Vagina Dentada, The Myth Of The Toothed Vagina

Vagina Dentada
by H.Bangambiki

"Toothed vagina," the classic symbol of men's fear of sex, expressing
the unconscious belief that a woman may eat or castrate her partner
during intercourse. Freud said, "Probably no male human being is
spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of
female genitals." But he had the reason wrong. The real reason for
this "terrifying shock" is a mouth-symbolism, now recognized
universally in myth and fantasy: "It is well-known in psychiatry that
both males and females fantasize as a mouth the female's entranceway
to the vagina."
The more patriarchal the society, the more fear seems to be aroused by
the fantasy. Men of Malekula, having overthrown their matriarchate,
were haunted by a yonic spirit called "that which draws us to It so
that It may devour us." The Yanomamo said one of the first beings on
earth was a woman whose vagina became a toothed mouth and bit off her
consort's penis. Chinese patriarchs said women's genitals were not
only gateways to immortality but also "executioners of men." Moslem
aphorisms said: "Three things are insatiable: the desert, the grave,
and a woman's vulva." Polynesians said the savior-god Maui tried to
find eternal life by crawling into the mouth (or vagina) of his mother
Hina, in effect trying to return to the womb of the Creatress; but she
bit him in two and killed him.

Stories of the devouring Mother are ubiquitous in myths, representing
the death-fear which the male psyche often transformed into a
sex-fear. Ancient writings describe the male sexual function not as
"taking" or "posessing" the female, but rather "being taken" or
"putting forth." Ejaculation was viewed as a loss of a man's vital
force, which was "eaten" by a woman. The Greek sema ir "semen: meant
both "seed" and "food." Sexual "consummation" was the same as
"consuming" (the male). Many savages still have the same imagery. The
Yanomamo word for pregnant also means satiated or full-fed; and "to
eat" is the same as "to copulate."

Distinction between mouths and female genitals was blurred by the
Greek idea of the laminae -- lustful she-demons, born of the Libyan
snake-goddess Lamia. Their name meant either "lecherous vaginas" or
"gluttonous gullets." Lamia was a Greek name for the divine female
serpent called Kundalini in India, Uraeus or Per-Uatchet in Egypt, and
Lamashtu in Babylon. Her Babylonian consort was Pazuzu, he of the
serpent penis. Lamia's legend, with its notion that males are born to
be eaten, led to Pliny's report on the sexual lives of snakes which
was widely believed throughout Europe even up to the 20th century: a
male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head into her
mouth and allowing himself to be eaten.

Sioux Indians told a tale similar to that of the Lamia. A beautiful
seductive woman accepted the love of a young warrior and united with
him inside a cloud. When the cloud lifted, the woman stood alone. The
man was a heap of bones being gnawed by snakes at her feet.

Mouth and vulva were equated in many Egyptian myths. Ma-Nu, the
western gate whereby the sun god daily re-entered his Mother, was
sometimes a "cleft" (yoni) and sometimes a "mouth." Priestesses of
Bast, representing the Goddess, drew up their skirts to display their
genitals during religious processions. To the Greeks, such a display
was frightening. Bellerophon fled in terror from Lycian women
advancing on him with genitals exposed, and even the sea god Poseidon
retreated, for fear they might swallow him.

According to Philostratus, magical women "by arousing sexual desire
seek to devour whom they wish." To the patriarchal Persians and
Moslems this seemed a distinct possibility. Viewing women's mouths as
either obscene, dangerous, or overly seductive, they insisted on
veiling them. Yet men's mouths, which look no different, were not
viewed as threatening.

"Mouth" comes from the same root as "mother" -- Anglo-Saxon muth, also
related to the Egyptian Goddess Mut. Vulvas have labiae, "lips," and
many men have believed that behind the lips lie teeth. Christian
authorities of the Middle Ages taught that certain witches, with the
help of the moon and magic spells, could grow fangs in their vaginas.
They likened women's genitals to the "yawning" mouth of hell, though
this was hardly original; the underworld gate had always been the yoni
of Mother Hel. It has always "yawned" -- from Middle English yonen,
another derivative of "yoni." A German vulgarity meaning "cunt," Fotze
in parts of Bavaria meant simply "mouth."

To Christian ascetics, Hell-mouth and the vagina drew upon the same
ancient symbolism. Both were equated with the womb-symbol of the whale
that swallowed Jonah; according to this "prophecy" the Hell-mouth
swallowed Christ (as Hina swallowed her son Maui) and kept him for
three days. Visionary trips to hell often read like "a description of
the experience of being born, but in reverse, as if the child was
being drawn into the womb and destroyed there, instead of being formed
and given life." St. Teresa of Avila said her vision of a visit to
hell was "an oppression, a suffocation, and an affliction so
agonizing, and accompanied by such a hopeless and distressing misery
that no words I could find would adequately describe it. To say that
it was as if my soul were being continuously torn from my body is as

The archetypal image of "devouring" female genitals seems undeniably
alive even in the modern world. "Males in our culture are so afraid of
direct contact with female genitalia, and are even afraid of referring
to these genitalia themselves; they largely displace their feelings to
the accessory sex organs -- the hips, legs, breasts, buttocks, etc. --
and they give these accessory sex organs an exaggerated interest and
desirability." Even here, the male scholar inexplicably "displaces"
the words sex organ onto structures that have nothing to do with
sexual functioning.

Looking into, touching, entering the female orifice seems fraught with
hidden fears, signified by the confusion of sex with death in
overwhelming numbers of male minds and myths. Psychiatrists say sex is
perceived by the male unconscious as dying: "Every orgasm is a little
death: the death of the 'little man,' the penis." Here indeed is the
root of ascetic religions that equated the denial of death with the
denial of sex.

Moslems attributed all kinds of dread powers to a vulva. It could
"bite off" a man's eye-beam, resulting in blindness for any man who
looked into its cavity. A sultan of Damascus was said to have lost his
sight in this manner. Christian legend claimed he went to Sardinia to
be cured of his blindness by a miraculous idol of the Virgin Mary --
who, being eternally virgin, had her door-mouth permanently closed by
a veil-hymen.

Apparently Freud was wrong in assuming that men's fear of female
genitals was based on the idea that the female had been castrated. The
fear was much less empathetic, and more personal: a fear of being
devoured, of experiencing the birth trauma in reverse. A Catholic
scholar's curious description of the Hell-mouh as a womb inadvertently
reveals this idea: "When we think of man entering hell we think of him
as establishing contact with the most intrinsic, unified, ultimate and
deepest level of the reality of the world."

by H.Bangambiki


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