds. With men proscribed until recently from utilising any knowledge of channelling due to the danger posed by the taint on saidin, the ceremony for Amyrlin involves each woman present stripping to prove her female gender so that no man may gain the position—no Amyrlin John.

The High Priestess or Papess and the Hierophant or Pope cards are a duo of knowledge and spiritual life, one hidden and apart, the other open and public. The Whitecloaks are convinced that no Aes Sedai is entitled to know what she knows, that gaining the arcane knowledge of channelling is wrong. Had the Aes Sedai emphasised community service and more of them lived alongside regular people—as the Wise Ones and Windfinders do—they would not be distrusted or hated. But they like the mystique of keeping themselves apart and keeping their errors secret from the populace.

Ironically, the Amyrlin’s main parallel is the real-world Pope, even though the Amyrlin and her flock of sisters usually prefer the cloistered life. It shows how far the Aes Sedai have gone astray. Those sisters who are most respected or revered—Moiraine, Nynaeve, Cadsuane—have spent most of their initiated life outside the Tower. In perhaps a shift towards the role of the Hierophant tarot card, Egwene’s aim was to link all female channellers with the White Tower with intent to share knowledge between groups and participate in their societies.

The High Priestess is often seen as an eternal maiden and not as a mother, just as the Amyrlin, while called Mother by the Aes Sedai, does not have biological children, and the last three Amyrlins have been younger and less-experienced than most of their “daughters”.

Moon Tarot Card

The Moon tarot card reveals the land beyond the curtain behind the High Priestess. Typically, the card depicts the moon shining on a mysterious landscape with two canines (either two howling dogs or a dog and a wolf) in front of two pillars (see Tarot of Marseille Moon card and Lo Scarabeo Ancient Italian Tarots card below left and right). The two pillars look more ancient than in the High Priestess card, and the land is dark, wild and strange and has very different rules to the mundane world. Dogs are often heralds to the underworld, while a dog and a wolf would represent the domesticated and the wild landscape—although as Darkhounds, dogs have the potential to be darkly feral. The Moon card represents visions and illusions, mysteries, magic and ancient powers, mental breakthroughs, but also mental illness. It is about inspiration from the unconscious, or from ancient sources, that cannot easily be put into logical sentences. Such insights can be accurate, but also difficult to interpret. Brilliant, but perilous.

Egwene had a strong Talent for precognitive Dreams and manipulating the world of dreams. Dreams are associated with the moon, and the World of Dreams, Tel’aran’rhiod, that Egwene was skilled at manipulating, has very different rules to the waking world. She had to be taught very sharp lessons to accept that the World of Dreams has its dangerous and nasty side. Egwene’s dreams are reliable in what they portend, yet her interpretation could be unreliable, particularly when it involved visions that triggered her PTSD from when she was enslaved and abused as a damane.

Tower Tarot Card

In Egwene’s role during the attack on the Tower, Jordan neatly combined the symbolism of the Wheel of Fortune and Tower tarot cards. The Wheel of Fortune raises people up and/or casts them down as it turns, but the Tower tarot card is about a sudden breaking or reversal, usually due to a revelation of truth and/or exposure of lies. Something breaks because it is founded on falsehood.

Early versions of the Tower card show a tower with its battlements on fire, reminiscent of the attack of the Seanchan which broke and burned holes in the walls (see Lo Scarabeo Ancient Italian Tarots card and Waite Smith card above left and right) :

The White Tower still smoldered, a wide field of smoke trailing up in a ring from the center of the island, shrouding the white spire. Even from a distance, the scars of the Seanchan attack were evident on the building. Blackened holes, like spots of corruption on an otherwise healthy apple.
- The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands

The White Tower falsely believed that it was invincible and controlled the mainland, that it was a bastion of knowledge and served mankind and the Light. Under Elaida’s reign it had become controlled by evil people, including a Forsaken, and was more a Tower of the Dark One than one of the Light. Literally a Tower of Lies, a false structure. The attack by the Seanchan proved the Aes Sedai’s belief in their intellectual and moral superiority was false and spurred Egwene to berate the Aes Sedai until they saw and accepted this. This action was crucial in the rebuilding of a much more reliable and functional institution. The shock of the newly-raised, young Amyrlin listing their shortcomings was as great as the shock of the holes in the building and the kidnapping of 40 initiates. Without Egwene’s blast there would be no reforging of any integrity at all.

