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Bene Gesserit

The Bene Gesserit are a key group from Frank Herbert's science fiction universe of Dune. They are a secretive sisterhood of women who train their bodies and minds though years of physical and mental conditioning, attaining powers and abilities that can seem almost magical. Due to their secretive nature and misunderstood abilities, outsiders often call them witches.

Trained at the Mother School on Wallach IX, and headquarted at the hidden world known as Chapterhouse, the Bene Gesserit are loyal only to themselves. However, to obtain their goals they often make the appearance of being loyal to other groups or individuals.

Table of contents

The Powers of the Bene Gesserit

Thanks to intensive training, all Bene Gesserit possess skills and abilities that appear to those outside the order as magical powers. These include both mental and physical powers. All Reverend Mothers are storehouses of information through Other Memory; they are trained to notice tiny details; and they have fine control over each muscle in their bodies.

One of the 'powers' of a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother[?] is her Other Memory. This is the complete memories of all of her female ancestors, passed on through the genese, and thus, up to the point where each ancestor was born. She cannot recall the memories of her male ancestors, and fears the place where they live. This memory is gained when an acolyte becomes a Reverend Mother through a ritual called spice agony, involving the spice melange. A Reverend Mother can pass her other memory to another upon her death, or under certain other circumstances. Thus, a Bene Gesserit has the knowledge of thousands of ancestors, both hers and often the ancestors of other Sisters.

A Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother can use a technique known as Voice to control others. Voice is a technique whereby a Sister controls all the subtle nuances of her voice. This allows her to enforce commands on a subconscious level. The victim can be compelled to perform an action, convinced that a lie is actually fact, or made to forget a specific item or occurrence. Working in concert, several Bene Gesserits can create a form of mass hypnosis. This was effectively used when Baron Vladamir Harkonnen[?] visited the Mother School with a set of demands for the Sisterhood in Dune: House Harkonnen[?]. Once he and his entourage entered a building, they became convinced that the building was utterly deserted. In fact, the building was completely full of Bene Gesserit students and Reverend Mothers. By by using Voice en masse, the Sisters were effectively hidden from sight and sound.

All Bene Gesserit are trained to notice minutiae, the tiny details that most miss. This skill is practiced so much that it becomes an almost automatic response. A Reverend Mother will notice such things as slight differences in air currents caused by hidden doors and subtle changes in a person's responses during the course of a conversation.

Many Bene Gesserit are Truthsayers. A Truthsayer has a finely honed perception of their own sense of someone else's veracity, an ability that all humans have, in principle, but that requires extensive training to develop to the point of usefulness. The training of the Bene Gesserit is very useful for developing this ability, but is not the only way. It is not a skill: It is the development of a latent talent. One character describes the talent as "whenever I hear someone tell a lie, I want to turn my back on them."

Bene Gesserit also have the ability to practice simulflow, literally the simultaneous flow of several threads of consciousness at any given time. Mental multitasking, as it were.

The Bene Gesserit develop their physical abilities as well as their mental abilities. A trained Sister has full control over each muscle in her body. This allows her to bend the last joint in her little toe while remaining otherwise motionless or put a remarkable amount of force behind a physical blow. They can bend and contort their bodies in ways that most would consider impossible. A Sister can also completely control her breathing and heart rate, to the degree that she can appear dead to most tests even after intense physical exertion. They can suicide at will by simply stopping their hearts. Finally, they can control their need for food and water to the extremes of hunger and thirst.

Central Aspects

Breeding Program

The ultimate goal of the Bene Gesserit, up to the novel Dune, is the creation of the Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit. This is being achieved through a massive human breeding program, which the Sisterhood has conducted for countless generations. Using careful manipulations of relationships and people in general, the Bene Gesserit have controlled bloodlines through the ages.

In God Emperor of Dune, the God-Emperor Leto has taken over their breeding program for his own purposes. By Heretics of Dune, the Bene Gesserit have given up the idea of breeding for a messiah, instead breeding for special individuals of great talent and usefulness in order to amplify certain human characteristics and preserve them. In the two last books, the 'Latter-day Bene Gesserit' seem to see themselves as shepherds of humanity, gently nudging humans forward, rather than the comparatively gross manipulations of the early novels.

Missionaria Protectiva

The Bene Gesserit practice "religious engineering": Reverend Mothers plant legends and prophecies throughout the universe of messiahs and pivotal figures to come. There are two purposes to this. First, a Reverend Mother in need can take advantage of the prophecies by fulfilling them, casting herself as a guide, protector, or some other figure, in order to manipulate the religious subjects for her own protection or purposes. Second, religion is a powerful force in human society; by controlling religion, the Bene Gesserit have a manipulative lever on society in general.

The Litany against Fear

In the Dune novel, the Bene Gesserit used the following chanted words to reduce their 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 allow my fear to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone I will turn my inner eye to see its path. And where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

The film version ends at "over me and through me'" - the last three sentences are removed. A few people use this fictional litany[?] as a kind of mantra to help them reduce fear in the real world

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