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During the course of Avatar: The Last Airbender Aang displays a different way to interact with his previous lives: by turning into them for a short while. He did this twice with Roku (once when confronting the Fire Sages, once when talking to Jeong Jeong) and once as Kyoshi (during the events of his trial in Chin Village). Not only that, but it also alters his Bending abilities. When Aang turned into Roku for the first time he managed to Firebend like a master, something that Aang had not even attempted at that point.

But what exactly is this ability? Is it some kind of Bending? Or is it something inherent to the powers of the Avatar, like being able to communicate with them? If I am not mistaken Korra never does this, instead communicating with her past lives a few times before the events of the end of Book 2.

  • I never saw it as a power or ability. Each of the previous Avatars exist within the current Avatar. I saw it as Aang allowing the previous consciousness to sort of take the driver seat for a few moments. – phantom42 Sep 7 '15 at 15:11
  • May also be a good fit for Anime and Manga Beta. While the debate goes on about if this is "anime", they do have a tag for it. – Firebat Sep 7 '15 at 15:14
  • @phantom42 But we have seen in all three times he did that he did take the shape of the Avatar in question and was recognized as such. So it's not just the consciousness taking the wheel, it's actual shapeshifting or some kind of Bneding taking place. – Thomas Jacobs Sep 7 '15 at 15:15
  • I don't know that his physical form actually changed, or if it was a visual thing for the viewer to show that it wasn't Aang necessarily directly taking those actions. – phantom42 Sep 7 '15 at 15:34
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    @phantom42 No, it was very much a physical transformation. The Fire Sages, Jeong Jeong and the people of Chin Village all managed to identify the people Aang transformed into. – Thomas Jacobs Sep 7 '15 at 15:42
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As far as an explanation on the matter, there is no official one, so it's unclear whether this is a spiritual projection or physical possession of the Avatar's body.

When Aang turned into Kyoshi it was clear that Kyoshi had control, as she was recalling facts that were only known to her, not Aang. When Aang turned into Roku for the first time, he was also in the Avatar State, which makes the Avatar capable of power he doesn't know he's capable of too, not only the transformation to Roku.

Some small Legend of Korra Book 2 spoilers coming up

But there is one thing that might shed some light on the situation. Spirits have the power to physically possess humans, as shown in The Beginnings, Part 1. Combined with the fact that Raava uses this power to teach Wan and to aid him in battle (albeit in a less deadly way), ultimately bonding together and creating the first Avatar (Beginnings, Part 2). Supporting the theory that the Avatar can use powers that only spirits are capable of.

I would speculate that Raava used her powers to allow previous incarnations to temporarily possess the body of the Avatar.

Making it a power exclusive to the Avatar.

Credits to @CreationEdge for providing video material.

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Just to add a bit: Another thing might have to do with the spiritual connection the current avatar has. As we know, Aang was an airbender who alone are very spiritual. He grew up with monks which instilled in him an importance on spirituality. Korra wasn't the most spiritual person at the beginning as opposed to Aang who easily sought out the spirits. Great question! I hadn't really thought so much about that before.

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I think it's a spiritual ability through Rava (the spirit of peace and light), because in Avatar: Legend of Korra we see Rava get destroyed, which makes Korra lose her connection with the past avatars.

  • What does this have to do with avatars turning into other avatars? Sorry I don't quite understand. Could you edit your answer to be clearer? – Edlothiad Aug 5 '17 at 22:19

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