Channeling around the world (WoT bookverse)
One of the things we’re coming to see in Wheel of Time is that there are lots of different kinds of people who can channel, whether it be Aes Sedai in the White Tower, or village wisdoms who “listen to the wind.” The world is very large, beyond the cultures that we’ve seen, and different people have different traditions related to it. This is deliberate, and Robert Jordan did a lot of great worldbuilding here. It’s also deliberate that it’s slowly revealed over many books rather than infodumped all at once!
@autrelivre wanted an overview of how different societies view or talk about channelling, and…it’s pretty much impossible to do that without spoilers. However, I will try (key word, try) to do so on a non-character-based level. So there aren’t going to be any character names dropped, but there will be mention of different societies (both those we’ve heard of and those we haven’t) and how they relate to the One Power, and things to be on the lookout for. (It’s possible/likely that not all of these will show up in the show.)
autrelivre/others, if you want even more details beyond this “here are some cultures!” stuff, we have them, but it gets spoilery; you’re not necessarily “supposed” to know everything right away.
General overview: the One Power is the main magic system in the books. When women use it, it’s called saidar; when men use it, it’s saidin. For the last 3,000 years, ever since the last Dragon broke the world, men who use saidin will inevitably go insane and die. :( so there aren’t any organizations of men who can learn and teach. From here on in, I’m going to talk about women, unless I say otherwise.
A small percentage of people have the potential to learn to channel, but it will go un-tapped unless they have a teacher/make an effort to learn. An even smaller percentage have an innate “spark” and will start channeling whether they like it or not. Of these women, if they’re not taught, many will die because of overuse/power dangers. A few become “wilders,” who have some level of self-taught control, but it also comes with limitations called “blocks.” (Maybe they only know how to touch the power if there’s a cute man in the room. Or if they’re really, really angry.) These can be overcome, but it takes a lot of effort.
As we’ve seen, the main setting so far is the west half of a large continent that doesn’t have a canon name. Lots of fans just call it “the Westlands” because it’s to the west of the rest of the continent *shrug* The Westlands have a lot of different countries and cultures, but many of these nations don’t have a lot of power outside one or two large cities.
The Aes Sedai are the most important magical (and probably non-magical) organization in the Westlands. They’re centered at the White Tower and are an organized school of magic. They do a lot of searching/recruiting for girls who can learn to channel, to help them so they don’t kill themselves by accident, and also to bolster their own numbers. However, they’ve existed for thousands of years, and while they’re very trusted in some parts of the Westlands, they’re hated and feared in others. (To some extent, you should think of the medieval Catholic church as an inspiration. There are creative, brilliant, devout priests; there can also be corrupt cardinals and secretive papal politics.) Some monarchs have their own Aes Sedai advisors. Some monarchs want nothing to do with them.
Aes Sedai go through two stages of apprenticeship, “novices” followed by “Accepted,” before they can become full Aes Sedai. Some women will flunk out along the way because they’re not particularly strong/talented in the Power, and/or they can’t cut the rigid, hierarchical system of Tower life.
Nynaeve was a Wisdom in her hometown of Emond’s Field. A Wisdom is a sort of female authority figure, parallel to the male mayor, who’s often an healing expert and/or settles disputes among women. Nynaeve also “listens to the wind” and predicts the weather, and realizes that Egwene could likely follow in her footsteps. Of course, we the fans know they’re actually channelers.
The tricky thing here is that the characters don’t know this! “Wisdom” is a generic term (other villages across the land might call them “Wise Women” or some other honorific), and many Wisdoms are not channelers. People take it for granted that some Wisdoms are unusually good healers or unusually good at predicting the weather, but many are not. Maybe some claim that they can “listen to the wind” and sense when a storm is coming like their grandmother did years before, but are actually just guessing. So while many Wisdoms/Wise Women/<insert local name here> are self-taught channelers, a lot more are not, and they don’t form an organized network.
