A title bestowed on those venerable guardians of the Bene Gesserit/DE whose ability to use their bodies as vessels in transforming the Water of Life/DE, for purposes of illumination, earned them a place among the Elect. Evidence gathered from the previously sealed Archives of the Bene Gesserit Chapterhouse indicates that a Reverend Mother, by virtue of her standing, was one who had attained to an extraordinary plane of consciousness and prophetic intuition. In addition, a rich cache of manuscripts, journals, and diaries secreted in the Archives reveals a sacred history of the office of Reverend Mother extending back as far as Jehanne Butler. These documents, particularly the appendix to the Ordines Matrium, trace the Water of Life Ceremony from its ancient Terran roots to the ritual which formed the catalyst enabling a woman to become one of the Elect. That the ceremony and the subsequent progression of transcendence was irrevocably changed by the Lady Jessica's participation in the Fremen Ceremony of the Seed is unquestionable. Not only was Jessica brought into conjunction with her own heritage of Reverend Mothers, but she was also united with the long line of Fremen Reverend Mothers, all without the benefit of the usual years of discipline and training. Until that time, the "poison" used at the Water of Life Ceremony varied with cultural traditions, but its effect had been dependent upon the individual's own preparation for the harmonious Self. Just as melange served only to enhance the trained "sight" of some Reverend Mothers, so did the "poison" of the traditional ceremony serve to focus the transcendence and union of the one with the All. With the introduction of the Fremen Water of Life, the poison created by a drowning "maker," the strength of the catalyst changed. Increased dependence on the Fremen poison and decreased dependence on the arduous training disciplines gradually weakened the rigor of the order. Thus, the discovery of the Athanor Proctrices and the [[Exerci Animae]] gives us a much clearer understanding of the true office of the Reverend Mothers, before the time that the Ordines Matrium appendix refers to as the "Atreides Corruption." It is likely that the universal vow of a Reverend Mother — "Sciente ipsem scit omnem — originated with the founding Mother herself, whose ancestry had been traced to the Great Mother. Clearly, the motto reflects the objectives of the five ordinances undertaken by all Reverend Mothers, as outlined in the authoritative Athanor Proctrices: "She has plumbed the dark night of being and survived; she has seen the Truth and been made strong; she has been bound in limited self and escaped; she has faced her own enemy and emerged victorious; she has borne the burden of grief and not succumbed. She is witness that 'In the Self is the All.
The stated aim of the Bene Gesserit training program was to develop a form of mental exercise that would enable the practitioner to gain a mode of consciousness unavailable to those who lacked either the gift or the training. This altered mode of consciousness, a profoundly heightened view of reality gained by turning inward, was a prelude to perfecting the transcendental self. By this turning inward, a distinction could be achieved between the self of illusion and limited phenomenal reality, and the Self that participates in Absolute Reality, the so- called valley of infinite vision. The official manual, Exerci Animae, prescribes a course of discipline and training for those specially gifted Bene Gesserit who are the chosen. The program is geared to producing a perfect harmonious union of self and Self, of becoming and Become, of sensation and Illumination in the mind of the accomplished practitioner. The Introduction to these "spiritual exercises"-promises that all perception will eventually be successive yet simultaneous, limited yet infinite. But it sounds a cautionary note as well: Care must be taken to keep a tight control on the blossoming transcendental consciousness lest it come unbidden, without the manifest will having called upon it. Such an instability could be dangerous, leading to seriously reduced effectiveness of the practitioner who must necessarily plan all action and reaction with disciplined intention. Phenomenal consciousness cannot' function at the mercy of an intenser plane of consciousness that could supersede it involuntarily. Unity is to be
preserved so that a split or divisive apprehensive mode is rendered undesirable and ineffectual.1 More specifically, the initiate was to take part in activities that stimulated other faculties beside those of anteriority since cultivating interior modes too exclusively could drain the action of the will. The activity of will, the manual makes clear, the extended recognition of an ever-changing, often antagonistic, plurality in normal existence, and the sensitive response to stimuli, must all be exercised regularly. The trained consciousness is capable of intense concentration but this focus is not incompatible, it would seem, with an ever-widening and deepening expansion of that same consciousness. For the Reverend Mother would ideally substitute the living experience for the conceptual, social, and political schemes of those who sought her guidance as possessor of an indwelling, transforming power. However, the process of transformation that would inaugurate a Reverend Mother, she who was both means and vessel, required three phases. In the Fundamentals of the Way, they are described as three stages: the purgation of recalcitrant selfhood; the dawning of wisdom; the reconciliation and union with all who have gone before.2 Thus, the body, soul, and spirit were purified, enlightened, and made whole. What was to result was a new and peerless power of life, with the Reverend Mother mediating between the world of appearances called reality, and the unseen world which is Reality. An equilibrium was thought to be established in this way, with Reverend Mother the ritual center. The entire process initially required a period of renunciation and detachment during which the initiate became as a vessel wherein transformation of self was precondition to later stages and requirements. As in the early training of a B.G., consciousness of base reality would be transformed into apprehension of the Absolute, so in the later and final training the poisons would be purified into liquid knowing. Like a prehistoric alchemist whose mission it was to transmute base material into pure gold, so the Reverend Mother would quest in the common labyrinths of the spirit for the incorruptible substance which she alone could transmute into new form. And only she who would be Reverend Mother could behold what was to others concealed. The complex ceremonial actions involved in transforming the mundane into the sanctified, the poison into the pure, symbolized the right of guardianship. The rituals of induction for a Reverend Mother constituted a battle between self and its long-held territory (which would resist any incursions), and the transcendental Self (which could expect to be rebuffed and abused). But by persistence and will the corrupt self would lose ground. The spiritual repository of generations and millennia would grow stronger and harder to dislodge