Turning thus from this suicide pact gone wrong, that is the Imperium of Man, we now focus our attention on a tense contradiction embedded at the heart of Imperial thinking:

The purity of the human form in one shape or another has been part of the Imperium since its very inception, even though it during the Great Crusade avoided the rabid depravity which it would spawn in the latter Age of Imperium. After all, affirming the beauty, cleverness, strength and justice dwelling inside mankind was part and parcel of the Emperor's attempt to revitalize traumatized human culture and kickstart a flourishing renaissance of science, creativity and invention. The lord of hosts and leader of the people needed to dig man out of the shell inside which this scarred wretch hid, and show man the splendour and glory which humanity was capable of. Thus the female form and the male form were both elevated in the classical aesthetic of the early Imperium, raised up on pedestals as heroes and majestic ideals for all to aspire to.

Fortuna Favet Fortibus!

Fortune favours the bold. This ancient phrase could as well have been the motto of the entire Imperium during the era of the Great Crusade. Under the Emperor's direction, man grasped for more: More expansion, more knowledge, more uplifting beauty. The Terran Imperator wished to energize and inspire His chosen species, and for a while, He succeeded. Man raised up golden wonders and reclaimed lost lore of the ancients, even as man cultivated a mindset fit for science and exploration. And amid all this arrogance and fervent activity, the clean shapes of man and woman in the guise of statues and fresques adorned palaces and streets alike. Yet the near-death of the Emperor in the skies above Terra brought with it the second downfall of mankind, and in its wake of desperation did a new faith emerge, one destined to overtake the entire Imperium of Man, and remake humanity in its image.

This religion was the Imperial Cult, a fractious mass of competing sects, all united in their total devotion to the God-Emperor, their total subjection to Holy Terra, and their complete and fanatical hatred of all infidelry, heresy, unbelief, blasphemy, apostasy and heathendom. From its very inception, the Cult Imperialis bore traumatized scars brought about by the Horus Heresy and the subsequent Scouring. One such scar was the apprently dour and humourless mindset of the Cult, as contrasted to the optimistic, lively, jocular and easygoing culture of the early Imperium. Another scar was the uneasy relation that many Imperial sects had with the human body itself.

Unlike the early Imperium of the Great Crusade, this new, religious Imperium under the High Lords manifested a strong tendency to deny the body through asceticism, self-flagellation, self-abnegation and by the covering up of our sinful forms under shapeless robes. The tide of interstellar human civilization seemed to have turned irrevocably toward a barren Imperial culture, both bereft of humour and fearful of the human body, scarred forever and made stale and boring by the horrors of the Horus Heresy and the disappointments in mankind itself brought about by it.

Yet the tumultuous course of Imperial cultural history was not so predetermined. Instead, strong counter-currents existed, fed by such sources as devotion to the Primarchs Guilliman and Sanguinius. Likewise, the Great Crusade era's shining aesthetics and ideals survived by morphing pious and latching themselves onto Imperial sects that proved capable of perpetuating these ancient styles and ideas through religious dogma. A third factor was the local persistence of one school of thought over another, even as the larger Imperium happened to be dominated by the other school of thought and style, thereby ensuring that pockets of artistic expression and aesthetic tradition survived to bloom anew in cultural renaissances that spread across entire star sectors and Segmenta.

While the full panoply of Imperial schools of thought and artistic traditions present a mad sectarian caleidoscope of variety and nuance, the two main strains who have achieved galactic spread can be boiled down as such:

On the one hand, there is the more ancient, classic school, informed by the original Great Crusade aesthetic. This extroverted school of thought upholds beautiful mankind as the pure pinnacle of creation, and will proudly display the pure human form in all its art, craft and architecture, to the point of unabashed nakedness. Let us here call it the body-affirming school for the sake of simplicity. As the Emperor wills it.

On the other hand, there is the newer, post-Heresy school of thought, informed by the traumas that have beset mankind ever since the Ascension of the Enthroned God. This introverted school of thought shuns arrogant displays of human greatness, and emphasizes humility and the covering up of our sinful bodies. Let us here call it the self-abnegating school for the sake of simplicity. As the Emperor wills it.

Imperator Adiuta Imperialis.

