Does anyone know if there was some inspiration behind the 'Litany against Fear' in Dune? Perhaps some philosopher or ancient proverb?

If there is no primary inspiration, were there any fundamental influences?

The Litany against Fear (original Bene Gesserit version in Dune):

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.

  • 4
    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - FDR First Inaugural Address
    – Valorum
    Feb 22, 2016 at 20:10
  • I've always assumed it was inspired by the biblical verse Psalm 23:4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
    – Joe L.
    Feb 23, 2016 at 6:29
  • If you subtract Herbert's literary way of framing the concept, it leaves something that most people learn eventually. Facing a fear is the best way of overcoming it. May 17, 2016 at 22:19

5 Answers 5


I believe that Herbert was inspired to a certain extent by Middle Eastern traditions and cultures (very probably romanticized). For example, there seems to be a clear reflection of a Western idea of the Bedouin in the Freemen. It is very likely that he was inspired by T.E. Lawrence and I would be surprised if he didn't know about Rumi.

Rumi Quote about fear:

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence.

Speculation, but fair I think.

  • Rumi quote does seem relevant. I will say though, the Litany is a Bene Gesserit thing, not Fremen. But I suppose with common roots in the Spice.
    – Joshua
    Oct 20, 2018 at 2:32
  • @Joshua, I did not say the litany was a Fremen thing. I was analyzing Herbert's sources of inspiration. Fremen are clearly inspired by Bedouins, and clearly by early 20th century romantic depictions of them (T.E. Lawrence). I used the Fremen as an example of his use of westernized versions of Middle Eastern sources. Rumi fits perfectly into that framework. Given that he clearly admired T.E. Lawrence, he probably also admired stories of the "whirling dervishes" and read Rumi as well. It is a very fair guess. Nothing in my answer claims the litany is not Bene Gesserit.
    – JBiggs
    Oct 20, 2018 at 5:03

Frank Herbert was a former Catholic, and an adherent of Zen Buddhism.

This is the full text of the original Litany Against Fear, from Dune (1965):

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.

The Litany seems to conform to Buddhist, Hindu, Christian mystic and ancient Greek Stoic ideas of how to deal with strong life-directing emotions like fear and anger. Judging the fear or anger as bad things, is counter-productive, strengthening the emotion, by adding discontent with it's existence, and the frustration of self-judgement for supposed failure. One instead witnesses emotion dispassionately, as a natural phenomena like a passing cloud, and lets it pass without assent. One's 'true self' is the witness behind all emotion.

Training of the ability to witness without giving assent, is the object of vipassana meditation, also known as sakshi bhava. Mantras (repeated phrases) are more commonly associated with a different form of meditation, samatha, the complimentary meditation to vipassana, which instead focuses on training deep one-pointed concentration. The litany is an alambana, a supporting object of focus, intended to form a well-eroded mental channel, a samskara. Future repetition quickly returns one to focus, due to this past erosion.

Observe this part of the litany:

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

Fear can ruin a person's life, or even an entire culture. Think of a human being, who is so afraid, that they restricted their entire life to living at home. They would be out of step with their own welfare, which is a compassionate consideration of their future well-being. It is essential to be able to take calculated risks or efforts like going outside, exercising, eating well, having relationships, raising children, or making decisions for your future welfare. They cannot however be forced, and must be enjoyed, or at least habituated.

Observe this part of the litany:

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.

In Buddhist and Hindu theory, the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing), and also the verbal problem-solving mind (which constantly calculates past and future events) are not one's true self. The true self is the observer sitting behind these senses. It cannot be observed itself, because it is the observer; the very field in which all other sense impressions occur. However you know it is there, simply by your ability to perceive. This is 'consciousness', in modern scientific terminology. In ancient India, the word for this true self was 'atma'. In ancient Greece, within 'psyche' consisting of three parts, 'pneuma' had a similar meaning. The ancient Roman equivalent was 'anima'. This is the inner eye, and the 'I' that remains.

