- "The greatest monster of all is Man. The Daemon does not choose to dwell outside the blessed Materium, nor does the xenos cast aside the holy form of Man to walk another path. Both are terrible and foul, it is true. But the heretic and the traitor were given every gift in the universe, and chose to cast them aside. There is no greater crime than this."
- — Inquisitor Malakai Wernhardt
Chaos Cults are the most dangerous of all those organisations that plot to overthrow the rule of the Imperium of Man from within. All planets and civilisations belonging to the Imperium can harbour Chaotic organisations, which themselves are as diverse in practice and membership as is imaginable. From the blood-soaked sacrificial cults of Feral Worlds to the philosophical secret societies of more advanced planets, the temptations of Chaos can capture all. The objective of the Chaos Cult is to survive and eventually dominate the society in which it dwells. Mere survival is particularly important on Imperial worlds, where Chaos worship is the greatest of heresies and Inquisitors are always vigilant and ready to wipe out any taint of Chaos. Generally clandestine in nature, as discovery could bring with it attention from the local Adeptus Arbites contingent all the way up to the Inquisition, cults often hide behind the front of some form of legitimate Imperial organisation in their attempt to accumulate local or planetary power, such as trade unions, charitable organisations, accepted religious groups and even local variants of the Imperial Cult. Extreme political parties make good fronts for cults, as they naturally attract power-hungry and mentally unbalanced individuals, who make particularly good material for potential cult members. A very successful organisation can achieve real political power, even gaining enough strength to make it possible for the cult to become the governing body of the planet without having to resort to outright rebellion.
After taking root, and as it expands in power and influence, eventually a Chaos Cult may end up effectively ruling anything from a township to the entire planet. Eventually, an uprising breaks out, either purposefully or because the cult has grown too large and/or unruly to remain secret any longer. At this point, the cult can be expected to summon aid from their Chaos masters, ranging from daemonic possessions of cult members to the outright summoning of members of the Traitor Legions through the Warp to the planet. Cults may also unleash an uprising in concert with a pre-planned invasion of Chaos Space Marines. The ultimate aim of the cult's uprising is to overthrow the Imperial planetary government and attain direct control over the world. After the conflict, cultists are often taken back into the Eye of Terror where they either join the damned population of a Daemon World or are recruited (sometimes forcibly) into a Chaos Champion's armed forces or as auxiliaries to his warband.
The origins of new Chaos Cultists are legion. The teeming masses of the Imperium have colonised the galaxy from end to end. Trillions of souls labour night and day in an increasingly hostile universe. Miles-high hive cities boil with overpopulation, dense hab-complexes sprawl across continents, and Industrial Worlds grind and churn by the efforts of uncounted workers under the steely gaze of their high-handed overlords. But the Adepts of the established order cannot be everywhere at once. A regime as restrictive and oppressive as the Imperium provides fertile ground for insurrection, and there are those that would foster this discontent for their own black ends. Rebellion festers in the foetid underbelly of almost every civilised Imperial world, a fire just waiting for a spark. Where the flames of heresy are given fuel, Chaos is quick to follow, turning desperate men into worshippers of the Dark Gods -- and the easy path to power and wealth they promise.
The cultists of Chaos can be found, in one form or another, almost anywhere the Imperium has spread. At first glance, they are indistinguishable from normal men and women, but under their clothes, their flesh is tattooed and branded with sigils that hurt the eyes of any faithful who look upon them. When the Heretic Astartes come to a planet, the true colours of the cultists are revealed. The powers of darkness are ever quick to promise glory, and even the lowliest initiate knows that to fight alongside such legendary transhuman warriors is to court the gaze of the gods. Improvised armour is donned and long-hidden weapons are broken out as the cultists prepare to overthrow the Imperium one hab-block at a time. Rag-tag companies band together under the demagogues that arrive in their midst, for the everyday life of an Imperial citizen is usually so hopeless that even the hint of a new order can be intoxicating. When open war breaks out, screaming gangs of cultists rush into battle armed with primitive solid-shot weapons, the largest of their number toting Heavy Stubbers and industrial Flamers. Despite their primitive wargear, Chaos Cultists are often able to drown a superior foe through sheer weight of numbers and a fierce desire to tear open the belly of the Imperium.
As the witch-hunting Ordo Hereticus is always keen to point out, Chaos Cultists can come from almost any background. Psychotic soldiers, cut-throat hive gangers, decadent nobles, Astra Militarum deserters, persecuted Abhumans and sewer-dwelling mutants all turn to the service of Chaos in order to improve their lot. After all, even a man who has nothing left can still barter away his soul. The mutational "gifts" received by the most powerful cultists can be just as strange as those granted to their Chaos Space Marine masters; a favoured devotee might have muscles of living steel, flailing sucker-tentacles in place of a tongue, or the horned head of a mindless beast. Regardless of their station, each of these dangerous malcontents trains their mind and body for the day when the favoured of the gods will lead them to a darkly glorious future, when they can rise up against the hated order of the Imperium and set the galaxy aflame.
- "There are no lies in the Abyss, for all that Man calls lies are its truths and all that is neither true nor untrue rejoices therein."
- — The Empyreal Truth (suppressed 193.M31)
When the Age of Darkness inaugurated by the Horus Heresy descended upon the Imperium of Man, the galaxy reeled in shock that the Emperor's greatest champions -- the Primarchs and their Astartes sons -- would seek to tear down all they had built during the Great Crusade. The Legiones Astartes were created to be the very best of Mankind, the champions and protectors of an entire species, the stalwart defenders against the unnameable horrors that had brought humanity to the brink of destruction during the bleak millennia of Old Night. If such as Horus, Fulgrim or Lorgar could be corrupted under the baleful influence of the powers of the Warp, then what hope remained that the teeming mortal humanity would do otherwise? As the Horus Heresy entered its second year and the fires of war swept across the Imperium, the true and horrific extent of the Traitors' sins were exposed. The earliest battles had revealed the Warmaster to have turned numerous august bodies to his cause, including those within the Mechanicum Taghmata and the Legio Titanicus, as well as uncounted Excertus Imperialis Auxilia units. At Calth however, a new element of the Traitors' blasphemy was employed -- vast hosts sworn to serve the Traitor Legiones Astartes, devoted to them not only in body but in soul; these deluded "warp cultists" so-named because of their mindless veneration of the creatures that dwell in the Empyrean and of their fallen Legiones Astartes masters.
Warp cults had of course been encountered, albeit infrequently, during the progress of the Great Crusade. Such debased examples of humanity were usually found on worlds within proximity of existing warp storm activity or with a prevalence of psyker birth within the general population. Such cults were oft times tainted with interaction with xenos lore or contamination by alien species, or promulgated by some alpha-level rogue psyker with messianic or apocalyptic pretentions. Direct confrontations with such threats were however rare as they were either a relatively minor factor in a larger Compliance campaign or encountered in highly unusual circumstances, such as the lengthy persecution of the void-born Gethora Warp-Witches by the Night Lords Legion across the Vaomir Reaches in the late 970s.M30. The principal reason for this was that since the very beginning of the Great Crusade, any world encountered with substantial warp breaches in evidence of the kind that such cults either promulgated or were often spawned from were simply destroyed via Exterminatus from orbit without direct confrontation. This order had been a direct and unwavering dictate issued directly by the Emperor and one that had been upheld almost without exception until the Word Bearers themselves began to covertly subvert and ignore it for their own ends. As to the "truth" of such veneration, it was considered no more than just another false religion, meaningless in the context of the Imperial Truth, and consigned to the darkness from which the Great Crusade was delivering the galaxy, or so it was believed.
The truth, however, was that on many fringe and backwater worlds declared Compliant by Horus' supporters, entire populations had not just been allowed to shed the mask of civilisation and reason and surrender themselves to the Warp, but actively encouraged to do so by the work of the Word Bearers and other, far more hidden, forces. As the insanity of galactic civil war gripped the Imperium, previously law-abiding peoples rose up against their masters, slaughtering those in authority in bloody displays of long-repressed hatred. Once-productive workers smashed the machines they had tended for generations and set manufactoria to the torch, whilst amongst the madness educated men and women cast off the secular reason they had been born into and resurrected the heathen idolatries of their ancestors.
The Roots of Insanity
Of the seeds of this galaxy-wide chaos, much has been surmised but very little proven. Indeed, it is likely the Warp cults that originally aligned themselves to the Warmaster Horus' cause did so for a wide range of different reasons, although the end result was essentially the same-anarchy, bloodshed and treachery on a galactic scale. Regardless of the underlying source of the taint, it was the dark genius of the Warmaster's numerous envoys, in particular the Word Bearers' Dark Apostles and their disciples, that harnessed it to the Traitors' cause. No doubt most would have receded over the generations were it not for the far-reaching and horrific scheme of First Chaplain Erebus and his kin, while others would likely have burned themselves out in brief, if bloody, rebellions.
One source of the corruption which led to the formation of many warp cults was the religiosity of many ancestor populations, suggesting woeful failure in the Iterators whose task it was to dispel these beliefs and replace them with the Imperial Truth. Indeed, no world should have been declared fully Compliant until this had occurred, hinting at either conspiracy on a monumental scale or gross systemic incompetence. The latter might seem the more plausible theory, but the events of the Horus Heresy indicate the former is all too possible. Regardless, in the aftermath of the Istvaan V betrayal, countless thousands of formerly denounced religions reawakened in subtly altered form. Benevolent deities were supplanted by vengeful gods and offerings of crops replaced with demands for blood sacrifice. All led inexorably to the worship of those powers which came so close to laying the Imperium low.
Another source lay in Mankind's own dark nature. Despite the trappings of civilisation and the appointment of Imperial Commanders to rule over them, the populations of a great many worlds still existed in barbarous conditions little improved since the Age of Strife. A campaign to bring a primitive Feral World such as Oran or Forman C2 to Imperial Compliance might be won in solar weeks, but it might take Terran decades or centuries before such a world could support a functional society able to take its place within the Imperium. The populations of these worlds were notoriously warlike and primitive, and it took many generations to educate them in the Imperial Truth, for native ancestral superstitions were never far from the surface of those recently illuminated by the Emperor's Light. Similarly, large parts of the populations of many Hive Worlds were violently lawless and resentful of any form of authority. Even the most productive of Hive Worlds were host to countless thousands of wretches who existed in the lightless under-hive depths without ever learning of the Imperial Truth. On worlds such as Gamma-Horgan, Kado and Avellorn, hyper-violent underhive gangers were quick to join with the forces of disorder when the Horus Heresy came to their world, hailing the Warmaster as a leader truly deserving of their loyalty.
At the other end of the spectrum were highly-ranked individuals whose positions within the upper echelons of the Imperial Expeditionary Fleets granted them access to knowledge others were denied. Though many aberrant human cultures were entirely obliterated, conservators attached to the Great Crusade fleets strove to record tales of the defeated foes of Mankind, from ravening alien horrors to recalcitrant human societies. Much of this knowledge was locked securely away and remained accessible only to the most senior of human and transhuman leaders, for many accounts contradicted the atheistic doctrines of the Imperial Truth and could not be allowed to fall into the hands of the weak or the ignorant. Inevitably however, some did, and many senior conservators were compromised by the events they recounted or the accounts in their custody. Men and women who had dedicated their entire lives to proving primitive superstitions false discovered that their own beliefs in empiricism and rationality were in fact founded upon lies. When the Age of Darkness fell, the knowledge watched over by many conservators escaped into the hands of madmen and Traitors who preached it to the Warp-slaved multitudes.
The Battle of Calth
The events that unfolded at the Battle of Calth would reveal a far more concerted effort to cultivate false religiosity in direct contradiction of the Imperial Truth in preparation for the galaxy-wide uprising that erupted in the aftermath of Istvaan. It would be many years until the horrifying extent was realised but it is now evident that the XVIIth Legion Legiones Astartes -- the Word Bearers -- deliberately seeded countless hidden warp cults across the worlds they had brought to Compliance in the five decades prior to the outbreak of the Horus Heresy. These were referred to the sons of Lorgar and by many of the cults themselves as the "Holy Worlds" and beneath the mask of Compliance, they hid a myriad of aberrant doctrines. Worlds that on the surface appeared ordered and civilised in fact seethed with heresy just below the surface. Furthermore, they attracted the outcast and the dispossessed, those unable or unwilling to accept the Imperial Truth. Individually or in small groups, hidden pilgrims travelled from all over the Imperium to join these bodies, swelling their numbers to such an extent that when word was given, countless billions rose up as one and declared the Warmaster as their lord, and in some cases, their god.
