3 years after my old site crashed, I’ve managed to dig out the blog posts from the debris of the database. This is one:
La Mano Cornuta debunked
I don’t know how common this bit of trivia is, but it just caught my attention recently, as a new book released on this year’s Swedish book fair made a point of publicizing it:
The “sign of the devil” gesture that is frivolously flashed at metal shows around the world is well known to originate in old European superstition as a means of warding off curses and spells such as the “evil eye“. People of some social and/or intellectual standing have been taken down on early photographs discreetly showing their index and little fingers, lest the new invention should attempt to capture their immortal souls.
However, that is hardly the meaning the gesture has taken on in modern pop culture; rather, it has become a less than secret handshake to show one’s allegiance to the devil, or at least to the music that is often attributed to him. Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian once commented dryly on this affiliation that he always thought the devil would more likely be into New Age. Of course, that was back in the early nineties, before Anthrax jumped the bandwagon and started using pentagrams as part of their imagery.
Whether Metal is truly in cahoots with the devil (placing the entire genre solely in a judeo-christian context) is beyond the point of this post. The shift in meaning of the “horned hand”, however, is closely connected to the origins of heavy metal, or rather to the first generation change in the genre. When Ozzy Osbourne left the seminal Black Sabbath the second time (not rejoining the band for another 25 years or so), his place was taken by the radically different, if somewhat lesser vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
Dio was to some degree struggling with the image as the “new guy” or even as a usurper of Ozzy’s place, a shadow he unsuccessfully tried to get out of from the get-go. Even to a point where he would try and reinvent Ozzy’s every little idiosyncrasy in his image, like the kind of incongruous peace gestures Ozzy would throw at the audience at any given occasion. Imagine, if you will, the ending of the song Black sabbath –
This is the end my friend
Satan’s coming round the bend
People running ‘cos they’re scared
Yes people better go and beware
No! No! Please! No!
– followed by Ozzy raising index and middle fingers of both hands in v’s, shouting “Thank you, we love you!”. Yes, well, Dio thought he had a better idea; remember, this was the late seventies and hippies were on the out, along with anything associated with them, peace and love in particular. Being of Italian descent, he appropriated the protective sign of his Old Country grandmother’s to a horned fist that the public at Black Sabbath’s shows soon took to be a stable, not just of the band but of the genre they helped found.
The metal community hasn’t really had much to thank Dio for through the years, but it seems at least like it’s to his credit that we haven’t had our hands in our pockets through entire concerts on end – in stead, we have been telling deaf people that we love them. Yeah, thank you Ron, a real improvement over Ozzy’s peace signs!