Frank Herbert’s Dune and Modern Conspiracy Mythology

A Secret Report Within Entertainer Archives

by Kyle B. Stiff

 Frank Herbert wrote his Dune series around the time of the Cold War, and I’ve heard more than one person draw parallels between the Great Houses of Dune and real nations of 20th century Earth. It’s easy to see the spice as a metaphor for oil or opium, the Harkonnens as Russians, the Atreides as Americans, etc.

But these parallels break down on closer examination. The Atreides homeworld Caladan is an agrarian duchy rather than a capitalist republic, the rulers of our world tend to distrust psychedelic drugs unlike most of the Great House rulers, Russian rulers aren’t known  for the sexual perversions that are the Harkonnens’ claim to fame, etc. As far as metaphor goes, it’s weak.

Still, I think I’ve uncovered a series of parallels in the Dune books, and they deal directly with modern conspiracy culture. There’s always been a strong anti-authoritarian current in American culture that dovetails nicely with conspiracy culture; strangely enough, a lot of this stuff simply did not exist in Frank Herbert’s time. He did not put these parallels in his stories consciously. But what great story was ever constructed through conscious effort? The parallels are there; how they got there is a great mystery, one of many to be recorded and appreciated in the Entertainment Archives… even if never understood.


Blue desert on Dune.

Blue desert on Dune.

A special note: One of the ideas that blew me away during a recent re-reading of the Dune series is that the common man has very little understanding of the power-plays that shape the universe of Dune. The common citizen of Caladan knows to be loyal to the Duke, to hate the Harkonnens, and to fear the Emperor, but beyond that he really only knows about rice farming. A moderately wealthy citizen might know a little more, but even his understanding of the CHOAM stock market and which House produces this or that is nothing compared to the godlike perspective of the reader. The common man will never own a single ounce of spice, and he may have never even heard of the Bene Gesserit. This situation is even more true during the God Emperor’s time, when most of the population is tied up in agrarian production, space travel is extremely limited, and the creative spirit of mankind lies dormant. What’s my point? The point is that most of the people in the Dune universe have no understanding that their world is shaped by the actions of secret societies; the secret servants of the Great Houses are really the masters. This is no different from our world, where watching the news can give an illusion of understanding, but scratching even a little bit beneath the surface reveals an entire world outside of our reckoning.

And now, here are the parallels. Enjoy!


Orange desert on Dune.

Orange desert on Dune.

The Sardaukar are Zionists

A Zionist is an extreme “Jewish nationalist”. Many of them believe that the story in the Torah about God giving a certain plot of land to the Jewish people is literal. When it comes to defending (or retaking) that land, any act is permissible; common morality does not apply. Zionism figures prominently in conspiracy culture, which is why conspiracy theorists are sometimes labeled as anti-Semites.

In Dune, the Sardaukar are the elite soldiers of the Empire. Until the rise of Paul Muad’dib, no one can face them in battle. They are the right-hand of the Emperor, powerful and ruthless and perpetually cloaked in mystery. A few tipoffs that the Sardaukar represent Zionism in modern conspiracy culture:

- The holy book of the Sardaukar is the Tawrah. It takes little imagination to figure that this is the ancient Torah, the foundation-text of Judaism and the first five books of the Christian Old Testament.

- When the Sardaukar attack the Atreides on Dune, they come dressed as Harkonnen soldiers so that the Emperor’s hand in the affair won’t be revealed and the other Great Houses won’t turn against him. This is a “false flag” attack, which figures prominently in conspiracy culture. The sinking of the USS Liberty, and even the 9-11 attack, are often touted as false flag attacks in conspiracy culture.

Dune artwork by an unknown artist.

Dune artwork by an unknown artist.

- The Sardaukar aren’t mindless roughnecks. Each soldier, once he completes his grueling training, lives in a mansion and has plenty of servants. Just so, the frontline soldiers of Zionism aren’t young infantrymen who join the military to pay for college; they are usually old, rich men in fine suits smoking expensive cigars.