Grasping that these two contradictory major styles inform most parts of Holy Terran, and thus Imperial, high culture, lets us understand why sanctioned Imperial aesthetics will simultaneously tout the prideful human body in the face of the hideous mutant and xeno, while at the same time hiding the sinful limbs, hair, face and torso of the dubious human form. This realization is at the core of all deeper understanding of internal Imperial workings. For the Emperor's servants do not all pull in the same direction. Their lives and deeds are filled with conflicts and contradictions. Ultimately, the Imperium of Man can be likened to a multi-headed hydra, that is as often at war with itself as with external foes.

And so priests, preachers and priestesses in shapeless robes will lead pureblood Sisters of Battle into action, the latter wearing curvaceous power armour even as they practice martial asceticism. Likewise, decently robed and covered Inquisitorial Acolytes will direct trained agents of the Officio Assassinorum in tight bodysuits. Meanwhile, genhanced Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes will proudly wear crests and sculpted muscle cuirasses into battle, even while praying away their days in monastic severity.

Less contradictory, and more true to the early Imperium's classical ideals, are the famed Sanguinary Guard of the Blood Angels Chapter. Likewise, there is the phallic majesty of the Imperial Palace guarded by the perfect pinnacles of human form that is known as the Adeptus Custodes, all armoured in gleaming gold.

All these Imperial servants are willing slaves to the Golden Throne, whether they cover up their human form or put it on full display, with accentuated hips and breast cups for women, and suggestive codpieces for men. Any objections about practicality can be thrown out a window, for Imperial artificers will not care if anatomically sculpted armour plates create shot traps and weak points. Such efficiency thinking and hunt for improvement long since disappeared at the burning end of the Dark Age of Technology. In the Age of Imperium, aesthetics are as important, if not more so, than effectiveness in combat, as the Emperor Himself has obviously decreed.

Imperial sects prone to excessive self-abnegation will often level accusations of narcissistic indulgence at any works displaying human beauty, and violent iconoclams beyond counting have occurred throughout ten thousand wasted years of human development run into the ground. Body-affirming aesthetics are constantly frowned upon by most monastic orders, many sects and some major movements within the Cult Imperialis. Some Imperial religious traditions have long been suffused by anti-body tendencies and praise of chastity, all speaking ill of vanity, lust and even vital procreation itself, damning them all as idolatrous blasphemies of the flesh. Yet the mighty Imperium must live and die by the sword, and the people of the robe would do well not to quote overtly hostile scripture at the people of the spear. Instead, most warriors tend to follow in the bombastic, vigorous and virile footsteps of His Divine Majesty. A proud host is a confident host.

All across Imperial space, there exists a worship of strength. The Imperial Creed has taught humans across the Milky Way galaxy to venerate humanity as an ideal, while simultaneously scorning the reality of red-blooded man in all his flawed sinfulness as lowly filth. Thus, it is virtuous to hate all that is ugly in man. The Lectito Divinitatus teaches us that man is nothing but dust. Still, his muscles can be harnessed as yet another energy source to drive the machinery of Imperial power, and ever more that has become the case, as an unstoppable and slow demechanization grinds away ever more of the inherited works of ancient man.

Many sects who are part of the body-affirming school practice their artistic styles in reverent memory of Primarch Sanguinius, the Angel of Blood who embodied the perfect human form, the true son who died to save the Emperor Himself. They sculpt statues with bulging biceps and wear lorica musculata in honour of Sanguinius, who stood for all that was best in humanity. He whose horrible yet noble death overshadowed even the great deeds of his life. In Imperial theology, Primarch Sanguinius represents the finest side of mankind, both within and without. A flawless exterior is widely believed by many Imperial sects to be proof of inner purity, even as other sects reject bodily beauty and vanity as horrid sins and marshlights leading men, women and children astray from the true path of the Emperor.

Yet historical experience has shown time and again that a beautiful visage and unblemished body may hide a corrupt mind, or dull wit. In fact, charisma and good looks will often serve as a cover for ineptitude. Thus, the pure human form will sometimes prove a shield in the persistent theme of incompetents: Arrogance, lack of imagination and a bizarre focus on trivial matters while ignoring the big picture and crucial signs. A truly lethal combination. In some human cultures synonymous with sybaritic devotion to luxury and pleasure, adherence to the style of the pure human form may eventually mutate into a cover for Slaaneshi pleasure covens, yet any theologian who would wish to drive his oratory hard down this road of accusation, would do well to remember the treasured memory of Sanguinius.

