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 Becoming Aes Sedai

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PostSubject: Becoming Aes Sedai   Becoming Aes Sedai I_icon_minitimeMon Mar 17, 2008 5:03 pm


Traditionally the White Tower only accepts girls for training who are between sixteen and eighteen years old, though the rules are bent sometimes for a novice of great potential. Becoming a novice is known as being "put in white", because they are held to a strict dress code: white dresses, stockings, shoes, and even hair ribbons.

Recently among the rebel (Salidar) Aes Sedai the age restrictions have been lifted, and there are novices of all ages, even as old as grandmothers. This is causing consternation among some traditional sisters, but most are happy that the number of Tower initiates has ceased dwindling.

A novice's life is deliberately harsh, in order to prepare her for the difficult life of an Aes Sedai. Her room is tiny, the bed uncomfortable and hard, and she must wake every day before dawn to scrub the floor and sweep the room. Meals are taken in silence and are extremely brief, so the novice must eat quickly or go hungry. She will have lessons and classes; some on learning to channel but just as many on history, the Old Tongue, geography, politics and philosophy, and if needed reading and arithmetic - to all of which she must pay strict attention or face punishment. However, most of her day will be taken up with such chores and duties as labouring in the kitchens, scrubbing floors, doing errands for Aes Sedai, and working in the gardens.

Novices are not permitted to channel except when supervised by an Accepted or Aes Sedai (though many do so anyway in secret), and must do all their chores by hand. The idea is that the hard work builds character, though it is likely that there is a desire to keep them too busy, and too tired, to start playing around and experimenting with the Power. Novices are strictly confined to the Tower, and there are no days off, except for occasional free days.

Novices are subject to strict discipline, decided and handed out by a sister appointed to the post of Mistress of Novices. She is both disciplinarian and confidante, punishing those who have broken the rules and comforting those who are finding novice life too tough to handle. It is she who decides when a novice or Accepted is ready to be tested, or if the girl will be put out of the Tower for good. Punishment ranges from a lecture to a severe switching, and extra chores are usually involved. Although it is known what happens in the study, no one ever makes references to the punishment a person receives. For all that Aes Sedai act like they rule the world, within the Tower there are hierarchies and rules, and discipline and obedience are instilled from the earliest days. In addition novices are carefully cloistered from men. It isn't that the Tower disapproves of intimacy, but that they don't want their novices thinking too much about heart and family, especially if they are successful because they will outlive all their relatives and friends. If two novices get into a relationship, the Mistress of Novices will usually turn a blind eye.

Understandably some novices find the pressure too much, and resolve to run away. They rarely get away with it, usually being caught and returned. Life for a captured runaway makes ordinary novice life look pleasant, with anything less than perfection being swiftly and harshly punished. The reason given is that a half-trained channeler is a danger to herself and those around her, which is not untrue, but it is also the case that the Tower considers itself to have absolute right over all channelers, and does not permit them to leave until it is finished with them.

The novices studying under the rebel Aes Sedai have been arranged into "families" of seven or eight women, making them much easier to organize and also establishing close friendships that help novices to get through the day. This new development has meant that this faction has almost no runaways to deal with.

The expected time spent as a novice for most girls is ten years. Those showing greater potential might be raised Accepted after five or six years, and there have been cases of, gifted novices like Moiriane Damodred, Siuan Sanche and Elaida a'Roihan being raised after only three, and truly exceptional ones, like Egwene al'Vere and Elayne Trakand after a few months. When the Mistress of Novices decides that a girl is ready, she arranges for her to face the Arches. In only one known instance has a Tower initiate bypassed novice training completely. Nynaeve al'Meara began her training as one of the Accepted at the insistence of Amyrlin Siuan Sanche, but many Aes Sedai and Tower initiates (especially Accepted) disagreed with this decision.

The Arches

When a novice is raised to the Accepted, it is after completing a trial in a ter'angreal deep in the lower levels of the White Tower. It consists of three silver arches which, when the ter'angreal is activated, are filled with odd flickering light. The novice is warned only at the actual testing that if she enters the arches, she might not come back, and is given the option to refuse the test. She may refuse twice, but at the third time if she does not go on she is put out of the Tower.

The workings of the Arches is not completely understood, though they are known to involve Tel'aran'rhiod. When the novice walks through the first arch she is faced with a fear from her past, one she must conquer to return back through the arch. The second arch is a fear of the present, and the third a fear of the future. To return, a novice must enter an arch inside the ter'angreal, which is said to only appear once. Each is harder to fight than the last. The novice must enter completely naked and unprotected, and the arch somehow removes her memory of being a novice and knowing how to channel. The only known exception to this case has been Nynaeve al'Meara, who fought one of the Forsaken with the Power. Traditionally what is experienced in the Arches is not spoken of to anyone, but many novices come out weeping or furious, which can last for weeks, so it is known to be a terrible experience.

Should she return through the third Arch, she will be given a banded dress and a Great Serpent ring, proclaiming her to be one of the Accepted.


Where novices wear plain white, Accepted wear the same dress with seven bands of color at hem and cuffs - the color of the seven Ajahs. She must wear her Great Serpent ring on the third finger of her left hand.

The Accepted have larger and more comfortable rooms, and is trusted to channel alone and to direct her own studies. The Accepted also have the greater responsibilities of her own studies while being expected to prepare and teach novice lessons on a wide range of topics (the purpose of doing so is to learn how to manage and control others, and she can expect to be reprimanded if she runs to the Mistress of Novices for every little problem). Being Accepted does not mean less deference to Aes Sedai, and while she has more freedom - she is allowed to visit the city, for example - if she does break a rule, her punishment will be all the harsher.