So many of the important characters had sudden reversals in Fortune, but Egwene’s life was the one most affected by the breaking of a tower.

Wheel of Fortune Tarot Card

The Prophecies of the Dragon show the changing of fortunes right alongside the Tower breaking:

“The unstained tower breaks and bends knee to the forgotten sign. The seas rage, and stormclouds gather unseen. Beyond the horizon, hidden fires swell, and serpents nestle in the bosom. What was exalted is cast down; what was cast down is raised up. Order burns to clear his path.”

- Lord of Chaos, Closing prophecy

all due to the advent of the Dragon to battle the Shadow.

The Wheel of Time spins out the Dragon who changes the fortunes and fates of so many. Some are raised up from obscurity—not least of all the Dragon himself—some are thrown down even to the lowest levels. In the Tarot, the Wheel of Fortune card depicts this change (see photo right), though fortunate change is emphasised whereas in the Wheel of Time the necessity of balance—good and bad, positive and negative—is always shown.

Egwene was raised from her traineeship to be a figurehead, then demoted to novice under the thrall of an Amyrlin who allowed herself to be manipulated into breaking the White Tower from within. Once the Tower was physically attacked from without, Elaida was demoted from Amyrlin to chained slave and Egwene, who fought off the attackers, was raised Amyrlin. Egwene, who had been a former damane, effectively Traded Places with Elaida and then looked the Empress in the eye. Empress Fortuona, as her name suggests, is closely linked to the Wheel of Fortune card. With all her power, does she turn the wheel, or will she eventually be turned into a damane? It was amusing that the Empress acknowledged Egwene as her opposite while Egwene threatened her with her own former fate.


Egwene should have been a Green, as the Head of the Green Ajah acknowledges. The Greens’ most important role was to engage in battle against the armies of the Shadow to stop them over-running the land. The colour green symbolises life, fertility, renewal, and the natural environment. Egwene is strong in Earth, an indication that she is an earth mother goddess. In her battle with M’Hael, she was sensitive to the health of the Land:

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

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

And expended herself to completely neutralise M’Hael and the Sharan channellers and patch reality together with the white Flame of Tar Valon weave.

White Flame

Min had a viewing of a white flame around Egwene in The Great Hunt, New Friends and Old Enemies. The white flame does represent saidar in general, and Aes Sedai, and furthermore their Amyrlin as the Flame of Tar Valon in particular, but the viewing had a deeper meaning. In A Memory of Light, Egwene invented a weave of whiteness to hold reality together after balefire and to destroy M’Hael and the Sharans:

A fire of her own, a weave of light and rebuilding.

The Flame of Tar Valon…

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

White represents purity, truth, innocence and initiation, and a white flame, a purifying fire, is the ultimate manifestation of a calcination. Calcination is an alchemical operation that tempers or purifies matter or spirit as part of the Great Work of the rescue of human souls:

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

- Isaiah 1:24–25

and/or the salvation of the cosmos (see Alchemical Symbolism essay). Egwene used it to counteract the evil calcination of balefire unleashed by the Shadow. It saved the Land from disintegration by holding reality together so it could be healed. The fuel for calcination comes from frustrated desires and rage—in Egwene’s case, it was her rage at Gawyn’s loss.

