Dune: The Hypnotic Power of Words
To date, there have been two Dune movies, both based on the book of the same name by science fiction author Frank Herbert. The first was directed by David Lynch and released in 1984 and the most recent was directed by Denis Villeneuve and released in 2021.
Dune‘s main protagonist is Paul Atreides (he adopts the name Paul Muad’Dib as the story progresses). Bearing strong similarities to the messiah figure of the legends of the Fremen, a tribe living on the desert planet Arakis, Paul is a master of the “weirding way.”
The term takes us back to the “Weird Sisters” of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and, further still, to the Old English word wyrd, meaning something like fate, destiny, or underlying cosmic law. In Herbert’s original novels, “the weirding way” was a described as a “prana-bindu” technique practiced by the priestess sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit, which allowed experts in it to move with exceptional speed. Lynch thought it was too “Kung-Fu” and abandoned it.
In the 1984 movie, Paul tells his army that “This is part of the weirding way. Some thoughts have a certain sound that being equivalent to a form.” Paul and his army use a type of sonic weapon called a Weirding module (introduced by Lynch) that amplifies the voice, turning particular words into devastating sonic beams (these can destroy enemies or start fires, we are told).
Not all words have such power, however. And those that are “killing words” are discovered rather than created. Notably, only by accident does Paul discover that his adopted name (Muad’Dib) is one such “killing word.” In a sense, these words are archetypal (perhaps, like the Sanskrit word Aum or Om, believed by Hindus to be the primordial sound seed of all creation).
In the 2021 Dune movie, there are no Weirding modules. Nevertheless, Paul is still able to use his voice to control others. Essential, here, is his tone of voice, with the wrong tone rendering the words less effective or even ineffective.
Language patterns, particular words, and tone of voice have been used by hypnotists for centuries to cause changes in their clients’ behavior or attitudes. Molded on Ericksonian hypnotism, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) was created during the late 20th century. Leaving NLP aside, the techniques of hypnotism were also absorbed into psychoanalysis, sports psychology, New Age philosophy, the positive thinking movement, negotiation, and even sales and marketing.
The idea that words can shape reality (being “equivalent to a form”) is an ancient, persistent, and pervasive one. Magic and mysticism were frequently associated with words, language, and even letters (e.g., Hebrew letters have esoteric associations in Kabbalistic philosophy). Yet, one of the closest concepts may be in the world of positive thinking—specifically in the worldview of positive thinking teacher and author Neville Goddard (1905-1972), who believed that our thoughts created our reality in the most literal way. Hence, in Dune, words are “equivalent to a form.” For Goddard “thoughts are things.”
Ultimately, Dune recognizes the hypnotic power of words. This has been understood by a few throughout the centuries. But, in recent centuries, hypnotists have used language and tone of voice to guide their clients into a hypnotic state and to help them affect positive change in their lives, and to live more powerfully. Words are a powerful tool.
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