In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, psykers are individuals with some form of psychic ability. Psykers draw their power from the Warp, a parallel universe of pure energy. Because the Warp is inhabited by daemons, psykers are often at risk of insanity or daemonic possession.
- 1 Psykers of Different Races
- 2 Psyker Levels
- 3 Untouchables
- 4 Anti-Psyker Weaponry
- 5 Controlling Psykers
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 References
Psykers of Different Races
Parallel to the material universe in which the mortal creatures of the galaxy live is a realm of pure psychic energy known as the Warp. Almost all sentient beings have a mental connection to this realm. Individuals that have an especially strong connection are known as "psykers", and with training they can develop supernatural powers such as telepathy, divination, or pyrokinesis. The substance of the Warp is influenced by the thoughts and emotions of all sentient creatures, and these energies sometimes coalesce into entities known as daemons and Chaos Gods. Most of these Warp entities are predatory and constantly seek to influence the mortal realm by manipulating psykers, whose strong connection to the Warp make them potential conduits to realspace. Every psyker is in danger of going insane or being possessed by a daemon if he does not have the proper training and strength of will.
Most races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe employ psykers on the battlefield; some are inevitably more potent than others. There are three exceptions to this: the Tau, the Dark Eldar, and the Necrons.
The Imperium of Man
Ordinary humans fear and hate psykers because, without special training, they are prone to insanity and daemonic possession. Psykers are so hated that they risk being lynched if they are not taken into custody of the state. Psykers who practice their powers without the sanction of the state are termed "witches". Under Imperial law, all planets must round up their psykers and hand them over to the Inquisition, who make regular visits in their Black Ships. Those psykers who are deemed corrupt or uncontrollable are summarily destroyed; those who are too weak to be of practical use are sacrificed to the Emperor; those who display both power and control are trained become servants of the state. Imperial Guard Regiments and Space Marine Chapters use psykers in combat roles. Astropaths provide faster-than-light psychic communication. Navigators are needed to pilot starships through Warp space. Most humans do not appreciate the critical roles that sanctioned psykers play in the Imperium, because most do not come into contact with them and are not even aware of their existence (ignorance is common in the Imperium).
Pyskers who are too weak to fulfill the aforementioned roles are sacrificed to the Emperor. The Emperor feeds on their souls and uses this energy to project a psychic beacon, the Astronomican, through the Warp. Imperium starships need this beacon to travel through the Warp, which otherwise has no fixed reference points for navigation. Thousands of psykers die daily in this fashion. Because the Astronomican is critical to the Imperium's infrastructure, this is seen as a small price to pay.
The Emperor of Mankind
The Emperor of Mankind is the most powerful psyker who ever lived. His power reaches godlike proportions, though he is not a Warp entity like the Chaos Gods. His power and wisdom make him practically immune to the corrupting effects of Chaos. In fact, humans who pray to him tend to be more resistant to corruption by Chaos, lending some truth to the belief that "the Emperor protects" and his supposed divinity.
The Emperor has languished for 10,000 years in a vegetative state due to injuries suffered in battle. He is unresponsive to any attempts to communicate with him, though his mind and power are still active in a limited fashion. Most importantly, his mind projects a psychic beacon known as the Astronomican to help human ships travel the Warp.
It was the Emperor who laid down the Imperium's policy towards psykers. He believed that humanity is too immature to handle the power of the Warp, too vulnerable to the daemons spawned by its own collective id.
The origins of the Emperor are a mystery to most humans. Older Warhammer fiction suggests that the Emperor was born in Neolithic times after a conclave of ancient human shamans made a suicide pact and fused their souls into one.
Astropaths are long-range telepaths who are trained to transmit and receive messages across interstellar space. Though messages are often distorted, delayed, or lost altogether in transmission, astropathy is the only means of fast interstellar communication available to the Imperium. Astropaths can be found on nearly every Imperial ship and world. Because the transmission range of individual astropaths is relatively limited, they relay messages through an astropathic chain, or form choirs (conclaves of astropaths) to boost their range.
