The mafia in search of dignified lineages and perhaps of noble justifications, tries to retrace its origins back to medieval times. Exactly, to a legendary and secretive sect of incappucciati (incappucciati-men's heads covered with hoods) thought to have existed in the medieval Sicily.
The name of this sect was the, "Beati Paoli".
The Beati Paoli were represented in the Sicilian popular imagination as a sort of Robin hoods. They took from the rich to give to the poor. To be more exact, they fought against vary abuses of power from riches and nobles on oppressed and underprivileged. I heard a lot stories about these Beati Paoli when I was very young from many people. Those same people swore to me that those stories were all true and not legend.
The Beati Paoli, when moving through the dark alleys and underground passages of Palermo, they were always dressing entirely in black tunics and were concealing their heads in long black hoods. In their punitive actions to rectify un-justices, they were dispensing crude punishments (meaning death by stabbing) through their secretive and unmerciful underground tribunal.
Now how much of all that was true? Because of the Beati Paoli secrecy's nature, it is possible that they had left behind very little of their real existence.
In fact, there are very little evidences today which could suggest us, that the sect of the Beati Paoli has ever existed in a Sicilian past history.
Another thing that has always struck me about the mafia is, its fervid religious devotion to God and saints. You can even see in mafia's movies when mafiosi are acting in their criminal behaviors, that sometimes they are referring to God, or some saint.
Some other times, you will see them with sacred images in their hands, and especially when these mafiosi are making some murdering decisions. Or when they are using some pseudo-religious formulas in their oaths of faithfulness to the family.
Since always, the religion supplies aliment to the Mafia. In a way, religion gives to the mafiosi a sense of normalcy. A sense that they are devoted believers, and hence still human beings to the eyes of God even with all their aberrant behaviors.
The symbols of the Mafia.
The mafia doesn't use symbolisms as sign of distinctions or to be recognized. The mafia at the contrary wants to be left unnoticed, to quietly carry its own criminal activities.
In fact, it prefers to use symbolisms for intimidations which goes beyond the actual material damage. Like when it wants to leave a warning message to its victims.
The Sicilian mafia in the 1800's and in the 1900's was using specific symbols to warn its adversaries, and sometimes even left threatening warnings towards the local population. Those warnings had particular meanings to the intended victims.
Often the corpse of a mafia's adversary, or of a mafioso that had sgarrato (sgarrato-disrespected) was found with determined signs on his body, so that all knew of the why he was killed and in the same time to warn others from making the same mistakes.
- One of these signs was: the hand cut of the victim, meaning that the dead man had stolen something, knowing that he couldn't steal in that area, or that he couldn't steal from a particular individual just because that individual was protected by the mafia.
- Another of these signs was: the extracted eyes of the victim put inside his fist, meant that man had killed someone affiliated to the mafia.
- Another one was: the pad of a ficodindia (ficodindia-prickly pear) on a dead man's chest meant that the man had stolen money which did not belong to him.
- And a handkerchief, or a pebble in mouth meant that man shouldn't have spoken.
- Genital organs around the neck meant that man had annoyed women of an arrested mafia member.
- Instead sponge letters, petroleum on the fruit, or a slaughtered animals were some pressing invitations to pay the pizzo (pizzo-money for the protection).
- The head of an animal, a metallic heart riddled with holes, an empty coffin, or a dead bird found close to someone's home were instead warnings of a promise death.
- A cut face was instead, an indelible sign of infamy among mafiosi.
And finally another symbol, but in this case it's used by the Italians to define the Mafia. This symbol is the piovra (piovra-octopus). Figuratively speaking, the mafia is like a parasite octopus which has thousand tentacles and despite the fact that you cut one tentacle from it, another one is ready to grow up back.
And that's why the piovra/octopus is associated as symbol of the mafia.
I want to add one more at these list of symbologies: the mafia is also like a chameleon. A chameleon capable of camouflaging itself to get confused with the surrounding ambient.
In conclusion of this very long article: the mafia is wounded but still alive, ready to rise again from its hiding places.