The Primordial Annihilator
At the time of the Battle of Calth, few amongst the Imperium's rulers were conscious of what the numerous Warp cults actually believed. Later, they would become all too aware, and later still, all such knowledge would be suppressed and declared anathema by the High Lords of Terra and the Inquisition. At that early stage, it was guessed that the cults worshipped what they imagined to be deities within the otherworldly dimension of the Warp. Certainly, Navigators and Astropaths, and perhaps the Primarchs, were aware that the Empyrean was host to an order of life that had no analogue in the material universe, but which was able to interact in a limited fashion with it, in particular through those who had been born with psychic abilities, ranging from Enslavers to Psychneuein. Investigations, interrogations and signals intercepts revealed myriad occult terms in use amongst the Warp cults, much of it beyond classification, but there remained certain terms and precepts that appeared over and again. The "Primordial Annihilator" was one such term, a title determined to refer to the Warp itself, as if the Empyrean were some vast gestalt consciousness which the Warp cults appeared to venerate. Others referred to the "Octed" and the "Eightfold Path", ascribing an unfathomable formulae and a dark purpose to those entities they believed guided their actions.
The Traitor Legiones Astartes made increasingly extensive use of allied human Warp cults as the wars of the Horus Heresy progressed. In many cases the cultists were found easier to raise and frankly more disposable than conventional military units, for while they were nowhere near as well-trained or equipped, they were often so utterly devoted to their transhuman masters they would obey any order and perform any deed, no matter how callous, inhumane or suicidal it was. The Sons of Horus Legion, for example, used Warp cults as occupation units during the Warmaster Horus' later phases of the so-called Dark Compliance, for they brought such oppression to captured worlds that few would dare rise up against them. Cultists made effective hunter-killer squads, adept at tracking down every last vestige of Loyalist activity on Traitor-held worlds and making grisly examples of those they captured. Cult forces also served as brutal overseers of enslaved populations, driving the output of industrialised worlds to many times previous levels to meet ever more strident demands for arms and equipment to fuel the Traitors' advance on Terra.
Where the Sons of Horus used cult forces to control dominated worlds, the IIIrd Legion, as it slid into its own moral abyss, used such allied forces as disposable sycophants and slavish worshippers, debased beings who viewed the Emperor's Children as the very apex of creation and for whom no indignity, crime or sacrifice was too great to perform in the hope of favour. Mortal servants of the IIIrd Legion abased themselves before their masters and would offer their lives in return for the briefest acknowledgement of their very existence. With a single word, any Emperor's Children Legionary could order a hundred allied cultists to attempt the most lethal of tasks or suicidal of battlefield missions, orders the cultists would obey unquestioningly with rapturous fervour. The Heretic Astartes themselves regarded the cultists with contempt, barely noting their presence except where dictated by necessity.
In several Traitor Legions, the ranks of humanity that constituted their support echelons -- Legion serfs, void crews, menials and auxiliary troops -- were slowly transformed into cult-like bodies. As the Horus Heresy ground on and the Traitor Legions began to cast off the trappings of their Imperial founding, their servants too were transformed into something else entirely. Many of the Warp cultists came to idolise their transhuman masters as demi-gods, entire sects springing into being aboard the Traitor fleets. Many were a continuation of the Warrior Lodges seeded in the Traitor Legions before the Horus Heresy even began, while others were spontaneous expressions of recidivistic superstition entirely beneath the notice of the Traitor Legiones Astartes themselves. Soon enough, all had called upon and were enthralled to Warp-born entities that cared only to feed upon their bodies and their souls.
Not all Traitor Legions, it must be said, had much use or regard for allied Warp cults, seeing them as debased, dangerous and beneath them, at least before the Age of the Scouring when many were forced to turn at last to the dark forces themselves to survive. One noted example of this disregard was in the Iron Warriors Legion who, in a manner entirely in keeping with the nature of their Primarch and temperament, used hordes of cultists under their control as expendable levies, utterly scorning their "faith" and viewing them of less use than even enslaved local defence militia, which could at least be counted upon to hold a weapon correctly. Notably, if such cult forces came under Perturabo's control, his standing orders provided for the culling of any potent psyker or Warp-crafter able to raise such entities as might interfere with the Iron Warriors' authority, while thousands of the cult's members were driven across mine fields or on to the enemies' guns; those who reached the walls forming a ramp of the dead and dying over which the Iron Warriors would launch the final escalade assault. Sometimes, cult forces tens of thousands strong were herded towards an enemy city or fortress simply so that Iron Warriors Warsmiths could survey the foe's fortifications and map their fire plans without expending their own forces, both Legion and mortal military auxilia they deemed of greater value.
To the Night Lords, it seems that such Warp cults were often no more than trivialities -- pawns in the Warmaster's game and the distrusted lickspittles of the Word Bearers, with whom they were nominally allied but scorned and distrusted. The Night Lords' mortal auxilia and servants had no master but them, even the whispers of the Warp failing to entice them, and no rule but for the fear the Night Lords engendered. This paranoia and obsessive control was even more evident in the machinations of the Alpha Legion, whose own web of agents and armies were labyrinthine and unknowable, and what use they made of Warp cults in this era, and at what remove, cannot now be determined.
Of all the Traitor Legions, however, it was the Word Bearers that made the greatest use of allied Warp cult groups, and it was at Calth where they were first openly employed.
Slaves to the Void
Although the Word Bearers often employed the many Warp cult forces aligned to them as auxiliary soldiery, their greater worth was as a mass offering to the Warp entities to which they were dedicated. In the aftermath of the Istvaan V Drop Site Massacre, the Warmaster Horus had tasked Lorgar and his brother Primarch Angron with engaging the Ultramarines on the Eastern Fringe and ensuring that the XIIIth Legion was not able to interfere with the Traitors' march on Terra. Lorgar intended to achieve this by two means: one military, the other far more esoteric. The military objective was to unfold during and after the Battle of Calth, once the Ultramarines' strength had been shattered by the surprise assault of the Word Bearers forces. In this, the Warp cultists aligned to Lorgar played a support role, for the task of killing Legiones Astartes could only be performed with any true efficacy by other Astartes. The Warp cultists' role in the Battle of Calth was to engage the mortal forces mustered on and about Calth -- the native defence units, Imperial Army line regiments and the elite of the Solar Auxilia. They were used as cannon fodder by the Word Bearers, hurled against a thousand defensive positions in order to foul the defenders' guns while the Traitor Astartes closed to assault range to deliver the killing blow. They were then used to hunt down survivors of the initial betrayal and to harry any force that attempted to consolidate with other remnants and were given responsibility for scouring the cities of Calth of their populations, driving the populace from the shelter of the dense cities and into the killing fields directly under the guns of the Word Bearers' planetary bombardment fleet.
As much as these tasks represented a military objective, they each served a still greater end which not even the genius of Roboute Guilliman could foresee. The deaths inflicted by and upon the numerous Warp cults aligned to the Word Bearers were all enacted as part of Lorgar's great ritual to bring about the Ruinstorm -- a vast Warp Storm similar to the later Great Rift that was to reave its way across the stars and slice the Imperium apart. Every drop of blood shed by the Warp cults, whether that blood was their own or their enemies', served to attract the attentions of the Ruinous Powers. Each scream resounded in the Empyrean and added yet another note in the great symphony of Chaos which only Lorgar could perceive and direct. That symphony was building to a crescendo that was to break many solar months later at Nuceria during the climax of the Shadow Crusade.
Though it might appear that the Word Bearers' allied Warp cults were brutally exploited in the pursuit of Lorgar's grand scheme, the truth must be that they were entirely willing participants in their own demise. The cultists had been promised all manner of esoteric and visceral rewards in return for their lives. They willingly threw themselves onto the enemy's guns, in the process achieving the multiple goals of soaking enemy fire, blocking shots aimed at their Legiones Astartes masters and of proving themselves worthy of the rewards promised to them. They did so with evident fervour, shrieks of blasphemous ecstasy on their bloody lips even as they fell, a pattern of behaviour still seen in the present day.
A further, still more awful, use which the Word Bearers' cultic allies were put to was only suspected at the time and was uncovered in more detail during the long years of the Calth Underworld War. The cultists were used as offerings to the Ruinous Powers, willingly setting their necks upon sacrificial blocks or shedding their guts upon stone altars as part of the most hideous and debased rituals imaginable. The objectives of these rituals varied, and while some were component parts of the larger ritual to bring the Ruinstorm into being, others were intended to summon Warp entities -- only later named "Daemons" in common Imperial parlance -- from the other-dimension of the Warp. The more ritual form the deaths took, the more powerful or more numerous the entities summoned, so that for a time at least, the raw stuff of reality became stretched and worn at Calth as the things brought forth by the Word Bearers fell upon their mortal prey in an orgy of blood. Oftentimes, those cultists not slain during the summoning of the Warp entities were butchered by them soon afterwards, serving as the sustenance the creatures required to remain in the material dimension and fuel the planet-wide slaughter to come.
- 9-39 Chaos Cultists
- 1 Chaos Cultist Champion
- Flak Armour (Optional, most cultists wear no armour or improvised armour)
- Autopistol (Optional replacement for Autogun)
- Heavy Stubber (Optional replacement for Autogun, 1 for every 10 cultists)
- Flamer (Optional replacement for Autogun, 1 for every 10 cultists)
- Shotgun (Optional replacement for Cultist Champion's Autogun)
- Brutal Assault Weapon (Improvised melee weapon, optional replacement for Autogun, 1 for every 10 cultists, or replacement for Cultist Champion's Autogun in addition to an Autopistol)
The Nature of the Enemy
- "Thought Begets Doubt, Doubt Begets Heresy and Heresy Begets Retribution."
- — Codex Imperialis
Heresy, false belief, political corruption, the danger of religious schism, treachery, apostasy, rebellion, and disorder are all utterly corrosive to the unflinching order that sustains human interstellar civilisation. Unity of purpose is needed if the Imperium, indeed humanity, is to survive. Since the dark days of the Age of Apostasy, it has been the sacred task of the Ordo Hereticus of the Inquisition to sustain that order by any means necessary. The foes of that order are diverse and widespread, from the false Adeptus Ministorum priest to the dissolute noblemen, demagogues and seditionists of every stripe, the mutant skulking in the shadows, and those who would sell out humanity to the alien or worse. But of all its enemies, it is witches and rogue psykers that are the Ordo Hereticus' prime targets and their pursuit, suppression, and destruction its most fervent goal. For any psyker who escapes discovery or flees from his just fate as part of the Black Ship's tithe, the Witch Hunter's pyre awaits.
The Nature of Cults
The business of the Ordo Hereticus is largely centred on the discovery and destruction of heretical or otherwise illegal cults and groups. The usage of the term "cult" within the Inquisition, and the wider Imperium for that matter, is a general one used to encompass the bewildering variety of possible religious sects, secret societies, creeds, political parties, associations, guilds, and conspiracies that are commonplace in the Imperium's many cultures. Outside what might be termed the two great cults of the Imperium -- the Imperial Creed and the Adeptus Mechanicus -- many other cults exist. The most common take the form of sects of the Imperial state-sanctioned faith who devote themselves to a particular aspect of doctrine or the veneration of a particular Imperial Saint or miraculous event. Second to these are warrior societies of various forms, which are especially prevalent on Feral or Feudal Worlds, followed closely by the numerous cult-like groups, most often preferring the term "guild," who cater to a particular specialised craft or trade. Beyond these, most Imperial worlds often boast scores of other local cults whose exact nature often baffles outside scrutiny, tied to some idiosyncrasy of culture, planet, clan, or historical event. It is only when a group becomes considered heretical and is judged to espouse an ideology that is contrary to the Imperium's law or broad strictures of the Imperial Creed that a cult merits the Holy Ordos' attentions.
