Shadesmar is a plane of existence. It is the Cognitive Realm, and binds the other two realms of existence (Physical and Spiritual) together. According to Azure, it is also the realm of thought. According to Shallan, she peeks into Shadesmar when she Soulcasts. Further, that Shadesmar overlaps the real world, but that many things are inverted there.
Shadesmar can be visited by those with an inherent Soulcasting ability, or those who have a Soulcasting fabrial. So far, the only known characters to travel there are Shallan, Jasnah, Kaladin, Adolin, Azure, and Mayalaran. Among these few, Shallan and Jasnah are the only ones to travel there on their own as a result of each their abilities.
Most people only interact with Shadesmar subconsciously through intuition or artistic expression, but Shadesmar is all around everyone all the time. It is the way that the cognitive self - unconscious self - experiences the world. Through hidden senses touching that realm, one makes intuitive leaps in logic and forms hopes. Created by the deep, profound thoughts of people, it is then shaped by spren.
Lay of the Land
Geographically, it appears to be a reflection of Roshar, with its inland seas corresponding exactly to the shape of the land of Roshar (i.e., therein, land and sea are reversed). Within it - alphabetically - are:
However, the endpapers of The Way of Kings (as depicted above) shows the Expanse of the Broken Sky,* the Expanse of the Densities (Sel), and the Expanse of the Vapors (Scadrial). The Expanse of Vibrance is - as yet - an unknown world location in Shadesmar. If one walks far enough in the direction of one of these Expanses, one can arrive on another world as this map displays the direction of these other worlds within the cosmere.
Shallan describes Shadesmar as an endless sea of tiny black beads that appear to be made of glass. There, the sky is black and a small white sun above the horizon seems as though it is not far away. Above the sea of beads, flames hover "like the tips of candles floating in the air and moving in the wind".
To Jasnah, the place is alien, with ridges and mountains of pure black obsidian, and a landscape that is perpetually dim. Small beads of glass roll about her feet - representations of inanimate objects in the Physical Realm.
Flora and Fauna
Shallan observes a strange rock growth that looks something like a mushroom made from obsidian, the height of a tree. She thinks she's seen its like before, during one of her glimpses into Shadesmar. Pattern said it was alive, but very, very slow.
Kaladin wonders whether he feels wind in Shadesmar, but doesn't think so.
The glass beads of the sea are the souls of things in the physical world.
Humans in the Physical Realm are represented in Shadesmar as lights like floating candle flames.
Gemstone infusion cannot be renewed in Shadesmar.
Space isn't a one-to-one correlation in Shadesmar. To Adolin, things seem more compressed there, specifically in the vertical dimension.
There are actually caravans that go through Shadesmar. They almost always stop at Roshar to resupply through the Horneater Peaks. So if one knows what one is doing, one could trade for food. There is food in a lot of the way-stops and in the cities.
Shallan's Initial Experience
As Shallan finishes a drawing of Kabsal, she notices that she’s included a figure in the background standing behind him that has the outline of a body, but some sort of symbol in place of where its head should be. Shallan is upset and feels she is losing her mind. She runs from the room, away from Kabsal and Jasnah. As she waits for the lift to take her down, she takes a Memory of Kabsal standing in the doorway looking after her and quickly sketches it, only to see more of the symbolheads above him.
She rushes to the main cavern where she again takes a Memory and begins sketching, only this time she draws five figures with symbols for heads, which seem to be following her. She runs to her room, locks the door behind her, and continues drawing. The creatures are now mere inches away from her. Shallan reaches out and feels something, even though she can’t see anything. She tries to bring out a Soulcaster to use against them, but thinks better of it.
Soon after, the room around her changes and she finds herself in a place with a black sky and a small white sun. All around her are beads - a sea of tiny glass beads. She grabs one and hears a voice say "You want me to change?" The voice is different than the one she had heard in her room just moments before, and seems to come from the bead itself.
|“||"I’ve been as I am for a great long time," the warm voice said. "I sleep so much. I will change. Give me what you have."
