“Cunny is scarce in these accounts”: Magic, Gender, Lovecraft, Moore

by Alexx Kay

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Detail of Page 20, panel 1 of Providence #5 – art by Jacen Burrows

When Moore is at his best, his writing is full of multi-layered complexities and allusions.  While the narrative surface is usuallyclear, careful examination of his word and image choices often reveals a fascinating rabbit-hole of subtly implied meanings.  From time to time, we will put some of these choices under a microscope in their own posts.  We start with a particularly rich phrase from Providence #5, P20, p1:

“… cunny is scarce in these accounts”

On the literal level. “Cunny” is a slang form of “cunt”, and quite an old one.

Going deeper, we see some relatively simple elaborations on the literal: By metonymy, cunny stands for “woman” or “women”. “Cunny” also evokes (though is not strictly related to) the word “cunning”; it is no accident that in medieval England “cunning woman” was also a term for “witch”.

Next, a meta-fictional level. In using the word “accounts”, Massey announces her awareness of herself as a character in a story cycle. Moreover, she is clearly aware that “cunny” is not often to be found in the stories. Reading “cunny” as “women”, Lovecraft indeed includes very few. Reading it more literally, “cunny” as “vagina”, Lovecraft completely omits it from his stories, except via the most indirect possible implications. Moore has, to a certain degree, followed Lovecraft in this, as the Stella Sapiente has a largely male membership.

There is (at least) a third level: the magical. Lovecraft briefly discusses the relationship between gender and magic in “The Thing on the Doorstep”. In Lovecraft’s story Asenath Waite (actually possessed by Ephraim) is enraged because “…she was not a man; since she believed a male brain had certain unique and far-reaching cosmic powers. Given a man’s brain, she declared, she could not only equal but surpass her father in mastery of unknown forces.”

Our co-writer, Robert Derie, points out in his book Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos: 61d6d32bqvtl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Joshi is quick to note that this passage is not quite as openly misogynistic as it appears, and he quotes a 1934 letter to show that Lovecraft believed in a difference in kind of intelligence rather than degree (TD 441): “The feminine mind does not cover the same territory as the masculine, but is probably little if any inferior in total quality” (SL 5.64).

Alan Moore has also said a few things which bear on the relationship between gender and magic.

First, an unusual anecdote in that it does not come to us directly from Moore, but from a fellow comic book creator Dave Sim. In the pages of Cerebus #186 (the last section of Reads, September, 1994), Sim relates the following:

Cerebus_186_00_fc
Cover to Cerebus #186 – art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Alan Moore decided some months ago that, rather than have some sort of tedious mid-life crisis, he would endeavour to become a Magician, a Shaman. Alan Moore, needless to say, is very good at everything he attempts. He is a very strong-willed person, very insightful, very balanced, very stable. As these are not, by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, common traits in the Age of the Female Emotional Void Triumphant, I will forgo even the most cursory recitation of the Means by which he set about accomplishing his task. Take it or leave it; in the Viktor Davis scheme of things, the possible repercussions of a member of his readership ignoring a Kids, Don’t Try This At Home disclaimer supersedes the author’s interest in satisfying your curiosity.

Leaving aside the Means, the End (or one of them anyway) was a visit to the Big White Room. They were all there, Alan informs me. Hawksmoor, Crowley, Vitruvius, Thomas Hobbes, this one and that one. All the Mages of the Ages. ‘They are just who they say they are,’ Alan observed. ‘The Illuminati. Not Jewish Bankers and Worldwide Conspirators. The Illuminated Ones.’ I asked if Alan just, you know, saw them or if he had any kind of exchange with them.

‘You know, Viktor, I looked around and I noticed there weren’t any women in the room. And I said to’ (I forget which one he said it was: doesn’t matter), ‘There are no women. Is this some kind of faggy boys’ club or something, then?’

This, according to Alan, generated a good deal of amusement. I laughed as well (which put him off a bit). He offered his opinion that there was probably a Women’s Room somewhere else.

I don’t think so, Alan.

I don’t think so.

