As one of the most influential orders in ‘Dune,’ the goal of Bene Gesserit is to set humanity on an enlightened path. The Bene Gesserit Order is a crucial organization in Frank Herbert’s novels, as their breeding program led to the birth of Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach.
The Order of Dune’s Bene Gesserit
The phrase Bene Gesserit is pronounced as “BE-nee JESS-er-it.” The Bene Gesserit is a pseudo-religious matriarchal order exclusively comprising of women who get trained physically, in the art of martial arts and combat, and mentally to develop superhuman abilities, named ‘the weirding way’, useful in detecting falsehood and determining child sex. With the control over child sex, the Bene Gesserit began a breeding program to achieve a being with ultimate powers. After millennia, the Bene Gesserit achieved their goals with the birth of the Kwisatz Haderach.
The Bene Gesserit’s Role in the Dune Universe
The Bene Gesserit and Frank Herbert’s Dune
The Bene Gesserit is an order whose hold on the empire runs deep in the bloodline of great houses. Using superhuman powers and genetic manipulation, Bene Gesserit intends as their primary goal to guide humanity to a golden age of insight and stability. The order spreads their influence by planting agents throughout the universe, who spread myths and legends.
The order admits women from the Great Houses and trains them to control their body physiology and mental powers. The Bene Gesserit inhabits Wallach IX, a planet housing the Mother School that graduates women fit to be consorts to emperors and women who had Truthsay, which enabled them to detect falsehood. While they may seem supernatural, the Bene Gesserit powers come from years of intensive training.
The powers of the Bene Gesserit are Truthsay and The Voice, which is a power that lets a Bene Gesserit control someone by altering their vocal cords. The Bene Gesserit also can render poisons harmless and control their bodies to the extent of determining embryotic sex. They also possess Other Memory, a power that lets them tap into the memory of past Reverend Mothers. The first mention of a Bene Gesserit in ‘Dune’ was Lady Jessica and Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.
On Arrakis, Jessica takes Paul to the Reverend Mother, where he gets tested by Helen for his humanity using the Gom Jabbar. On passing the test, The Reverend Mother admits that he might be the ultimate result of the order’s breeding program. Among learning the other ways of the Bene Gesserit, Paul is taught a powerful tool to dispel fear through the words of the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, “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“.
With Paul gaining prescience on Arrakis, he rebels against the Padishah empire and overthrows the emperor to become ruler of the known universe. With tight control over Melange’s production, Paul becomes the most powerful emperor in existence; this leads the Bene Gesserit to work with the Tleilaxu and Spacing Guild to dethrone him in ‘Dune Messiah.’
With Reverend Mother Helen representing the Bene Gesserit, the group consisting of Scytale, the face dancer from the Tleilaxu, Edric, the Guild Navigator from the Spacing Guild, and Irulan, daughter of Emperor Shaddam IV, formulate a plan to conquer Paul psychologically. Princess Irulan being Paul’s consort and a Bene Gesserit, makes Chani, Paul’s concubine, incapable of conceiving by mixing her food with contraceptives. However, Chani takes up a Fremen diet and births Leto II and Ghanima. The plan to dethrone Paul fails, and the conspirators, except for Irulan, get killed by Alia, Paul’s sister.
Alia keeps the Bene Gesserit at bay till Leto II assumes the throne in ‘Children of Dune.’ Leto II became immortal and ruled the universe for more than 3500 years. The Bene Gesserit succumbs to Leto II’s reign as he gets total control over Spice production in ‘God emperor of Dune.’ Leto II uses prescience to force humanity into the golden path after seeing a future where humanity’s overreliance on Spice led to its destruction. Leto II takes control over the Bene Gesserit breeding program and uses it for his plans. On reaching his goal, Leto II lets himself get assassinated.
In ‘Heretics of Dune,’ the Bene Gesserit regain their power and relocate to Chapterhouse, 1500 years after Leto II’s reign. A new matriarchal order called the Honored Matres to arise from the ashes of the Great Scattering and begin a brutal campaign for universal domination; this leads to the annihilation of the Tleilaxu and near destruction of all Bene Gesserit-controlled worlds. The Bene Gesserit soon notices a far greater threat in the universe.
