Investiture is a Spiritual aspect in the cosmere. It is also the term for someone who, or something which, has gained a portion of the magic of Adonalsium. It describes one of the core principles common to magic systems across the cosmere, whereby through some mechanism, people or objects can become Invested with various magical powers.
On Roshar - which is an extremely Invested world when compared to most others - the Investing of an object is done by infusing it with Stormlight. Shardblades and Shardplate are Invested objects. That which is specific to Roshar is that Investiture manifests in the Physical Realm.
This has to do with the nature of the magic systems in the cosmere. They interfere with one another (i.e., Investiture resists Investiture). Something that contains a lot of power resists the efforts of magic to influence it. A strong spirit can interfere as well. The more Investiture something has the more difficult it is to affect.
This is the reason why Shardblades don't just slice through other Shardblades and why people wearing Shardplate are difficult to affect with Lashings.
Investiture left alone, especially in bigger amounts, will either look for some holder, or develop sentience on its own. The developing sentience might not be an easy or fast process, yet matter in the outer-cosmere-developed sentience too. Gaining sentience or sapience by Investiture is a cosmere-wide thing, and it started happening on its own on Sel, for example.
Investiture also extends the lives of the Heralds.
Types of Investiture
Investitures, (i.e., magic systems) in the cosmere are defined by the following categories, with the overwhelming majority of cases belonging to one of the first.
- End-positive: meaning that the practitioner draws in power from an external source.
- End-neutral: meaning that power is neither gained nor lost.
- End-negative: meaning that some power is lost in the practice of it.
The following descriptions are also relevant:
- Innate Investiture: meaning when a person is a conduit to/from the Spiritual Realm.
- Kinetic Investiture: meaning energy/power that is being actively (currently) used.
- Anti-Investiture: meaning a certain resource that Brandon needed to get into the cosmere for use in the future, though one that has been core material for a long time. He needed another tool for the late part of the cosmere, when readers have figured out Cognitive Shadows (i.e., how one might destroy a Cognitive Shadow). Throw some anti-Investiture at them and that's guaranteed; that Shadow will be killed.
On Sel, the Dor (which is a combination of Dominion's and Devotion's power without a Vessel to direct it) is trapped in the Cognitive Realm. This causes the Investiture which fuels magics on Sel to be affected by location. (Normally, Investiture comes from the Spiritual Realm, which is unaffected by location.) The earthquake and resulting chasm on Sel caused a change in the landscape related to Elantrian magic, which resulted in the magic failing until Raoden added the chasm line to the Aon built into Elantris and the surrounding towns.
Investiture is just one word to describe the fundamental power by which peoples bend the forces of the cosmere with Intent to their will. Phrases like Surgebinding, burning metals, drawing Aons, and sand shaping are all - in effect - the manipulation of Investiture. When something or someone is considered Invested, it or s/he holds a portion of divine power or potential. Stormlight is possibly the best example because the body literally thrums with unbridled power that is then translated into a focus by the user via a bond to a spren.
With regard to focus, this is the nature and shape that the power takes. On Sel, the Elantrians use the complex shapes and markings of Aon Dor to dictate the shape and power of Investiture. While this is a complex system to master, it holds the most fluidity. In application, it is near limitless in what it can do with the right knowledge. However, the Elantrian's power is, for the most part, limited to the geographical location of Sel, even to specific continents. This can be called an open concept manifestation, because it really has no set shape or application.
On the other hand, the best example of a closed concept manifestation of Investiture can be found in Allomancy. By its nature, Allomancy is limited by very harsh rules. The metals that can be burned to access Investiture need to be pure and properly mixed as alloys in order to work. An Allomancer who burns metals that are impure or improperly crafted can get sick or die from the mistake. The benefit is that the powers granted by Allomancy are dependable and simple. However, there is little to nothing more to be learned. All Allomancers are limited to the powers of the metals, no matter the skill or experience of the user. This means quick and adaptable powers, but severe limitations in shaping the Investiture that gives them power.
The application of each type of Investing can range to fit a variety of settings, but each one must take a unique course to the eventual goal. The paths to Investiture vary in form and execution just as how languages differ between different nations. All language seeks to bring together understanding, but the execution can be very different between different peoples and usually are not compatible with each other.
Investiture may likely be the same, although there might be limitations to using said powers. However, the proper metals and alloy mixes are useful to Allomancers, no matter where they physically are. Elantrians can employ Investiture outside of Sel, although how they overcome the natural geographical limits to their powers remains in question.
Travel in the cosmere might well be impossible if the beings who traverse it ultimately do not have access to the powers of their homelands. The power of the Spiritual Realm is accessable in all places in the cosmere. Unlike the Physical and Cognitive Realms, it seems there is no apparent change in the ability to access the Spiritual Realm no matter the location of the individual. So the limitation is found in the abilities to access the power itself.
Each world is governed by a different set of natural laws that determine who can access the power and how that Investiture can be used. On Nalthis, each person is born with an endowment of Investiture called Breath. It is a small connection to the cosmere itself and has little effect. But it can generously be given to others, and with enough Breath one can command once living objects into servitude.
On Roshar, the spren form a bridge between the Investiture of Stormlight for use by the Radiant to whom they are bonded. The Parshendi are able to bond spren as well, but their bond is not the same as the Nahel bond, which is only to humans.
Words and symbols hold the key on Sel, where Elantrians draw patterns in the air to give shape to the Dor, and Dakor etch their will onto the bones. There are whispers of other arts of Forging with ink and blood that shape the fabric of reality itself. But what all these forms share is the dependence of a physical drawing that shapes the Investiture into what they need.
The world Taldain reveals shapers of the sand, who manipulate and mold the sand found on that world.
On Scadrial, the Allomancers use the metallic arts. The use of metals manifests physical, mental, enhancement, and temporal power through three known forms. Allomancers draw Investiture directly from the source and use the power in a limited fashion. Feruchemists on Scadrial store their natural attributes by saving them up into the metals, using them like the gemstones on Roshar to store the abilities for later use, and can use them in an accelerated rate. And then there is Hemalurgy, darkest of arts of Investiture, which destroys life to steal power from the sacrifice, to then spike it into another’s soul.
- Paraphrased from transcript.
Q&A with Brandon
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.)
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 cannot be created or destroyed. It follows it's own version of the laws of thermodynamics.