- One of the greatest secrets in the galaxy has to do with the training of Sardaukar. How does the Emperor make those unbeliever dealers of death? The answer is that they are culled from his prison planet Salusa Secundus. Salusa Secundus is a hellish planet of extremes not unlike Dune itself. It’s a place where only the strongest survive. Just so, the Holy Land is a parched and arid land, and its inhabitants are forced to toughen up or tap out. Somehow this baking pit of gravel is a powerful lure for millions of people across the globe. Israel is both Dune and Salusa Secundus.


Purple desert on Dune.

Purple desert on Dune.

The Fremen are Arabs

Both the Fremen and the Arabs are the whipping boys of their respective universes. Both groups have had their homelands invaded and their resources plundered. Both groups have had to leave behind easy lives and both have become hardcore fighters driven by a belief in their eventual rise to power. Both groups deserve a little more compassion than they tend to receive in light of their history, but both groups have elements within them that are savage as hell. Remember, if Stilgar hadn’t given the matter of Jessica and Paul’s survival a great deal of thought and soul searching, and ignored the advice of his kinsmen, then both would have been killed and rendered into water and ash.

People who know little about the history of the Arabs tend to conclude that they are “crazy”. This is exactly the opinion of the Harkonnens when it comes to the Fremen. “Why are these people continually raiding our processing facilities? What’s up with their insane, violent, superstitious religion?” could be heard around dinner tables on Geidi Prime as well as in America. The idea of homeland and sovereignty and native control of resources rarely enters into the discussion.


Red desert on Dune.

Red desert on Dune.

The Harkonnens are a Satanic Blood Cult

The Harkonnens are dealt a deathblow early in the Dune series, but the fifth book does an amazing job of fleshing out these tyrannical shit-bags. If you’ve ever wondered why one Baron could make all of Geidi Prime seemingly “evil”, then wonder no more – it turns out Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was just the latest representative of a completely immoral culture built on the edifice of the powerful using the weak as playthings. Duncan Idaho’s latest incarnation recalls how people were let loose in the woods and hunted by wealthy elitists, and the carvings in the ancient no-room show that the people of Geidi Prime were obsessed with sensual pleasure and the idea that pain and pleasure were closely linked. The culture of Geidi Prime was sadistic in the extreme, and Vladimir Harkonnen was just one more psychopath in a long line of power-hungry psychopaths.

In modern conspiracy culture, this theme runs parallel to the idea that Satanic blood cults abduct and sacrifice children. Even backing away from that extreme example, it’s no stretch to say that modern Satanism believes in the idea that the individual should enthrone his own ego rather than take the traditional religious stance that one’s ego should be humbled before the divine (thus Alia’s downfall to the Baron’s ego). Modern Satanism has strong ties with materialism, as seen in Anton Lavey’s philosophy that there is no god beyond one’s own self. Geidi Prime is a great example of the dark side of Aleister Crowley’s maxim “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” (in this case it would be “do what thou wilt unto others”).

Note that in book five (I think), someone muses on the Geidi Prime situation, and then states that the Fish Speakers hunted down the power-elite that took part in sadistic pasttimes, saying something to the effect that “such scenes were erased by gore”. Intense language for the usually conservative Frank Herbert!


Another red desert on Dune.

The Bene Tleilax are Gray Aliens and Illuminati “New World Order” Types

Modern conspiracy culture is rife with speculation on gray aliens and the Illuminati, a group of psychopathic humans hell-bent on controlling the world. In the world of Dune, the loveable fuckups known as the Bene Tleilax fit the bill for both of these groups.

It’s not until the fifth Dune book that we are shown the true nature of the Bene Tleilax. Before then, all we know is that they create shape-changing Face Dancers, they seem to be the only group that has chosen genetic manipulation as their claim to fame, and even though they cause a lot of trouble they are always beaten in the end.

Children of Dune artwork by an unknown artist.

Children of Dune artwork by an unknown artist.

Here are some hard truths (and my own bullshit speculations) about the Bene Tleilax:

- Despite the Islamic red-herrings thrown into their language and holy books, the Bene Tleilax are a solar cult. In the beginning of book five, when we are finally shown a glimpse into their innermost council, we see them gather into a circle and their leader proclaims: “The sun is not god!” This does not prove that they are not a sun cult. Instead, it shows the difficulty of making a futuristic sun cult when everyone in a futuristic sci-fi setting knows that every sun is a star and every galaxy is populated by millions of stars. Still, if we are going to believe that the Bene Tleilax have absolutely nothing to do with ancient solar cults, then it will become necessary to believe that they begin every ritualized gathering with a total non sequitor statement. Like the Illuminati, the Bene Tleilax seek enlightenment or “illumination” provided by the “inner sun” or black sun, and ironically enough they will do any evil thing necessary in order to achieve enlightenment.

dune-film-poster french

- The Bene Tleilax are in the flesh trade. Go to any Illuminati party and you’re bound to meet male and female prostitutes who can be controlled by trigger phrases and most likely won’t remember a damn thing that’s done to them. That sort of thing is a Bene Tleilax specialty; not only do they excel at genetic tweaking and cloning, they can control their servants through elaborate rituals, phrases, and gestures. Many Duncan gholas had MK ULTRA-style mind control programs that were often used against Paul and Leto II.

- Modern conspiracy theorizing on the Gray aliens is that they are soulless automatons or biological androids under the control of something completely inhuman and intensely evil. You’d have to be a pretty hardcore optimist to still believe the line that they’re here to help us “evolve”. Those days are gone, and they’ve been replaced by the idea that the Grays are masters of infiltration intent on enslaving an entire planet without risking anything more than a few robotic automatons. The Bene Tleilax are frighteningly similar. When their Face Dancers are “in between” performances, their default face is a lifeless, pale thing like a mask, and their eyes are dark, perhaps even black. Much like Grays, individual Face Dancers have no identity; when Miles Teg is a child, his mother points out an agent of the Tleilaxu and says something to the effect of, “There, Miles, is the face of evil.” Those are strong words for the Dune series; how often does Frank Herbert, a master of small subtleties and the grand scale of the human drama, write about “good” and “evil”?

- Like the Illuminati, the Grays are also in the flesh trade. Many people who have claimed abduction have reported seeing things like human bodies and limbs floating in tanks – that is, being grown for slave labor, infiltration, organ harvesting, etc. Not to give away any spoilers, but how disturbing was it when you found out that the Tleilaxu axlotl tanks used for growing clones were not, in fact, “tanks” made of glass or steel at all?


Darkest red desert on Dune.

Darkest red desert on Dune.

The Honored Matres or “Whores from the Scattering” Are Big Multinational Corporations

Who could have predicted that companies allergic to domestic taxes looking for cheap third-world labor would eventually become more powerful than governments and be able to trade public representatives like Pokemon? It’s the same with the Honored Matres, a branch of the Bene Gesserit who left known regions of space when the God Emperor’s draconian laws stifled production and profit until several Great Houses and companies were forced to branch out. They took their Bene Gesserit counselors with them, but they didn’t suspect that the Bene Gesserit used most of their considerable powers to shackle their own egos and lust for power. The Bene Gesserit who left with the Scattering abandoned their control of their own desire, and used sex and violence to take power for themselves.

When the “Whores from the Scattering” returned to known space, they brought with them incalculable wealth as well as a stealthy presence, just like modern multinational corporations. Only a great Mentat like Miles Teg could detect their influence on the economy, just as most people still believe that the world stage is determined by easily recognizable nations rather than non-transparent corporations.


Paul Atreides is WikiLeaks and Siona Atreides is Anonymous

Each of the Dune books has its own lesson about prescience and the logical traps that hover around the ability to see (and manipulate) the future. Though we still don’t have a rational understanding of how to travel within an abstract landscape like time, we can understand the value of opening doors and making secrets widely known. In that sense, even though the Dune universe has no computers, Paul Atreides can be considered the first hacker of the Dune universe. He upset a balance that persisted for ten thousand years; in the same way, people from a generation only one step older than my own tend to see Julian Assange merely as a law-breaker who needs to pay a debt to society, rather than a revolutionary solution to a problem that has hamstrung our entire species for seven thousand years.

dune cool poster

But things really get interesting with Siona, one of the main characters in the fourth Dune book. At the end of the first book, Paul meets a fellow prescient and failed Kwisatz Haderach in Count Hasimir Fenring; the impossibility of seeing the future when someone else can also see the future is given flesh because Paul cannot see the potential actions taken by Fenring. Later, the God Emperor gives the human species the ability to survive any great trial by creating Siona through his own breeding program. She is invisible (or anonymous) to the “eyes” of a future-seer, and all of her descendants exist outside of the calculated manipulations of prescient power-mongers. As long as the “children of Siona” exist, humanity can never truly be controlled. In much the same way, as long as we have hacker groups like Anonymous, then no power-hungry government can ever exert complete control over us. They will always have to look over their shoulder, fearful that any one of their many dirty secrets will find its way into a public forum.


Green desert on Dune.

Green desert on Dune.

Duncan Idaho and Reincarnation

I used to think that Duncan Idaho’s continued inclusion in a series that spans one jizzillion years was there to give the reader a “grounding presence” so that, no matter how far we go, there will always be something familiar. Now I know that that’s totally wrong. Think about it… Duncan Idaho is completely different in every book! Duncan Idaho is, in fact, a New Age beefcake heart-throb doomed to repeat a cycle of death and rebirth. In other words, he is a reincarnated soul shackled to this “abode of suffering”. In the first book Duncan is a loyal soldier who follows orders and sacrifices himself to protect the establishment; in the second book, he’s like a Zen master mixed with an MK ULTRA mind control victim; in the third book he’s just a sad sap going through the ass-end of a crappy relationship; in the fourth book he lives dozens or hundreds of lives that seem to have no ultimate meaning beyond enslavement and suffering; in the fifth book he finally becomes a boy on the verge of ultimate enlightenment who can finally remember one of his past lives – in fact, he remembers his first life as a slave chased by Harkonnen monsters during one of their sadistic games.

If only Frank Herbert had lived to continue the Dune series beyond the sixth book! Who knows what Duncan Idaho could have finally become?!


Kralizec, the Typhoon Struggle.

Kralizec, the Typhoon Struggle.

The Spacing Guild Are Possibly Freemasons

Just as the “great work” of the Masons was (possibly) enlightening individuals so that they could create a world freed from royal shackles, the great work of the Spacing Guild was transforming key individuals so that they could create a connected cosmos. The Guild navigators had their third eye – the Eye of Providence so often associated with Masonic symbolism – fully opened such that they could see the safe pathways through space, making instantaneous travel possible. Just as the new world of democracy and power in the hands of the many was possible only by the work of a few Masons in the American colonies (we’ll ignore the Greek version), and which later gave rise to one of the most bloodthirsty empires the world has ever known, so too was space travel made possible by the enlightened and mutated (or alchemically transformed) members of the Guild, which later led to the possibility of creating a bureaucratic and violent empire.

Just as the great work also ended for Masons worldwide shortly after the creation of America, so too was the navigational monopoly taken from the Spacing Guild by synthetic means created by the machine-makers of Ix.

In the next installment of this amazing bullshit, we’ll take a look at the Bene Gesserit, the God Emperor himself, the Fish Speakers, and some other random bullcrap which will undoubtedly blow your gourd all the way open!

*     *     *

Hey readers! If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.

11 responses to “Frank Herbert’s Dune and Modern Conspiracy Mythology

  1. Pingback: What does Frank Herbert’s Dune have to do with modern conspiracy theory? | kylebstiff

    • Thank you, Philip! Herbert was definitely a master of bringing elements from the real world and putting them in a fantastic sci-fi world just so those elements and experiences would “pop out” for us. That’s why reading Dune doesn’t feel like we’re watching a TV show. But I think great writers (or any kind of great artist) does that sort of thing unconsciously all the time. I never even thought about whether this sort of thing (parallels between this or that) was conscious or unconscious until I wrote a little piece for an online video game magazine about the parallels between Christian themes and a game called Infamous. The parallels were very, very strong; it was as clear as day to me. But when the piece was published, a lot of gamers immediately slammed it because they didn’t believe that the game developers had *consciously* placed those Christian themes within the game. And I was like, “So what? Does that even matter?”

      I gave it a lot of thought, and finally I realized that most people, and especially gamers who are, let’s admit it, emotionally undeveloped, place more emphasis on the conscious part of our minds than is warranted. I learned a long time ago that our conscious awareness is only a thin and extremely fragile part of our minds; the majority of the thing-that-is-us goes deep and is only very rarely explored.

      There’s no such thing as a normal person, and artists aren’t weird. The best artists have just learned how to connect with something that most people spend their time ignoring.

      That’s what I think, at least, so take it for what it’s worth! Thanks for reading, Philip, and I’m glad you enjoyed this piece!


  2. Been re-reading Heretics of Dune and the scene where the Bashar “Teg” awakens the ghola Duncan Idaho reads like a Monarch mind control manual, ie; “Much later, Teg found difficulty in recalling each detail of his obedience to the reawakening procedure. He knew that he continued to function as commanded but his memory went elsewhere, leaving the flesh free to carry out his orders”



    • Yeah, there’s a lot of similar MK ULTRA-style practices in Dune! Other situations that come to mind are Leto II being kept in a drugged state in Jacurutu (as a child!), the original Duncan ghola being programmed to kill Paul when he heard a certain phrase (which would make the first Face Dancer the readers meet… a handler!), and Alia had her mind or psyche shattered into multiple awarenesses, which is sort of the point of MK ULTRA – hide a killer in a person in such a way that the person won’t be able to give themselves up even if coerced to do so. I feel like it’s easy for this sort of thing to fly under the reader’s radar, especially in a sci-fi world, but if we think of Dune as a speculation on what might be (or “speculative fiction”), then I think it has a lot of interesting and valid speculations on our world and where it’s headed.

      I mean, we already know that Scopolamine exists. Do powerful organizations that conduct most of their business in secret take a look at the data on that plant and then just kind of shrug their shoulders because they don’t know what to do with it?


  3. Good read!
    Also, I believe the Bene Gesserit derive their name from the Jesuits because they’re very similar in name and in nature.


    • You hit the nail on the head, Bobsky! Would you believe me if I told you that that’s exactly where I was going to go in the next part of this series? One can’t help but look at hot-headed Nixon with his alpha male gruff manner accompanied by frail, hyper-rational Kissinger and naturally see Emperor Shaddam and his crone Gaius Helen Mohiam. From what I know of the Jesuits (which I admit isn’t a lot), they never go directly after power. They like the background, educating here, pulling a string there, and never coming directly into anyone’s targets when they’re looking for a scapegoat. The only way they could be any more Bene Gesserit is if they were run by females and placed emphasis on yoga and reproduction!

      I was just thinking the other day about how the Dune series focuses on the Atreides and the Bene Gesserit. All other groups come and go. The Atreides are definitely the wild card of the series, proof that you can never plan out a perfect empire, a perfect understanding of biology, perfect control of an individual, etc. And then we have the Bene Gesserit starting out as yet another power-hungry group that finally, after being knocked around by thousands of challenges, becomes a force that really could have a positive effect on humanity… hopefully that doesn’t sound too dull, like a dimwit’s appraisal of the situation, but that’s where my thoughts have been lately.

      Thanks for commenting! The fact that you nailed the Jesuits only makes me more confident of my own appraisal!


    • Oh wow, so is this a biography you’re writing about him? I know Herbert lived a really unique life, had all kinds of different jobs and so on… but really I know very little about him!


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