The essence of the Bene Gesserit training philosophy was that, if one could control oneself, or "know thyself," ultimately one could control the universe. Its first axiom was "My mind controls my reality." The training itself was based on a series of progressive exercises, lasting approximately ten years, which gave the student power to control herself mentally, physically, and psychologically, and to control others. This control was used not to withdraw to an internal fantasy world but rather to observe and understand reality with detached objectivity. Thus, the prana-bindu training, begun if possible during the child's first year of life, assured the candidate that mastery of herself was mastery of illusion, both of her own and of other people's as well.
Underlying Philosophies[edit | edit source]
Studying the details of Bene Gesserit training would allow one to understand why the Sisterhood acquired a reputation as keen analysts, expert "seers," and fearsome fighters. The "weirding ways" seen by outsiders were actually the results of a long process of self-discipline which developed the ability to analyze and synthesize information not only in an environment of peace but also under stress. Two precepts in Bene Gesserit training highlighted this philosophy. The first showed the necessity of discipline: "To use raw power is to make yourself infinitely vulnerable to greater powers", and the second dealt with practical application of the training: "The mind can go in either direction under stress - toward positive or toward negative: think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end." Thus the goal of the training was to ensure that the adept would have her power under control whatever the situation. However, there was a fatal weakness inherent in this training: great control could lead to great confidence, to overconfidence, and finally, to an ultimate loss of objectivity - to vanity and pride. Therefore candidates were continually evaluated and given tasks which forced them to work with people more skilled than themselves, and some exercises were specifically designed to prevent vanity about the student's growing strength. For example, the third-year training section opened with this caution: "All proof inevitably leads to propositions which have no proof. All things are known because we want to believe in them."
Notions of God[edit | edit source]
One important omission in all of the training was ethical or moral philosophy or theology. The Bene Gesserit was always known publicly as a religious order, a mystic Sisterhood which espoused a belief in the supernatural control of the "Great Mother". None of their instructional material ever referred to a transcendent force or being. In fact, in the Missionaria Protectiva material, religion was described as "the purposeful instruction of the masses." The text described thousands of religio-mythic variations on the theme of supreme, non-human power, but no evidence indicated that the Sisterhood believed in any ultimate power other than that of its own goal, the Kwisatz Haderach. The idea of God was used more as a mascot than as a deity. This atheistic tendency developed sometime after the Butlerian Jihad, but the Sisterhood was never actually a religious organization to begin with.
Other Memory[edit | edit source]
One of the 'powers' of a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother is her Other Memory: the combined ego and memories of all her female ancestors, passed on through genetic memory, and thus, up to the point where each following ancestor was born and the physical contact with the mother broken. The ego/memory combination remains a distinct identity within the Reverend Mother's mind, and is able to inject itself into her awareness at appropriate or emotional moments, though the Reverend Mother's ego is always dominant. The first Bene Gesserit to access Other Memory was Raquella Berto-Anirul, the founder of the order.
A Reverend Mother has access only to her female lineage in Other Memory; her male line is unavailable to her, present as a dark void that terrifies her. Until the time of God Emperor of Dune, the purpose of the Bene Gesserit breeding scheme is to breed a Kwisatz Haderach, a male with Other Memory who can see both lines, male and female. Male memory will be complete until moment of conception, when physical contact with the father, through ejaculation, is lost.
Reverend Mothers may also pass their own ego/memory combination to other Reverend Mothers at will, merely by touching foreheads. When a Reverend Mother dies in the presence of another Reverend Mother, the second will accept the ego/memory of the first to prevent the loss of the dying Reverend Mother's experience and ancestral memories. Especially when the Mother Superior perishes, it is important to take her ego/memory so that her plans and strategies may continue uninterrupted.
Mind and Body[edit | edit source]
A two-part training program was pursued simultaneously by a candidate: the training of the mind and the training of the body. Thus a small child would spend hours learning the many languages in use in her culture, and later spend more hours sitting rock-still, lowering her body temperature or slowing her heartbeat, moving one muscle at a time as she catalogued the stimulus/response pattern of her body. The physical training program, the prana-bindu school, was perhaps the best way to illustrate the unification of these two primary branches of training.
