"+++ Any person who speaks ill of the Emperor, the Imperium, cites his loyalty to any entity besides the Emperor, defaces holy artifacts or buildings, incites heretical thoughts or actions, talks openly about forbidden subjects and generally behaves in a manner disrespectful to all that is holy and good will have his extremities removed and left to bleed to death, for the Emperor's pleasure. The body will then be burned to ensure no taint remains.+++"
- – The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer, Art 6741/09a
- – Thought for the Day
"Since the time of Sigmar Himself, we have been no more than a flickering beacon of hope amidst a sea of despair and corruption, but never before have we faced so many dangers. We must suffer the simple-minded liberalism of our burgomeisters, the sanctioning of magic use, the heresy of false prophets and religions, the arrogance of the Arch-lectors, and the convoluted plots of the Dark Gods - the rot has sunk deep into the flesh of the Empire, where even now it festers and grows. The time has come to act and only within this proud and ancient order lies the strength of will, the zeal, and the righteous fury required to save us. They call us Witch Hunters, in their fear and ignorance, without even the slightest idea of the monstrous deeds we must commit on their behalf."
- – The Witch Hunter's Handbook
"Betrayal isn't ridiculous. It's the reason empires fall."
- – Marisha Pessl
In Warhammer 40,000, heresy (or HERESY!) is the most severe accusation the Imperium can make against one of its citizens. It is almost always punishable by death or worse. Most commonly, Heresy involves what real-world politics would call High Treason: willingly consorting with Chaos or betraying the Imperium to Xenos, which the Imperium gravely forbids, and in particular anyone guilty of merely suggesting anything good about Chaos will receive a retribution of Inquisitorial proportions. However, heresy, depending on the tolerance of your planetary government, can also include blasphemy against or defamation of the Emperor and/or the Imperium; saying anything against the Imperial Creed, which details pretty much everything not related to the veneration of the Empra.
What IS heresy?
The Imperium realizes that heresy is a serious matter and that its implications and consequences must be made perfectly clear to all servants of the Emperor, from the lowliest serf to the highest commander. And so with the aid and wisdom of the Inquisition and the Holy Ecclasiarchy, the definition of heresy in the eyes of our immortal God-Emperor is made known:
- EVERYTHING IS HERESY
- Banging an Eldar lady is probably heresy too, but what Commissar doesn't know won't hurt him.
If you are not sure if something is heresy, it probably is. Play it safe and report it so that it can be properly BLAMMED.
Those interested in finding out more about heresy for the express purpose of removing it from our world are encouraged to check out a copy of "The Witch Hunter's Handbook", which is available at any Temple of Sigmar and contains useful information on the subject, as well as amusing anecdotes from the late Kasper von Liebenstein. (The second edition has been cleansed of its borderline-heretical text by Huntress Karin Schiller. Reprobates in possession of the first edition copy are required to burn it immediately and repent of their sin of knowledge or else be deemed heretics in the eyes of our Lord Sigmar.)
But Seriously, What Is It?
Well, outside of the the Warhams world, heresy is derived from the word Heterodoxy, a Greek word used to describe deviation from Orthodoxy or established religious doctrine. While most established religions have their share of offenses which are considered heresy, the word has become most closely associated with the Roman Catholic Inquisition, and by extension all of Christianity. This is partially because Catholicism is the largest denomination of Christianity (and also the one with the most structured doctrine) and since Christianity is the largest faith/religion, this means knowledge of Christianity is very widespread. Heresy was distinguished from heathenism in that a heathen blasphemed simply because he or she was ignorant of God's light, whereas a heretic knowingly contradicted the teachings of God and the Church. A Buddhist for example was a heathen, but as long as he did not endanger the Christian faith then it's ok to do trade with them; but a Heretic who modified the doctrines of Christianity while still claiming to be Christian was dangerous to the unity of the Faith.