And so, the most expensive of Imperial wargear will often mimic the pure human form, displaying a brutal nobility and masking the bearer behind an artificial fair visage, akin to a brave yet narcissistic hero of old. Thus, some of the best trained warriors of the Imperium of Man will be adorned with sculpted breastplates, leg plates and arm plates, stepping into ceramite boots sculpted like human feet. Fully clad in such aesthetically refined armour, these servants of the Emperor will be transformed, adopting a handsome physique and youthful form. Thus armoured, they resemble nothing so much as young gods and ever-vigorous goddesses, brimming with martial pride. Worn by trained and confident killers, such artistic ideals come to life in armour harder than they do in stone.

Some artificer armour sets even include sculpted codpieces and lorica vulvata, who are often hidden beneath loinclothes for the sake of modesty. Yet such eye-catching pieces of armour are in some crude warrior cultures displayed openly and proudly with Freyic zeal, especially so in the more rustic tribal societies where menfolk are expected to wear brash accessories to underline their manhood. While frowned upon by the trend-setting Imperial high culture of Holy Terra, such seemingly rude symbols of virility and garbs of fertility are nevertheless common in the primitive tribal peripheries that exist on hundreds of thousands of Imperial worlds and voidholms. Indeed, familiarity with such customs will completely wear off the offensive edge, and foreigners becoming acculturated to the ways of these Emperor-fearing tribes do not even think about it most of the time. Thus kotekas, priapic gourds in rut, groin sheaths and branch pouches become just another piece of clothing, seldom reflected upon and within the boundaries of local decency.

Such phallic imagery aside, wearing a sculpted cuirass displaying the chiseled likeness of naked peak human physique, whether masculine or feminine, is to honor the perfection of mankind as best exemplified by the Emperor In the Flesh. It is also a righteous and unapologetic display of the pure human form, and a visual reminder of the beauty, strength and purity of form that will be lost if horrible mutants, aliens, deviant cults or xenophiles were to triumph over the Imperium of Man and corrupt mankind's sacred genome.

Look to the God-Emperor of Holy Terra, seated in radiant glory upon the Golden Throne of hallowed myth. He is the Master of Mankind, and the most perfect human being who ever walked the earth. The Terran Imperator wanted His ideal humans to look like demigods and daughters of a deity. Was this a contradiction to the atheist creed that He professed during the early Imperium? Was it a true vision of the future? Or was it a wish to get back to the heights of human glory that had once existed during the Dark Age of Technology?

Regardless of intent, the God-Emperor's wish lives on, in uncounted millions of luxurious armour suits, often worn by the finest warriors under His rule. Behold the slayers of mutants, traitors and xenos, who walk into the flames of war, in forever young armour shaped like a muscular male torso. Behold the elite amazons, having donned rich armour in the shapely form of a strong, young woman complete with voluptuous breasts. Such are the wandering visions of our fleshly abode at its best. Such is the finest state for our bodies of clay and dust. And so the armed servants of the Emperor will embody the greatest heroes of ancient legends, at peak strength and peak beauty. Ever a sign of health.

Vain and arrogant, their self-abnegating detractors spit out. Sensual and sinful, the criticism reads. Lustful and bestial, the condemnation rings out. Nevertheless, the martial devotees of these body-affirming Imperial sects still preserve a sliver of the Emperor's original vision for mankind, after fivehundred generations of rotting stagnation and withering decay. A vision, of proud mankind resplendent in its full might, unapologetic, strong and victorious.

Such visual glories can do naught to stem the tide of doom that is drowning mankind, at the end of our species. No beauty in the universe can save that decaying cosmic dominion. And so the Imperium will continue to cannibalize society for the sake of total war on ten thousand different fronts.

And as desperation mounts, the democidal tendencies inherent in the Imperium of Man will boil to a fever pitch, lashing out at any convenient targets near at hand. Any victim will do, really, but the frustrated rage must be unleashed. Thus true believers in the God-Emperor will spill out onto the streets, and carry torches and makeshift weapons to the nearest mutant slumhood. And as the abhumans look up, the bane realization can be seen, glowing as panic in their eyes.

These many, then, shall die. Woe unto the malformed!

Witness these pointless pogroms, and ken that the Imperium of Man is too broken to fix. The aquila's rotten carcass is doomed to crash.

Yet mankind in the darkest of futures may still die with style.

Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity.