- "I often praise the Emperor's mercy that I have been freed from my own memories. Despite my transgressions I have been given a chance to serve. I am free of my own guilt but I strive to remember the shame I should feel."
- — Acolyte Heronius Dyle
Mind Cleansing is the process often utilised by the Inquisition in order to remove things too dangerous to know, or memories too dangerous to bear, even for the strongest mind. In most of these cases, the answer as far as the Inquisition is concerned is simple: death, be it a well-deserved execution or the blessing of the Emperor's Peace. But for a small number, a different solution is found -- mental cleansing, a laborious and involved process sometimes known as "mind-scrubbing" or the "death of self." Through a combination of psycho-viral, mimetic and telepathic intervention, the subject's memories are selectively erased and thought patterns altered. The resulting individual is then something of a blank slate to be rewritten, and in extreme cases entire new personalities and skills are imprinted directly into the mind. The mind-cleansed are effectively reborn and remade in the image of the Inquisition's desire, complete with whatever implanted skills or personality traits are required, perhaps along with a reconditioned physique and a new face to go with it. They may also (completely unbeknownst to them) be programmed with implanted memories of events and people that never were, or with deep-rooted mental commands they have no choice but to obey when the time comes.
This process, however, is not without cost or risk. Mind-cleansed individuals are often left hollow and isolated figures, distrusted and forever set apart from others. Their patchwork memories and abused minds often leave them lacking empathy, cold-hearted and filled with a sense of loss or unnameable dread. Worse still in rare cases, some fragments of the old personality or original memories reassert themselves over time, causing a psychotic breakdown into madness or warranting further drastic "action" on the part of the afflicted's masters. A mind-cleansed individual has been kept alive for a reason, although they may not know and may never be told just what that reason is. They might have been selected by shear dint of survival, having endured terrible events or knowledge, and the Ordos of the Inquisition might have decided they were too useful to be wasted. Likewise, they might have been a loyal servant in the past or even an innocent victim or bystander of some horror, event or conspiracy that must remain secret. There may be darker motives though; perhaps the Inquisition has some use or hidden purpose for the individual that makes it expedient to keep them alive...for now.
Individual Inquisitors have different opinions on the process of mind cleansing; often, this involves complex psycho-viral, mimetic, and telepathic alteration to selectively edit a subject's memories and thoughts patterns. Whilst mind cleansing can be a useful tool, it is a process that requires a significant investment of time and resources. Many Inquisitors have no trouble using every tool at their disposal, but others are more select about the application of their influence, particularly when it comes to adjusting the minds of their loyal servants or retainers.
The benefits of mind cleansing are quite evident; those who have witnessed secrets too terrible for sanity to bear can be rehabilitated, whilst others who have learned that which is forbidden or better left forgotten may be reclaimed from what would otherwise be an automatic death sentence by the Inquisition for knowing too much. In addition, the mind-cleansed individual often retains his skills (often rare or specialised talents that are in such demand that the individual warrants mind-scrubbing rather than death!). In some cases, mind cleansing is a form of reward for a loyal retainer, eliminating harrowing experiences and curing chronic nightmares of the dark things that Inquisitors and their allies must confront as a matter of course.
More often, mind cleansing is used as a safeguard or a punishment for those the Inquisitor finds weak-willed, untrustworthy, or worse. In such cases, these individuals are often executed once their effectiveness comes to an end. However, mind cleansing also presents a number of drawbacks, not the least among them that the process can render an Acolyte unable to draw important correlations between past events, and there are some Inquisitors who refuse to subject their agents to mind-cleansing, preferring a cadre that can think on their feet. In the Calixian Conclave of the Calixis Sector, for example, the process of mind cleansing is used with some regularity by many Inquisitors. These Calixian Inquisitors tend to follow a vaguely defined methodology for mind-scrubbing that generally falls into one of three separate categories:
- Forbidden Lore - In the course of serving the Inquisition, an Acolyte often encounters many terrible facts, not least of which is the certain knowledge that the Imperium is under constant threat from heresy, aliens, and daemonic influence. From the Ruinous Powers who lurk within the Warp to the numberless hordes of alien fleets on the fringes of the galaxy, there are some things Humanity was simply not meant to understand. Whilst an Inquisitor may trust a chosen few with such knowledge, its spread could result in panic on a planetary or system-wide scale. High social rank, wealth, and authority is little protection from the sanity-twisting horrors the Inquisition keeps at bay, and even such heroes of the Imperium as Astra Militarum generals and, in rare cases, even Space Marines must have their memories expunged to remain a trustworthy servant of the Emperor.
- Dark Secrets - There are some mysteries that the Inquisition considers too dangerous to be known, some revelations too destructive to witness. Nevertheless, from time to time, agents of the Inquisitorial Ordos stumble onto the solution to one of these enigmas -- and thus, they must be silenced, their memories stolen and locked away. The Inquisition knows well the maxim that "knowledge is power", and they consider certain knowledge so powerful it requires -- nay, demands -- to be kept hidden.
- Baneful Influence - Faith is the greatest strength of those who serve the Inquisition, but sometimes even faith is not enough. Possession, xenos pheromones, and the mind-warping powers of rogue psykers are merely a few of the pitfalls that an Acolyte of the Inquisition may encounter during his or her service. When an Inquisitor's servant falters, mind cleansing is often as much blessing as a curse, for it can sometimes remove or mitigate the corrupting influence wielded by the Emperor's foes.
