Italian folk magic amulets: Mano Figa

The mano fico, also called figa, is an Italian amulet of ancient origin. Examples have been found from the Roman era, and it was also used by the Etruscans. Mano means "hand" and fico or figa means "fig," with the idiomatic slang connotation of a woman's genitals. (An English slang equivalent might as well be "pussy hand.") It represents a hand gesture in which the thumb is thrust between the curled index and middle fingers in obvious imitation of hetorsexual intercourse.

Whether made as an apotropaic gesture or worn as an amulet, the mano fico is used for magical protection against the evil eye. In this it resembles other hand gestures and hand images that ward off evil, including the hamsa hand, the eye-in-hand, the mano cornuta (horned hand), and the interlocked thumb gesture. A regionally popular amulet, it is primarily found in Italy and in America among descendents of Italian immigrants. It also shows up on a Peruvian package amulet and in a South American charm vial, both reflecting colonial European influences.

The mano fico shown here is a modern pewter reproduction of a 19th century silver amulet, probably from the area around Naples, where such charms were extremely popular. Older Neapolitan mano fico charms were also carved of blood coral.

The evil eye is believed to harm nursing mothers and their babies, bearing fruit trees, milking animals, and the sperm of men -- the forces of generation. The Neapolitan custom of making mano fico charms from silver (sacred to the moon goddess Luna) and blood coral (sacred to the sea goddess Venus) hints at the cultural survival of a link between the vulva gesture and ancient Roman goddess worship. In addition, i do not think that it is too far a conceptual leap from the blood coral fico hand of Italy to the red jasper Buckle of Isis amulet of ancient Egypt, in which "the blood of Isis" -- represented by her menstrual pad -- was worn for magical protection, especially by women. It may be that these charms, like the ubiquitous horseshoe, have cultural roots reaching back to the neolithic era, originating in an invocation of the protective and fertile vulva of a female deity who guarded against loss or damage to the generative power.

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