Rings come in all colors, sizes, styles, and prices. They are worn as a statement of power, sign of belonging, token of friendship, oath of loyalty, personal pledge, bond of marriage, symbol of slavery, and as just plain decoration. For centuries, the type of material a ring was made from, or the presence of a precious stone, let others know the wearer was in a high-class position in society. Peasants could not often afford such luxuries. Rings are a significant cultural and historical symbol for power, luck, and slavery. They have an ancient history of tradition and ritual, and have evolved through many cultures and civilizations.
In Greek mythology Prometheus is the first man to wear a ring, symbolizing the remnants of his chains upon his release. Punished for stealing fire from the gods, Prometheus was chained to the frosty Caucasus where a vulture pecked out his liver all day in an endless cycle. Although Zeus swore to keep him there eternally, eventually he forgave Prometheus, and commanded that he wear an iron ring to which a small fragment of Caucasus is fastened, so in a certain sense Prometheus continues to be bound to the rock. Frey, the Norse god of Peace and pleasure, possessed a ring from which other gold rings dropped continuously. An arm band, or ring, was worm by Thor. Oaths were taken on it, representing pledges to an older god of law and order. North of Stockholm, in 2007, archeologists found 65 inch amulet rings which were used for the swearing of oaths. These may be the rings of Ullr, in the eddic poem “Atlakvida.”
Stories from many cultures and eras feature rings of great power. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a modern example. Rings in general have a deeply rooted magical significance, such as in the story of The Magic Ring, published in 1861. Enchanted rings figure in many ancient folk tales, sometimes linked to fish – a symbol of higher knowledge and wisdom – as in The Fish and the Ring. Incantations and spells for the protection of the wearer of rings are common motifs; many legends and folktales include rings with magical force or hidden powers. Invisibility, immortality, healing, and the granting of wishes are commonly afforded by a ring worn on the finger.
A ring represents the power of royalty. A king's ring given to someone could pardon or protect that person from destruction. Rings represent power, sometimes delegated through a signet ring; a document from a king marked with the emblem on his ring carried with it the power of his throne. This is where we can see the origin of the symbolism of rings, both magical and mundane. To make this connection we must decode the rod and cord depicted in images of kings from antiquity. If you look, you will find many more examples.
In each image there is a rod, and a circle. The circle represents the cord of the Vanir astronomers, and the rod is their megalithic yardstick (Duncan-Enzmann). Knowledge of how to use these tools created the ability to predict seasons, measure the movement of the heavens, divide time, and calculate longitude. With longitude you can navigate the world’s oceans, and they did that ca 4500 BC. The symbols for the rod and cord became symbols for power, and fierce protection of the knowledge of how to use these tools. This is a logical basis for the associations of power, loyalty, and ownership that are attached to rings. There is a great article in Working Tools for Master Masons magazine in the January 2013 issue about the rod and the cord.
Today rings are commonly worn as a tokens of love and marriage, but this practice also has roots in the rituals of gods and goddesses of old. Pagan stories tell of youths becoming bridegrooms of Venus by a ceremony of rings. Gold rings of great value were used in sea goddess marriage celebrations in middle ages. Roman betrothal rings were tokens of legal vows. In contemporary traditional and religious ceremonies – Christian and otherwise – the wedding rings are blessed by a minister or priest, still imbuing the rings with protective powers.
About Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales, decoding prehistoric images, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales and tracing them to their roots. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio.
Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:
Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: World of Symbols
Symbology: Secrets of the Mermaids
A Tale of Three Kingdoms: Book One - The Lost Unicorn
A Tale of Three Kingdoms: Book Two - The Lost Mermaid
The Fairy Tales: Once-Upon-A-Time Lessons First Book