Heresy can be a contagious thing in itself, and when it spreads, a cult is often formed from those that subscribe to it. In other cases, a powerful or charismatic leader will often draw a coterie of devoted disciples and followers into forming a heretical cult, and by the same token, deviants and like-minded individuals often join together for mutual support and protection. Cults exist in the main for very good reasons, the most obvious being secrecy -- the protection and greater resources of the larger group allows it to better organise and conceal itself from prying eyes, rivals, and outside threats. The second is power, as the strength of a cult's membership united is often far greater than what an individual would possess. This is a truth that remains constant on many levels, from pooled finances to sustaining and reinforcing the loyalty and adherence of its members. Isolation, after all, promotes cohesion in-and-of-itself, whilst division will destroy a cult as easily as any Witch Hunter's purge.
Heretical cults often share several common attributes despite their many differences. Most seek to conceal themselves behind the disguise of a more benign (or at least accepted) front organisation, or remain completely hidden from the authorities in order to avoid discovery. Cults also often favour a particular milieu in which to operate and recruit fresh members, which is often determined by the cult's own nature. For example, a cult centred on fermenting rebellion amongst mutant labourers will confine itself to the shatters and barrens where the mutants dwell, recruiting from the disaffected and outcasts among their numbers. Meanwhile a malefic conspiracy of daemon worship among the depraved Imperial planetary nobility will often limit itself to the salons and private estates of the elite for its haunts and recruiting grounds. Many cults also share similar organisational structures despite their differing goals and natures, the most common of which are detailed below. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and in many cases, the structure may involve many minor differences in practice and effect. While a particular cult may favour one structure over another, it will often include other structural elements as well.
Types of Chaos Cults
- "This was my hand! It was ripped from my wrist three tithes ago in the teeth of a forging press. Our oppressors seared my severed stump so that I could remain at my station without bleeding to death. But look upon my hand now, sisters and brothers! It has regrown, and with more fingers than I could ever have hoped for. It is a blessing from the Great Saviour, and such blessings can be yours also. All that is required of you is faith."
- —Grekk Redeye, Sermon in the Sump
It is no coincidence that many of the lowly followers of Chaos are mentally unstable, social misfits, or else desperate individuals whose only hope of sanctuary lies in the bosom of Chaos. Among these are people who believe that all Mankind is doomed, and that they live in the last days of Man's dominion before the universe is swallowed by Chaos. These people are called Apocalypts, and their particular brand of insanity inspires them to fight against all government order to bring about the collapse of civilisation which they believe inevitable.
While warbands practice their worship of the Lord of Skulls openly, cultists gather in backrooms and secret slaughter tunnels beneath crowded streets, plotting murder and bloodshed in Khorne's name. Given the terrible nature of many Imperial worlds, however, locals often barely notice increases in violent crimes, missing persons, and gory dismemberments, allowing Blood Cults of Khorne to flourish below the rot of society. The members of these cults have many different reasons for joining together. Some have seen a friend die in a bar fight. Others have lost their families in Adeptus Arbites raids. There are even those who fight for sport because they enjoy the feeling of fists shattering jawbones. All these reasons and more can set a man on the path toward the veneration of Khorne. Vengeance and combat are intoxicating to those predisposed to revel in them. This feeling drives individuals to want more, to be strong enough to topple greater foes, and to seek the power necessary to do so. No matter the reason that brings them together, when these individuals find each other, they are united by a common desire. They wish to kill, offering blood and skulls in exchange for power and retribution, and Khorne has much to offer them in the bargain.
Perhaps the most efficient structure for a cult carrying out activities that risk regular exposure and persecution is the "cellular structure." This kind of cult's structure breaks down its membership into a series of small sub-groups, the cult's cells. Cells, which range from a handful of individuals up to perhaps hundreds of members, are each devoted to carrying out a particular specialisation or a certain task or goal. Other than the select few, or an individual, who control the cell, none of the cell's other members has any direct contact with the wider cult or even other cultists outside of his immediate circle and cell. This structure has the profound advantage that if any of its rank-and-file are captured or compromised, they may betray nothing that does not concern their own immediate cell, keeping the wider cult safe and its dealings and purposes secret. Indeed, this shell game may be carried further, with a particular cell's leadership forming the rank-and-file of another, smaller cell senior in authority, and that cell's leadership part of another and so on. This can prove a phenomenally hard structure to successfully track and destroy and by its nature is highly adept at covert and independent operations. Many of the most dangerous cults and heretical groups who are sufficiently well-organised operate a cell structure or at least organise their field agents into cells for this reason, as does, ironically enough, the Inquisition.
Charismatic cults are the simplest in structure, as their organisation is based around the authority of a single figure -- the cult's leader. Personal authority is usually the norm in these cults and is maintained by the leader's force of character, natural charisma, oratory skills, or simple personal power. Cults led by a single powerful figure such as a witch or magus are often of this type, although any place where malcontent or religious schism breeds can throw up a charismatic leader. This individual will exploit the weakness of others for his own personal power or gratification, or the fulfilment of his own apocalyptic vision.
Cults of Change
Individuals who exhibit great cunning, intelligence, and ambition — particularly those who came into power through convoluted schemes — have a part to play in the great drama of the Playwright of Destiny. As Tzeentch and his minions prefer to wage war through deception, guile, espionage, and trickery rather than open warfare, the Master of Fate places high value on mortals in positions of power who can influence organisations, gain access to classified information, direct the allocation of resources, and shape decisions and policy. The Great Conspirator does not discriminate, nor does he recruit only from the social and intellectual elite. He also prizes those cunning and ruthless low-born individuals who must lie, cheat, steal, and deceive simply to survive. Anyone with the right combination of strengths and attributes might catch Tzeentch's attention.
Death Cults of the Imperium
Death and blood underpin human existence. It is a common truism that only through continued blood-sacrifice in the face of a hostile universe will Mankind prevail, a sacrifice likened in the Imperial Creed to the bodily sacrifice of the Emperor Himself. So it is in these beliefs that Death Cults flourish within the Imperium, a dark shadow of the more readily recognised sects of the Imperial faith, making them some of the most dangerous heretical cults that the Inquisition can encounter. Some are no doubt deluded, corrupted by the Ruinous Powers or swayed by far older and more terrible influences, but many are devout followers of the Throne. To these individuals, every death, every cut, every welling of blood is an act of worship to the Immortal Emperor of Mankind. Such death cults can vary widely in purpose, creed, makeup, and scope, but even the least suspect walks something of a tightrope between the sublime and the damned. Most so-called Death Cults, despite their differences, can be divided into three broad categories:
Perhaps the most commonplace and famed sub-division of the Death Cults, sanguinary cults focus on the act of bloodshed itself -- the manifold art of killing and the moment of extinction. Often honing the skills of the assassin beyond the ken of normal men, such cults are tolerated or at least wilfully ignored by the Imperial authorities despite their heretical and even vampiric tendencies. This tolerance is because they are known to be implacable in their hatred of Mankind's enemies, supplying the Adeptus Ministorum and the Inquisition with invaluable adepts of murder and fanatical killers loyal to the cause. Some have even more shadowy connections to the mysterious Officio Assassinorum, the secret organisation that provides unparalleled adepts of murder for the High Lords of Terra. Many sanguinary cults spring into being in the fertile soil provided by the harsh conditions found on many Feral and Feudal Worlds. However, the shadows of the underhive, the viperous intrigues of the noble's court, and even the travails of deep space can equally create the conditions where ritual societies dedicated to the deadly arts of the blade, bullet, and poison can flourish. The Calixis Sector has numerous such sanguinary cults and sacrificial societies present scattered across many worlds, and indeed, the population of the outcast Feudal World of Fervious is largely governed by them. The most famous of the death cultists, without doubt, are the assassin-mystics of the Moritat, which has sub-cults and cells operating right across the sector and indeed beyond.
Necrophagic cults are the most blatantly heretical and terrible of all Death Cults, with sects often springing up on worlds ravaged by incessant warfare or planet-wide famine, pandemic disease, or other terrible disasters. In desperation and often goaded by outside influence, the people's faith and devotion take on an increasingly malign turn, with human sacrifice, cannibalism, and necrotic rituals becoming widespread. In such cases the members of these cults rapidly become irretrievably insane and physically corrupt, and are often the playthings of Warp entities, while the vile leaders of such cults walk a tightrope between burgeoning malefic power and utter madness. Necrophagic cults are never tolerated by the Imperial authorities and are hounded to destruction wherever uncovered. Within the Calixis Sector, necrophagic cults have been known to spring up in the wake of long-burning wars (as has happened on Tranch and Malice in recent years), on isolated and savage worlds such as Endrite, and in the dark Space Hulks and vessels in space where stricken survivors or desperate stowaways devolve into a form of mutant cannibal known to the Void Born as Ghillam or Hold-Gaunts. But of all these tales, none can compare to the ancient stories of the appalling Saynay Clan of Dusk, whose half-mythic ghoulish histories have given the children of the Calixis Sector nightmares for many Terran centuries.
Resurrectionist or Revivicator Cults
Rarely encountered but insidious in nature, resurrectionist cults ultimately seek to conquer the secrets of life and death itself. Some resurrectionist cults preach a doctrine of the Emperor's triumph over death and the conquest of human weakness, while others entreat darker masters, pursue utterly forbidden sciences, or hide baleful xenos or Warp-spawned influences at their hearts. Often they espouse the goal of attaining physical immortality for the faithful and will go to unspeakable lengths to obtain their ends. More so than even the sanguinary cults, these groups attract insane and desperate individuals to their ranks, those who have lost everything, become the most degenerate Heretics or follow the wildest of deviant creeds. Some resurrectionists even practice ritual revivification to indoctrinate their members. The most extreme examples of such sects believe that the Emperor's plan is for Mankind to follow Him into a blessed "immortality of the flesh." They even claim that it is possible through the use of utterly forbidden archeotech to free the Emperor from the Golden Throne to walk among His people, "dead-but-alive-everlasting" to quote the darkly renowned Credo Mortifex. Such cults are hated by both the Ministorum and the Adeptus Mechanicus and must throw up a murderous veil of secrecy and superstition in order to survive.
Mystery Cults and Secret Societies
Mystery cults are centred, as their name implies, on secrets. These secrets may concern a hidden network of power, a cache of forbidden lore, access to ancient prophecies, or other esoteric truths and important information. These secrets are held by a select group, forming an inner circle or oligarchy (often with several sub-tiers of rank), and are the foundation of their power and authority. The cult's members must submit to this group's leadership and direction if they are also to gain access to the hidden secrets, and perhaps one day wield the cult's power for themselves. Many mystical cults, religious sects, and those focused on occult lore follow this pattern, as do a surprising number of institutions who hide their inner workings with elaborate ritual and labyrinthine secrecy. Within the Imperium, arguably the largest single mystery cult is the Adeptus Mechanicus itself. The Priesthood of Mars hides its secrets well, even from its own numbers.
Not all who seek to serve Nurgle have the means to attract his attention through grand individual acts of devotion. Most mortals do not have the might of a Chaos Space Marine or the influence of a corrupt political leader. For these common worshipers, notice is often best gained when they band together as a Plague Cult. The power of such a group is far greater than that of any one of its members. Alone, these individuals can do very little, but if all are members of the same plague cult, it can be another matter entirely. The guard can look the other way when suspicious materials are smuggled in and stored safely away from prying eyes. Disease and despair are common throughout the galaxy. Death is ever-present as well, especially when plague grips a region. Some who would worship Nurgle see the death that follows disease, misinterpret the Plaguelord's will, and form death cults instead of plague cults. To these woeful souls, death is all. They believe that Nurgle's ultimate goal is final death. They are wrong. One common task that Plague Cults often take upon themselves is the eradication of these rival death cults who have so egregiously wronged Nurgle. The struggles between the two types of cults are usually limited to small skirmishes or individual assassinations. Only when it is too late, when the Plague Cult has vanquished the Heretics, and an unstoppable contagion spreads through their streets, do the authorities realise their error.