To become an astropath, a candidate psyker is brought before the Emperor to be soul-bound: the psyker's mind is reshaped by the Emperor, thereby enhancing her/his telepathic potential and girding the psyker against predation by Warp entities. This painful process is sometimes fatal and often destroys one or more of the psyker's senses (almost all of them are blind). Because of the psychic, mental, and physical strain involved in this method of transmission, most active astropaths are short-lived.
Navigators form an ancient lineage of mutants who possess a third eye in the middle of their foreheads which allows them to look directly upon the Warp, perceive its currents and the Astronomican. While Warp travel is possible without the aid of a Navigator, it is much slower and more dangerous; too much so for the Imperium to hold its sprawling empire together. Navigators cannot interbreed with regular humans due to the recessiveness of the navigator gene, and thus form an endogamous caste. The Navigator Houses are very powerful entities, even boasting a representative among the High Lords of Terra. Navigators are perhaps the only class of mutant to enjoy high status in an otherwise very intolerant society.
The Imperial Guard employs sanctioned psykers in combat roles. On the battlefield, Sanctioned Psykers can advise an officer and guide their command, protect him from psychic attack, or fire bolts of lightning from their hands. Weaker psykers may form battle squads to pool their power into a single attack. The psykers in the Imperial Guard have less training than Space Marine Librarians and are thus more vulnerable to the perils of the Warp. They are such liabilities that they are often accompanied by commissars, who will swiftly execute a psyker who is on the verge of becoming a danger to his fellows.
Psykers are employed by the Space Marines in the form of Librarians. Librarians are recruited and trained directly from the populations of the Chapter's recruiting worlds (they do not go through the Inquisition or the Adeptus Astra Telepathica). Candidate psykers must exhibit both great power and strength of will in addition to the usual physical requirements for the common Space Marine.
Librarians are responsible for maintaining the records of the Chapter they belong to, and can also use their talents to divide psychic mutants into those that are dangerous and those that can be utilised by the Imperium. Librarians, having much better equipment (Aegis hood circuitry, etc.), willpower, protection and training, combined with the enhancements of a Space Marine, are much less prone to the perils of the Warp than other Imperial psykers.
Space Marine Librarians are among the most powerful of humanity's psykers. On the battlefield, Librarians are fearsome opponents, able to unleash devastating psychic powers and augment their own physical prowess. They are also skilled at defending themselves and their battle brothers from psychic attack.
Attitudes towards psykers among Space Marines vary. The Black Templars despise them and do not have any Librarians among their ranks (though they use astropaths and Navigators out of necessity). The Blood Ravens, by contrast, venerate their Librarians, and their Chapter has an unusually higher number of them.
Inquisitors and their agents are often psykers, finding many uses for their diverse powers. Telepaths, for instance, make excellent interrogators and manipulators. The Inquisition fights supernatural forces on a daily basis, and it often takes a psyker to fight a psyker. Only the most strong-willed of psykers are allowed to serve in this capacity.
Created in the last days of the Horus Heresy, the Grey Knights Chapter of Space Marines is wholly made up of psykers; being a psyker is a condition for recruitment. They specialize in fighting daemons. Because of this, their selection process and training are especially rigorous so as to make them impervious to the corrupting effects of Chaos. The cost of these extra measures in money and human life is staggering; only one out of every million candidates survives to become a Grey Knight. The results, however, are powerful. No Grey Knight has ever been corrupted by Chaos. Also, their numbers are replenished not from ordinary ranks of Space Marines; the recruitment process would unnecessarily burden the existing Loyalist Legions. Candidates come instead from the Black Ships en route to High Terra, in which the Inquisition select those who would become candidates out of the psykers who would normally be sacrificed to the Emperor to sustain his psychic presence in the Warp. In fact, the prevailing theory as to why no Grey Knight has fallen to Chaos is that they received their geneseed unaltered from the Emperor himself; such an unaltered geneseed is something no other Space Marine chapter (loyalist or otherwise) can claim throughout the history of the Imperium.
