The Angry Deva's Blog
Veneration of the Dark Godis is Veneration of the Whole Wombn. Our Power is in Darkness, but first wo-men have to leave our patriarchal conditioning behind - leave the father's house and his rules! Embrace the Way of the Womb!
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Cunctipotent – (rare – cunctus, all and potens, potent-em, powerful after the classical omnipotens): All-powerful, omnipotent.
Oxford English Dictionary
Cunctipotent – all powerful (i.e., having cunt-magic)
Barbara Walker (1993, 197)
I am. The light ripples through my fingers. I walk towards the sanctuary where the cunctipotent Dark One presides.
Susan Hawthorne (2003, 267)
Potency – meaning force, strength, power, capacity and authority – is supposedly a neutral term, yet it functions mostly to mean a man's ability to get and maintain an erection. At the same time, potency also carries some serious philosophical implications. As Aristotle so famously declared, woman "is as it were an impotent male, for it is through a certain incapacity that the female is female" (cited in Agonito, 1977, 4).
Actually, Aristotle has it kind of backwards. In truth, it is through a certain imposed female incapacity that the male is "male" – by which I mean that he is able to be a "man" and not a "wimp," a "pussy" or even a "cunt." Centuries later, a would-be philosopher of the bedroom, Bob Guccione, editor of Penthouse, comes right out and says this when he whines about Viagra being so popular because "feminism has emasculated the American male, and that emasculation has led to physical problems" (cited in Roof, 1999, 5). In other words, male potency virtually requires female impotence. This attitude stems directly from the mainstream, though downright pornographic, worldview that tells us (1) that male and female are hierarchical opposites, with the woman being inferior, (2) that if there is anything womanly about a man he loses his maleness, and (3) potency itself is synonymous with both masculinity and male domination.
Neither potency nor power, however, is inherently linked to either masculinity or domination. Both words are derived from the Latin posse which means "to be able, to have the power to." Back in about 1974, I went to one of my first feminist lectures, a talk by Robin Morgan at Wellesley College. It was the first time I had heard someone make a distinction between patriarchal power, that is, power as domination, and another kind of power encompassing empowerment as well as the generation and channeling of energy. 1
Here was a pregnant suggestion of another kind a power, a power that I am going to be calling cunctipotence, and one that can be adopted and wielded not only by women but also by men.
Much knowledge, including awareness and understanding of female potency, has been appropriated and distorted, suppressed, discredited, erased and trivialized through patriarchal colonization. Nonetheless, if we know how to look for them, we can still find much of the underlying core wisdoms in oral traditions, myths, stories, symbols, words and common phrases, often by researching their etymological backgrounds and historical associations.
I first encountered the word cunctipotence in Barbara Walker's Encyclopedia of Women's Myths and Secrets, under the entry for cunt. While many of us might assume that cunt has always been an obscene word, this is not so. In A Dictionary of Slang Eric Partridge notes that cunt was once part of Standard English but: "owing to its powerful sexuality the term has since the C15th been avoided in written and polite English . . . and been held to be obscene, i.e. a legal offence to print it in full" (cited in Mills, 1989, 60). Cunt, he details, isn't really slang at all, but an ancient word. Its etymological origins are in dispute, though Partridge links it to queen (which gives a new twist to the meaning of "Philosopher Queen"). Barbara Walker traces cunt to the Oriental Great Goddess as "Cunti, or Kundra, the Yoni [Sanskrit for cunt] of the Universe." Following Michael Dames' lead, Walker also links cunt with country, kin, kind, cunning, ken, and the archaic word cunctipotent, which she defines as "all powerful (i.e. having cunt-magic") (197). Most linguists dispute Dames' etymology, but I suggest we consider it as an alternative "folk" etymology that guides us to claim cunctipotence as a word meaning female and female-identified power, potency, possibility, and potential – a concept sorely needed in the English language.
Patriarchal religious and cultural systems all are built upon dread of the cunt, that is, of explicit femaleness and female potency, which are associated variously with witchcraft, abomination, idolatry, obscenity, uncleanness, and madness. This dirty and disgraced cunt is defined in antithesis not so much to the penis, but to the phallus. The penis is not the opposite of the cunt, but the analogue. Indeed, the penis should be understood as not masculine but as itself female or feminine (as was the case in some ancient cultures 2 ), for the penis shares with the cunt properties of fertility and it, also like the cunt, is responsive, changeable (more often soft than hard), embodied, dark, wet, and "down there." The phallus is adamantly not the penis. Usually it takes the form of a detached, usually white and permanently erect penis. This phallus has long symbolized masculine omnipotence and patriarchal allegiance (Keuls, 1985; Bordo, 1999). In psychoanalytic theory, the phallus is also said to be the "ultimate signifier" and the symbolic agent that separates the child from the mother, initiating the child into the world of "the Father," the world of power, law, order, language, reason, and authority (Gamble, 1999, 294). Of course, this separation is not just from the physical mother, but also from the metaphysical "Mother," whom we can understand as the cosmic Matrix (from the Latin matrix, uterus), also known as Nature (from the Latin nasci, to be born).