Now, on the one hand, Sim is hardly the most reliable narrator, and this anecdote appeared in the middle of a long misogynistic rant. On the other hand, Moore certainly read this when it appeared, and did not feel any need to issue a retraction or correction, nor to cut off his friendship with Sim. A few years later, they engaged in a lengthy mutual interview wherein, among many other topics, they did discuss both gender and magic. They did not, however, discuss their intersection, or directly mention the above anecdote.

A notable Moore use of the word “cunt” in a magical context was in his 1999 performance piece “Snakes and Ladders” (later adapted to comics by Eddie Campbell).

Snakes & Ladders 31
Detail from Snakes & Ladders, p.31 – art by Eddie Campbell

At one point, Moore describes an incident in which he met the fictional sorcerer John Constantine: “…he steps out from the dark and speaks to me. He whispers: “I’ll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.””

(It’s worth pointing out here, as an aside to non-English readers, that the word “cunt” is far less taboo in England than it is in America. It is still considered rude, but not shocking. The closest equivalent in American usage might be “dickhead”.)

So, was Constantine implying that absolutely anyone could do magic?  Or was he perhaps implying that in order to do magic, one had to possess, at least at some mystic level, a “cunt”?  Or maybe some even more abstruse (or ironic) meaning? These are not questions we can answer with any authority.

We can state clearly, however, that Alan Moore is well aware that Gender and Magic have an often-fraught intersection, and has had such awareness since at least the mid-90s.  Moore has embedded that awareness in Providence in five simple words.

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11 thoughts on ““Cunny is scarce in these accounts”: Magic, Gender, Lovecraft, Moore

  1. Sure he means “cunny” as an abbreviation of ‘cunnilingus’ not another meaning for women in general.
    And just to put you straight about the word ‘cunt being far less taboo in England than America’ it isn’t. It is still an extremely strong use of swearing, not commonly used, or used at all in the company of others. In my experience anyway.

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    • I don’t think “cunnilingus” makes sense in this context.

      As for commonness of use…I’m sure you’re correct as far as normal conversation goes, but to quote Warren Ellis from Crecy: “Cunt. This is a word that many people do not like. But you have to understand the English. In England , the word cunt is punctuation.” – of course Ellis is being deliberately transgressive to make a point, but I think it remains that cunt is still much more widespread in Britain than it is in the United States, particularly in certain media like comic books.

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      • It depends. Hip, intellectual, or free-thinking types, will swear like fucking cunts and not care. The majority of British people though, are still shocked by the word.

        I’ll have to try hard to be objective here, cos the idea of anyone being upset by one arrangement of phonemes describing a thing (“cunt”), but not being upset by another (say, “vagina”), completely flummoxes my logical mind. It makes no sense at all to me.

        But “cunt” is, as far as the league of swear words goes, at #1 in the UK. Above “motherfucker”, which we don’t say much anyway. You might hear “cunt” spoken on TV a couple of times a year, or never, depending what sort of TV you watch. Certainly most newspapers and magazines won’t print it.
        Middle-class Britain, pretensious Britain, formal Britain, is still horrified by “cunt”.

        But among blokes with their mates, working-class lads mostly, yep we’ll use it like “the”. Even more so cos it’s still a little bit amusing in the right context.

        The cultural differences between the various social groups in the UK and USA are much more complex than to allow for simple explanations about the word “cunt”. It very much depends who you ask. Same thing’s true for “British humor”, where Britain seems to produce more different types of humour and comedy than the USA does, yet to Americans “British humor” means Monty Python and Eddie Izzard. It’s the “Small World After All” view of the world.

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    • “Cunnilingus” comes from two Latin words. One (“cunnus”) of which means “cunt”, the other “tongue”. For fairly self-explanatory reasons. It’s nothing to do with what Keziah or Alan are talking about.

      “Cunny” is old English, and probably old American too, for “cunt”.

      In the story, I’m pretty sure Hekeziah meant the word to mean both fanny itself, and also, by synechdoche, the bearers of fannies, women.

