Friday, March 8, 2002

Semirhage



By Linda


This essay discusses those parallels I think were used to create the character Semirhage. Before we begin, you are warned that Semirhage is a very violent and sadistic character and most of her parallels aren’t any better.

Semirhage was born Nemene Damendar, a very tall, dark eyed and dark skinned woman possessed of ‘remarkable calm and grace’ (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). She was a powerful channeller who was perhaps the most Talented Healer in the Age of Legends:

known for her ability to heal any injury, even to bring people back from the brink of death when all else had failed.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

She was also a sadist with an equally great talent and fondness for torturing others:

“Semirhage could make a boulder beg for mercy and thank her for death.”

- Asmodean, The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

Even those [few] who were finally Restored were, for the rest of their lives, more fearful of falling back into her hands than of anything else in the world.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

This perversion predated the drilling of the Bore and was discovered by the Hall of Servants. Rather than be severed and cast out from the Hall, or bound against doing violence, Semirhage fled and joined the Shadow.

During the war she held several field commands, proving herself a general of only average abilities. She governed several conquered territories, and her administrations were marked by a level of violence and cruelty that stands out even among the Forsaken. She forced the inhabitants of several captured cities to cooperate in torturing one another to death. Yet while these thousands of brutal deaths were very high on the scale of numbers, they were fairly low in sheer cruelty compared with some of her other actions. It was with small groups or individuals that she took the infliction of pain to what might be called an art. She spent many hours ‘studying’ the ways in which pain could break human will and dignity, and what people could be forced to do to avoid more pain.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

Semirhage was so intimidating that she escaped from high detention in the War of the Shadow

by frightening her jailors so much that they actually smuggled her to freedom.

- Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box

Semirhage has both mythological and historical parallels (some very repellent) and in developing her character, Jordan has given full play to his ideas of how history turns to legend and legend to myth.

Semirhage began her career as a healer, so we will start there. Jordan derived Semirhage from healers of mythological aspect to show how great her abilities were.


Apollo

Apollo was a powerful and important Ancient Greek god with a wide portfolio. In keeping with his ideas of myths changing over time, Jordan has split Apollo three ways: as god of healing and plagues, he is a parallel of Semirhage, while his other attributes, as god of light and archery were used to develop Sammael, and as god of music and the arts, Asmodean. Interestingly, Semirhage is the only Forsaken to practise a craft (needlework, a pastime Mesaana considers so ordinary) as though she is oblivious to the arts and crafts divide. Perhaps this is Jordan’s comment on this issue.

Apollo certainly wasn't all sweetness and light. During the Trojan War, as god of plagues, he shot arrows infected with the plague into the Greek encampment. He inspired such terror and awe that even the other gods feared Apollo, and only his father Zeus, and his mother, Leto, could endure his presence. In the painting right, Apollo is flaying the satyr Marsyas alive for challenging him to a contest. The satyr’s blood formed a river which bore his name. Semirhage was mildly amused at the Seanchan's punishment of flaying for falsely claiming to be Empress, and also remarked on how much blood the Empress Radhanan contained.

Semirhage was a powerful channeller and highly skilled Healer, whose fondness for violence made the other Forsaken (Mesaana and Asmodean, for instance) very respectful and wary of her.


Asclepius

Asclepius was the Greco-Roman god of medicine, son of Apollo and the nymph Coronis:

The Centaur Chiron taught him the art of healing. At length Zeus (the king of the gods), afraid that Asclepius might render all men immortal, slew him with a thunderbolt. Because it was supposed that Asclepius effected cures of the sick in dreams, the practice of sleeping in his temples became common.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Semirhage claimed the Hall of Servants were jealous of her abilities as a healer and she fled to escape their sentence of either binding against violence or severing, both of which would lead to her early death.

The Aiel Dreamwalkers enter the dreams of people nearby to aid Healing (The Shadow Rising, Beyond the Stone) – knowledge they probably retained from the Age of Legends. We have not seen Semirhage or any other of the Forsaken do this, but then Healing is not really one of their interests these days.


Hippocrates

Hippocrates is the Greek physician of antiquity who is traditionally regarded as the father of medicine:

Throughout his life Hippocrates appears to have travelled widely in Greece and Asia Minor practicing his art and teaching his pupils, and he presumably taught at the medical school at Cosquite frequently. Undoubtedly Hippocrates was a historical figure, a great physician who exercised a permanent influence on the development of medicine and on the ideals and ethics of the physician.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Semirhage likewise Travelled widely to Heal people:

She had been known, famed, whisked to every corner of the world for her ability to mend any injury, to bring people back from the brink when everyone else said there was nothing more to be done.

- Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

In the Hippocratic Oath associated with his name, physicians pledge to prescribe only beneficial treatments to the best of their abilities and judgment; to refrain from causing harm or hurt; and to live a model personal and professional life. Semirhage is a dark Hippocrates; famed and skilled just as Hippocrates was, but violating all the Oaths she should have kept as a physician. Even when giving her beneficial Healing, she exacted a price in extra pain and suffering.

All these parallels to great mythic healers represent the positive aspect of Semirhage – Semirhage as she might have been but for the fatal character flaw that made her kill as often as heal. In our world some physicians abandon the Hippocratic oath and turn killer too, for various reasons including material gain. Gain was not one of Semirhage’s motives; hers were: experimentation, sadism/bloodlust, punishment/power and ideology. Some murderous real world physicians with the same motives were: H. H. Holmes, Thomas Neil Cream, Harold Shipman (but he was not exposed until long after Semirhage was developed) and above all, the doctors of the Nazi regime.


H. H. Holmes and Thomas Neil Cream

H. H. Holmes (1861-1896), born Herman Webster Mudgett, was the USA’s first known serial killer. He mostly killed for gain, but also dismembered, skinned and experimented with the corpses of his victims.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850-1892) killed in the US and UK. Amongst his murders, he poisoned four women in part for sadistic pleasure and in part as punishment because he judged them to be immoral.

