The True Source cannot be used up, any more than the river can be used up by the wheel of the mill. The Source is the river; the Aes Sedai, the waterwheel."
Nature of the True Source
It can be seen as a source, quite literally, of energy capable of manipulating the universe, which prolongs the lives of its users by a factor of ten or even more, depending on individual strength. It is never used up by someone channeling it, only woven into a purpose temporarily. Each half of the One Power can be used only by people of the associated sex.
The two halves are direct opposites, yet both complement each other, by turning the Wheel of Time through both cooperation and opposition. The essential differences in the nature of the two halves of the Power mean that a woman cannot teach a man to channel, and vice versa.
Not everyone has the ability to "channel," or access, the One Power. Most have none at all, and some only have the ability to be taught, to one degree or another. But a few channelers are born with "the spark," an innate inclination that will lead them to touch the Source whether they wish to or not. These untrained channelers, sometimes referred to as wilders often die without ever gaining control over their innate ability by a strange sickness; some research indicates the mortality rate for untrained channelers is 75% or more. Often, however, the survival comes with a price; wilders may not even know they are using the One Power to do things. They just know that sometimes, "things happen" when they want them badly enough.
Wilders are also frequently saddled with a block, an instinctive self-preservation instinct that causes them trouble when they do try to channel purposefully. For example, these blocks can take the form of only being able to channel while angry, or only with one's eyes closed. Those who do not have the spark can go their entire lives without touching the Power, or even realizing they can. Within a short period of time after wilders first channel without training, they will suffer side effects, of which there are many, such as fever and chills, or taking uncharacteristic risks. These side effects will bring the untrained channeler increasingly closer to an incident of touching the Power, until they coincide. At this moment, without the proper training, the channeler will most likely die soon "as though an invisible clock had begun ticking."
Channelers are not born equal; some are stronger in the Power and can handle more of it than others. Men and women who can channel are different in this respect and in many others, regarding the One Power. For example, male channelers can on average channel more of the Power than female channelers, similar to the gendered difference in physical strength.
Channelers must always be careful, as the One Power is dangerous. Besides providing an addictive stimulating effect, channelers who draw too much of the Power into themselves can kill themselves or render themselves brain-dead. If they are lucky--relatively speaking--they will only burn the ability to channel out of themselves, leaving them unable to channel ever again.
Channelers can also be permanently denied the Source by another party. In modern Aes Sedai parlance, this is called "stilling" when done to women, "gentling" when done to men, but archaically it was called "severing" for either gender. Regardless of the circumstances, those who lose the ability permanently also tend to lose the will to live. Very recently, an Aes Sedai named Nynaeve al'Meara, and an Asha'man named Damer Flinn independently discovered how to heal severing, but the process is imperfect, experimental, and still in development. While either gender can heal severing, there is evidence that healing severing is more effective when it's performed by a channeler of the gender opposite of the former channeler. Those who are restored by a channeler of their own gender have found their strength in the Power reduced around 1/3 from their strength they had before being severed.
Both men and women with the spark come to a point of crisis in which they are in severe mortal danger, assuming they've had no training. The One Power is extremely dangerous to the untrained. Many women who die under mysterious circumstances in their late teenage years are actually wilders who have failed to cope with their abilities. The women who survive invariably develop mental blocks that prevent channeling in the absence of certain conditions; two known blocks required severe anger or thoughts about men before their sufferers could allow themselves to channel. Another is the ability to channel only with one's eyes shut, which can be inconvenient, because a channeler must be able to see flows in order to weave them. Serious and sometimes drastic counseling is often required to overcome blocking.
Strength in the One Power, especially among Aes Sedai does not indicate only the brute force or raw power that a channeler can use. It also means other abilities usually linked to the strength:
- Usually, the stronger the channeler, the more threads one can form and manipulate, and at a higher dexterity. For example, in Knife of Dreams, the powerful Egwene al'Vere is seen easily weaving more than a dozen threads simultaneously, however the very weak Morgase is seen struggling to weave a single faint thread.
