Myths, Symbols & Folklore
sign of the fig: A symbolic gesture, believed to ward off the evil eye and offer general protection against hostile beings and powers; from the Italian fica ("vulva," "fig").
It consists of making a fist with the thumb protruding between the index and middle fingers, and is interpreted as an "obscene gesture" of contempt, symbolic of sexual intercourse (compare linga and yoni; and the use of the word "fig" in Shakespeare, e.g., in The Second Part of Henry IV, V, 3: "Fig me like the bragging Spaniard"). The belief in its power to ward off evil may go back to the reasoning that spirits are sexless and thus easily frightened by any allusion of a sexual nature (which may also explain the intermingling of genital images, pentacles, and Christian symbols on alpine rock drawings).
In many regions a red coral amulet depicting the sign of the fig is popular even today on watch-chains and necklaces. Medieval depictions of the Passion show hostile bystanders along Christ's route mocking the Savior with the sign of the fig. (Biedermann)