|The corna (Italian for horns), also mano cornuta (horned hand) or simply the devil horns is a hand gesture with a vulgar meaning in Mediterranean countries and a variety of meanings and uses in other cultures. Its origins can be traced to Ancient Greece. It is realized by extending the index and little fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers down with the thumb. It is identical to the Karana mudra of Eastern religions. While the “Hook ’em Horns” sign used by fans of University of Texas athletics is visually similar, it is used in different context.
The Devil’s Horns in music
While some confuse the corna as a demonic sign relating to satanic music, some say it was seen on the 1969 cartoon figure of John Lennon, as seen on the original vinyl album cover of the Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’,others say the figure was giving the deaf hand sign for “love”, which animators drew incorrectly, as it would seem to make more sense with their material at the time, and the fact the Beatles had little to do with this animated film.
The Devil’s Horns in Heavy Metal
It was later popularized by Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath. It lives on in the legacy of many bands, particularly thrash. It also has a variety of meanings in U.S. heavy metal and rock music subcultures, where it is known by a variety of terms: devil sign, devil horns, goat horns, metal horns, metal sign, sticks up, throwing the goat, Sign of the goat, throwing the horns, evil fingers, the horns, forks, metal fist, rock fist, fist of rock, or the “Rock on!” sign. On the cover of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album (1969), the cartoon of John Lennon’s right hand is making the sign above Paul McCartney’s head. For many fans, this was one of the many “Paul is dead” clues. It can also be found on Kiss’ 1977 album Love Gun. Gene Simmons can be seen the sign with his left hand. Frank Zappa can be seen making the gesture in the 1977 film “Baby Snakes”.
Ronnie James Dio is known for popularizing the corna sign in heavy metal. His Italian grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye (malocchio or moloch as Dio calls it). Dio began using the sign soon after joining (1979) the metal band Black Sabbath. The previous singer in the band, Ozzy Osbourne, was rather well known at using the “peace” sign at concerts, raising the index and middle finger in the form of a V. Dio, in an attempt to connect with the fans, wanted to similarly use a hand gesture. However, not wanting to copy Osbourne, he chose to use the sign his grandmother always made. These accounts are all predated by the Chicago-based psychedelic-occult rock band Coven, led by singer Jinx Dawson, whose 1969 back album cover for ‘Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls’ on Mercury Records pictured Coven band members giving the ‘sign of the horns’ correctly and included a Black Mass poster showing members at a ritual making the sign. Starting in early 1968, Coven concerts always began and ended with Jinx giving the ‘devil’s sign’ on stage. Interestingly Coven toured on the bills with many groups as Jimmy Page’s Yardbirds, the then glam rockers Alice Cooper and the Vanilla Fudge, featuring Carmine Appice, older brother of Vinnie Appice of Dio. Incidentally, the band also recorded a song called ‘Black Sabbath’ on their 1969 album and one of the band members is named Oz Osborne, not to be confused with Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath fame.
The horns became famous in metal concerts very soon after Black Sabbath’s first tour with Dio. From an interview with Ronnie James Dio on Metal-Rules.com: Metal-Rules.com – “I want to ask you about something people have asked you about before but will no doubt continue to talk about, and that is the sign created by raising your index and little finger. Some call it the “devils hand” or the “evil eye.” I would like to know if you were the first one to introduce this to the metal world and what this symbol represents to you?” R.J. Dio – “I doubt very much if I would be the first one who ever did that. That’s like saying I invented the wheel, I’m sure someone did that at some other point. I think you’d have to say that I made it fashionable. I used it so much and all the time and it had become my trademark until the Britney Spears audience decided to do it as well. So it kind of lost its meaning with that. But it was…I was in Sabbath at the time. It was symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It’s NOT the devil’s sign like we’re here with the devil. It’s an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the ‘Malocchio’. It’s to ward off the Evil Eye or to give the Evil Eye, depending on which way you do it. It’s just a symbol but it had magical incantations and attitudes to it and I felt it worked very well with Sabbath. So I became very noted for it and then everybody else started to pick up on it and away it went. But I would never say I take credit for being the first to do it. I say because I did it so much that it became the symbol of rock and roll of some kind.”
Whatever its origin in the heavy metal scene, metal fans embraced the gesture as a vague symbol of mysticism, evil, or simply “metal-ness”, and it soon became nearly as commonplace at concerts as headbanging. The gesture has since spread beyond metal to all forms of rock music and it is now nearly ubiquitous. In rock situations the gesture is interpreted as a benign gesture for “Rock on.” It is also used simply to communicate to the on-stage band (mostly heavy metal bands) that you are enjoying the show and their music. Flipping the horns is a serious gesture, and the more serious metal heads insist it may only be used in the appropriate situation, or for an appropriate band. Overall, many within the metal head community feel the gesture is being cheapened and commercialized. Also, many metal heads claim that since flipping the horns originated in heavy metal, using it for rock or any other genre of music is inappropriate. There is even a popular Facebook group “Do Not Use the Horns Unless You are Metal”, which states that (outside of Texas Longhorns events) “If your head is neither banging or thrashing, do not use the horns!”
Rock fans often use the hand gesture in electronic conversations, for group identification. It’s usual to express it with the letters “l”, “m” and “l” put together (other variations include using “\”, “m” and “/” to make \m/). The formed \m/ symbol supposedly reminds one of the arrangement of the fingers in the actual gesture.