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Vagina dentata

Related: vagina - castration anxiety - cautionary tale - Sigmund Freud - aggression

The Frightened Woman (1969) - Piero Schivazappa, Niki de Saint Phalle The Frightened Woman (1969) - Piero Schivazappa, Niki de Saint Phalle

Femina Ridens - The Frightened Woman (1969) - Piero Schivazappa [Amazon US]

[Niki de Saint Phalle "Hon" (1969)]


The myth of the vagina dentata (Latin for toothed vagina) in the Western world was popularized chiefly by Sigmund Freud, who found that it neatly meshed with his theories concerning castration anxiety.

Freud bestowed this name on the phenomenon, inspired by a number of legends about women with vaginas which were supposed to contain teeth or other weapons, and with which they were supposed to be able to murder or castrate their sexual partners. The motif is contained in a number of myths from Asia, especially Southeast Asia, where various sorts of penis panic are endemic.

Barbara Walker has speculated that this myth gave rise to the depiction of the opening of Hell as a giant mouth in medieval Europe. The tale is frequently told as a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of sex with strange women.

An urban legend that circulated during the Vietnam War concerned Southeast Asian prostitutes who were supposed to have implanted glass knives or razor blades into their vaginas, which they used to injure GI's.

One adaptation of this myth within a Western context comes from the motion picture Liquid Sky, in which one of the protagonists is said to have been given the power to kill her lovers by extraterrestrials. Another example can be found in the book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. In Snow Crash, the teenage Kourier Y.T. mentions several times (usually when she sees a horny man) that her "dentata" will protect her. It's clear that if she is to engage in consensual intercourse, she needs to take it out. But we don't get any details until late in the book, when she forgets to take it out for Raven:

"...a very small hypodermic needle slipped imperceptibly into the engorged frontal vein of his penis, automatically shooting a cocktail of powerful narcotics and depressants into his bloodstream."

A brief mention of this myth is in Stephen King's book Christine.

In Neil Gaimans book American Gods a young african witch girl claims that she has a toothed vagina

A more bizarre version of the vagina dentata appears in artist H.R. Giger's designs for the titular creature from the film Alien.

There is also a depiction of this in the books by Julian May set in the Pleistocene Era - The Many Coloured Land, The Golden Torc, etc. Some of the Firvulag females were so equipped. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vagina dentata [May 2004]

In Christianity

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 fro my body is as nothing." --Barbara Walker, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

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