There are countless ways to come to know the glory of Slaanesh. Some mortals are simply tired of the suffering they experience daily in a merciless, unrelenting galaxy and want some sort of reward for enduring the ceaseless pain. Others enjoy a life of privilege already, but refuse to be satisfied with what they have. There are even those who simply cannot seem to resist certain actions or sensations, from listening to screams of tormented captives in torture chambers, filling their bodies with neurostims, or obsessively staring at walls of a particular shade of mauve for solar hours on end. From the most grand ambitions to the most seemingly innocent desires, anything that causes the slightest pleasure in a mortal is an opening through which the Dark Prince can make his presence and influence felt. Regardless of where a cult springs up, how it grows, or what the particular fixations it has might be, all Pleasure Cults of Slaanesh have common themes -- excess, sensation, and personal perfection. One cult may be trying to find the perfect pitch at which to scream, another seeking the most efficient way to get wine into the bloodstream, and another pushing the limits of how much skin can be removed before the body fails. They are all looking for more than they have or more than they have been told is possible. A cult of Slaanesh is a study in obsession, just as their Prince would have it.
Thousand Sons Cultists
Of the heaving masses that make up the citizenry of the Imperium, most live in desperate squalor, packed into mountainous hive cities where they toil endlessly in vast manufactorums. Generations upon generations live and die in a state of constant fear -- fear of invasion, fear of starvation, and fear of the retribution they will face if they dare to cast off the shackles of Imperial order. These wretched conditions are the perfect breeding ground for dissent and rebellion. In the face of hopelessness, many are swayed by whispered stories that tell of the Chaos Gods and the rewards bestowed upon their followers. Such unimaginable power is tantalising to the powerless, and sets many on the path to damnation.
Cults begin to grow deep within the fabric of Imperial worlds, driven by the profane preachings of Chaos-touched demagogues. Though many of these cults are found and eradicated by the Ordo Hereticus, the watchers within the Imperium are not able to have eyes everywhere, and many more of these cults flourish. The Cultists hide in plain sight, their drab clothes covering tattoos and symbols they have carved into their own flesh, dedicated to the Ruinous Powers. Their numbers continue to swell with time until the cult has infected large portions of the planet's society, and a collective feeling of destiny gives the members purpose. They begin to gather weapons into secret caches, pilfering from Planetary Defence Forces and crafting makeshift implements with which they can hack and bludgeon. Some are even given visions which reveal methods to piece together crude but effective guns.
As their hour of reckoning approaches, the most faithful servants are marked with hideous mutations, and the wretches that behold these gifts offer up their souls willingly in worship to Tzeentch.
At last, as the invading forces of the Thousand Sons Traitor Legion approach their world, the Cultists' presence is unveiled. In a violent explosion of pent-up wrath they fall upon those with whom they have lived their whole lives. None are spared from their twisted fury, and they carve great bloody swathes through the hab-blocks and manufactorum districts, chanting blasphemies and paradoxical oaths as they rampage. Giant pyres are lit in the name of Tzeentch, and by their burning light the Cultists continue to mangle and mutilate those still loyal to the Imperium.
Many cities -- even whole worlds -- fall quickly to the sudden influx of Cultists, their defences completely overrun by the seemingly unending flood of bodies. But those that somehow are able to stem the tide of violence face an even greater threat, as the thrallbands of the Thousand Sons begin their inexorable march. Inferno Bolter fire and crackling beams of eldritch energy fly over the teeming throngs of Cultists, while tanks and Daemon Engines tear through ferrocrete walls to allow the stampede of tainted Humanity to continue. The sheer volume of Cultists allows them to soak up a vast amount of returned fire without losing momentum, and the sight of Rubric Marines and Sorcerers on the battlefield sends them into a religious fervour -- for these ornately armoured Chaos Space Marines are like walking saints, come to bless the Cultists for their loyal devotion
Whatever hope a Cultist may have derived from their profane worship is inevitably false. They are but pawns in the plans of the Thousand Sons, meat to clog the wheels of the Imperial war machine. Should they live through their initial uprising, no great reward awaits them. Those who survive may be taken by the thrallbands to other war zones where they will again be sent to die on the front lines. Others are transported to the Planet of the Sorcerers to serve as slaves or to be used as subjects in arcane experiments. Others are simply overtaken by their own mutations, and become gibbering Chaos Spawn.
Notable Warp Cults of the Horus Heresy
- "At Calth, black stars shall rise in the night, and strange moons cross the skies..."
- — Uncoded Vox traffic detected in the days before the Calth Atrocity
The Warp Cults of Calth
History has yet to relate the names of all of the cultic forces the Word Bearers committed at the Battle of Calth where Chaos Cultists were first used in large-scale military actions, and it is likely that as the Underworld War ground on, those factions brought to Calth as part of the Conjunction altered greatly. Some were obliterated when the Ultramarines began their counterattack on the surface, while others merged, split or changed in other ways. On the day of the Calth Conjunction, however, there were four chief cultic groups represented amongst the ranks of the Traitors, and it is likely there were numerous smaller factions present in addition to these, the names of most of which history does not record and only substantive evidence for cult forces in the northern hemisphere remains. The four primary Warp cults present at the Battle of Calth were the Ushmetar Kaul -- "the Brotherhood of the Knife", the Tzenvar Kaul -- "the Recursive Kin", the Jeharwanate -- "the Ring", and the Mandari -- "the Gene-kin".
The heavily mechanised forces of the Calaq War Hosts that took part in the Battle of Ithraca on Calth's southern continent were notable in themselves as their trappings of technology and record of Imperial military service masked the truth of their savage culture and devotion to the influence of the Warp, and therefore do not conform to the pattern illustrated here. As such they were not a cultic force in this accepted sense, but more like Traitor regiments of the Imperial Army.
Davinite Lodge Priests
Such histories that exist describing the roots of the Horus Heresy reserve a special place for the warrior lodges of the Feral World of Davin. Such descriptions are beyond the scope of this account and much remains unknown to us, but any examination of the Warp cults of the ancient galactic civil war must also include some mention of the Davinite lodge priests who were often to be found serving alongside them. These twisted Abhuman magi and demagogues each followed one of the animist and totemic warrior and mystic cults of Davin. Of these, one of the most commonly encountered were initiates of the so-called Serpent Lodge, into whose clutches the Warmaster Horus fell when wounded on Davin's Plague Moon and who would go on to act as his emissaries, but numerous other lodges were also recorded to a lesser extent. The warrior lodge priests appeared to serve a higher interest than the individual cults and may have been acting in concert with certain conspirators at the highest levels of the Traitors' leadership, in particular the Dark Apostles of the Word Bearers, who it is apparent had a hand in countless atrocities across thousands of worlds. While some lodge priests served as advisors in matters of prophecy and the Warp, others acted as high priests under whom multiple cult bodies could be gathered together. All were schooled in the darkest arts of Warpcraft and were able to call upon and wield the most terrible of Warp-born powers and aberrant psyker abilities, making them one of the most dangerous classes of the Warmaster's allies outside of the Traitor Legiones Astartes.
The Unclean Horde
Of the Recursive Kin and the Ring, very little is known save they were represented on the muster-tally as Feral World levies dragged along in the wake of the World Bearers Legion. While both factions fought in the opening phases of the war and inflicted heavy losses on the defenders of Calth, both were largely wiped out by counterattacks when the Ultramarines regained control of Calth's defence grid and initiated a heavy bombardment of Traitor units from orbit. According to after-action reports, both forces were observed engaging in the most outlandish of rituals and employed Warpcraft via rogue and aberrant psyker mutants concealed within their ranks. The Tzenvar Kaul, in particular, numbered many thousands of Abhumans and mutants in their ranks, ranking them as third-line troops suitable only for hazardous environment labour, forlorn hope operations and Zone Mortalis "clearance" duties. The conspiracy of the Traitors had concealed the full extent of their physiological deviance, however, which proved to be far in excess of that which would have warranted extermination on the grounds of biological contamination to the Imperium. These forces, when unveiled in battle, were revealed to be so debased in body and mind, they were little more than caricatured mockeries of humanity whose limbs were twisted far beyond all human norms, sporting chitin horns, thrashing tentacle limbs and far more eyes than any living thing should have. These aberrant creatures were simply driven at the Loyalists in massed wave assaults, seeking to overwhelm by sheer numbers, and died in their thousands either to Loyalist guns or the indiscriminate bombardments launched by their "allies".
The Crimson Brotherhoods
The Brotherhood of the Knife was the largest and most effective of the Warp cults deployed by the Word Bearers to Calth. As with others of its kind, it was brought to the muster under the guise of second-line Excertus Imperialis Levy Auxilia, with an entry given to the muster as classification "Light Infantry/Terrestrial Sub-type/Feral-Feudal Regressive". The cult force was, it appears, organised into between 10-20 sub-sects, each at least 10,000 strong. The members of the Ushmetar Kaul had already gained something of a reputation as a most bloodthirsty and brutal fighting force alongside the Word Bearers during their later Imperial Compliance actions, and they were recorded as engaging in the most violent rites before, after and even during battle.
The excesses attributed to these forces during the Battle of Calth -- particularly by the harrowing accounts of civilian survivors -- speak of the Brotherhood of the Knife fighting clad in rags soaked with the freshly-spilled blood of sacrificial victims, which were as likely to be drawn from their own ranks as from captured enemy combatants. Others had daubed arcane symbols on their skin with blood or had hair matted with clotted viscera; the by-products of mutilations and acts of furious cannibalism beyond the countenance of any sane mind. Many bore ceremonial blades and other melee weapons, and the more senior wielded ritual weapons since classified under the general term Athame, fashioned of jagged stone or strangely alloyed iron. Such weapons were by unknown means specifically attuned to the realm of the Warp, so that every death they inflicted was an offering to feed the empyreal entities with which the cult was in communion, and by the act of killing, they sought to breach the barriers which separated the material realm from the Immaterium.
It is believed that the Ushmetar Kaul proved itself a key component in the vast ritual of which the death of Calth was but the opening phase, its thousands-strong cohorts being deployed into the many cities and provinces across the surface of Calth, from Numinus to Talanko. The brotherhoods fought in close coordination with their Word Bearers masters, either serving as an expendable first wave or to clear entrenched foes by weight of numbers, butcher the wounded and round up prisoners for sacrifice. They were also fearsome and skilled fighters, and while individual cultists were no match for a Space Marine, they had the advantage of numbers and were driven by their rwisted creed to perform deeds beyond the endurance of mortal soldiers. With each death inflicted by the Ushmetar Kaul, Lorgar's grand ritual was progressed an increment more, making the Brotherhood of the Knife as useful in an occult sense as it was in a military one.
Perhaps the most unusual of the cultic sects engaged at the Battle of Calth were the Mandari, about which very little is known, for the manner of its members' devotions left little behind in the way of evidence that might be studied. What is known from examining captured fragments of their "sacred texts" from the bodies of the dead is that the rank and file of the Mandari -- the so-called "Gene-kin" -- were bound by some aberrant combination of technology and genetics to the service of the Warp in such a way that they believed utterly they would be re-born immediately after their deaths into a new and glorious form. The Word Bearers, it appears, promised the Mandari Gene-kin that they were in essence immortal. While a great many of the Warp cults committed to the Battle of Calth and elsewhere likely held similar beliefs, those of the Mandari were far more than dogma or esoteric metaphor.
Accounts submitted by Ultramarines units following the Battle of Calth and the subsequent Underworld War describe incidents of spontaneous mutation of a singular character far beyond the most extreme cases of bio-aberration previously recorded by Imperial savants, up to and including the bodily re-vivification of the dead. Forensic examination of recovered corpses by the XIII Legion's Apothecaries obtained during the Underworld War also record numerous medical anomalies, such as unnecessary surgical interventions and seemingly non-functioning implantations of extraneous foreign matter. The process by which these individuals underwent change was far from certain, yet in time the defenders of Calth came to recognise the hideous effect. Within a period of a few solar minutes to several solar hours after death, the body of the slain might begin to convulse and then thrash, bones snapping and flesh distending to the extent of acquiring additional mass by unknown means. Ruined flesh would re-knit, the fallen Mandari becoming a bent, split and twisted thing which bore little resemblance to the human form and that moved across the ground in an entirely unnatural rapid gait and was impervious to pain and trauma. Killing the returned Mandari took bravery, discipline and concentrated fire, and the defenders of Calth soon learned that only severe trauma inflicted to a Mandari cultist's central mass would ensure the horrific process did not occur. By their very nature and the fact that they could only be killed by the most destructive of means, the reanimated Kaul Mandari proved impossible to study.
