Welcome back to the world of Roshar! I hope you all enjoyed Drew’s Cosmere primer last week; there’s more to come from him on Cosmere personnel in the near future. This week, we return to Explaining the Stormlight Archive by examining what we know of the secret societies currently (or in the recent past) active on Roshar.
Warning: This series will contain spoilers for all of The Stormlight Archive published so far, and will occasionally draw on Words of Brandon (WoB) for supporting information. We’ll do our best to avoid spoilers for other series, or to mark them if they really need to be included. We make no promises about the comment section; however, we’d request that if you want to include spoilers in a comment, please try to white-text them or at least tag them as spoilers so people can skip your comment.
Alice: Before we begin, though, let me introduce Megan Kanne. Megan is an experienced Sanderson beta reader, and has agreed to join in on presenting this series. Megan, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Megan: Absolutely, Alice! Hi everyone. I’m Megan and I first became interested in Sanderson’s books when a friend handed me Mistborn and told me I absolutely had to read it. I couldn’t put it down. I have loved learning more about the Cosmere with each new book since and eventually I joined the beta reader team in 2014.
So let’s dig in, shall we? These secret societies are hard to keep straight, but we’ll do our best to sort them out!
There are nine secret societies active on Roshar as of Words of Radiance (WoB). We’ll discuss the most obvious in whatever detail we can, and speculate about what other groups might be included in that tally. By the end of Oathbringer, some of these societies are no longer secret, but it’s the best starting point we could find.
First up are the Ghostbloods. This secretive group was first referenced in The Way of Kings when Amaram thought they might have tried to kill him (he was wrong, it was Helaran and the Skybreakers). Later their member, Kabsal, tries to kill Jasnah Kholin and instead poisons Shallan. In Words of Radiance, Shallan joins the Ghostbloods after yet another of their attempts to assassinate Jasnah. She begins performing tasks for them while also trying to discover their secrets.
Members of the Ghostbloods must tattoo a symbol of three interlocking diamonds onto their bodies to demonstrate their loyalty. Mraize says that
You may add it to your person wherever you wish, but must prove it to me when we next meet.
A: I’ll admit to some curiosity about where most of them place this tattoo… Luesh wore a pendant with their symbol, but we don’t know where his tattoo was, assuming he had one. One of his contacts had it tattooed just below his thumb, and Kabsal on the inside of his arm. For a secret society, this seems a little … blatant: it has to be someplace that you can easily show it to other members, but not someplace that anyone and everyone can see it and start asking questions. Huh.
M: Plus, Ishnah and the other thugs recognized the symbol when Veil showed it to them in the tavern in Oathbringer. Not terribly secret!
So far as we know, Shallan still hasn’t got her tattoo, despite Mraize’s orders.
Some Ghostbloods are worldhoppers, making one wonder just what the scope of this group might be! (This is good stuff to keep in mind for Drew’s next article, too.) Let’s dig into that further.
Other than Shallan, Mraize is the most prominent Ghostblood we’ve seen. He is Thaylen per a Word of Peter and Mraize is a title, not his name. Iyatil is his babsk, or teacher, in the Ghostbloods. She is from Silverlight and descended from the Southern Scadrians per WoBs.
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Iyatil has supervised Mraize on trips to other planets. This is likely how Mraize assembled the trophy collection Shallan saw in Words of Radiance. His collection includes Invested or important items from around the Cosmere including an Aviar (WoB) and what are theorized to be white sand from Taldain, some Royal Locks, a Tear of Edgli, hemalurgic spikes, and an aether.
A: I keep wondering if the collection belongs to Mraize himself, or the Ghostbloods more broadly. I don’t suppose it really matters, though.
Thaidakar is a high ranking member of the Ghostbloods, who is mentioned but not yet seen on screen. He is first referenced in The Way of Kings prologue by Gavilar who thinks that Thaidakar may have ordered his assassination. Mraize and the Ghostbloods refer to him as “Master Thaidakar” and send him the information Shallan stole from Amaram. Though he is clearly a leader of the Ghostbloods, little is known about him.
M: I wonder why Gavilar told Szeth
You can tell…Thaidakar…that he’s too late….
What had Gavilar done before his death that would make it too late for Thaidakar? Exciting secrets abound!