The earliest human traditions understood the forces that we generally think of as "Nature," the "life force," "origins," and "Fate" as analogous to female sexuality. These concepts were signified by representations of the vulva or images of the naked female form (Rawson, 1973). Throughout the world, the names of Goddesses of Sex, Love, Fate, Death and Transformation are drawn from symbols or words for womb or vulva (Grahn, 1982, 270-271). Hindu traditions still recognize the sacredness of the yoni – a Sanskrit word with meanings not only of cunt, but also abode, source, spring, home. Pre-Indo-European peoples understood the yoni as the "concrete manifestation" of Shakti, "the life-giving, animating power of the cosmos" (Margolin, 1986, 533). This knowledge has not been completely lost, but it has gone underground, for example, into the English language, where we can find intimations of cunt magic in evocative words and phrases naming or signifying the female sex organ, some obscure, some euphemistic, some clichéd, including principle, down there, the heart of darkness, possible, and trivia.
Even as I write this, I feel the pressure of a multifaceted cultural taboo. One facet of this taboo restricts open discussion of sex organs to either pornography or medicine. Another makes the body, especially the sexual body, the antithesis of rationality, so anyone who identifies with the body, let alone the female sexual body, runs the risk of appearing unintelligent if not hysterical (from the Greek hustera, womb). And, of course, there remains the patriarchal demand for shame or pudency in women, particularly around our pudenda (from the Latin pudere, to be ashamed). In order to actualize female potency, we have to break though all of these taboos, to shed the imposed shame. We must be willing to acknowledge the potency – philosophical, spiritual, emotional and physical – of the cunt. 3 To do this, we will have to get down and dirty, wet even. We have to breathe deeply, burn with passion, and awaken all of our senses, both physical and ethereal. In other words, we have to get elemental.
Starhawk ritually invokes the traditional four elements in her ecofeminist and Wiccan practice and writings: air, fire, water and earth as well as the mystical fifth element, ether, the "sacred transformative spirit of the center" (Starhawk 2004, 70). Mary Daly explicitly creates an "elemental philosophy," characterized by "reason rooted in instinct, intuition, passion," and informed by and in tune with the Earth and Nature (Daly 1984, 7). In Daly's philosophy, the unification of the five elements releases the force of Quintessence (1998), which she understands as "the unifying Living Presence that is at the core of the Integrity and Elemental connectedness of the Universe and that is the Source of our power to Realize a true Future – an Archaic Future" (Daly 1998, 11), that is one outside of patriarchal time/space.
In seeking to both understand and activate cunctipotence, I too will take the elements as my frame, intuitively pairing each element with a philosophically suggestive term for the cunt (Air – Principle; Earth – Down There; Fire – Heart of Darkness; Water –Possible; Ether–Trivia). I hope also, by adopting this elemental and ritual framework, to participate in Quintessence and that movement toward an Archaic Future.
The Feminine Principle: The Air of Mystery
A common recollection of former slaves was the sight of a woman, often the reporter's mother, being beaten for defying her master's sexual advances.... Minnie Folkes remembered watching her mother being flogged by her overseer when she refused "to be wife to dis man." Decades after her emancipation, Minnie repeated with pride her mother's teaching: "Don't let nobody bother yo principle; 'cause dat wuz all yo' had."
Dorothy Roberts (1997, 45)
"The breath in the body goes way down from the genitals up through the center and finally bursts out. [Martha] Graham put it more bluntly. 'Move from your vagina,' she instructed."
Appolinaire Sherr (2001)
Webster's defines principle as "a general or fundamental truth . . . on which others are based and from which others are derived." In her initiation into Haitian Voodoo, Zora Neale Hurston (1938, 137) tells of a ritual in which the feminine principle, as manifesting in the female sex organ, is directly linked to the most fundamental truth. The Mambo or priestess is asked the ultimate question: "What is the truth?" The Mambo answers by ceremonially stripping and then exposing her vulva, for, as Hurston's teacher tells her,"there is no mystery beyond the mysterious source of life."
Webster's also define principle as "something from which another thing takes its origin, a basic or primary source of material or energy: ultimate basis or cause." Encapsulating all of these meanings is the use of the word principle as an actual synonym for cunt in the words of Minnie Folkes' mother, quoted above. The feminine principle manifests most directly in the generative genitals, both female and male, and is indeed the original and ultimate source of being and truth, matter and energy, life, death, and regeneration.