Seeing that Catholic doctrine dictates that the Pope holds the keys to the kingdom and supposedly speaks on behalf of God as a successor to Saint Peter, he could issue orders of excommunication and interdiction, meaning the affected people and/or countries could no longer partake in the sacraments. (In theory, he can still do that, but such obvious meddling in politics is now generally frowned upon.) In addition, many people in those days were illiterate and books could not be easily mass-produced (especially big books such as the Bible), which meant unlike today most people couldn't gain access to a copy of the Bible and read it for themselves, thus relying on those who could (which typically meant the priests). Additionally, in those days the Bible was written only in Latin (which was generally taught to the clergy alone) so even the few literate members of the laity needed to consult a priest in order to understand what was written in the Bible.
This had several severe consequences. In those days, to continue the example using the Roman Catholic Church, Christianity had far more power and influence over society than it does today, especially before the East-West Schism of 1054 that marked the split between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. For starters, heresy was considered a one way ticket to Hell which, whether or not you're a Christian and believe Hell actually exists, everyone can agree it's a horrible place. Also, there was the little issue that all important oaths of the day were sworn before God, meaning excommunication rendered them null and void. Since the Catholic Church functioned as the court of last appeal for most major matters, this could make the excommunicated person an outlaw, which was especially bad for excommunicated nobles and monarchs. Your knights and vassals didn't have to serve you, your peasants didn't have to pay their taxes, and if one of them tortured and killed you they could get
in good with the clergy which could lead to rewards high fives from Jesus. This gave the Church incredible power, which many of the clergy wielded like a club to bludgeon intransigent monarchs into acting correctly. And by "correctly", we mean "however the Church wanted them to act at the time" (sometimes justified, sometimes not). The only way to get an excommunication lifted invariably involved large amounts of donations to the Church and/or general ass-kissing.
Though it must be noted that despite 40K Imperium is jokingly referred as "Catholic Space Nazis" for their Gothic aesthetics, its stance on heresy has more in common with the Eastern Orthodox Church, in that it was an actual part of the Imperial administration, be it in the Byzantine Empire or Russian Empire. The Eastern Orthodox Church practiced what was known as Caesaropapism, where the Emperor is not only a secular ruler, but also a religious head and representative of Christ, but under the advice and consensus of the Patriarchs. In other words the Emperor and Ecclesiarchy worked together, known as "symphonia". This basically meant that once being declared as a heretic by the Orthodox Church, you were automatically a Criminal to the Empire.
That isn't to say there wasn't real heresy going on for a while. To once again use the example of Christianity, in the early history of Christianity, people developed some funny ideas that lasted for a surprisingly long time. These heresies could be grouped into two rough categories- the Trinitarian/Christological heresies and the Gnostic belief systems. The former consisted of several wildly diverging beliefs regarding the divinity of Christ, the nature of the Trinity, and other doctrinal issues that are too complex to describe in detail here. The most important of these was Arianism, which asserted that Christ the Son was wholly distinct from and subordinate to God the Father; the controversies that arose in its wake within the early Christian community later led to the adoption of the Nicene Creed, which codified the modern doctrine of the Trinity used by most Christian sects today. Other heresies of this sort included Nestorianism (the belief that the divine and human natures of Christ were separate instead of being united), Pelagianism (the denial of the existence of original sin), and Docetism (the belief that Christ's physical body was an illusion and so he was never really crucified). Most of these divergent beliefs have long since faded into history but a few of them still linger on into the present, such as the Nestorian-affiliated Assyrian Church of the East.
Gnosticism was a very different beast, since it was less of a divergence from established doctrine and more of a completely unrelated set of religious beliefs that occasionally borrowed elements from Christianity. While the specific doctrines practiced by the different forms of Gnosticism varied widely, they all shared a contempt for the material world in general and the human body in particular and claimed that the material world was created by an inferior god (or Demiurge) opposed to the true God of the spiritual world. By the use of the esoteric knowledge held by the various Gnostic sects, collectively referred to as Gnosis, its practitioners could free their spirits from the confines of the material world and escape the influence of the Demiurge. While Gnosticism has long since died out, elements of its practices remain in various mystical traditions.