- Usually, the strongest can learn a new weave with greater ease than the weakest, for example it is enough for Rand and Alivia to have seen the composing of a new weave only once in order to learn how to reproduce it; for Nynaeve, and Elayne it is enough to see it formed a few times; alternatively, it may take the weakest channelers years of study in order to learn a new weave. This is proved also by the period necessary to gain the shawl in the White Tower: strong Aes Sedai, such as Elaida, Moiraine or Siuan, have spent only 3 years as Novices and 3 as Accepted in the training to learn the very complex weaves required for passing the test for the shawl, medium-high ranking Aes Sedai usually take a dozen years (6+6), average Aes Sedai twenty years (10+10), while the weakest Aes Sedai, such as Elin Warrel, remained in training almost thirty years before they were able to gain the shawl.
- Usually, the strongest channelers, having more ability and proficiency in making weaves, are more skilled in all uses of the One Power, so they also have a propensity for studying and experimenting with it, are more intuitive with its use, and are able to invent new weaves or rediscover those that were considered "lost".
Scales of Power
Initially Robert Jordan said on his blog that he knows the relative strength of every female channeler in the books imposed on a 21 level scale.
I have said that in my notes I have such a scale that I use to keep track of everyone, but its main use is for the lesser characters, in particular Aes Sedai, so that I can check on who should defer to whom, who should only listen a little more attentively to whom, and so forth.
Later this scale was expanded two times as reported in The Wheel of Time Companion. The first was a new scale of levels between 1 and 60. Later again he added 12 levels above the former 60 levels scale. In addition he also considered six more levels only for men at the high end.
Strength as described in The Wheel of Time Companion
According to The Wheel of Time Companion, which differs to the main books of the WoT in many points, overall strength in the One Power was only a measure of the sheer raw amount of the One Power that an individual could draw at once, which also determined whether or not that individual could create certain weaves. When two channelers compared their strength, this was the factor that was considered. The scale of strength in the One Power consisted of 72 base levels, with 72 being the lowest end of the range, and 1 being the highest. In addition, there were six more levels for men at the high end, ++6 to ++1.
On this scale, the highest level a man could achieve was ++1; the highest level a woman could achieve was 1(+12). The lowest possible level for both was 72(60). Of note, despite the disparity in maximum strength between the genders, it was possible for a woman at 1(+12) to be a roughly equal match for a man at ++1, as women possessed a greater innate dexterity with weaving than men. However, this relative lack of dexterity could be overcome through practice.
Note that the parenthetical values of a strength level, such as the +12 in 1(+12) and the 60 in 72(60), represent the old scale of strength adopted by Aes Sedai between the retirement of Cadsuane Melaidhrin and the discovery of Egwene al'Vere, Elayne Trakand, Nynaeve al'Meara, and others. This old scale had only 60 base levels, and 13 on the new scale is equivalent to 1 on the old scale; this is written as 13(1). The level of 1 on the new scale exceeds the maximum value of the old scale by 12, so its equivalent on the old scale is +12; this written as 1(+12).
Below is a partial list of strength levels and channelers who were rated at those levels as provided in The Wheel of Time Companion. Some of the levels listed contradict information given in the main books; notations are provided in those instances.
Strength distribution among Aes Sedai
The figure shows the approximate distribution of strengths of the One Power for living Aes Sedai mentioned in the series. Only those sisters whose strength in the One Power is mentioned in The Wheel of Time Companion are counted. Speculation could be made on how representative this is of the entire Aes Sedai population as we tend to view the series through the eyes of sisters that are stronger in the One Power.
According to the data, the distrubution is more similar to a Poisson distribution than a bell curve (Gaussian distribution), which is typical for statistics for attributes that are bound from below. Note also that this population is also a filtered sample of the overall population of channelers as weaker women will never be able to reach the level of full Aes Sedai. Note that the lowest level in this chart is Daigian at level 45 where the lowest possible strength is 72.
One Power and Longevity
The channelers of the One Power have a lifespan considerably longer than normal human beings. But this can vary a lot from a channeller to another, depending on many factors, such as the strength in the One Power and the sex.
A channeler's longevity roughly paralleled their strength level. Usually the strongest channelers have an expectancy of life far longer than the weakest. And the women among the channelers have a lifespan longer than men of comparable strength, which is around a ten per cent more.
In The Wheel of Time Companion is explained that in the Age of Legends the strongest female could reach the age of 800 years old (with a span between 775-825) with very few able to reach 850 and even 900 (however, surviving to 900 years was exceedingly rare). A man at strength level ++1 (at the top level) is comparable in lifespan to a woman at the top of the female strength level 1(+12) and so both fell into this 800 years age level.