A: You know, I hadn’t thought about that before. Was it something he’d done that night? The sphere he gave Eshonai? Or one of the many conversations he was having with an odd assortment of people? Or was it something he’d secretly done earlier, that he knew they’d have wanted to prevent if they could?
Shallan’s connection to the Ghostbloods goes deeper than her relationship with Jasnah. Shallan’s father, Lin Davar, may have been involved with the Ghostbloods and his steward, Luesh, certainly was. In The Way of Kings, Shallan recognizes the steward’s pendant symbol as that of the Ghostbloods. The Ghostbloods involvement with the Davar family seems to have outlived Lin Davar, as Mraize delivers Shallan’s brothers to her at the end of Oathbringer as payment for services rendered. Her brothers had been missing since civil war broke out in Jah Keved.
A: Since I have really developed a dislike for Mraize, this makes me horribly uncomfortable. Just how deeply did he sink his hooks in her brothers, anyway?
M: I shudder at the thought. Those men have so many issues aside from having to deal with Mraize.
Little is known about the goals of the Ghostbloods. They are at odds with Jasnah and tried to kill her multiple times. In return, she has killed some of their members, according to Mraize. Jasnah believes this was because she and the Ghostbloods were searching for the same secrets that would lead to Urithiru. Mraize has Shallan spy on Amaram and the Sons of Honor to learn what they have discovered about the Shattered Plains and the path to Urithiru.
In Oathbringer, Mraize asks Shallan to secure Urithiru and drive off the Midnight Mother. Later, he delivers Shallan’s brothers to her and asks her to recruit or capture an Unmade who is willing to turn against Odium, presumably referring to Sja-Anat. In an Interlude, Mraize sets a trap for the Herald Shalash in order to speak with her and tempts her with information about Talenel’s location.
It is unclear what interest the Ghostbloods have in Urithiru, the Unmade, the Heralds, or Roshar in general. What do you think, oh readers? If you have theories, bring them up in the comments!
M: I do recall one theory that the Ghostbloods are primarily an economic organization and want to use Urithiru for interplanetary trade. However, they’ve clearly been able to worldhop without access to the city, as demonstrated by the trophy collection.
The Sons of Honor
The Sons of Honor are another frequently-mentioned secret group, and they seem to be at odds with the Ghostbloods. Whether they’re working at cross purposes, or competing for the same things—or both—remains to be seen. (Probably both!) Though we didn’t know the names at the time, Gavilar’s first assumption in the first Prologue was that his assassination was directed by the Ghostbloods against him as one of the Sons of Honor.
As noted above, the Ghostbloods sent Shallan to determine whether Amaram had information they wanted, and were disturbed that the Sons of Honor had learned so much. Additionally, it looks like the Skybreakers were not in favor of the Sons of Honor activities, given that Helaran’s attempt to kill Amaram was either at their behest, or an attempt to impress them. (At least, assuming Mraize wasn’t lying about that.)
The Sons of Honor was a fairly extensive organization, and grew significantly when Gavilar Kholin joined the group. We’re told he was responsible for recruiting Amaram, and presumably others. Unfortunately, we don’t actually know very much about the specific membership; those two are the only ones we’ve actually “met.”
The sole additional name we have associated with the group is “Restares”—a mysterious figure mentioned multiple times, but never seen. It sounds as though he’s high up, possibly the primary leader; he was the one who directed Amaram to appropriate the Shards Kaladin won in battle and to kill all the witnesses.
A: I have to say, for the “Sons of Honor” leader, Restares doesn’t sound very honorable. “Kill everyone who knows the truth, and seize those Shards! It’s for the good of the Cause, so honor doesn’t matter!”
Their official goal, at least as far as we know now, is to return the Vorin church to power. For some, this may be a matter of religious fervor, but for others it’s about the power itself. Even Amaram, who slants it as religious belief, admits that it’s as much about the rise of Alethkar as Vorinism. The means they’ve chosen is a slightly bizarre one: bring back the Voidbringers by any means necessary, on the theory that the Heralds will then also return, resulting in the exaltation of the one religion who remained true to them. There are some indications that Gavilar may have been more interested in co-opting the Sons of Honor than in actually joining them:
My people need to be united, and I need an empire that won’t simply turn to infighting once I am gone. (Oathbringer Prologue)
Gavilar went so far as to give Eshonai a sphere containing something which he believed would be the beginning of returning the Voidspren and the Unmade, unleashing a war which he would use to “unite them.” It’s pretty clear from the context that he’s been seeing the Stormfather visions (confirmed by WoB). It’s also pretty clear that his goal, while it might result in the rise of Vorinism, is primarily to solidify his own legacy by being The Great Leader to exterminate the “Voidbringers” once and for all.