Eventually, the charges of heresy were leveled against the Catholic Church itself (somewhat successfully, in that they did it and did not just get stomped out as heretics as had been the case before that time) when a monk by the name of Martin Luther denounced the corruption that had been growing within the Church and its clergy- in particular, he was outraged by the selling of indulgences which would supposedly assure the salvation of whoever bought them despite the Bible stating that salvation comes only from faith in Jesus. The Pope wasn't willing to listen to him, Luther refused to recant his views, and to make a long story short the dominance of Catholicism fell apart in Europe soon afterwards in what became the start of the Protestant Reformation as various kings and princes throughout the continent realized they could escape from the Pope's influence while still staying in God's good graces (and other religious dissidents followed Luther's example of breaking away from Catholic theology in lieu of their own interpretations of Scripture, such as John Calvin). Later events, such as a series of brutal and ultimately inconclusive religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, nationalism becoming more important to the general public than religious affiliation, the paradox of both religious tolerance and secularization becoming increasingly popular with the spread of Enlightenment ideals, and other similar concerns slowly weakened the effectiveness of cries of 'Heresy!' as time went on...at least, that's the case as of this article's writing.
Major Heresies in 40K
While any individual can be branded a heretic for the slightest offense, a number of big-time heresies have occured in the 40k timeline.
- The Horus Heresy: The big one where FUCKING HORUS embraced Chaos worship and caused the biggest civil war to date in the Imperium.
- Schism of Mars: Horus' rebellion coincided with an equally big Tech-Heresy within the Mechanicus, where half of it also worshipped the Chaos Gods and went to war with the other half, creating the Dark Mechanicus.
- Catelexis Heresy: An extremely powerful Xenos Psyker called the Cacodominus succeeded in capturing the Catelexis sector for himself; when the Black Templars finally killed him, he let out a psychic scream known as "The Howling," which killed countless astropaths and caused many ships to go astray in the warp, resulting in even more widespread anarchy. It may have also left the Black Templars unable to produce Librarians, but nobody's completely sure about that.
- The Moirae Schism: During the Nova Terra Interregnum, a heretical branch of the Mechanicus claimed not only to be able to predict the future in the Astronomicon, but also that the Ecclesiarchy and Mechanicus would merge into one organization. This pissed off both the Mechanicus leadership and the Ecclesiarchy, but it also spread like wildfire, leading to two millenia of civil war and the exile of a faction of Iron Hands that supported it; these would later be recognized as the Sons of Medusa Chapter.
- Age of Apostasy: While not labelled explicitly as a Heresy (due to predating the Ordo Hereticus) this war revolved around the conflict between the Temple of the Saviour Emperor and the Confederation of Light for supremacy as the state religion. It ended when the batshit insane Ecclesiarch/Master of the Administratum Goge Vandire was assassinated by his own bodyguards after the sustained efforts of an alliance of Space Marines, Mechanicus, and the Confederation of Light threatened his power.
- Macharian Heresy: Immediately following the Macharian Crusade, the once-loyal generals of Lord Solar Macharius pounced upon his death and immediately drew up their own mini-empires independent of the Imperium - necessitating ANOTHER crusade just to get their territory back and punish the generals.
Heresy in Warhammer Fantasy
In Warhammer Fantasy, the Empire of Sigmar is FAR more benevolent than its science fiction counterpart. Religions of any (non-Chaos) form are allowed despite the state religion being the worship of Sigmar Heldenhammer, magical (psyker) aptitude is met with apprehension but is encouraged within the halls of the Colleges of Magic (established by a xeno ally of mankind), and humanity seeks alliances with other races and actively recruits them as soldiers, or enters into trade and treaties with them (Halflings are all citizens of the Empire as a matter of fact despite having the personalities of Tyranid Kender). Scientific innovation is greatly encouraged, and as a result the Empire is the most scientifically advanced race in the setting. There is less freedom in other ways however; as humanity within cities is VERY prone to rioting, behaviors seen as likely to lead to a riot (including spreading factual news about the current state of the realm and of impending invasion) are suppressed. Undeath in all forms (including concepts accepted in 40k such as the state of the God Emperor and use of Dreadnoughts) is a worse form of heresy than consorting with the Ruinous Powers, and any magical act not taught and officiated to you from a College of Magic is considered at best malicious mischief.