Orange Catholic bible: the 'Accumulated Book,' the religious text produced by the Commission of Ecumenical Translators. It contained elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Saari, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddhislamic traditions. It's supreme commandment is considered to be 'Thou shalt not disfigure the soul. -

'Terminology of the Imperium', Dune (1965)

Although people tend to notice Dune's obvious Middle Eastern influences, such as how the Fremen resemble Bedouin nomads, there is a more subtle layer of Western and Far Eastern philosophy present too. Complex literary works are not mere analogies, and it could be argued Dune contains more Zen motifs than Middle Eastern ones. This is reflected in how 'Zensunni', an amalgam of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, is one of the main syncretic religions of Herbert's far future. All major human belief systems contributed to the 'Orange Catholic Bible', the main religious book of the time, such as 'Zensunni Catholicism', 'Mahayana Christianity' and 'Buddhislam'. Paul is given a small Orange Catholic Bible early in the events of Dune, and the Fremen are descendants of a Zensunni sect that migrated between star systems in the past.


I'm speculating here but this litany seems a lot like mindfulness, a form of meditation coming from Buddhism. It calls to be here in the moment and accept the fear, bear it and let it pass.


I am coming to this very late. I found it amusing that there are so many comments about what exactly is an inspiration and it's use as a tag. This is quite typical of comment forums where the original topic is quickly diverted to a discussion of something somebody mentioned that has little or nothing to do with the actual topic. Of course, now I'm doing that myself.

I think Herbert was most inspired by his imagining of the Bene Gesserit, who they were, what they were about, what was their agenda and motives, and how did they do what they did.

Herbert was masterful at character development and in Dune this extended to developing the major competing organizations of power whose interactions provided the backbone of the plot which he so capably fleshed out with numerous supporting characters, also well developed with their own significant subplots.

It was extremely important to him to make the world of the Bene Gesserit at complete as possible so that their interactions with the other main power organizations, dealings both large and subtle, seemingly important or seemingly minor, were seen by the reader as the multi-leveled, plots within plots that made the book such a classic.

I believe Herbert created the litany against fear to both reveal and substantiate things he wanted the reader to know about the Bene Gesserit. Although it could easily be posited and has been in this forum, that there are elements of Zen and perhaps Islam in the text itself I sense that those influences were secondary to his desire to his goal of revealing the nature of the organization.

The litany's main purpose is to tell us about a primary goal of the inner organization. The Bene Gesserit are a sort of militant quasi-religious order on steroids. They have been following a specific agenda for millennia. They develop young women into virtual manipulation machines, skilled in any number of ways to influence men and families of power at the highest level. This way they can remain relatively secret and anonymous while wielding tremendous political power. One important educational goal of the order was to isolate and develop the human and disassociate the animal nature of its sisters. It sought in both it's breeding program and its training to create beings who were completely human with no animal influence. This had multi[le purposes from training the sisters to perform extraordinary feats of mental and physical control and acuity and for creating impenetrable bonding and discipline within the whole of the organization.

The Litany is a tool the Bene Gesserit uses to focus it's sisters, through its vocalized repetition, back on their humanity when faced with fear, which they knew to be animal in nature and therefore highly inferior and unwanted. Thus the "little" death. They also knew that although fear is little and animal it is still powerful enough to kill the mind of a human and lead to total obliteration.

By facing our fear we separate the human from the animal. We let it pass over and through us becoming transparent and invisible to it, robbing it of its power through sheer human mental superiority. When it passes through we do not go merrily back to whatever we were doing but we use the experience as a learning moment. We turn our mind's eye back inward to see fear's path. We see it's intentions, where it planned to hurt us, what vulnerability, what human weakness it was to exploit and how it planned to do so.

But there is no substance there. We remember that fear has no substance and only we remain, more human than ever.

The Litany tells us a lot about the Bene Gesserit in a short time. This was Herbert's intention and he was inspired by his own imagination.

  • 3
    This is very long and rambling, with only small parts actually attempting to answer what was the influence behind the Litany against Fear.
    – Obsidia
    May 8, 2018 at 0:45

I am very late on this, but I have found an interesting quote much closer to us than we would expect:

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.

-Jim Morrison

  • 1
    Are you suggesting that this is the inspiration for the Litany Against Fear?
    – Adamant
    Jan 1, 2017 at 23:55
  • 5
    Dune (and the litany against fear) was published in 1965, when Jim Morrison was still a nobody, which makes it extremely unlikely that he inspired it. It is far more likely that your quote was inspired by the litany against fear.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jan 2, 2017 at 10:03

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