In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, psykers are individuals with some form of psychic ability. They draw their power from the Warp, a parallel universe of psychic energy, and can use this energy for a variety of effects, such as reading minds, foretelling the future, healing injuries, or incinerating foes. Because the Warp is inhabited by daemons, all psykers are at a constant risk of being possessed.
- 1 Background
- 2 Roles in different groups and races
- 3 Races without psykers
- 4 Notable psyker characters
- 5 Untouchables
- 6 Cultural impact
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 References
Psykers draw their power from the Warp, an alternate dimension that has multiple properties including enabling Faster-Than-Light travel, as well as being home to powerful psychic entities such as Daemons and the extremely powerful Chaos Gods, which embody the destructive desires of the mortal races (War, Pleasure, etc.). Humans pyskers are vulnerable to corruption from these forces due to their lack of training and evolutionary progress, unlike other species (such as the Eldar) who have mastered their ability, or have other defenses native to their species. Since the human psykers are vulnerable, they are easy prey for demonic possession, which allows daemons and other threats to enter this word from the Warp to wreak havoc. To combat this problem, the Imperial Inquisition captures pyskers and either trains them to control their ability, or sacrifices them to the Golden Throne, a mechanical device that sustains the Emperor of Mankind - himself a powerful psyker, and the main defense against the forces of Chaos that wish to destroy humanity.
|This section requires expansion with: add "witch-detect" aura detection. (March 2014)|
Sentient beings have a mental connection to the Warp, a parallel universe of pure psychic energy. Those with noticeably strong connections are called psykers. They are able to develop supernatural powers such as telepathy, divination, or pyrokinesis. The Warp is influenced by the thoughts and emotions of sentient creatures, and these energies sometimes coalesce into entities known as daemons and Chaos Gods. Those entities prey on psykers as conduits to the Warhammer "realspace", and may cause psykers to go insane or become demon possessed. Psykers must therefore undergo training and possess strength of will.
Imperial scholars grade a psyker's power using the Greek alphabet, with the most powerful psykers being Alphas. Following them in order of decreasing power are Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and so forth. The median grade for measuring psychic abilities is at Rho and Pi, where no psychic talent is present; the common human is represented by these grades and represents most of the Imperium. Those below Sigma grade are the "negative" end of the scale, and are considered "anti-psychic" and usually referred to as Untouchables, Pariahs, or Blanks. The most powerful psykers, who exceed the grading scale, are considered Alpha-Plus, such as The Emperor of Mankind, while the lowest recorded example is an Omega Minus.
Psykers are vulnerable to several types of weaponry that have been developed by the Imperium, Necrons and other races to counter psykers. The Imperium uses the Culexus Assassin and their "psykout" weapons, including: psycannon and warp swords. Necrons have developed Pylons that, once complete, will block connections to the Warp, rending psykers useless.
The Dark Eldar have developed weapons for psyker destruction. One of their rare and powerful weapons is the Crucible of Malediction, which uses a tormented psyker soul that, when released, can drive psykers insane on the battlefield.
Pariahs are Necrons made from humans with the Pariah Gene, which renders them soulless and undetectable by psykers.
Untouchables are similar to Pariahs; they cancel out psychic power cast near them or around them. Some are able to consciously focus their power. It is possible for an Untouchable's power to be overwhelmed by a sufficiently strong psychic force. In the Warhammer 40,000 novelizations, 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.
Roles in different groups and races
Many races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe employ psykers on the battlefield.
The Imperium of Man
The Imperium regards psykers as a commodity and a necessary evil. By law, every planetary governor must round up any unsanctioned psykers on their world and hand them over to the Inquisition, which will assess the psykers. Those who are deemed corrupt or uncontrollable are summarily destroyed, but those who display both power and control are trained become servants of the state. Imperial Guard Regiments and Space Marine chapters employ psykers in combat. Astropaths provide faster-than-light psychic communication. Navigators are needed to pilot starships through Warp space. Psykers are also employed as Inquisitors. A select few who are exceptional are recruited to join the elite Space Marine corps known as the Grey Knights.