While it's commonly known that Chaos Mutations occur with regularity and are normally just unpleasant afflictions, mutants are not officially second-class citizens as long as they are loyal. Unofficially however they are prone to mistreatment and are the general victim of any riot (well, them and teenage girls) and in areas commonly attacked by the servants of Chaos are killed at birth. Chaos Mutants called Beastmen dedicated to the Ruinous Powers are one of the biggest threats to the Empire, but despite the fact that most learned men are fully aware of the existence of the most powerful of these groups (Skaven, who possess technology on par with real world World War 1 weapons) they are considered to be fictitious by the general population. Generally, while considered heretical, speaking of Skaven is more likely to be met with public mockery rather than BLAMing. Those who have actually encountered them laugh nervously, those living in ignorance guffaw with the crowd, and those in positions of authority who fear a sudden riot just as capable of destroying the city as an attack by the mutants scowl and throw accusations of madness.
The Witch Hunters of Warhammer Fantasy, despite being far more effective than their "'Kill Everything' Button"-happy counterparts are also entirely more insane than the Inquisition of Warhammer 40k and consist of personalities akin to Chaos Cultists. They themselves are secretly dedicated to a Chaos God of Order (what, you expected logical rules from Chaos?) who empowers them against the servants of the Big Four and Undivided. Most Witch Hunters are severely traumatized individuals taught that their word is higher than that of the Church (they are known to burn Sisters of Sigmar at the stake due to receiving visions from Sigmar), who see heresy in all actions, and their past is full of self-purges and mass murders as the head of their order inevitably falls into paranoia and senility each generation.
Those in the Warhammer equivalent to Russia, Kislev, are a much more suffering lot than the Empire. Sitting right at the invasion route from Warriors of Chaos, greenskins, and dwelling in a land where portals to the Warp constantly open and close letting in entire Daemon armies but themselves being a poor and uneducated people, they lack any Inquisitorial group. Each position of authority from local Sheriff straight to Tzarina Katarina herself take it upon themselves to personally purge the population. Any sign of Chaos mutation marks the afflicted for immediate execution, any strange behavior or sign of madness is an indication of an incoming assault. The people of Kislev themselves have become a hardened race, who will face an army of Bloodletters outnumbered armed only with rocks while standing shirtless and in bare feet in the middle of a blizzard and come out triumphant with minimal casualties (in other words, Imperial Guardsmen who can out-NONEPURER Gray Knights).
In addition, the High Elves of Ulthuan (like Eldar, but are badasses who solve the worlds problems instead of fuckups TRYING to solve their own) have their own internal Inquisition. The order of the Swordmasters of Hoeth is older than mankind's first civilization, and were founded by one of the early Phoenix Kings as a way of purging Elves who joined the Cult of Pleasure. While officially they are Sapherian bodyguards, messengers, and general police force of the High Elves and more specifically the spellcasters of the race, the Swordmasters were also master informants who collect information in a complex spy network and send it all to Hoeth, the center of learning in the Warhammer World (also the location of the magic internet). There, the High Loremaster (who is blessed by Lileath, a Lawful Good loli Tzeentch) filters it and signs the death certificates of those Elves so strap-on on head insane they'd fucking worship a god who just wants to eat their souls. The Swordmasters themselves are actually more like the super calm variety of jedi knights, spending most of their time training with animu greatswords bigger than their own bodies which are continually smithed and re-forged using magical liquid metal cores and Ithilmar (hard as steel, lighter than sheet tin) to the point that the lengths of their fingers and the weight of their eyelashes are accounted for in their balance and technique. The result is lightly-armored Elves who fight like Zorro on the Speedforce in groups of one hundred at a time.
What do they do with heretics?
