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The Imperium of Man is a human empire that spans a majority of the galaxy and has existed for over 10,000 years. The Imperium is mired in a prolonged cultural dark age; although it has access to advanced technology, scientific progress has ceased and these technologies typically date back thousands of years. Imperial society is deeply superstitious, centred on the worship of the Emperor of Mankind, its founder and nominal ruler. Those who do not worship the Emperor, including alien species and human followers of Chaos, are mercilessly persecuted as heretics - with the exception of Mars's Machine Cult, which in the Imperium's early days forged an alliance with Earth and later became incorporated into the Imperial Cult. The irony of the Imperial religion is that the Emperor is not a god, but an extremely powerful human psychic, who himself attempted to establish an atheistic society to starve the Chaos Gods of human souls. Some speculate that the sheer amount of worship from his trillions of followers has caused him to truly ascend to something resembling godhood, but this remains unproven.