Image upon t-shirts worn by volunteers at Brandon's booth at Comicon, Phoenix, AZ, 6/2-5/16 [1]

The cosmere is the greater universe in which The Stormlight Archive - and many of Brandon Sanderson's other adult fiction books - take place. That is, the books take place on different worlds, and each of these worlds is set in the same small galaxy referred to as the cosmere. All of the books share a single creation myth (though not all cultures are aware of it), a single cosmology, and are connected by an overarching story. Brandon has said that one does not need any cosmere knowledge to understand the books, and that they can be enjoyed separately, but it will be necessary eventually to have a certain understanding of Realmatic Theory. Elements of the cosmere are slowly being added into the books, behind the scenes, until they come into the forefront with Dragonsteel and the final Mistborn trilogy.


While he was selling his initial works to publishers, Brandon was encouraged to write books set in different worlds as opposed to a huge epic fantasy series. That way, if a publisher didn't like one book, said publisher could pitch a different one, which one can't do with a huge fantasy series. But as a way of still having a huge fantasy series, Brandon made all of these independent stories a "hidden epic." That is, he seeded continuing characters and elements into all of these different worlds, now dubbed the "cosmere".

The first book Brandon sold, Elantris, was embedded with these elements and he kept putting them in subsequent novels. So far there is one character who appears in all of the full-length cosmere novels that he has created. Sometimes this character uses the name Hoid, and sometimes he can only be recognized by appearance. He is a linchpin to the overarching story within the cosmere.


Adonalsium's exact nature has not yet been revealed. At this point it is understood to be the cosmere's power of Creation that permeated everything. Due to as yet unrevealed events, Adonalsium has been shattered into pieces, known as Shards of Adonalsium, or Shards for short, which are themselves each pieces of the power of Creation itself.

Properties and ForcesEdit

The structure and physics of the cosmere are the same as those of Earth and its galaxay,[1] but the main story of the cosmere occurs in a compact dwarf galaxy, meaning it has many fewer stars and systems than Earth's galaxy. Time flows the same in the cosmere (except under special magical effects, such as those Allomantic cadmium and bendalloy).[2]

There are ten primary worlds in the cosmere, called Shardworlds. There are also inhabited worlds without Shards within the cosmere, and some planets may only have Splinters of a Shard on them. Worlds without Shards are generally referred to "minor Shardworlds". On all cosmere worlds, each magic system is called Investiture, a word that means something has gained a portion of Adonalsium's magic. All magic within the cosmere is derived from a Shard's - or Adonalsium's - power. Specific magic systems, like Allomancy or Surgebinding, are termed "manifestations of Investiture." On minor worlds, people don't utilize Investiture directly, and magic is more something people interact with through nature.

The physical universe of the cosmere only tells one part of the story. There are three Realms of existence: the Physical Realm, the Cognitive Realm, and the Spiritual Realm that all coexist simultaneously, and everything has aspects in each of these Realms. Even worlds themselves have souls. Investiture transcends all three of these Realms. The Cognitive Realm (i.e., Shadesmar) affords individuals with access to it between worlds. Also, there is something beyond these three Realms, where people "pass on," which Shards can potentially touch, but Brandon does not yet wish to reveal anything about it.

There are also other forces outside of things derived from Adonalsium. One is a force that opposes Adonalsium, which still exists - and some say there are "subtle forces" being manifest, separate from Adonalsium, perhaps referring to the God Beyond.[3][4]

Shards of AdonalsiumEdit

There are sixteen Shards[5], scattered amongst ten Shardworlds. Shards are related to many, if not all, magic systems on those worlds.

Shards are named after a specific action or ideal, called an intent. A mind must control a Shard. When a person holds a Shard, they are imbued with its power, but they also become the Shard and have an overriding desire to follow that Shard's Intent.

When a Shard comes to a world, it imbeds into the magic of that world altering it to match its Intent. On many if not all worlds, the method of binding with a magic is directly related to the Shard or Shards on that world as is its use.

The Shards Honor (Almighty/Tanavast), Cultivation and Odium have influence on Roshar.

Realmatic TheoryEdit

All things exist in three Realms: the Physical, the Cognitive, and the Spiritual.

  • The Physical Realm is the most readily understood as it is merely the manifestation of the world as experienced by the characters, with properties similar to our own.
  • The Cognitive Realm, also known as Shadesmar on Roshar, can be used as means of Worldhopping and travel. Worlds are much closer to each other in the Cognitive Realm than in the Physical. When there, a Worldhopper is within walking distance to other worlds (though it may take weeks/months to travel between worlds). Both Shallan and Jasnah have traveled to the Cognitive Realm. It is the place of ideas and has much in common with Platonic Ideals.
  • The Spiritual Realm is that of the "soul." Little is know about this Realm. It is believed that this is the location of the afterlife for Cosmere residents. Shardholders may not have full access to the Spiritual Realm.