And so we turn to Gawyn right where he most disliked being, a step behind Egwene. So much would have changed if he accepted his supporting role to either his sister or his wife. His situation was mirrored in a positive way by Sleete, a brilliant swordsman who is Warder to the low-ranked Green sister Hattori, who suggested Gawyn also become her Warder. Sleete took a “lesser” job—perhaps without realising how low-ranked Hattori was—but made the best of it. He protects her and follows her wishes without having to be pressured, and has her trust as well as a fair measure of freedom to exercise his own judgment.


When we first see Gawyn, he is First Prince of the Sword, and is where he should be, at his sister’s side. However, going to the perilous White Tower led him to abandon his duty and to support an Amyrlin who is unjust and tyrannical and sent him on a quest that he was not supposed to survive. Not surprisingly, he developed a dislike for Aes Sedai, but eventually married one, the Amyrlin no less, his very own Loathly Lady. His frustration at being her consort, and not performing renowned deeds like the Dragon, led him to recklessly duel a Forsaken and lose. The death of this fallen prince destroyed the one he loved most, thereby saving the world.

Arthurian Myth parallels

Sir Gawain

As his name indicates, Gawyn’s strongest parallel is Sir Gawain, eldest son of King Arthur’s half-sister Morgause (a parallel of Morgase) and Lot of Orkney and brother of Gareth (a parallel of Gareth Bryne), Agravaine and Gaheris, and half-brother of Modred/Mordred (parallel of Galad Damodred). In The Wheel of Time, Gawyn of Andor is Queen Morgase's only son by Taringail Damodred (Da-Modred), and Taringail's second son. Gawyn is brother to Elayne and half-brother to Galad.

In the earliest Arthurian tales, Gawain is depicted as an ideal knight achieving heroic deeds. In the later medieval romances, while he continues to be one of Arthur's most loyal and skilled knights, his character is darker, more treacherous and at times brutal towards women. (The painting right shows Sir Gawain swearing to be merciful and never take against ladies. The fact that he feels he should do this—mend his ways?—is telling.) No longer a paragon of chivalry, he is thus supplanted by Perceval and later Galahad (a parallel of Galad) as an ideal Grail knight and hero. Gawyn was never favourably disposed to Rand al’Thor, a parallel of King Arthur, let alone loyal to him, due to his envy of Rand’s deeds, and his personal belief that Rand killed his mother, despite Egwene, a parallel of Guinevere, insisting that he didn’t. In The Gathering Storm, Gawyn was relying on his prowess with the sword to get his own way. He was as violent and impetuous as Gawain of Arthurian myth.

Many of the tales about Sir Gawain concern chivalry and a knight’s code of honour to do whatever a damsel asks and to keep his word. He is tested to expose the conflict between honour and knightly duties. Gawyn was conflicted over whether to support the White Tower or the rebels, and aided both sides, but above all did not honour his oath and duty to Elayne and Andor.

When a loathly lady named Ragnelle arrived at King Arthur’s court offering to tell the answer to the question “what do women most desire?” to save King Arthur’s life on condition that Sir Gawain marry her, Gawain chivalrously agreed and was surprised to find out that such an ugly old woman was really a beautiful maiden under a spell. She asked Gawain to choose whether she should be hideous by day and beautiful at night, or vice versa. Gawain did not come to a conclusion and asked the lady to choose. Giving her “sovereignty” in their relationship broke the spell and she remained beautiful (and sovereignty, the right to make their own decisions, is, in fact, what women most desire). Many people hold Aes Sedai in low regard, so in that sense Egwene is a loathly lady. She also needs sovereignty in her marriage. Gawyn wanted to marry Egwene, but did not take her promotion to high office seriously:

Don't you see what a distrust you have shown me? How can I trust you if you will disobey me in order to feel more comfortable?"
Gawyn didn't look ashamed; he just looked perturbed. That was actually a good sign—as Amyrlin, she needed a man who would speak his mind. In private. But in public she'd need someone who supported her. Couldn't he see that?
"You love me, Egwene," he said stubbornly. "I can see it."
"Egwene the woman loves you," she said. "But Egwene the Amyrlin is furious with you. Gawyn, if you'd be with me, you have to be with both the woman and the Amyrlin. I would expect you—a man who was trained to be First Prince of the Sword—to understand that distinction."
Gawyn looked away.
"You don't believe it, do you?" she asked.
"That I'm Amyrlin," she said. "You don't accept my title."

