Tel'aran'rhiod (tel-AYE-rahn-rhee-ODD; Old Tongue: The Unseen World), also known as the World of Dreams and the Wolf Dream, is a parallel world where all the possibilities of the Wheel of Time connect, and it is linked to all the myriad such worlds that exist within the Wheel. It is both of those worlds and apart from them, and is occasionally entered for a few seconds at a time by ordinary people dreaming, although there is great risk to those who do so as imagination becomes reality in the Unseen World and many things that may happen to a person there will happen to them in the normal world as well. There are people called Dreamwalkers who have the ability to enter Tel'aran'rhiod at will, and they are able to exert varying degrees of mastery over its strange and malleable nature.
Since training ter'angreal for the World of Dreams exist, it is likely that they were used or studied in some way in the Age of Legends. Seeing as most of the Forsaken can enter Tel'aran'rhiod it can be assumed that doing so was not uncommon during the Age of Legends. The last known dreamer in the White Tower was named Corianin Nedeal; she died many years ago. Egwene al'Vere is the only natural "dreamer", called dreamwalkers, out of the Aes Sedai. Aiel Wise Ones also make use of Tel'aran'rhiod frequently, and Dreaming and Dreamwalking seem to be more commonly practiced among them. Many of the Forsaken, including Lanfear and Moghedien have been known to use Tel'aran'rhiod for meetings, spying, and for traveling.
Anyone can enter the World of Dreams while sleeping, and those who brush up against it in their sleep often do not know what they are doing. These people usually do not stay for more than a few seconds. Many people awake with pains and bruises that they cannot explain, caused by taking small injuries in Tel'aran'rhiod. Dreamwalkers can enter the world at will while sleeping, as well as those who hold certain ter'angreal. Some dream ter'angreal do not even require channeling to activate them, and thus Tel'aran'rhiod can also be accessed by those who do not channel. Another way to access the World of Dreams is to create a gateway into it from the waking world. Aiel Wise Ones, however, have warned against this several times, stating that anyone who does this loses a piece of their humanity. On rare occasions, very powerful channelers such as Rand al'Thor have unknowingly entered the World of Dreams while sleeping and have stayed there for a time. It is unclear if this is caused by the channeler, or if an outside force has actually pulled them into the Unseen World somehow. One final way to enter Tel'aran'rhiod is only accessible to Wolfbrothers; these individuals can enter through what is known as the Wolf Dream.
Characteristics of Tel'aran'rhiod
The first thing to remember in the World of Dreams is that what happens is real, so if a person dies in the dream, that person also dies in the real world. Some people who go to sleep perfectly healthy will die; this happens when they die in Tel'aran'rhiod, and this can happen to anyone who accidentally touches the world unaware (or even those who know what they are doing). Along the same lines, people who are wounded there will awaken with the wounds.
The world is malleable; one can project thoughts to make creatures and buildings. Larger things that are made in this fashion are more difficult to maintain and control than smaller ones. A person with stray thoughts in the World of Dreams may have difficulty maintaining their personal appearance, which often causes their clothing to flicker and change. The key to mastering the World is to always remember it is a dream; if a person accepts something happening as reality that person may become trapped in the dream. Conversely, to keep her personal appearance solid and unchanging, a Dreamwalker must focus and think of herself as real. Individuals who are talented at manipulating the World of Dreams can also imagine themselves as being somewhere else, and they will instantly appear in that location. Additionally, such individuals can also affect constructs made by other individuals; someone with greater control of the World of Dreams could imagine something out of existence while a person with less control is actively attempting to prevent it. One can also affect one's own body while in the World of Dreams, to the extent of healing wounds if they are supremely skilled.
Within Tel'aran'rhiod light appears to be ambient, with no obvious source. One often experiences a constant feeling of unseen eyes watching from every direction while within it. Time is also difficult to measure within the World of Dreams and appears to pass at a completely different rate. A person may be asleep for only an hour in the waking world, but they may experience several hours in Tel'aran'rhiod. Or, a person may only spend fifteen minutes in Tel'aran'rhiod and wake up to find that they had been sleeping for several hours. While time is different between the World of Dreams and the waking world, it does not run backwards. A person who sleeps for fifteen minutes can not go back in time in the World of Dreams, just as a person who spends several hours in Tel'aran'rhiod cannot wake up earlier than the original time that they went to sleep. Wolfbrothers seem to have the greatest amount of control over the World of Dreams than all others, for they have both the intrinsic connection to it that the wolves do, but supplemented with human intelligence regarding how and what they wish to do. Perrin Aybara, for instance, mastered the World of Dreams so completely that he can enter and exit it in the flesh simply by willing it so, and manipulate virtually anything within it. The only other individual who has shown this sort of mastery of Tel'aran'rhiod is the dual-souled man known as Slayer. While not a wolfbrother, his master of the Dream World is surpassed only by Perrin due to his own wolfbrother nature.