At the middle of the spectrum are level 36(24) for female and 30(18) for male channelers, which fell around the 400-450 year age level.
At the bottom of the spectrum, the weakest channelers have a far less long life: a woman at the minimum level 72(60) fell into the 150-year age level, while a man at the same 72(60) fell into the 135-year age level.
Aes Sedai Longevity
The use of the Oath Rod by Aes Sedai significantly reduced the longevity of this group of channelers. In fact, this kind of binder when used on someone halves the remaining lifespan of that channeler. For this reason strong sisters such as Romanda can expect to live around 300 years (instead of 600) and sisters with an average strength around 250 years (instead of 500).
When the Amyrlin Egwene al'Vere discovered this negative effect of the Rod, she thought to offer older sisters entering retirement to the Kin the possibility of being freed from their oaths on the binder, and thus restore their normal lifespan.
However, strength in the One Power does not factor in overall ability, which differed to a degree even between two individuals who possessed the same strength level.
Only Spirit can be channeled by one who is asleep.
Male and female differences
Male channelers as a whole usually are much stronger in the amount of power that they can hold than female channelers of comparable level (in much the same way men are generally stronger in their muscles than women) but the female can compensate this lack of brute force with far more dexterity. So in all the things that only rough power is not needed, the strongest female channelers can accomplish with the One Power exactly the same as the strongest male.
An advantage of the female is also that only a woman can start the link for a circle, while men cannot link to form a circle of multiple channelers working together without a woman's aid. Women are more dexterous in the actual weaving of the flows, and have the advantage of linking, but cannot increase a circle beyond thirteen without the inclusion of men.
When a male channeler and a female channeler work together they are much stronger than many of the same gender, it is said that this is caused by saidin and saidar resonating, which means that the two Powers are working better together.
When using the One Power one weaves flows of different elements: Earth, Spirit, Water, Air, and Fire, also known as the Five Powers. Men are generally stronger with Fire and Earth, while women are generally stronger with Air and Water; significant strength in Spirit is distributed equally, and relatively rare in either. Great strength in all Five Powers has been unknown since the Age of Legends. Even then it was extremely rare.
Female channelers can tell when other women are touching the Source - a white glowing aura appears around their body, only visible to those trained to touch saidar. The ability can also be sensed in any woman capable of channeling, whether they are wilders or Aes Sedai. In the testing to see if one can channel, a woman channels a simple weave and waits. Within five minutes if a woman has the spark, the woman tries to channel the flow, and the test is confirmed. It takes longer for those who only can learn. However, a woman who has the spark can be detected by another female channeler without being tested.
Saidar is described as a gentle, but infinitely powerful river; a force which will do what you wish it to, but requires patience to be "persuaded;" otherwise it will carry you away. A woman must submit to saidar in order to access it, an act universally known as embracing the Power. Weaving for a female channeler consists of guiding the flow of the Power to achieve the desired end.
A man who can channel saidin can detect the nearby channeling of saidar as it raises goosebumps on his flesh. However, a male channeler cannot pinpoint a source from this feeling; he can simply tell that someone nearby has tapped into saidar.
A man can sense when another man is holding saidin, though not in the way women do: a man would describe it as a feeling of awe and menace -- with nothing truly visible -- and not easily pinpointed to a particular location or person. The farther the channeling, the fainter the feel. While a female channeler can sense any woman channeling, sensing for men depends largely on the amount of saidin used in the weave; small weaves cannot be discerned unless one is in extremely close proximity to the weave, whereas something like a gateway can be sensed from a considerable distance.
There is almost no way for a woman to tell when a man is channeling, though the residues of his channeling can be detected using an appropriate weave. Recently an active method was discovered to discern whether or not a man was channeling or holding saidin, but the method is not widely known. Additionally, because it requires saidar to use, it is not possible to employ it covertly. There are however, ter'angreal that can detect channeling, and even discern which is being used, and which direction it is in.
A man who can channel cannot sense the ability in another man, unless the other man has seized saidin. Testing for men involves channeling a simple flow until a "resonance" is felt from the one being tested. This may often take as long as fifteen to twenty minutes for those with the spark, and much longer for those who can only learn.
