A Reverend Mother was a title held by female members of the Bene Gesserit who had completed training to an advanced level. Typically, Reverend Mothers (and Holy Sisters) had three names: The first was a Latin male name, the second an English female name, the third an Arabic or exotic name. Examples of such naming include:
The leader of the Bene Gesserit, the Mother Superior, was always chosen from the Reverend Mother ranks.
Spice Agony Edit
After completing many years of intellectual, physical, and psychological training with the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a prospective Reverend Mother underwent a dangerous ritual that involved a significant amount of awareness spectrum narcotics. Specifically, the poison used was the Water of Life - the liquid exhalation of a sandworm produced at the moment of its death by drowning in regular water.
The drug entered her body as a poison, and it was her task to consciously transform the chemical into a benign substance in a process known as the spice agony. If the subject survived the process, the physical and mental trauma caused by the spice agony would cause their genetic memory to emerge, that is, she would gain the memories of all her female ancestors, resulting in great and sudden accumulation of knowledge and power.
The Water of Life will turn the eyes of a Reverend Mother completely blue, even if she was not addicted to melange prior to her spice agony.
Male Bene Gesserit Edit
Until the rise of Paul Atreides, the ritual had been fatal to every male who had attempted it. In an extensive breeding program, the Bene Gesserit produced a single male who survived the transformation, the so-called Kwisatz Haderach. Paul was the final, though unexpected, result of this strategy. By the records of the Bene Gesserit, the Kwisatz Haderach should have been born to a son of House Harkonnen and a daughter of House Atreides.
Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam to Lady Jessica Atreides
- "You thought only of a Duke's desire for a son?
- ... Desires don't figure in this! An Atreides daughter
- could have been wed to a Harkonnen heir and sealed the breach.
- We may lose both blood lines now."
Wild Reverend Mothers Edit
Unbeknown to many in the Imperium, some fringe cultures produced wild Reverend Mothers who possessed many of the skills of a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, but without the official training. It should be noted that even these "wild" Reverend Mothers ultimately owed their status to the Bene Gesserit anyway, with most of them owing their positions to the religious engineering orchestrated by the Missionaria Protectiva.
Such groups included the Fremen, who had their own independent tradition that emerged from the Missionaria. Such individuals were called Sayyadina. These Sayyadina went through the spice agony and had access to their ancestral female memories; however, they lacked the other skills (such as the Weirding Way) that the Bene Gesserit had developed.
Another similar group was a sect of traditional Jews located on Gammu. Though they still retained their ancestral traditions, they also learned many Bene Gesserit secrets, and started to produce their own Reverend Mothers. These Jews did not emerge until the time of the Honored Matres.
Limitations of Gender Edit
Typically, when women survived the Water of Life and unlocked genetic memory, only the female line of ancestors were visible to her. It was believed that the male side terrified them, for reasons unknown. The Bene Gesserit breeding program was aimed specifically at breeding a male who could potentially unlock the memories of both the female and the male ancestral lines.
There were, however, exceptions to this rule. Alia Atreides and Ghanima Atreides were both capable of seeing the male and female ancestral lines. However, each one was connected to the eventual Kwisatz Haderach. Alia was his sister and also suffered Abomination while Ghanima was his daughter.
The possession of a multitude of ancestral memories was both a blessing and a curse for those who possessed them. While they provided the individual with immense knowledge from past experiences, the ego-memories of the person's ancestors could sometimes assert themselves, and eventually govern the person's behavior. At times, this would happen to such an extent that the individual was considered possessed. The term the Bene Gesserit used for this condition was Abomination. The only known cure for abomination was death. Avoiding abomination was actually as simple as waiting until adulthood to undergo the spice agony; once a Sister's personality was fully developed and matured, there was little danger of possession.
Paul Atreides' sister, Alia Atreides, was accidentally transformed into a Reverend Mother Pre-born: while still in her mother's womb. The shock and trauma this brought on to the unborn child was catastrophic. When she was in her early twenties, Alia succumbed to abomination, and became possessed by her maternal grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
Paul's twin children, Ghanima Atreides and Leto Atreides were also pre-born, however they strove to escape possession. When Leto was apparently killed Ghanima constructed a mental wall of grief that made her consious self believe that Leto was dead. This process also cut off her ego-memories to a level that prohibited possession. Leto, however was forced to consume great quantities of spice, and while claiming he was not possessed, much later admitted this to be a lie, by the definition of the Bene Gesserit. In order to control the council of personalities he turned to an ancient king, Harum. However this appears to be more of a ruling personality within the personalities he contained, rather than one personality taking over his flesh.