2.3.03: Effects of the Oath Rod: Binding, Agelessness, and Death
[Daniel Rouk, Burr Rutledge, Andrea Leistra, Pam Korda, Leigh Butler]
In the AOL, there were multiple "Oath Rods." They were apparently fairly common devices used to discipline criminals who could channel. The Forsaken refer to them as a type of "binder"; according to Sammael [ACOS: 40, Spears, 631], Oath Rods only work on channelers, and the one he gives to Sevanna only works on female channelers. There are other types of binding devices, such as "binding chairs" that work on anybody.
One of the first references to "binding" is in [LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 136]. Graendal is showing off her Sharans. While discussing the Sharan channelers, Sammael asks her if they 'bind themselves like criminals.' Sammael thinks he's revealing something Graendal didn't know, but she thinks about how she found out about the AS use of the Oath Rod from Mesaana [LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 138]. We later find out Mesaana is in the White Tower. The only "binding" that we know about that occurs in the White Tower is the bonds willingly taken by Aes Sedai via the Oath Rod.
Next scene: [LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 139-143] Semirhage is torturing the Aes Sedai, and thinking on how she was "wronged" because the Age of Legends Servants didn't understand why she gave a little pain with her healing. After all, nobody complained when they owed their life to her. She recollects that she was given two choices, to be severed, or to accept binding. The actual quote is "to be bound never to know her pleasures again, and with that binding be able to see the end of life approach." This illustrates that "binding" is in fact as Sammael said, something done to criminals.
In [Guide: 3, The Age of Legends, 37], we learn about the criminal justice system in the AOL. "When the perpetrators of violent acts were caught, they were not sent to prison. Rather, they were constrained... against repeat offenses. This binding made it impossible for the criminal ever to repeat his crime." In [Guide: 5, The Dark One and the Male Forsaken, 54], we also find out that this binding was done with the OP. Describing Balthamel, ne Eval Ramman, it says, " More than once he supposedly came very close to being bound with the Power against doing violence."
Next, we have [ACOS: 40, Spears, 630-631], in which Sammael gives Sevanna an OR, which he probably got from the Ebou Dar stash. He explains how it works: "'You might call it an Oath Rod,' Caddar said...'It only came into my hands yesterday, and I immediately thought of you.'... 'All you need do is have your AS...or any woman who can channel, hold the rod and speak whatever promises you wish while someone channels a little Spirit into the number. The marks on the end of the rod?'...'It only works on women?' [Sevanna said.] 'Women who can channel, Sevanna,' Caddar said."
Finally, in WH we are introduced to the "Chair of Remorse", a ter'angreal in the Tower that is used to punish criminals, "to experience carefully selected consequences of their crimes" [WH: Prologue, Snow, 17]. Though it doesn't seem as though the Chair is used for any actual binding, the fact that it can be used on non-channelers and channelers alike brings Sammael's mention of "binding chairs" strongly to mind, and Seaine doesn't know if the manner in which modern AS use it is anything like what it was used for in the AOL.
We learn a few other things about the OR and binding:
- It can be used to remove Oaths, according to Sammael [ACOS: 40, Spears, 631], and from Pevara and Seaine's experiments described in [TPOD: 26, The Extra Bit, 503]. It makes sense that there should be some way to remove the Oaths, since it was a method of punishing criminals. If the criminal was later proven innocent, or truly reformed, one would want the OR binding removed, considering its unhealthy effects (see below).
- It is harder to bind non-channelers than to bind channelers [ACOS: 40, Spears, 631]. This implies that the OR's binding mechanism involves the bound individual's channeling ability.
- The OR is NOT a "Rod of Dominion." The way the Nine Rods of Dominion were mentioned in the TEOTW Prologue, they were something special. The OR, OTOH, is referred to as a "binder," lower case. Nothing special. Furthermore, in TPOD, we find out what Sammael meant by "the number" in [ACOS: 40, Spears, 630-631]-- the Oath Rods are numbered. The Tower's Rod is number three, while Sevanna's Rod is number one hundred and eleven [TPOD: 11, Questions and an Oath, 253]. So, it seems like there are way more than nine Oath Rods.