Martha Graham asked her female dancers to breathe, and move, from the vagina. Breath, wind, and the element of Air is associated round the world with the life force and with spirit (Abram, 1996). In Tibetan Buddhism the basic energy of the cosmos, pranja, is linked with air and is understood as a feminine principle (Mullin with Watt 2003, 57). Air is the element that guides us to a comprehension of the female principle through its related conceptions of breath, spirit, essence, scent, and volatility.
A ubiquitous misogynist insult against the cunt concerns its scent, literally its "essence." The female principle is indeed an essence, not only in the most obvious sense of the word essence – "a basic underlying or constitutive entity," but also as "PERFUME, ODOR, SCENT . . . the volatile matter constituting perfume" (Webster's). Highly fragrant flowers and blossoms – the lotus, rose, and lily – commonly are understood as cunt symbols. The cunctipotent imaginary thus reconceptualizes essence by theorizing its nature not as fixed, but as grounded in an innate volatility, flexibility, sweetness, and changeableness. Volatile is from volare to fly. It means "Passing through the air on wings . . . airy, lighthearted, lively . . . changeable . . . difficult to capture or hold permanently." Comprehending the nature of the volatile essence invites recognition of paradox or Mystery. Essences, including what we think of as sexual essences, are volatile. They, like the imagination, like living words themselves as Virginia Woolf (1942) describes them, take flight, are impossible to pin down, fix or capture.
Annie Sprinkle, the sexually explicit performance artist, once gave a show called the Public Cervix Announcement. Inserting a speculum, she invited her audience to view her cervix. One man reacted by exclaiming that it looked just like the head of a penis, which, indeed, it does. So too, a large clitoris and a small penis are uncannily twin-like. The male and female bodies are analogs, not opposites. Historically, sexists have interpreted this to mean that women are inferior, barely formed men. But, in truth, all fetuses begin from one, essentially female template.
Some of the oldest religious/philosophical traditions recognize the complementary dualism of female and male, understanding that both are aspects of one original and "dynamic essence" (Leon-Portilla 1963, 83). Often, the female or feminine aspect is recognized as the "older" or more "preponderant" one, since it takes a greater amount of female energy to create life. 4 Thus, female, male, and intersexed persons are all variations on the preponderantly “female – potential and primary” nature of nature (Allen, 1986, 14). This "feminine principle" of creation is the intelligent, active, originating, fructifying and diverse life force, in which both women and men participate (Shiva, 1988, 38-42).
Obviously, it is a mistake to consider sexual essence as something bifurcated and oppositional. At the same time it is profoundly limiting to understand "sex as sex" in the narrow, moralistic or pornographic ways that we are used to. Rather, Paula Gunn Allen suggests, we need to also consider the metaphysical or spiritual implications of sexuality, because"sexual connection with woman means connection with the womb, which is the container of power that women carry within their bodies" (Allen, 1986, 24). This divine power of the womb is reminiscent of Walker's idea of "cunt magic." And, Allen continues, it is important to remember that this power is "not really biological at base. It is the power of ritual magic, the power of Thought, of Mind, that gives rise to biological organisms as it gives rise to social organizations, material culture, and transformations of all kinds" (1986, 28).
Understanding the connection of the cunt to thought, mind, and spirit allows still more false oppositions – the mind-body, spirit-flesh ones – to fall away. Consider this response of a six-year old girl when Eve Ensler asked her,"What's special about your vagina?" To this question, the girl replied: "Somewhere deep inside I know it has a really really smart brain" (1998, 88-89).
Down There: Earthy Knowledge 5
I come from the "down there" generation. That is, those were the words – spoken rarely and in a hushed voice – that the women in my family used to refer to all female genitalia, internal or external.
Gloria Steinem (in Ensler, 1998, ix)
After all, we live on earth. We are created of the earth. The Ojibwe word for the human vagina is derived from the word for earth. A profound connection, don't you think?
Louise Erdrich (2001, 134)
On several occasions, verging on orgasm, I have found myself suddenly overwhelmed with a sensation of no longer inhabiting my body but of actually being one with the land – once a Hawaiian canyon, once an anonymous forest floor, and once the tundra on Hudson's Bay in Manitoba. I lost the sense of myself as a separate body/being and became one with the throbbing Earth – the dirt, the ground. I had always heard the phrase: "The Earth moved." On these occasions I knew that this was more than a figure of speech and that there truly is an intimate connection between sex and the dirt or earth.
We are used to the word dirt being associated with sex, but usually only in a pejorative way – dirty jokes, words, and thoughts, with dirty suggesting moral "impurity" and obscenity. These are the constructions of what Susan Griffin calls our "split culture," a phallocentric world that splits masculine from feminine, mind from body, spirit from matter, and values the former over the latter. But the dirt, the earth or soil is the very ground of human being (the word human itself comes from the Latin humus, earth or dirt) and sexuality is one of the most direct ways we can experience the power of Earth, Nature or the life force.