      As far as “cunning”, that’s purely stretching. You can read in your own connections between anything and everything if you like to, doesn’t mean it’s there. I take it to mean just what it says. That women, and their minges, tend not to show up in Lovecraft much. Partly because he never wrote about actual, physical sex-having, partly cos he never wrote about women as meaningful characters. It’s a comment on his sexual fear and his chauvinism.

      “Accounts” also I think refers to Ye Booke, which seems to be in large part a history of magic and weird things. The whole Cthulhu mythos, seems to be pretty much about male characters, and that includes characters in fictional Bookes. This is something Massey would know about, presumably she’s studied the book well.

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      • That’s how I read it as well. Whether because of the personal preferences or professional restriction, Lovecraft doesn’t regularly address women or sex for that matter in his work. In Moore’s world, and his work women and sexual relations are a lot more common, much like reality. Whether Hekeziah is commenting on the state of the sexes in Mythos as a reality or in Lovecraft’s work is up for interpretation, but I believe she certainly means women and sex isn’t common in whatever she’s talking about.

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  2. Cunt is a fascinating word. If you look here you’ll find Matthew Hunt’s Cunt: A Cultural History of the C-Word, A 75k word dissertation on the word, its usage, and variations. As far as origin goes, it says:

    …the origins of ‘cunt’ can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European ‘cu’, one of the oldest word-sounds in recorded language. ‘Cu’ is an expression quintessentially associated with femininity, and forms the basis of ‘cow’, ‘queen’, and ‘cunt’. The c-word’s second most significant influence is the Latin term ‘cuneus’, meaning ‘wedge’. The Old Dutch ‘kunte’ provides the plosive final consonant.

    […]

    The prefix ‘cu’ is an expression of “quintessential femineity” (Eric Partridge, 1961), confirming ‘cunt’ as a truly feminine term. The synonymy between ‘cu’ and femininity was in place even before the development of written language: “in the unwritten prehistoric Indo-European […] languages ‘cu’ or ‘koo’ was a word base expressing ‘feminine’, ‘fecund’ and associated notions” (Tony Thorne, 1990). The Proto-Indo-European ‘cu’ is also cognate with other feminine/vaginal terms, such as the Hebrew ‘cus’; the Arabic ‘cush’, ‘kush’, and ‘khunt’; the Nostratic ‘kuni’ (‘woman’); and the Irish ‘cuint’ (‘cunt’). Mark Morton suggests that the Indo-European ‘skeu’ (‘to conceal’) is also related.

    Thus, ‘cu’ and ‘koo’, both pronounced ‘coo’, were ancient monosyllabic sounds implying femininity. ‘Coo’ and ‘cou’ are modern slang terms for vagina, based on these ancient sounds..

    […]

    The feminine ‘cu’ word-base is also the source of the modern ‘cow’, applied to female animals, one of the earliest recorded forms of which is the Old Frisian ‘ku’, indicating the link with ‘cu’. Other early forms include the Old Saxon ‘ko’, the Dutch ‘koe’, the Old Higher German ‘kuo’ and ‘chuo’, the German ‘kuhe’ and ‘kuh’, the Old Norse ‘kyr’, the Germanic ‘kouz’, the Old English ‘cy’ (also ‘cua’ and ‘cyna’), and the Middle English ‘kine’ and ‘kye’.

    The prefix has also been linked to elliptical (thus, perhaps, metaphorically vaginal) terms such as ‘gud’ (Indo-European, ‘enclosure’), ‘cucuteni’ (‘womb-shaped Roman vase’), ‘cod’ (‘bag’), ‘cubby-hole’ (‘snug place’), ‘cove’ (‘concave chamber’), and ‘keel’ (‘convex ridge’). The Italian ‘guanto’ (‘glove’) and the Irish ‘cuan’ (‘harbour’) may also be related, as they share with ‘vagina’ the literal meaning ‘receptacle’. ‘Quality’, and even ‘cudgel’, have been suggested as further links, though a cudgel seems more like a cock than a cunt, and indeed none of these terms have the demonstrably feminine associations of ‘cunt’ or ‘cow’.