Semirhage believed she had the right to torture and kill those she deemed unworthy to live. She also experimented with torture to see how much pain people could endure and what they could be made to do to avoid more pain (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). The historic parallels from our world that these attitudes and deeds are based on are the doctors of the Nazi regime.


Nazi Doctors

At the end of the second World War, at the Nuremberg Medical Trial from 1946-1947, twenty-three German physicians and scientists were accused of performing unethical, dangerous and often lethal medical experiments and ‘euthanasia’ killings on concentration camp inmates, prisoners and medical patients between 1933 and 1945. Of the fifteen defendants found guilty, seven were given the death penalty and eight imprisoned. These euthanasia programs and medical experiments are parallels of Semirhage’s (and also Aginor’s – see forthcoming Aginor essay) crimes before and after the Bore was drilled. Only those atrocities most relevant to Semirhage are listed below.

  • Euthanasia Killings: Between September 1939 and April 1945, several Nazi doctors killed by gas, lethal injection, etc aged, insane, incurably ill, or disabled people (including children) in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums that they considered a burden on the German War machine.

    Semirhage killed those she thought unworthy to live - after she had tortured them.


  • High Altitude and Freezing (Hypothermia) Experiments: ‘Military medical experiments’ were performed on prisoners and concentration camp inmates to examine the effect of high altitude or wintry conditions on military personnel. Dr. Sigmund Rascher was in charge of the high altitude program and he personally examined the brains of Jews after their skulls were split open (while fully conscious) to see the effects of high altitude on humans. Three hundred people were killed in the hypothermia experiments to establish how long it would take to lower the body temperature to death and how to best resuscitate the frozen victim. (Photo from http://www.geocities.com/ww2_remembered/.)

    Semirhage was very knowledgeable about the human body, particularly the brain, yet during the experimental torture of Cabriana’s Warder (Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow), she accidentally killed him when her mind wandered. She was vexed, but not surprised; presumably such things had happened before during her experimenting.


  • Diseases Experiments: Healthy people were infected with diseases such as malaria and typhus and then given experimental drugs and treatments. The effectiveness of vaccines was studied by giving some of their selected prisoners an experimental vaccine and others not and then injecting both groups with the disease. The speed and number of deaths were noted and then any survivors killed.

    Some patients were infected with diseases and were studied as their disease progressed without medical care to analyse the various stages of the disease. In one experiment involving a lung disease, patients screamed continually in agony, often on the verge of insanity, until they finally died over two weeks later. (Photo from http://www.geocities.com/ww2_remembered/.)

    This is a parallel of Semirhage making:

    a man scream his every waking hour for five years. She even kept him sane, but in the end even she could not keep his heart beating.

    - Lord of Chaos, Questions and Answers

  • Vivisections: Many operations and amputations were performed without anaesthetic – eg liver biopsies, grafting of muscles and bones and removal of uteruses.

    Dr. Eisele, a doctor at Buchenwald, performed many unnecessary operations and amputations and then murdered his patients (at least 300 people). Dr. Herta Oberheuser injected children with lethal doses of anaesthetic and then removed their limbs and vital organs. The time from the injection to death was between three and five minutes, with the patient being fully conscious until the last moment. She received a 20-year sentence at the medical trial but was released in 1952 and practised as a family doctor in Germany until her license was revoked in 1958.

    Semirhage similarly experimented on those she felt society could do without:

    If they did not die from the torture, she killed them after.

    - The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

    She inflicted as much pain on her patients as possible to see what they could endure and found it exciting to “shave away defiance and dignity in minute slices” with torture (Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow). She said:

    You truly saw what a person was made of, in more ways than one, when you began to slice into them. That was a phrase she'd used on numerous occasions. It usually made her smile.

    - The Gathering Storm, The Last That Could Be Done

Like the Nazi doctors, Semirhage justified torture as valid science – son long as she was not on the receiving end:

During her days, prisoners hadn't been denied light. Of course, she had locked several of her experiments away in total darkness, but that was different. It had been important to discover what effect the lack of light would have on them. These so-called Aes Sedai who held her, they had no rational reason for leaving her in darkness. They just did it to humiliate her.

- The Gathering Storm, The Last That Could Be Done

The most notorious practitioner of barbarous experiments with little scientific “justification” was Josef Mengele.


Dr. Josef Mengele

In the case of historic figures of the Nazi regime, aspects of one person were divided amongst two, or even three, Forsaken to illustrate the effect time has on history and legend. Josef Mengele is a perfect example of this. He was used as a source for three of the Forsaken: he was a major source for Semirhage and a minor source for Aginor (forthcoming essay) and Graendal (see Graendal essay).

Mengele was:

a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz extermination camp (1943–45) who selected prisoners for execution in the gas chambers and conducted medical experiments on inmates in pseudoscientific racial studies.

- Encyclopedia Britannica

At Auschwitz up to three million people were killed through gassing, starvation, shooting, burning and experimentation. Mengele was instrumental in choosing the fate of its inmates:

Every morning, at the crack of dawn, [Mengele] could be seen in the area where the transports disembarked, scanning the new arrivals. Standing there in his perfectly tailored [black] SS uniform, white gloves and officer’s cap, Mengele looked impeccable…He sometimes stood for hours without flinching, a hint of a smile on his face, his elegantly gloved hand beckoning the prisoners to the right or the left…

- Children of the Flames, Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel

Semirhage is similarly calm and elegant in her black clothes, outwardly unaffected by the acts she performs. She too was responsible for a large number of deaths in her governed territories and also, like Mengele, personally committed sadistic atrocities:

Mengele ran a butcher shop – major surgeries were performed without anaesthesia. Once I witnessed a stomach operation – Mengele was removing pieces from the stomach, but without any anaesthesia. Another time it was a heart that was removed, again without anaesthesia.