Psykers who are too weak to fulfill any of the aforementioned roles are sacrificed to the Emperor, who feeds on their souls and uses this energy to project a psychic beacon, the Astronomican, through the Warp. Imperium starships use 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.
Ordinary humans fear and despise psykers because they are prone to insanity and daemonic possession. Most desire to lynch witches, and are largely unaware of the useful roles many serve in the Imperium.
Astropaths are long-range telepaths who are trained to transmit and receive messages across interstellar space. They are found on nearly every Imperial ship and world. Because the transmission range of individual astropaths is relatively limited, they often relay messages through an astropathic chain, or form conclaves of astropaths called "choirs" to boost their range.
To become an astropath, a candidate psyker is brought before the Emperor to be "soul-bound"—that is, the psyker's mind is reshaped by the Emperor to enhance his or her telepathic potential and to gird against predation by Warp entities. The process is sometimes fatal, and often destroys the psyker's other senses such as sight. Because of the psychic, mental, and physical strain involved in transmission, astropaths have short lifespans.
Navigators are a breed of sanctioned human mutants who possess a third eye in the middle of their foreheads that allows them to look directly upon the Warp and perceive the Astronomican, a psychic beacon broadcast by the Emperor of Mankind across the Warp. Without a Navigator, interstellar travel is much slower and more dangerous. Only the coupling of two Navigators can produce a Navigator child, so the Navigators form an endogamous caste. The Navigator Houses are very wealthy and powerful entities, boasting even a representative on the High Lords of Terra. They are among the few mutants to enjoy high status in an otherwise very intolerant society.
The Imperial Guard employs sanctioned psykers in combat roles. Psykers can advise an officer and guide their commands. They protect the officer from psychic attack, and can fire lightning bolts from their hands. The weaker psykers often pool their powers in battle squads to launch a single attack. Imperial Guard psykers often have less training than those employed with the Space Marines, and are more vulnerable to the Warp's perils. They are often accompanied by commissars, who swiftly execute any psykers who endanger its forces, alongside the former's duty of brutally enforcing discipline in the Imperial Guard.
The Space Marines employ psykers in the positions of Librarians. Unlike the psykers who are gathered from the Inquisition or the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, candidates are recruited and trained directly from the Chapter's recruiting worlds. They 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 their Chapter. They can use their talents to filter out dangerous mutant psykers from the Imperium's recruits. With better equipment such as Aegis hood circuitry, superior willpower, protection and training, along with Space Marine enhancements, Librarians are much less susceptible to the perils of the Warp than their Imperial Guard counterparts. On the battlefield, they are fearsome opponents that can unleash devastating psychic powers and augment their own physical prowess. They are skilled at defending themselves and their battle brothers from psychic attacks.
Attitudes among Space Marines towards Librarians vary. The Black Templars despise psykers and do not have any Librarians among their ranks, although they use astropaths and Navigators out of necessity. In contrast, the Blood Ravens venerate their Librarians and have an unusually high number of them.
The Inquisition employs the most strong-willed psykers as Inquisitors and agents; it finds many uses for their diverse powers. Inquisitor telepaths, for instance, work as interrogators and manipulators. The Inquisition fights supernatural forces every day, and it often takes a psyker to fight a psyker.
The Grey Knights Chapter of Space Marines is entirely made up of psykers who specialize in fighting daemons. The Grey Knights have no recruiting worlds and instead draw candidates from the throngs of captured psykers brought to Terra by the Inquisition. Their selection process and training regimens are even more rigorous than those of other Chapters, and only one in every million candidates will survive to become a Grey Knight. However, the results are formidable: unlike other Space Marine Chapters, no Grey Knight has ever been corrupted by Chaos and each is extremely formidable alone.
The Eldar have latent psychic abilities that allow them to speak telepathically and sense emotions, though they do not develop stronger psychic potency or discipline without training. Eldar must follow a career "Path" which they commit to until they master it, and one of the most notorious is the "Path of the Seer" which trains them in psychic mastery, and Seers most often specialize in augury. Eldar Warlocks (Seer initiates) have a stronger connection to the Warp than humans, but are not as vulnerable to corruption. Additionally, the emotional discipline involved protects the Eldar's mind and body from daemonic influence. Farseers (veteran Seers) are the Eldar's most powerful psykers and are among the most powerful psykers in the galaxy. Warlocks and Fareers use their prophetic powers guide every major decision the Eldar make.