Righteous dirt busters are obsessed with "purity." They find "dirt" everywhere – from consensual sexual acts to whole classes of people who then are subjected to moral or ethnic cleansing. But this loathing for the dirt is not a universal emotion. In many ancient religions "the mere existence of the soil was seen as significant"; the earth is understood "as a religious form . . . repository of a wealth of sacred forces" (Eliade 1958: 242). The beloved dirt, soil or earth, sometimes eaten as an act of identification, has been understood as the very flesh of Goddess, the cosmic womb/cunt that begets us and to which we ultimately return at death.
The elitist and phallic trajectory turns inevitably upward: god in his heaven, your Highness, skyscrapers, and so on. But in cunctipotent traditions a winding descent ("down there") is also recognized as a necessary path to wisdom. Chthonos is the Greek name for Earth, mother of the Titans; it signifies the realm that is "below" as opposed to "above." Although St. Paul adjured all to keep their minds only on"what is above," the cunctipotent perspective invites us to restore balance by focusing also on what is below. Barbara Christian powerfully reminds us that Black feminist traditions advise us to look not only "high," but also to "look low, lest we devalue women in the world. . . [and] our voices no longer sound like women's voices to anyone" (1997, 56). Looking low, we can remember that mythically the cunt is understood as a mouth, a vocal and oracular mouth. In misogynist characterization, that speaking mouth and biting tongue are abhorred as ugly, loud, castrating. Maureen Mullarkey (1987), giving Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse (1987) a vicious review in The Nation actually lambasted Dworkin as a purveyor of "cuntspeak." Similarly, male members of the French Parliament have made hate-filled jokes about "vaginal verbosity" when female colleagues speak (Otis, 2000, p. 9). These intended insults register an abiding dread of a woman speaking and being with full potency. Despite Mullarkey's intention, we might shamelessly claim cuntspeak as an aspect of cunctipotence.
Knowledge of the speaking cunt refers back to the oracular vulva of the Earth. One of the most famous oracles of the ancient world was found at Delphi in Greece. The word Delphi means, as religious historian Mircea Eliade politely puts it, "the female generative organ" (Eliade, 1962, p. 21). At Delphi, petitioners could hear the very voice of the Earth. Female oracles in ancient Greece were known as "belly talkers," accessing chthonic truths from the Earthy matrix that were otherwise inaccessible. Cuntspeak, as I mean it, can be conceptualized as a form of concourse with the Source. It is the voice of Nature, pejoratively characterized as mere "instinct." It is a tradition, which both women and men can engage in, of speaking from the heart, listening to the belly or gut, 6 and attending to the messages issuing from the very bowels of the Earth. Cuntspeak as an integral part of cunctipotence is the infernal internal voice, a voice from what, from the patriarchal perspective, is Hell itself, but in fact is the headquarters of the "underground" resistance to phallocracy, the holy, not horrific, Heart of Darkness.
A Fire/Desire in the Heart of Darkness
Fire . . . according to certain primitive beliefs . . . is engendered magically in the genital organ of the sorceress.
Mircea Eliade (1962, 40)
Heart often means "womb," except when it means "vulva."
Paula Gunn Allen (1986, 24)
"I'm trying to find the blackest, bloodiest, female-est form of expression I can . . . I'm aiming to find the Heart of Darkness, the very thing they've tried to suppress . . . which they claim is ugly and valueless then spend half their time imitating and murdering."
Sapphire (1991, 172-173)
In her ritually potent novel, Praisesong for the Widow, Paule Marshall (1983, 127) includes an homage to the (necessarily) dark cunt/womb/heart as the abode of divinity. After a man makes love to his wife, and remains lying within her, he becomes able to perceive the invisible forms of the deities who reside there: "Erzulie with her jewels and gossamer veils, Yemoja to whom the rivers and seas are sacred; Oya, first wife of the thunder God and herself in charge of winds and rains . . . a pantheon of the most ancient deities who had made their temple that pummeled darkness of his wife's flesh. . . the other heart at the base of her body." This is not simply lyricism. It is theology. Marshall thus implicitly rebukes Freud's infamous description of female sexuality as the "dark continent." In her vision the cunt is the abode of the cunctipotent Goddesses of Africa.
In religious imagery, the Sacred Heart is one that is on Fire, the element that signifies both energy and desire – both of which are associated with Sex/Love Goddesses everywhere. Diane Wolkstein (1983, 169), commenting on the Goddess Inanna, writes: "The Goddess of Love gives forth desire that generates the energy of the universe." In the cunctipotent view, divine power is not, as the phallic imaginary would have it, the absolute power to dominate all others; divine potency is attractive, igneous, energetic, communicative, connective, sexual, intelligent, warming, transforming and ecstatic.
