The Bene Gesserit Order is an integral part of the Dune novels by Frank Hebert, also appearing in every adaptation of the series so far, notably Denis Villeneuve’s popular 2021 movie. Often mistaken for a religious order, the Bene Gesserit (also known as the Sisterhood) is an ancient organization of female spies, theologians, and scientists whose mystic origins and enhanced physical and mental prowess make their existence integral to societal order. Even though Villeneuve’s Dune introduced the group and shed light on their objectives, this was just the beginning. With the prequel series Dune: The Sisterhood in the works, their full extent is yet to be explored.
Herbert’s original Dune novels paint a more detailed picture of the Bene Gesserit’s enhanced abilities, many of which are assigned specific names in the canon. These range from the weirding way to truthsense to the methods of prana-bindu. Apart from their unique powers, an overview of their political and social history is of equal significance to understanding their true motives. Even though Paul Atreides and the other major characters of Dune seem to be searching for answers to their own quests, the members of the Bene Gesserit interestingly seem to possess the knowledge that can ultimately save the human race.
The Origins Of The Bene Gesserit Explained
The history of Bene Gesserit is not that well-recorded in the Dune franchise, but the appendix of several revised editions of the first novel shed light on the exact chronology. It seems highly likely that the organization was a product of the chaos that resulted from the Butlerian Jihad (a watershed event in Dune that marked the revolt against computers and thinking machines). The Bene Gesserit was shaped further two decades later as their present hierarchical structure was put into place around the time of the Battle of Corin. By then, it was mandated that the Reverend Mother Superior exercise ultimate control over the other Reverend Mothers.
The Bene Gesserit resorted to influencing politics from the background before Paul Atreides assumed leadership of House Atreides. They preferred to stay in this role for over a millennium. The group succeeded at placing agents in all the important imperial courts and Houses to oversee major negotiations. However, after the dictatorial reign of Paul’s son Leto Atreides II ended in God Emperor of Dune, the Sisterhood had to come to the forefront to fill the resulting power vacuum. This active role in politics resulted from the majority of members believing that it was way to protect humanity from a tyrant like Leto.
The Hierarchy Of Bene Gesserit
The Bene Gesserit runs on a strict hierarchical basis with the one known as Reverend Mother Superior at the apex position. She inherits the memories of all her female predecessors as a part of what is called the Other Memory. It is this storehouse of knowledge that is passed on to her successor whom the Reverend Mother Superior chooses right before her death. The Kwitsatz Mother’s position is of equal importance, even though her role is solely limited to the breeding program that would lead to the birth of Kwisatz Haderarch, a male figure regarded as the “chosen one” to save humanity.
The rest of the Bene Gesserit includes the Reverend Mothers who are charged with different roles such as gathering intelligence, building diplomatic relations, and breeding heirs. The Truthsayers (like Gaius Helen Mohiam in the first Dune film) are Bene Gesserit members who are just assigned to detect if a person is speaking the truth or not, a task for which they are trained in specific abilities. Proctor Superiors run chapter houses. The vast majority of members are classified as Sisters who double as secret agents, royal concubines, and potential wives in Imperial Houses. At the lowest rung of the ladder are the new members simply known as the Initiates.
What Are The Objectives Of The Bene Gesserit?
While the Bene Gesserit have their own set of ritualistic practices (such as the Gom Jabbar test shown in the Dune films), they are extremely tactical and strategic when it comes to their political objectives. A primary goal has always been to advance humankind to the levels of high intellectualism and stability. This was achieved by ensuring the birth of Dune‘s messiah figure Kwisatz Haderach, a title assumed by Paul Atreides in his lifetime. Even though the Bene Gesserit’s moves are often calculated with precision, Paul’s birth and rise served as an unexpected hindrance to their plans.
Firstly, Jessica Atreides (who was planted by the Bene Gesserit at House Atreides) intentionally gave birth to Paul instead of a daughter as the Reverend Mothers had otherwise predicted. Then, as Paul has a child with Chani, a member of the Fremen tribe, their child bears an unpredictable genetic makeup that foils Bene Gesserit’s plans further. The Sisterhood realized that it would have to prepare for more unprecedented events such as the emergence of the all-female Honored Matres after the events of the Dune books, Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune. To combat this rival group, their new objective became to restore the power they once had.
The Bene Gesserit Have Diverse Powers
Regardless of their ranks in the organization’s hierarchy, each member can control every muscle and fiber of their body as they are masters in the disciplines of prana (breath) and bindu (muscles). This allows the members to simultaneously remain motionless and bend the last joint of their little toe, and deliver blows with extreme physical force. Their powers are such that the Bene Gesserit martial arts are not even centered on armed strikes. Instead, they can resort to unarmed attacks resulting in destructive physical blows and movement that’s extremely fast and precise. This fighting style is usually referred to as “the weirding way” in the world of Dune.
The Voice is another major power that allows the Bene Gesserit to manipulate people by giving them orders in particular sound frequencies that only they themselves are resistant to. Then, the Bene Gesserit members trained as Truthsayers are particularly adept at analyzing people’s speech and physical mannerisms to determine whether they’re lying or speaking the truth. All the Sisters have significant and impressive control over their own bodies and fertility levels. They are able to alter their metabolism to even render poisonous substances harmless. These physical abilities make them integral in the Houses as poison tasters and concubines.
How Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two Will Explore The Bene Gesserit Further
With the Bene Gesserit introduced in crucial scenes of Dune: Part One, the sequel will increase the focus on the ultimate goal of their breeding program with Paul Atreides assuming his chosen role of the Kwisatz Haderach. However, as both of Villeneuve’s films adapt the first Dune novel, there will be no scope to explore the Bene Gesserit’s future that drastically changed with Leto’s rise in Children of Dune. The planned prequel series will likely take direct inspiration from the 2012 prequel novel Sisterhood of Dune by Bruce Hebert, Frank Hebert’s eldest son. The book deals with their challenges in the aftermath of the Butlerian Jihad, and should make for a riveting screen adaptation.