"Our voices sing out as one to the cosmos."
- — Mistress Oghanna, Mind-Speaker of the Bansidhe
The Adeptus Astra Telepathica, known simply as the Astra Telepathica before the Horus Heresy, is an adepta of the Adeptus Terra responsible for the recruitment and training of psykers in the service of the Imperium of Man.
In the time before the reformation of the Imperium after the Horus Heresy, the Astra Telepathica was responsible for overseeing the psychic beacon of the Astronomican and for administering the communications duties of astrotelepaths.
The former duty was eventually handed over to a new organisation, the Adeptus Astronomica, after the end of the Heresy. The Adeptus Astra Telepathica is currently headquartered in a vast palace conplex on Terra called the Obsidian Keep.
The Adeptus Astra Telepathica finds, recruits and trains the majority of Imperial psykers, who become known as Sanctioned Psykers. Most die during testing, but those who survive might become sanctioned into duty with the Astra Militarum or become Astropaths of the Adeptus Astronomica.
Though never fully trusted, the Adeptus Astra Telepathica-trained Primaris Psykers or formations of Wyrdvane Psykers are valuable assets to any Imperial military commander, even if they are deeply feared by their superstitious comrades.
Before expanding the Great Crusade to the stars beyond the Sol Sector in the late 30th Millennium, the Emperor of Mankind first ordered the construction of the Astronomican on Terra. The purpose of this colossal endeavour was that the entire device was to serve as a focus through which the Emperor could direct his fathomless psychic energies to generate a partly self-sustaining navigational beacon for the commercial and military starships of the Imperium.
The psychic navigational beam generated by the Astronomican was able to cut through the Warp across the galaxy and those attuned to its frequencies and modulations, the sanctioned human mutants known as Navigators, were able to use it as a beacon and pole star when plotting journeys through the Immaterium, cutting travel times from solar months to mere days while dramatically increasing the safety of such traverses.
In addition to this invaluable beacon among the stars, the forging of the Imperium during the Great Crusade would not have been possible without the creation and skills of the Astra Telepathica. This special corps of interstellar telepathic communicators was created by the Emperor during the final months of the Unification Wars, as the Emperor had foreseen the absolute future need for a means to communicate across the depths of space if a new interstellar human empire was to be created. Though a psyker Himself, the Emperor did not favour the use of psychic talents in others, and was well aware of the dangers inherent in any contact with the Warp.
The Age of Strife on Old Earth had been afflicted by many "witch-kings" and daemon-possessed psykers whose existence embodied those dangers, some of whom the Emperor had personally slain. However, He was able to identify those psykers strong enough to resist the temptations of the Warp. These men and women were then employed in a variety of special roles in the newborn Imperium.
Amongst these so-called "Sanctioned Psykers" were the Astropaths, "astro-telepaths," capable of telepathically communicating with others of their kind over vast inter-stellar distances through phantasmal visions, empathic transmission and oenological vision allegory rather than words. This was an essential talent for the success of the Imperium due to the vast distances that seprated its inhabited worlds. The only practical means for the Imperium to maintain any semblance of unity across interstellar distances was to make use of Astropaths, but such communication could prove as temperamental as the Warp itself.
City of Sight
The headquarters of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica during the Great Crusade and the early days of the Horus Heresy, known as the City of Sight, was built within a section of the Emperor's own Imperial Palace in the Himalazian Mountains. There was no trace that anyone lived in that forsaken part of the palace. Potential Sanctioned Psykers spent many years within its bleak towers, learning how to harness their abilities for the betterment of Mankind.
Where other regions of the palace were celebrations of the Unity wrought by the extension of the Emperor's rule over all of Terra, the builders of the City of Sight seemed to have gone out of their way to craft something calculated to weigh on the soul. Beyond the domain of the astro-telepaths, the architecture of the palace was raised up in glorification of Mankind’s achievements, its statuary fashioned to remind the grateful populace of Terra of all that had been rebuilt in the wake of the terrible, world-spanning wars that had almost dragged the species down into extinction. But none of this could be found in the City of Sight.