"I don’t know what you mean! Please, help me!"
"I will change."
–Presumably, the soul of a vase to Shallan
Shallan then feels extremely cold as if the heat has been pulled out of her. The bead in her hand becomes warm and she drops it. She falls back and finds herself returned to her room. A goblet near her has melted into blood - one of the ten essences. Shallan has just Soulcast. Startled, she knocks over and breaks a glass water pitcher.
Shallan wonders if the symbolhead-creatures caused her to Soulcast, but she had seen them long before she had the Soulcaster in her possession. She also wonders why she had been able to Soulcast, as the Soulcaster had still been in her safepouch.
Later, Pattern grants Shallan access to Shadesmar when she speaks a truth to him about herself; the stronger and more secret the truth, the stronger the bond between spren and Soulcaster.
Shallan was pulled into the sea of glass beads when she visited there with only one dun sphere, but she has very little control over what goes on there. After having been rescued by Jasnah therein, she is told that what she did is incredibly dangerous. Further, that the more infused spheres one has, the easier it is to manipulate Shadesmar.
Jasnah is able to locate the Wind's Pleasure with ease, but since within Shadesmar, land and sea are reversed, where she stands there on solid ground, in the Physical Realm, Shallan and the sailors are still onboard their ship. They manifest within Shadesmar as lights, similar to candle flames, and Jasnah thinks of them as representations of each person’s soul, despite that Ivory told her that such was an extreme simplification.
Further, for years she'd been trying to get Ivory to bring her into his world. Though she could peek into Shadesmar on her own - and even slip one foot in, so to speak - entering fully required his help.
(The full post-Words-of-Radiance chapter from Jasnah's perspective on the events that lead to her Transportation to Shadesmar is here.)
Adolin finds himself kneeling on a white marble platform with a black sky overhead, a cold sun - if it could even be called that - hanging at the end of a roadway of clouds. An ocean of shifting glass beads, clattering against one another. Tens of thousands of flames, like the tips of oil lamps, hovering above that ocean.
And the spren. Terrible, awful spren swarm in the ocean of beads, bearing a multitude of nightmare forms. They twist and writhe, howling with inhuman voices. He doesn't recognize any of the varieties.
But what of the pretty, blue-white spren girl (i.e., Syl)? The creature with the stiff robe and a mesmerizing, impossible symbol instead of a head (i.e., Pattern)? What of the woman with the scratched-out eyes (i.e., Maya)? And the two enormous spren (i.e., Oathgate Spren) standing overhead, with spears?
When team Shallan drops into Shadesmar, Azure says, "Damnation. I hate this place." "I passed through it when I first came to your land about a year ago. I had guides then ... ." "I'm from a far land, and I came to Roshar by crossing this place ... . I used a portal between realms. Cultivation's perpendicularity ... ."
Shallan's Later Experience
While aboard this vessel, Shallan and her companions spend their first week in the ship's hold. The spren give no explanation when - finally - they're released and allowed to move on deck, so long as they don't make nuisances of themselves.
There is an extensive article on tor.com about what readers know of Shadesmar thus far here.
There is yet another one here.
Q&A with Brandon
Q. Do the Spiritual and Physical Realms have names, like Shadesmar is the Cognitive Realm?
A. Kind of, but not really. Shadesmar is just a rough translation of "Cognitive Realm" in the language of whoever first found out about it. Other people, planets, and worlds wouldn't call it Shadesmar - they would call it whatever their words for "Cognitive Realm" are. This applies to the Physical and Spiritual as well.
Q. If a planet was orbiting a black hole, would time be distorted in the Cognitive Realm in that area the same way?
* Since Raboniel tells Navani to stay away from Braize - despite that one can travel to other worlds through Shadesmar - because even if one could get through the barrier storm there, the place is barren, devoid of life, merely a dark sky, with endless windswept crags, and a broken landscape, it sounds like Braize could fit the Expanse of Broken Sky.