Warp Cult Organisation
Throughout the wars of the Age of Darkness, cultic factions organised themselves in many different ways which remain still largely incomprehensible to Imperial observers. It was only much later that the numerological and esoteric significance of certain patterns and formulae were apprehended and categorised in the broadest terms by the agents of the Imperium's own more esoteric agencies such as the Inquisition. Countless variation was observed and any concerted effort to quantify or categorise cult formations was invariably doomed to failure. Despite this, certain common factors were observed across a wide range of cults, and while there were always examples of bodies with unique structures or no structure at all, some degree of commonality was recognised. The task of studying these groups was entrusted to a small number of savants and logistae on the staff of Malcador the Sigillite -- the Regent of Terra. While most of the work was carried out in secure isolation deep within the labyrinthine bowels of the Imperial Palace on Terra by Adepts sifting through countless thousands of reports and accounts, some came about through first-hand observation by field Adepts operating at great danger to themselves. It is from a combination of these two sources that the information presented here was collated.
The majority of Warp cultic groups were organised in a broadly pyramidal form, with a single individual at the apex and other members occupying subsidiary interstitial nodes with varying degrees of power and responsibility below them. Invariably, this person was either highly charismatic or otherwise able to exert an inordinate degree of control over the cult's members. In some cases the leaders were possessed of psychic ability, either recently developed or else repressed for many Terran years before being revealed. Others were possessed of such darkly portentous and forbidden knowledge, they were able to bend the multitudes to their will with words and phrases that struck horror into the souls of all who heard them.
Prior to the revelation of the Warmaster Horus' betrayal, the cult leader or "magister" was the only member of the group who was aware of the existence of other cults and invariably this individual kept such knowledge to themselves, apportioning small amounts out to underlings as rewards for service. In most cases, and in particular during the early days of the Horus Heresy, the leader was the only member of the Warp cult with any contact with outside powers, namely the Traitor Legions or their agents, or indeed other cults. The magister was master of the cult's numerous ciphers and secret tongues, without which both internal and external communications were all but impossible. This perspective invested cult leaders with enormous power, and made it less likely they would be challenged or usurped, for in doing so any challenger would win only incomplete control of the group. Below the magister there often existed an inner circle, sometimes referred to as a "coven", of especially trusted lieutenants, co-conspirators, seers, enforcers, advisors, consorts, bodyguards and even family members, forming a malignant dynasty at the Warp cult's heart. Such acolytes shared some of the leaders' burden of command and assisted in the occult rituals and murderous pursuits around which the Warp cult's activities were focused. When the call to rise up and fight for the Warmaster came, the individual members of the coven might serve as sub-officers, leading the greater masses of the cult into battle against the hated Loyalists. The realities of war very quickly weeded out those not suited to battlefield service and those who survived were often potent warrior-leaders indeed.
The greater mass of a Warp cult was made up of seemingly normal people, subjects of the Emperor and citizens of the Imperium who, despite appearances, nurtured a deep and twisted hatred for all the Great Crusade had achieved. When called upon to turn their hand against their masters, the masses did so with cruel relish. The majority of the cult's members had only the most rudimentary knowledge of tactics and weapons, but made up for this deficiency in wanton savagery, suicidal fervour and deluded courage. Under the fell influence of the magister and the cult's inner circle, the rank-and-file cultists would obey any order and perform any deed, utterly certain that even should they die, they would be resurrected into a new and supremely powerful sphere of existence as just reward for their sacrifice. As with other tiers, those cultists not suited to warfare were cut down in the opening salvoes, leaving behind a core of warriors that in sufficient numbers could overwhelm almost any foe.
Strength in Darkness
- "At the breaking of the final seal, the hosts of hell were awakened and wroth poured forth upon the land."
- — Tactical auto-scribe intercept Ithraca/ZK99.3344
Warp cults had two primary weapons to bring to bear against the Loyalists. The first was simple numerical advantage, for the tendrils of heresy had spread far and wide in the Terran years preceding the betrayals in the Istvaan System and by the time of the Battle of Calth, the Traitors were able to call upon unnumbered hordes of devoted cultist foot soldiers. Numbering among the subservient foot soldiers loyal to the Word Bearers and Sons of Horus in particular, Traitor war fleets were often accompanied by carrier vessels whose dark, stifling cargo holds were crammed full of cultists devoted to their cause. While many Warp cults rose up as discreet bodies, each holding their own idiosyncratic beliefs and practises, once swept up in the massive sector-wide advances of the Horus Heresy, they were soon subsumed into a gestalt mass of frenzied devotees bearing all manner of equipment and clothing.
The second is that numbers alone are unlikely to have granted these forces a decisive advantage, and it was in the sphere of the esoteric and the occult that their true strength was to be found. At Calth and in many other conflicts, the Warp cults served as part of a grand conspiracy, one in which stratagems beyond the grasp of the Loyalists were frequently employed. By way of Warpcraft and forbidden psionics, Warp-magi could cause the Empyrean to bleed into reality; they could assail the foe with the sanity-shattering wails of damned souls; they could make the stars go out and cause horrifying visions to burn across the night skies. Most terrible and potent of all were those magi who, by way of pacts with the unnameable denizens of the beyond, could call forth legions of fiends, things dubbed "daemon" by those few who witnessed them and survived to recount the nightmare. Time after time, the Warp cults showed themselves willing to sacrifice their own lives in abominable mass rituals to bring these creatures into being, and the Loyalists learned at a high price indeed that in slaying the massed hordes of Warp cultists, they might simply be hastening the arrival of a second wave of Warp-born daemons, a foe which few mortals and only the most stoic of the Legiones Astartes could hope to defeat.
In the panoply of war however, the majority of Warp cults were almost entirely deficient. Unlike the Imperialis Auxilia regiments that declared for the Warmaster, the countless Warp cults rarely had any access to military stockpiles before they rose up against the Imperium. Even once counted amongst the ranks of the Traitors, most cult bodies were afforded only the most limited access to Traitor supply chains. In reality, most cultists armed and equipped themselves by looting the bodies of the fallen, both Traitor and Loyalist, giving them a motley and ramshackle appearance made all the more outlandish by the occult formulae and Warp runes scratched into weapons and daubed across flesh and armour.
For all their undoubted value to the Traitor Legiones Astartes, the fate of the majority of allied Warp cults was the same on many battlefields. Their lot was to be expended as ammunition in the service of the Warmaster. They were frequently deployed but rarely re-deployed unless they could extract themselves from a war zone by their own efforts. Traitor Legiones Astartes commanders gave little or no heed to their well-being and regarded them as entirely expendable. Until the Battle of Terra, this fact was never made more starkly clear than at Calth, where hundreds of thousands of deluded Warp cultists were committed, only to be abandoned, their deaths but one element in Lorgar's far-reaching and unfathomable ritual to bring about the Ruinstorm.
Notable Post-Heresy Chaos Cults
Warsmith Baldurn is an outcast of the Iron Warriors since his defeat at the Fotress of Ventemar on the Daemon World of Medregard, Balduran has been seeking the means to rebuild his standing. When the Forces of Chaos overran Makenna VII, he used his share of the spoils to build up the strength of his Grand Battery. With so many war machines under his command, he planned to return to Medregard to crush those that mock him. He fought alongside the infamous Chaos Renegade Arbital Shard, who swore an oath of brotherhood to the Warsmith long ago on a daemon world at the heart of the Eye of Terror. Baldarun called upon his old ally to bolster his forces upon Makenna VII, and Arbial sent a detachment of his own personal elite, known as Arbial's Claw, on the condition that Balduraun relinquished the secretes of his beloved technovirus to Shard's men. Whether they survived to return the secret to their master is another matter.
The Blood Pact is a Chaos warband devoted to Khorne, differing from other such war bands in that they follow an unusually disciplined way of life. They can be found in the Sabbat Worlds Sector, primarily around the world of Ghourra. Unlike many Chaos Cultist warbands, the Pact fights as a disciplined army against the onslaught of the Imperial Guard's Sabbat Worlds Crusade, and this is what makes them so effective compared to the usual disorganized Chaotic masses. Consisting of highly trained, vicious soldiers and xenos mercenaries, the soldiers of the Blood Pact know no fear or hesitation. They have overrun entire worlds and caused the people of the Imperium no small amount of suffering and woe.
Brotherhood of The Horned Darkness
- "By this sacrifice, darkness, tell us."
- — The Rites of Balphomael
The Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness is a dangerous and highly organised malefic cult whose origins and activities go back according to some sources to the founding of the Calixis Sector and quite possibly beyond. This cult has been repeatedly smashed time and again over the centuries only to appear again some years or decades later. Membership, size, form, and power may vary, but it is always recognisable in its core beliefs and the object of its worship -- the Daemon Balphomael, the Horned Darkness. The brotherhood, known to some as the "Pact of Balphomael" or the "Black Society," is recognised by the Ordo Malleus as a near archetypical daemon worshipping cult, although often better resourced and more dangerous than most. Appealing to the nobility and the ruling elite who tend toward ambition and megalomania rather than jaded excess or forbidden pleasure, Balphomael's supplicants are often austere, driven, and dangerous individuals who obey their master's teachings and feed his hungry demand for sacrifice and suffering. In the past, multiple groups worshipping the daemon have been in existence at the same time, either kept in ignorance of each other or set up as rivals to prove their worth, depending on their daemonic master's whim.
The Carnibales are an insurgency native to the planet Solo-Baston which began when the Ecclesiarchy began appropriating land from the indigenous population. When the Ecclesiarchy, the ruling power on the shrine world of Solo-Baston, began appropriating the lands of the various tribes to turn over to agricultural use what first appeared to be a grass roots insurgency began to trouble the planet. In reality the rebellion was instigated by the Dos Pares, members of the Blood Gorgons Chaos Space Marines. The Carnibales were able to very quickly massacre the Solo-Baston Planetary Defence Force (PDF) who had not expected the insurgency. Eventually the Imperial Guard was called in to put down the rebellion, however their efforts proved futile because the carnibales had captured the super heavy Earthwrecker siege gun, which allowed them to thwart any attempt to land on the main Solo-Baston landmass. Though initially none of the Imperial authorities suspected the insurgency was aided by the forces of Chaos the increasing number of mutants among the Carnibales fighters and the growing number of shrines to the Dark Gods made this fact blatantly obvious.
Chem-Hunters of Messia
The inhabitants of Messia live in a world blighted with pollution and utterly inhospitable to human life; yet human life persists and has taken root within the twin cities at the planet's poles. Life in these cities is hard and heavily dependent on expeditions that continuously scour Messia's blasted wastelands to secure precious promethium. Such expeditions are made up of the hardiest of Messia's inhabitants and it is from these that the Chem-Hunters arise. Chem-Hunters are veterans of the unforgiving wilderness of Messia and offer their invaluable services as raiders and escorts to the drill-barons. They are consummate riders and skirmishers, frequently seen operating attack bike escorts or clinging to the rigs watching for roaming mutant hordes. The majority of Messia's population view them as daredevils at best and suicidal at worst. However, there is no denying that they are accomplished survivalists and valued additions to any warband. The Chem-Hunters of Messia are skilled and deadly killers who are used to surviving in spite of desperate odds. They tend towards wild and reckless behaviour, seeming to care little about the potential pitfalls of their actions. These nomads operate as mercenaries and guides that sell their services to the highest bidder, which on Messia usually means working for the notorious drill-barons. They are also proficient mechanics, most having to salvage and repair their vehicles under rather frantic circumstances. Despite the many extreme dangers, life on an expedition offers a great degree of freedom from the constant degradations of Messia's cities. Chem-Hunters are constantly exposed to all manner of pollutants and toxins in the scorched wastelands, and, should they survive, become naturally resistant to such chemicals. However, these individuals also suffer from a unique poisoning that makes them dependent on the very compounds that afflict their bodies. The exact nature of this toxin is unknown; some, however, speculate that it may be related to the phenomenon that spawns the planet's roving mutant hordes
Children of the Merciful Lord
The Children of the Merciful Lord were a Chaos Cult who paid homage to Nurgle. This cult was responsible for the war with the Imperium on the world of Cordassa.