A person who visits the Unseen World while sleeping does not get the same rest as someone who sleeps and dreams normally throughout the night.
Reflection of the Waking World
The World of Dreams is a mirror of the waking world, except that it is a non-permanent one. Objects such as geographical formations, forests, and mountains exist. Buildings exist as long as they have been around the real world long enough to create an impression on Tel'aran'rhiod. An item such as a bowl of food or a letter may flicker in and out before the viewer's eyes. A door in the World of Dreams may appear open one second, and shut the next. Wild animals are also part of the World; however, domesticated animals are not. Some people believe this to be because of their relationship with humans―that their connection to nature has been severed. Wolves appear to have a particular connection with it, as they are able to enter it at will and exert some amount of control over it similar to what Dreamwalkers are capable of.
In between Place
There is a place between the waking world and Tel'aran'rhiod, which has no recorded name. One who enters this strange place feels as if they are floating through a sea of stars, but they have no body that they can see or feel. Each of these stars represents the dreams of people in the world as they sleep. In this place a Dreamwalker can find the dreams of others and observe their dreams, though it is considered rude to do so. A Dreamwalker can also speak to others in their dreams or enter that person's dreams directly. Entering the dreams of another this way is very dangerous, as the dreamer becomes part of the other person's dream and it is often controlled by them. It is possible for a dreamer to get pulled into someone's dream against their will if the the dreamer has exceptional feelings of hate or love towards that individual. A dreamer who enters or is forced into another person's dreams is no longer susceptible to the physical dangers of Tel'aran'rhiod and they fall back into normal sleep.
While in this place a Dreamer can actually pull someone from their dream into Tel'aran'rhiod. This is considered something of The Shadow, it is a very sinister act. The Aiel Wise Ones say that this was done during the War of the Shadow and that it must never be done again.
A dreamshard is a merging of an individual's dream and Tel'aran'rhiod, almost like an offshot of Tel'aran'rhiod itself. The person to whom it belongs has a high degree of control over the place, far more than in the normal world of dreams.
Cyndane at the end of ToM tried to entrap Rand into one of her dreamshards.
Heroes of the Wheel
Heroes bound to the Wheel of Time who have not yet been spun back into the world of life, wait for their rebirth in Tel’aran’rhiod or the call of the Horn of Valere. Rules that govern the heroes prohibit contacting or communicating with dreamwalkers, a rule that the hero Birgitte Silverbow disregarded on numerous occasions to aid in the fight with the shadow.
While heroes lack the ability to manipulate the world of dreams to the extent of the dreamwalkers, they are more aware of what occurs inside the dream. For a time Birgitte spied on the Forsaken providing information of what they were doing in the dream and access to meetings held there.
It is apparently possible to rip a hero from the Wheel of Time using the One Power. This act, without aid, would result in the permanent death of the hero. The death of the hero can be prevented through the unique properties of the Warder Bond.
This is a Talent that seems somewhat like Foretelling, which is the ability to see the future, but with needed interpretation of course. Dreaming seems to be connected to Dreamwalking as the Aiel Wise Ones also seem adept at "reading the dream" as they call it. They also train Dreamwalkers to remember every dream they have when they sleep, which allows them to sift out the ones that are just ordinary dreams and interpret True Dreams (which are the ones that foretell events).
Similar to the Talent of Dreaming the future, a Wolfbrother such as Perrin can see truthful visions of the people in waking world. These seem to be more relevant to current situations than the future, however.
Real World Paralells
Tel'aran'rhiod is similar to the Australian aboriginal concept of the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime is inhabited by heroic, ancestral figures, just like Tel'aran'rhiod is inhabited by the Heroes of the Horn. The actual word in the Arandic language (alcheringa) means "the eternal place" or "the uncreated place" and is understood to be "everywhen" or "time out of time". The Dreamtime is also linked to totemic animals, just like Tel'aran'rhiod is also the Wolf-Dream (which would make wolves Perrin's totem).
Tel'aran'rhiod additionally seems to be named for the Welsh mythological figure Arianrhod, a name that means Silver (arian) Wheel (rhod).