Warhammer 40K Lore: The Old Ways
The Imperial Cult is the great religion that holds the Imperium together, but before the Age of Apostasy, another doctrine held sway.
Gather ’round loremasters and loremaster-initiates, today we dig into the sordid history of the Ecclesiarchy, who stand strong against heresy and foes that would tear out the very heart of the Imperium. And yet, even the Ecclesiarchy shifts and sways in its beliefs over the years. In order to understand how the Imperial Cult came to be the correct, objective truth about the Imperium, we look back at some of its past beliefs.
We start with the Temple of the Saviour Emperor, which was one of the many cults which grew up around the worship of the Emperor of Mankind as a god after the Horus Heresy. It went on to become the dominant religious institution in the Imperium, the Ecclesiarchy, or the Adeptus Ministorum for a time. Though the doctrines of the Temple of the Saviour Emperor fell out of favour during the Age of Apostasy. In M36, Sebastian Thor reformed the Ecclesiarchy, after which, those who continued to adhere to the “old ways” would be prosecuted as heretics.
It all begins on Terra, the home world of humanity and resting place of the Emperor. A man known now only as Fatidicus, which means ‘Prophet’ in an ancient Terran tongue. His original name is unknown. He was once a dedicated and high ranking officer of the Imperial Guard and fought in the defence of the Imperial Palace. Fatidicus managed to gather a massive following of men from all walks of life, including adepts of the Administratum, warriors of the Imperial Guard and members of the Imperial Navy.
Gradually the words of the Temple were spread throughout the galaxy; officers inducted their soldiers into the cult and missionaries moved among populations on other worlds. Fatidicus died aged 120 but by then there were billions of followers of the Temple. The Temple provided a uniting force for those who were left reeling after the terrible events of the Horus Heresy and at the same time destroyed any other cults which would or could not match their beliefs to those of the Temple.
At the start of the 32nd Millennium two thirds of the Imperium worshipped with the Temple and only the Adeptus Mechanicus and Space Marines on Terra didn’t follow their views, having their own belief systems already set up. Eventually by the end of the first half of the 32nd Millennium the Temple was recognised as the official religion of the Imperium and was given the title of Adeptus Ministorum. From then on the power and influence of the Ministorum would grow until it became a total part of everyday life for all the members of the Imperium.
How does a religion, seemingly started by one man’s unwavering belief collapse? The answer lies in the Ecclesiarchy’s role in steering the Imperium. The Administratum was constantly struggling against the Temple for control over the Imperium as a whole. As the Ecclesiarch was generally regarded as the voice of the Emperor, it made the position of Ecclesiarch into the effective master of the High Lords of Terra and therefore unchallenged ruler of the Imperium. This allowed the ministorum absolute power to wage wars, change laws and levy massive tithes at whim.
This dominance over the Imperium came to a head during the events of the Age of Apostasy. After which the Ecclesiarchy was reformed by Sebastian Thor and his Confederation of Light. Bringing with him principles of penitence, sacrifice and humility recognisable in the religion of the modern Imperium; this would replace the “old” era of decadence and greed which was associated with the Temple.
There are those within the Ecclesiarchy who exhibit a desire for wealth or power. This has been referred to within the church as having a “tendency towards the temple” as a warning against returning to the old ways. Those who are actually found to adhere to the ways of the pre-reformation are regarded as heretics against the current Imperial Creed. However, there do exist secret cults that actively work against the Ecclesiarchy in the Emperor’s name, in an attempt to return to the old ways, regarding the current religious belief as the herectical usurper. This Tendency slowly and secretly works to gather military and political might to use against the ministorum and are enough of a threat to be hunted by the Inquisition.
Currently, the heretical Tendency is harboured primarily amongst the highborn Imperial nobles and those connected to their houses. However, due to the extreme requirement of secrecy, often members of the cult do not know one another, but organise their efforts through intermediaries called the True (or Shade Priests to the Inquisition) who are members of wandering professions such as merchants or pilgrims. The Tendency hold their meetings in concealed Chantries which are ostentatious examples of the old temples; filled with precious metals and icons of the Emperor.
These chantries are protected by the Chantry Guard, who are drawn from the loyal retainers of the noble families. They are surgically rendered mute, are enhanced with muscle grafts and bear arms and armour which bear the halmarks of the Frateris Templar; warriors of old which are now forbidden by the Decree Passive.
In the wake of all this, the Temple has been refigured into the Imperial Cult we all know an revere. It is a sign of how corruption can creep in at any point, an even the faithful should be wary.
Until next time, Loremasters!