The question is: is the "ageless" look attributed to Aes Sedai in the Third Age something unique to them, or is this appearance attained by all channelers? If it is only found in modern AS, then it seems likely that the look is caused by the Oath Rod-- one of the only major differences between the current Aes Sedai and other channelers.
What is the Ageless Look? It is not mere youthfulness. People looking at AS with the look are unable to put any age at all to them. Here is evidence:
- In [TDR: 3, News from the Plain, 23] Perrin describes Moiraine: "She was a slender, dark-haired woman no taller than his shoulder, and pretty, with the ageless quality of all Aes Sedai who had worked with the One Power for a time. He could not put any age at all to her..."
- In [LOC: Prologue, The First Message, 25-26], Elayne describes Janya Sedai and Anaiya Sedai: "Janya Sedai was quite neat, every short dark hair tidy around the ageless face that marked Aes Sedai who had worked long with the Power.... "You are making great strides, Elayne," Anaiya said calmly. The bluff-faced woman was always calm. 'Motherly' was the word to describe her, and comforting usually, though Aes Sedai features made putting an age to her impossible."
- In [ACOS: 1, High Chasaline, 60] Perrin describes the TAS who were captured, discounting the ones who were stilled: "The others looked ageless, of course, maybe in their twenties, maybe in their forties, changing from one glance to the next, always uncertain. That was what their faces said, though several showed gray in their hair." From this, we know that if an observer can put a definite age to a channeler, then the channeler DOES NOT have the Ageless Look.
Note: the Ageless Look takes some time to manifest itself after a woman is raised to full AS. 1) Elaida's spy in Caemlyn is "'A Red Sister....Newly raised, so she can easily pass for other than AS.' She meant that the woman had not yet taken on the agelessness..." [TFOH: Prologue, The First Sparks Fall, 16] 2) In [ACOS: 24, The Kin, 408], Elayne says, "I don't think anyone has ever reached that [the Ageless Look] until they've worn the shawl at least a year or two, sometimes five or more."
Now, let us look at the descriptions of all other channelers, to see that they do NOT have the Ageless Look.
A Look at non-Aes Sedai channelers
Aiel Wise Ones
- Perrin describing the WOs after rescuing Rand: "Every Wise One who had come here from Cairhien was able to channel, though none had the ageless look." [ACOS: 1, High Chasaline, 64] Amys is one of these WOs--she appears in [ACOS: 2, The Butcher's Yard, 80].
- Sevanna, describing Graendal, lets slip what is perhaps the most glaring evidence that the ageless look is actually different from what the Wise Ones have:
As dark of face and hair as he [Sammael], and beautiful enough to tighten Sevanna's mouth, she wore red silk, cut to expose even more of her bosom than Someryn showed.... Right then, she did not care whether the woman could move mountains or barely light a candle. She must be Aes Sedai. She did not have the face, yet some Sevanna had seen did not. [She's probably thinking about Egwene, who was masquerading as AS]
[ACOS: 20, Patterns Within Patterns, 353]
If the WOs had the same ageless look as Aes Sedai, Sevanna would not think of "the face" as an identifying feature of AS.
- In [TSR: 23, Beyond the Stone, 262], we have a description of Melaine from Egwene's point of view, before she knows that Melaine can channel. "The last of the four, a handsome woman with golden-red hair, no more than ten or fifteen years older than Egwene, hesitated." Note that Eg puts a definite age to her.
- Egwene, describing Amys: "Suddenly Amys's youthfully smooth features beneath that white hair leaped out at her for what they were, something very close to Aes Sedai agelessness." [TSR: 23, Beyond the Stone, 262]. "Amys was white-haired, too... but she did not look old. She and Melaine could both channel -- not many Wise Ones could -- and she had something of the look of the Aes Sedai agelessness about her." [TFOH: 5, Among the Wise Ones, 99] Note that Amys is close to ageless, has something of the look, but NOT the exact same look.
- In [TGH: 28, A New Thread in the Pattern, 345], Urien meets Ingtar's party, and says to Verin, "No, Wise One. But you have the look of those who have made the journey to Rhuidean and survived. The years do not touch the WOs in the same way as other women." This seems to tell us that the WOs do have the Ageless look. However, the huge quantity of contradictory quotes, especially Perrin's and Sevanna's above, leads us to believe that either RJ changed his mind, or Urien was mistaken, or Urien only meant that Verin doesn't look as old as her grey hair would indicate.