Since Shadesmar is a representation of the Cognitive Realm, it exists in the same time and place as the Physical Realm. It's all around all the time, but people don't really see it because they are firmly rooted in the Physical. It has been theorized that those people who do see parts, are typically only doing so subconsciously. Strong emotions and thoughts seem to make that easier. For example, when Shallan is drawing, she can see Cryptics because she is more connected to the Cognitive Realm while she is creating art. The same is true of Elhokar, who is so severely paranoid that he can see Cryptics over his shoulder when he looks into mirrors. They aren't actually 'in' the Cognitive Realm, they're just glimpsing it. Then, there's Soulcasting. When Shallan Soulcasts, she certainly 'seems' to be in Shadesmar; she's floating in the ocean of little beads, but she has very little control over what goes on, and is told by Jasnah that what she did is incredibly dangerous.
Suppose that most people who 'go' to Shadesmar don't really go there, per se. Even Jasnah herself says that Shadesmar is not really a place because it's the same place in which one already is, just a different representation of it. Most of the time, the difference is where one's consciousness is. Think about spren. Spren are from the Cognitive Realm, and that is where they really exist. Spren like Pattern look completely different in the Physical Realm than they do in the Cognitive Realm because it is unnatural for them to be in the Physical. It is only their bond with humans that allows them the ability to think outside of the Cognitive Realm, just like the bond with the spren allows humans to have consciousness in the Cognitive. Still, in both cases, neither is actually fully 'there'. That's why spren can't really move things in the Physical Realm, and it's why Shadesmar is so dangerous for people. While Shallan 'sees' and 'feels' Shadesmar, her body remains in the Physical Realm. When Soulcasting, people only travel to the Cognitive Realm mentally, not physically. This is known because neither Shallan nor Jasnah disappear when they Soulcast; only each their consciousness shifts completely into the Cognitive Realm, not their bodies.
However, Jasnah is an Elsecaller. While using one of her two abilities (i.e., Transformation), she is just glimpsing the Cognitive Realm the same way that Shallan does, in order to Soulcast. Her other ability is Transportation, though, and that allows her to actually, physically go to Shadesmar.
The difference is made visible when Hoid is waiting for Jasnah and she suddenly appears. She was fully in the Cognitive Realm and then returned from it to be fully in the Physical Realm. This is something that Hoid, as a Worldhopper, can also do (and without a bond with a spren).
So, Jasnah may have faked her own death in two parts: first, she Soulcast her blood to save her life after being stabbed. Then, in the confusion, she Transported herself to the relative safety of the Cognitive Realm and stayed there until everyone was sure she was good as dead.
- Q&A with Brandon Sanderson
- Oathbringer, 89. Damnation
- The Way of Kings, 45. Shadesmar
- The Way of Kings, 72. Veristitalian
- Words of Radiance, Epilogue - Art And Expectation
- Oathbringer, 87. This Place
- Words of Radiance, 1. Santhid
- Book signing, San Francisco, CA, 11/15/17
- Book signing, Orem, UT, 12/6/14
- Book signing, Omaha, NB, 5/17/13
- Jasnah's impression ...
- Oathbringer, 97. Riino
- Oathbringer, 99. Reachers
- Rhythm of War, 22. No Use Talking
- FanX 2021, 9/16/21
- The Way of Kings, 70. Sea of Glass
- Jasnah's "murder" ...
- Jasnah's entrance ...
- Jasnah's method ...
- Oathbringer, 93. Kata
- Oathbringer, 108. Honor's Path
- FanX 2021, 9/16/21
- YouTube Livestream 32, 6/3/21
- Rhythm of War, 89. Voice Of Lights
- Words of Radiance, 80. To Fight The Rain
- Words of Radiance, 7. Open Flame