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I'm reading Children of Dune, and I'm getting confused exactly what is meant by "an abomination" according to the Bene Gesserit. At this point in the story, Jessica is convinced Alia is abomination, but the children are not. At first I thought the abomination was someone who was "pre-born" - that is, fully spice-aware in the womb - but everyone already knew Alia was like that. In addition, the children have always been that way, but Jessica seems only mildly concerned that Leto might be such.

It's clearly some characteristic which arises later - maybe it's related to Alia having some trouble with her prescient vision, but Leto is just discovering his so that does not seem to pan out either.

Anyone have a good sense what an "abomination" is? And don't worry about spoilers on my account - I've seen a few researching this already!

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The term "abomination" refers to a pre-born child who has been extremely influenced - or even possessed - by the personality fragments within their pre-born memories. Normally, a woman is an adult when she takes the Water of Life, which means that she has a fully-formed personality of her own. This "sense of self" allows her to resist and control the fragments of other people within her.

A pre-born child has no personality of their own yet, and are therefore defenseless against the other personalities within them. As we eventually saw in Alia's case (more on that later), this leads to eventual possession and/or insanity. In fact, further research into the topic shows that there are three "stages" to Possession:

  1. Pre-born: a child born to a woman who has taken the Water of Life. This child has access to the memories of their bloodline, but said access is passive like any other memory.
  2. Abomination: a child within whom at least one ancestral personality has become active or influential, acting like a separate personality within the child's psyche.
  3. Possession: a child (or adult) wherein one or more ancestral personas has completely taken over the physical body and overridden the original personality.

Overall, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood makes no distinction between the three. Although it was possible for an adult to become "abomination", it was rare. Pre-born, on the other hand, were VASTLY more likely to end up that way, which is how the Sisterhood justified its "zero tolerance" policy regarding pre-born children.


Examples of "Abomination"

We actually see this progression play out in Alia throughout "Dune Messiah" and "Children of Dune". Alia focused on her brother Paul, using him as an anchor of sorts for her own personality. When he flees into the desert, however, Alia finds herself alone and running the Empire. She begins to hear the whisperings of ancestor personalities, eventually forming an alliance with that of

her maternal grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

This alliance starts off as whispered advice in exchange for the occasional moment of sensory input (usually during intimacy with her husband), but quickly spires out of control as the Baron begins influencing her more aggressively. At the time of her death, the Baron had managed to exert near total control over her - enough to completely possess her body and speak through her.

Leto and Ghanima - Paul's children - were pre-born under very similar circumstances to Alia, due to their mother Chani having to consume near-toxic quantities of spice in order to conceive them. However, unlike Alia, they had the highly-evolved prescience of their father to balance against it. As Jessica noted when she met them, this granted them the inner strength to resist the Abomination stage. One twin creates a merged personality from all the different memories, while the other creates a "committee" where the personalities agree on which action to take.

Other Bene Gesserit would have liked nothing more than to destroy the Atreides children due to their pre-born nature, but obviously that was impossible given the situation. As explained by the Reverend Mother when she first sees Alia and calls her "Abomination", the sisters went to great pains to ensure that such children were not born:

"You don't understand. Majesty," the old woman said. "Not telepathy. She's in my mind. She's like the ones before me, the ones who gave me their memories. She stands in my mind! She cannot be there, but she is!"

"What others?" the Emperor demanded. "What's this nonsense?"

The old woman straightened, lowered her pointing hand. "I've said too much, but the fact remains that this child who is not a child must be destroyed. Long were we warned against such a one and how to prevent such a birth, but one of our own has betrayed us."

