Massive Spoiler Warning: The question discusses events very near the end of Neal Stephenson's Anathem.

When Cell 317 was up in space floating with the Cold Black Mirror, several members discussed having dreams that didn't feel like dreams, ie. were vey hard to distinguish from reality. During a conversation someone (I think it was Arsibalt or Jesry) mentions he's not sure if this is not a dream. Sammann even expresses surprise in that he "wakes up" to find the transmitter still working, although he clearly "remembered" destroying it.

This, along with the Millenarian's general indiference, leads me to believe that he had in fact started his Incantations from the very beginning of the launch - possibly even from the beginning of the Convox, and that the dream-states were the alternative Narratives the Millenarian was taking them through. We can only guess at what the Incanters were up to when secluded in their math, but during the Convox we have the following clues:

  • Fraa Jad is up all night at the Bazian monastery, chanting. This may be a way to just pass the time, it could also be that Erasmas was witnessing an Incantation.

  • When Jad spoke of the "Hooded Ones", referring to the hijacked Matarrhite peregrin, he gave us the hint that they weren't actually Matarrhites. This he could have inferred by observing flaws in their behaviour, like the ones Arsibalt pointed out when he confronted Vernes, or he simply visited some Narrative where their identity had been made known. The Steelyard makes me root for the former, but I can't completly dismiss the latter either.

  • The Teglon and the keypad. Again the Steelyard tells us that a Millenarian might have solved the puzzle (although many Millenarians had failed), or he could have made himself into a distributed syndev, brute-forcing the problem through many Narratives. But would he start an Incantation just for fun? Well he's an eccentric old Grandfraa, he might as well act like one.

During the Keypad narrative Fraa Jad tells Erasmas that

I am in several [Narratives], a state of affairs that is not easy to sustain

which leads me to believe he wasn't solving the Teglon just for the fun of it; he was practising.

In any case there must be clues that I've missed and I don't have the energy to go back to the massive book now that I've finished it. So my question is, as the title states, when did Fraa Jad start his Incantations, and how did he affect his Peregrin?

  • I just finished the book and had many of the same thoughts. Unfortunately I don't think you can pinpoint when it started. The author doesn't specifically tell you and Jad's chanting is mentioned throughout the book, so it is possible that it was going on before anyone was even Evoked.
    – Justin C
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 14:06

4 Answers 4


Technically, the millenarians use incantation all the time, to weed out pre-cancerous cells. They investigate a multitude of possible narratives, then collapse the quantum wave to a preferred choice. Of course, those small changes (or even the Teglon) only affected a single person, the incanter. You're referring to Jad's much larger polycosmic manipulation, which encompassed the actions of the entire Cell 317 for an extended period of time.

I believe that incantation (or at least its inclusion of other people) started upon reaching orbit. Arsibalt's rescue maneuvers were clearly incanted, marking the latest possible starting point. But incantation seems to require limiting the amount of external observation; I believe superposition could not begin until the launch telemetry ended. Jad smashing the radio to reduce information leakage is key evidence for this view.


I think that @foo-bar makes an excellent point about how the launch coincides with a narrowing of the observation window, which means that's when incantation started getting serious. But let's remember that Fraa Jad is just the tip of the spear. As Erasmas wonders while floating alone with the nuke:

Where were all of the Thousanders now? Gathered in a stadium, chanting?

I think it's fair to say that the worldtrack changes were the result of more than just Fraa Jad:

"The practical consequence for me is continuing and ever more effective cooperation between the tendencies known to the vulgar as Rhetors and Incanters," Lodoghir said. "Procians and Halikaarnians have worked together in the recent past, as you know, with results that have been profoundly startling to those few who are aware of them." He was staring directly into my eyes as he said this. I knew he was talking about the rerouting of worldtracks that, among other things, had placed Fra Jaad at the Daban Urnud at the same time as his death was recorded above Arbre."

There's really not enough description on the text to suggest exactly what's involved in Incanting, or who, or when. Fraa Jad was chanting as he and Erasmas traverse the ship, but Fraa Jad's not actively chanting when he punches the keys into the keypad(s). It's kind of like Iron Eagle; the chanting helps, but the skill lies underneath.

  • Correct IMO: The Incanters and Rhetors are both working from the moment of or soon after the launch. This is why there's confusion down on Arbre as to "the head count" up there in orbit: The Rhetors are already doing their thing, changing the (recent) past so that Jad seems dead to them (with consistent records, etc.)
    – davidbak
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 17:59

I have been of the opinion that the Millenarians are actually working hard throughout the entire story to affect Erasmas and his journey. I feel like a lot of the chapter endings, cliffhangers, and lucky escapes are the result of Erasmas being guided away from calamity, especially considering how often Jad is mentioned as doing something idly in the background.

  • Do you have any evidence to back up this theory of yours that you could edit it?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 23:21

When the cell formed and they took the plane to the launch site, there was a line about how Jad's chanting was barely audible over the plane noises. I took that to mean he was ensuring they stayed on a world track where the plane didn't go down.

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