The Ring Upon
the Finger by
An Extract From
~ Maids Wives
Rings were probably the first ornaments ever worn, though in the
earliest ages they had a meaning far beyond mere adornment. The stories
of Judah and Tamar, of Pharaoh and Joseph, of Ahasuerus and Haman, show
that as pledges of good faith, as marks of favor, and as tokens of
authority, they were the recognized symbols. The fashion was an Eastern
one, for the Jews were familiar with it before their sojourn in Egypt;
indeed, it may have been one of those primeval customs which Shem, Ham,
and Japhet saved from the wreck of an earlier world. Certainly the
people of Syria and the lords of Palestine and Tyre used rings in the
earliest times; and it is remarkable that they bore the same emblem
which ancient Mexican rings bear,the constellation of Pisces. As an
ornament, however, the ring is least important; it is an emblem. The
charmed circle has potency and romance.
Great faith in all ages has been placed in charmed rings. Greeks and
Romans possessed them, and the Scandinavian nations had a superstitious
faith in such amulets; indeed, as chronicles declare, it is hard to
compute how much William was indebted for his victory over Harold to
the influence of the ring he wore, which had been blessed and hallowed.
As curative agencies, rings have also played a curious part. Until the
Georgian era, rings blessed by the King or Queen on Good Friday were
thought to control epilepsy and other complaints, and something of this
secret power is still acknowledged by the superstitious, who wear
around their necks rings or coins that have been blessed. Rings have
also been agencies for death, as well as for life. In all ages they
have been receptacles for subtle poisons, and thus Hannibal and
Demosthenes armed themselves against an extremity of evil fortune.
In the life of the English Queen Elizabeth, rings had an
extraordinary importance. She was notified of her ascension to the
throne by the presentation of Mary's ring. The withholding of the ring
sent by Essex caused her to die in a passion of remorse and re-awakened
affection; and no sooner was the great struggle over than her ring was
taken from her scarcely cold finger and flung out of the window to Sir
John Harrington, who hastened over the Border with it to the Scottish
There are some curious traditions regarding the stones usually set
in rings. The ruby or carbuncle was thought to guard against illness.
The sapphire was the favorite of churchmen, and was thought to inspire
pure desires. Epiphanes says the first tables of the Law were written
on sapphires. The emerald bestowed cheerfulness and increased wealth.
The opal was said to make a man invisible, the jacinth to procure
sleep, and the turquoise to appease quarrels between man and wife.
Things are much changed, however, since heathen sages and Rosicrucian
alchemists defined the qualities and powers of gems. We have commercial
rings now, which laugh emerald ones to scorn as means of procuring
wealth. If the opal could make a man invisible, it might be popular on
the first of a month, but we have better narcotics than the jacinth,
while the elaborateness of our women's toilets gives husbands manifold
opportunities of peace-making, quite as successful as the turquoise.
The Jews first used it in marriage. For this purpose they required
it to have a certain value, and to be finally and fully purchased. If
it was bought on credit, or taken as a gift, its power was destroyed.
The Christian Church early adopted the custom of the marriage ring. It
was placed first on the thumb, in the name of the Father; then
removed to the first finger, in the name of the Son; to the third
with the name of the Holy Ghost; and the Amen fixed its place on
Rings were also the emblem of spiritual marriage and dignity as
early as the third century. In the Romish Church the Episcopal ring is
of gold set with a rich gem. The Pope has two rings, one bearing the
likeness of St. Peter, used for ordinary business; the other bearing a
cross, and the heads of both Peter and Paul, and the reigning Pope's
name and arms. It is used only for Bulls, and is broken at the death of
the Pontiff; and a new one given by the city of Rome to his successor.
These rings of spiritual office were frequently worn on the thumb, and
when the tomb of Bede was opened in May, 1831, a large thumb-ring was
found where the right hand had fallen to dust.
The ring has been used not only for carnal and spiritual weddings,
but also for commercial ones. For six hundred years the Doges of Venice
married, with a gold ring, the Adriatic and its rich commerce to their
city on the sea. As an emblem of delegated or transmitted power, the
ring has also played a remarkable part in human affairs. Pharaoh and
Ahasuerus in Biblical records are examples. Alexander transferred his
kingdom to Perdicas with his ring. When Cæsar received the head of
Pompey, he also received his ring, and when Richard the Second resigned
his crown to Henry of Lancaster, he did so by giving him his ring. The
coronation ring of England is of gold, in which is set a large violet
ruby, carved with the cross of St. George. The custom of engraving
sacred emblems upon rings for common wear was angrily reproved by so
early a sage as Pythagoras; and this heathen's delicacy about sacred
things is commended to the notice of those women of our own day, who
toss the holy symbol of our faith around the toilet tables, and wear it
in very unconsecrated places.
However, I have said enough to prove that the ring upon our finger
is a link between us and the centuries beyond the flood. We cannot
escape this tremendous solidarity of the human race. We are part of all
that has been, and the generations that follow us will look back to us
and say, They were our fathers, and we are their heirs, and lo, we are