Fire has everything to do with potential. It is a "symbol of synergy as well as enlightenment: fire lets loose potential energies already contained in wood" (Balkin, 2002, 336). Cunctipotence and fire are featured together in one of the lesser-known Grimm tales, Frau Trude (Mannheim, 1997). In this story, a bad/bold little girl, someone with potential, defies her parents who warn her against her acting on her desire to visit a Witch, whom they describe as a "wicked woman . .. [who] does godless things" in the deepest, darkest heart of the forest (it's best to read the story aloud).
But the child paid no attention to what her parents said and went to see Frau Trude all the same. When she came in, Frau Trude asked her: "Why are you so pale?" "Oh," she answered, shaking all over. "I saw something that gave me a scare." "What did you see?" "I saw a black man on your stairs." "That was a charcoal burner." "Then I saw a green man." "He was a hunter." "After that I saw a blood-red man." "He was a butcher." "Oh, Frau Trude, I was so afraid. I looked through the window and I didn't see you, but I saw the Devil with a fiery head." "Oho. . . You saw the witch in her true headdress. I've long been waiting for you and asking for you. You shall burn bright for me." Then she turned the girl into a block of wood and threw it into the fire. And when it blazed, she sat down beside it, warmed herself, and said: "It is indeed burning bright". (152)
Convention would have us read this as a kind of moralistic tale, ending with the punishment of a disobedient girl by this wickedest of witches. But the story is actually a symbolic one of initiation. The Witch is the Cunctipotent One who will pass on her knowledge to the right seeker. The young girl is courageous, impudent, willful, curious, desirous and active, venturing on her own into the Dark in quest of knowledge. Perhaps another child would not have even noticed the strange men, all of whom point to sacrifice, release of energy, and transformation (Boundy, 2006). Maybe that same child would have looked in the window and spied only an ordinary old woman, and not a Witch wearing the fiery headdress bespeaking her magico-religious power. But when this particular girl enters, the Witch recognizes that her long wait – and our long wait too -- has finally come to an end: This girl and the Witch, acting together in synergy, like the wood and fire that they participate in, have the potential to re-energize the world. When the Witch turns her into a log, this is the climax of the girl's shamanistic ordeal, the point where the initiate must "die to the human condition and . . . resuscitate . .. to a new, a transhuman existence" (Eliade, 1958, 87). The girl, thus transformed into wood, now can join with the Witch and blaze with a very bright light. The energy she emits goes out into the world, warming and changing others.
Significantly, the girl both acts and is acted upon. Aristotle argued that potency takes precisely these two forms – both active (originating) and passive (or receptive) potency, on the one hand the capacity to act, on the other to receive something and to be influenced. Webster's, in keeping with Aristotelian philosophy, defines potential as: "Having the capacity to act or be acted upon hence capable of undergoing change."
But these forms of potency are deeply circumscribed in sexist systems. In Pure Lust, Mary Daly (1984, 167-169) critiques the ways that patriarchal paradigms confine "women to the area of passive potency," while reserving what is believed to be "active potency" for males. With further depth of insight, she argues that women are "castrated," not just by being kept from male-defined active potency, but just as grievously by having our capacity to receive knowledge "destroyed/persecuted" from the earliest stages of infancy. We are systematically blocked, Daly argues, from what she calls"Elemental female passive potency – our capacity to receive inspiration, truth from the elements of the natural world, the Wild, to which our Wild reason corresponds" (169). The young girl in the tale exhibits both active and passive potency. She ventures out boldly on her own, but she also must be receptive to being changed by the Wild, by the Witch and by the Fire.
Feminist thinkers like Daly, Carol Christ (2003) and Octavia Butler (1994) re-imagine divinity away from phallic omnipotence and toward cunctipotent conceptualizations of dynamic Unfolding or Change. In much patriarchal theology, creation took place only once, in the past as ordained by the Father God. Cunctipotent theology instead speaks of the potential of all being for participation in, and influence on, an ongoing and continually unfolding creation, of a Divinity (like the Witch) who is, in Mary Daly's (1973, 43) words "form-destroying, form-creating, transforming power that makes all things new." Such Divinity is indeed much like Fire, but it is also much like a boundless ocean of potential, opening us to the possibility of, as they say, living happily ever after.
The Ocean of Possibility
"First wash up as far as possible, then wash down as far as possible. Then wash possible."
Alice Walker, relating her mother's bathing instructions (1988, 58)
The Great Goddess is not only all-loving, all-giving, all-creating. She also is all-destroying. . . . What the modern analytical mind categorizes as a distinct duality, the tribal mind commonly perceives as an undivided unity of opposites. That way of thinking likens the Great Goddess to a boundless ocean of formless energy which is always pregnant with the potential of becoming.