Sea Folk Windfinders:
- Elayne and Ny do not recognize Jorin, the Windfinder of Wavedancer, as a channeler until Elayne actually SEES her channel [TSR: 20, Winds Rising, 233]. If she had the distinctive Ageless look, they'd have noted it immediately. This is not merely a case of Jorin being young; she is not. Her sister Coine has "gray touches in her black hair and fine wrinkles at the corners of her...eyes....It was a surprise that the two were sisters. Elayne could see the resemblance, but Jorin looked much younger." [TSR: 19, The Wavedancer, 217]. Furthermore, Jorin has children older than Elayne. [TSR: 20, Winds Rising, 234]
- The Windfinders Rand meets in [ACOS: 34, Ta'veren, 535-536] look young, not ageless:
"Harine did a lot of the talking, and so did a young, pretty woman in green brocade with eight earrings altogether, but the pair in plain silk put in occasional comments....Harine turned so calmly there might never have been any hasty conference. "This is Shalon din Togara Morning Tide, Windfinder to Clan Shodein," she said with a small bow toward the woman in green brocade, "and this is Derah din Delaan Rising Wave....""
"She [Derah] made a small bow toward the fourth woman, in yellow. "This is Taval din Chanai Nine Gulls, Windfinder of White Spray." Only three rings hung from each of Taval's ears, fine like those of the Sailmistress. She looked younger than Shalon, no older than himself."
Seanchan Damane and Sul'dam
- In [TGH: 40, Damane, 477] Egwene sees Renna, her new sul'dam: "With long, dark hair and big brown eyes, she was pretty, and perhaps as much as ten years older than Nynaeve." Note she can put a specific age to Renna.
- In [TGH: 40, Damane, 482], a damane is described: "One of the other sul'dam snorted loudly; she was linked to a pretty dark-haired woman in her middle years who kept her eyes on her hands." Again, we have a specific age.
- [WH: 11, Ideas of Importance, 264] describes the former damane Alivia as having "fine lines at the corners of her blue eyes and threads of white in her golden yellow hair." And a telling quote from Cyndane's POV at the end of the book: "With saidar in her, Cyndane could see the faint lines at the corners of the woman's eyes. Not one of those who called themselves Aes Sedai, then" [WH: 35, With The Choedan Kal, 648]. Alivia is not Ageless.
Forsaken and Other Old-time Aes Sedai
- AOL Aes Sedai don't seem to have had the look, although we have little evidence one way or the other. Plus, aging was weird in the AOL. Jonai [TSR: 26, The Dedicated, 300] is 63 years old and considers himself young. Jonai doesn't mention his Aes Sedai having an "ageless" look, but he doesn't mention her lack of it, either. He says she "looked younger than he." None of the Forsaken are "ageless."
- Many years after the Breaking, when Rhuidean is built, the Aes Sedai with the Jenn Aiel are described as "ageless." [TSR: 25, The Road to the Spear, 284]. While one of these AS has the same name as one of the AOL AS we see in TSR, it is not the same person. At a post-POD book signing in Dayton, RJ was asked, "Was the Aes Sedai who initiated the Pact of Rhuidean from the Age of Legends?" RJ's answer: (Pause)"No." (Pause)"No, she was not from the Age of Legends." [from Michael Martin] When was the OR first put into use? The first of the Three Oaths to be put into effect, the Second Oath against making weapons with the Power, was adopted after the War of Power [TGH: 1, The Flame of Tar Valon, 5], [Guide: 24, The White Tower, 213]. However, Sheriam's statement in [TGH: 23, The Testing, 282] implies that the Oath Rod itself wasn't put into use until after the Trolloc Wars. Needless to say, this point needs clarification.
Stilled Aes Sedai
- After being stilled, Siuan and Leane look like young women again, not "ageless." [TSR: 47, The Truth of a Viewing, 535] They look different enough that it is hard to recognize them. When they get the OP back, they don't get the Ageless look back, either: In [LOC: 44, The Color of Trust, 556], Mat sees SS after she has been healed by Ny--"He gave her a shallow bow and walked quickly to where a pretty blue-eyed young woman was tapping her foot to the music. She had a sweet mouth, just right for kissing, and he bloody well wanted to enjoy himself."