Children of Sanguinary Unholiness
The Children of Sanguinary Unholiness was a massive Chaos Cult of Khornate Berserkers dedicated to the service of the Blood God Khorne which joined the Daemon Primarch Angron and his World Eaters Traitor Legion aboard the Space Hulk Devourer of Stars to launch an invasion of the Hive World of Armageddon in the Segmentum Solar in 444.M41. These cultists were drawn from the population of the Daemon World controlled by Angron and the World Eaters within the Eye of Terror and they were used to supplement the forces of daemons and Chaos Space Marines that Angron used to launch what would become known as the First War for Armageddon. The Children of Sanguinary Unholiness numbered in the millions but were ultimately defeated through the actions of Armageddon's mortal defenders amongst the Imperial Guard and its Planetary Defence Forces and the assistance of the Space Wolves and Grey Knights Space Marine Chapters.
The Cognitae was a Chaos Cult which took the form of an academy, run by its founder, Lilean Chase. The Cognitae's aim was to develop, "by means psychic, eugenic and noetic," a generation of individuals who would work to further the aims of Chaos in the Scarus Sector. Every graduate of the Cognitae was both highly intelligent and extremely dangerous. According to Criol Fowst, a senior member of the Ushmetar Kaul in 31st Millennium, known also as "the Brotherhood of the Knife," the Cognitae, or some similar version of it, has existed within the Imperium for millennia, as far back as before the Great Crusade. The Cognitae also spawned several offshoots and imitators.
Covenant of the Blessed
The Covenant of the Blessed was a Chaos Cult based on the planet Periremunda. Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor Killian managed to take control of the cult sometime before the 930s M41, and used it as a source of experimental subjects for his research into the Shadowlight. The ancient artifact was able to grant psychic abilities to a fraction of the humans who contacted it; Killian hoped to use created Psykers to battle Chaos with its own weapons. Most of the cult was killed when the planet was attacked by Tyranids, either directly by assorted bioforms or purged by the Imperial forces defending the world. Killian himself was declared Excommunicate Traitoris, and was killed by the Shadowlight as he attempted to flee with it.
Cult of Amber
The Cult of Amber had existed on the small world of Unctious for millennia, believing that even the snail's pace at which the Imperium changed was too fast, and that only by embracing stasis and stagnancy could their great civilisation by preserved for eternity. The cult's members included high-ranking politicians, bureaucrats and officers within Unctious's government, and all devoted themselves to preparing their world for the time when the skies would darken and the great Lord of Amber would stretch out his hand to claim his prize, preserving the planet for evermore and elevating his most beloved worshippers to the pantheon above. The Amber God was, perhaps unbeknownst to his cultists, a face of Nurgle, whose provenance was antipathy to change. Over the millennia, this parochial cult had been infiltrated and turned by agents of the God of Decay, so that the cultists opposed change in all its forms and begun to work far more openly -- and widely -- to not only maintain the status quo but to encourage regression and stagnancy. Towards the end of the 40th Millennium, the cult performed a dreadful rite, summoning the Lord of Amber -- Nurgle himself -- who indeed manifested upon the world of Unctious, bringing decay in all its forms. As Nurgle moved to seize the worlds within the Corvus sub-sector, he was thwarted by the Lord of Change himself. Tzeentch plucked at the Warp and drew it about the shoulders of the sub-sector, snatching it from Nurgle's sickly grasp, and scattering the planets and breaking the conjunction, denying him his prize. Nurgle, snatched the world of Unctious and Magister Thrax as his consolation and returned to the depths of the Warp.
Cult of the Angel of Fire
The Cult of the Angel of Fire was a Chaos cult that flourished on the worlds of the Krask system in the early 41st Millennium. Forsaking the teachings of the Imperial Cult, the sect leaders of the cult believed they were in contact with a being known as the Angel of Fire, the messenger of the Emperor, but who in fact, was actually a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch. Gaining a popular following within the Krask system, the Planetary Governors were overthrown and theocratic regimes were installed. Those who spoke out against the cult were placed in cages and burned alive. During the Macharian Crusade, the Imperial forces of Lord Solar Macharius encountered fierce resistance from the Cult of the Angel of Fire. As their inevitable defeat loomed ever closer, the cult priests succeeded in opening a Warp rift, which allowed the Lord of Change masquerading as the Angel of Fire, to emerge into the Materium. Macharius's forces managed to defeat the daemon and its summoned minions, as well as closing the rift. Afterwards, the Cult of the Angel of Fire quickly fell apart. It was not clear whether the cultists were ever aware that their entire faith had been an immaculate deception created by the Ruinous Powers.
Cult of Frantic Flensing
In 928.M41, High Praetor Osh'preen's disastrously lax reign over Dulma'lin opens the way for an heretical uprising by the Slaaneshi Cult of Frantic Flensing. The Astra Militarum Catachan II Regiment are the only regiment close enough to offer assistance but, thanks to a mysterious series of communication failures that bedevil the Catachans, Osh'preen and his corrupt government are left to their remarkably horrible fate.
Cult of the Red Talon
In 855.M41, the Cult of the Red Talon arose on Antraxes at the command of their daemonic master, the Lord of Change, M'Kachen, it was Brother-Captain Arvann Stern who led the counterattack. Striking at the heart of the cult's temple, Stern and his battle-brothers held true to their quest. Though outnumbered, the Grey Knights slaughtered the Cultists to the final damned soul. At the last, the mighty M'Kachen was defeated, banished screaming back into the Warp by Stern himself -- a formidable feat normally thought beyond the psychic abilities of a lone Brother-Captain. M'Kachen vowed to devour Stern's mortal soul in revenge, and they have battled many times since.
Cult of the Scarlet Vein
The Cult of the Scarlet Vein was a Chaos Cult that was confronted by the Relictors Space Marine Chapter when they were still a part of the Imperium. It was a bloody battle, which only Artekus Bardane survived. Bardane was finally elevated to the rank of Chapter Master at the recommendation of his predecessor, who was mortally wounded in the final battle against the Cult.
Cult of the Severed Tongue
In 713.M36, Tzeentchian Daemons rob the populace of Sundel of speech, every citizen rendered mute by Warp sorceries. In the silence that follows the Cult of the Severed Tongue is born, its debased members torturing and killing men and women with no voices to scream. For a year the cult reigns without opposition, turning the planet into a silent hell where corpses rot in the streets and men and women live like vermin in the shadows, fearful of making the slightest sound that will give them away. The Grey Knights confront the cult as Sundel stands on the verge of utter destruction, its cities completely given over to worshipping the very Daemons that orchestrated their ruin. In the empty silence, the only sounds to be heard are the bark of Storm Bolters and the crackle of Force Weapons as the Grey Knights purify the planet and annihilate any in their path.
Cults of the Crimson Slaughter
It did not take long for rumour of the bloody deeds of the Renegade Chapter known as Crimson Slaughter to spread across the vastness of the Imperium like wildfire. The desperate and the dispossessed clung to the tales -- gravitating towards any beings that could stand up to the harshest regime Mankind had ever known. Others -- the more debased and depraved of their lot -- chose the Crimson Slaughter for they saw that the renegades were strong. In the 41st Millennium, where total war is a way of life, it pays to ally oneself to the most formidable faction available. So did cults rise up and dedicate themselves to the red-handed renegades. To them, the Crimson Slaughter are manifestations of the Dark Gods themselves. Mutants, exiles, and hive gangers in their millions have set off in quest to prostrate themselves before the most fearsome of the Renegade Chapters -- the Crimson Slaughter. Most never make it. The galaxy is a dangerous place, and as merciless as the Imperium is to such traitors, the Chaos Space Marines are far worse. Most cultists are slain on sight, destroyed for pleasure, ritual, or the whims of the renegades. Some few, however, have found and joined the Crimson Slaughter -- at least until the mortals' overly ingratiating presence no longer serves any useful purpose. The Cult of the Red Disciples, the Cult of the Red Haze, the Bloodbathers and Dirtdogs make up but a few of the thousands of different cultists that serve the Crimson Slaughter.
Death Priests of Mire
Of the various worlds within the Screaming Vortex that exhibit signs of Nurgle's pestilent touch, few are as prominent as the barren and blighted planet of Mire. Here the squalid denizens forage aimlessly amidst endless foetid pools of festering muck and decaying vegetation, their diseased bodies enduring solely due to Nurgle's unnatural ministrations. Perhaps the most dangerous of these are the so-called Death Priests who prey upon their fellow Mirens in order to perpetuate their disgusting adulation of the Plague God's bountiful corruptions. Death Priests feed on the bodies of their victims in order to nourish the parasites, diseases, and other foul poxes that writhe in their bloated guts. They believe these afflictions to be a blessing from the Plague Father. On Mire, they see it as their unholy duty to hunt down the so-called "Pyrions" -- clean ones -- and devour them. After slaying any foe, though, they usually gorge themselves on every scrap of putrescent sustenance to feed the ravenous diseases that wrack their ghoulish forms. These feculent warriors are highly prized within the debased warbands of the Screaming Vortex, and many opportunistic slavers exploit their infamous enthusiasm for slaughter by luring these voracious killers off-world with promises of fresh carcasses to consume.
The Chaos Cult known as the Divine Fratery that comprised several thousand members and had spread throughout the Angelus, Antimar, Helican and Ophidian sub-sectors by the 400s.M41. As worshipers of the Ruinous Powers their primary goals were to spread, by any means necessary, anarchy and chaos in order to facilitate the disintegration of the Imperium. They were obsessed with the art of divination in order to discern possible futures, and, whenever one promised disaster, the Cult did everything in its power to ensure that the tragic event came to pass and to maximize consequences. As part of their initiation, members of the cult had to remove one of their eyes, and then craft a patch to cover their remaining one, made of special material and to exact specifications, before they could receive medical treatment. If they survived this stage of their initiation, the missing eye was replaced with an augmetic version for everyday use, while the remaining eye was left covered, to be used only during divination rituals. The Divine Fratery anticipated the coming of the Daemon Prince Slyte, who clashed several times with Inquisitors Gregor Eisenhorn and his pupil, Gideon Ravenor.
On the world of Baraspine, located in the Calixis Sector, a Pale Throng style revolt by the mutant castes used to tend the wind-blasted Impellor Towers that dot that world’s barrens threatened to plunge the hives into darkness. The Baraspine rising was later revealed to have been backed and instigated by a secret malefic sorcerer cult, the Ghol Voluptara. The cult used the anarchy and distraction caused by the insurrection as a cover for a series of dark rituals which were only prevented by the combined forces of the Adepta Sororitas and the ruling executive's household troops.
The Hidden Hand
The Hidden Hand is a Chaos Cult dedicated to the Plague Lord. They believe Mankind is a disease, spreading across the galaxy like a stain. The gods have turned from the filth of their presence. They believe it must be cleansed so that the gods will pour their bounties upon Humanity once more, and pestilence and plague shall be the tools for a thief to catch a thief, a plague to kill a plague -- poisoning the wells, defiling the air, passing contagion by touch to all those who pass by. When the corpses finally outnumber the living, the Cult will light the fires of purification and pass their souls unto the netherworld to take their pleas and prayers to the gods.
In 290.M34, during their long war against the Slaaneshi Hollow Cult and its many-limbed pleasure god, the Grey Knights lose almost the entire 7th Brotherhood. The cult lays a series of cunning ambushes for the Grey Knights, bending reality to isolate each of the battle-brothers and overwhelm them in a tide of daemonic flesh. The Grey Knights' retribution is absolute, and Supreme Grand Master Calastan gathers the full might of the Chapter against the cult. In the end, the only memory of the Hollow Cult that remains is recorded in faded ink within the Sanctum Sanctorum in the Citadel of Titan.