- The Gathering Storm, Sealed to the Flame

In Towers of Midnight, Gawyn had to understand that Egwene needed someone who, as Elayne advised him, not only did what she asked, but could be trusted to do what she would want without needing to be told. Despite his justifiable annoyance at Egwene for not allowing him to guard her, he did race back from Andor to save her from the Bloodknives. His dissatisfaction with his supporting role led to him strike out alone for Demandred; his death at Demandred’s sword hand causing Egwene’s incapacitation and death.

Gawyn didn’t want to dutifully support his sister the Queen of Andor, and likewise wasn’t keen on supporting the even higher status queen of the Aes Sedai. At least not when it impinged on his desire for personal accomplishment. Not a team player, as they would say in corporate parlance.

Another contentious visitor at King Arthur’s court was the Green Man, who challenged a knight to strike off his head and, in return, travel to the Green Knight’s castle in one year and a day and accept a similar blow in return. Photo right from

Sir Gawain accepted the challenge and beheaded the Green Knight with one blow. To the court’s surprise, the Green Knight rose to his feet, picked up his head and rode away. A year and a day later, Sir Gawain met the Green Knight at his castle where the Green Knight tried to behead Gawain. He made three attempts, but they were to test Gawain’s courage, not kill him. Gawain was wearing a green girdle that he believed was magical and refused to offer it to the Green Knight in turn as was chivalric custom, but kept it to save himself from death—a failing of morals or faith on his part.

Gawyn abandoned his duty to support Egwene and went to fight the formidable “knight” Demandred. Gawyn wore three bloodknives’ rings to gain an edge in his duel with the Forsaken. Demandred criticised Gawyn for “cheating” with them. Against custom, courtly love and good sense, he had failed to tell Egwene of the ter’angreal rings, telling himself that with them he could keep Egwene safe. Ironically the rings that protected Gawyn also were killing him.

After Sir Gawain’s battle with the Green Man, King Arthur decreed that all the Knights of the Round Table would wear a green sash in recognition of Gawain’s honour and courage. Gawain founded the Younglings during the White Tower coup and they wore a green coat and carried a green banner with his sigil of the white boar.

Sir Gawain also supported the true Queen Guinevere against an impostor, feuded with the House of Pellinore, and took part in the Grail Quest. Not understanding the spiritual significance of the Holy Grail, the San Greal, he refused to seek aid through the sacraments, instead relying on his own prowess. He did not attain the Grail. Gawyn supported Elaida as Amyrlin, not knowing that Egwene, a parallel of Guinevere, was rival Amyrlin. He led his soldiers on raids against the rebel Aes Sedai. Gawyn was not successful in his quest to kill Demandred, who found and achieved the sa’angreal Sakarnen.

Sir Gawain berated King Arthur for leaving Guinevere in the unreliable protection of Sir Kay, from where she was kidnapped by Sir Meleagant, and then he and Lancelot set out to rescue her. The two knights were guided to a fork in the road from which two possible paths ran to Meleagant’s castle; one road led to the Underwater Bridge, and the other, more perilous road, to the Sword Bridge. Gawain chose the Underwater Bridge, while Lancelot took the Sword Bridge and was victorious in freeing Guinevere and ultimately killing Meleagant.

Demandred, as Meleagant, ordered Egwene’s death (although at one point came close to capturing her (A Memory of Light, The Wyld)). Gawyn recognised that Demandred should be killed, and determined to attempt it. Min and Egwene both foretold that Gawyn had a huge fork in his life’s road, and that one road led to his early death, the other to his long life. Both women’s actions influenced Gawyn’s choice.

