From Italian Superstitions to Metal Stages: The Journey of the “Devil Horns”

Ronnie James Dio popularized it, but the “devil horns” gesture has a history that's as diverse as it is fascinating. Explore its evolution from cultural superstitions to metal's emblem.

From Italian Superstitions to Metal Stages: The Journey of the “Devil Horns”
Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

A Universal Sign with a Rockin’ Twist

The “devil horns” hand gesture, a symbol now synonymous with heavy metal and hard rock, is more than just a sign of musical rebellion. Its roots stretch far beyond the mosh pits and headbanging crowds. From signifying “I love you” in American Sign Language to a friendly greeting in Hawaii, this gesture is as versatile as a Swiss army knife.

From spiritual practices to Italian superstitions, the devil horns have danced through history with flair.

Before it became the emblem of rock, the gesture had spiritual significance in Buddhism, known as the Karana Mudra, and even found its place in yoga as the Apana Mudra. In the sunny lanes of Italy, extending the index and little fingers was less about rock and more about warding off bad vibes or the dreaded “evil eye”. Who knew that the same gesture used to fend off Aunt Maria’s envious gaze would one day rule the rock world?

The Man Who Gave Metal its Horns

Enter Ronnie James Dio, the man often hailed as the ambassador of the “devil horns” in the metal realm. When he joined the legendary Black Sabbath in 1979, he sought a unique gesture to set himself apart from the peace-loving Ozzy Osbourne. Inspired by his Italian grandmother’s use of the gesture against the “evil eye”, Dio introduced the “devil horns” to the stage, and the rest is headbanging history. While Dio never claimed to invent the gesture, he sure made it the coolest thing in metal.

Of course, with anything iconic, there’s bound to be a bit of drama. Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler hinted at using the gesture before Dio, especially during their eponymous song. And then there’s Gene Simmons of KISS, who, in a very on-brand move, tried to trademark a version of the horns in 2017. Thankfully, he later withdrew the application, saving metalheads worldwide a collective groan.

From Rock Stages to Red Carpets

The “devil horns” gesture, once a niche symbol in the metal community, has now infiltrated mainstream culture. Whether it’s pop sensation Rihanna or football maestro Ronaldinho, the gesture has found fans far and wide. It’s not just a sign of rock rebellion anymore; it’s a global phenomenon, recognized and embraced by artists across the spectrum.

In the grand tapestry of music and culture, the “devil horns” stand out as a testament to the enduring spirit of metal and its ability to influence, inspire, and, most importantly, rock on!