House Glaw was a former noble family of the planet Gudrun located in the Helican Sub-sector in the Segmentum Oscurus. Pontius Glaw was the seventh son of house patriarch Oberon Glaw, who was corrupted by Chaos and led a cabal Slaanesh cultists that eventually turned the attention of the Inquisition towards his activities. Inquisitor Absolom Angevin and his retinue tracked down Pontius and his cabal with the aid of House Glaw, who sought to distance themselves from their heretic kinsman. The hunt for Pontius eventually ended with his death. Over the next two centuries, House Glaw was investigated multiple times, as they had never fully escaped suspicion. Even though they cooperated with Inquisitorial investigators, Chaos activity in the sub-sector eventually led back to Gudrun and House Glaw. Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn eventually discovered that the entirety of House Glaw was corrupted by Chaos and that the new Lord Oberon and his brother Urisel were involved with powerful Chaos benefactors, including Chaos Space Marines from the Emperor's Children Traitor Legion. When word reached Inquisitor Commodus Voke, the puritanical Inquisitor called upon the Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy to conduct a purge of Gudrun, and House Glaw was all but wiped out.
The Infardi were Chaos Cultists native to the planet Hagia in the Sabbat Worlds Sector. They took their name from a local word for pilgrim and wore robes of emerald green which mocked that shrine world's Imperial faith. They were tattooed with images of Saint Sabbat in congress with daemons and Chaotic runes. They were led on Hagia by their general Pater Sin. It is presumed that the Infardi were destroyed upon activation of the psychic amplification device beneath the Shrinehold of Saint Sabbat, save for Pater Sin, who had fled Hagia some days before. Infardi is also the Hagian name for pilgrims of Saint Sabbat.
The Ironclad are a large movement of Chaos pirate raiders active in the Medina Corridor who are also dedicated to the service of the Ruinous Powers and the spread of their faith.
Led by Magister Sholen Skara, the Kith was a genocidal Chaos Cult which committed countless atrocities during the Sabbat Worlds Campaign. On the world of Balhaut, in the aftermath of the fighting, as the Imperial forces secured their occupation, the legacy of the Kith's murderous Magisters was revealed. Skara's murder-camps on the Balopolis Peninsula contained hideous evidence of the genocide the Kith had wrought on the population of Balhaut, perhaps for no other reason than the pursuit of their own twisted entertainment. Imperial personnel who witnessed these discoveries were plagued by terrible mental distress and even insanity. Still others, most notably Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt were driven on in a relentless obsession to destroy the perpetrators of these atrocities forever. Following his flight from Balhaut, Skara took refuge on Sapiencia, an Ocean World. Supported by his Kith followers the architect of the Balopolis murder-camps established a new stronghold from which to mount counterstrike operations at the Imperial bases on Voltemand and Caligula. After a single mass Imperial Guard assault in early 768.M41 reconquered Sapiencia, Skara's plans were swiftly brought to an end. The masterful orbital drop onto the beaches of the primary island groups would prove to be one of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade's swiftest victories, mostly due to the capture of the genocidal Magister early in the assault. The vile Kith destroyed themselves in a mass suicide ritual in accordance with their dark cult beliefs. Skara craved death himself, but was denied, as his murderous career finally ended when he was given over to the tender mercies of the Holy Ordos of the Inquisition. His fate remains unrevealed.
During the Krandor Rebellion in 795.M41 a massive uprising in the Krandor System is harshly put down by the Cadian 23rd Regiment. Several of the cults, notably the followers of the Shining Deity, the Cult of Many Tentacles, and the red robed Brotherhood, had not been seen since the Fourth Quadrant Rebellion. Although both military and civilian losses are high, their quick subjugation is vital. The Imperium can ill-afford to lose the resource-rich Krandor system, which holds planets key to the whole of the Segmentum Obscurus.
The Lost and the Damned
The Lost and the Damned include the hordes of Chaos Cultists that follow Abaddon the Despoiler during the Black Crusades of Chaos Undivided. Also in use as a more generic term for all of the human or mutant forces of Chaos that are not Chaos Space Marines.
The Magi (the original philosophical descendants of one of the Inquisition's founders, Moriana) is a Chaos Cult that continuously seeks out possible Divine Avatars and either kill them, control them or study them according to their personal philosophy, only rather than wishing to suppress the God-Incarnate they want to bring it about. The God-Incarnate is the belief that a god could become a physical incarnation -- the physical vessel for a god in the material world. The idea of the God-Incarnate is that there will be a certain individual (or individuals) who will allow this to happen -- a god could invest their power into the mortal body and literally become a living god (commonly known amongst the Thorians Inquisiton faction, as Divine Avatars). Some of the Magi may be trying to create a God-Incarnate of the Choas Gods, out of selfish hope to either be the Divine Avatar themselves, or by earning eternal favour of their god for being the most loyal of servants. Others may be trying to reincarnate the Emperor, seeing this as the true way forward for Humanity.
The Malice Brotherhood was a Chaos Cult on the Mining World of Sepheris Secundus located in the Calixis Sector within the Golgenna Reach Sub-sector. The cult was formed when members of the serf class located a tome in the ruins of a mine tunnel, that had been used by a previous chaos cult that had been destroyed by the Inquisition. The massive tome described many of the rites and rituals associated with the extinct cult. The words in the book disturbed them greatly and they considered ridding themselves of it, but they were a desperate people; having long endured the brutal environment and hopeless existence that entails being a miner. The tome gave a few deluded souls the idea that the best way to escape their fate was to bring down the wrath of the Imperium, to purge the world of all life, and to put an end to their miserable fates and that of their families and friends. Having formed the Malice Brotherhood, they set out to cause enough trouble that the powers in the Imperium would come and purge the planet. Instead of a planetary-wide purge from orbit, a platoon of Imperial Guard troopers was sent to the planet in order to deal with the problem. The Commissar in charge considered the cult to be nothing, but saboteurs and rabble-rousers and soon located the cults base in the tunnels of the Gorgonid Mine. Making short work of the cultists on the surface the Guard pursued the fleeing cultists into the tunnels. It was there though that the tide of battle turned against the Guard and the cult as well. Deep inside the tunnels were the mutant servants of the Antithesis Stone -- a large lavender stone, that gave off a pulsing pink glow, that was able to change anyone near it into a mutant, who then fell under its control. Sensing a chance to increase its power the Stone unleashed its mutant followers on the Guard and cult alike. What followed was a massacre as the mutants killed everything in their path. The commissar had the tunnel sealed, leaving anyone inside to the mercy of the mutants. Those members of the cult that still lived were captured, along with the Guard, and changed into mutants that soon worshiped the Stone. Those members of the cult captured on the surface were executed by the Imperial Guard.
- "Come and see, you must come and see."
- — Last broadcast of Eldred Krane, Acolyte Aventine District, Malfi
Of all the threats facing the Ordo Malleus in the Calixis Sector, few are more dangerous, stranger, or as little understood as that posed by the cult known as the Menagerie. There are even those within the Inquisition that insist the cult is a phantom -- a paper threat, a thing without substance, a conjecture woven from half truths and overactive fear. This, in turn, has led to fears by some that even the Holy Ordos has not been beyond the cult's corrupting reach, and a few Daemonhunters have engaged in unsanctioned operations in order to destroy it. The horrific truth is far worse. The Menagerie is very real, and its threat goes far beyond that of a few hundred lost lives, or a thousand or a billion. It seeks to undermine the very nature of reality itself with its revelations and to pitch the Calixis Sector into an abyss of Chaos from which none shall escape. The Menagerie has such sights to show, and all are invited to come and see.
The Mystic Path was a Chaos Cult comprised of a cartel of traders and noblemen who hailed from the planet Maginor, capital world of the Niaides Sub-sector in the Ultima Segmentum. Members of the Cult were known to utilize Warp artefacts to increase demand for their goods, a practice that gradually corrupted them over a long period of time. Almost two centuries before his demise, Inquisitor Quixos encountered the Mystic Path. Rather than destroy them, as any other Inquisitor would have done, Quixos instead built up a relationship with them, so much so that they eventually became the personal cult of the Chaos-corrupted Inquisitor. The Path eventually spread throughout Ultima Segmentum and beyond, with Quixos as their patron. Two Inquisitors -- Helgrund first, and then Hetris Lugenbrau in 239.M41 -- arrived on Maginor and battled the Mystic Path, eventually coming into conflict with Quixos himself. Both times, however, the loyal Inquisitors were killed when the daemonblade wielded by Quixos caused them to immolate. The Mystic Path's last known activities with Quixos took place around the time of Quixos' eventual death on Farness Beta, in 343.M41. Aided by cultists of the Path, Quixos was attempting to duplicate the pylons of Cadia in an effort to collapse the Eye of Terror in on itself. Before he could complete this plan, however, Quixos was killed in single combat with Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn. The fate of the Mystic Path after this is unknown, but it is speculated that they were purged from Maginor by the Ordos Niaides shortly after Quixos' death.
The Pale Throng
- "Humanity has reached a dead end! It no longer has the means to sustain itself in the stars. Blind to its own limitations it kills the children that hold the key to its future. We are those children and the future is ours!"
- — Broadcast to loyalist relief forces by the rebels during the Tranch War
Rightly regarded as the cause of one of the most dangerous threats to the stability of the Calixis Sector in recent years, the Pale Throng is a mutant cult whose origins lay on the bleak and oppressive world of Tranch. There it led the wave of bloody uprisings that ignited the infamous Tranch War, whose aftermath still lingers to plague many worlds in the Malfian and Adrantian sub-sectors to the present day. No subtle cult or hidden conspiracy, the Pale Throng is a crazed and degenerate congregation of shambling horrors and decayed and sickening witch–breeds guided by sinister mutant overlords. Its only goal is to throw off the shackles of its oppression and visit bloody vengeance in an apocalyptic rebellion to destroy the Imperium and ultimately seize control of the future of mankind. Born on a world now made infamous for war and suffering, the Pale Throng has since created and inspired revolts on dozens of worlds across the Calixis Sector and beyond. But perhaps greater than the danger that this amorphous army of monstrosities possesses -- in terms of the threat to civil order -- is the fact that the Pale Throng and what it represents has become a blasphemous rallying cry for the twisted and disaffected. It has grown to become something of a heretical ideology that offers easy answers to the weak and feeds on the resentment and anger of the oppressed -- a rebellious whisper far harder to stamp out that any mere physical foe.
The Penumbral Cult was a Chaos Cult that flourished on the verdant Agri-World of Sharlor. During a campaign carried out by the zealous Black Templars Chapter the Penumbral Cult was vanquished and its arch-heretic was executed in a public display and his profane works were burned. No sooner had the heretic's head been hewn from his body than a Lord of Change tore its way out of his bleeding neck stump, shaking gore from its incandescent feathers. Taking to the sky, the Daemon unleashed a maelstrom of psychic fire upon the Space Marines. Then, from out of the coiling smoke of the witchfire, a skyspear missile launched by the Hunter, Javelin of Faith, impaled the Greater Daemon, tearing it apart in an explosion that left only a shimmer of blue flame upon the wind.
Pilgrims of Hayte
- "Your god is dead. Faith is a lie. Hell awaits us all. Let the stars bleed!"
- — Found carved into the body of Cardinal Mollis, the Hematite Hill Massacre
An apocalyptic murder cult as insidious as it is cruel, the Pilgrims of Hayte have plagued the Calixis Sector for nearly three centuries. During that time, they have risen to levels of infamy unrivalled by any other. Such is their well-founded reputation for horror and atrocity with the sector's powers that be that mere rumour of the cult's presence in a particular area is enough to generate near-panic among the nobility and prompt immediate, and brutal crackdowns by local authorities. The cult's ultimate goal is a simple one—the destruction of the Imperium. More specifically, it is the tearing down of the Imperial faith and the slaying of all those who serve the God-Emperor -- one soul damned and one murder done at a time if need be. To this end, the cult seeks to twist and corrupt the minds of the unsuspecting, the downtrodden, and the weak of faith and to carry out acts of mass-murder and sow despair and terror on as a wide a scale as possible. The cult's masters, known as the False Prophets, wield the powers of the daemon and the baleful energies of the warp with fearful abandon, driving on their coteries of madmen, lost souls, and hell-spawned monsters as living weapons in their unholy crusade to destroy the rule of the Golden Throne.