as the ceremony advanced. Conclusively, the territory of character would replace the ground of the other. There it would stand unchallenged by onslaughts from without since the fierce inner strife had been resolved. The sacred field that remained was inviolate, all spiritual perception growing there. These final trials of transformation show a Reverend Mother in the act of creating self, a spiritual eye opening on to the infinite and eternal plateau. In the stillness through which all movement is possible, she could then see the connection of all things in one unending stream. Excerpts from the Seated Sermones corroborate the five ordinances and the levels of accomplishment the aspirant to Elect status had achieved: service for its sake alone; surrender of self to the cause; obedience in behalf of mission; challenging the unknown; converting the dread into the blessed.1 The supreme difficulties inherent in achieving these goals is attested to in the journals, diaries and private correspondence of those submitting themselves to the test. Moreover, though the annotated Sanctae Vitae records only the history and genealogy of the Order of Reverend Mothers, the Holy Dialogs adds to these more personal experiences of the early group of Reverend Mothers.All sources lead credence to the supposition that a Reverend Mother was the rallying point for unity in diversity. She was to represent a meeting ground of various realities, a union of finite and infinite. She was to participate in the communal life and by so doing impart to it sacramental meaning and significance. She could encompass the All-changing and the Changeless One and thus become the resting place of the paradox of existence. Through her being, she would reconcile that paradox into a comprehensible and acceptable vision. But first the Reverend Mother had herself to engage in a struggle for enlightened consciousness. This struggle was often characterized as the Lucius Duorum, in which her worldly and flawed spirit entered into fierce combat with the awakened consciousness and the Spirit of Reality.4 In the struggle, the flawed spirit sought to hold itself together against the fixed and immutable center of true Reality. Disintegration challenged integration with now one, now the other, alternating in moves for control. Illusion was seen as an adroit trickster, but Reality's constant light exposed every feint and dodge; and finally, through the power of Will, Reality won through. Only then could She become a center of spiritual direction, the guide and guardian, the tutor and superintendent, the vessel of communion with the Absolute in behalf of the unknowable. The journal of the Reverend Mother Edda Josefa contains a dramatic account of her early experiences on the way to transcendental perception:
I found that though I would practice the exercises of self-exorcism, of discipline and control of will so as to overcome weak resolve, I was afflicted with the petty intrusions of self s sorrow, overtures of vanity and ambition, and the temptation to self-preservation. Holding on to self as cosmic center, like a sun around which attendant bodies turn, is the most insidious of illusions. But then I found I could summon courage to unveil that imposter self. I closed my eyes and turned inside, with all the power of my concentration, to a vision of ascending steps leading to light that at once enfolded me and led me to my return. My spirit remained in the heart of that light; my heart and my mind were made new and free. I now possessed within what I had sought elsewhere. I had come to understand the distance between dutiful piety and obedience, and intuition and acceptance of the Reality and the Uncreated Light. 1 was now ready to take up my office.1 A similar entry in the Holy Dialogs documents the experience of Reverend Mother Averginna Rellim, who described the process of becoming immune to the phenomenal world so as to intensify consciousness of a more perfect reality. The life of the senses, she found, took over the proper place of intuition: My energy had been too much directed to self-regard and vain and idle thought. Henceforth, I would dedicate my will and detach myself from illusion so that I might work the wonders of Reality within myself. I dedicated my active thoughts and thoughtful actions to disinterested service stripped of self- regard. So will faithful discipline afford me the freedom of consciousness I seek.2 Many other such testimonials are contained in the Liber Rjcarim, which purports to chronicle the early experiences of those Reverend Mothers whose lives should serve as an example. The Reverend Mother Lucilla Godyar, for example, was able to recount her first vision, that of an open door through which she could see, on the other side, the eternity of Reality. It was, she reported, like a linked chain of endless being contained in perfumed light. She knew she stood on the threshold of cosmic consciousness. But before she could cross that threshold, she was restrained by a vision of herself as a single candle dwarfed by the sun. In this terrifying moment, she was to foresee the awesome path of humility and self-surrender, of denial and repentance, of pain and solitude, that she would have to traverse on her way to crossing the threshold. "I was to come to know the poisons; and if I endured, then I would also know how to control and direct them," she concluded.3 In all cases, the objective of enhanced powers of intellectual vision of clairvoyance was, for each Reverend Mother, to uncover the "human." The essence of the meaning of "human," they believed, would open itself as a manifold creation exposing layer upon layer down to its beating heart. It is this essence that a Reverend Mother had first to discover in her Self, testing and probing the outer layers of illusion, vanity, and fear. The diary of a founding Reverend Mother, Augusta Cserna, detailed her vision of the human, and the quest she and her sisters were committed to carrying on. It reads, in part: I could, at once, see the eternal generation of all living things, and the origin of the world in the womb of the Great Mother. Therein, like a flower of infinite layering was all Creation — the changeless and the changing, the infernal and external, the spirit and the flesh, the essence and the existence. The light shown over the endless space of Time, as being and non- being wrestled with each other for supremacy. The puny resistance of the ever-changing will- to-become was pitted against the perfect form of the immutably fixed. What monstrous collisions I foresaw then. The obedient, coldly efficient minions of the dark and the scattered but passionate protectors of the flame; the flame from which only the truly human can pierce the secret heart of the All. Through the flame I could see back to Mother Jehanne for whom ALL was a vision of the possible, and forward to Mother Jessica whose destiny and mission it shall be to embody forth and preserve all human treasure. The long line between, like a golden thread yoking them together, is an unbroken series of clasped hands dedicated to this purpose: that the quest for the imperishable human spirit shall be an eternal hunger fed by discipline, by patience, by devotion, by sacrifice, and by love."