The default state of Shards in the Cosmere tends to be rather diffuse in the Physical Realm. Preservation and Ruin manifested mainly as mists (in Preservation’s case basically covering the inhabited regions of the planet), with other manifestations including Shardpools, Atium, and so forth. Odium is described as being a blinding golden light, and the Stormfather, the largest Splinter of Honor, seems to inhabit whole highstorms. While there’s no information yet on how Autonomy, Cultivation, and Endowment manifest (or how Ambition, Dominion, and Devotion manifested), we certainly haven’t seen them manifest a living form.

Further, the act of taking the power of Preservation burned away Vin’s body, as it (and the power of Ruin) did to Sazed’s body.

On the other hand, when a Shard is killed their body apparently reappears, so it’s “out there” somewhere.

Finally, we know that Autonomy has appeared as a wide variety of deities on Taldain, so perhaps that requires physical form? On the other hand, perhaps it merely requires Cognitive contact, say.

Can a Shard voluntarily manifest a physical, living body, either their own or that of another?

  • I don't think this is yet answerable, other than what you've already said: their bodies reappear when they die, and they can make avatars of themselves in the cognitive realm (see Sazed walking with Wax, presumably Stormfather talking with Dalinar, some of the Secret History interactions). It may be a kinda contractual thing wherein taking the shard sacrifices your body?
    – fbstj
    Oct 2, 2017 at 10:00
  • IIRC, Ruin appeared to Vin as Reen while she was locked in the cavern in Fadrex City. It's not clear whether this was only in her mind or whether anyone could have seen Reen, but he did have an allomantic pulse, giving away his true identity as Ruin, which I imagine Ruin would have hidden if he could. Does that count? Oct 2, 2017 at 10:27
  • @Adamant - I think you mean Vessel.
    – amflare
    Oct 2, 2017 at 14:01
  • Eh... probably? Yes? Easily, no? I'll have to work on my speculation
    – Radhil
    Oct 2, 2017 at 15:41

1 Answer 1



Brandon Sanderson has recently confirmed that all Shards can manifest physically.

Argent: Can Shards manifest a physical body that can actually interact with the Physical Realm?

Brandon Sanderson: If they wanted to, yes.

Argent: Was that the thing that Odium did at the end of Oathbringer or was that just a projection?

Brandon Sanderson: Uhm, it starts to be really difficult to define when you're getting to these points because they generally are such massive wells of Investiture themselves that it's like, is this thing they're creating, like, they are kinda, y'know, then bending the three Realms around the like spacetime with lots of gravity so is that a projection? Is that a real thing? Does it matter? Does that definition...

Argent: Oh! At that point they are almost the same thing, right?

Brandon Sanderson: Yes, exactly.
JordanCon (April 2018)

Questioner: Other Shards, other than Odium and Cultivation, can take physical form, right?

Brandon Sanderson: Yes.

Questioner: Are there any Shards that can't?

Brandon Sanderson: No.

Questioner: Could Ruin have taken physical form in The Well of Ascension?

Brandon Sanderson: So, yes. What it really counts to be physical, for someone like a Shard, is subject to debate, but he could have done some of the things that others have done. There were certain restrictions on both Ruin and Preservation, because of the deal that they had set up, that would not have made doing that very useful. But there is possibility he could have.
The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson (Oct 2018)

Now, to be clear, while a Shard, or more specifically, a Vessel can manifest a physical presence, they can not become a physical form as that would be far too limiting.

The Physical form of a Shard (independent of the Vessel) is a solid that only does one thing or otherwise limits the power to a single type. Think Atium or Honorblades.

In physical form [the power of a Shard] is rigid and does one specific thing.
Brandon Sanderson (Oct 17, 2008)

The Coppermind article on Shards provides a good summary on the metaphysical reasoning for this and is very well sourced, so I encourage you to go look at that for the specifics that are only tangentially related to this answer.

Regarding the Vessel/Mind of a Shard (Leras, Ati, Vin, Sazed, Rayse etc), there has never been any indication that they want to manifest themselves physically. Preservation appeared as an incorporeal form fairly often in the physical world whenever there was mist about. Ruin, Harmony, and Odium (at minimum) can all project themselves into someone's mind, and do this on a regular basis. Though, this seems to take a lot of focus at the expense of their more general omnipresence.