The Pleasureseekers was a Slaaneshi Chaos Cult that took part in the conflict that engulfed the Pyrus Reach Sector sometime in the 41st Millennium.
The Serpent Lodge was the name given to both a group of suspected Chaos Cultists and their Temple on the planet of Davin. The Lodge members treated the Warmaster Horus at the direction of the Word Bearers' Chaplain Erebus for the crippling injury he received campaigning on Davin's moon, and the Lodge itself is the location where Horus is believed to have begun his alignment with the Chaos Gods.
The Shriven were once workers on the Forge World of Fortis Binary, however they were corrupted by the temptations of Chaos. They were described as elephantine, with long, nozzled gas masks sewn into their faces. They wore rubberised green body armour and the protective garb of their former workplace. Their armour was decorated with eye-aching runic symbols of Chaos.
Sons of Sek
The Sons of Sek are an unusually regimented and disciplined Chaos warband under the command of the Magister Anakwanar Sek, one of the Archon Urlock Gaur's closest subordinates in the defence of the Sabbat Worlds Sector from the assault of the Imperial Sabbat Worlds Crusade. While still relatively new to the war for the Sabbat Worlds, initial reports indicate that the Sons of Sek may, in fact, be superior in combat to their cousins in Urlock Gaur's own Blood Pact. In addition to being of larger, stockier build, the Sons are also equipped with higher-quality gear and weapons. The Sons are also better motivated and led, and even include an officer similar to an Imperial Commissar, known as a "Scourger", to maintain discipline and morale. This is something that even the unusually-disciplined Blood Pact lacks.The Sons of Sek were created not only to fight against the Imperium, but also to serve as Magister Sek's vanguard for when he eventually attempts to overthrow the Gaur and assume the position of Archon over all the Forces of Chaos in the Sabbat Worlds Sector.
Sons of Slaughter
The Sons of Slaughter are are a Khornate Chaos Cult that served their Khorne Daemonkin masters with fanatical fervour. They fell in battle while fighting against the vile Death Guard Traitor Legion. Their lives were not wasted however, as enough of their blood and the blood of their enemies had been spilled, to allow the Daemons of Khorne to materialize on the battlefield and fall upon the surviving Death Guard.
The Stigmartus are a Chaos Cult and warband operating in the Jericho Reach. They were key components of those Forces of Chaos who stood against the Imperium's assault upon the region in the Achilus Crusade. Consisting of Renegades, madmen, Imperial criminals, cultists, mutants, and rogue psykers, the Stigmartus was named for the ritual branding of its members' flesh with the sigil of their Chaotic masters. Although they are brutal and frenzied to the extreme, like the Blood Pact they maintain harsh discipline and military-style professionalism, and are organised along the lines of an Imperial Guard regiment. The commanders of the cult are believed to be the remainder of the previous Heretic rulers of the world of Khazant, which fell to the Imperium during the early years of the Achilus Crusade. Now Stigmartus are bound to the charismatic leadership of a cult-general known as Elak Sarda, who is said to be sworn to the service of a daemonic entity within the Charon Stars.
The Unbound was a Chaos Cult devoted to Nurgle that inhabits within the hellish realm known as the Eye of Terror. Originally, they were troopers of the Cadian 969th Regiment. Deployed ot Certus Tertia during the Gothic War, they contracted a plague borne in the planet's water. Quarantined and refused permission to return to their homeworld of Cadia, the troopers of the 969th turned their allegiance to the Lord of Decay. The cult is led by the regiment's former Colonel Abner Varicuss, who styles himself, "the False Castellan," as he was once a favoured candidate for the esteemed post of Lord Castellan of Cadia. One of the worlds inside the Unbound are known to garrison is the corrupted Hive World of Ablutraphur, whose vital manufactorum makes wargear for several armies of Chaos, including the armour plating worn by members of the Unbound. The cult's symbol mimics the symbol of Nurgle -- three skulls, inside an inverted pyramid.
The Vshaan was a Chaos Cult that took part in the conflict that engulfed the Pyrus Reach Sector sometime in the 41st Millennium.
Vraksian Traitor Militia
The Vraksian Traitor Militia were a motley assortment of Planetary Defence Force troopers, garrisoned Imperial Guard auxilia from the planet Vraks, indentured Departmento Munitorum Labour Corpsmen, the Ecclesiarchy's Frateris Militia, and local volunteer soldiers, who rebelled against the Imperium whilst under the sway of the heretic Apostate Cardinal Xaphan. After the previous Cardinal of the Scarus Sector in Segmentum Obscurus died, his successor, Cardinal Xaphan, took his place as the Cardinal of the Scarus Sector. Over the course of many years, Xaphan undertook a pilgrimage across the Scarus Sector, his new domain. He wished to see the places he would preside over, and he wished to bring a spiritual revival to the people. Where he and his entourage passed, he amassed ever more followers in a series of religious uprisings. Criminal governments and oppressive tyrannies were shattered with each world he traveled to. Whispering into his ear was the Cardinal's favored advisor, Deacon Mamon, a secret devotee of Chaos. After years of pilgrimage, Xaphan went into seclusion on the Imperial Armoury World of Vraks Prime, also the site of a popular Imperial Cult shrine. Here, Xaphan chose his battlefield. Believing that corruption was eating away at the Imperium, he thought himself a messianic figure destined to ignite a holy war and give the faithful a chance to purge the galaxy of darkness. Believing the Cardinal to be amassing far too much popularity and power, an agent of the Officio Assassinorum was sent by the Ordo Hereticus of the Inquisition to assassinate Xaphan during one of his sermons. After the failed attempt on his life by this operative, the Armoury World of Vraks erupted in full-scale rebellion against the Imperium. It wasn't long until the Citadel and the industry of the armoury world were under Xaphan's control. By seceding Vraks from the Imperium, Imperial forces in the sector and, in some cases, the entire Segmentum, would be left without adequate resupply of arms and armour. By breaking the Imperial supply chain of which Vraks was a part, forces as far removed and important as the Cadian Imperial Guard regiments guarding the Eye of Terror would be sparsely armed, allowing a potentially major Chaos incursion to occur in or around the Cadian Gate. The Administratum deemed that Vraks must be returned to the Imperium's fold. By the time word reached the Imperium of the rebellion on Vraks, it was already too late. Millions of Traitors and heretics were now dug into meticulously planned, constructed, and reinforced defences, with massive orbital lasers protecting the world's Citadel from orbital bombardment and assault. It fell on the Imperial Guardsmen of the Death Korps of Krieg, united under the umbrella of the Imperium's 88th Siege Army, to dislodge the traitorous forces of Cardinal Xaphan in what would become a grinding war of attrition that would consume millions of lives across 17 standard years of battle and would enter Imperial records as the Siege of Vraks.
Witch-Brothers of Night
The Witch-Brothers of Night was one of the many Chaos Cults destroyed during the Redemption of Hazeroth -- an Inquisition-led operation that put ten thousand heretics to the torch.
Writhing World Sorcerer Kings
The Writhing World Sorcerer-Kings are Biomancer Psykers of the plague world known as the Writhing World located in the Screaming Vortex. This world's primitive human inhabitants wander amidst continent-sized tendrils of undulating flesh beneath the merciless rule of the great Biomancer Lords. The most powerful such denizens are the Sorcerer-Kings, potent psykers whose massive citadels scurry endlessly across the planet’s surface at their master’s bidding. Occasionally one of these powerful individuals will depart this decaying world, bartering passage among the various vessels that traverse the endless void. Though their reasons for these journeys are their own, their considerable power and arcane lore make them powerful allies despite the apparent danger of harboring such vile wretches.
Xurunt Frost Fathers
Xurunt Frost Fathers are experienced fighters who have mastered the warlike way of life on the feral world of Xurunt. The nomads of Xurunt, known as the Xur, continually migrate across the vast prairies of the planet’s surface, seeking only to enslave and conquer any other tribes they encounter. It is a brutal existence, beginning when each is taught to ride a Xurunsh from the earliest possible age. This planetwide struggle for dominance continues until winter, when the Xur focus instead on surviving the harsh conditions or ritually honouring their bloody god Baphtar at one of his towering idols (who is reality is actually the Blood God Khorne). Through skill, determination, and daring a Frost Father has risen to a position of leadership among his tribe, and earned the right to lead his warriors into battle during the winter season. They are stubborn, wilful, and belligerent warriors, difficult to command but fearless in battle. A Frost Father may also be a woman for, though the title is masculine, the Xur respect ability regardless of gender.
- Apocalypse, pg. 171
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Blood (RPG), pp. 17, 32-35
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Decay (RPG), pp. 17, 36-39
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Excess (RPG), pp. 17-18
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Fate (RPG), pp. 22-23
- Chapter Approved 2001
- Codex: Astra Militarum (6th Edition) (Digital Edition), pg. 56
- Codex Heretic Astartes (8th Edition), pp. 44, 73
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (6th Edition), pg. 21
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (6th Edition), pg. 38
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pp. 8-11
- Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition), pp. 42-46
- Codex: Grey Knights (7th Edition) (Digital Edition), pp. 54-55, 91, 93, 98, 131
- Codex Heretic Astartes - Chaos Space Marines (8th Edition), pp. 72, 128
- Codex: Khorne Daemonkin - A Codex: Chaos Space Marines Supplement (Digital Edition) (7th Edition), pg. 62
- Crimson Slaughter - A Codex: Chaos Space Marines Supplement (Digital Edition) (6th Edition), pg. 45
- Crusade of Fire (Campaign Book), pp. 18-19
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 21-25, 31-60 123-131, 137-144, 152-158
- Dark Heresy: Shattered Hope (RPG Supplement), pp. 5-6, 11, 18, 21, 25
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 348
- Deathwatch: Achilus Assault (RPG), pg. 69
- Imperial Armour Volume Five - The Siege of Vraks - Part One
- Index Astartes III, "Know Thine Enemy - The Relictors Space Marine Chapter," by Graham McNeill & Andy Hoare
- Index Astartes: Stalkers and Hunters, "Renowned Hunters - Javelin of Faith"
- Inqusitor - The Thorians (Campaign Supplement) by Gav Thorpe, pg. 5
- Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (2nd Edition), pp. 168–172
- Sabbat Worlds Crusade (Sourcebook)
- The Horus Heresy - Book Five: Tempest, by Alan Bligh, pp. 138-145, 178-183, 209
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 173
- White Dwarf 392 (UK), "The Hellfire Stone - The Crimson Slaughter," pg. 33
- White Dwarf 293 (UK), "Index Malleus - The Blood Pact," by Dan Abnett, pp. 96-99
- White Dwarf 278 (US), "Codicium Imperialis: The First War for Armageddon," by Graham McNeill and Andy Hoare
- White Dwarf 261 (UK), "Chosen of the Gods - Cults of the Imperium," by Gav Thorpe, pg. 57
- White Dwarf 238 (UK), "Chapter Approved: Roads, Craters and Chaos Cultists by Andy Chambers and Jervis Johnson, pg. 102
- White Dwarf 151 (UK), "The Chaos Wars: The First Battle for Armageddon," by Jervis Johnson
- Know No Fear (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Horus Heresy Novel Series
- Atlas Infernal (Novel) by Rob Sanders
- Gaunt's Ghosts Novel Series
- Traitor General (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- The Guns of Tanith (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Angel of Fire (Novel) by William King
- Blood Pact (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Flesh and Iron (Novel) by Henry Zou
- Emperor's Mercy (Novel) by Henry Zou
- Duty Calls (Novel) by Sandy Mitchell
- Malleus (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Ravenor Rogue (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Tales from the Dark Millennium (Anthology), "The Falls of Marakross," by Steve Parker