The Sisters of Battle do not have any psykers among their ranks, but they sometimes use psyker auxiliaries, most often members of the Inquisition.
Every Eldar has latent psychic ability, and they can all speak telepathically and sense emotions. They possess some of the most powerful psykers in the galaxy. Although Eldar have a stronger connection to the Warp than humans, they are not as vulnerable to corruption. All Eldar must follow a "Path" - a career to which they commit until they master it. The emotional discipline involved protects the Eldar's mind and body from daemonic influence. The most powerful Eldar psykers are the Farseers, whose prophetic powers guide every major decision the Eldar make.
The Dark Eldar suffer a unique curse wherein their souls are being constantly drained by the Chaos God Slaanesh. To stem this consumption, they do not develop their natural psychic potential, as this would strengthen Slaanesh's link to them. Thus, Dark Eldar armies have no psykers among their ranks.
Legions of Chaos
The forces of Chaos host a great many mutants among their number. Chaos psykers can perform various tasks such as summoning daemons and unleashing devastating powers upon the enemy. Most psykers amongst the forces of Chaos, especially among the Chaos Marine legions, are sorcerors. The Chaos God Tzeentch is devoted to sorcery; legions worshiping Tzeentch, such as the Thousand Sons, possess a large number of psykers who can aid in battle. Other legions, such as the World Eaters, denounce magic and psychic ability in favour of the wanton bloodshed of close combat, and the Iron Warriors often sneer at sorcery. Chaos sorcerers can unleash potent powers and are fearsome individuals, but are often mutated beyond recognition. Tzeentch Sorcerers are especially potent with the art of dark magic.
All Orks are relatively powerful latent psykers and are capable of pooling their psychic ability to enhance the ferocity of their attacks. This field of psychic power is known as the Waaagh!, and grows more powerful when Orks engage in battle. However, they do have true, active psykers known as Weird Boyz. Weird Boyz do not draw their power directly from the Warp, but instead from the aforementioned Waaagh! field. The trouble with Weird Boyz is that they cannot shut out this flow of energy, so if they do not discharge the excess by belching some fire here and there, their heads can literally explode.
The Necrons are little more than soulless robots and thus cannot use psychic powers. The Necrons also are notable for utilizing technology specifically designed for destroying psykers, such as the "pariahs".
The alien race of the Tyranids is one of the more-psychically-active races in the galaxy, if not the most, with every single Tyranid telepathically connected to all others, in what is called the Hive Mind. It is suspected that this constant and massive "psychic traffic" is what causes the Shadow of the Warp, a phenomenon that makes Warp travel and astropathy almost impossible near a large Tyranid fleet. Though the lesser creatures have no psychic abilities of their own, the larger Tyranid warriors act as focal points for the Hive Mind, capable of mind-controlling all lesser Tyranids around them. Zoanthropes, creatures supposedly evolved by combining tyranid DNA with DNA from other psychically active races like the Eldar, are extremely powerful psykers to the point that, with the passing of the years, their bodies have devolved into little more than an overly bloated head attached to an atrophied, fetus-like body incapable of even moving on its own power, therefore requiring the creature to use its psychic abilities to levitate across the battlefield. Hive Tyrants are also very powerful psykers, although not as much as Zoanthropes, and act as the core of the Hive Mind within the Tyranid swarms. Larger Tyranids, such as Dominatrixes and the mysterious Norn Queens, are also psykers of immense power, though the full extent of their abilities is a matter of speculation.
The Tau have no psykers among them because their connection to the Warp is very feeble. This makes them very resistant to the corrupting effects of Chaos. They know little about the Immaterium beyond its existence, and often display laughable naivete about daemons and the Chaos Gods, who in turn take little interest in the crumbs that are Tau souls. Because they have no Navigators, their starships can only make shallow Warp jumps, and thus travel five times more slowly than Imperium ships. The Tau do rule a number of client species that possess psykers, but none of these are used in battle.