- Alex Dekel in Children of the Flames, Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel

Mengele performed vivisections, injected chemicals into living peoples' eyes to try to change [their color], and perpetrated many horrific twin studies (few of which demonstrated anything that could be considered remotely of value)…Twins as young as five or six years of age endured torture, daily blood tests, and starvation diets. Worst of all, of course, were Mengele’s barbaric pseudoscientific experiments…Blood would be transfused from one twin to the other, and the results duly noted and compared. Bizarre psychological tests, designed to test mental endurance, were continually made...There are twins who recall they were targets of an insidious psychological barrage, but years later were still too traumatised to conjure up the details…The final step in Mengele’s scientific program was to kill the children and have their organs analysed.

- Children of the Flames, Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel

Semirhage thought her greatest success was with her blood transfusion experiments:

"Do you know what happens to a man when his blood is replaced with something else?...He dies, of course…The death often happens instantly, and quick deaths are of little interest. With experiment, I discovered that some solutions can replace blood more effectively, allowing the subject to live for a short time after the transfusion….The transfusion itself requires use of the Power, of course," Semirhage interrupted again. "Other methods are not quick enough. I invented the weave myself. It can suddenly and instantly pull the blood from a body and deposit it in a bin, while at the same time taking a solution and pressing it into the veins….I had one subject survive an entire hour after the transfusion," Semirhage said in a calm, conversational tone. "I count it as one of my greatest victories. He was in pain the entire time, of course. True pain, agony that he could feel in every vein of his body, right down to the near-invisible ones in his fingers. I know of no other way to bring such suffering to every part of the body at once."

- The Gathering Storm, A Tale of Blood

Semirhage experimented with torture and determined there were no limits to what people could be forced to do to avoid more pain (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). She was so effective that she broke people and moulded them as she wanted and they feared her for the rest of their lives – if they survived.

Mengele also seemed to take a perverse pleasure in exterminating women who were pregnant.

- Children of the Flames, Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel

This ties in with another of Semirhage’s parallels: Kali, the Dark Mother (see below).

Mengele’s passion for selecting victims for the gas chambers, his cool efficiency and relish for the job, would earn him the sobriquet ‘the Angel of Death”. The Angel of Death is a figure who appears throughout the Old Testament. By chilling coincidence, the biblical lore even states he assumed the form of a physician, one, moreover, ‘of excellent repute’…Terrifying, utterly without mercy or compassion, the Angel of Death visited the earth clothed in a doctor’s garb and cut an endless swathe of destruction…Like the Malach Hamavet, Mengele was a master destroyer, a Satanic figure brimming with evil and without regard for the value of a human life. But also like his namesake, Mengele was angelic in appearance and demeanour, able to charm, to woo, to captivate, to trick and seduce, everyone he met, most especially young children.

- Children of the Flames, Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel

Some Forsaken are given demonic or angelic names as an indication of their power and knowledge (see Names of the Shadow article) and the heights from which they fell, and to show how great power corrupts. Semirhage is a physician of excellent repute who mercilessly tortured and killed people for her pleasure. Her former patients would probably think the Angel of Death an apt character summary of her.


Angel of Death

While there are several angels of destruction in the Talmud, the most terrible is the mal'akh ha-mavet (the Angel of Death). He is identified both with Satan, who tempts and accuses, and with the evil within every person.

This personal evil was well-developed very early within Semirhage: even before the Bore was drilled into the Dark One’s prison she was being sadistic to her patients and killing those she thought unworthy to live. To evade punishment, she went to the Dark One (Satan) and dedicated her soul to him.

The Angel of Death is associated with the death, cruelty, and wretchedness that the Jewish people have suffered. He does not carry out God’s will, but causes suffering and death on his own initiative.

All the Forsaken think they are more than human and far above everyone else. The Nazis, who also treated other people barbarously because they believed in the superiority of their own group, are a major source for the Forsaken. In the case of Semirhage, the SS leaders Himmler and Heydrich and the concentration camp figures Ziereis and Grese are parallels.


Heinrich Himmler

Himmler (1900-1945) was Reichsfuhrer-SS, head of the Gestapo and the Waffen-SS, Minister of the Interior from 1943 to 1945 and organizer of the mass murder of Jews and Gypsies in the Third Reich.

In 1934, amid much Nazi infighting and backstabbing, Himmler assumed control of the newly created Secret State Police (Gestapo) with Heydrich (see below) as his second in command actually running the organization. A couple of months later, Himmler masterminded the Night of the Long Knives, which smashed the power of the SA, the rival group of the SS. Heydrich drew up the list of those SA leaders to be killed during the Night of the Long Knives, enabling the SS to overtake the SA in importance in the Nazi Regime.

Semirhage headed a network aimed at rooting out traitors and spies not only in the captured lands, but among supporters of the Dark One as well (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Similarly, there was always contending and infighting among the Forsaken and Semirhage, Demandred and Mesaana worked together to unseat their rivals.

The Waffen-SS were Himmler’s own personal troops. As a sign of favour, Himmler:

was appointed Commander-in-Chief Army Group Upper Rhine, using his Volksgrenadier, Volkssturm and flak units to bolster the Nineteenth Army and protect the frontier from the Swiss border to the Saar, during the Ardennes offensive. Fortunately for everyone, the Allies chose not to attack in that sector, so General Himmler’s military command skills were not tested in battle, for the moment.

- Anthony Read, The Devil’s Disciples

Later his tactical skills were shown to be inadequate. Semirhage too commanded troops during the War of Power and was shown to be a pretty average general.

In most areas, Heinrich Himmler was very able - meticulous, calculating and efficient:

a remote, self-contained enigma who had accumulated terrifying power. The death camps, the Gestapo, the Einsatzgruppen, all the components of terror had been in his grip.