Beyond the threshhold of the main entrance to the city that was known as the Obsidian Arch was a forest of iron towers, lightless garrets and silent thorough-fares. The streets of the main portions of the palace beyond the glossy black archway were alive with the heaving, vibrant mass of humanity, but only solitary ghosts in hooded green robes populated these streets. The students and Adepts of the Astra Telepathica mostly travelled by means of a network of tunnels and crossways cut into the rock beneath the city.
Very few came above ground if they could help it, for the feeling of sunlight on their skin was just another reminder of what they had lost. The city walls and the rock below were also threaded with psi-disruptive crystals, which made it quieter as well. Travelling above ground was noisy for an Astropath. They were inundated with the noise of undisciplined thoughts, random chatter and wild emotions. Though they were taught to tune this psychic cacophony of thought out, it was always in the background of their minds. It was easier for the telepaths to travel where they did not have to hear it.
Within the City of Sight, its gloomy precincts had few statues raised there. Though many of the pale, columned buildings within were grandly shaped and heroically proportioned, they were brooding, monolithic structures that pressed down on the skin of the mountains, absorbing all the available light and warmth of the day. A notable building within the City of Sight was the Gallery of Mirrors, a vast, cathedral-like building through which successful Initiates passed on their way to the awe-inspiring caverns beneath the city.
Far beneath the palace, they would kneel before the Emperor and undergo the painful Soul-Binding ritual, to have the impossibly complex neural pathways of their mind agonisingly reshaped to better resist the dangers of the Warp. It is speculated that the mirrors were there to give the Aspirants a last look at their faces before their eyes were seared from their sockets by a force so potent it was beyond imagining.
Another notable structure was the Whispering Tower. It shone with a warm lattice of silver light, though it was a light that existed beyond the sight of most mortals. Yet for all its brightness, its glow was eclipsed utterly by the burning lance of light of the Astronomican that speared from the hollow mountain and into space, like an interstellar beacon for those Imperial starships that traveled the myriad currents of the Immaterium. The vast chamber at the heart of the Whispering Tower was fashioned in the form of a great ampitheatre, shaped by the ancient cognoscynths who had first raised the City of Sight many thousands of standard years earlier.
Their unrivalled knowledge of psychically-attuned architecture had been hard-won in a long-forgotten age of devastating psi-wars, but their arts were long dead, and the skill of crafting such resonant structures had died with them. Amid the blackened mindhalls of the City of Sight, the Whispering Tower was able to reach the farthest into the gulfs of space between the stars, utilising thousands of high-ranking Astropaths seated in ever-ascending tiers to sharpen the focus of their gestalt-consciousness.
Rising through the central spine of the Whispering Tower was a long spiral staircase that led to the upper wing that housed the Oneirocritica Alchera Mundi, the great dream library of the City of Sight. Towering shelves, rearing hundreds of metres into the air, filled the sections of the Oneirocritica Alchera Mundi. Groaning stacks radiated from the central hub filled with interpretive texts, dream diaries, vision logs and the many books of common astropathic imagery. Every vision received and sent from the City of Sight was stored within, a complete record of communication that passed between Terra and the wider galaxy. Scores of hunched Astropaths drifted through the stacks like green ghosts, seeking clarification for a vision, while elder telepaths added freshly approved symbols to the ever-growing library.
The lowest level of the Whispering Tower was the Novitiates' level. This chamber had been hacked from the bedrock of the mountains and faced with ceramic tiles of bottle green. It had the feel of a medicae chamber, and a number of locked doors led deeper into the guts of the tower. Some led to the novice libraries, where new additions to the tower learned astropathic shorthand, common symbols and the basic mantras of the nuncio. Others led to the novices' cells, some to communal facilities for eating and ablutions, and the remainder ended in hermetically-sealed isolation chambers.
