The Account of a Lifetime

April 22, 2009

Obedience and Ignorance

Filed under: Books & Media,Cogitations — xisor @ 2:25 am

The Emperor Protects

The Immortal God-Emperor of Mankind, as depicted in Warhammer 40,000, is a god. That’s how we understand him.

Historically we know he’s a superbrilliantawesome psyker, John Grammaticus tells us this much. There is the allegation that he’s (nowadays, circa M42) a ~48,000yr old coalescence of shaman souls, shaman souls whom I’m falteringly told were themselves possessed of ‘ancient spirits’…the remnants of a god defeated? Perhaps not even of one god, perhaps fragments of the Old Ones’ spirits coalesced on Earth, guiding the early humanity and giving new life, new impetus to this emergent ‘gamble’ of a god?

Furthermore, we can outline some of the basic properties of the greatest foe we know: the Chaos Gods, the Primordial Annihilator. Even the C’tan, as terrific as they are, don’t yet warrant the title as ‘most potent foe’.

There’s story arcs which say the Chaos Gods can never be defeated. Even acknowledging their existence is tantamount to saying they’ve won. There’s further speculation which posits the Chaos Gods are in fact inseparable from reality, that affording them any sort of rhyme, rhythm or plan is merely a cosmological bit of paradolia.

I outlined this much in a recent post on the Black Library Publishing forums, from which a pertinent section follows:

“Consider the Emperor ascended, a true god, untethered to the throne. Buoyed by the worship and common feeling of all those trillions of human souls. But what, exactly, is it they are doing? They’re being obedient and ignorant of the warp. Their uniformity is as uniform as it is varied. There are few exceptions to their obedience and ignorance. They neither succumb to hope and despair, merely trust that the Emperor knows what he’s doing. They are told to take neither pleasure nor pride, only extreme prejudice in their dealing death. They are not told to concoct grand designs or hope for anything other than the Emperor’s will, and the orders of their superiors. They are told not to breach rules nor to break the system, they are told only to obey.”
Which is to say: The ‘worship’ of the Emperor ought to have been keyed away from the Chaos Gods. The Lecticio Divinatus, which (if you haven’t read Scions of the Storm, don’t read what I’m about to say) was penned by lovely Lorgar, seems to favour obedience to the Emperor. Worship, yes, but obedience ultimately.

The Imperial Truth outlines the idea that there are no gods, no daemons, no magic, no homeopathy, no detox. It’s hokum. There’s reality, there’s science, there’s reason. The Truth doesn’t seem to have that much to say about the warp, except that it’s an odd extension of reality.

I propose, to the informed chappie of the Imperium, they’d understand it like this: Even the warp, a place of madness and horror, is merely a place which we have difficulty in understanding. Magic is readily explained by psychic powers, we know they’re possible so therefore they can be studied. We know there are aliens and animals in the warp too. They look just like the ‘demons’ we always used to fear: but that is just an extension of reality. Small steps, the iterated march of scientific progress ought to find its way eventually. In terms of homeopathy, detox and your regular other charlatans: it’s just that. If they were anything more than frauds, hoaxes, misunderstandings or shams then we’d be able to find it out. The Emperor and his Imperium ought to be that good, in the end. Trust us on that.

That’s that: in the meantime the Emperor needn’t worry people by talking to them about these unexplained superpatterns in the warp which seem to govern the various species and traits of warp aliens.

The Crux of the Issue

Before the Emperor can really turn his attention to actually dealing with all these grand warp-borne problems, e.g. the Primordial Annihilator of which the members of the Cabal seem to have faith the Emperor is aware of, but perhaps not faith in his ability to combat, he needs to achieve some other things. One is the united humanity.

As outlined above the ‘faith worship’ of the Emperor rests on two points: obedience and ignorance. You might also call this discipline and trust, but it’s really not as cozy as that. Obedience and ignorance are what’s asked for and what’s essentially feasible given that things like enjoyment, hope, discipline and desire when wrapped up with ‘faith’ all add into the bundle of emotions which seem to feed the Chaos Gods. Which is, almost exactly, what we don’t want to do.

Whilst the Imperial Truth is admirable in itself (indeed it is honest when one takes a certain view of the Chaos Gods as a force of nature and daemons as aliens), I propose it has one absolutely crucial goal: it stops humanity adding ‘weight’ to its emotions in a manner readily accessible the Chaos Gods. A lack of faith and belief in anything except the simple reality around you and the ability of the Emperor (and that which he designs) to lead you ought to be sufficient to prevent humanity inadvertently strengthening the Chaos Gods.