- Joseph Persico, Nuremberg, Infamy on Trial

Quiet and unemotional, he suffered from psychosomatic illness, severe headaches and intestinal spasms. He was intensely interested in hypnotism, the occult, herbal remedies and homeopathy. Yet this seemingly harmless man:

had no compunction in sanctioning the murder of thousands of mental patients in order to clear their hospitals for wounded soldiers. And he raised no objection to the so-called ‘euthanasia’ of babies and young children born with deformities of any sort, both physical and mental. The killing of the children was carried out by regular doctors in hospitals and institutions [as was detailed above]…and Himmler had no direct involvement. Himmler was involved, however, when the ‘euthanasia’ project was extended from children to adults. Questionnaires were sent to all asylums and mental institutions in October 1939, calling for exhaustive details of every patient in one of four categories, who were all to be killed.

The instruction sheet listed these as:
  • Patients suffering from the diseases enumerated below and who within the institution can be occupied not at all or only at the most mechanical work: schizophrenia, epilepsy, senile disorders, therapy-resistant paralysis and syphilitic disorders, retardation from whatever cause, encephalitis, Huntington’s chorea and other terminal neurological conditions; or
  • Have been continuously in institutions for at least five years; or
  • Are in custody as criminally insane; or
  • Do not possess German citizenship or are not of German or related blood.

- Anthony Read The Devil’s Disciples

When watching a hundred Jews (including women) being executed for his benefit on the Russian front he almost fainted, and then ordered the use of gas chambers disguised as shower rooms as a "more humane means" of execution. He inspected the effectiveness of these execution camps personally:

At Auschwitz, Himmler and his entourage watched the entire grisly process from beginning to end, watching impassively as the naked women’s heads and bodies were shaved and the hair packed into sacks and taken away and sold as stuffing for luxury mattresses. As the doors of the gas chamber were closed and sealed, he looked through the observation window at the packed mass of humanity [dying horribly]. It took twenty minutes…Hoess wrote afterwards: ‘He [Himmler] viewed the extermination process in complete silence saying nothing at all’… Himmler himself appeared to be less affected than he had been by the shootings at Minsk.

- Anthony Read The Devil’s Disciples

In fact, he had a great time that evening at dinner and socialising afterwards.

Semirhage also worked carefully and precisely:

but taking care was second nature to her, taking each step in its exact turn.

- Lord of Chaos Threads Woven of Shadow

She was always calm and analysed her emotions dispassionately (Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow). Hypnotism and the occult would be an equivalent of Compulsion and channelling. There is irony that Semirhage’s parallel believed in herbal cures and homeopathy, something usually spurned by those who Heal with the One Power.

Semirhage was familiar with the sight of pain and death and would have no interest in a more humane method of execution – but then she probably would not have deluded herself that gas chambers are more humane than shooting.

Himmler was very interested in the Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery). On 18 August 1944 when the Allied Forces were moving in rapidly on German occupied territory, Himmler sent a message to the head of the Gestapo and SS in France not about:

troop movements or arrangements for the impending evacuation [of Paris]. It concerns the Bayeux Tapestry. “Do not forget to bring the Bayeux Tapestry,” commands Himmler. He has had his eye on it for four years and has already had it moved to the Louvre from a safe place in the country.

- Carola Hicks, The Bayeux Tapestry

Himmler ran the Nazi secret police and was keenly interested in an historic embroidery, Semirhage ran the Shadow’s secret police and was a keen embroiderer.

Himmler’s loyalty was at times doubtful, although he was careful to hide this from Hitler until near the end of the war.

Reichsfuhrer Himmler, in fact, was not above thinking in terms of jettisoning Hitler and assuming power himself with the aid of the SS and perhaps even the army, so that he could conclude a peace with the Western Allies – a hidden agenda that he held in reserve…There are clear indications in the record that he [Himmler] envisioned himself as Hitler’s successor. He once told Canaris [a parallel of Moghedien, see forthcoming essay] that he knew perfectly well the identities of all the anti-Hitler plotters. [He did nothing about it because he] hoped that the plan to assassinate the Fuhrer would succeed.”

- John H Waller, The Unseen War in Europe

[Hitler] officially pronounced anathema upon both Goering [see Graendal essay] and Himmler, expelling them from the party and stripping them of all their offices. They had brought, he said, ‘irreparable shame on the whole nation by negotiating with the enemy without my knowledge and against my will.’

- Anthony Read, The Devil’s Disciples

Like all the Forsaken, Semirhage had ambitions to be Naeblis and plans to achieve this. She was determined not to be ‘sacrificed’ in the Dark One’s schemes (Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow) and injured Rand contrary to her orders when Rand captured her:

"You were to capture the boy, not kill him," the figure [Shaidar Haran] whispered in a hiss, like steam escaping through cracks between pot and lid. "You took his hand and nearly his life. You have revealed yourself and have lost valuable pawns. You have been captured by our enemies, and now they have broken you."

- The Gathering Storm, The Last That Could Be Done

Despite being warned that she was on her last chance, Semirhage tortured Rand with the Domination Band instead of taking Rand to Shayol Ghul, and felt betrayed when the Dark One allowed Rand to draw the True Power through his link with Moridin to free himself and balefire Semirhage.

Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s subordinate, also has parallels to Semirhage, although Heydrich’s assassination in 1942 is a minor Asmodean parallel (see Asmodean essay).


Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich (1904-1942) created the Nazi intelligence gathering organization known as the SD (Sicherheitsdienst), or SS Security Service. It grew into a vast network that watched for dissent within the Nazi party as well as outside it and developed dossiers on anyone who might oppose Hitler. The SS conducted internal investigations and gathered detailed information on Nazi Party members.

This is an equivalent organisation to the one Semirhage ran for the Shadow during the War of Power.

In Germany, anyone could be taken into protective custody for any reason and for any length of time without a trial. People were even arrested on suspicion that they might commit a crime in the future. All over the Reich, torture, murder, indiscriminate arrests, extortion and blackmail were used by Heydrich's SD and Gestapo agents to crush suspected anti-Nazis. Heydrich was widely feared throughout Germany, even by many top Nazis, especially when drunk, since his sadistic tendencies then came to the fore (John H Waller, The Unseen War in Europe).

