A Rocking Gesture: Roots of the "Sign of the Slayer"

At the pinnacle of a mind-blowing concert, inevitably, unconsciously, you are covered in sweat and flailing hair with fists raised in the air before Gods of Rock.

As they reach into your twisted heart and release untapped depths of angst into ecstatic fucking union, your hands form a shape of devil horns. Index and little fingers outstretched while the shared tendons of the middle and ring fingers contract inward toward the palm.

These are actually ancient warding signs. Grinning like demons, we lean all the way in, screaming and thrashing into an abyss of a strobe-lit trance, at once devoured and cleansed within an avalanche of smoldering guitars and punishing drums.

Glory. Ferocity. Devotion and the death of fear.

So why are we driven to show our undying support in the form of this hand sign for the bands that bring us to heights of euphoria? What’s behind it? I’ve done some digging and found three intriguing origins ...

In the East, a symbolic gesture made with the hands is referred to as a mudra or, seal. In Tibet, there was an ancient and secret practice of cutting attachment to corporeal [death prone] form. It was traditionally practiced in "lonely and dreaded places" such as cemeteries and charnel grounds as a lightening-fast way of overcoming all fear.

The curling of the middle and ring fingers into the center of the palm is known as the "sign of the slayer" (karana mudra) and is a warding gesture against spirits that feed off of fear of a practitioner pushing themselves to the edge of their identity/reality.

The sign of the slayer symbolizes razor-sharp weaponry that is a manifestation of a person’s perfected discernment to distinguish ignorance from truth in all moments.

In India, there is a variation similar to slayer mudra called "apana" mudra. Apana is a movement of energy within the human body that eliminates wastes (urinating, defecation, menstruation, etc.), literally called "downward clearing." Holding this mudra for five to 15 minutes is a way of purifying the body of toxins and waste [Read: demons], which, if harbored, would hasten an early demise through stress, illness and accelerated aging.

Lastly, in American sign language, the letters I, L and Y are formed by extending the thumb, index finger and little finger while the middle and ring finger touch the palm. It is an informal expression of love. So, if you combine these three interpretations together, when you raise your hands in the sign of the horns at a concert, you are not only expressing your love for the musicians who are giving a stellar and passionate performance; you are also warding off ignorance, fear, sickness and death in your mind, emotions and body.

Now that fucking rocks.

Michael Hewett is a composer, producer, guitarist and recording artist who has released four full-length albums and numerous singles. He played lead guitar in the hit Broadway musical “Wicked” (2004 to 2009), is a video instructor and blogger at Guitar World magazine and tours internationally with his own project. Preview his catalog of music on iTunes.

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