  • due to their mother having to consume near-toxic quantities of spice in order to conceive That doesn't sound right, Alia was already in the womb when she drank the water. – asawyer Jan 13 '15 at 21:58
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    @asawyer, that quote does not refer to Jessica being pregnant with Alia, but about Chani's conception of Leto and Ghanima. – Ghanima Jan 13 '15 at 22:14
  • Well, this makes a fair amount of sense (given how far I am in the series), but Jessica decides the moment she sees Alia (upon her return to Dune) that she has become an abomination. However, it's not until shortly after that Alia actually lets another personality influence her. Or perhaps Jessica could see the characteristics of abomination in Alia before the influence actually happened. In any case, you have a very convincing argument. – cduston Jan 14 '15 at 0:05
  • The first use of Abomination in Dune WRT Alia by Mohiam doesn't seem to support your definition 2. Do you have any reference that shows one ancestral has become active or influential in Alia by the time she meets the Baron and the emporer Shaddam? – Anthon Jan 14 '15 at 5:19
  • @Ghanima Ah I misunderstood, thank you. – asawyer Jan 14 '15 at 12:56
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Reverend mother Mohiam calls Alia an abomination when she first encounters her near the end of "Dune"¹. There is no indication in the story at that point that Alia is possessed or even under the influence of any of her forefathers at that point².

I read Mohiam's following statement "Long were we warned against such a one and how to prevent such a birth, ..." that the Bene Gesserit did, until then, never have to deal with such a child. The Fremen might have had to deal with such children before, but there is no clear indication in the books they do.

In "Children of Dune" The use of abomination is different: "Any possession reduced the possessed to Abomination."³

Also in "Children of Dune" the Duncan mentat Ghola reasons: "Therefore Alia was not in contact with that pseudo-Jessica within. Therefore Alia was completely possessed by another pseudo-life to the exclusion of all others. Possessed! Alien! Abomination!". You can interpret this as that "completely possessed" means all three of these, or that these are increasingly severe "states". Alia herself uses Abomination as what the Bene Geserit call not resisting the "Great Temptation", prolonging life (without melange, if many Bene Geserit would do that it would be noticed). In the book of Kreos (within a chapter header) "... the Sisterhood feared Alia, an adult Abomination, ..." which would imply there were non-adult Abominations as well, but Alia is not that. And Leto: "He thought that he might be losing the inner command, falling at last into Abomination."

Jessica defines the term for Ghanima (also in Children of Dune):

“Abomination,” the Lady Jessica had said, “our term for the pre-born, has a long history of bitter experiences behind it. The way of it seems to be that the inner lives divide. They split into the benign and the malignant. The benign remain tractable, useful. The malignant appear to unite in one powerful psyche, trying to take over the living flesh and its consciousness. The process is known to take considerable time, but its signs are well known.”

Ghanima considers: "This was a Bene Gesserit, and who knew better than they the history of Abomination?", which seems to contradict my original interpretation of "long were we warned ...". For Haleck possessed and abomination seem one and the same:

“You were to kill him only if he showed himself to be … possessed,” Halleck said. “Abomination.”

The preacher, when talking to Haleck about Leto:

He’s a community. As with any community under stress, any member of that community may assume command. This command isn’t always benign, and we get our stories of Abomination. But you’ve already wounded this community enough, Gurney Halleck. Can’t you see that the transformation already has taken place? This youth has achieved an inner cooperation which is enormously powerful, that cannot be subverted.

at which point the Paul within Leto clearly has the overhand, but is benign and helps Leto. The Preacher also call abomination "Bene Geserit nonsense".

Ghanima talking about Leto to Farad'n: "He gives more than anyone ever gave before. Our father walked into the desert trying to escape it. Alia became Abomination in fear of it." "Hypnotic suppression under stress linked to the wooing of a benign ancestor had saved Ghanima [from Alia's abomination fate]. They might have saved Alia. But without hope, nothing had been attempted until it was too late."

And then Leto II is an abomination if you interpret his word treachery as lying:

“Well and good, cousin. She asked me if I were Abomination. I answered in the negative. That was my first treachery. You see, Ghanima escaped this, but I did not. I was forced to balance the inner lives under the pressure of excessive melange. I had to seek the active cooperation of those aroused lives within me. Doing this, I avoided the most malignant and chose a dominant helper thrust upon me by the inner awareness which was my father. I am not, in truth, my father or this helper. Then again, I am not the Second Leto.”

In "God Emporer of Dune" Leto has the following exchange with Chenoeh:

“It was a design of our genetic history and the working of the spice. My twin sister, Ghanima, and I were awakened in the womb, aroused before birth into the presence of our ancestral memories.” “Lord … my Sisterhood calls that Abomination.” “And rightly so,” the Lord Leto said.

Which is not referring to being possessed at all.


Different uses for the same word by different people, by the same people. Maybe intentional by Frank Herbert, maybe a result of the complexity of such an epic tale. Sometimes I feel the need to analyse this, at others I just enjoy the complexity and things being not-so-clear-cut as I think that makes the original Dune books so much more thought provoking, than a simple, boring, storyline would.

¹ This is the second use of abomination in the book the first is by Yueh to describe the Harkonnen action against the Atreides
² This fact contradicts point 2 in Omegacron's answer
³ These are the thoughts of Leto, after he and Ghanima let their parents briefly "surface" in order to learn how to prevent what happened to Alia.

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    What I get from all that is that "Abomination" may not actually refer to a specific state of being - or perhaps through colloquial use, the specific definition has been lost. For instance, we can call Hitler a "monster", and most people know what that means. But, it's different than saying "A dragon is a monster". Perhaps all the pre-born are in fact abominations, but Alia's state highlights the reason its a negative attribute, while Leto has better control over it. – cduston Jan 15 '15 at 18:39
  • @cduston - that's it exactly. The disagreement over answers is due to the fact that there are TWO definitions of "abomination", with one being the technical definition and the other being the Bene Gesserit use of the term. – Omegacron Oct 18 '17 at 18:36
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An abomination precisely is a fetus who's mother has undergone the spice agony. This leads to the other memories being accessible in the womb, rendering the abomination susceptible to strongly manipulation by them as Alia was. The key transformation of the water of life was done both by Jessica and Alia.

Chani was not pregnant when she became a Reverend Mother, so she never exposed Ghanima or Leto to this. Why the transformation itself is dangerous as opposed to a Leto's access via being the true Kwiswatz Haderach is not clear. Ghanima's status is also unclear.

Related to Himarm's comment [since deleted]: I believe the Alia's access to male memories was related to the bloodline of being nearly Kwiswatz Haderach herself, and hence not part of the definition of abomination.

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    Unless I've forgotten, Chani did not transform the water of life while pregnant, which seems to be a significant difference. Additionally, if simple spice consumption were relevant, all Fremen children would be abomination. – Lighthart Jan 13 '15 at 18:00
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    @Lighthart It's not "simple" spice consumption. Chani had to ingest very large amounts to counter the effects of the drugs that Irulan had been slipping her to prevent pregnancy. It was that high quantity combined with Paul's already enhanced DNA that caused Leto and Ghanima to develop pre-born. – Roger Jan 13 '15 at 18:15
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    Sorry, had to downvote as the definition is wrong. Pre-born does not automatically equal abomination. The term "abomination" only refers to those who have been possessed by an other-self within their mind. – Omegacron Jan 13 '15 at 19:11
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    @Omegacron: Your definition is simply wrong. Alia was identified as abomination before possession. – Lighthart Jan 13 '15 at 19:50
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    the bene gesserit felt that all preborns were abominations, "It is with reason and terrible experience that we call the pre-born Abomination. For who knows what lost and damned persona out of our evil past may take over the living flesh?" — Leto II quoting from the Azhar Book, Children of Dune (1976), however, we find that in fact being preborn doesn't guarantee abomination, when the preborn are the blood of the kwiswatz haderach. i would hazzard to say that all other preborns not gifted the abilities of leto, and ghanima would be guaranteed aboms. – Himarm Jan 13 '15 at 19:59
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The bene Gesserit definition of preborn as abomination is a guide to the hazards of possession, like all wives tales, folk lore and occult science it is a marker of warning; a hazard is up ahead if you dare walk this road. it is a unclear hazard to the bene'Gesseret

think of the metaphor Herbert is saying the bene Gesseritt (from between the legs of a woman -blacks law 4th edition hebrew/talmudic/babylonian in origin) they (the preborn and the kersach haderach) are not equipped to handle the inflow of genetic/spiritual memory . that they become possessed by generational memories or spiritual memories

think too that herbert lived thru the era of charles manson and had a example of those who had inner voices but could induce the voices in others

they the benegesseret and herbert were at a loss to identify the source but set a warning the bridge was out on this set of train tracks

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    This is very unclear. What are you trying to say and what does it add that has not already been covered? – amflare Nov 20 '17 at 15:57
  • indeed for brevity much was glossed – Bill Russell Nov 22 '17 at 14:34

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