The Shadow used similar methods and for similar reasons. Sadistic Semirhage was rightly feared by all:

Her reputation was such that special precautions had to be taken to keep prisoners from committing suicide on learning that they were to be handed over to her, whether they served the Shadow or the Light.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

Many of the Forsaken were wary of Semirhage and all were respectful of her. She tended to work behind the scenes, like Heydrich.

In Austria and Czechoslovakia, Himmler and Heydrich secretly organised pro-Nazis there to spread unrest and commit sabotage. Heydrich even worked behind the scenes on an international scale, notably ending the Russo-German military agreement, and crippling the Soviet army for some years. Late in 1936, Heydrich had documents forged to play on Stalin's paranoia and manipulated him to purge his own armed forces of about 35,000 experienced men, including the Soviet chief of Staff, Marshal Tukhachevsky.

The Shadow orchestrated riots and unrest prior to attacking. It is certain that Semirhage added greatly to the turmoil in the last half of the Collapse. During the War of Power, she turned captured soldiers and civilians to the Shadow with torture and sent them on missions against their former comrades (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).

In 1941, Heydrich was appointed Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. By mid 1942, mass gassing of Jews using Zyklon B (hydrogen cyanide) began at Auschwitz in occupied Poland, where genocide was conducted on an industrial scale with possibly as many as three million persons eventually killed.

Semirhage governed areas for the Shadow and she forced the inhabitants of cities to torture each other.

Heydrich was a cold, calculating and compassionless manipulator who was a leading planner of Hitler's Final Solution, in which the Nazis attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish and Gypsy population of Europe. Indeed one of Heydrich’s underlings, Walter Schellenberg, described him as a man with "a cruel, brave and cold intelligence" for whom "truth and goodness had no intrinsic meaning."

This could be a character summary of almost any of the Forsaken, Semirhage most of all.


Irma Grese

Grese (1923-1946) was a concentration camp guard at Auschwitz who earned the name "Blond Angel of Death." Placed in charge of 18,000 female prisoners, she used both physical and emotional methods to torture the camp's inmates and enjoyed shooting them in cold blood, or beating and whipping them mercilessly. Her half-starved dogs were trained to savage prisoners. Grese observed and assisted in the medical experiments at Auschwitz, and especially liked the operations involving the removal of women’s breasts.

Sadistic Grese has obvious parallels with Semirhage. Her savage dogs are reminiscent of the packs of Darkhounds the Forsaken sent to hunt and kill people.


Frank Ziereis

Ziereis (1905-1945) was the Commandant at Mauthausen, the worst of the concentration camps in Germany. Its prisoners were designated ‘return unwanted’ and were mainly criminals, Russian POWs and political enemies of the Nazi regime.

Ziereis was always dressed immaculately in full (black-shirted) uniform. He was a sadist who enjoyed executing prisoners personally and conducted seminars to refine techniques in brutality. At times, he instructed the kitchen staff to overturn posts of watery soup so that he could watch the starving inmates lick it up before it soaked into the filthy floor. (Photo from www.mauthausen-memorial.at.)

Semirhage enjoyed experimenting in the degradation of people as well as torture. She was sent prominent prisoners from the Light and also traitors and spies. Cadsuane turned the tables upon her, however, and treated her with contempt, degrading her in front of onlookers, for example by forcing her to eat her meal off the floor.

There are other sadists from earlier periods of history that have parallels with Semirhage, including the man who gave rise to the term sadism - wrote the book on it, you might say.


Marquis de Sade

The Marquis (or Comte) de Sade (1740-1814):

was the French nobleman whose perverse sexual preferences and erotic writings gave rise to the term sadism.

His aristocratic background entitled him to various ranks in the king's regiments, and in 1754 he began a military career, which he abandoned in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years' War.

He invited prostitutes to his “little house” at Arcueil and subjected them to various sexual abuses. For this he was imprisoned, on orders of the king, in the fortress of Vincennes. Freed several weeks later, he resumed his life of debauchery and went deeply into debt. In 1768 the first public scandal erupted: the Rose Keller affair.

Rose Keller was a young prostitute he had met on Easter Sunday in Paris. He took her to his house in Arcueil, where he locked her up and abused her sexually. She escaped and related the unnatural acts and brutality to persons in the neighbourhood and showed them her wounds. De Sade was sentenced to the fortress of Pierre-Encise, near Lyon, for his offenses.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

This pattern was repeated throughout his life: sadistic abuse of others followed by imprisonment.

Semirhage held high rank in the Age of Legend as an Aes Sedai, which she abandoned and then held military commands during the War of Power. Like de Sade, she was sadistic - The Lady of Pain, as Lews Therin Telamon called her (Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box ). Aran’gar’s thoughts that:

Semirhage took her pleasures where she found them, though Semirhage’s pleasures had never attracted Aran’gar

- Knife of Dreams, At the Gardens

show that Semirhage shared de Sade’s tastes in sexual sadism.

As an author, de Sade is to some an incarnation of absolute evil who advocates the unleashing of instincts even to the point of crime. Others have looked upon him as a champion of total liberation through the satisfaction of his desires in all forms.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Semirhage abandoned the Light and joined in the Shadow’s revolt against the established order. She completely disregarded others to satisfy her own desires.


Gilles de Rais

Gilles de Rais (1404-1440) fought the English alongside Joan of Arc and eventually became Marshal of France. After the wars, he retired to his estates to practise satanism - hoping to gain knowledge, power, and riches by invoking the devil – and sadism. He confessed to torturing and killing 140 young people, mainly young boys, and was simultaneously burned and hanged.

Semirhage is a skilled magic user who dedicated herself to the Dark One, Shaitan, to gain power. If she could be said to have a favourite type of victim, it would be Aes Sedai.