- The BA stilled in Tear (Amico) looks different: 'Amico looked young, perhaps younger than her years, but it was not quite the agelessness of Aes Sedai who had worked years with the One Power. "You have sharp eyes, Aviendha, but I don't know if this has anything to do with stilling. It must, though, I suppose. I don't know what else could cause it."' [TSR: 5, Questioners, 84]
- The TAS stilled by Rand at Dumai's Wells also look young, as opposed to ageless [ACOS: 1, High Chasaline, 60].
Students in the Tower and the Kin
As noted above, no AS gets the Ageless look until after they've been raised to full AS [ACOS: 24, The Kin, 408]. This is not a matter of time spent channeling, or of strength in the OP, but of passing a certain point-- being raised.
- Elayne mentions an Accepted who is older than 40, (and thus has been channeling a LONG time, at least as long as some of the younger sisters) and looks YOUNG-- Ny's age, not ageless [ACOS: 24, The Kin, 408].
- In [ACOS: 31, Mashiara, 497], Elayne and the AS meet the Knitting Circle: "Most wore Ebou Dari dresses, though only one possessed the olive skin; most had lines on their faces and at least a touch of gray; and every last woman of them could channel to one degree or another." No AS has a lined face; it's part of being Ageless.
- In [ACOS: 23, Next Door to a Weaver, 393], Ny meets Reanne Corly: "From the exchange, she had expected someone younger than Setalle Anan, but Reanne had hair more gray than not and a face full of what might have been smile lines..." Again, Reanne is old-looking.
- It can't be put any clearer than this: "There had to be a reason why the Kin looked neither ageless nor anything near the ages they claimed." [TPOD: 3, A Pleasant Ride, 94]
Physical Effects of the Oath Rod
In L:NS and TPOD, we get ample evidence that swearing on an Oath Rod produces a physical effect-- some kind of "tightening" of the skin:
- [L:NS, 653]: Moiraine, a newly-raised Aes Sedai, thinks, "The Three Oaths still made her skin feel too tight."
- [L:NS, 662-663]: Merean is describing how Moiraine and SS were punished for putting mice in Elaida's bed the night before they were raised: "I doubt any other women have been raised Aes Sedai while still too tender to sit from their last visit to the Mistress of Novices. Once the Three Oaths tightened on them, they needed cushions a week."
- [TPOD: 11, Questions and an Oath, 256]: Galina takes an Oath on Sevanna's OR, after being tortured by the Shaido WOs: "Galina felt the oath settle on her, as if she suddenly wore a garment that covered her far too tightly from her scalp to the soles of her feet.... it suddenly seemed as if the burning of her skin was being pressed deep into her flesh..."
- [TPOD: 26, The Extra Bit, 504]: Seaine reswears the Three Oaths: "Seaine retook the Oaths in turn, each producing a slight momentary pressure everywhere from her scalp to the soles of her feet. In truth, the pressure was difficult to detect at all, with her skin still feeling too tight from retaking the Oath against speaking a lie.
This "tightening of the skin" could be what causes the Ageless Look, kind of like a permanent face lift.
Conclusions on the Ageless Look
- The Ageless look is not the result of anything the AS experience until the actual raising ceremony. The Kin are made up of women who trained in the Tower, who flunked out or ran away at various points in their training. This includes women who have passed the Accepted Test, and even women who made it through various parts of the AS Test [ACOS: 24, The Kin, 405-406]. None of them are ageless.
- The Ageless look is not the result of strength in the OP. The Kin contain women who are fairly strong channelers: "Of course, Reanne could channel -- she had expected that; hoped for it, anyway -- but she had not expected the strength. Reanne was not as strong as Elayne, or even Nicola -- burn that wretched girl! - but she easily equaled Sheriam, say, or Kwamesa or Kiruna." [ACOS: 23, Next Door to a Weaver, 394]. So do the WOs and the Windfinders. Alivia is stronger in the OP than Nynaeve, and doesn't have the Ageless look. The strongest channelers of all, the Forsaken, definitely do not have the Ageless Look.