Saidin is described as a a raging torrent, just as powerful as saidar but tempestuous: a raw, untamed force that must be "coerced" through strength of will or else it will overwhelm you. In contrast to saidar, a man must make saidin submit to him in order to access it: a process known as seizing the Power. Weaving for a male channeler involves wielding it much like a weapon and directing it to do his bidding.
Aes Sedai was a term that was once used to describe both male and female channelers during the Age of Legends. It was the primary organization of channelers during the time, but membership was by no means mandatory for individuals who could channel. The group was dedicated to using their powers to benefit mankind, and initially had no political power other than the prestige of it's members as extraordinary civil servants. During the War of Power, the organization became the governing body for the military of the Light, and garnered essentially supreme political power over humanity. The contemporary organization is composed of women due to the long-time presence of the Taint on saidin. Their headquarters, the White Tower, is on the island city of Tar Valon near Dragonmount. There are other groups in Randland, but they have either kept themselves totally secret or have been neutralized by the Tower. Some Aes Sedai refer to any female channeler who is not affiliated with the Tower as a "wilder," although this is not strictly correct.
These other groups include the Aiel Wise Ones, the largest known group of channelers anywhere, who have kept secret by being on the other side of the Spine of the World. Five hundred female channelers, with a few dozen apprentices, were described in one clan. This is half the numbers of the White Tower and that figure was not considered abnormal among the other eleven clans. This means that in total can be calculated a number around six thousand channelers among the Aiel, counting also the weakest that usually are not able to gain the shawl in the White Tower. In fact the Aiel maintain their numbers by testing every girl who can channel, and making all of them Wise Ones, though channeling is not a requirement to become one of them. Wise Ones have still retained the talents of Caressing the Child and Dreamwalking, something lost to the modern Aes Sedai.
The damane and sul'dam of the Seanchan can be considered another group of channelers, though not independent as they are joined to the greater Seanchan Empire. Every girl with the spark is leashed with the a'dam and trained to be damane, and most who can learn are chosen to be sul'dam, although most Seanchan do not know that this is why they can be chosen for the task. The sul'dam and the damane have a relationship much like that of a master and his dog. Not coincidentally, the number who can channel on the Seanchan side of the ocean is much higher than on this side, as the sul'dam remain in the breeding pool.
The Windfinders of the Sea Folk are yet another group of channelers unknown to the Tower, until very recently. Channeling is not actually a requirement of being a Windfinder, however most do. They generally possess remarkable strength in air and water weaves, forming weaves that "cross the sky," but are weak with fire and earth. Their members are of great average strength and quite independent of the Tower, though they send a few of their weakest to be Aes Sedai to allay suspicion. This was considered a great sacrifice by the Sea Folk, because it requires those girls to be largely separated from both their people and the oceans. It is not know the true number of channeler Windfinders, but surely they are thousands; many of them were captured as damane by the Seanchan.
The Kin were known to the Aes Sedai, but their numbers were grossly underestimated. Considered by the Tower to be a grouping of only a few dozen of too weak novices and failed Accepted, with some wilder recruits, they indeed numbered almost two thousand, far outnumbering the Aes Sedai they emulated. A disturbing fact to Aes Sedai is that the Kin seem to live much longer than the average Aes Sedai due to the absence of the Oath Rod's influence.
The Ayyad of Shara are another group of channelers. Like the nation they hail from, very little is known about the Ayyad. They tattoo their faces, and channel at the command of the Sh'boan. Male Ayyad are used as breeding stock and are killed either when they start to channel or turn twenty-one. It is not know the number of the Ayyad but surely they are thousands.
Due to the recent and relatively unknown removal of the taint on saidin, there is only one official organization of male channelers in existence. Traditionally, male channelers are formally gentled by the White Tower in the Westlands, exiled to the Great Blight among the Aiel, are offered honorable executions among the Sea Folk, and are quickly killed as abominations in Seanchan. The members of the new male channeler organization are known as Asha'man, and their organization's headquarters is known as the Black Tower. Membership in the organization is extremely open; virtually any male who is capable of either channeling or learning is accepted. Unlike contemporary Aes Sedai, Asha'man are trained to be living weapons, whose only function is to kill by whatever means is at their disposal.