In the Spiritual Realm, every person has a latticework of lines that makes up his/her spiritweb. The particular "shape" of this spiritweb is affected by two different things: a) the sDNA of the indivual (that determines the layout of the spiritweb), and b) outside trauma that can "break" the spiritweb itself (i.e., Kaladin's witnessing Tien's death).[6]

When a spiritweb is "cracked" by a traumatic event, it leaves gaps into which something else can fit. On Roshar, this is achieved through a Nahel bond; a spren attaching itself to someone's spiritweb and repairing the connection that was severed.

It is important to note that an individual's spiritweb was never severed completely away from the whole. In the same way ripping a fishing net doesn't destroy the threads, the pieces are still there, just separated. Adding more thread (in this case, a Spiritual bond with a spren) leaves one with a bigger web than one had before. That, coupled with the fact that this material is a portion of the power of Adonalsium itself, is what grants someone the ability to Surgebind.


Cosmere IS

The Cosmere Constellation Map
Artwork by Isaac Stewart

The cosmere has a similar structure as the universe with which readers are intimately familiar ... inclusive of galaxies, solar systems, and the like.[7] Within the cosmere, there are an untold number of inhabited worlds and ten Shardworlds, each of which has a soul,[8] where there is Shardic presence and which take part in the overarching story. Nine Shards and their respective locations are known. These include the following ...

World Shards Books Magic System
Ashyn None,[9] (Odium)[10] The Silence Divine Unknown
Braize Odium Unknown Unknown
First of
the Sun
None Sixth of the Dusk Aviar
Nalthis Endowment Warbreaker BioChroma
Roshar Honor, Cultivation, (Odium) The Stormlight Archive Old Magic, Soulcasting, Surgebinding, Voidbinding
Scadrial Preservation, Ruin (eventually, Harmony) Mistborn Trilogy, Mistborn Adventures Series Hemalurgy, Allomancy, Feruchemy
Sel Devotion, Dominion Elantris, The Emperor's Soul The Dor, Forgery, Bloodsealing, Dakhor, and hints of a Jendo power
Taldain Autonomy White Sand[11] Sand Mastery
Threnody None[12] Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell Shades
Vax Unknown Referenced in Elantris, Mistborn: Secret History Unknown
Yolen Unknown

Dragonsteel, Liar of Partinel


There are many worlds in the cosmere that are inhabited, but upon which no Shards currently reside. Though the lives, passions, and beliefs of the people are important, regardless of which world on which they reside, only a few of these worlds have relevance to the greater cosmere at large.[13]

This is mostly due to the fact that travel on and off the worlds (at least in the Physical Realm) is dependent upon perpendicularities - places where a person can transition from Shadesmar onto the world itself. If a world doesn't have a perpendicularity, then it can be studied from the Cognitive Realm, but cannot truly be visited.[14]


Ashyn is known as a burning world within the Rosharan system, which suffered a cataclysm long ago. People there live in very small pockets of survivability, including the famous floating cities.[15]


Farthest out of the three in the Rosharan system, despite being cold and inhospitable to men, Braize is home to an ecosystem of self-aware Splinters. (The local parlance would call them spren.) Khriss believes that it's possible some of these are actually Cognitive Shadows, but research on Braize is difficult and dangerous, so she'll hold back on theorizing for the moment.[16]

First of the SunEdit

First of the Sun is a member of the Drominad system, which is comprised of three worlds inhabited by fully developed human societies. (There is also a fourth world in the habitable zone.) This is unique in the cosmere; only the Rosharan system can rival it, and there one of the planets is inhabited solely by Splinters.[17]

All four of these worlds have water as a dominant feature. And one of them, the first world, has a perpendicularity. It remains a mystery as to just how this is possible because there is no Shard residing in the system.[18]


Main article: Roshar
Main article: Rosharan System


The inner Scadrian system is basically empty, save for Scadrial ... which is fortuitous, considering the vast changes the system has undergone because of its Shards.[19]

She states that the remarkable thing about Scadrial is how well humankind has flourished on it, despite the world's repeated cataclysms. She believes that other worlds in the cosmere have seen worse disasters, but that on none of them will one find a thriving, technologically advanced society as exists on Scadrial.[20]