For instance, she had learned that Ruin could either manifest in person or affect her from a distance. When its actual presence was not with her in the cell, Ruin's words were far more simple and vague.
The Hero of Ages - Chapter 57

Sanderson is fairly clear about the fact that a Shard's Power is basically incompatible with a living Physical form.

So when a person is burning metals, they aren't using Preservation's body as a fuel so to speak—though they are tapping into the powers of creation just slightly. When Vin burns the mists, however, she'd doing just that—using the essence of Preservation, the Shard of Adonalsium itself—to fuel Allomancy. Doing this, however, rips 'troughs' through her body. It's like forcing far too much pressure through a very small, fragile hose. That much power eventually vaporizes the corporeal host, which is acting as the block and forcing the power into a single type of conduit (Allomancy) and frees it to be more expansive.
Brandon Sanderson (Oct 17, 2008)

You can see when both Vin and Sazed Accended, they both lost their physical forms.

The mist swirled in a final tempest, the circular motion growing faster—yet tighter—as the final wisps of mist spun down and were pulled into Vin's body.


Vin began to tremble. She gasped, feeling the fire within her blaze hotter and hotter. It was Allomancy as she'd never known it. It felt as if she had never understood it. The power was far greater than metals, mere Pushes and Pulls. It was something awesomely more vast. A power that men had used, yet never comprehended.


And then, Vin vanished.
The Hero of Ages - Chapter 73

[Sazed] slammed his arms into the twin mists and seized the powers offered to him. He drew them in, feeling them infuse his body, making him burn. His flesh and bones evaporated, but as they did, he tapped his copperminds, dumping their entire contents into his expanding consciousness.
The Hero of Ages - Chapter 82

That said, a Vessel can give up a Shard, in which case, I assume they regain their physical form. Though whether alive or dead (like at the end of The Hero of Ages) is unclear and has not yet happened as far as we know.

Questioner: Can holders of Shards give them up voluntarily?

Brandon Sanderson: Yes, a Vessel for a Shard of Adonalsium can give up their power if they wish.
FAQFriday 2017 (Jan 2017)

(all emphasis mine)

  • The Word of Brandon is good... but I can't help but wonder if he isn't making a plot hole for himself somewhere. We know pieces of Honor wound up as the Honorblades, it doesn't seem that out of line to make something manifest (statue? make it metal?), and give it words, even if it wouldn't exactly qualify as the entire Shard walking the earth.
    – Radhil
    Oct 4, 2017 at 17:16
  • @Radhil - Pedantically speaking, there is a difference between Shard, Sliver, and Splinter. I tried to focus on the Shard for my answer, but I do agree, Splinters throw this whole thing into (even more) confusion.
    – amflare
    Oct 4, 2017 at 17:27
  • I’d update this answer to reflect information from Oathbringer. Without giving too much away, we see some seemingly physical interactions between Shard avatars and humans, but with some evidence that those interactions aren’t visible to others.
    – Adamant
    Nov 15, 2017 at 9:52
  • 1
    I think it would make sense to try to situate the earlier answer in the context of the later one, because I don't think they're at all inconsistent. When someone takes in too much Investiture, their body vaporizes. But once they have control of all that Investiture, it's a trivial thing to make a physical, speaking projection, or even a body (looking at what Harmony, admittedly an extrapowerful Shard whose powers were Invested in the planet, was able to do to reshape people and the environment, it would be surprising if they couldn't).
    – Adamant
    Jan 9, 2019 at 6:36
  • 1
    It's like, if you want to build a skyscraper on top of your house, obviously your house is going to have to get smashed to rubble. But once you have all the space of that skyscraper to work with, there's no reason you can't rebuild every single room of your house, or even the outer appearance, in or on the skyscraper. The key is that now that skyscraper (i.e. the diffuse body of the Shard) still exists, even if the house is rebuilt, and it's a whole lot more useful than the house you had to destroy to build it.
    – Adamant
    Jan 9, 2019 at 6:44

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