Lanier Graham (1998, 31)
The word possible, curiously enough, is a folk name for the vulva (Ensler, 2001, 6), particularly in African-American usage. The words possible and potential are both intrinsically linked to potency. They are derived from the same root: posse, to be able. And both, also, are profoundly philosophical terms. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains: "When the notion of potency, or capacity, is referred exclusively to the order of being, it becomes possibility, i.e., the absolute potentiality, or capacity, to be" (Carlo, 627-28). Walker's and other African American mothers' naming of the cunt as possible is a most potent refutation of Aristotle's slander regarding females as impotent males. It also reminds us that the powers of the cunt are reflections of the cosmic forces of life and death, and change.
The world's great waters have long been understood as symbolically akin to the vagina or womb. For example, as the religious historian Mircea Eliade (1956, 41) explains,"the sacred rivers of Mesopotamia were supposed to have their source in the generative organ of the Great Goddess. The source of rivers was considered as the vagina of the earth. In Babylonian, the term pû signifies both 'source of a river' and 'vagina.' The Sumerian buru means both 'vagina' and 'river.'" The most powerful water for purification purposes was found where the "mouths" of the Tigris and Euphrates met (Johns, 1926, 467). The cunctipotent meeting of these sacred rivers at their source can be understood as a veritable Lesbian hieros gamos, or sacred marriage.
Whatever exists pours out of these oceans and rivers of energy at the moment of creation and ultimately returns at the moment of death. "Creation," Graham (1998, 31) reminds us, "happens not once but continuously. So too, does death." When we realize in our depths that creation, which includes death and transformation, is ongoing, we are enormously energized. First of all, when we understand the continuous and necessary interplay of death and creation we cease to expect apocalypse and dread personal death. Powerfully, we also begin to understand the extent to which we have the capacity to influence the always-unfolding creation, to encourage certain possibilities, and even, on occasion, to "make things happen" – including seemingly "impossible" things.
Many fairy tales feature protagonists who are respectful to nature, listening, giving, and helping where they can, and therefore encountering magical guides who grant wishes – cunctipotent Witches, Fairy Godmothers, Lucky Stones and Talking Animals. These protagonists realize potential, perform "impossible tasks," and find that dreams and wishes really do come true. In fairy tales "everybody and everything can be transformed." Moreover, these stories, Jack Zipes tells us, indicate ways that we can actualize "possibilities for overcoming the obstacles that prevent other characters or creatures from living in a peaceful and pleasurable way," (2000, xix). In short, fairy tales tell us that, under some conditions, it is possible to perform what seems at first to be impossible and to live "happily ever after."
The words happy and happen both stem from hap, "something which befalls by chance or luck" (Webster's). The physicist Jacques Monod (1971, 112) writes: "chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere." A cosmic appreciation of happenstance is expressed not only through physics, but also through mythic conceptions of Goddesses of Fortune, Chance and Luck. Luck herself, always a Lady, is the cunctipotent force that allows us to "win." The word win is derived from the Latin vener-, venus, meaning love, sexual desire. This root also yields the words wish and venerate as well as the name of Venus, the Sex Goddess also known as the Evening Star and the Star of the Sea. Our word desire actually derives from a word that means "star" and essentially we are calling on the Sex Goddess every time we ardently wish upon a Star.
Some years ago I had a dream where I was in a room illuminated only by a blazing fire. Showing up as a shadow on the wall was a symbolic emblem of ancient danger. Two of my female ancestors appeared and told me something to the effect that a long time ago a battle had been waged and we – which I took to mean those identified with biophilic values – had lost, but that a crucial time was coming around again. They told me that it was imperative that this time we "win." My initial reaction was that this was a kind of "war" and that we had to defeat or dominate an enemy. I now think that maybe what the dream ancestors were telling me was that to truly win means that the force of our love/desire is so strong that it becomes possible to change the world.
Quantum physics helps us to more fully understand the cunctipotent significance of the possible. In the quantum realm, things are always more than what we understand as actuality or "what is" – that is, what can be seen and measured, the everyday world we experience. Any quantum entity or system has more than actuality– it has potentiality, the slumbering reality waiting to be born as the system evolves. In quantum physics what might be has ontological status, a kind of reality of its own that influences and interacts with "what is." In many folk tales there is a sleeping Goddess or Princess who will renew the world with her awakening. As we come into our cunctipotence, we realize that there really is a "Sleeping Beauty," an alternative reality ready to wake up, a Princess to be "won," a wish to be made and granted. As we work to actualize this, we might find that utopia, the state of happiness, is neither in the past nor in the future. Rather, Happiness/Utopia is found in becoming, actualizing potential and giving form to possibility.
One of the definitions that Webster's gives for possibility is "one's utmost power." Actualizing cunctipotence means staying in tune and time with the flow of elemental energies, not solely taking from but also giving back to that Source, being alert to Chance, falling in with Fortune, listening to the voices of the elemental world, and acting with integrity, when opportunity presents itself for influence. In so being and doing, we can use this, our utmost power, to shape Change so that good things happen. We even can call other worlds or realities into being.
