‘An ape is always an ape, though dressed in scarlet!’ This quote from The Praise of Folly, is just one of many which the humanist, philosopher and writer Erasmus used to express his criticism of people and society. The book was published in 1511 and mocks all sorts of human follies. But is it really all that strange to want to make ourselves look beautiful? To feel the urge to decorate ourselves with make-up and jewellery?

Or can we refute Erasmus’ statement by giving jewellery a deeper meaning? We will start looking for a deeper meaning of the ring in this article. But let’s start with ourselves: the meaning of the finger we wear our ring on.

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What symbolic meaning do your fingers have?

Whoever goes looking for symbolism will always end up with the Romans and the Ancient Greeks. The Romans gave (as did the Greeks) each finger a deeper meaning, based on the properties of their Gods. The only finger which wasn’t named after a Roman God was the thumb. However, the thumb is the ruler of the hand and often decided between life and death.
Just think about the games held in the Colosseum and other Roman arenas. Whoever survived the fight would be pardoned, but could also still be killed. The gladiator’s life was literally in the Emperor’s hands. If he stuck his thumb up, the gladiator would be pardoned. On the other hand, if the thumb went down ...
All fingers but the thumb had a specific meaning in ancient times.
The other fingers were all given a name and a meaning. For example, the index finger was named after the Supreme God Jupiter, ruler of the sky, thunder and lightning. A gold ring on your index finger therefore exuded ambition and authority. That’s why many kings, priests and healers used to wear a ring on their index finger.
The middle finger is linked to Saturn, father of Jupiter and God of agriculture and fishing. The Greeks called this God Chronos, the ruler of time and death. Two things us humans can’t influence. A gold ring on your middle finger therefore stands for the urge for certainty or the need for willpower.
The little finger was named after Mercury, God of communication and the only God which could freely travel through all the different realms. Men used to often wear a signet ring on their little finger, a gold ring used to sign and seal important documents before being given to the messenger.

Why do people wear a wedding ring on their left ring finger?

The ring finger is linked to the God Apollo, who the Romans saw as a saving God, either during an epidemic, or perhaps in case of an enemy invasion. Yet this God still remained in the background somewhat with the Romans until the Emperor Augustus bombarded him into his own personal guardian deity.
The Romans believed the ‘vena amoris’, literally translated ‘the vein of love’ ran through the ring finger. This vein was supposed to run straight from the heart to the left ring finger, hence the association with love. The Egyptians believed this too. Even though they initially made rings of hemp, reeds and other plants found along the banks of the river Nile, they also saw the ring as a symbol of eternity.
The Romans actually copied the round ring from the Egyptians. Roman engagement or wedding rings were initially in the shape of a key, in order to demonstrate that the woman could unlock both a man’s heart and his worldly possessions. Wedding rings were more of a symbol of a purchase agreement than an emotional commitment.
There were also some other ideas in relation to the wearing of a gold ring on the ring finger, symbolising eternal love. One of the other explanations was that when you bend the little finger or middle finger, the ring finger will always faithfully bend along with them.

TIP: Would you like to find out more about what jewellery meant to the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans? Read this article about the jewellery of times gone by, right through to today’s diamond engagement ring.

Which mysterious powers does the Atlantis ring have?

The most iconic and mysterious ring ever made is undoubtedly the Atlantis ring, which was discovered in a high priest’s tomb during the 1860 excavations in the Egyptian Valley of Kings. Not a gold ring, but one made of sandstone, probably made by inhabitants of Atlantis, the disappeared archipelago, the historicity of which is still unclear.

One reason to suspect the ring isn’t Egyptian and to think it’s even older are the extraordinary, yet different from the Egyptian hieroglyphs, images. The symbol on the Atlantis ring consists of three horizontal bars in the centre, two triangles with a hole above at the outer ends and a row of three squares between the bars and triangles at both ends.

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These geometric figures were supposed to contain strong energies, making the wearer of the Atlantis ring immune to all manner of negative or even malicious influences. Too far-fetched? People back at the start of the 20th century thought differently, when the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered during an expedition led by Howard Carter.
A total of 22 people, who had been involved with the archaeological research, died an early death after the opening of the tomb. Plaques were apparently found in the tomb, which warned about the pharaoh’s curse with the words ‘Those who disturb the pharaoh’s sleep will be attacked by the wings of death’.
Leader of the Tutankhamun expedition Howard Carter attributed his escape from the curse to the Atlantis ring.
However, Howard Carter managed to reach the age of 64. So he had been spared from the pharaoh’s curse. He did refer to a special ring which had been found in a high priest’s death chamber in his notes. He thought the ring had made sure the dead bodies in the tomb had been beautifully preserved and therefore decided to wear the ring himself.
Even though at the time the media loved the story about the curse, all deaths were scientifically explained afterwards. It would have been quite possible for viruses and bacteria to have been released from the food which had been placed inside the tomb more than 3000 years ago when the tomb was first opened. Yet the Atlantis ring has continued to appeal to people’s imagination. Rings with this image are still being bought as amulets today.
TIP: People have believed in the beneficial effects of gemstones since the Middle Ages. Would you like to give someone a protective or healing piece of jewellery? You can read more about the various different birthstones and their powers here.

Which powers does the wedding ring have?

People have been superstitious since the beginning of time. The Catholic Church had already spread a great deal of superstition in the Middle Ages, during the period when Erasmus was born. Ordinary people therefore thought many church objects had some kind of magical power. The same applied to the ring of rings: the wedding ring.
People believed that, as long as the bride wore her wedding ring, she would be protected against unfriendliness and arguments. People also started using gold for wedding rings on a large scale in the Middle Ages. The clergyman would place the gold ring on the left thumb, which represented the divine, during the wedding ceremony.
The ring was subsequently moved to the middle finger, which symbolised the Holy Spirit. The ring was eventually placed onto the left hand’s ring finger. During the wedding ceremony this indicated that the man would dedicate his life to his bride, like he did to the Holy Trinity.
As wedding rings were increasingly being adopted by all classes of the population during this period, there were also a rising number of folktales.
For example, people believed they could get rid of warts by placing the wedding ring on them and subsequently pricking them with the thorn of the gooseberry.
People also thought the wedding ring had to be worn permanently. If the woman lost her wedding ring, she was also set to lose her husband. A wedding ring which broke, would bring even more calamity. In that case both the man and the woman would die before their time ...

What Else Can Rings Do?

A bishop also wears a type of wedding ring as a symbol of his episcopal dignity and his loyalty to the faithful. This is usually a gold ring decorated with a gemstone, or an image with bread and fish as a reference to the biblical story of the bread multiplication.

The traditional way of greeting a bishop is by kneeling down and kissing his ring. This is a sign of respect and humility for the church authority and is rewarded with the forgiveness of daily sins. Kissing the ring also used to be customary when meeting the king.

During the Middle Ages, when magic played a major role in people’s lives, kings and queens would also wear rings to protect them or provide them with a service. The rings, signet rings and amulets which housed auxiliary devils would be struck at astrologically favourable times.
Rings have been held in great regard throughout the ages.
People believed these rings would make the wearer invulnerable, would keep them out of prison, win card games or even make him or her invisible. In the Middle Ages people also believed that adding a sapphire to the gold ring would serve as protection against deception and snake bites.
It should therefore certainly come as no surprise that people became fascinated by the gold ring during that time and that all classes of the population subsequently wore this.

Are you also under the spell of the (gold) ring? Take a look at the extensive collection of gold rings here or contact BAUNAT’s experts via telephone, email or chat for extra advice.
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