Vlad the Impaler

Vlad III Dracula, (1431–1476/77), also known as Vlad the Impaler, was Prince of Wallachia (now in Romania) and infamous in his lifetime for his extreme cruelty. His father, Vlad II Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. Dracula means 'son of the Dragon', which in modern Romania came to mean 'son of the devil'. Semirhage was an Aes Sedai, an organisation founded to serve the people and which was headed by the Dragon in the late Second Age. The Aes Sedai in the Third Age have strong parallels to the Roman Catholic Church.

Vlad was installed by the Ottomans on the throne, to prevent Wallachia from being ruled by someone with ties to the Hunyadi/Corvinus rulers of Hungary, but once he was prince, Vlad used extreme methods to restore order and productivity in his kingdom. To secure his rule he had many leading nobles killed and he appointed non-nobles and foreigners as his officials because they would be more loyal to him personally. Semirhage killed the entire Seanchan royal family in Seanchan and encouraged Suroth to kill Tuon and take the throne because it would be convenient for her to have a Darkfriend rule the Seanchan.

Vlad III was related to Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary and a parallel of Mat. However Vlad was captured by Corvinus and ruled for only a couple of months after his release before being assassinated. Semirhage crossed paths with Mat in Ebou Dar, but he luckily left the city before she learned who he was and received orders to kill him. The Forsaken was not captured by Mat, however, but by the Dragon Reborn, and killed by him a short time after Shaidar Haran freed her.

According to the German stories the number of victims Vlad had killed was at least 80,000. Some claim that he roasted children, whom he fed to their mothers and cut off the breasts of women, and forced their husbands to eat them. After that, he had them all impaled. Impalement was his preferred method of torture and execution. There are stories of an invading Ottoman army turning back after encountering thousands of rotting impaled corpses on the banks of the Danube and that Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who used impalement himself to subjugate and intimidate was sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside the city of Targoviste. Semirhage

governed several conquered territories, and her administrations were marked by a level of violence and cruelty that stands out even among the Forsaken.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

Interestingly, the Seanchan impale the leaders of rebels, perhaps another sign of the strong influence the Shadow had on Seanchan goverment and custom.


Countess Erzsebet Bathory

Erzsebet Bathory (1560-1614) was an Hungarian noblewoman who practised sadism and black magic. Her crimes caused her to become a legendary and feared figure to the extent that there is controversy over whether some of her exploits are true. (Legends about historical figures are part of Jordan’s theme of how time alters history). She certainly tortured servants and girls she lured to her castle. According to stories, Erszebet believed that bathing in human blood (particularly that of young girls) would keep her youthful and she had various nasty devices for extracting this blood from her victims. Possibly hundreds of girls were killed and their blood collected for her beauty treatments.

For most people of the late Third Age, the Forsaken are legendary and feared figures – bogeymen to scare children. They have dedicated their souls to the Dark One and hope to gain immortality from this, just as Erzebet Bathory practised black magic and believed that bathing in blood would keep her looking youthful. Semirhage’s crimes are also extremely violent. While Semirhage had no obsession with blood, apart from her experiments to determine how much pain its removal can inflict, and how long someone can endure its removal and substitution (The Gathering Storm, A Tale of Blood), and covering the Crystal Throne with Empress Radhanan’s blood, her love of inflicting pain and death was legendary – so much so that she could be likened to a Wheel of Time death goddess. Hence her rivalry with Lanfear Queen of the Night and Hell (see Lanfear essay), as the other Forsaken know very well:

Not even Demandred dared suggest to Semirhage's face that she wore black so often because Lanfear wore white.

- Lord of Chaos Prologue

As a death goddess, her real world parallels would be Kali, Coatlicue and Sekhmet; all fearsome ladies indeed.


Kali

Kali, the dark, destructive and blood-thirsty mother goddess of the Hindu religion, is perhaps the main real world figure Semirhage was derived from. (Jordan divided Kali between Semirhage and Calian, the Hero of the Horn.) As well as death, violence and sexuality, Kali is associated at times with motherly love. She is the destructive as well as creative aspect of the Divine Mother in Hinduism and is a major figure in the cycle of life and death, creation and destruction in the Hindu view of the Wheel of Time. Her name means ‘she who is black’ in Sanskrit. Skulls, cemeteries, and blood are associated with her worship.

Kali is most often depicted as a black or dark blue goddess, partially or completely naked, with a long lolling tongue, a skirt or girdle of human arms or skulls, a necklace of decapitated heads, and earrings of human corpses. Her eyes are red, and her face and bosom are polluted with blood (Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology). She is often portrayed standing or dancing on her husband, the god Shiva, who lies prostrate beneath her.

Semirhage, with her black clothes, very dark eyes and dark skin, and fondness for inflicting violence and death as she thinks fit, is a Wheel of Time world equivalent of Kali. She could appear forbidding, or motherly and gentle (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time) and switched between the two to unsettle her victim, as can be seen in Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow, when she tortured information from Cabriana Mercandes to aid the Dark One’s plans. Semirhage temporarily enslaved Rand, a parallel of Shiva, and nearly forced him to kill Min. The Dark One wanted to break free and destroy the Wheel of Time, ending the cycle of time and reincarnation as it currently is (see Eschatology essay).


Coatlicue

Another dark mother goddess parallel is Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of life, death and rebirth. She represented the type of devouring mother in whom the womb and tomb were combined. Coatlicue was depicted wearing a skirt of snakes and a necklace of human hands, hearts and skulls and was seen as an insatiable deity feasting on the corpses of men. She was also known as an instigator of war.

Dark, motherly Semirhage tortured and killed personally and also was part of the Shadow’s war against the Light. Her appetite for hurting others was insatiable.