Gawyn’s poisoning by the Bloodknives’ rings has parallels in the 13th century Vulgate Cycle: Sir Gawain was captured by Caradoc, Lord of Dolorous Tower, and wounded by Caradoc’s guards. Adding to his pain, Caradoc's mother applied poisonous ointment to his wounds because Gawain killed her brother treacherously. Gawain’s health deteriorated, but a damsel restored him to health and then Lancelot freed him.

Unlike the Arthurian Gawain, Gawyn applied his poisonous rings himself in an effort to gain an advantage. The poisoning by bloodknives perhaps indicates his wrongness, his unworthiness, to achieve the quest of killing Demandred. His recklessness resulted in his own death and Egwene’s. In the Morte Arthure, Gawain rushed on ahead of King Arthur’s landing forces and singled out Modred and attacked him madly “in a frenzy for fierceness of heart”, “mad as a wild beast” and was killed by Modred. Arthur hurried ashore and searched for Gawain; he found his body face down on the grass. Gawyn was less frenzied than Gawain, but no less reckless, rushing off by himself to duel a Forsaken. It was his brother Galad who found Gawyn lying on the grass after his duel with Demandred, a dark Modred.

Sir Kay

Jordan included characteristics and actions of Sir Kay as well as Sir Gawain in developing Gawyn. Kay was King Arthur’s hot-headed, sharp-tongued seneschal and foster-brother, and although a skilled knight, was prone to behaving arrogantly to those he considered below him. Likewise, Gawyn behaved in an overweening manner upon arrival at Gareth Bryne’s camp outside Tar Valon. Just as Sir Kay, in his ambition to be Guinevere’s Champion, mistakenly believed he could defeat Meleagant, and thus free Meleagant’s captives, but instead was responsible for the queen’s capture, so Gawyn, Egwene’s seneschal as well as her Champion, went off to fight Demandred, and caused Egwene’s, and his own, death.


One of the parallels of Gawyn’s sister Elayne is Helen of Troy, the beautiful daughter of the Spartan queen Leda and the Ancient Greek god Zeus. After being raped by Zeus in the guise of a swan, Leda made love with her husband Tyndareus that same day and laid two eggs, from which hatched Helen, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux. Clytemnestra, with her disastrous marriages, has parallels to Elayne’s mother Morgase, and Castor and Pollux, twin half-brothers who were skilled horsemen and fighters, are parallels of Gawyn and Galad. Half these offspring were mortal and half immortal, although the myths are inconsistent as to which of them are which. Usually Castor is the mortal son of Tyndareus, while Pollux was the divine son of Zeus.

Castor and Pollux were regarded as helpers of humankind, intervening during crises to aid those who honoured them. Their fighting and equestrian prowess led them to be considered the patrons of athletes and athletic contests (see illustration, right). We actually see Gawyn and Galad practising their fighting skills in the Warders’ training grounds and then sparring with Mat in an earnest contest.

In Homer's Iliad, Helen looks down from the walls of the city of Troy, where she was taken by Paris, and wonders why she does not see either of her brothers, Castor or Pollux, among the Greeks who came to take her back. It’s because in Homer’s version of this myth both brothers are dead, ie mortal. Likewise, Elayne’s brothers, being non-channellers, do not have her long lifespan, and Gawyn, parallel of Castor, the twin usually regarded as mortal in Greek myth, is already dead.

Just as in some myths Pollux honourably gave up half his immortality to his mortal brother Castor, so Galad honourably saved Gawyn’s life twice as a child (The Eye of the World, The Web Tightens). It’s an indication of Gawyn’s recklessness that he needed saving twice.


Charging Boar

Gawyn’s sigil is a charging white boar symbolising strength, courage and aggression, especially in warfare, qualities that Gawyn displayed, although so often misapplied. He had considerable courage, but often poor judgement due to being reckless or impulsive.