The Bene Gesserit Post Frank Herbert’s Dune
In ‘Hunters of Dune,’ Murbella tries to merge the Honored Matres with the Bene Gesserit, and though she succeeds, a faction of Honored Matres led by Hellica refuses the merge. Murbella begins gathering ships for the impending war with the unknown enemy. She defeats Hellica and absorbs the remaining Honored Matres into the new sisterhood. The unknown enemy gets revealed as the Thinking Machines.
In ‘Sandworms of Dune,’ the Thinking Machines unleash terror on humanity by destroying planets with viruses. With the new sisterhood almost getting destroyed, help comes from the Guild Navigators, who got rallied together by the Oracle of Time, Norma Cenva. Omnius, the leader of the Thinking Machines, gets destroyed by the Oracle of Time, and a fail-safe activated by Erasmus, second in command to Omnius, destroys the face dancers.
History of the Bene Gesserit
Though the exact origin of the Bene Gesserit is unknown, the order arose to limelight during the Butlerian Jihad when humanity defeated the Thinking Machines. During the Jihad, the order had a Reverend Mother Superior. The predecessors of the Bene Gesserit came from the Sorceresses of Rossak, women with destructive telekinetic powers whose help during the Butlerian Jihad led to the defeat of the Titans and Neo-Cymeks.
In ‘Sisterhood of Dune,’ eight decades have gone by since the Butlerian Jihad ended, and Raquella remained the only sister to have survived Spice Agony. Her granddaughter, Dorotea, becomes Reverend Mother and assists Emperor Salvador Corrino in his raid on the Rossak school. Many sisters get killed, and the sisterhood gets disbanded.
In ‘Mentats of Dune,’ Raquella restarts her school on Wallach IX and forces Vayla, a Reverend Mother, to reconcile with Dorotea. Vayla, still bitter about Dorotea’s betrayal, uses The Voice on her, making her commit suicide. She then declares herself as the new mother superior.
Glossary Terms Associated with Bene Gesserit
Here is a list of words and phrases associated with the Bene Gesserit:
- Missionaria Protectiva: The Missionaria Protectiva is a tool the Bene Gesserit uses on primitive planets. It involves spreading superstitious beliefs on primitive worlds to use religion as a means of domination.
- Breeding Program: The breeding program is a crucial program run by the Bene Gesserit. It involves the selective breeding of Bene Gesserit women with men in high positions, with the goal being to create the Kwisatz Haderach.
- Kwisatz Haderach: The Kwisatz Haderach is the ultimate goal of the Bene Gesserit breeding program. The Kwisatz Haderach possesses prescient powers that grant the ability to see into the future.
- Spice Agony: Spice Agony is a ritual used by the Bene Gesserit to unlock the Other Memory, granting them the wisdom of former female ancestors.
- Other Memory: Other Memory is the combined memory of female ancestors passed through genetic memory.
- The Voice: The Voice is a power the Bene Gesserit uses to control others.
- Truthsay: Truthsay is a power that makes a Bene Gesserit determine falsehood.
- Simuflow: Simuflow is a mental power that grants the Bene Gesserit the ability to control multiple threads of consciousness, giving them incredible intelligence.
What do the Bene Gesserit do?
The Bene Gesserit admits women from noble houses and trains them in the art of being cunning. With the organization’s goal to control and shape politics throughout the universe, the Bene Gesserit puts its trained sisters into strategic wife positions where they conceive children for men of specific traits.
What is the Bene Gesserit’s plan?
The Bene Gesserit’s ultimate plan is to create the Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit capable of seeing the past and future at once. With him also being loyal to the order, the Bene Gesserit will use the Kwisatz Haderach to gain dominance over the known universe.
What was the initial plan the Bene Gesserit tasked Jessica with?
The actual plan of the order was for Jessica to conceive a daughter for the House of Atreides. With a daughter, the Harkonnen and Atreides will get tied under the unity of marriage. However, Jessica gave birth to a boy, disobeying her assignment.
How do Bene Gesserit become Reverend Mothers?
To become a Reverend Mother, a Bene Gesserit sister had to take the Water of Life, a toxic liquid formed by the exhalation of a drowning sandworm. On taking the Water of Life, the sister gains Other Memory and becomes a Reverend Mother.
Is Paul Atreides a Bene Gesserit?
Paul was trained in the Wierding Way of the Bene Gesserit and was guided by them. However, Paul was not a conventional nor a traditional member of the order, and formed his own path through his own combination of skills and experiences. Although some argue that he was merely a pawn in the Bene Gesserit’s master plan.