- The agelessness is not the result of the total amount of OP channeled. The obvious example of this is the Forsaken. Certain members of the Kin are very old (Reanne Corly is older than 400), and must have channeled as much in their lifetime as any of the younger AS. The same applies to Alivia, who was collared at 13 or 14 years of age, and has been a damane for 400 years [WH: 8, Sea Folk and Kin, 205].
- Here is the part where Elayne starts putting it all together: After talking about the 40+ Accepted who looks 26, she says, "We slow, Nynaeve. Somewhere between twenty and twenty-five, we begin aging more slowly. How much depends on how strong we are, but when doesn't. Any woman who can channel does it. Takima said she thought it was the beginning of achieving the ageless look, though I don't think anyone has ever reached that until they've worn the shawl at least a year or two, sometimes five or more. Think. You know any sister with gray hair is old, even if you aren't supposed to mention it. So if Reanne slowed, and she must have, how old is she?" [ACOS: 24, The Kin, 408]
Nobody in all of Randland has the Ageless look besides AS raised in the White Tower. Thus, there must be something done to them in the raising ceremony which brings about the Ageless Look. The only such thing of which we know is swearing on the Oath Rod. Given the evidence that we have, it must be the OR which causes agelessness. The only other possibility is that there is something else done in the Raising ceremony which we don't know about and which causes the agelessness. Any such thing would have to involve the woman's channeling ability, in order to explain why the Agelessness vanishes when a person is stilled. There may indeed be other items used in the AS-Raising ceremony besides the Oath Rod, as indicated by this quote: [LOC: 39, Possibilities, 513] "Romanda wanted to use gateways to remove the OR and certain other items...from the Tower so they could make true AS in Salidar while depriving Elaida of the ability." These items may be used in the AS TEST, as opposed to the actual final ceremony, though.
- Stilling and the Oaths: When an AS is severed from the Source (i.e. stilled), she loses the ageless look, AND is freed from the Oaths. This, combined with the fact that the OR only works on channelers, implies that the OR somehow works by tapping into the AS's own channeling ability, causing the binding and the agelessness.
- Egwene's Accepted Test: In one of Egwene's three experiences in the ter'angreal used in the test to be raised Accepted, she is the Amyrlin Seat. She looks in a mirror, and sees that she has the Ageless Look [TDR: 22, The Price of the Ring, 203]. A few pages later, she says that she has not sworn on the Oath Rod. If she never held the OR, then why does she look Ageless? Richard Boyé explains this nicely: "The reason is that the ter'angreal weaves illusions and testings from what the subject knows, expects, and fears. How else would it know that Nynaeve wants to marry Lan or that her mother's name was Elnore? Egwene saw herself with the Ageless look because from her knowledge and point of view, she was supposed to." Note that in that same vision, Egwene's Keeper, Beldeine, was stilled, but she still had the Ageless Look. In the real world, we know that stilling removes the Look. However, at that point in time, Egwene didn't know that.
A final effect of the OR is that it seems to shorten the lifespan of channelers bound by it. It seems to work this way: use of the OP increases one's lifespan by a great deal. The more you channel, the better the anagathic effect. Being bound by the OR decreases one's lifespan, or perhaps lessens the anti-aging benefits of channeling. In any case, the net effect is that OR-bound channelers live longer than non-channelers, but not as long as channelers who are NOT bound by the OR.
Evidence that Oathbound channelers don't live as long as nonbound ones:
- Cadsuane Melaidhrin is most likely the oldest living AS, at around 295 years old [ACOS: Glossary, 671]. She considers herself to be very old, expecting to die RSN: "Over two hundred and seventy years had passed since she last encountered a task she could not perform. Any day now might be her last, but young al'Thor would be a fitting end to it all." [ACOS: 19, Diamonds and Stars, 347].
- Elayne to Reanne Corly: "apparently no Aes Sedai since the Breaking has lived as long as any of you in the Knitting Circle claim....In your own case, not by over a hundred years." [ACOS: 37, A Note from the Palace, 577]. Reanne Corly is 411.
From these quotes, we can conclude that the maximum lifespan of modern AS is around 300 years.
Ages of other channelers:
- The above quote also tells us that the Kin live at least 25% longer than AS. Since Reanne Corly is hardly on her last legs, Kin probably outlive AS by an even greater amount. We learn in [WH: 10, A Plan Succeeds, 238] that there is another Kinswoman who's almost six hundred years old.