Not everyone who navigated these passages was blind, and bare lumen globes hung from the brickwork ceiling on linked loops of brass cabling. Along the long passageway that led to the Novices' cells were reinforced doors that punctuated its length, each one marked with a number and a name. Each marked cell was where an Initiate of the Scholastica Psykana slumbered, meditated and prayed. The interior of these cells were bare and devoid of anything that might have indicated who had lived there before.
This was sensible, for any lingering sense of a previous occupant would influence an Initiate's dreaming. A cot bed usually lay along one wall, with a simple footlocker at its base. A small writing desk and chair sat opposite the bed, and a black notebook lay on a blotting pad, next to an inkhorn and pen. Empty shelves lined the wall above the desk, ready to be filled with an Astropath’s steadily growing oneirocritica collection. The shelves were short, for a novice would take time to build a comprehensive library of imagery, symbolism and dream recordings.
Within the depths of the Whispering Tower was a domed chamber known as the Cryptaesthesian that continuously echoed with the myriad voices of an Astropathic Choir. At the dome's apex was a crytalline lattice pulsing with internal illumination that cascaded from its multi-angled facets in a waterhall of shimmering light. Within this chamber, Astropaths trained in the art of the Cryptaesthesian could interpret meaning from the psychic waste of every communiqué that passed through the City of Sight. To sift through the vast quantity of psychic debris that was left in its wake was a task few relished.
Following the treachery of the Warmaster Horus and the start of the civil conflict known as the Horus Heresy, the Astropathic Choirs operated beyond capacity to satisfy the demands of waging a distant war against Horus Lupercal's rebellion. Aetheric space was continuously awash with telepathic communication, and messages were hurled into the void that screamed for help or simply blared hatred. The trap chambers beneath the iron towers of the City of Sight were filled with psychic residue from the thousands of messages, and the Cryptaesthesians could barely keep up with the brutal pace. In the face of treason, every message sent to Terra had to be carefully scrutinised, no matter how mundane it might appear. The bleed of psychic waste within the Cryptaesthesian was scoured for signs of encryption that might be a communication intended for embedded agents of Horus within the Imperial Palace itself.
Following the great Imperial conclave on Nikaea, new strictures were laid down by the Emperor in regards to the use of psykers within the Imperium. It was decreed that the Astropaths within the Whispering Tower would remain under the constant vigil and scrutiny of the Black Sentinels, a specially trained force of psyker killers, gaolers and executioners all in one.
Each of these stalwart warriors was encased in beetle-black armour with contoured breastplates of burnished obsidian, their faces concealed by a reflective tapered helm, not unlike an early make of Space Marine Legion Power Armour. Their helmets were specially lined with psi-shielding to protect them from the latent mental pressure generated by the innate powers of the psykers within the City of Sight.
Each Black Sentinel was armed with long, black-bladed lances, their hafts topped with sparkling crystalline spearheads. But they were also trained in the use of the extensive arsenal of weapons possessed by the Imperium's armouries. The Black Sentinels were also responsible for protecting the physical aspects of the city from any threat without, as well as the psyker threat within.
Reign of Blood
During the Age of Apostasy, a second period of civil war in the Imperium of Man that occurred during the early 36th Millennium when the Imperium's government was essentially seized by the corrupt High Lord Goge Vandire, he ruled the Imperium according to his own wishes instead of in accord with the Emperor's will. This lamentable period of history is known in Imperial annals as the Reign of Blood. During this time, Vandire had considerable trouble bringing the Adeptus Astra Telepathica under his control. Lord Phaedrus, the Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, was a potent psyker and as such was not swayed by Vandire's charisma or charm. Phaedrus saw through Vandire's veil of lies and deceits, and understood the corrupt High Lord's true intentions. Vandire realised that Phaedrus was using his considerable psychic abilities to stay one step ahead of him, and simply killing Phaedrus would never do, for he would just be replaced by a powerful psyker of equal potency. To remove Phaedrus required a much more cunning plan.