The taint on saidin
In the current age, the Dark One's taint on saidin causes male channelers, even those who survive the struggle to learn to channel safely, to inevitably go mad and succumb to a wasting sickness which causes the sufferer to rot alive (these curses may come in either order, or concurrently, at varying speeds for each male channeler). The taint came into being at the end of the Age of Legends, when Lews Therin Telamon and the Hundred Companions (actually 113 male channelers) re-sealed the Dark One into his prison, but in the process, the Dark One unleashed a counterstroke, which caused saidin to become tainted, the taint driving the Hundred Companions and the Dragon immediately and irrevocably insane. Other male Aes Sedai took longer for the taint to affect them, but by the time they understood what had happened, it was too late.
A significant percentage of modern Aes Sedai, most of them Red Ajah, dedicate their lives to hunting down and gentling male channelers before they can cause trouble. Possibly as a result of this, or the White Tower policy of discouraging marriage and childbearing, fewer and fewer people of either gender are born in the Westlands with the talent.
Cleansing of saidin
- Main article: Cleansing of saidin
The process involved the relationship between the Taint of Shadar Logoth and the Taint on saidin. Rand using saidar, granted to him by linking with Nynaeve, wove a conduit of saidar above Shadar Logoth and then channeled a massive amount of saidin into it. As the opposing halves of the source repel, saidin was repulsed away from the walls of the conduit, while the taint on saidin continued on to Shadar Logoth.
The taint of Shadar Logoth, born of hatred as deep as, if not deeper than, the Shadow, reacted to the Dark One's taint resulting in the annihilation of both evils.
The long and complex process destroyed the ruined city of Shadar Logoth and was felt by most, if not all, channelers of both genders in the Westlands. However, some have confessed doubt over the effectiveness of the cleansing. It has not been shown conclusively to all that the cleansing was successful. Regardless, any already induced madness or sickness caused by the taint would not been healed by this cleansing, but merely prevented from worsening.
At least a few Aes Sedai who work in close contact with Asha'man have come to believe, through linking, that saidin is truly clean, although it is still utterly alien to them due to the extreme difference in way they channel.
Confirmation of the Taint being cleansed comes in two forms. Firstly in the fact that Lews Therin states that the Source is "Pure and Clean" again, him being the only man (aside from the Forsaken) that knew the source before it was fouled by the taint. Secondly, conversations between the Forsaken posits that the male among them, may no longer be trustworthy after the cleansing - that is, the female Forsaken turned to the Dark One of their free will, whereas the male Forsaken had to remain with the Shadow due to the protection from the taint that the Dark One provided. With saidin clean, this restriction would no longer be in place.
Discovery and Rediscovery of the One Power
As more and more revealed of the nature of the One Power and the known history of the world of the Wheel of Time, the reader could have the impression that the real world may (in theory) fit into the constant turns of the Wheel as one of the many Ages. Thus, it is possible that with the improvement of technology a new Age comes when the use of One Power becomes lost and forgotten, and in one of the following Age it is rediscovered again. One of the possible reference supporting this theory is the legend or myth of the Ring of Tamyrlin.
- Robert Jordan on his blog
- Lanfear was rumored to be the second most powerful of the Forsaken[verify], but this does not necessarily mean in raw strength as women have an increased level of skill that adds to their raw strength.
- This level of strength is totally in contradiction to which is stated about Graendal's strength in the main books of the series, which implied that Graendal was at least at level 2(+11).
- The Companion lists this as Elayne's potential strength, not actual strength.
- The Companion lists Cadsuane's strength as 5(+8), but elsewhere she is mentioned as having the same potential as Nicola Treehill. This level is more consistent with the references in the books.
- Bode's exact strength level is not stated in the Companion, though she is described as having a potential almost as strong as Egwene's.
- The books state that Viendre's strength stronger than that of Elayne. Elayne may not have reached her full potential at this point, howwever.
- The Companion gives this as her current strength. As per the books, Aviendha, Elayne and Egwene have equal potential.
- The Wheel of Time Companion gives her strength as either 17(5) or 18(6).
- The Companion gives her strength level as either 18(6) or 19(7).
- Vandene's potential is stated in the Companion to be 20(8), but she never fulfilled it because she did not want to eclipse her sister Adeleas.
- in TWoTC Sorilea's level of strength is described as 57(35) but it is clearly a mistake because such level does not exist, it could be either 47(35) (most likely) or 57(45).
- The Shadow Rising, Chapter 3
- Knife of Dreams, Chapter 23
- Lord of Chaos, Chapter 2