And, it turns out, the elementally appropriate place to do this kind of conjuration is the crossroads – also known as trivia.
Ethereal Energetics: Trivia (Crossroads), the "Crotch" of the Road
The Fifth Element, Ether . .. is a unifying principle.
Mary Daly (1998, 22)
Where the roads cross and enter into one another, thereby symbolizing the union of opposites, there is the "mother," the object and epitome of all union.
Carl Jung (quoted in Cirlot, 71)
The crossroads (otlamaxalli) is the "crotch of the road," with obvious sexual symbolism. . . . It was associated with an illicit and excessive female sexuality, the practice of sorcery, and the underworld.
Louise Burkhart (1989, 63)
Years ago, in the mid-1970s, I was working with Mary Daly while she was writing Gyn/Ecology. Reading a book on mythology, I discovered that the word trivia (which literally means "three roads") was Latin for crossroads and also a name for the Triple Goddess Hecate, who was closely associated with witchcraft. I told this to Daly who mentioned it in Gyn/Ecology, which led to the naming of the journal Trivia as "a place where women's ideas can assume their original power and significance." Recently, after working on this essay for the journal Trivia for some time, I casually picked up a book on colonial encounters in world history. There I read of the Aztec identification of "the crossroads" with the "crotch" of the road, with "illicit and excessive female sexuality" and with the Aztec Witch-Goddess Tlazoltéotl, also known, suggestively, as the "Dirty Lady" or "Earth's Heart" (Burkhardt 1989, 61).
Tlazoltéotl explicitly protects prostitutes and appears with the red serpent of sex. In one depiction, she wears a man's loin cloth, signifying the underlying unity of the sexes, and projects a stream of "magic power" from her cunt (Burland, 1973, 147)! The Aztecs, like the Greeks, were patriarchs who downgraded and distorted the powerful female Goddesses of earlier times, splitting them into oppositional virgins and putas (whores) (Anzaldúa 1978, 27-28), and identifying the most autonomous and powerful as witches. Reading beyond the patriarchal bias, we can recognize Tlazoltéotl and Hecate's crossroads as the spatial analog of the cosmic cunt. What patriarchs fear as the "excessive female sexuality" and "sorcery" associated with crossroads is really the etheric elemental force of cunctipotence itself.
The element of ether is, as Mary Daly points out, a "unifying principle," and this core theme of union also is implicit in both the literal and symbolic crossroads where diverse paths meet. Another word for crossroads is a junction – a word, curiously enough, from the same etymological root as yoni (Margolin 1987, 330). Yoni, along with join, juncture and junction, are all related to the ancient Sanskrit yu, to join and unite.
Curiously, this essay has turned out to be as much about words as it is about female potency. Speaking of words, Virginia Woolf (1942, 127) tells us "that it is their nature not to express one simple statement but a thousand possibilities." Of the "thousand possibilities" that the word crossroads suggests to us, there is one more that is relevant here. A crossroads is also "a crucial or critical point or place esp. where a decision or choice must be made" (Webster's). Arguably, humanity is at just such a point as the disastrous effects of a world based in splitting take their toll in gynocide, genocide, war, and catastrophic environmental devastation.7 Vandana Shiva, the ecofeminist theorist and activist, openly calls for "female energy" as the force capable of restoring justice and ecological balance to the planet.
The unifying force suggested by the cosmic yoni/cunt/crossroads is precisely what is needed to redress the destructions wrought by a phallocentric consciousness based in "splitting," which has produced an illusory sense of separation from the mother/matrix/nature.8 It is only in such a state of disconnection that it is possible to believe that one can use or abuse another without also hurting oneself, that one can pollute the Earth without also poisoning oneself.
The force enabling the reunification of all that has been so grievously split is the primal force of connection – cunctipotence. A cunctipotent perspective enables us to recognize and experience the underlying unity of life, to perceive sexual correspondence, not difference, between females and males, cunts and cocks, to experience communion and not isolation from "others" (human, animal and elemental others). Cunctipotence reunites what has been disastrously sundered – humans from nature, high from low, body from mind, sex from intelligence, flesh from spirit, culture from nature, life from death, light from dark, essence from change. For the "all-powerful" of cunctipotence is not omnipotence, the ability to separate from and then dominate, control and crush anybody and everything. Rather, the "all powerful" in cunctipotence bespeaks participation or communion in the creative inter-connecting power of the commonplace, the whole, the All.
