Superstitions about the ring
• It was important to ensure the ring was a perfect fit, for woe betides the future of the marriage if it wasn’t.
• A too-tight ring might point to painful jealousy or the stifling of one party by the other.
• Too loose, and a parting of the ways through careless acts or forgetfulness is indicated as a future danger to watch for
Cavemen tied cords made of braided grass around his chosen mate’s wrists, ankles, and waist, to bring her spirit under his control, writes Thorn Mulli
The ring has been accepted worldwide as the ultimate pledge of love, an emblem of eternity, and a symbol indicative of steadfast devotion.
This interpretation is quite contrary to Samuel Johnson’s brusque definition of “A circular instrument placed upon the noses of hogs and the fingers of women to restrain them and bring them into subjection.”
A common trend even here in Kenya, exchange of these ornaments is believed to have begun with cavemen who tied cords made of braided grass around his chosen mate’s wrists, ankles, and waist, to bring her spirit under his control. Ancient North African Egyptians were known to twist and braid papyrus reeds rings for fingers and larger bracelets for wrists. The Egyptians as well as many ancient cultures believed that a circle was the symbol of eternity considering it has no beginning or ending like time. It returned to itself, like life.
The hole in the center of the ring was not just space either; it was important, seen as the symbol of the threshold leading to things and events both known and unknown. It is not difficult therefore, to see how the ring and the gift of a ring began to be associated with love, in the hope that this most worthy of emotions could take on the characteristics of the circle and capture eternity.
Much later, Greeks and Romans refined the art of making ornamental rings from more precious, longer lasting material for different purposes. Borrowing from the early man, the Romans are credited for pioneering the use of the betrothal ring, use them to ‘tie’ people not only to their social classes, but also to their marital partners.
Since the betrothal ceremony usually involved the groom giving a sum of money or a valuable object to the bride, it was a natural transition to make this object a ring. The ring was a pledge, that the contract would be fulfilled and an object symbolising ownership.
During the betrothal ceremony the bridegroom gave a plain iron ring to the family of the bride as a symbol of his commitment and financial ability to support the bride. Marriages were not made in heaven, but over a negotiating table. Originally the betrothal ceremony was more elaborate and important than the marriage rite, which was a simple fulfilment of the betrothal commitment. It was only much later that major cultures and religions around the globe adopted the practice from the dominant Romans making the ring a part of wedding ceremonies even though the ‘heathenish’ gadget, deeply shrouded in pagan mythology and idolatrous practices, was not given a hearty reception. For a long time its use was discouraged, though never completely abandoned.
It was not until about 860 for instance that Christians used the ring in marriage ceremonies. It was not the plain circlet that we now use, but a highly decorated device, engraved with symbolical figures of doves or even of two linked hands.
Through different stages in history wedding rings have been worn on both hands and on different fingers, including the thumb as seen during the Elizabethan era where fancy decreed that the ring be worn on the thumb.