Fear is the mind killer quote (& the ill effects of fear)

In this blog we will look at the quote, “fear is the mind killer”. This article discusses where the blog comes from, the litany of fear, and other quotes related to fear. Further, it moves on to discuss the ill effects of fear. 

Fear is the mind killer quote:

The quote, ‘fear is the  mind killer’ is a part of a bigger quotation from Frank Herbert’s book Dune. The whole quotation is:

“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.”

  • Frank Herbert, Dune

The book teaches one to transcend the most potent human limitation, that of fear.

Litany against fear

In the whole Dune series, the Bene Gesserit are an ancient and powerful order of women, who are both a source of learning as well as leadership. The litany against fear, is an incantation that is used by the Bene Gesserit, throughout the series that is they used to focus and calm themselves in times of peril. It streamlines their vision, focussing on what matters, and overriding that which does not. 

The Litany of Fear incantation is given as follows:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

  • Marianne Williamson

Another litany of fear is a phrase that derives from the William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar,

 “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”

An ancient form of the litany existed already during the Butlerian Jihad. A mantra of the City of Introspection went like this:

“I have no fear, for fear is the little death that kills me over and over. Without fear, I die but once.”

The fight against fear

In the book Dune, this quotation was used when Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto Atreides I, was compelled by Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam to put his right hand in a device that causes pain as a test of his presence of mind. 

The litany helped him to withstand the excruciating agony. It was a test of his humanity in a qualitative sense. A person whose nature is still primarily bestial recoils from pain and seeks to instinctually flee it to preserve itself, a person of higher nature goes through it and out the other side in order to remove the threat permanently.

Fear may sometimes become destructive instead of self preservatory. Consider an animal stuck in a trap, if it fears it and the pain that may result in escape, it may die trapped or get captured. However, if the animal overcomes fear and takes the measures necessary to escape, like chewing off its own leg to escape, or pretending to be dead to escape, may in fact preserve its life and freedom. 

The goal of this litany against fear is to not let the primal emotions like fear control your rational and logical brain. It is used to fight the primal instincts of fleeing when faces by such emotions, and instead controlling these emotions to be able to act in a logical and consciously aware manner even in the face of fear or pain. 

Nothing to fear but fear itself

The famous quotation by Frank D. Roosevelt that goes:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

This quotation is not merely a rhetoric to start a great speech to Frank D. Roosevelt, but stems from his own pain, suffering and personal battles. He was diagnosed with polio at the age of 38,, during the prime of his life, and was crippled mre by fear and humiliation, than the physical handicap. 

It was overcoming this fear of being viewed as less than, or feeling humiliated that became a secret of his popularity as well as success. Fear is the mental block that limits us from achieving great things, or making important decisions just because of our fear of the worst case scenario as a consequence. 

Once we overcome that fear, the decisions or goals become relatively simpler, and at least their routes become more clear. Thus, the only thing we should actually fear is the emotion of fear, for it is the only emotion that can mentally cripple us from leading our best possible life. 

Destructive nature of fear

Fear is triggered when we perceive threat, and kicks start a survival mechanism that enacts the fight-flight-freeze response in our nervous system. It is thus mostly a self preservatory in nature. However, when this gets out of hand, it can negatively impact people’s lives and incapacitate them or limit them instead. 

  • It can slow or shut down systems in our body not needed for survival, like the digestive system. 
  • Increases heart rate, and blood flow to muscles, leading to lesser blood flow to the brain. 
  • The brain starts reacting to the amygdala instead of the forebrain’s rational processing systems. 
  • With the overactive amygdala, everything is perceived negatively, as well as remembered or encoded that way. 
  • Fear weakened our immune system functioning. 
  • It can cause cardiovascular or gastrointestinal problems, like irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, reduced fertility, accelerated ageing etc. 
  • Chronic fear can cause damage to the hippocampus, which is responsible for the consolidation of long term memories in the human brain. 
  • It can cause a hindrance to our emotional processing, and impact our decision making negatively. Fear can lead to impulsive reactions. 
  • It can have mental health consequences like fatigue, PTSD or even clinical depression. 


In this blog we looked at the quotation fear is the mind killer in terms of its origin, the litany of fear, and the famous quote by Frank D. Roosevelt regarding fear. We end the blog by discussing the ill effects of fear. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Fear is the mind killer quote

Who said fear is the mind killer?

The quotation, “fear is the mind killer” is by Frank Gerbert, in his book series called Dune. 

What is the litany of fear?

It is a litany against fear, spoken by highly educated people of the Bene Gesserit in the series Dune to streamline their focus on the rational instead of getting driven by the emotion of fear. 

How can I overcome fear?

Learn about your fear, use your imagination in a positive way focussing on things that can in fact go right, try to use brain in a different way than usual, focus on breathing, practice living in the moment, and let nature become your therapist. 

Is Dune based on Islam?

Although these and others have different origin, it can be conceded that Islamic and Arabic themes are the ones that Frank Herbert used the most in his Dune series. Also, Dune is not the only example of Islam and Arab culture in Western Sci Fi.

What are the ill effects of fear?

Fear can hamper rational-emotive functioning of the brain, long term memory consolidation, immune system functioning, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal functioning etc. 

What is the monster in Dune?

The  monster in Dune is sandworm, which is a fictional creature that appears in the novels and live on the desert planet of Arrakis. 


[1] Nunez K., Legg T.J., (2020) Fight, Flight, Freeze: What this response means. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/fight-flight-freeze

[2]. Viswanatham R., (2020) ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself: FDR’s words resonate louder than ever The Week. https://www.theweek.in/news/world/2020/06/28/the-only-thing-we-have-to-fear-is-fear-itself-fdrs-words-resonate-louder-than-ever.html

[3]. Impact of fear and anxiety (n.d.) Taking charge of your health and wellbeing. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/impact-fear-and-anxiety

[4]. McCallum T., (2019) Fear is the mind killer. Medium.com. https://tommccallum.medium.com/fear-is-the-mind-killer-e93a1caccdc3

[5]. Litany against fear (n.d.) Dune Wiki. https://dune.fandom.com/wiki/Litany_Against_Fear

[6]. Rosa P., (2020) Dune 2020: What does “Fear is the mind killer” mean? Screen Rant. https://screenrant.com/dune-2020-remake-fear-mind-killer-meaning/

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