By the time she reaches Accepted, a lot of the indoctrination will have taken root. Accepted can talk at meals, but generally don't, or are very quiet. They could use the Power to do their chores, but usually won't, feeling like they've done something wrong if they do. Accepted also start to show the arrogance and haughtiness that characterize Aes Sedai. It has been theorized that the long training period is actually as much for this conditioning as it is for actual learning.

An Accepted must learn much, as the Tower will not permit ignorant Aes Sedai. It is expected that she will be ten years in the banded white before being tested for the Shawl, though again there are exceptions to this. Elaida a'Roihan, Moiraine Damodred and Siuan Sanche all spent three years as novices and three as Accepted before being raised Aes Sedai. Egwene al'Vere, and Elayne Trakand spent a matter of months in both novicehood and the status of Accepted.

The Test for the Shawl

Long before she is ready to be tested, the Accepted will learn by heart a sequence of one hundred complex weaves, often whose purposes are just for the testing. The test for the shawl is to perform all these weaves, perfectly, in order, while maintaining outward serenity. The exact nature of the test is kept secret, but Accepted do what they can to try distracting each other while practicing the weaves. She enters a spinning ring structure, and the sisters conducting the test create illusions to try and break her concentration and serenity. These illusions are far from harmless, involving anything from armies of Shadowspawn to frigid temperatures, from minor embarrassments like having all her clothes disappear, to heart-rending choices and decisions. For every weave, a separate illusion is created, and if there is any hesitation, or any break in composure, the Accepted fails. And that's if she's lucky, as many women die in the test for the shawl.

Should she manage to complete the hundred weaves, she will certainly be badly injured. She is given Healing and sent off for a night of meditation. She is expected to stay awake all night, despite her certain exhaustion, and reflect on her new duties.

The Oath Rod

Once an Accepted passes the test, she is brought to another ceremony with the Amyrlin Seat and representatives of all seven Ajahs present. They are presented with the Oath Rod, a ter'angreal that binds Aes Sedai to whatever oaths they swear while channeling into it. The Accepted then swears the Three Oaths. The Oaths were not always a part of the Aes Sedai tradition, and some sisters wish it still wasn't. The Rod was discovered some time between the Trolloc Wars and the War of the Hundred Years. Unknown to the Aes Sedai is that the Oath Rod is in fact a ter'angreal which was used in the Age of Legends to bind criminals against further acts of law breaking.

Even though all sisters were bound to their respective Ajahs, they needed a common set of goals and principles to bind sisters of every Ajah together. The Accepted swears to:
  1. Speak no word that is not true.
  2. Make no weapon for one man to kill another.
  3. Never use the One Power as a weapon, except
    1. Against Shadowspawn (Darkfriends also qualify).
    2. To save her own life, or her Warder's, or the life of another sister.

Sisters physically cannot break these oaths, though they can be circumvented - for instance, an Aes Sedai may deliberately put herself in danger to remove the constraint on using the Power as a weapon, or she could make a statement that is misleading but technically true (giving rise to the saying An Aes Sedai never lies, but the truth she tells you isn't the one you think you hear). Once she has sworn the oaths, the Accepted is an Aes Sedai and is allowed to choose her Ajah.

Unknown to most channelers is that the Oath Rod also has the facility to unbind, useful for those sisters who become members of the Black Ajah and swear new oaths to the Dark One. Channelers are also freed from the oaths when severed from the Power. Recently, the sisters which are hunting Black Ajah (due to misunderstanding of Elaida's order) in the tower have used it to make the sisters they suspect are Black to re-swear the old oaths and swear allegiance to them.

Recent evidence has come up that shows that the Oath Rod might in fact also lower the life expectancy of a channeller bound by it. The ability to channel the One Power dramatically slows the channeller's aging process and extends her lifespan by centuries. When Elayne was in Ebou Dar, however, she came across a group calling itself the Kin which was mainly comprised of women who failed, at some point or another, in their training to become Aes Sedai and were put out of the Tower. Some of these women have lived up to a hundred years longer than the longest recorded Aes Sedai lifespan and still have much life left in them. Egwene has declared, as Amyrlin Seat (of the Salidar Aes Sedai), that any woman who wishes to be a full Aes Sedai must swear the oaths on the Oath Rod. Some fear that this might hasten the death of those potential sisters who have already exceeded the normal Aes Sedai lifespan. Another significant difference between Aes Sedai bound by the Oath Rod and female channellers who aren't, is the fact that while Aes Sedai look "ageless" (looking as if they're in their 20's from one angle, then in their 40's from another), the latter simply look much younger than their years.

Egwene has plans to allow older sisters to retire into the Kin (freeing them of their Oaths, but no longer considering them true Aes Sedai) in the hopes that this will allow them to live the longer lives enjoyed by those who have not sworn on the Rod.

Recent exceptional cases

Since the Tower became divided against itself, certain women among the rebel faction, beyond reach of any of the aforementioned ter'angreal, have become Aes Sedai by exceptional means. The first was Egwene al'Vere, who is technically Aes Sedai by virtue of having been raised Amyrlin Seat, despite never having tested for the shawl. After becoming Amyrlin, she had several other Accepted raised to the shawl (including Elayne Trakand and Nynaeve al'Meara) by proclamation, a move that most sisters objected to. Needless to say, none of these women are bound by the Three Oaths, though Egwene in particular is extremely keen to get her hands on the Oath Rod.
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