In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, psykers are individuals that can easily be confused with, and be described similarly as individuals with some form of psychic ability. They draw their power from the Warp, a different dimension often used for FTL similar to, but not quite the same as either Hyperspace or slip space, having both a different set of laws and form of energy (Warp energy or energies native to the warp), and can use this as either energy for a variety of effects or access to a different set of laws not of typical governance, or both, such as reading minds, foretelling the future, healing injuries, or incinerating foes. Because the Warp is inhabited by entities interpreted as daemons, all psykers are at constant risk of being tapped into and their powers used by others, not to be confused with possession although possible too, which is done through certain methods often time requiring sacrifices to open a portal, rather than psykers.
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, Greed, etc.). Human pyskers and humans in general, as well as any other race that does not have (usually engineered) defenses 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 directly use their own powers regardless of the psychers training or abilities, on this dimension without having to open a portal (which for the mighty beings of chaos is rather difficult do to the differences between warp and real space), 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 is one of the main vulnerabilities that the forces of chaos used to cripple humanity and wreck it from the golden age of man right into thousands of years of technological dark ages (meaning plenty of space ships). As a result, psykers are feared and loathed exactly as illogically and unevolved as people from the dark ages. In fact, psykers might as well not be human, as far as humanity is concerned, and humanity, in Warhammer 40k, is humanity first, xenophobic, and racist (species based).
This section needs expansion with: add "witch-detect" aura detection. You can help by adding to it. (March 2014)
Nearly all sentient beings have a mental connection to the Warp, a parallel hell-like dimension made up of psychic energy which follows a different set of rules altogether. Those with noticeably strong connections are called psykers. They are able to develop seemingly supernatural powers including, but not limited to: telepathy, telekinesis, 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 a strong will of strength.
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, 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, Elizabeth 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 to 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 chapter 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 demonic 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 osteopaths is relatively limited, they often relay messages through an astropathic chain or form conclaves of osteopaths 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 the 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 grudging 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. Agents of the Inquisition, psyker or otherwise, are often given wide latitude in the performance of their duties, which causes significant fear in the general populations of the countless Imperial worlds, and even Imperial Guard regimens and Space Marines Chapters are not above being the focus of scrutiny from the Inquisition; if they can provide evidence of it, the Inquisition can order the execution of a Chapter Master for heresy or falling to the corrupting influence of Chaos, and even order an Exterminatus, the complete sterilization of a planet's surface with thermonuclear weapons.
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 because failing even one of the reported 666 trials is tantamount to a death sentence. However, the results are formidable: no Grey Knight has ever been corrupted by Chaos, something no other Space Marine Chapter can claim, and each is extremely formidable alone. And unlike other Chapters, the Grey Knights are the military arm of the Inquisition, an organization charged with maintaining the Imperial religion, stamping out heretics, rogue psykers and demonic infestation. Only a select few in the highest echelons of the Imperium are even aware of the Chapter's existence, and fewer still have met a Grey Knight in person and lived. Each Grey Knight's name is a weapon against a demon, their mere presence in proximity to a demon, causing that particular demon agony and pain on the battlefield. Their fortress-monastery is located on Titan, and it is reported that their gene-seed was given to the Grey Knights, unaltered from the Emperor of Mankind himself, in the last days of the Horus Heresy.
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 Farseers use their prophetic powers to supervise 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 favor 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 and enabled their technology to function, as it is often akin to sheet metal banged together with no proper understanding of engineering or mechanics. 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, like all Eldar, suffer an adverse side effect from their inadvertent creating of Chaos God Slaanesh wherein their souls are constantly drained by the entity; 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, rather than creating for themselves devices that sheild them from the effect like normal eldar.
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
This section needs expansion with: add major psyker characters from novelizations and series, films, video games. You can help by adding to it. (March 2014)
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 most powerful human psyker in the galaxy besides the Primarch, Magnus the Red. 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.
One of the most powerful psykers born in the 41st millennium. His power is in the Gamma+ range. He can send out his mind to sift through and feel every living thing in a city. He has the ability to take control of any living thing with a soul and use them as his own flesh. Only psykers and untouchables can even attempt to damage him as any physical attack while his mind is focused on said attack would easily be stopped.
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 an attendant, and his mere proximity will shield his master from warp energy 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 Ferik Jurgen who is the assistant to Commissar Ciaphas Cain. Meanwhile, the Officio Assasinorium recruits Untouchables into the dreaded anti-psyker branch known as the Culexus Temple and they are rigorously trained and equipped to dispatch even the strongest of enemy psykers. Furthermore, in the days of the Great Crusade, female Untouchables were often inducted in the Sisters of Silence, who acted as the precursor to the Inquisition and are still secretly active from the shadows in the 41st Millennium.
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 needs 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?. You can help by adding to it. (March 2014)
- Warhammer codices
- Chambers, Andy (1998). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-28-X. Search this book on
- Priestley, Rick (1994). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Eldar (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-74-0. Search this book on
- Thorpe, Gav (2000). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Craftworld Eldar. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-029-3. Search this book on
- Priestley, Rick (1995). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Imperial Guard (1st ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-92-9. Search this book on
- Priestley, Lindsey (1998). Fox, Talima; Thornton, Jake, eds. Warhammer 40,000 (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-000-5. Search this book on
- Johnson, Jervis; Thorpe, Gav (2003). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Dark Eldar. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-307-1. Search this book on
- Warhammer books
- Abnett, Dan (2004). Eisenhorn. Nottingham: Black Library. ISBN 1-84416-156-0. Search this book on
- Abnett, Dan (2007). Only in Death (1st ed.). Nottingham: BL Publishing. ISBN 1-84416-428-4. Search this book on
- Thorpe, Gavin (1999). Codex: Assassins (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-019-6. Search this book on
- Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; McNeill, Graham; Hoare, Andy (2002). Codex: Necrons (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-190-7. Search this book on
- 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. Search this book on
- Johnson, Jervis (1993). Codex: Orks (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-95-3. Search this book on
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