The Wheel of Time’s Religious Themes

We previously examined Amazon’s The Wheel of Time series, contrasting its treatment of human relationships with the overly-sexualized Game of Thrones. In this article, we will analyze the religious themes in The Wheel of Time. The book series on which the show is based is filled with religious symbolism and allusions across many different belief systems, and the first season of the show contains many religious symbols and themes as well, such as Yin and Yang and reincarnation.

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Time as a Wheel
The most obvious religious reference is the name of the series itself. The Wheel of Time is a concept found in various Eastern and indigenous religions, referring to the belief in the cyclical nature of time. Time is a circle instead of a line, with ages constantly repeating themselves. In many of these religions, the Wheel is eternal, having no beginning or end. But in The Wheel of Time series, the Wheel is made by the Creator at the dawn of time. Sometimes it is described as an impersonal force that weaves history into a “pattern” using individuals as its threads. Sometimes it is described as having personal characteristics, such as a will, as evidenced through a frequent saying in the series, “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.” Thus, we see that although there are many religious references in the show, they are not always consistent.

Reincarnation
Related to the cyclical concept of time is another prominent religious theme in the series: reincarnation. This is the belief that upon death, people’s souls are reborn in new bodies to live new lives. The first season of The Wheel of Time centers on discovering which character is the prophesied “Dragon Reborn,” the latest embodiment of a messiah-type figure who will either save the world or destroy it. Many characters discuss being reborn or woven again into the pattern of a future age, and in the books, there are characters who gain memories of their past lives.

Yin and Yang
Another prominent religious symbol of The Wheel of Time is Yin and Yang. The half-white, half-black circle is an ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, an organization of “channelers” who are the series’ magic-users. The white half, called the Flame of Tar Valon, symbolizes female channelers, and the black half, called the Dragon’s Fang, symbolizes male. These symbols are used all throughout the series, and the outlines of each half can be seen briefly in the clip above (around 0.31).

In the real world, Yin and Yang refer to the conflicting forces of order and chaos, good and evil, light and dark. Each side is equally strong and must be kept in balance. This concept is also prominent in The Wheel of Time, as “good” characters serve “the Light,” while villains serve “the Dark One,” the primary agent of evil and chaos. The female half of the One Power (the source of magic) is pure, but the men’s half has been tainted by the Dark One. Thus, in The Wheel of Time, good and evil are real and objective aspects of reality.

Christianity
The Wheel of Time integrates religious concepts from many different religions, not all Eastern. Robert Jordan, author of The Wheel of Time book series, was a “High Church” Episcopalian Christian. Thus, it is natural that he would also integrate ideas from the Christian worldview. As mentioned above, the Dragon Reborn is a messiah figure, which is prominent in Judeo-Christian traditions. In the book series, the name of the Dark One is “Shai’tan,” which seems to be an obvious derivation of “Satan.” Jordan blends concepts from various religions and belief systems in his fantasy world, but are any of the Eastern religious concepts mentioned above compatible with Christianity?

While The Wheel of Time has a Creator, he is more like the God of deism, who created the world and then stays mostly hands-off. The Creator crafted the Wheel to weave the pattern as it sees fit. Yet in Christianity, God created the world and is also active in his creation, directing the course of history to his ends, both directly and providentially.

In Christianity as in The Wheel of Time, good and evil are separate, real, and objective. In The Wheel of Time, the Light and the Dark One seem to be equally powerful, with no guarantee that the Light will win. The Dragon Reborn may choose to serve the Light or the Dark One—to save the world or to destroy it. But in Christianity, Satan and the forces of evil are not as powerful as God is. God allows evil to exist temporarily in his world, but it will ultimately be destroyed. While sin and evil still exist in this world, Jesus has already defeated Satan. Jesus is completely good and holy, sacrificing himself to save everyone who places their faith in him. This world will be remade into a new Heaven and Earth, and we will reign with God for eternity with no fear of pain or suffering ever again.

Jesus calls us all to be born again (John 3:3), which may sound similar to reincarnation. However, the Christian concept of regeneration is a spiritual rebirth that occurs during our lifetimes, which is vastly different from reincarnation. In fact, the Bible outright rejects reincarnation, saying we “are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Conclusion
Some stories contain subtle worldview themes that require careful thought and inspection to uncover. Others, like The Wheel of Time, have overt worldview elements that are central to the story. As we explored above, the series has many references to real-world religious themes, such as reincarnation and Yin and Yang. While these beliefs may seem to have a degree of similarity with Christianity, they are ultimately incompatible with the Christian worldview.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between The Wheel of Time series and Christianity, however, is that we know the ending of each story. While The Wheel of Time television series is currently ongoing, the book series has been completed for several years. The ending has been written. This is also the case for Christianity. We are all living our stories, but God has already told us the ending in his Word. If you are currently struggling in your life, wondering if good will ultimately triumph over evil, heed the words of Jesus Christ, the Hero of our story: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox.