A Man Channeling Saidar — How Are Mixed Gender Circles Possible in The Wheel of Time?

“Can a cat teach a dog to climb trees, Rand? Can a fish teach a bird to swim? I know saidar, but I can teach you nothing of saidin. Those who could are three thousand years dead. Perhaps you are stubborn enough, though. Perhaps your will is strong enough.”

-Moiraine, The Eye of the World, Chapter 52

One of the first things Rand learns about the One Power is that saidin and saidar, though two halves of the same whole, are so fundamentally different from each other that a channeler of one cannot teach a channeler of the other. This presents a dangerous problem for Rand, and for any other man born with the spark. Without training, the likelihood is that touching the True Source will kill him before the taint on saidin even has a chance.

Despite Moiraine’s advice on the matter, Egwene and Rand do try a few times to compare and to teach each other, mostly because Egwene keeps insisting on it. In Chapter 7 of The Shadow Rising, Egwene and Elayne go to Rand in his room in Tear to try to help him learn to control his channeling. During this exchange, they discover that male channelers feel goosebumps when a woman embraces saidar, but that women do not have the same ability to sense men channeling. As Egwene insists that they continue to compare the experience of channeling, they also discover that Rand can extinguish fire by drawing the heat out of flame and putting it elsewhere. Egwene and Elayne are shocked by this revelation.

It was one of the warnings novices were given; never draw heat in. A flame could be extinguished using Air or Water, but using Fire to pull the heat away meant disaster with a flame of any size. It was not a matter of strength, so Sheriam had said; heat once taken in could not be gotten rid of, not by the strongest woman ever to come out of the White Tower. Women had actually burst into flame themselves that way. Women had burst into flame.

Although Egwene doesn’t want to give up on the idea that she can discover a way to help Rand learn to channel, their conversation does seem to prove that the differences are as great as Moiraine and the other Aes Sedai have told her. This discussion also suggests that there are differences in channeling beyond how men and women seize/embrace their halves of the One Power. There are actually differences in how weaves are made, or at least in how those weaves function. Weaves of saidin can take in and release heat, but weaves of saidar cannot. 

Of course, it seems possible, despite Sheriam’s insistence, that this technique actually is a matter of strength. Rand is much stronger than Egwene or Elayne, or any other living channeler, and the strongest sisters in the White Tower are all much weaker than the strongest channelers of the Age of Legends—with a few newly-discovered exceptions. Despite this discovery, it is still theoretically possible that someone like Lanfear might be able to control heat as Rand does here; the fact that modern Aes Sedai cannot do it does not conclusively prove than no female channeler ever could. However, we have no suggestion anywhere in the text to disprove the belief that it is impossible, either. 

Furthermore, if the ability actually were related to strength, or perhaps was a newly (re)discovered Talent, then it seems likely this fact would have come up while Rand was training with Asmodean (who was relatively weak for a Forsaken) or in the training of the Asha’man. Unless new evidence arises later in the text, we must accept Egwene’s conclusion—and the conventional wisdom—that the experience of channeling saidin and the experience of channeling saidar are fundamentally, irreconcilably different.

But if this is true, how is it possible for linked channelers of different genders to work together?

Until the last chapter of Winter’s Heart, we had only seen women linking with other women. In an all-female circle, one woman controls all the flows, makes all the weaves, as she pulls saidar through the other members of the circle. In a way, the passive members function like human angreal, allowing the leader of the circle to draw more of the One Power than she could do alone, while the circle even makes it impossible for the leader to draw more than is safe for the rest of the women to channel, as we learn in Chapter 5 of The Path of Daggers when the Aes Sedai taught the Windfinders about forming a circle.

If any of the members of the circle are also using angreal, this addition also increases the total power the leader can draw—as we saw when Nynaeve, Aviendha, and Taalan used angreal while part of the circle to use the Bowl of the Winds, led by Caire din Gelyn Running Wave.

We have also learned circles can be composed of both men and women. This subject has come up a few times, most notably when the Forsaken have discussed possible ways to resist or attack Rand. Despite making the occasional uneasy alliance against other members of the Chosen, none have actually made any circles with each other; only one person can lead, and no one Forsaken trusts any other enough to willingly cede so much control. Despite this similarity, however, I always assumed that a circle made up of both men and women must function very differently in some ways, compared to one made up solely of women, because of the difference between channeling saidin and saidar.

The fact that someone of one gender can access the other half of the One Power through linking makes a certain amount of sense. Cadsuane even theorizes that the keys to the Choedan Kal might allow Rand to access both halves of the One Power by himself. This isn’t the case, but it suggests that Cadsuane’s understanding of channeling could theoretically accommodate such a concept. However, accessing is only the first step in channeling. Once someone has seized or embraced the One Power, they must then wield or guide it, and the differences are so great that this is supposed to be impossible.