A: Gavilar was sort of obsessed by this whole legacy thing, wasn’t he? I find it absolutely bizarre that he would try to convince Eshonai that bringing back their gods is a good idea, given that he also says that the whole purpose is to start a new war and “end something that we never finished”—apparently the destruction of the Unmade, the Voidspren, and all the parsh people.
This Order of the Knights Radiant was secret for many centuries. The Skybreakers didn’t participate in the Recreance, but instead went into hiding. In Oathbringer, they came out of hiding and mostly joined with the Singers in the war, believing that this is the most just course of action. As far as we know, only Szeth chose not to join with Odium and the Singers.
The Skybreakers are led by Nalan, also called Nale, who is a Herald as well as a spren-bonded member of the Order. For many years, Nale sought potential Surgebinders beginning to bond Radiant spren and killed or recruited them because Ishar told him their existence would upset the Oathpact and cause the True Desolation. Nale realizes his efforts have failed when he is shown the truth of the Everstorm by Lift in Edgedancer.
M: Since Nale has literally “become law and truth” by swearing the fifth Skybreaker Ideal, I’m super intrigued by his spren bond. How can he personify law and truth while being so wrong about the threat of the Radiants? Why did his spren support his brutal actions to neutralize a threat that, as far as we know, had no truth to it?
A: There’s too much we don’t know about the Recreance, but I’ve often wondered about something. There was an agreement among all the other Orders that they would ALL break their oaths together, and so far as we know, participation was 100% among nine Orders. Was there perhaps also an agreement, which we haven’t heard about yet, that the Skybreakers would not break their oaths, but would remain with the task of making sure that the Orders never formed again? If there was such a strong impetus for the Recreance that the Radiants were willing to destroy both humans and spren completely, might they have left a mechanism in place to keep the bonds from ever being re-formed?
Szeth becomes a Skybreaker after being revived from death by Nale when Szeth is killed by Kaladin in Words of Radiance. Nale gives Nightblood into Szeth’s keeping. Szeth swears the first three ideals of the Skybreakers and gains himself a highspren bond. Szeth’s third Ideal is to Dalinar Kholin and he joins the Radiants.
The last major member of the Skybreakers introduced thus far is Helaran Davar, Shalan’s eldest brother. Shalan’s mother was intimately involved with a Skybreaker acolyte, so it is theorized by Mraize that Nale knew a member of House Davar was close to bonding a spren. The Skybreakers enticed Helaran with displays of power and Shards to join the Skybreakers. He may have attempted to prove himself by trying to kill Amaram, but was stopped and killed by Kaladin.
A: I think it’s worth noting that Helaran was clearly not a full Skybreaker Knight; the Shardblade and Shardplate he was using when he attacked Amaram were both left behind, which would not have happened if he had a living spren Blade.
The Skybreakers swear oaths to their spren about seeking justice and upholding the law. They commonly swear to an external moral code, such as Szeth swearing to Dalinar Kholin as his Third Ideal. We covered their Ideals pretty thoroughly a few weeks ago in the Knight Radiant Orders entry in this series. As noted above, they were the only Order who didn’t participate in the Recreance, and there were apparently some hard feelings about this. It’s noted in the Words of Radiance Chapter 41 epigraph that the Skybreakers did not come to the aid of the (former) Radiants who had laid down their arms. Whether by agreement of all the Orders, or by their own arrogance and self-certainty, the Skybreakers functioned as a secret society to keep new Radiants from developing for many, many years.