Light! Gawyn thought. What if I didn't interrupt him listening? What if I interrupted him on his way out?
Gawyn dashed to Egwene's door, fatigue evaporating. Sword out, he tested the door. It was unlocked!
"Egwene!" he cried, throwing the door open and leaping into the room.
There was a sudden explosion of light and a crashing sound. Gawyn found himself wrapped up in something strong: invisible cords, towing him into the air. His sword fell to the ground, and his mouth filled with an unseen force.

- Towers of Midnight, The End of a Legend

He defended Egwene from the Bloodknives with ferocity and even Sheathed the Sword for her, then he appropriated their ter’angreal rings—powerful talismans that he used to fight Demandred.

As Gareth Bryne observed:

"You act with passion. You don't act because of the way you think, but because of the way you feel. In a rush, with a snap of emotion. That gives you strength. You can act when you need to, then sort through the ramifications later. Your instincts are usually good, just like your mother's were. But because of that, you've never had to face what to do when your instincts lead you in the wrong direction."

- Towers of Midnight, The End of a Legend

That rush is like the boar’s charge. Gawyn’s instincts led him to strike out for Demandred alone, resulting in his death and that of Egwene—but also the deaths of M’Hael and a lot of Sharan channellers.

In European folklore, the boar’s ferocity and destructive nature aroused horror as well as respect. Gawyn and his Younglings were instrumental in the White Tower coup and helped a tyrannical Amyrlin gain power. He wanted to kill Rand after hearing a rumour from a peddlar:

True, al'Thor was the Dragon Reborn. But in his heart, Gawyn wanted to meet al'Thor with sword in hand and ram steel through him, Dragon Reborn or not. Al'Thor would rip you apart with the One Power, he told himself. You're being foolish, Gawyn Trakand. His hatred of al'Thor continued to smolder anyway.

- Towers of Midnight, Writings

Boars are associated in myth with endeavours to end tyranny, the elimination of evil customs and the overthrow of old cycles (John and Caitlin Matthews, Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures). The Hindu god Vishnu took on a boar’s form to battle and defeat a demon and to raise the earth from the bottom of the ocean where the demon had submerged it. The story describes the resurrection of the earth from a deluge at the end of a cycle of Ages and the establishment of a new Age cycle.

Gawyn disapproved of the way Siuan ran the Tower and aided Elaida’s coup by preventing the Blue and Green Warders from freeing Siuan and Leane, yet the Amyrlin he aided was ironically worse than Siuan. He strayed from his duty to Andor, which was corrupted by Rahvin (named after an Indian demon), and ignored its troubles. Gawyn’s dissatisfaction that he was not making an important contribution to the Last Battle at the end of this Age was what impelled him to fight Demandred alone. The loss of Gawyn led to Egwene using herself up fighting M’Hael and the Sharans.

The boar was sacrificed to Aphrodite, goddess of love, and was also sacred to Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love (John and Caitlin Matthews, Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures). Egwene’s prophetic dreams showed the cost to Gawyn of his love for her (see Egwene’s Dreams article).

What no one foresaw was the cost to Egwene, Galad, Morgase and Elayne.

Gawyn finally had some insight into his state of mind:

Much of Gawyn's hatred of al'Thor came from frustration. Maybe jealousy. Al'Thor was playing a role closer to what Gawyn would have chosen for himself. Ruling nations, leading armies. Looking at their lives, who had taken on the role of a prince, and who the role of a lost sheepherder?

- Towers of Midnight, Darkness in the Tower

But unfortunately, the insight was fleeting. As First Prince of the Sword, Gawyn would have a higher status and more scope for personal achievement than he did as Egwene’s Warder, and would also be doing what he was trained, and sworn, to do, but he would not rule nations as Rand did. He was sworn to the position of First Prince, but never seems to have really understood it or accepted it. Gawyn was frustrated and discontented with the roles that life offered him. Gawyn was not a lost sheepherder, he was a lost sheep. Galad found him, but was too late. The Andoran Prince was lost for this life in A Memory of Light.


Written by Linda, September 2020