Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for the Ficus Gesture

[This is the 6th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]

Today's symbol isn't something written... it's a hand gesture that goes by many names around the world.  I first encountered it as the "fig" (Italian fico, Latin ficus) gesture, that came from ancient Greece as a sign of fertility, but has now bifurcated into either a sign of good luck and/or an obscene gesture.  (With the issue of fertility, one can easily see how that bifurcation happens...)  Towards Eastern Europe it's called Dulya and is used to ward off the evil eye.
In America, though, I've got your nose!
About 100 years ago, when occultist Aleister Crowley was rewriting the Christian Mass for his own newly-born religion of Thelema, he substituted this gesture for the traditional priestly sign of benediction.  Given the "naughty" symbolism of much of Crowley's material, this probably made a lot of sense!

In role-playing games, I think there are a few areas in which it would be interesting to include an arcane symbology of hand-gestures...
  1. Thieves Cant:  Instead of having roguish scoundrels develop a spoken language of their own, it may make more sense for them to use a SILENT system of sign language.  Some players and GMs may feel the need to develop its basic details, but at minimum one can just keep track of proficiency using the thief's experience level.
  2. Wizard/Cleric Spell Casting:  This is the infamous "somatic component" that never seems to get as much discussion as the verbal or material components.  There are all sorts of ways one can go with this...  Maybe great precision is needed, such that if the caster is distracted or fatigued, the wrong stroke of the finger could cause a disastrous mishap.  Maybe, like in the Harry Potter universe, a sufficiently advanced wizard or witch can learn to do away with one or more of the more distracting components and rely only on the somatic.
  3. Not to leave out the fighters, there are also the tactical hand signals used by ground forces when trying to move quietly through dangerous areas.  Of the three types listed here, these are probably easiest for the actual players to learn to do, rather than leaving it to the in-game characters.
Finally, I can't let a discussion of "Ficus" and fertility gestures go by without a reference to a terrible old TV show from the 1970s: Quark, starring Richard Benjamin.  It was kind of a Star Trek knock-off, and the Spock-like science officer was a half-human, half-plant, named FICUS.  Probably the only time this show made me truly laugh out loud was a time when Ficus was forced to woo an alien princess, and he set about to show her his species' mating pollination rituals. After lying down on the ground and starting to make some high-pitched sounds, she asks him what that was all about...

The plant-man's monotone answer:  "We're waiting for the bee."


  1. I have very little specific to add on today's either, but I will say you're really blowing me away with the series. It's an excellent subject, and a bridge between the communities. It shows off that amazing knowledge you have and makes some very useful suggestions for freshening things up. The dagger list was one and the reminder of the somatic in this post is another, and one more reason I think guys like Hereticwerks are really on the ball when it comes to settings, for their breadth and depth of comprehension. Even your research is impressive, in getting that exact Quark shot.

    1. Thanks Porky! I'm having a lot of fun. I'm also starting to lose my (approx 2 week) lead time in writing the posts... hopefully they won't end up being wordless image dumps by the end of the month...

  2. High compliments from Porky.

    Looked up Egan's 'Permutation City' and was bummed to discover it's out of print. I went to two paperback exchanges yesterday with fingers crossed to no avail. The least I've seen for a used copy online is around $20.

    I am intrigued. What say you, do I drop the Andy Jackson?

    1. Egan is great, but I'm not sure I can give the full-on recommend for a book that I've never taken the plunge to buy myself... That one was a library borrow. I'm amazed that an almost 20-year old paperback can't be found for less. I guess it a positive when nearly everyone keeps their copies! :-)

      I do own Egan's Diaspora, which I'd heartily recommend if you're in any way excited about transhumanism and the Singularity. (Though it sounds weird to say that sentence un-ironically.)

    2. Just read the introductory pages to 'Diaspora' on Amazon. Used copies available for as little as four bones.

      I am interested in the Singularity, to put it mildly. Think I'm going to purchase a copy of the novel. Appreciate the rec. I'll let you know what I think once I've read it.

      Happy Easter. (Without irony.)

  3. Quark was one of my favorites back when it aired. I loved the fact that the Vegeton first officer's full name (Ficus Pandurata) sounded like an alien name, but was actually the scientific name of this plant.

  4. I don't think I'd even heard of Quark the TV series. Will have to research.

  5. I couldn't find that one snapshot on Google Images, but luckily the whole episode is on youtube. (Wild Wild West fans: guest shot by Artemus Gordon in that episode, too...)