Legions of Chaos
Most psykers among the forces of Chaos, especially among its Marine legions, are sorcerers. 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. They perform various tasks from summoning daemons to unleashing devastating power attacks upon the enemy. However, not all Chaos legions use psykers. The World Eaters, denounce magic and psychic ability in favour of close combat, and the Iron Warriors sneer at sorcery. In addition, the Chaos God Khorne despises sorcery and it is easy for his minions to come to blows with those of Tzeentch.
Orks are powerful latent psykers who pool their psychic abilities to enhance the fierceness of their attacks. This pooling field of psychic power, known as the Waaagh!, intensifies during battle. Orks also have true, active psykers known as Weirdboyz, who draw their power from the Waaagh! field instead of the Warp. The drawback for using the Weirdboyz is that they cannot shut out this influx of energy, so if they do not discharge their excess (for instance, by belching some fire here and there), their heads can literally explode. Hence they are often isolated from their peers and need to rely on metal staffs to channel excess energy into the ground when out of combat.
The alien race of the Tyranids is among the most psychically active races in the galaxy, where individuals are connected to each other through the Hive Mind. The constant and massive "psychic traffic" is suspected to cause the Shadow of the Warp, a phenomenon that makes Warp travel and astropathy nearly impossible near a large Tyranid fleet. Although the lesser Tyranids have no psychic abilities on their own, the greater Tyranid warriors can control them by acting as focal points for the Hive Mind. Greater Tyranid psykers include: Zoanthropes (a mix of tyranids and psychically active races like the Eldar), which levitate across the battlefield; Hive Tyrants, who act as the core of the Hive Mind when the Tyranid swarms; and other large Tyranids such as Dominatrixes and Norn Queens.
Races without psykers
The Dark Eldar suffer a curse wherein their souls are constantly drained by the Chaos God Slaanesh; in order to stem this consumption, they do not develop their natural psychic potential. Although they use psychic devices, they forbid their use in their home city of Commorragh. Thus, Dark Eldar armies do not employ psykers. In a back story released in the Dark Eldar Codex, it is revealed that the Dark Eldar gradually lost their natural psychic ability during the millennia following the Fall of the Eldar race, and that they are sustained only through the absorption of the psychic power released by pain, torture and anguish of other sentient beings.
The Necrons are soulless robots and thus have no psykers.
The Tau have no psykers among their ranks as their connection to the Warp is very weak. This makes them resistant to the corrupting effects of Chaos. They know little about the Warp beyond its existence, and often display laughable naivete about daemons and the Chaos Gods, who in turn take little interest in Tau souls. Because the Tau do not use Navigators, they can only make shallow Warp jumps, and travel five times slower than Imperium ships. However, they do rule over some client species that possess psykers, although these are not used in battle.
The Sisters of Battle do not have any psykers among their ranks, but they sometimes use psyker auxiliaries, most often members of the Inquisition.
Notable psyker characters
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The Emperor of Mankind
The Emperor of Mankind is the nominal ruler and official god-head of the Imperium of Man. At minimum, he has been described as the most powerful psyker who ever lived. Though his power is god-like, he is not a true Warp entity like the Chaos Gods are. Long ago, in the early days of the Imperium, the Emperor was mortally wounded in battle with his son Horus who became an avatar of the Chaos Gods. Since then, he survives by a thin thread on permanent life support. He is little more than a vegetable, unable to utter a word or move a finger. The faithful believe he subtly influences billions of events across the Imperium, bringing luck and protection to those who are true to him. It is also believed that he occasionally communicates vague visions of the future which can be augured through the use of special tarot cards.