Luring the Master of the Astra Telepathica into a trap, Vandire utilised the innate anti-psyker abilities of a Culexus Temple Assassin to nullify Phaedrus' psychic abilities. The helpless Phaedrus was then strapped into a specially prepared life-support machine, where the Culexus Assassin permanently severed Phaedrus' ability to tap into the Warp, making him incapable of using psychic powers. Such an operation would have normally killed the powerful psyker, but with the life-support system and a bribed Magos Biologis, Vandire was able to keep Phaedrus alive. Robbed of his psychic powers, Phaedrus was utterly distraught, which resulted in his multiple attempts to take his own life. But Vandire was always there to thwart him, removing the blade from his hand or to loosen the noose around his neck. In the end, Phaedrus was broken and Vandire achieved his aim: control over the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. If Phaedrus did his bidding, Vandire promised that he would not disclose the loss of his psychic capabilities to his subordinates, who would have immediately replaced him, and even worse, pitied him. With his powerful position put in jeopardy, Phaedrus had little choice in the matter and acquiesced to all of Vandire's heretical demands.
The Adeptus Astra Telepathica in the late 41st Millennium is divided into a recruitment body (the League of Blackships) and a training body (the Scholastica Psykana). These two departments of the Adepta are united under the leadership of the Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and his advisory council of several hundred senior officials drawn from its two divisions.
League of Blackships
During the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy eras, the Adeptus Astra Telepathica possessed a militant arm which was referred to internally within the records of the Adeptus Terra as the Departmento Investigates. But they were known throughout the galaxy as the Sisters of Silence, the Silent Sisterhood and the Witchseekers. The Silent Sisterhood was an all-female Imperial order of Witch Hunters dedicated to the elimination of psychic threats to Mankind. Their primary base of operations was the Somnus Citadel on Luna, the moon of Terra. Their purpose was to hunt and kill rogue human psykers whose activities presented a terrible danger to the people of the newborn Imperium of Man. The Sisters of Silence were well-trained warriors, and with the added benefit of their natural and innate anti-psyker abilities they were dangerous opponents to the psychic enemies of Mankind. Unlike other living beings, these women sworn to silence possessed no presence in the Warp and were therefore unaffected by all forms of psychic power. There were many names for them in the multitude of human cultures to be found across the galaxy: Untouchables, Pariahs, Blanks, psychic Nulls. All of the members of their order were non-psychic, for they bore the Pariah Gene which made them immune to all forms of psychic assault and rendered their minds unreadable by telepathy.
The Sisters operated the Adeptus Astra Telepathica’s infamous Black Ships, which ranged across the galaxy following behind the Great Crusade's Expeditionary Fleets in search of rogue psykers to capture or expunge, seeking to collect and carry them back to Terra where they would be tested and their eventual fate decided. Though few in number, the Sisters of Silence commanded great respect within the Imperium and most servants of the Emperor regarded them with some awe. Few would willingly stand in their way or interfere with their activities and few indeed were those who were comfortable in their presence. The ultimate fate of the Sisters of Silence is not found in Imperial records, and no references to their continued existence in the era of the 41st Millennium exists. It is believed that they were either destroyed long ago or were ultimately folded into the organisation of the Imperial Inquisition.
In the 41st Millennium, where the strict anti-psyker strictures of the Council of Nikaea were long ago partially relaxed following the Reformation of the Imperium in the wake of the Horus Heresy, the League of Blackships now forms the recruiting division of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. The League consists of a substantial fleet of black Imperial starships charged with collecting and transporting psykers taken from worlds across Imperial space to Terra. The Black Ships are feared transports filled with mournful psykers held in cavernous, psi-shielded holds to be taken back to Terra to feed the voracious psychic appetite of the Emperor in an ongoing attempt to maintain the Astronomican. Only those psykers with the strength of mind to withstand the constant soul-numbing despair that permeates the Black Ship may crew it, so mentally traumatic is such duty.