A now dishardic world, Scadrial is characterized by a host of unique features. It is one of only two places in the cosmere where humankind does not predate the arrival of Shards. Indeed, from her studies, Khriss is convinced that the world itself did not exist before its Shards. Preservation and Ruin arrived in the system, then picked a star with no relevant worlds in orbit, specifically choosing the location because it was empty, so they could place there whatever they wished.[21]

Because the Shards undoubtedly used humans from Yolen as a model in creating life, the flora and fauna on Scadrial are very similar to what one would find on Yolen.[22]

Though the Shards created this world together, it quickly became the symbol of - and prize - in their conflict. This conflict is manifested directly in the ways that Investiture is used on Scadrial.[23]

This is a powerful magic, and one where humans themselves have often had access to grand bursts of strength. Periodically throughout Scadrial's history, a man or woman gained access to vast amounts of power, with incredible effects. Star charts list two orbits for Scadrial. The world was literally moved at various points by individuals wielding immense amounts of Investiture.[24]


Sel is home to multiple empires that, uniquely, have remained somewhat ignorant of one another. It is a willful kind of ignorance, with each of the three domains pretending that the others are barely worth notice.[25]

The world itself facilitates this, as it is larger than most. Vast continents and sweeping oceans create a diverse landscape, with an extreme amount of variation upon it. Here there are both snow-covered plains and expansive deserts.[26]

This world is notable for being dishardic, as it is one of few in the cosmere to have attracted two separate Shards of Adonalsium: Devotion and Dominion. These Shards were extremely influential in the development of human societies on Sel.[27]

Because the Cognitive Realm has distinct locations, magic on Sel is very dependent upon physical position. In addition, the rules of perception and intent are greatly magnified on this world, to the point that language - or similar functions - directly shapes the magic as it is pulled from the Cognitive Realm and put to use.[28]

This overlap between language, location, and magic on Sel has become so integral to the system that subtle changes in one can have profound effects on how the Dor is accessed.[29]


Taldain is a tidally locked world trapped between the gravitational forces of two stars in a binary system. The smaller star is a weak white dwarf that, enveloped in a particulate ring, is barely visible from the Darkside of the world.[30]

The ultraviolet light that that shines through the ring causes a certain reflective luminescence in much of the plant and animal life.[31]

On the other side of the world is Dayside, which faces the larger of the two stars, a blue-white supergiant around which the dwarf orbits. The sun is a dominating fixture of Dayside, which is primarily a vast sandy desert, with most of the flora and fauna living beneath the surface.[32]

For years, Taldainians assumed that their Shard, Autonomy, had Invested only Dayside, through the sunlight itself. It is not as simple as this, though the mechanism is best explained under such assumption. The Investiture beats down from the sky, and is absorbed by a microflora that grows like a lichen on the surface of the sand, giving it its brilliant white color (when that Investiture is depleted).[33]

Giving water to the tiny plant causes a chain reaction of sudden growth, energy, and Realmatic transition. Certain people can control this reaction, using the water from their own bodies to forge a brief Cognitive bond. They can draw Investiture (in very small amounts) directly from the Spiritual Realm, and use that to control the sand.[34]

Though the effect is dramatic, the actual power used is quite small. This is a magic more about finesse than raw strength.[35]

Dayside is home to two prominent cultures, while Darkside is more hospitable and varied. The flora and fauna of both sides are remarkable, though currently prospective visitors are - unfortunately - unable to experience them directly. Autonomy's policy of isolationism in recent times (in direct contrast with her interference with other worlds) has prevented travel to and from Taldain for many, many years.[36]


The Threnodite system was warped by an ancient conflict. Long ago, soon after the Shattering, Odium clashed with (and mortally wounded) the Shard Ambition here. Ambition would later be Splintered, but this act took place in a different location.[37]

The direct clash between these two Shards had a profound effect on the world's of this system. Though the actual battle took place in the vast space between worlds - and though the true contest occurred mostly in other Realms - the ripples of destruction and change washed through the system.[38]

Threnody is the third world in the system. Some measure of Investiture must have existed on this world before the battle between the Shards. However, the waves of destruction - carrying ripped-off chunks of Ambition's power - twisted both the people and the world of Threnody.[39]

The world is home to two separate continents, one of which has been abandoned. Expedition from the smaller continent to explore have vanished, and the place is dangerous to visit even in the Cognitive Realm.[40]

The smaller continent is a frontier, mostly unexplored and unnamed, with several bastions of civilization. One of the largest of these was set up haphazardly by refugees fleeing across the ocean, lacking some basic necessities. They focused on making it a fortress first, and a home second.[41]

People on Threnody are afflicted with a particular ailment that - upon death - sometimes turns them into Cognitive Shadows. For example, a spirit infused with extra Investiture will often imprint upon that very power. This excess Investiture can attain the ability to remain sapient after being separated from its Physical form. Locally, the people think of these things as ghosts, though they really are instantiations of barely self-aware Investiture.[42]

Visiting Threnody is difficult, as there is no stable perpendicularity - only very unstable ones that cannot be predicted easily, and have a somewhat morbid origin.[43]


The map of Shadesmar within the endpapers of The Way of Kings provides the Expanses of the Vapors (Scadrial), the Densities (Nalthis) and the Broken Sky (Sel). The Expanse of Vibrance is - as yet - an unknown world location in Shadesmar.[44] However, this map displays the direction of these other worlds within the cosmere.