In Warhammer Fantasy, heresy is usually met with (questionably historical) torture until a confession is extracted and the TRUE torture (or immediate execution in a busy week) can take place. Although the various churches of the setting are slow to act and generally are only capable of convicting those who march into a city square covered in Chaos tattoos and trying to recruit Priests of Sigmar or are doing Thriller in a group of Zombies while singing "I am a Vampire" at the top of your lungs, Witch Hunters tend to BLAM without second thought any who smells a bit too nice/bad or stutters when attempting to recite a prayer on command. Any time a major event that does not involve large armies occurs, chances are good Witch Hunters will soon be converging on the area to execute anything still moving.
The Imperium has a much more complex system of dealing with things. If your heresy was serious but you are repentant in your trial, the church may strap you to a horrific war machine called the Penitent Engine, which is a bit like a Space Marine dreadnought except it's designed to be really painful and humiliating for the pilot who themselves are drugged and tortured until there's nothing left of their mind but rage and shame. What's creepy is that it's an entirely voluntary way of seeking absolution (obviously, since strapping someone against their will to a war machine they can control is NOT SMART). Considering how many of these are stomping around, it's a wonder the AdMech hasn't designed a not-insane version to be used by the Imperial Guard as an assault walker. ... right.
The body of an Arco-flagellant is a much similar fate for heretics. In fact Penitent Engines and Arco-flagellants seem to be the same concept given to two different writers. In any chase if your heresy was serious but you are repentant in your trial, the church may Lobotomize you, fry your prefrontal cortex responsible for rational thinking, strap VR goggles on your newly-lobotomized head, install combat drug pumps into your spine, chop off your arms and replace them with weapons, and hold you in storage as what is basically a combat Servitor. The fate of an Arco-flagellant is oddly merciful and calming; during times of peace you're sedated and made to watch Ecclesiarchy-approved public television all day. In times of battle you're used as a suicide bayonet rusher.
The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer says that a heretical Guardsman should have his extremities severed and left to bleed to death. At the discretion of the commanders, he may just get moved to a penal battalion or classically BLAM'd.
On remote Imperial worlds and highly populated hiveworlds, minor heresies naturally spring up all the time because the Ecclesiarchy has a weak presence, so visiting preachers may try to take a softer approach with these things. They may even tolerate some fanciful unorthodox beliefs as long as they don't offend the core values of the church. While this might seem at first to be common sense over-ruling grimdark in some some small way, the scary bit is that how far this tolerance extends varies a lot and shifts, some benign little deviation which one high ranking priest would know to be a harmless quirk of local customs may be seen as another as being heretical and dooms millions to die as heretics.
Oddly (in earlier editions of Fluff), it was implied that even significant Heresy could be redeemed but a traitor could never ever be forgiven. One character in The Emperor's Gift was a penitent who had been a member of a significant heretical cult but was redeemed by an Inquisitor and entered her service. Despite this, most other characters viewed him with suspicion or outright hatred, so your mileage may vary.
Witch Hunters from Warhammer Fantasy are usually recruited from those who had come dangerously close to heretics or Chaos mutants, but who had themselves been spared. Their training is regimented and involves self-flagellation as well as group flagellation to give a high tolerance for pain, constant schooling so that all prayers and religious works concerning Sigmar can be recited by heart simply by being asked for specific page and paragraph number, and tests with a higher mortality rate than facing an actual Chaos incursion. Chaos Spawn are brought into more elite classes to harden the minds of the young recruits against the taint of Chaos and to teach them how to fight that which is unnatura-- oh noooGRAGHBBGEBBLELBGBELGBLEL *Ahem*. They are taught the use of martial weapons, both large and imposing like the titular Warhammer to bootknives which can be brought to bear against those thinking they are merely being briefed on situations. Poisons, wilderness survival (in all climates of the world), and general knowledge of the regions of the world are taught to any who manage to make it thus far as knowledge is far more dangerous than weaponry. Witch Hunters are familiarized with all forms of codes and secret languages known in the Warhammer World, with the exception of arcane scripts which they are taught only to recognize but not to read. Those who manage to pass all other forms of training are taught how to use crossbows and flintlock pistols, which are blessed with each bullet they fire being inscribed with prayers to cause maximum damage to the unnatural forces of the world.
