Frank Herbert’s Dune features so many characters, groups, and elements that it can be hard to keep track of them all while reading. The world is so dense that when David Lynch’s film adaptation came out in 1984, audiences were actually given terminology cards to help them keep track of what was going on in the movie. In anticipation of Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune film, we are reviewing some key elements you need to know from Dune universe, so you can have a head start on the mythology. In this installment, we’re focusing on the Bene Gesserit.
Who are the Bene Gesserit?
An ancient and powerful order of women. They are able to influence the events of the world as well as people on an individual level. Similar to the Mentats, they arose as a solution to thinking machines and computers after the Butlerian Jihad war.
What do the Bene Gesserit do?
The Bene Gesserit act as overseers of humanity, influencing events so as to protect and keep (relative) peace and stability. They have the unique ability to look back at past generations of Bene Gesserits and learn directly from their history. However, members can only see the memories and actions of female Bene Gesserits; the male history is inaccessible to them.
In order to achieve ultimate peace and stability, the Bene Gesserit have a selective breeding process. Their ultimate goal is to breed a male Bene Gesserit that can unite the warring houses of Atreides and Harkonnen. Their plan is for the daughter of Leto Atreides and nephew of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen–Feyd-Rautha–to breed. Their offspring, a son, would become the Kwisatz Haderach.
Who is the Kwisatz Haderach?
The Kwisatz Haderach is the Bene Gesserit’s “Chosen One.” The Kwisatz Haderach is also known as “one who can be many places at once” and “the Shortening of the Way.” Most importantly, the Kwisatz Haderach is a male heir that could understand higher dimensions unknown to them. Said higher dimensions would include accessing the history of male ancestors, which normal Bene Gesserit members cannot do. In short, they are the only person who can observe and unlock the complete ancestry of the Order.
According to Lady Jessica, a Bene Gesserit and later on Reverend Mother, the Kwisatz Haderach would also be a super-Mentat. As a super-Mentat, he would also be able to mentally travel through time and space; history and future.
Rankings of the Bene Gesserit
The Bene Gesserit order is mostly women, but some men do occupy important roles. However, they all report to one ultimate leader: the Reverend Mother Superior. With the final word on all major conditions, the Reverend Mother is the prime leader and decision-maker of the order. Multiple Reverend Mothers exist on different planets with different roles in order to maintain the order’s total power.
In order to become a Reverend Mother, a Bene Gesserit must complete the spice agony: drinking poison. This poison is known as the Water of Life and is derived from drowned sandworms. Bene Gesserits who can change their physiochemistry deftly enough to make the liquid non-toxic are appointed to Reverend Mothers. Lady Jessica, while on Arrakis, passes this test. Those who complete the task are then connected to the consciousness of past Reverend Mothers, who can help advise them.
The spice agony is also common among Arrakis’ indigenous people: the Fremen. Most likely, the Bene Gesserit introduced the ritual to the Fremen to further establish their influence on the desert planet.
What are the Bene Gesserit’s powers?
From birth, the Bene Gesserit go through a rigorous training that grants them special abilities. They are able to control their physiology, such as regulating their internal processes in order to survive extreme conditions. A Bene Gesserit is also incredibly perceptible, able to detect the ingredients inside food or the materials around them.
Bene Gesserit also have the ability to tell when a person is lying by sensing the emotions behind one’s statement. In turn, they can conceal their emotions—like fear—in order to remain level-headed and neutral in tense situations. They also have the incredible ability to use the Voice, a special intonation that makes people follow their orders. However, it is important to note that the Voice does not work on Bene Gesserits. It can also be resisted by Mentats and other individuals, so it is only used sparingly and if absolutely necessary.
The Bene Gesserit know how to fight, too. They are trained in a special martial arts style known as the weirding way, making them fast and deadly fighters. Bene Gesserit can also control when they have a child and what gender it can be. This, of course, is necessary for the order’s strict breeding system.
What makes the Bene Gesserit so powerful?
The Bene Gesserit’s storied history and abilities make them heavily influential figures in the galaxy. However, they don’t draw attention to themselves so as to further conceal how much influence and power they have.
One specific Bene Gesserit tactic is their development of a special subsection of the order: the Missionaria Protectiva. These sisters were responsible for planting superstition and myths amongst primitative, early civiliazations. By linking the Bene Gesserit to these legends, the order is able to protect themselves and attain power for future generations.
Who are some Bene Gesserit?
Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, is the most accessible Bene Gesserit in Dune. Through her, we learn the Bene Gesserit’s customs and abilities. We also gain insight into the path of becoming a Reverend Mother, and its demands. Lady Jessica’s interactions with other Reverend Mothers make us privy to the order’s intentions and goals. Without spoiling too much, it’s safe to say Lady Jessica is one of the most important Bene Gesserits you will encounter in Dune.
Another Bene Gesserit is Paul. Lady Jessica trains him in the weirding way and teaches him how to use the Voice. She also teaches Paul the greatest Bene Gesserit tool: dispelling fear. Whenever faced with strife, a Bene Gesserit chants the following statement to themselves:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
Paul and Jessica use this chant to calm themselves, alleviate suspicions, and clear their mind for rational decision making.
Images: Dino de Laurentiis Company / Universal