The Diagram is both a document and an organization; so far as we know, it is still secret from most of the world. On the night of Gavilar’s death, he had told King Taravangian of Kharbranth about the visions he was seeing, that the Everstorm was coming, and that the world would need to be unified. Afterwards, Taravangian worried about what this could mean, and about a year later went to the Nightwatcher to ask for the capacity to save his people. WoB tells us that he actually got his boon and curse from Cultivation herself, though he doesn’t appear to realize it, as he thinks about the Nightwatcher when he considers the event. She gave him something unexpected:
He’d asked for the capacity to save his people. He’d begged for compassion and acumen—and he’d gotten them. Just never at the same time.
The result was that his intelligence varied daily, inversely proportional to his empathy. On one day of extreme brilliance, he wrote the Diagram: an intricate plan to follow over the next years by which he would save humanity—or at least some of it. Extrapolating from what he knew, and perhaps gifted with a touch of Cultivation’s ability to see the future (though he doesn’t think so), he wove a plan which he and his team would then spend years trying to interpret. Over time, flaws in the Diagram became apparent here and there, due to his own lack of knowledge or to people making unexpected decisions. In order to correct for these flaws, Taravangian and a trusted team of individuals began collecting what they call “death rattles”—people seeing something as they’re dying, and calling out words they would not normally speak. They seem to be prophetic, and are somehow connected to the Unmade called Moelach. We don’t really know how they connect to the Diagram, but apparently they do.
Ultimately, that trusted team comes to be known as the Diagram, as well as the document Taravangian created. Their purpose is to save some of humanity by any means; oddly enough, when the members of the Diagram have different interpretations, they are allowed to follow up on their own ideas.
The central character, of course, is Taravangian himself. His primary assistant is his childhood friend, now head of his scholars, Adrotagia, who is dedicated and ruthless in carrying out the dictates of the Diagram. The others who work most closely with Taravangian—or at least the ones we see—are Mrall, a Thaylen “bodyguard” and advisor, and Maben, his chambermaid.
Beyond that core, there’s a stormwarden named Dukar, who heads up the group in charge of evaluating Taravangian’s intelligence every day; if he’s either too stupid or too smart, he’s not allowed to make decisions. (It didn’t take long for them to realize that governance requires a balance of intelligence and empathy.) There’s an ardent, Dova, who found out what they were doing with the death rattles and wanted in. Taravangian claims to believe that she’s the Herald Battar, because she warned them of the coming Desolation, but that’s a little sketchy, since the Diagram was all about preparing for it. So maybe she is, maybe she isn’t.
There are plenty more people involved, but the only other ones we see much are Graves and Malata. Graves, as you may remember, interpreted the Diagram’s reference to Dalinar differently than Taravangian, and was allowed to pursue his interpretation—which meant assassinating Elhokar, making Dalinar take the throne, and co-opting him into the Diagram’s workings. He failed miserably; not only was he prevented from killing Elhokar, Dalinar was dead set against becoming king anyway. On the bright side, his assassination attempt finally got Kaladin to the point of reviving his bond and speaking the Third Ideal. In any case, he’s dead now, being unable to fight off four flying Fused, so good riddance.
M: If only we could say the same about Moash who pulled Kaladin into Graves’ conspiracy. Storming Moash!
A: Hear! Hear! UGH. I loathe that man.
Malata, on the other hand, is still around, and a nasty piece of work. She’s “Taravangian’s Dustbringer”—though she prefers to claim her independence and call herself a Releaser. Taravangian thinks that she came from within the ranks of the Diagram, eager to bond a spren when he started urging his people to make that effort. She, however, says she came to Taravangian after bonding with her ashspren, Spark, and she’s probably telling the truth; she’s advanced far enough to have a Shardblade, anyway, and that’s not likely to have happened in the short time since the return of the Radiants became public knowledge.
The stated goal of the Diagram is to save humanity. The means by which it was to happen involved a lot of destabilization on an international level, with Taravangian always stepping in to aid in the clean-up and coincidentally take over yet another kingdom or coalition, until he ruled the whole world. While we don’t know exactly how that would have helped, presumably the idea was that a united humanity would be able to stand against Odium’s forces. Things fell apart at the end of Oathbringer, when Dalinar refused to behave in the expected manner, so the last we saw was that Taravangian would cooperate with Odium, in exchange for the city of Kharbranth, the lives of anyone born there, and their spouses. Such lofty goals, and such a lowly end.