The Emperor is not completely inert, though. His mind (whatever is left of it) is constantly projecting a powerful psychic beacon across the Warp—the Astronomican—by which Imperium starships can navigate. He is also thought to be constantly battling daemons in the Warp, preventing them from spilling into realspace. Whatever the truth, the Emperor has never uttered a meaningful command to his followers since he was placed on life support.
It was the Emperor who instituted the Imperium's general policy towards psykers. Mankind stands on the cusp of a great transcendence into a psychic race, but at the moment it is immature and could well be destroyed by the powers it has begun to tap. The Emperor knows he must survive until humanity has evolved sufficiently that it can handle the dangerous energies of the Immaterium.
Malcador the Sigillite
Malcador was a right-hand man of the Emperor and the second must powerful human psyker in the galaxy. Malcador is credited with forming the Inquisition and the Grey Knights.
Eldrad is the oldest and most powerful of the Eldar Farseers. He is believed to have died during the 13th Black Crusade.
Untouchables, also known as "blanks", are a very rare variety of human mutant who are the polar opposite of psykers: their minds actively push the Warp away from realspace. This has the effect of disrupting any psychic powers and other Warp phenomena in their vicinity. Psykers, who sense normal humans as a mosaic of emotions and thoughts, note that an Untouchable feels like a gaping hole. Because of their lack of a soul, they are immune to Chaos corruption. They are also immune to most direct forms of psychic attack.
The Inquisition and the Officio Assasinorium use Untouchables as anti-psyker weapons. For instance, an Untouchable can follow an Inquisitor like a tourist, and his mere proximity will shield his master from magic and render them invisible to enemy psykers. Notable examples of this are Inquistor (Ordos Xenos) Gregor Eisenhorn and the Untouchable Aelizabeth Bequin and the "Distaff", a group of Untouchables organized by Eisenhorn under the direction of Bequin. Eisenhorn's protege Gideon Ravenor (Ordos Xenos) also employs an Untouchable named Wystan Frauka. Inquisitor Amberly Vail (Ordos Xenos) frequently makes use of an Untouchable named Francis Jurgen who is the assistant to Commissar Ciaphas Cain.
Being an Untouchable has its drawbacks. The null-Warp aura disrupts electrical activity in the human brain, which provokes irrational feelings of revulsion among those in their presence, especially psykers. Untouchables have trouble getting along with people, and tend to live short, miserable lives. Those who are employed by the Inquisition can be fitted with devices that suppress their revolting aura.
It is said that one in a million citizens of the Imperium can possess psyker abilities. One in a billion may possess the "Untouchable" variant. It is believed that Untouchables are the result of ancient genetic tampering by the Necrons, who sought to create biological weapons in their long struggle against the Warp.
|This section requires expansion with: additional merchandise beyond the usual kits; mention warhammer-related books that use psykers as key characters, films, soundtracks, critical reception on use of the character, pools on usefulness of character, popularity; do they have official "all-psyker" campaigns and scenarios? psykers in non-warhammer culture?. (March 2014)|
- Warhammer codices
- Chambers, Andy (1998). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-28-X.
- Priestley, Rick (1994). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Eldar (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-74-0.
- Thorpe, Gav (2000). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Craftworld Eldar. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-029-3.
- Priestley, Rick (1995). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Imperial Guard (1st ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-92-9.
- Priestley, Lindsey (1998). Fox, Talima; Thornton, Jake, eds. Warhammer 40,000 (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-000-5.
- Johnson, Jervis; Thorpe, Gav (2003). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Dark Eldar. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-307-1.
- Warhammer books
- Abnett, Dan (2004). Eisenhorn. Nottingham: Black Library. ISBN 1-84416-156-0.
- Abnett, Dan (2007). Only in Death (1st ed.). Nottingham: BL Publishing. ISBN 1-84416-428-4.
- Thorpe, Gavin (1999). Codex: Assassins (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-019-6.
- Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; McNeill, Graham; Hoare, Andy (2002). Codex: Necrons (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-190-7.
- Codex: Dark Eldar (2nd Edition), pg. 14
- Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; Hoare, Andy (2003). Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd release) (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-410-8.
- Johnson, Jervis (1993). Codex: Orks (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-95-3.