The basic premise of the training was that found in an ancient Terran religion in which the path to the truth was called “Sabda” and closely resembled what is known to the Bene Gesserit as the "Way." Sabda allowed an internal realization of truth which identified the knower with an immutable reality. The Bene Gesserit Way also identified the knower with reality, but denied immutability. Thus the Bene Gesserit axiom: "The purpose of argument is to change the nature of truth." The same conditioning processes, however, were used to attain both Sabda and the Way. The key to both was achieving harmony and tranquility through establishing balance within the individual. This balance was achieved through “tapas”: austere regimens which controlled and organized the psychic and physical forces of the body, and concentrated one's powers; and “upsana”: the meditation which allowed one to go deep within oneself to find the link between the internal forces, the point of balance between knowing the body and knowing the mind.
The mental self was trained through “nayana” - a discipline which controlled reasoning. Nayana paired linguistics and logic in order that the individual could distinguish between language and meaning. The student was constantly taught that a sentence meant more than the meaning of the individual words, that it included the physical activity which accompanied the act of speaking. The observer, therefore, had to be able to "read" and "register" the gestalt of the speaker, had to be able to understand the linguistic patterns of thought conveyed through the immediate language, and had to be able to synthesize all these channels instantly in order to understand completely what actually was being "said." Thus, in the process of learning, the student had to completely control the internal sources - her own physical, mental, and emotional condition at the time of synthesis - and totally perceive the external sources - the environment of the speaker, the physical and psychic gestalt of the speaker, the cultural undertones of the language, and the actual overtones of the word sets being used. In general, this technique of data collection, synthesis, and understanding was perfected after the Butlerian Jihad. The aim was to replace thinking machines with people who were not only capable of instantaneous logic computations, as were the machines, but who were also able to assimilate sensory and emotional information. Through a rational/intuitive process, such people would come to conclusions that were human rather than mechanistic but objectively detached rather than egotistically biased.
Prana-Bindu[edit | edit source]
Specifically, prana (Breath) and bindu (muscle) training prepared one for the state of concentration needed to understand the reality of a situation. This state of concentration was also essential to the Bene Gesserit observational skills and martial art techniques. To gain the proper attitude for complete concentration, one had to first remove oneself, mentally if not physically, from all distractions. To do this one used relaxation techniques which eliminated the distraction from extraneous stimuli. At this point in her studies, the student also learned how to distinguish primary information from secondary or unessential information - "to see the facts and discard the ghafla." Once one has relaxed and had begun to observe the proper information, one had to learn to observe closely and clearly. In this state of observation one assimilated pertinent data from the present situation and recalled all pertinent data from memory without error.
If possible, the observer next assumed a positive physical posture of relaxation and concentration. When the analytical work was being done under private, leisurely conditions, the person relaxed in one of thirty-three postures, each appropriate to a specific type of analytical work. In public situations, the observer assumed an immediate but unobtrusive ritualistic posture which called the muscles and tissues into alertness. If under great stress or immobilized, one could alter this posture to accommodate the restraints. Next, one began controlled breathing for concentration, relaxation, and an oxygen supply sufficient to support accelerated mental activity. Finally, as the last step before entering the concentration mode one withdrew sensory and emotional awareness from all internal areas of distraction. In most cases the adept performed a simple calmness ritual, but in great danger, she recited the Litany Against Fear to subdue any instinctual, primal terror, particularly one stimulated by a race memory 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. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
At this point, the observer could begin the concentration mode. The concentration mode involved three stages of observational analysis. First, one had to severely limit the attention to only the past and present data concerning the topic. Second, one had to enter a state of total contemplation in which the attention flowed in a steady stream over the topic - the observer completely enclosing the topic. Third, one had to be conscious not of the techniques of observation, not of the presence of self, but of the topic - one had to become the topic. At the moment of unity, the observer understood the topic as she understood herself. Thus, all knowledge depended on the observation of detail and on one's body being trained to support close observation, on objective classification and cataloguing, and on maximum retention of data. Only complete control of nerves and tissues, muscles, blood and chemistry, could detach one enough from the demands of the self to allow objective detachment during the observation, analysis, and synthesis process. The control of the body led to the purification of the mind necessary to separate the real from the unreal.