This intrinsically feminist redefinition of power has become the stuff of our popular culture. Consider the first episode of ABC's dramatic series Commander-in-Chief (Fall 2005), starring Geena Davis as the first female President of the United States. Davis plays "Mac", a former Congresswoman and university Chancellor, who is now the Vice President. A political Independent, "Mac" was chosen as a running mate by a Republican Presidential candidate so that he could secure the female vote. But after he suffers a stroke, the President asks her to resign so that the Republican Speaker of the House, a man after his own heart, will succeed to the office. At first, "Mac" is willing to step down. But in a riveting exchange with the Speaker, she changes her mind. The Speaker tells her the world is too dangerous a place to have a woman as president of "the free world." She is not a leader, he says, but a mere female teacher. When "Mac" reminds him that she was a University Chancellor, he condescendingly says, well ok, you are a "Philosopher Queen" and continues to openly insult women, with specific reference to "loose" sexual activity and menopause. For all intents and purposes, he is calling her a cunt. At this point, "Mac" changes her mind. Agitated, he asks her why she wants to be President and tells her that she should affirm to him that it is because she lusts for omnipotence, that she "wants the power to control the universe." She replies,"That's not me" and walks out to take the oath of office. (back to essay )
For example, in ancient Atiteco belief, "the penis is held to be female in that the urethra is a small vagina" (Tarn and Prechtel 1986, 173). Correspondingly, the clitoris is held to be male. These beliefs can function to support a patriarchal worldview and even become the basis for practices of genital mutilation (both female and male), where the feminine foreskin is cut away from the male and the clitoris excised from the female. But I also think such an understanding underlies a cunctipotent paradigm, recognizing the congruity and basic femaleness of both women and men. For more on this, see Caputi (1993, 274-290). (back to essay)
Clearly, some feminists, visually and verbally, are working to do this (Ensler, 1998; Muscio, 1998). I elaborate more on this in Caputi (2004). (back to essay)
For elaboration on these concepts see Teish (1985, 55), Tarn and Prechtel (1986), (Leon-Portilla, 1963). (back to essay)
I first used some of the language and ideas in this section and elsewhere in this piece in Caputi (2004). (back to essay)
Webster's tells us that the etymology of bowel is akin to IE cwith, belly womb, OHG quiti vulva, ON kvithr belly, womb and Goth quithus, stomach, womb. The archaic meaning of bowel is "the seat of pity or tenderness or of courage, GUTS, HEART." We are accustomed to hear men speaking of having "balls" but don't realize that when anyone, male or female, speaks of having "guts" or"heart" they are using these as euphemisms for the cunt and are invoking the cunctipotent tradition. (back to essay)
According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a report compiled by 1,300 leading scientists from 95 countries, pollution and exploitative practices are damaging the planet at a rapid rate and to the point that the"ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted" (Connor, 2004). The planet, in response to this abuse, they say, will no longer be so readily providing such "services" as purification of air and water, protection from natural disasters, and the provision of foods and medicines. While practices of the richest nations, greedy for space, energy, food, water, and raw materials, are at the root of the problem, it is the poor who suffer and will continue to suffer the worst effects. The study urges drastic and immediate changes in consumption, an emphasis on local regulation of resources, better education, new technology and higher costs to be borne by those who exploit ecosystems. (back to essay)
The crossroads are "places where people stop to think. They are also places where one passes from one world to another, from one life to another, and from life to death" (Chevalier and Gheerbrandt 1994, 257). Perhaps, as the elements converge, as thinking happens, and as Quintessence is released, we also will find that the crossroads are that mysterious space where we are most inspired to imagine, and realize, what Daly calls the "Archaic Future." (back to essay)
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I remember the first time I saw the word cunctipotent in Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. It jumped off the page, glowed, and compelled my attention. Mythic figures spoke the word to me in dreams. Subsequently, I uttered the word in talks and in classes. Students would later say to me, "Have you written that article yet?? "I love that word and never have forgotten it." In time other words started to come to me, the elementally philosophical words for cunt like possible, down there and heart of darkness. When trivia jumped off the page as a companion word for cunt I knew the article was on its way.
Several other things made this piece possible. One is the re-appearance of Trivia and the dedication of Lise Weil and Harriet Ellenberger; another is the exceptionally generous and intelligent editing provided to me by Lise Weil. And finally, in this past year Carol Prusa gifted me with her artwork "Athene," whose daily presence helped to guide me into the dark mystery, speech and power of cunctipotence.
About the author
Jane Caputi teaches Women's Studies at Florida Atlantic University. She has written several books, The Age of Sex Crime, Gossips, Gorgons and Crones, and Goddesses and Monsters, and just finished making an educational documentary, The Pornography of Everyday Life (for information e-mail jcaputi @ fau.edu). She hopes to get the opportunity to write a book on Cunctipotence.
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Writing is my Joy and Pleasure. I've been writing creative pieces, analytic pieces and empirical pieces since I learned how! I use my pen and prose to expose people to things they either don't know or never thought of. I am political, analytic, critical all things that Virgo/Gemini is. The Logos is the Eros to me. <3