The Cult Mechanicus, also known in ancient times before the Horus Heresy as the Cult Mechanicum, is the set of religious beliefs that serves as the philosophical foundation of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Although the worshippers of the Cult Mechanicus are members of the Imperium, they have their own version of worship that differs substantially in theology and ritualistic forms from the standard state religion known as the Imperial Cult that is dedicated to the God-Emperor of Mankind. The religion of the Cult Mechanicus values knowledge and the technology it creates above all else and views the final embrace of technology in the form of a purely mechanical existence as the ultimate destiny for Mankind's evolution.
The Cult Mechanicus believes knowledge itself to be the manifestation of divinity in the universe. The supreme object of devotion is therefore the omniscient Machine God, an immanent and omnipotent spirit that governs all technology, machinery and knowledge in Creation. The Machine God is believed to be friendly to humanity, and to be the originator of all human technological and scientific knowledge. According to the teachings of the Cult Mechanicus, knowledge is the supreme manifestation of divinity, and all creatures and artefacts that embody knowledge are sacred because of it. Machines that preserve knowledge from ancient times are also holy, and machine intelligences are no less divine than those of flesh and blood--perhaps more so, because they are more pure expressions of that knowledge without the conflicting emotions and imperfections that riddle organic beings like Man. A person's worth is only the sum of his or her knowledge -- the physical body is simply an organic machine capable of preserving intellect, and one that is far more imperfect in the Machine God's eyes than one of metal and circuits. For this reason, the devotees of the Cult Mechanicus often transform large portions of their bodies with cybernetic enhancements.
The Machine God
According to the Cult Mechanicus, technology is a higher form of life than that created by cruder physical processes such as biological evolution. Only a divine source could have inspired the perfection of form and function attainable in machines. This divine source is the Machine God. The Machine God is not to be understood in the sense of the ancient Terran Abrahamic religious tradition's personal God; the Machine God is not a person, but rather a force immanent in the universe. For unspecified reasons, it has appointed humans as its chosen people, and reveals its true designs and machines to them through selected prophets. In order to interact with the physical world it was also prophesied to create a physical avatar, called the Omnissiah. In the early days of the Great Crusade, the Emperor of Mankind was recognized by the Mechanicus as the Omnissiah, prompting the signing of the Treaty of Mars (known to the Mechanicus as the Treaty of Olympus) and the alliance of the Cult Mechanicus with the burgeoning Imperium of Man, transforming the Tech-priests of Mars into the Adeptus Terra's Adeptus Mechanicus.
The Cult also believes in the existence of Machine Spirits, minute, animistic fragments of the Machine God that inhabit every machine or piece of technology in existence. These fragments of their deity naturally command a great deal of respect, and they are also believed to be directly in control of the machine's operation. This means that Mechanicus tech-priests and others they instruct generally make many ritualized, prayer-like petitions to their machinery in order to insure their spirits are compliant and respected, and thus that they operate properly. These rituals often include many operations of a potentially mechanically-useful nature, such as lubricating an axle, securing a screw or similar actions, but also operations of no immediately visible value such as sacrifices, chants, libations and the like.
The belief in Machine Spirits is also the cause of the Cult's stance on alien technology. As aliens do not recognise the spirits of their machines, such devices are enslaved and maltreated by their creators. Because of this, humans should not make use of xenos technology even if it is superior to its human-made counterparts. Orthodox Mechanicus Cultists usually advocate the destruction of alien technology to free its spirit, while more radical followers may excuse the study, safekeeping and even use of alien devices in the name of the eternal Quest for Knowledge.
The Ghost in the Machine
Technology and its mysteries are the preserve of the followers of the Machine God, the Tech-Priests, for they believe that machines are imbued with a life-force of their own, a soul granted to them by the Machine God -- a will and a personality. The more ancient a piece of technology, the greater reverence it will elicit from these robed followers, who will spend many hours anointing a machine with the correct unguents before pressing the sigils of activation to coax its spirit into life.
A machine that is both old and complicated is given the same status by the Tech-Priests as the Ecclesiarchy would give a major saint, for many of the systems on these machines are irreplaceable, their secrets lost to time. Among the greatest of such machines are the vast battleships of the Imperial Navy, or the super-heavy Titan war machines. But Tech-Priests will also lavish their attention upon an antique Lasgun or prognosticator, and will spend much time trying to understand the intricacies of a device’s workings. All machines though, no matter what their pedigree, are treated as living things by the Tech-Priests and they will treat all with reverence, for all are gifts from the long-lost past, knowledge of their function handed on through time only by the beneficence of the Machine God. Woe betide any man who fails to treat his weapon with respect or hurls abuses at his desktop logicator within the range of the machine enhanced senses of a Tech-Priest.
Paradoxically, true machine intelligences are held to be anathema by the Tech-Priests, for they view these as soulless automata, spiritless things cast into the galaxy to confound the will of the Machine God. Shrouded in myth and legend, these abominations are rumoured to have originated during the Dark Age of Technology. Supposedly pathologically dangerous, an Inquisitor may encounter them, although rarely, in the course of his duties. Should they learn of these creations, the Tech-Priests will hunt them down, investigate them and then destroy them. Only properly sanctioned logic engines, those deemed to have a spirit gifted them by the Omnissiah, are allowed to persist.
Quest for Knowledge
The ultimate goal of the Cult Mechanicus is to understand the Omnissiah. The communal and individual attempt of Mechanicus believers at this is known as the Quest for Knowledge, and the Cult's followers view this endeavour as paramount and more important than any other concern. Generally, the Quest is pursued through scientific and exploratory endeavours. The Cult believes that all knowledge already exists, and it is primarily a matter of time before it can be gathered together to complete the Quest. The Mechanicus' members are therefore disinclined to perform much original research, and they consider it more important to safeguard that knowledge which they already have accrued and gather more by searching for STC templates and similar lost pieces of ancient human technology from the Dark Age of Technology. Some original research does happen within the Adeptus Mechanicus, although the results of such endeavours are strictly quarantined for many years before being disseminated publicly.
In the Quest for Knowledge, members are guided by the Sixteen Universal Laws. The Sixteen Laws, or "lores" are as follows:
- 01. Life is directed motion.
- 02. The spirit is the spark of life.
- 03. Sentience is the ability to learn the value of knowledge.
- 04. Intellect is the understanding of knowledge.
- 05. Sentience is the basest form of Intellect.
- 06. Understanding is the True Path to Comprehension.
- 07. Comprehension is the key to all things.
- 08. The Omnissiah knows all, comprehends all.
- 09. The alien mechanism is a perversion of the True Path.
- 10. The soul is the conscience of sentience.
- 11. A soul can be bestowed only by the Omnissiah.
- 12. The Soulless sentience (i.e. the Necrons) is the enemy of all life.
- 13. The knowledge of the ancients stands beyond question.
- 14. The Machine Spirit guards the knowledge of the Ancients.
- 15. Flesh is fallible, but ritual honours the Machine Spirit.
- 16. To break with ritual is to break with faith.
- Codex Imperialis (2nd Edition), pp. 41-42
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 264
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition)
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (4th Edition), pp. 120-122
- Mechanicus (Novel) by Graham McNeill