M: I almost feel that Taravangian’s plan to destabilize the world in order to unite it might have worked if he’d had more time to execute it, or if he’d gotten Szeth’s oathstone earlier. As it is, I can’t see how his strategy is anything but catastrophic given that it hadn’t really borne fruit (other than in Jah Keved) by the time the Everstorm comes.
A: There were certainly some shortcomings, weren’t there? For example, Szeth’s murder of two subsequent Primes of Azir had them in a turmoil, but there was no indication they were going to turn to Taravangian for help. Did the Diagram assume that weak Azish leadership would bring them into a multinational coalition which he would somehow control? I’m a little fuzzy on that….
The Seventeenth Shard
The Seventeenth Shard is an organization of worldhoppers dedicated to nonintervention (WoB).
Members of the Seventeenth Shard were first seen in the Stormlight Archive in Interlude One of The Way of Kings. They include Galladon, an Elantrian from Sel, Demoux, a Seer from Scadrial, and Baon, a Sand Master from Taldain. The dragon Frost is also likely a member or leader of the Seventeenth Shard, and is the recipient of Hoid’s first Letter from The Way of Kings epigraphs (WoB).
The Seventeenth Shard appears to be searching for Hoid on Roshar because they believe he might be at cross purposes to them (WoB). However, they have goals beyond tracking down Hoid. They seem to be dedicated to keeping the Shards split and not allowing them to come together (WoB). Sanderson has stated that they are a bit like Starfleet in their desire to not intervene, though they aren’t succeeding at that goal as they brought the common cold to Roshar.
M: We’ve seen very little of the Seventeenth Shard. Here’s to hoping we learn more about them soon!
Potential Secret Societies
Well, that’s five societies that we’re reasonably confident are part of Sanderson’s list of nine. There are a few groups that may or may not be part of Sanderon’s list of nine secret societies. The first of these, and most likely to be on the list, is the Envisagers. The Envisagers believed in the Knights Radiant and that people could become Radiant when in mortal danger. So group members would willinging put themselves in harms way, resulting in many deaths.
Teft’s parents were Envisagers. Teft reported the group to a local citylord and the entire group was executed, likely making the Envisagers defunct.
M: Poor Teft. He blames himself for the Envisagers’ deaths, though he was just six years old at the time. He couldn’t have known how the citylord would react.
A: What a mess that made of his life. He thought that the citylord would stop them from endangering themselves, and he’d save them all. Who could have known the stupid citylord would execute them, for the crime of risking their lives?
The Stone Shamans may constitute a secret society, as so few people are aware of their existence outside of Shinovar. They are most likely the leaders of the Stone Shamanism religion which has some connection to the Truthless and the Honorblades. For thousands of years, they were the keepers of the Honorblades, with the obvious exception of Taln’s; more recently, since Nale reclaimed his Blade, they’ve only been keepers of the other eight. We learned from Szeth that some group of the Shin (likely Stone Shaman acolytes, though that’s speculation) are trained with the Honorblades, so they understand how to manipulate the same Surges used by the Radiants. They can only do it while holding an Honorblade, of course, but even the understanding can be useful. Their goals are a complete mystery; training with the Honorblades goes well beyond merely guarding them, so… what are they up to?
M: Little else is known about them, though we may learn more when Szeth undertakes his planned crusade to cleanse Shinovar.
A: I certainly hope so. I have a zillion theories about them, and I really want to know if any of them are correct!
There are a few groups that we have little evidence are on Sanderson’s list other than a Word of Brandon mentioning them. The first of these is the Lightweavers. There’s a WoB that the Lightweavers are a secret society, though as an Order of the Knights Radiant they aren’t terribly secret. It’s possible their membership is not widely known. Plus Shallan tells everyone she’s an Elsecaller at the beginning of Oathbringer. So it’s not until she displays her powers at the Battle of Thaylen Field that it’s publicly known Lightweavers exist.
The other are the Ire, which is a group of very, very old Elantrians who first appeared in Mistborn: Secret History. Brandon mentions that the lighthouse keeper in Shadesmar in Oathbringer is an Ire, though he isn’t there to accomplish something to do with the group’s purpose. Since it’s just this one character, and he’s only in the Cognitive Realm, it’s unlikely that the Ire can be said to be active on Roshar.