Although the process of preparation, control, and analysis seemed complicated and time consuming, after a woman had trained for ten years, first in the separate steps and then in the entire process, she could, if necessary, perform the entire function in less than a second. One of the controls learned is the ability to release oneself from the artificial confines of the human notion of "time." There was no "time" in the concentration mode - all activities could be managed simultaneously.
Once the basic processes had been mastered, second-level functional states could be invoked such as “Dao”, “Prajna”, and “Adab”.
- Dao was the dormancy trance, a type of bindu suspension in which an adept could slow her physiological activities to a level just on the edge of life-maintenance, a trance useful for survival under threatening conditions and also necessary to rejuvenate cells. A Sister can completely control her breathing and heart rate to the degree that she can appear dead to most tests even after intense physical exertion. Prana-bindu control could heal wounds. They can control their need for food and water to the extremes of hunger and thirst, and even commit suicide at will by simply stopping their hearts. The Bene Gesserit knew their cellular structure so intimately that they could analyze and neutralize most poisons within their bodies. It is hinted that should a Bene Gesserit wish to, she could slow her aging process dramatically, controlling every aspect of her metabolism. Of course, no Bene Gesserit would ever do this, as it would call too much attention to the Sisterhood and reveal too much of their abilities.
- Prajna meditation trance was used for deep understanding and for the special state of "seeing" some Sisters were capable of performing (a state usually augmented with enhancement by chemicals such as melange).
- Bene Gesserit are trained to exercise petit perception at all times, noticing to a terrifying degree minutiae that others miss. When combined with their analytical abilities, Bene Gesserit appear to be witches (hence the nickname for them), capable of divining secrets in persons and circumstances that are invisible to everyone else. Slight differences in air currents or the design of a room will allow a Bene Gesserit to detect hidden portals and spyholes; variations in a person's voice and tiny reactions allow Bene Gesserit to deeply understand a person's emotional state, and manipulate it.
- Bene Gesserit trained as Truthsayers are able to detect whether someone is lying by detecting inflection and change in a subject's voice, observing and interpreting their body language and analyzing physical signs like pulse and heart rate. Such perception of someone else's veracity is an ability that all humans have, in principle, but that requires extensive training to develop to the point of usefulness.
- Adab, on the other hand, was a retrieval process accessible to all skilled Bene Gesserits; this state of recall was also called the "demanding memory," a recollection of necessary data stimulated externally or by the gestalt of a situation rather than being triggered consciously by the woman herself. Adab was different from the "consciousness impression/complete recall" method used regularly to store and process data. The normal mnemonic process allowed complete reproduction of any conversation, even simulating the tone and pitch control of the original speaker (a practice always used by Sisters or acolytes who acted as messengers). But Adab not only stored material in the subconscious, it also used the subconscious to integrate new with stored data, thus producing completely accurate and logically assimilated memory, a memory so strong that when stimulated it would overwhelm the woman's consciousness.
Internal Organic-Chemical Control[edit | edit source]
Just as the Prana-bindu allows the Bene Gesserit to precisely control each muscle and nerve, they also have complete conscious control over the functions of their internal organs and body chemistry. The Bene Gesserit are therefore immune to poisons, as they can simply change the chemical makeup of any harmful substance in their body and render it harmless. One of the most significant biological abilities of the Bene Gesserit is their control their own menstrual cycles, and their ability to control (at conception) their child's gender. The great test of this ability occurred during a woman's initiation as a Reverend Mother in metabolizing the "Water of Life" within her system. Occasionally, Sisters were unable to metabolize it, and they died. Thus, those women who accomplished this were testaments to the mastering of these abilities.
Simulflow[edit | edit source]
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 combination of simulflow with their analytical abilities and Other Memory is responsible for the frightening intelligence of the average Bene Gesserit.