Preventing humanity from feeling at all is a major issue, hence why the Great Crusade has to be over quickly. A united humanity and an ignorant (of Chaos) humanity would be difficult to maintain for any length of time.

Okay, so…if we accept this whole ‘Obedience and Ignorance’ arc silliness
We do need to wonder why on earth he’s doing it. I mean: honestly, what’s in it for him?

Well, we know he’s essentially a god insofar as any gods exist. Superpowerful warp entities are basically gods. This seems to be the case in the Warhammer Fantasy universe wherein mortals can become gods (e.g. Sigmar, Vallaya, Grimnir, Grungi) and ‘large gods’ can roam the world and basically exist physically as well as metaphysically (e.g. Sotek, the Horned Rat, the Great Maw).

As I often discuss when talking about The Three Thrones, my suspicion is that the Golden Throne of Terra, the Golden Throne of Mars (the Akashic Reader, see Mechanicum) and the Silver Throne of wherever it was (psychic awakener, see Faith and Fire) are all remnants of ‘Old One’ technology. Alongside such marvellous things as the Talismans of Vaul, the Damocles Gulf Expanse and the Perdus Rift, the Webway, the insinuations of Xenology and so forth, we can picture a large array of marvellous god-making (or perhaps rather: god-made) technology. The Old Ones themselves were exceedingly powerful warp users in addition to any physical form they may have had.

I liken the Great Crusade to be the pursuit of knowledge, that the Emperor has in his sights an expansion of his powers. It is commonly horrific to assume that he was trying to ‘become a god’, but in the world of Warhammer 40,000 that’s not a remarkably bad idea. Indeed, with a protector from Chaos, each human would essentially be facing exactly the bleak grimdark universe as it’s conventionally painted (without maddening conspiracy theories like the one I’m presently presenting)!

So the Emperor was trying to become a god?

Well, yes and no. It strikes me he had no intention of setting himself up as a Chaos God, but rather as a sort of super-powered leader/protector god, like the Old Ones/Alien Pantheon (Qah, Khaine, Cegorach etc). I think it’s significant that the Emperor met his end, so to speak, in trying to break into the webway (wherein Cegorach lies).

If I were to stretch out into territory where few authors or designers have mentally (publicly) stepped, then I’d present this picture: The Emperor accesses the webway, the Mechanicum on Mars actually crack open the Akashic technology of the second Golden Throne and present it to him, the Human Galaxy is united by its Great Crusade. I.e. basically ‘almost everything else goes right’, the big results of the Heresy just…don’t happen.

The Emperor can quickly consolidate the galaxy via the webway, his Primarchs are closer to him, he has a better grip on the galaxy. It isn’t as precarious and the Emperor can then start the ‘higher level’ training of the Primarchs and even society in general: There are these superpowers, but we can’t feed ’em. Look at the evidence. This does this, that does that. Crazy psykers, no more, you can be controlled and taught discipline! The homogenised, obedient and ‘ignorant of the gods’ galaxy can be turned against the Chaos Gods. Whether they’d be able to win from there, who knows. But it’s an obvious ‘next step’. The webway, the akashic, the Talismans of Vaul…all the other unknown stuff we don’t know about…it could all be put to sensible use.

So where did it all go wrong?

Well, we don’t know if the Emperor was that clever, do we? We don’t know how ‘directed’ all this was. Did Cegorach somehow deliberately undo the Emperor’s attempts on the Webway? Did the Chaos Gods actively undermine the Emperor’s attempts to thwart them, or did the Emperor undermine himself by failing to understand the power and sway of reality?

Ultimately, we can’t quite know. The inherent obvious problem is Lorgar. The Emperor’s chastisement in this context makes some sense: he can’t have the Imperium start worshipping him (even in loose concordance with the Imperial Truth, with the Emperor being the ‘only exception’) because they’ll probably do it wrong. That worship might even start coalescing into a Chaos God of obedience and ignorance! So he told Lorgar “No!”, but why didn’t he go into more detail?