(Seriously, even more spoilery spoilers follow!)
One exception is the Kin, a group of elderly channelers based in the city of Ebou Dar (in the southwest Westlands). Some of the Kin are flunkouts from the White Tower, while others are local healers/wise women who have been brought into the loop. The White Tower is sort of aware of them, mostly because they will send young/disobedient Tower runaways back. However, the Tower doesn’t have a good sense of how many Kinswomen there are or how old they are. (Channelers who don’t die learning tend to outlive non-channelers, on average, but the reasons why aren’t well-understood.) The Kin arrange themselves/are deferential based on age.
The Aes Sedai, Kin, and individual wilders are basically it as far as the Westlands go. However, there are other cultures outside this region.
The Sea Folk are a sea-faring culture based off the southern coast of the Westlands and islands. They have a complicated culture of promotions and demotions as people rise through the captaincy-type ranks. There are a few Aes Sedai from among the Sea Folk. However, the Aes Sedai don’t know that the Sea Folk actually have a much more sophisticated knowledge of navigation/shipfaring/weather control via channeling. The role of a ship’s “Windfinder” or navigator is almost always a channeler.
Sea Folk men who realize they can channel are condemned to walking the plank.
The Aiel are a culture of desert nomads to the east of the mountains. They live in clans but don’t have a lot of established cities. They are also brutal warriors and could kill you for a glass of water. (Think the Fremen in Dune, if you’re familiar with that–if not, that’s fine.)
Each clan has several female “Wise Ones” who together provide leadership and train the next generation. Many, but not all, Wise Ones can channel, but they also have non-channelers who are just strong leaders in their own right, and prestige/status isn’t necessarily correlated with channeling.
Some Aiel Wise Ones are experienced with “Dreamwalking”–deliberately interacting with others in the “world of dreams,” also known as tel’aran’rhiod. This ability is correlated with channeling, but there are a few dreamwalkers who can’t channel. Dreamwalking is not well known in the Westlands, although there are Aes Sedai who are familiar with the world of dreams (they tend to use magical devices or ter’angreal to access it rather than going directly).
Aiel men who realize they can channel go off on suicide missions into the evil lands to try to destroy evil.
Shara is the land on the far side of the Aiel deserts. It goes by many names and is not well known to outsiders. The channelers are known as “Ayyad” and live in isolated villages, and have tattoos to identify themselves. They are actually the power behind the throne (the “monarchs” are really figureheads); few to no people outside Shara understand how this system works.
The Amayar are a small group found on the islands where the Sea Folk occasionally make landfall. They take the Tuatha’an pacifist “what will be, will be” logic even farther, to the point of fatalism. There are a few Amayar channelers who are very proficient with dream channeling; they use this to create dream-worlds for men who can channel so that they can die peacefully and don’t go crazy. (This never comes up in the books but was mentioned somewhere in Jordan’s notes and gets blogged about. I just think it’s neat.)
The Seanchan are the society on another continent across the ocean. They are ruled by an imperial family and have an institutionalized slavery system. Women who can channel are known as damane, or the “leashed ones,” and wear mind-control collars that are linked to bracelets worn by sul’dam or controllers. Damane are dehumanized and treated like pets; they are not able to channel (or do much of anything) without the sul’dam. Almost everyone just accepts this as a totally normal and reasonable state of affairs.
There are also a couple other extremely rare stand-alone magic abilities that are not related to channeling/the One Power. These are so rare that even Aes Sedai might not know much about how they work, and therefore are curious about them, but normal/non-magical people also have no idea how they work, and may assume “it’s some One Power nonsense.” Which can be pretty annoying/scary for the people with those powers. No spoilers, but we’ve seen one already, and will probably see another in the next couple episodes.
So yeah. Again, the books don’t throw all this at you at once, but trickle it out in different parts. But there are a lot of different cultural relationships to the One Power, and that worldbuilding is a big part of what makes the series neat!