Last, but not least, are the Sleepless. They are a non-human race who lived in Aimia and are also known as Dysian Aimians. Their bodies are made of thousands of little cremling-like “hordelings” that together create a single consciousness. They can shape their body into many shapes and imitate humans, and can create hordelings for highly specialized purposes. We met the Sleepless Arclo in Edgedancer and a second Sleepless in Kaza’s interlude in Oathbringer. They are certainly a secret from most Rosharans. Brandon has said that the text on the back covers of the Stormlight Archive books is written by the Sleepless (WoB) and that there are Sleepless on many planets in the Cosmere (WoB). Little else is known about them including if they are organized enough to constitute a “secret society.”
Does anyone have more Secret Society theories? Anyone?
Relationships Between Secret Societies
Some of these secret societies are cognizant of each other. (We’ve talked about this a little bit, but let’s collect it all here, shall we?) Because we hear the most from the Ghostbloods through Shallan, their perspective is the main one we have on the other societies.
The Ghostbloods and the Sons of Honor are definitely at odds. In the prologue of The Way of Kings, Gavilar believes that it could have been Thaidakar and the Ghostbloods who sent the assassin. Not only was Gavilar aware of the Ghostbloods, but the Ghostbloods have also been keeping track of his Sons of Honor. In Words of Radiance, Mraize has Shallan infiltrate and steal Sons of Honor secrets from Amaram’s compound. Iyatil later attempts to assassinate Amaram but is stopped by Talenel.
The Sons of Honor appear to also be at odds with the Skybreakers. Skybreaker acolyte Helaran attempts to kill Amaram in what Amaram assumes is an attack by the Ghostbloods. We don’t yet know why Helaran was attacking Amaram and if it had anything to do with Amaram’s role in the Sons of Honor.
A: Maybe it’s just that everyone realizes Amaram is a git and they’re all trying to make the world a better place?
The Ghostbloods are likely aware of the Seventeenth Shard and recruit from their membership. Iyatil is a former member of the Seventeenth Shard (WoB). It definitely makes sense that these two, being Cosmere-aware organizations, would know something of one another’s existence, at the least. We don’t know whether their areas of interest overlap enough to care about one another; so far, we haven’t seen any evidence of conflict.
Possibly irrelevant, the Ghostbloods attempted to assassinate Jasnah multiple times. If the theory about being primarily an intergalactic economic enterprise is correct, they may simply be in the habit of taking out anyone—individual or organization—whose activities may cause problems for their trading plans. She was certainly aware of them as an organization, so it’s entirely possible she knows enough about them to want the whole thing stopped; if that’s the case, she knows more than we do!
As we mentioned above, the Sleepless are another Cosmere-aware group who are present on multiple worlds, though of course we don’t know if they’re one of the official Secret Societies. While we know nothing about their purposes and motivations, we do have an interesting WoB about them. Turns out that the Ghostbloods (and most everyone else) are very wary of them, and would most definitely NOT want to recruit a Sleepless to their cause. The Seventeenth Shard, on the other hand, would be interested—or at least some of its members would be. You can make your own guesses as to reasons for the different reactions.
Well. These secret societies sure are secretive! We hope this has helped sort them out for you, at least a little! We certainly didn’t capture every last detail, but if we left out anything you find significant, let us know in the comments. Be sure to tune in again next week; Drew will be back to follow up on his Cosmere Primer with a good hard look at what we know of worldhoppers on Roshar. After that, we’ll be back to see what we can document about the Fused. Good times keep on rolling!
Alice is a Sanderson Beta-Reader, mega-fan, and occasional theory-crafter. She takes great pride in the moment at Emerald City Comic Con 2018 when, in conversation about some disputed fan interpretation of a scene, Sanderson said, “You’re right. Just tell them I said, ‘Alice is always right.’” She is also an administrator of two Facebook fan groups: The Stormlight Archive (spoilers allowed for Stormlight books only; everything else has to be spoiler-tagged) and the Storm Cellar (Sanderson fans loosely centered around the Tor rereads, spoilers for all Sanderson books allowed).
Megan is a Sanderson Beta-Reader and longtime fan. She is particularly proud of sticking with it through the surprise Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning back-to-back beta reads which meant those books could be published in quick succession for the enjoyment of you, the readers!