Sekhmet

In the Ancient Egyptian religion, Sekhmet was the goddess of war who was sent by Ra to destroy his mortal enemies. She was so enthusiastic about this task that she almost killed all of humanity. Sekhmet was associated both with disease and with healing and medicine and was the patron of surgeons. Two of Sekhmet’s titles were ‘The One Before Whom Evil Trembles’, and ‘Lady of Slaughter’.

She was thought to both send plagues, and to protect people from them. (There is a legend that her priests protected her statues from theft or vandalism by coating them with anthrax). Sekhmet’s priests were highly trained in medicine and surgery, which at that time was linked to magic.

Semirhage was a highly skilled Healer and very powerful magic user, who was enthusiastic in torturing and then destroying people. Since Semirhage killed as often as she Healed, she was very like ambivalent Sekhmet. The Forsaken may not have trembled before her but they surely were wary of her.


Mithridates VI of Pontus

Mithridates (132-63BC), was the king of Pontus in Asia Minor and one of Ancient Rome’s most formidable and successful enemies. An exceptionally tall man, he spent much of his early career as a fugitive and killed many of his brothers to gain the throne of Pontus. He was ambitious, and sought to invade a number of neighbouring states, including Bithynia, which brought him into conflict with the Roman Republic.

Ancient Rome is a parallel to the Age of Legends (see The Age of Legends essay). The Forsaken contend among themselves for power and the trio of Semirhage, Demandred and Mesaana were quite successful in despatching their rivals in the Age of Legends. During the Collapse, Semirhage, an exceptionally tall woman, was on the run from the Hall of Servants, who wanted to Bind her against violence, just as Mithridates was a fugitive. She held field commands for the Shadow in the War of Power again like Mithridates, who was a battle commander.

Mithridates’ attempts to annex the neighbouring kingdom of Bithynia, a client of Rome, proved unsuccessful; and Bithynian counter-raids inspired by the Romans caused him such anger that in 88 BC he invaded the province of Asia. And there he caused 80,000 of its Italian and Italian-Greek commercial representatives to be massacred by the local city authorities. Their willingness to comply was a shocking demonstration of Roman unpopularity.

- History of Rome, Michael Grant

In a similar, but worse, vein, Semirhage forced the inhabitants of several captured cities to cooperate in torturing one another to death (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).

The Roman Republic fought three wars against Mithridates; he was defeated in the first two, but only finally beaten in the third in 65BC. Interestingly there is a legend that Mithridates built up tolerance to all poisons known at that time by taking minute doses of them all and gradually increasing the doses until he could tolerate lethal amounts. After he was defeated by Pompey, he was unable to poison himself, but had to fall on his sword instead.

Semirhage had inured herself to physical pain:

Why couldn't they have given her pain? Broken fingers, cuts into her flesh, coals in the pits of her elbows. She had steeled her mind to each of these things, preparing for them. A small, eager part of herself had looked forward to them.

- The Gathering Storm, The Last That Could be Done

and even to sleep deprivation, but not to humiliation, which was how Cadsuane brought her low.


Dowager Cixi of Qing China

The Seanchan Empire has much in common with Imperial China, particularly the Late Qing dynasty (19th to early 20th centuries): for instance, the fashions, titles and bureaucracy. Semirhage’s actions in killing the entire Imperial family have resulted in chaos:

Seandar is in the hands of rioters and looters, and so are a dozen other cities. At least fifty nobles are contending for the throne, with armies in the field. There is war from the Aldael Mountains to Salaking.

- Knife of Dreams, Prologue

This is similar to the massive social unrest which occurred in China in late Qing times, with armed rebellions lasting 14 or 15 years, millions of people killed in civil war and scant food as large areas of farms were destroyed by war and flood.

Semirhage herself is like Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), the power behind the throne from 1862 until her death, popularly believed to be a dangerous, power-hungry and ruthless woman who gained control of two emperors through scheming, and was believed to have hastened the death of the first of these, and to have ordered the death of the second; and encouraged the Boxer Rebellion in which thousands of Christian missionaries and tens of thousands of Chinese Christian converts were killed. She thwarted attempts at reforming Chinese government and eliminating corruption, thus ending any chance of peaceful change in China (Encyclopaedia Britannica). On her deathbed she ordered that two year old Puyi (1906–1967), the Last Emperor of China and a parallel of Tuon (see Tuon essay), ascend the throne. Semirhage personally killed Empress Radhanan and suggested to Suroth that she kill Tuon and take her place.

Norse mythology had a pessimistic view of the end of the world in which the gods and their opponents destroy each other in war. Semirhage has parallels to one of the more monstrous Norse figures, Fenrir.


Fenrir

The Norse gods were warned that the giant wolf Fenrir was one of their most dangerous enemies and they had dwarfs make an unbreakable ribbon-like chain with which to restrain him. They challenged Fenrir to see if he could break the chain, and, suspecting they might be trying to trap him, Fenrir agreed to try if one of the gods would put their hand in his mouth. Only Tyr would do so; accepting the consequences. The gods wrapped Fenrir in the chain and the more the wolf tried to break it, the tighter the chain became. Fenrir realised that it was a trap and bit off Tyr’s right hand.

Jordan said at a booksigning that he deliberately made Rand like Tyr. When Rand sought a truce with the Seanchan so that they can combine forces for the Last Battle, Semirhage planned to trap him. Rand and his aides came to the parley better prepared than Semirhage expected (Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box). Semirhage burned off Rand’s left hand, which he sacrificed to protect Min from Semirhage’s attack, and she was captured by Rand’s companions.

The Dark One freed Semirhage and gave her access to the cuendillar Domination Band, an equivalent of the dwarfs’ chain, with which to restrain and enslave Rand. She could not resist toying with Rand and the more Rand struggled, the worse she made his confinement. Finally Rand broke free of the trap using the True Power.