The Weirding Ways of Combat[edit | edit source]
Prana-bindu training was also used by the adept in all the daily functions of her life. For example, the famous Bene Gesserit martial art, the "weirding ways of battle," were only accomplished after years of prana-bindu training. The hand-to-hand combat techniques depended upon supreme muscle control for their astonishing force and speed. Not only the unarmed combat maneuvers, but also their extraordinary knife and whip techniques, required the total command of muscle and nerve.
Sexual Imprinting[edit | edit source]
The Bene Gesserit are notable for their extensive skill in seduction, sex and sexual imprinting. The most talented and highly-trained are known as Imprinters. Men in a position of power or future power, or those with specific qualities that the order wishes to incorporate into their breeding program, are typical targets of a Bene Gesserit imprinter. Men seduced by an imprinter are permanently affected (imprinted) by the intense sexual experience and are thereafter consciously or subconsciously favorable to the Sisterhood.
Manipulation of Others[edit | edit source]
The training program had a second objective: the ability to control others whether as individuals, masses, or cultures.
The Voice[edit | edit source]
The Bene Gesserit was taught to "read" and "register" a person in order to manipulate him/her by “Voice”. In "reading" one observed and identified the clue tones which would control the other person. In "registering" one used a brief mnemonic trance to retain the clue tones, making that person controllable in future situations. Finally, through the use of decipherment, a Bene Gesserit could recognize a registered individual no matter what overt change in behavior or appearance they assumed. Decipherment also allowed sisters to unerringly identify Face Dancers and gholas, even when they assumed the appearance of individuals unknown to the Sister herself. The decipherment pattern allowed her to discern the nonhuman characteristics, as well as read pheromones. Through Voice, a subtle manipulation of vocal tones, a Bene Gesserit could manipulate individuals or large groups by triggering clue tones. Certain voice patterns triggered primal human responses, and the registered person could be controlled in any situation. Women specially gifted with The Great Control could manage any number of people in any situation, and could even control other Bene Gesserits. Particular subtleties of Voice usage are the Lie Adroit - manipulation through concealed falsehood; the Zensunni Codex - a play of words that confused or obscured the truth; and the implantation of autosuggestive cue words (for example, the most common word thus implanted is "Uroshnor," a word itself empty of meaning, but which, when spoken, triggered a state of immobilization). These techniques, however, were taught only for specific professional work.
Missionaria Protectiva[edit | edit source]
In order to learn how to control large groups of people and even cultures, during her final three years of education a candidate entered a series of courses teaching the characteristics of mob behavior (e.g., history, politics, anthropology, and mythology). Unless a woman was to be a political determiner when she graduated or was being groomed for political roles within the order, these courses were theoretical. For those who entered the Missionaria Protectiva, however, a special training program taught the manipulation of cultural attitude through mythos implantation. Truthsayers, economists, and women preparing to be MBA’s were all trained in practical group manipulation as well as in theory.
Survival[edit | edit source]
Of course, as a secondary part of the entire training program, candidates were also taught survival techniques. For example, a rudimentary course was "Hand and Finger Signals," while a more advanced course in the same discipline was "Tactile Encoding Methods." The techniques of setting and breaking palm locks were designated as an advanced course that would allow a Reverend Mother or other Sister to communicate, undetected by use of these hand signals. For example, if a Reverend Mother were to be held captive and watched by guards (as we see during the conversation with Reverend Mother Mohaim and Princess Irulan Corrino as they discuss the plan to prevent Chani from conceiving) her Simulflow and these hand gestures, used in proper synchronicity, could conduct an entirely and completely undetected separate conversation, whilst the Reverend Mother or Adept verbally could be discussing the weather on Arrakis. Primary regimens such as the waiting stance, the sense-cleansing regimen, and the tranquility mode were also taught.
General Overview[edit | edit source]
In general, the students were taught practical skills for the primary Bene Gesserit occupations of breeding and espionage. The prana-bindu skills, the observational and analytical skills, and the self-preservation skills were all bases on which to develop the theoretical abilities needed in an organization whose goal was the accumulation and manipulation of economic and political power.