The Black Ship fleet travels constantly throughout the Imperium. Each Imperial world is visited every one hundred Terran years or so by a Black Ship. When a Black Ship nears an inhabited Imperial planet, its Planetary Governor is instructed to prepare the customary levy -- a tithe of psykers. Once the levy has been collected, the Black Ships' captains make an initial evaluation of their cargo before proceeding to the next world in their circuit. When the ships are full they return to Terra and the psykers are transferred to the Scholastica Psykana before the ship leaves again to continue in their eternal search for new psykers. It is common for Inquisitors of the Ordo Malleus or Ordo Hereticus to travel aboard the Black Ships, as this gives them a good opportunity to investigate a planet's potential for psychically-based corruption.
"When you stare into the Warp, the Warp stares back into you."
- — Scholastica Psykana aphorism.
The Scholastica Psykana, the training division of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, is a vast teaching institution devoted to the training of young psykers, who are taught how to develop and control their powers to serve the Imperium. Most of the psyker recruits are drawn from the levy collected by the Black Ships, others are handed over by the Inquisition, the Adeptus Arbites or through other Imperial channels. The future of each psyker depends on his abilities and character. Initial evaluation divides the levy into several groups depending on their innate psychic power, individual character and willingness to learn.
The youngest psykers are preferred by the Scholastica Psykana, as these frightened boys and girls are the easiest to train and indoctrinate. Such psykers are soul-bound to the Emperor, a psychic ritual that reshapes their cerebral cortexes and hardens their minds and souls against possession by the daemonic entities of the Warp. It is invariably those psykers recruited as children who are given further training to fill important positions in the Imperium as Sanctioned Psykers (one well known example being the Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor).
Those psykers of a levy who are deemed weak in character or psychic power, too dangerous to train or too old to have their bad habits changed, are instead sacrificed to the Emperor, their souls leeched from their bodies to sustain the Father of Mankind and the Astronomican beacon that aids all interstellar travel. The first ranking of psykers (referred to as primary psykers) are those whose powers and strength of character are sufficient to resist possession and daemonic corruption under normal circumstances, and they are chosen to serve the Imperium in the highest capacities.
After receiving five Terran years of basic training at the Scholastica, they are sent for further training and service in another Imperial organization depending on where their abilities are judged best suited. The very young may be indoctrinated into the Space Marines as Chapter Librarians; some may enter the Imperial Guard to begin their training as combat Primaris Psykers; the most talented may become Inquisitors or even Grey Knights.
The majority of the discovered psykers in a given levy form the second rank of psykers. They are trained for service as Astropaths (i.e. astro-telepaths). Astropaths are psykers specialised in interstellar communication, being able to send and receive telepathic messages instantaneously over vast distances in the form of images and symbols that are psychically resonant with each Astropath's own mind. The Astropaths perform one of the most vital tasks in the Imperium; telepathy is the only practical means of instant interstellar communications in the galaxy-spanning Imperium of Man. Some primary and secondary psykers are given over to the Adeptus Astronomica, a smaller Imperial Adepta in which the psychic recruits continue their training to serve and maintain the Astronomican.
Adeptus Astra Telepathica and the Inquisition
The Adeptus Astra Telepathica is responsible for the operation of the fearful Black Ships. These vast, ancient vessels ply the space lanes on solar decades-long circuits of the Imperium, gathering at each planet they visit all of the psykers born to that world. These are interred in soul-shielded holds, and eventually brought to Terra, there to be judged worthy of a life in service to the Imperium, or a death in communion with the Emperor. Plenty never even make it to Terra, being judged by their keepers as too dangerous to live a minute more, even in the bleak holds of the Black Ships.