Even at the very beginning, why hadn’t he brought some of the Primarchs ‘on side’. Horus, the Lion, Guilliman etc…they’re all fine warriors and leaders. But some of them out there had extra insights: Magnus and Lorgar are the obvious candidates for ‘special training’. Contrastingly Alpharius’ sheer tenacity and style seems to have managed to unravel everything.

Perhaps the game simply couldn’t be won?

What happens then?

I’d say the obvious side effect of the entirety of the Horus Heresy is nothing less than…almost the creation of a fifth Chaos God. If the Emperor were to truly die, the madness of the Imperial Creed, the ethos of the Imperium, seems directly related to the theologically blind worship of the Emperor. The acts of the ‘most holy’ of the Emperor’s followers, the Grey Knights and the Sisters of Battle seem to stem much more from the religiosity of it all than anything else. The Emperor Protects, I am the Hammer etc. Let’s face it: whatever happens when the Emperor is a ‘new, true god’, it doesn’t strike me like he’ll be a benevolent defender and paragon of humanity.

If anything, Lorgar undid the possibility of the Emperor becoming an Old One. Had Lorgar somehow been brought onside (and/or no-one else had taken his place/followed his lead), it might have worked. But it didn’t. Alpharius was keen enough, with outside help, to discover the ‘facts of the matter’.

The resolution of Legion in my eyes is that Alpharius selects a third option: neither to remain loyal (and side with the Emperor during the Heresy) nor to turn traitor and ensure a fast victory for Horus, but that there is a more…natural goal. Humanity’s survival, no matter the cost. The Emperor’s victory means that humanity is little more than a tool for a god. A Horus victory will leave humanity weak and disorganised. The ‘path taken’ would lead to at least ten thousand more years of ‘strong’ humanity…

Summary & Conclusions

Basically it’s simple. The Chaos Gods could well have a fifth companion, one day; that God of Ignorance and Obedience. There was possibly a chance that the Emperor could’ve become an Old One…but it was foiled and undone by…at best? A series of accidents. At worst? A convoluted plot involving over half a dozen gods of one form or another…

But there is something I haven’t mentioned. The third alternative might still be true. A starchild god of order, wherein the Emperor’s ascendancy somehow leads to a better universe is a hopefully plot, but largely an un-40k one. It’s too…easy. Too…Star Trek. But something darker? Something more terrible? What could be worse than a fifth Chaos God? It’s difficult to speculate that far. If I had to make a closing ‘question’: what would be the cost to avoid a fifth Chaos God?



  1. Most awesome, as ever Xisor my man!

    Comment by Lord Lucan — April 22, 2009 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  2. Interesting hypothesis. My take:

    * in WH40k there is no need for retconning, both the past and the present are only known in broad outlines. In an empire of a million worlds over 10k years very little can be ascertained. There was a civil war at some point, and there are emperor and chaos worshippers, but little else if known. Some people even believe that the Horus is the corpse on the Golden Throne, and he has sacrificed himself to save humanity from betrayal by the Emperor’s quest for godhood :-).

    * The general sense of the fluff so far is that there are two distinct entities: the Emperor, a very gifted psiker, who is an (unwitting) champion/”great daemon” of the God of humanity, which is humanities’ “good” side shadow/echo in the warp. This explains most of the contradictions between the Emperor apparently not knowing about the Heresy but at the same time the Saint being assisted by the God with powers and visions on the Vengeful Spirit. The Lectitio Divinitatus confuses the two.

    * Presumably the God of humanity and the Emperor have the same goal: survival from the C’Tan threat (and much smaller Tyranid/Ork threat) and its evolution into New Man, a race of psikers that do not succumb to the warp.

    * Probably the God of humanity (but not the Emperor, who seemed surprised by it) had seen the Horus Heresy and accepted and even favoured it. perhaps conflict is meant to strengthen humanity, and/or to purge it of elements that would tend to Chaos anyhow. Or perhaps humanity to evolve towards New Man needs to get closer to the warp one way or another.

    * Overall the greatest menace is not Chaos — it is the C’Tan. They defeated the Old Ones, nearly exterminated life in the galaxy, and with the cadian pylons would be able to shut off the warp from humanity, making it impossible for New Man to appear.

    Comment by Vassaago — May 12, 2009 @ 12:19 am | Reply

  3. I have to agree with LordLucan there Xisor that is a pretty impressive piece of work.

    Comment by Jasmine — June 29, 2009 @ 12:39 am | Reply

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