Long before Christianity was made legal and dominated all of Italy and much of the world, Pre-Etruscan Italians had mysterious and magic practices and teachings which were further developed and refined by the Etruscans around 1000BC. The rise of the Roman Empire as well as other factors began to influence Italian religion. While the rise of Christianity forced most Pagans underground, "folk magic" was still practiced. (For example, many of us remember our grandmothers removing the "evil eye" with a ritual using drops of oil in water.) One of the most common remnants of this secret religion is the Trinacria, which was put on Pagan temples in Sicily in an effort to scare off invading armies. The head in the center was that of Medusa, whose hair was turned into snakes by the outraged goddess Athena.
The word or term Trinacria means "triangle" because of the shape of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean. The Greeks circumnavigated the island and noted the three capes, Peloro, Passero, and Lilibeo, forming three points of a triangle in the northeast, the southeast, and the west. "Taken by its beauty they likened its shores to the legs of a woman." The Greeks called it Trinakrias; the Romans called it Trinacrium, meaning "star with 3 points." Today it is known as Sicily, or Sicilia in Italian.
Pictured above is a mosaic of the Trinacria that dates back to the 3rd century BC. The photo appears in the book "TRINAKRIE - Breve storia semiseria della Sicilia" by Nino Cirnigliaro with photos by Ciccio Gurrieri, Utopia Edizioni 1994, Ragusa.
In their wisdom, the Sicilian Parliament replaced the Medusa head on their flag with one that was less threatening to the innocent onlooker who, after all, should not be anticipating being turned to stone. Instead of snakes, the flag's modern Medusa now has stalks of wheat or fennel.