It is often speculated that the Tau's unquestioning obedience to the Ethereal caste is due to some psychic control, though this is more likely to be a form of pheromone control.
Imperial scholars grade a psyker's power using the Greek alphabet. The most powerful psykers are Alphas. Following them in order of decreasing power are Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and so forth.
An Alpha-Plus psyker is a being whose power is so vast it cannot be properly measured by this scale. The Emperor of Mankind could thus qualify as one.
Untouchables are a very rare variety of human mutant whose brains actively push the Warp away from realspace, making them the polar opposite of psykers. This has the effect of disrupting any psychic powers and other Warp phenomena in their vicinity. Such beings are considered to have no soul, as in this setting a soul is defined as the presence of a person's mind in the Warp. To a psyker, a normal person appears as a mosaic of emotions and thoughts, but an untouchable feels like a gaping hole.
Untouchables are practically immune to Chaos corruption since they have no souls to corrupt. They are also immune to most direct forms of psychic attack. The Inquisition and the Officio Assasinorium use untouchables to great effect, as they are the most potent kind of anti-psyker weapon there is. An untouchable can follow an Inquisitor around like a tourist, and his mere proximity will shield his master from foul magic and blind enemy witches to their presence.
Being an untouchable is more of a curse than a blessing, though: their null-Warp auras disrupt the electrical activity in the human brain, provoking irrational feelings of revulsion in all who stand in their presence, especially psykers. Untouchables tend to live short, miserable lives as they have trouble getting along with people. Those lucky enough to be employed by the Inquisition can be fitted with devices that suppress this revolting aura.
Several types of anti-psyker weaponry have been developed by the Imperium, Necrons and other races to counter psykers. For the Imperium, these include the Culexus Assassin and their psykout weapons, which have devastating effects on psykers. Weapons include psycannon, warp swords, and other psykers. Necrons have developed several Pylons that, once complete will completely separate the warp from the material universe, thus rendering psykers useless. On a smaller scale there are the Pariahs, Necrons made from humans with the pariah gene - this makes them, like the Culexus assassins, soulless, and severely debilitating to nearby psykers.
The Greek Alphabet system of measuring psyker potential also applies to measuring anti-psykers. The lowest recorded example so far is an Omega Minus (the polar opposite of an Alpha Plus).
Untouchables are similar to Pariahs, but are widely assumed to have less of a blunting effect (although an accurate comparison has never been made). Untouchables cancel out psychic power cast near them or around them. Some even have the ability to consciously focus their power. It is also possible for an Untouchables power to be overwhelmed by a sufficiently strong psychic force. Alizabeth Bequin, an associate of Inquisitor Eisenhorn, was psychically overwhelmed by the warp sentience of an ancient Titan she was attempting to disable. Wystan Frauka, an untouchable in the service of Inquisitor Ravenor, was also made "touchable" due to unusual psychic activity.
Lastly, the Dark Eldar, while not having any known psykers among their ranks, have developed weapons designed for psyker destruction. One of the most gruesome (and rare) is the Crucible of Malediction, a nightmarish device which contains the essence of a slain psyker tortured into insanity. When the Dark Eldar use this weapon, the psykers tormented soul is released and its power has the potential to consume any psyker on the battlefield.
In the Imperium of Man, psykers are typically viewed as a necessary evil by those in power. The most prominent example of this attitude can be found in the Navigator Houses, which are vital to the Imperium's survival. However, this attitude does not extend to untrained psykers within the general population, who regularly face violent witch hunts, sponsored by the Inquisition. This control is also enforced by the Ordo Hereticus, a subset of the Inquisition dedicated to control of heresy, and takes the form of regular visits to all planets within the Imperium by the Black Ships, large specially modified interstellar space ships designed to capture and transport all psykers on a planet. Within the Inquisition, withholding psykers from the Black Ships is considered a serious offence.
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