- In [LOC: 15, A Pile of Sand, 262], we have a reference to an Aiel WO who died at age 300 of a snake bite, but still looked young. Since she looked young, she probably still had a good bit of her natural lifespan ahead of her. So, from this, we know that WOs at least have the potential to live longer than 300 years, i.e. longer than AS. In practice, they probably don't live that long (the WO telling the story of the 300-year-old WO regards it as a legend, and possibly exaggerated), due to the harsh conditions in the Three-Fold Land.
- The Forsaken are all way old, and were even before they got locked up in the Bore.
- The former Seanchan damane Alivia is approximately 414 years old, as noted above.
From the evidence that we have, modern-day AS have a shorter maximum lifespan than other channelers. As with the Ageless look, there must be something done in the AS-raising ceremony which causes this. The only such thing of which we are aware is being bound by the OR. Again, there is a possibility that there is some other thing in the ceremony which we don't know about, and which causes this effect. However, there is less chance of this being the case with the shorter lifespan than with the ageless look.
This is because we have independent evidence from Semirhage. In [LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 139-143] Semirhage is thinking about how the AOL AS wanted to "bind" her to put an end to her medical malpractice. The actual quote is "to be bound never to know her pleasures again, and with that binding be able to see the end of life approach." Now, we know that "binding" of channelers (esp. female channelers) was done with an OR. Semirhage seems to be thinking that the binding would cut her life short.
Elayne and Nynaeve have certainly come to the same conclusion. Nynaeve and Elayne's reactions to Egwene's announcement that she will swear the Oaths on the OR as soon as they get the Tower back are worth quoting in their entirety:
"'That's madness!' Nynaeve burst out... 'You know what it does; the Kin are proof! How many Aes Sedai live past three hundred? Or reach it? And don't tell me I shouldn't talk about age. That's a ridiculous custom, and you know it. Egwene, Reanne was called Eldest because she was the oldest Kinswoman in Ebou Dar. The oldest anywhere is a woman called Aloisia Nemosni, an oil merchant in Tear. Egwene, she's nearly six...hundred...years...old! When the Hall hears that, I'll wager they'll be ready to put the Oath Rod on a shelf.'
"'The Light knows three hundred years is a long time,' Elayne put in, 'but I can't say I'm happy myself at the prospect of perhaps cutting my life in half, Egwene.'" [WH: 10, A Plan Succeeds, 238]
It doesn't get much clearer than that.
Removing the Oaths
Speaking of that scene, what about Egwene's plan on how to get around the age limitation while still having AS swear the Oaths? Will that actually work?
Egwene's idea is that AS raised to the shawl will swear on the OR as usual, and that when they get close to the upper-age limit on sworn AS of 300, they could be released from the OR and sent to live with the Kin for, presumably, another 300 years or so.
The question, of course, is whether the OR actually makes one age faster, or simply dictates a cutting-off point. Cadsuane, for example, seems to have aged about as much as Reanne - but Reanne is better than a century older. This would seem to argue that the OR makes you age faster, and that removing the Oaths from, say, a 250-year-old AS would not actually help her live past 300.
However, as Amy Gray points out, when Siuan and Leane were stilled, they lost a good twenty years in appearance. All the evidence indicates that the age they look now is the age they would have looked if they had aged (and slowed) naturally (if, say, they had been WOs or Windfinders). We can safely conclude that their rejuvenation was a result of having the Oaths removed. The implication, then, is that Egwene's plan should actually work, and a released AS would revert to whatever age she would have had if she had never been bound.
As a last tidbit for thought, Elayne raises the interesting question of what would happen in reverse - if someone already over the age limit imposed by the OR then swears on it. Hmm...
The primary effect of the OR is to compel obedience to oaths sworn on it. It probably does this by tapping into the oathbound channeler's own channeling ability in some unknown way. (We know this because the binding to the oaths vanishes when the oathbound woman is severed.) It has some secondary effects, in particular 1) it shortens the lifespan of the bound channeler, and 2) it probably causes the bound channeler to develop the "ageless look" unique to modern AS. It is unknown if these secondary effects are deliberate (i.e. a kind of death sentence and a way of marking criminals, respectively) or if they are an inherent side effect of the binding mechanism.