Who Are the Bene Gesserit in DUNE?


Frank Herbert's dune it includes so many characters, groups, and elements that it can be difficult 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 given terminology cards to help them keep track of what was happening in the film. As we continue to explore the world of dune in new moviesseries and more, we're going over some key things you need to know dune universe, so you can have an edge in mythology. In this installment, we focus on the Bene Gesserit.

Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures

Who are the Bene Gesserit??

An ancient and powerful order of women. They are able to influence world events and people on an individual level. Similar to the mentionedthey emerged 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 to protect and maintain (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; 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 raise a male Bene Gesserit who can unite the warring houses of Atreides and Harkonnen. His plan is for the daughter of Leto Atreides and the nephew of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Feyd-Rautha – to reproduce. His offspring, a son, would become the Kwisatz Haderach.

Who is the Kwisatz Haderach?

The Kwisatz Haderach is “the chosen one” of Bene Gesserit. The Kwisatz Haderach is also known as “the one who can be many places at once” and “the shortcut”. Most importantly, the Kwisatz Haderach is a male heir who could comprehend higher dimensions unknown to them. These higher dimensions would include access to the history of male ancestors, something 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 the Reverend Mother, the Kwisatz Haderach would also be a super-Mentat. As a super-Mind, he would also be able to mentally travel through time and space; history and future.

For editorial use only.  The book cover is not used.  Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock (5882260n) Silvana Mangano, Francesca Annis, Sian Phillips Dune - 1984 Director: David Lynch Universal USA Film Portrait
Dino de Laurentiis Company / Universal

Bene Gesserit Rankings

The Bene Gesserit order is mostly women, but some men do hold important roles. However, they all depend on one ultimate leader: the Reverend Mother Superior. With the final say on all major conditions, the Reverend Mother is the main leader and decision maker of the order. Multiple Reverend Mothers exist on different planets with different roles in order to maintain the total power of the order.

To become a Reverend Mother, a Bene Gesserit must complete the agony of the species: drink poison. This poison is known as the Water of Life and is derived from drowned sandworms. Bene Gesserits who can change their physiochemistry skillfully enough to make the liquid non-toxic are named Reverend Mothers. Lady Jessica, while on Arrakis, passes this test. Those who complete the task connect to the consciousness of the previous Reverend Mothers, who can help counsel them.

Species agony is also common among the natives of Arrakis: 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 powers of the Bene Gesserit?

From birth, the Bene Gesserit go through rigorous training that grants them special abilities. They are able to control their physiology, such as regulating their internal processes to survive extreme conditions. A Bene Gesserit is also incredibly perceptive, able to detect ingredients within food or the materials surrounding it.

Bene Gesserit also have the ability to tell when a person is lying by sensing the emotions behind their statement. In turn, they can hide their emotions, such as fear, to stay balanced and neutral in stressful situations. They also have the amazing ability to use their voice, a special intonation that makes people follow their orders. However, it is important to note that voice does not work in Bene Gesserits. It can also resist Mentats and other individuals, so it should only be used sparingly and if absolutely necessary.

The Bene Gesserit also know how to fight. They are trained in a special style of martial arts known as the Strange Way, making them fast and deadly fighters. Bene Gesserit can also control when they have a child and what gender it may be. This, of course, is necessary for the order's strict breeding system.

What makes the Bene Gesserit so powerful?

The history and abilities of the Bene Gesserit make them very influential figures in the galaxy. However, they do not draw attention to themselves to further hide the influence and power they have.

A specific Bene Gesserit tactic is the development of a special subsection of the order: the Protective Missionaria. These sisters were responsible for planting superstitions and myths among the first primitive civilizations. By linking the Bene Gesserit to these legends, the order is able to protect itself and gain power for future generations.

Lady Jessica looks at Duke Leto
Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures

Who are the Bene Gesserit?

Rebecca Ferguson as hooded Lady Jessica looking at the camera in Dune
Warner Bros. / Legendary Pictures

Lady Jessica, Paul's mother, is the most approachable Bene Gesserit dune. Through her we learn the customs and skills of the Bene Gesserit. We also learn about the path to becoming a Reverend Mother and its demands. Lady Jessica's interactions with other Reverend Mothers let us know the intentions and goals of the order. Without spoiling too much, it's safe to say that Lady Jessica is one of the most important Bene Gesserits you'll find in dune.

Another Bene Gesserit is Paul. Lady Jessica trains him in a strange way and teaches him to use his voice. He also teaches Paul the ultimate Bene Gesserit tool: dispelling fear. Whenever faced with conflict, a Bene Gesserit chants the following statement to himself:

“I don't have to be afraid. Fear is the killer of the mind. Fear is the little death that causes total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will allow it to pass over me and through me. And when it has passed, I will turn the inner eye to see the way. Where fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Paul and Jessica use this chant to calm themselves, ease suspicions, and clear their minds to make rational decisions.

We're sure to learn a lot more about the Bene Gesserit in his upcoming television series, Dune: Prophecywhich will be released this fall.

Originally published on August 6, 2019.

Editor's Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.


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