    ‘Cu’ also has associations with knowledge: ‘can’ and ‘ken’ (both ‘to know’) evolved from the ‘cu’/’ku’ prefix, as, perhaps did ‘cognition’ and its derivatives. RF Rattray highlights the connection between femininity and knowledge: “The root cu appears in countless words from cowrie, Cypris, down to cow; the root cun has two lines of descent, the one emphasising the mother and the other knowledge: Cynthia and […] cunt, on the one hand, and cunning, on the other” (1961).

    Indeed, there is a significant linguistic connection between sex and knowledge: one can ‘conceive’ both an idea and a baby, and ‘ken’ means both ‘know’ and ‘give birth’. ‘Ken’ shares a genealogical meaning with ‘kin’ and ‘kind’, from the Old English ‘cyn’ and the Gothic ‘kuni’. It also has vaginal connotations: “[‘kin’] meant not only matrilineal blood relations but also a cleft or crevice, the Goddess’s genital opening” (Barbara G Walker, 1983).

    Further down he says:

    An affectionately disguised variant of ‘cunt’ is ‘cunny’, whose variants include ‘cunnie’, ‘cunni’, ‘cunnyng’, ‘cunicle’, ‘conny’, ‘coney’, ‘conney’, ‘conie’, and ‘cunnikin’. Extensions include ‘cunny-burrow’ (‘vagina’), ‘cunny-catcher’ (‘penis’), ‘cunny-fingered’ (‘butter-fingered’), ‘cunny-haunted’ (‘sex-obsessed’), ‘cunny-thumbed’ (‘feminine thumb gesture’), ‘cunnyskin’ or ‘cunny-skin’ (‘pubic hair’), ‘cunny-warren’ (‘brothel’/’vagina’), ‘cunny-thumper’ (‘villain’), and ‘cunny-hunter’ (‘womaniser’). Bunny Rogers wrote a poetry collection titled Cunny Poem in 2014. ‘Cunny’ is derived from ‘cony’ (also spelt ‘coney’), which meant ‘young rabbit’ and was also a slang term for ‘vagina’ (hence ‘cony-hall’). William Shakespeare hinted at this second meaning in Love’s Labour’s Lost (1588), juxtaposing ‘incony’ with ‘prick’ (‘penis’): “Let the mark have a prick in’t […] most incony vulgar wit!”.

    […]

    Perhaps in an effort to minimise the scurrilous impact of ‘cunny’, ‘cony’ was phased out of common usage and the meaning of ‘rabbit’ was extended to animals both young and old. Spanish and French provide strikingly similar examples: the French ‘connil’ (‘rabbit’) was phased out due to its proximity to ‘con’ (‘cunt’), and replaced with the alternative ‘lapin’. The Spanish ‘conejo’ means both ‘rabbit’ and ‘cunt’, and the similar Spanish term ‘conejita’ (‘bunny girl’) provides another link between the two elements.

    So, when Alexx refers to ‘a fascinating rabbit-hole of subtly implied meanings,’ is he aware of his own subtly implied meanings, I wonder?

    I also want to point out that, if you consider the pronunciation of the first syllable ‘count’ in the word ‘country,’ does this shed a little more light on the use of the word ‘accounts’?

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  3. I did also mean to mention that, in the above, I contributed the bit that reads The Italian ‘guanto’ (‘glove’) and the Irish ‘cuan’ (‘harbour’) may also be related, as they share with ‘vagina’ the literal meaning ‘receptacle’, and for which I get a mention in the acknowledgements page, a thing of which I am very proud!

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    • The Latin for “vagina” comes from “sheath”, as in sword.

      Etymology is difficult, full of traps, and especially between languages where similar-sounding words may have totally different origins. There’s only so many sounds, after all. So there may be a connection, maybe not.

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  4. Just saw the following (in this fun article: http://www.thewhoresofyore.com/kates-journal/a-nasty-name-for-a-nasty-thing-a-history-of-cunt)
    R. F. Rattray argued that knowledge and cunt are etymologically linked: “The root cu appears in countless words from cowrie, Cypris, down to cow; the root cun has two lines of descent, the one emphasising the mother and the other knowledge… cunt, on the one hand, and cunning, on the other” (1961).

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