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Who are the Bene Gesserit of Dune?

Paul’s mom is part of Dune’s most important secret society

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Paul Atreides knees before the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim in Dune. Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

Dune is full of mysterious characters and organizations, but few are as important and secretive as the Bene Gesserit order, to which Paul’s mother Jessica belongs. While the movie reveals a few of their secrets, it doesn’t get all way into the background of the all-female sect. Thankfully, Frank Herbert’s original Dune novel has plenty of information on them, in case you want to know more about Lady Jessica and her organization of psychic space nuns who fuck.

[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for the Dune novel and the Dune Part 1 movie, it may also contain spoilers for sections of the unannounced second movie.]

Who are the Bene Gesserit?

The Bene Gesserit are a secretive organization of women who quietly control and shape political events throughout the universe. They are specially trained to have unique (essentially psychic) powers, which allow them to command others with their voice, fight incredibly well, and manipulate parts of their own physiology.

The Bene Gesserit have a complex hierarchy, but the most important roles to know are the Sisters and the Reverend Mothers. Sisters of the Bene Gesserit receive training and complete certain tasks within the order, including conceiving children with specific fathers. Reverend Mothers, the leaders and elders of the organization, receive the same training but also drink a special super-strong version of the Spice melange that gives them extra powers.

What is the Bene Gesserit plan?

The group’s primary goal is to save humanity from itself by pushing it forward into a new age of greatness. In order to do this, the Bene Gesserit have a variety of longterm plans and schemes, some with the explicit intention to help, and others simply designed to gain more power and influence.

Why do the Bene Gesserit want Paul?

The most important Bene Gesserit scheme, at least for Dune’s plot, is the Missionaria Protectiva, an ancient Gesserit plot to spread the seeds of religion and mythology to as many “primitive” civilizations as possible. Specifically, to spread the cultural building blocks that lead to societies with matriarchal leaders, like the Gesserit themselves, and the belief that a mythical, messianic savior figure will one day appear.

The Gesserit themselves are also attempting to create their own messianic figurehead, the Kwisatz Haderach. This messiah shares many of the Gesserit powers, including the ability to look into the future and past. But while the Gesserit can only see into the memories of their female line, the Kwisatz Haderach will see the male line as well.

In order to create the ideal Kwisatz Haderach, the Bene Gesserit began a program of selective breeding that started over 10,000 years before the story of Dune. This plan was to reach fruition when the daughter of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) produced a son with a member of House Harkonnen, the Atreides’ sworn enemies. However, out of love for Duke Leto, Jessica used her Bene Gesserit powers to conceive a boy instead. That boy is Paul Atreides, Dune’s protagonist and potentially the Kwisatz Haderach.

Why does Paul have to put his hand in the box?

In the beginning of Dune Part 1 Paul is greeted by Revered Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam who is sent by the Bene Gesserit to test whether or not he was “human” — on the off chance he failed the test, then the Bene Gesserit’s plan for the Kwisatz Haderach could still go forward.

Will any of this show up in Dune Part 2?

Yes, quite a bit of it! For one thing, Paul is likely to gain the ability to see through all of time at some point in the movie. This newfound ability will confirm his status as the Gesserit’s Kwisatz Haderach. Even more directly, we’ll also probably get to see Lady Jessica become a Revered Mother when the Fremen’s own Reverend Mother gives her the Water of Life, granting Jessica and the daughter in her womb the knowledge and memories of all women in her family line. Have we mentioned that Dune gets very weird?

The only thing stopping us from seeing all of those things is whether or not Dune Part 2 actually gets made.

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