Names

Semirhage: The name Semirhage is a combination of Semiramis, Semjaza/Shemihaza and ‘rage’. Semiramis was a semi-legendary Assyrian Queen who was reported in some histories as having her husband King Ninus of Babylon executed so she could take the throne. According to Diodorus, she and King Ninus had a son and when Ninus was fatally wounded by an arrow Semiramis then masqueraded as her son, the new king, to trick her late husband's army into following her. She reigned for 42 years, conquering much of Asia. Semirhage suggested to Suroth that she assassinate Tuon. In Knife of Dreams she masqueraded as Tuon to trick the Seanchan into accompanying her to meet and capture Rand.

Semiramis is said to have had many lovers and had each lover killed after their night of passion to ensure her power and throne were never threatened. Similarly, Semirhage ruthlessly kills or uses people as she sees fit to enhance her plans for power. Jordan split the Semiramis myth into two and used one part to develop Semirhage and the other Graendal (see Graendal essay).

Semjaza, (also Samlazaz or Shemihaza) was the name of the leader of the fallen angels in the Book of Enoch in the Pseudepigrapha. Many of the Forsaken have names derived from fallen angels to show there is always the risk that great power will corrupt.

Rage is also included in her name, since Semirhage was still angry over her treatment in the Age of Legends, though outwardly calm.

Nemene Damendar Boann (Semirhage’s original name): The name Nemene may refer to the Nemean lion of Greek mythology that Hercules killed. This was his first labour: to rid the Nemean plain of this wild, enormous and extremely ferocious lion. Heracles soon discovered that no weapon could kill the lion, so he fought it with his bare hands and strangled it to death. Once the huge monster was dead Heracles skinned the beast with its own razor sharp claws and wore the skin as a cloak.

Nicola Foretold that Rand would do nine impossible things, so Rand is a parallel of Hercules and his twelve labours. Certainly Semirhage was a very formidable, dangerous and ferocious opponent. No one prior to Rand had survived her efforts at torture unbroken and nor had anyone broken free of an a’dam, let alone broken one made of cuendillar, while it is being used on them. To do so would be considered impossible. Semirhage used the a’dam to force Rand to half strangle himself, and then Min, with his bare hands. The Domination Band, being cuendillar, could not be destroyed by any weapon including the One Power. In desperation, Rand drew upon the True Power, the Power of Semirhage’s own master, and balefired her, an equivalent of skinning the beast with its own claws. After his use of the True Power, a sinister darkness could be seen around Rand at times – the Shadow’s cloak.

Once Semirhage turned someone to the Shadow with torture, the other Forsaken believed undoing it was impossible, but according to The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, it has been done. Considering the corrupting effect the True Power had on Rand, he was almost effectively turned to the Shadow, but at the last was able to resist it.

Damendar is place name derived.

Boann is one of the names of the Irish mother goddess:

The goddess is the Celtic reflex of the primordial mother who creates life and fruitfulness through her union with the universal father-god. Welsh and Irish tradition preserve many variations on a basic triadic relationship of divine mother, father, and son. The goddess appears, for example, in Welsh as Modron (from Matrona, “Divine Mother”) and Rhiannon (“Divine Queen”) and in Irish as Boann and Macha.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Semirhage appeared sinister or motherly, depending on the emotion she wanted to inspire in her victim.

Anath Dorje (Semirhage’s alias): Anath was the chief West Semitic goddess of love and war, the sister and helpmate of the god Baal.

Considered a beautiful young girl, she was often designated “the Virgin” in ancient texts. Probably one of the best-known of the Canaanite deities, she was famous for her youthful vigour and ferocity in battle…she was primarily known for her role in the myth of Baal's death and resurrection, in which she mourned and searched for him and finally helped to retrieve him from the netherworld.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

As Anath, Semirhage held a high position in a war-like Empire, including field commands during the War Of Power. Semirhage certainly had a ferocious reputation and was assiduous in her efforts to further the Shadow’s cause and free the Dark One from his prison.

Dorje is a Tibetan personal name and is also the ritual object that is held in the right hand of a Lama during various religious ceremonies. Dorje means ‘noble stone’. The dorje is like the diamond, but that gem is an inadequate symbol for it. However, just as any other substance will be destroyed on impact with a diamond, so the ritual object symbolizes that which is indestructible, enduring, powerful, invincible, and irresistible. (Photo from www.thaiexotictreasures.com.)

Symbolically a dorje represents the 'thunderbolt of enlightenment,' that abrupt change in human consciousness which is recognised by all the great religions as a pivotal episode in the lives of mystics and saints. For Buddhists, it is what occurred to the historical Buddha and to all those who experience the dropping away of 'self'. The Tibetans call this "the Great Death" to distinguish it from that physical one which will be the experience of us all.

Semirhage certainly dropped a thunderbolt of ‘enlightenment’ when she publicly declared that Rand was insane since he could hear Lews Therin’s voice and that nothing could cure it.

The Domination Band with which Semirhage enslaved Rand was made of cuendillar, a substance more indestructible than diamond. Rand used the True Power to destroy it and balefire Semirhage, a type of ‘Great Death’, but not the final death, since she can be reborn again. Rand believed that Semirhage’s abuse had hardened Rand to the point of being cuendillar himself. The True Power corrupted Rand inexorably until after a long struggle he achieved enlightenment on Dragonmount and his second self, Lews Therin dropped away.


Conclusion: The Fondness for Black

Physically and spiritually dark Semirhage wears black, the colour of death, just like black Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction, and the black-shirted SS of the Nazi regime, her major parallels.

From being a Healer of the calibre of Asclepius and Hippocrates, Semirhage plunged into darkest sadism and cruelty. Her main historic parallels, Mengele and Heydrich, reflect this. Ambivalent for a long time – a Wheel of Time Kali – she completely forsook her Hippocratic oaths in favour of those to the Dark One.

_________________________________________

Written by Linda, June 2005 and updated January 2014

1 comment:

csarmi said...

It is Erzs├ębet, or Erzsebet. You mispelled it 2 out of 3 times.