Those deemed particularly possessing of zeal are given access to tainted texts recovered from everything from Necromancer Covens to Chaos Cults. Generally speaking, the information in these are histories of heretics as well as all the knowledge available to those on the other side of the fourth wall who read the Army Books and codices of the games.
Once recruits pass their trials they are then depending on their specialties either armed with crossbows (which is why rather than BLAMming, execution may come in the form of a FWIP instead) and assigned to city bastions or to patrol groups, or are sent out on their own to follow any rumor of heresy and pass judgement on those they find.
Extra heresy is a decree recently enacted by local Commissar Fuklaw. While we're still a bit sketchy on the details, it is clearly mentioned that Xenos love is Extra heretical (that just makes it even more appealing) but it is a well known fact that anything remotely related to Jersey Shore, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus or anything Western pop music is extra extra heretical, and so is furfaggatory
.....weeelll unless you're one of the Space Wolves, anyway. After all, they were just badass space Vikings until a certain update and string of model releases (We're looking at you thunderwolves and Canis). *BLAM*HERESY!!! LYCANTHROPY IS NOT THE SAME AS WEARING FUR SUITS AND PRANCING AROUND LIKE FAIRIES WHILE CHANTING "FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC"*BLAM**BLAM**BLAM* Punishment is still the generic execution by your local commissar... those dic*BLAM* -Most virtuous and excellent officers of the Emperor. Actually, if the Emperor saw all this shit, he'd have a single manly teardrop from his eye.
What isn't heretical (40k)
Much like the whole Rule 34 and Rule 35 gig, there are a few things that aren't heresy. Here's a short and general list:
- The immortal God-Emperor of the Imperium of Man
- Veneration of the immortal Emperor
- Dying for the Emperor in the most manly way possible.
- Dying for the Emperor in as many ways as possible HERESY!!! LIVING MORE THAN ONCE IS CHAOS WORSHIP Life is the currency of the Emperor! (Spend it well... and not on heresy)
- Nearly dying for the Emperor while doing something badass as many times as you can before you actually die for the Emperor
- Brutally slaughtering and burning heaps of xenos, mutants, heretics and most especially Modern Pop Fans, for the God Emperor of Mankind. (If you can live long enough to fire that flashlight that is OH GOD NO NOT THE FACE-**BLAM* If unable to do so, fighting to distract them until the end.
- Discovering new planets so the Emperor can have even more wars. Unsullied planets + war = More burning Heretics for the Emperor, hurrah!
- Building gigantic Gothic cathedrals the size of sky scrapers for the Emperor.
- Rendering said cathedrals spaceworthy.
- Praising of the Emperor.
- Sexing Aeldari ladies, probably heresy but I'm pretty sure inquisitors do this so it's okay.
- Hailing to the High Lords of Terra/Administratum/Ecclesiarchy- except when they commit heresy.
- accusing random people of HERESY!!!
- Why are you still reading this instead of venerating the motherfucking Emperor?! You must be a heretic for having doubt! Die heretic scum! *BLAM*
- getting *BLAM*'d
What isn't heretical (Fantasy)
- Our lord Sigmar Heldenhammer, true god of the Empire
- Veneration of the holy comet
- Worship of non chaotic lesser deities, special mention being Ulric.
- Growing mustaches
- Brutally slaughtering and burning heaps of daemons, witches, greenskins, Vampires, walking skeletons, talking cats, and Scandinavians (remember, the pointy end of the spear faces AWAY from you)
- Fucking Elf ladies (good, people like banging elves)
- Getting drunk with Dwarves (considered a minor anti-heresy)
- Adding steam engines to things
- Not rioting
- Praising the Elector Counts (except in times of civil war), and the glorious Emperor Karl Franz
- Not talking about the
giant rat-men armed with weapons that spit fire, who spread the plague through the water, who have planted a bomb in the city square and... IT'S ALL OVER, OUR ONLY REMAINING SOLUTION IS TO RIOT HERESY! *FWIP*(fwip? they have guns you know)... *sigh* Alright... HERESY!!! *BLAM*
Commissar Fuklaw wants to explain a few things to you about Heresy.
Half-Xenos cosplaying commissars? EXTRA HERETICAL.