World SystemsEdit

Magic SystemsEdit

Each world has its own magic system. On worlds where one or more Shard is present, the magic is bent to the Intent(s) of each Shard.

Each human has an innate amount of Investiture built into them. The ways in which this Investiture may be used for magic vary from world to world and most worlds have multiple forms of related magic.

Passive MagicsEdit

Some magics are passive, allowing anyone who has a certain amount of Investiture to use that magic.


Nalthis: Breath on Nalthis has both passive and active uses which can be accessed by anyone who has sufficient Investiture (Breath).

Scadrial: Feruchemy is latent to a Terris person's spiritweb.[45] It allows them to store various aspects (including base Investiture) for later access.

Triggered MagicsEdit

Some forms of magic require a certain trigger for the magic to be accessed. In these cases, the magic must find "cracks" or pathways in the person's spiritweb or soul to "fill in" or follow.


Nalthis: Returned are returned from death with a broken Cognitive aspect, losing all of their prior memories. There are indications that this is a choice presented by Endowment upon death. This rewrites the Returned's Cognitive connections and allows them to change their various physical aspects.

Roshar: Both Honor and Odium grant magic based on specific pathways in the spiritweb as defined by the ideals of their Order. The Old Magic requires rewriting of the person's spiritweb to allow for the required changes.

Scadrial: Allomancy requires the practitioner to "snap" which is usually a near-death experience.

Sel: AonDor and Dakhor are location based and require a transformation of the subject which rewrites the person's spiritweb.

World-based MagicsEdit

Some other methods of accessing magic seem to exist for which it seems to be purely world-based with no need for spiritweb/sDNA match but only skill and access to materials.


Scadrial: Hemalurgy utilizes Invested metal to rip sections out of a person's spiritweb or Cognitive aspect and patch them into another person's spiritweb or Cognitive aspect. No magical ability need already exist or be extant in the practitioner.

Sel: Forgery and Bloodsealing use objects with innate Investiture, Soulstone and human blood respectively. Only skill seems to be needed.


It has been explained that all things exist between three Realms: Physical, Cognitive and Spiritual in the cosmere. A reader has surmised that different things "exist more" in a certain Realm than another, though all things have some presence in the three. Humans appear to "exist more" in the Physical Realm. Spren appear to "exist more" in the Cognitive Realm (i.e., Shadesmar in The Stormlight Archive). Investiture appears to have various forms in the Physical Realm (e.g., Allomantic metals, mist, Stormlight).

However, the time between each of the original 99 Desolations was made up; there were much fewer of them. Brandon has stated that the cosmere runs along a 10,000 year gap and that Roshar falls right into the middle of the timeline. He has said, "That should give you a perspective of the timeline and events of the Desolations."

Article by Chris Lough here.

Q&A with BrandonEdit

Q. Does Investiture have a consistent form (regardless of magic system and its physical form) in one of the other Realms?

A. It's consistent in the Spiritual Realm. Location isn't particularly important there.

Q. Vasher has shown that he can substitue his need for Breath with another Investiture (presumably Stormlight). To what extent is Investiture interchangeable between magic systems?

A. Very interchangeable, but not always simple to apply. (Sel's magics are regional, and so they are going to be tough. Scadrial's magics are the easiest.[46])

Q. Is Investiture finite? Hemalurgy and a Returned's need to consume breath seem to show that it can be destroyed. If it is finite, is the cosmere's magic source doomed to the law of entropy?

A. Investiture can not be created or destroyed. It follows it's own version of the laws of thermodynamics.[47]

Q. Can any two Shards be joined together, like Preservation and Ruin, or does it depend on their Intents?

A. Any can be joined, theoretically, but boy, some of the pairings would have an odd resulting pressure on the one holding them. And similar intents make for an easier time melding.[48]

Q. Since we generally don't see inhabitants of your worlds refer to their planets by name, where do the names come from?

A. From Worldhoppers, Shards, and those who know about the cosmere.[49]