And yet, Rand manages it easily. He struggles for a moment to bring himself to yield to saidar, but once he has done that, he is able to make weaves of it without even seeming to have any learning curve at all. It’s difficult, yes, especially because he has to fight saidin while yielding to saidar, but the weaves seem to be formed exactly the same way regardless of which half of the One Power he is using. And that doesn’t seem to match with everything we have learned about channeling up until now.

In Chapter 27 of Lord of Chaos, Egwene asks Rand to explain to her how he “steps” from one place to another. He tells her that he bends the Pattern, bringing the place he is and the place he wants to be together, and then bores a hole from one spot to another. The thought of putting a hole in the Pattern makes Egwene feel queasy, and when she suggests that it might be done by creating a similarity between the two places, he is equally disturbed:

“That sounds like changing the weave of the Pattern. I think it would tear me apart if I so much as tried.”

Again, the two methods, the two weaves, are so different that they are not only alien to each other but that they actually feel repulsive to channelers of the opposite half of the One Power. It would seem likely, then, that Rand would run into the same problem when he attempted to weave his tunnel of saidar. The method used to weave one of saidin should have been very different, and yet he has no trouble completing the weave, no need to figure out how to do it.

My assumption before this scene was that, when men and women were linked, one person was still “in charge,” but that the linked person still had to have somewhat of an active role. Just as sul’dam direct damane but do not actually make the weaves themselves, I assumed a channeler of saidar would have to actively manipulate the flows when in a circle led by a channeler of saidin. However, this is not the case, so I find myself wondering what piece of information I am missing to make this all make sense.

We cannot even assume that Rand’s status as the Dragon Reborn makes him more capable of learning saidar on the fly than any other man would be. Flinn is also leading a circle, and while we only see him use saidin, there would be no purpose to him leading if he could not access everything those in the circle with him could offer. More significantly, we see Elza channel saidin, through Jahar and Callandor, with no more difficulty than Rand seems to have with saidar.

It’s possible that only some of the weaves made with the One Power are different between saidin and saidar. Traveling involves interacting with the Pattern in a very different way than, say, manipulating the air or water around you. What Rand is doing during the cleansing of saidin isn’t actually interacting with the Pattern at all: He is purely working with the One Power itself, forming a conduit of saidar and pushing saidin through it. He isn’t opening a Gateway or picking up a glass or reaching into someone’s dreams—he’s just moving the One Power about. So perhaps, in this way, the weaves are the same, and it’s only when one interacts with the fundamental nature of the Pattern that the differences become profound enough to matter.

There is some evidence that this might be true when one considers Moridin’s use of the “True Power” for traveling. Egwene experiences Rand’s description of making a Gateway as though it would damage the Pattern in some way, but we have actually seen a form of Traveling that does damage the Pattern, and it is nothing like what Rand does. In Chapter 20 of Lord of Chaos Moridin observes Sammael and Graendal giving Sevanna the fake traveling boxes. When he leaves, his traveling is described much more horrifically than Rand’s boring of a hole.

To his ears, the world screamed as he used the True Power to rip a small hole and step outside the Pattern.

Moridin’s Gateway seems to damage the Pattern in some way, if the world screaming is anything to go by, but Rand’s, done with saidin and not the anti-reality power of the Dark One, does not. Perhaps Rand’s Traveling is like a needle, slipping between the threads of the Pattern, maybe even pushing them apart but not damaging anything. It seems foreign to Egwene because saidar cannot be used to do the same thing, but it is natural to the Pattern and to the use of saidin.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that perhaps some knowledge of how to use the opposite half of the One Power seeps through the link between leader and led. It wouldn’t be a conscious thing, necessarily, but Rand becomes very aware of Nynaeve once he is linked with her, and some intuitive understanding of saidar may have come with it. After all, it is normal for powerful channelers to learn weaves completely intuitively, discovering how to make them without ever being shown, even rediscovering weaves that no one living remembered. If that is possible, it would make sense that such an intuition might pass from one to the other even as the One Power itself does. 

Of course, Winter’s Heart is only the ninth book of fourteen, so more information may be forthcoming later in the series to explain how these circles work between groups of men and women, especially since the battle to protect Rand during the cleansing of saidin has established for this generation of channelers the value of using mixed-gender circles in battle. I am sure we will see more circles, and larger ones, in future books and future battles. Until then, I will enjoy my own musings, and I hope that you all have, as well. icon-paragraph-end

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