Sometime in the late 1500’s, an Arabic astrologer drew this portrait of the Devil (left). Note the position of the fingers on both the Devil’s hands, forming perhaps the first ever “Hail, Satan!”, a sign soon employed by Christians in Italy to ward off evil spirits for a few hundred years, and perhaps still in use in that form somewhere today.
Strangely, however, the sign didn’t surface in American popular culture until the late 1960s.
Around 1966, a band called Coven formed in Chicago, Illinois, and they were the first occult band and influenced everything that came after. Anton LaVey had just formed the Church of Satan in San Francisco, the first officially-recognized Satanic cult, but Coven was doing their own thing, surfing their own vibrations thousands of miles away.
Jinx Dawson was a magical child, a Nordic princess with long blonde hair whose twin sibling had died in birth. She grew up in a mansion outside Indianapolis and her family stretched back to the Mayflower and many were high-ranking masons. Apparently, her family was involved with many other secret societies and Jinx had a lovely, innocent voice. Most know her as the voice on “One Tin Soldier,” an anti-war song used as the theme for the film Billy Jack. But that was just a gig for hire, and her own material was drenched in satanic symbol and ritual. A song on her first album was titled, “Black Sabbath.” The band enacted a Satanic Mass during the show and employed a lot of very effective theatrical embellishments. Jinx dressed all in black and is credited today as being the Queen of Goth despite being a mostly unknown personality.
Jinx would open and close every show by making the sign of the horns with both hands, arms crossed exactly as the image above. And Coven was getting some pretty high-profile gigs, opening for the Yardbirds, Alice Cooper and others. Far as I know, Jinx never revealed her inspiration for the sign, although she may have seen that image of the Devil from the 16th Century as she was quite studious in her investigations into the occult.
Jinx developed a dispute with her record label, and upon forced exit, all her material was offered to an unknown English band called Earth, who soon renamed themselves off the title of one of her songs. But while Jinx was a serious student of the occult, Ozzy was an entertainer looking for an act. The sudden unexpected demise of Jinx opened a path for Ozzy to mount the satanic throne.
The nail in the coffin was an article in Esquire published in 1970 (“Evil Lurks in California”). The story linked Coven to Charlie Manson. Los Angeles at the time was a hotbed spawning grounds for Satanism, and many societies were trying to one-up each other with dastardly deeds of evil magical intent. The nastiest of the bunch was probably a British splinter from Scientology called the Process Church of Final Judgment. After the article appeared, Coven was dropped by their label and the album taken off the shelves and destroyed.
So that’s the story of the origins of the now ubiquitous “Hail, Satan!” sign. You probably thought it was something invented by Aleister Crowley, didn’t you? But Crowley does get credit in some quarters for inventing the peace sign, and how’s that for a topsy-turvey twist of events to this blog?
This story starts with Victor de Laveleye, a liberal Belgian radio host during WWII. On January 14, 1941, Laveleye urged his listeners to employ the letter “V,” and cited the words for victory in French and freedom in Dutch, both of which begin with “V.” I imagine the letter was soon painted in streets all over Europe as the magical antidote to the spreading Nazi sigil, the swastika.
At the time, Aleister Crowley was a British spook embedded in a German secret society, writing pro-fascist propaganda, while secretly reporting back to MI6. Crowley was actually a master spook at the height of his game, and was never unmasked as a spook during his lifetime. It would take decades of research to connect all the dots, and the key evidence became a letter written by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.
There is no real evidence Crowley told Laveleye to employ a finger version of the “V.” Transporting that finger sign to England was somewhat touch-and-go, as it had already been established earlier as a lower-class insult similar to giving someone the finger (but only if you turned the back of your hand outward). Yet, a few days later, Churchill introduced the finger “V” in a major address and from then on, this “V” sign took on great magical power and was used to keep spirits pumped-up during the Blitz. The BBC built an entire campaign around it, although the campaign only lasted one year before it was dropped. The morse code for “V” was also worked in, and how nice that it replicated the opening of Beethoven’s most famous symphony.
Many years later, Bertrand Russell was manifesting the anti-nuclear movement and decided to employ the “V” as a universal peace sign. The well-known sigil version, invented by Gerald Holtom, came a few days later and was based on the semaphore codes for “N” and “D,” meaning: nuclear disarmament.
But in the 1960s, hippies adopted the hand sign as a friendly way to greet each other, and that has become its most widely adopted use around the world today.