To become part of the Grey Wardens, a recruit must first go through a blood magic ritual called the Joining. It is a test of a recruit's physical constitution and spiritual fortitude. One of the reasons for the small number of Grey Wardens is that few can survive this ritual. Those who live become Grey Wardens, forever connected to the darkspawn, and forever tainted by the blood they have consumed.
The Joining ritual was created in the early days of the Order, during the First Blight. It is unknown exactly how the Grey Wardens developed this ritual, although many theories exist. According to most records, Nakiri of The Donarks was the one who first suggested imbibing the blood of the darkspawn, as his people were known to consume the blood of their enemies to absorb their power. The first Grey Wardens consulted many Tevinter mages, who confirmed that there was power in blood, as blood magic was a common practice in the Imperium at the time. It is also said that elven slaves also contributed ancient knowledge from Arlathan. This was in return for being treated as equals in the order and with the intention that, after the Blight was ended, they would concentrate on freeing the elves.
The ritual and the details about it are kept a strict secret by the Grey Wardens, because during the Joining, the recruits drink from a silver chalice containing a mixture of darkspawn blood and often a single drop of blood from an Archdemon, as well as lyrium and rare herbs magically prepared to make the blood at least remotely possible to consume.
Only those who have a decent chance of surviving the Joining will even be made recruits. As a preliminary test, the recruits are sent to retrieve the darkspawn blood that will be used in the ritual to determine if they have the courage and the skill to become Grey Wardens. Usually, the recruits are accompanied by an experienced Grey Warden during this mission.
Becoming a Grey Warden requires a dose of the darkspawn corruption of sufficient potency to have an immediate effect, rather than slowly corrupt the consumer into a ghoul. While Archdemon blood is typically used, since it is one of the rarest substances in all Thedas, blood of other darkspawn creatures can also be magically treated to make it function in the ritual if Archdemon blood isn't available. However, the average darkspawn doesn't have enough of the corruption within it for this to work most of the time. When available, Archdemon blood is granted to veteran Grey Wardens to be used when needed.
The darkspawn corruption wrenches at the very core of a recruit's identity, insinuating forever a sense of wrongness in the new Warden. Most candidates die on the spot because of the corrupted blood they had taken. Some believe that if an individual harbors doubts about the ritual, or even about their commitment, the Joining may fail as well, and the recruit will die in the attempt. The Wardens have a tradition of honoring their sacrifice by carrying them in their hearts, and by wearing specially crafted amulets to remember those who didn't survive the Joining. Some even write down a list of names, adding "I remember you" after each one.
Recruits are given a formal rank within the Order, that of Warden-Recruit, regardless if they survive the Joining or not, just for committing themselves to the Wardens. The names of those recruits who failed their Joinings are kept in the archives of Weisshaupt in honour of their sacrifice.
A recruit to whom the Joining ritual and its ramifications have been explained must go on and continue with the ritual until the end. Those who refuse to drink from the chalice are killed without a doubt by the Grey Wardens overseeing the ceremony to preserve the Order’s secrets.
Grey Warden abilities
The Joining ritual grants Grey Wardens two abilities: they become linked to the darkspawn's hive-mind, which allows them to detect the presence of darkspawn, and they become immune to further corruption by the Blight. However, they suffer from bad (if occasionally prophetic) dreams, decreased fertility, and shortened lifespans (most Wardens have only thirty years at most after their Joining before the taint consumes them). Many of the Wardens also experience ravenous hunger for a period following the Joining, and some become physically more robust. In addition, the link to the darkspawn hive-mind allows the darkspawn to sense them, in turn.
As a Grey Warden becomes accustomed to the corruption and the link with the darkspawn, they learn how to block most of the dreams, and some older Wardens even are able to understand the communication between an Archdemon and the darkspawn horde.
Before the Fifth Blight, a few Grey Warden scholars believed that the tainted blood could grant even more incredible powers than just the ability to sense darkspawn, but avoided to further investigate this field of research because the lack of evidence and the fatal implications of such investigation. However, the Grey Warden mage Avernus speculated that applications of energy and blood magic could unlock these powers, and endeavored to replicate the effects alchemically, developing an Alchemical Concoction that can unlock powerful abilities in those who drink it. This investigation was found by the Warden during the Fifth Blight.
Some Grey Wardens put their dogs through the Joining, and consider those who survive as members of the Order.
While most believe that the Joining make the Grey Wardens immune to the "blight sickness" (in fact, older Grey Wardens allow the junior members of the Order to believe this), the ritual only slows the effects of the darkspawn corruption. With progression of age the taint will spread, and if the taint advances enough in Wardens bodies they start to hear the Call of the Old Gods, begin to transform into ghouls, and worse, they begin to feel the compulsion to join the darkspawn horde. Rather than bolster the enemy ranks, the afflicted Wardens travel to the Deep Roads to seek out an honorable death as part of their Calling.
- Main article: The Disciples
During his research and experiments with the taint, the Architect discovered that the darkspawn can gain immunity to the Call of the Old Gods, and consequently think for themselves, by ingesting the blood of a Grey Warden. Thanks to blood donated by a Grey Warden named Utha, he was able to reverse-engineer the Joining ritual, creating his own modified version of it that uses Grey Warden blood instead of darkspawn blood.
Although how this modified Joining works is unknown, darkspawn who are submit to it are "awakened". Known as the Disciples, those awakened darkspawn develop their own personalities, with the ability to speak, form opinions, choose for themselves, better strategize, and hold influence over their unconverted brethren. According to the Architect, this is a consequence of acquiring a Grey Warden's resistance to the taint.Some Disciples were grateful to the Architect for this freedom, but for others losing the bliss of the Call and the Taint was too much.
If Avernus survived the Fifth Blight and was allowed to continue his research:
Notable victims of the Joining