Due to their mission, there is a fair amount of interaction between the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and the members of the Ordo Hereticus. One of the few obligations of Imperial Commanders is that they conduct regular psyker-purges and render up those they find when the Black Ships arrive. The Adeptus Astra Telepathica employs all manner of arcane enumerations in order to predict the number of psykers the population of any given world is likely to spawn in a single generation, and the quantity grows each year. So, when a world's offering comes up short of this prediction, the Adeptus Astra Telepathica has cause for concern. If the Adepts' fears are great enough, they call upon the Inquisition to investigate matters.
The consequences of a world failing to hand over its psyker population are too terrible to comprehend, and so it is not uncommon for the Adeptus to supply the Inquisitor with specialised Imperial Sanctioned Psykers, should they be needed, in order to combat the threat. Psy-cults are pernicious enemies indeed, able to dominate entire segments of a population. Other groups trade in psyker-slaves, drugging the poor unfortunates and subjecting them to all manner of ritualised trauma in order to ride the wave of thrilling madness they radiate.
Others, such as criminal figures, seek to use the psykers' talents to their own ends. Ultimately however, such misdeeds always lead to disaster. An enslaved psyker escapes and wreaks revenge against all within a dozen miles; the cult delves too deeply into forbidden knowledge and mass possession and daemonic incursion ensue; the unbound psyker loses control of their powers and death and insanity are unleashed. Only the greatest of Witch Hunters can hope to prevail against such foes, and even they request the aid of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica in combating their foes.
In addition to such aid being provided, Inquisitors, in common with every branch of the Imperium, rely upon the services of Astropaths for communications across the void. These Adepts are provided to the many arms of the Imperium by the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, and pledged to the service of the organisation they serve. In the case of the Inquisition, many Inquisitors prefer to maintain the permanent services of a trusted Astropath, that their communications might remain secure and uncorrupted by the actions of their rivals and enemies.
Another reason for the relatively close ties between the two organisations is that a large number of Inquisitors are gifted of psychic powers, and therefore were trained in their use by the Adepts of the Telepathica. In fact, such Inquisitors owe their very lives to such Adepts, for they might have been judged undeserving of life or too weak to control their powers, or else consigned to the Adeptus Astronomica. It is not uncommon for Inquisitors to serve on board the Black Ships themselves, witnessing first hand the methods the Adeptus uses to suppress and control its charges. Arriving at a world, the Inquisitor is able to lend his aid in the gathering of the cull, to ensure that no psykers are withheld, and to make sure the Emperor receives His due.
- Codex: Assassins (2nd Edition), pg. 24
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition), pg. 20
- Codex Imperialis (1993), by Rick Priestley, pp. 36-37
- Dark Heresy: Ascension (RPG), pp. 124, 152, 170, 178
- Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs (RPG), pp. 10, 17, 21
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 74, 158, 160, 246, 248, 251, 273
- Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pg. 38
- Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness, pg. 213
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 48, 154-155, 303, 309
- Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (RPG), pg. 199
- The Horus Heresy - Book One: Betrayal (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pg. 21
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (8th Edition), pp. 39, 71
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (Digital Edition) (7th Edition), pp. 275, 279, 320, 328, 541, 543
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 138-139, 165, 177, 404
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition) by Rick Priestley, pp. 147-148
- White Dwarf 171 (UK), "Dark Millenium: Wargear, Vehicles, and Psykers - Psykers: Adeptus Astra Telepathica Powers," pp. 8-13
- White Dwarf 140 (UK), "Space Fleet," by Jervis Johnson, Andy Jones, Simon Forrest and Rick Priestley, pp. 46-75
- Flight of the Eisenstein (Novel) by James Swallow
- Thousand Sons (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Prospero Burns (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Tales of Heresy (Anthology), "The Voice" by James Swallow
- The Outcast Dead (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Faith and Fire (Novel) by James Swallow