Forces that Utilise Mind Cleansing
- Arbitrators - The Adeptus Arbites and local Enforcers may well, during the course of their sworn duties, uncover truths too terrible to understand and see things that no man or woman may live through sane. The Inquisition, for its part, sees such unfortunates as prime candidates for mind cleansing and induction into their ranks, burning away what cannot be allowed to remain and leaving a lifetime of training and an ingrained sense of duty.
- Assassins - The cleansed Assassin is usually little more than a living weapon in the hands of the Ordos, a near-disposable tool of death, reprogrammed to serve without question and kill without conscience. They make for able bodyguards and infiltrators, and indeed some may once have been mercenaries, recidivists or other scum that have been captured, cleansed and turned on their former friends.
- Clerics - Ecclesiarchy clerics are among the rarest of cleansed Acolytes, as martyrdom in most cases is deemed preferable for a true servant of the faith than mind scrubbing. Exceptions do exist, however, and the cleansing may leave a cleric shorn away of their past and memories, leaving only fervour and the love of the Emperor behind. Some Radical Inquisitors, with a sense of ironic punishment, may order a Heretic or criminal to be remade as a faithful servant of the Emperor to pay for their sins with a lifetime of service. This is frowned on by many traditionalists and Puritans as an unjustly lenient punishment, added to which, as past events have proven on more than one occasion, evil may remain in even the most "scrubbed" soul.
- Imperial Guardsmen - The Inquisition has frequent use for inducted military forces when a major raid or suppression is called for. However, it is often necessary that the men and woman involved cannot be allowed to remember what they have done or seen in the Ordos' service. If the risk of corruption is too great, death is the only answer, but if possible, a particularly able servant of the Emperor should not be wasted when they have more left to give. Another reason for utilising mind cleansing is to remove knowledge of the existence of the Grey Knights Space Marine Chapter, the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Malleus. Entire platoons of Guardsmen drawn from the Astra Militarum may be given final benediction (i.e., execution) to prevent word of the Grey Knights' existence from spreading. If an incursion requires the attention of the God-Emperor's finest warriors, then any who were present are likely corrupted beyond redemption. Those who are allowed to live might be instead subjected to a mind-cleansing. An Inquisitor, however, has the authority to prevent this waste of his resources when he feels it is appropriate. While protecting an entire platoon is risky, potentially even a Radical act, a small group of trusted Acolytes might be spared. These Acolytes must have great potential, and should see their protection as a badge of honour.
- Psykers - Psykers are prey to all manner of horrors from the Warp and frequently prone to mental disorders and trauma, particularly if their abilities have emerged or been discovered late in life. Sometimes where this is the case, the powers-that-be judge that the psyker's talent can be salvaged, but that "who they are" has become irretrievably damaged. The answer for some is to cut away the personality and memories like a surgeon might cut away cancerous tissue from a healthy organ, but as with surgery, the results cannot always be guaranteed.
- Tech-priests - The Adeptus Mechanicus knows that knowledge can be dangerous. The cerebral augmentation of a Tech-priest can make the selective destruction of memory easier in fact than with a normal brain. A cleansed Tech-priest may have served as part of some secret project or mission that, once complete, merited the wiping of all trace of its knowledge for those involved as a matter of course. Alternately, they may have followed some Renegade master, become prey to tech-heresy themselves or simply strayed too far into regions forbidden. Some Tech-priests even see mind cleansing as a desirable procedure, ridding them of the weakness of a sentimental attachment to the past.
Traits of the Mind Cleansed
- Engram Implantation - With portions of the subjects' minds left more or less as blank slates waiting to be filled, their reprogrammers often use egramatic induction to burn a variety of useful skill patterns directly into the Acolyte's cortex using mimetic methods.
- Failsafe Control - All mind cleansed Inquisitorial agents have a failsafe command trigger implanted in their minds to prevent them from turning on their masters. Only a relevant controller, a Lord Inquisitor for example, would ever have access to this trigger, which usually must be delivered telepathically or by a specific sonic cadence (a simple code phrase is usually judged too risky).
- Imperial Conditioning - Inquisition mind-scrubs are usually carried out to destroy selective memories but leave useful skills intact. Likewise the mind is often implanted with psychic barriers to prevent tampering, increase mental resilience and ensure loyalty.
- Through a Mirror Darkly - The mind cleansing process has numerous side effects, including an eroding effect on the subject's sanity and unique dangers of its own for the individual subjected to it.
- Shards of Memory - Despite the best efforts of their mental conditioning, strange and disturbing flashes of the past may creep through, materialising in frozen dislocated images in dreams, sudden déjà-vu or inexplicable fears and revulsions that pass in a flickering panicked moment.
- Codex: Inquisiton (Digital Edition) (6th Edition), pp. 10, 65
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 178
- Dark Heresy: Daemon Hunter (RPG), pg. 136
- Dark Heresy: Heed the Higher Call (RPG), pg. 18
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pg. 11-14
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (Digital Ediion) (7th Edition), pg. 543
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 404
- Imperial Glory (Novel) by Richard Williams