Ancient magicians and physicians believed in the power of plants, animals, and minerals to accomplish extraordinary things. They also attached mystic importance to rings.
While many people are familiar with ancient magical and healing properties of gemstones, few are familiar with the historical uses of wedding or love rings for magic and healing. Throughout history, a few love rings stand out for their unique purpose for healing or magical properties.
Helen of Troy’s Love Ring
According to legend, Helen of Troy (~12th century B.C.) wore a large star sapphire, which was believed to hold the key to her desirability. According to Apollodorus, she had at least thirty suitors vying for her hand. Although she married King Menelaus of Sparta, she was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy, an act that led to the Trojan War as the King of Sparta attempted to bring her home.
Helen’s reputed beauty has inspired artists across all ages as well as countless suitors. Perhaps the beauty that “launched a thousand ships” owed it all to the allure of a love ring made with a sapphire.
Merlin’s Unlucky Love Ring
According to The Lancelot-Grail, a major source of Arthurian legend, the wizard, Merlin was given a magical ring by a young enchantress named Vivian (also known as the Lady of the Lake). Although this legend has many different versions, according to one account, the magic in the ring causes Merlin to fall hopelessly in love with Vivian.
Vivian refuses to give Merlin her love until he teaches her all he knows about magic. Merlin does so, which gives Vivian new powers that enable her to trap him in the trunk of a tree, or under a stone (depending on the version of the story). Nevertheless, the ring of love was the beginning of the end for poor Merlin.
Pliny on Gold and Iron
The Romans were the first to use betrothal rings, which were usually made of iron or gold. Pliny (23-79 A.D.) was a famous Roman author and philosopher. In his most famous book, Naturalis Historia, he not only describes customs associated with rings in Roman culture, but he also details the healing properties of the metals these rings were made of.
On the curative effects of gold:
“Gold is efficacious as a remedy in many ways, being applied to wounded persons and to infants, to render any malpractices of sorcery comparatively innocuous that may be directed against them…[Gold reduced to ash can be] applied with water for the cure of lichens on the face: the best method of washing it off is with bean-meal. These [gold] ashes have the property also of curing fistulas and the discharges known as “hæmorrhoides:” with the addition, too, of powdered pumice, they are a cure for putrid ulcers and sores which emit an offensive smell. Gold, boiled in honey with melanthium and applied as a liniment to the navel, acts as a gentle purgative upon the bowels….gold is a cure for warts.”
On the curative effects of iron:
“Iron is employed in medicine for other purposes besides that of making incisions. For if a circle is traced with iron…it will preserve both infant and adult from all noxious influences…Some affections are cured by cauterization with red-hot iron, the bite of the mad dog more particularly; for even if the malady has been fully developed, and hydrophobia has made its appearance, the patient is instantly relieved on the wound being cauterized. Water in which iron has been plunged at a white heat, is useful, as a potion, in many diseases, dysentery more particularly.”
Even rusted iron had curative powers:
“Applied in the form of a liniment, it is curative of alopecy. Mixed with wax and myrtle-oil, it is applied to granulations of the eyelids, and pustules in all parts of the body, with vinegar it is used for the cure of erysipelas; and, applied with lint, it is curative of itch, whitlows on the fingers, and hang-nails. Used as a pessary with wool, it arrests female discharges. Diluted in wine, and kneaded with myrrh, it is applied to recent wounds, and, with vinegar, to condylomatous swellings. Employed in the form of a liniment, it alleviates gout.”
Saint Faith’s Miracle
Saint Faith’s legend recounts how she was arrested during the Roman persecutions of Christians and how she refused to make pagan sacrifices even after torture. Her death is said to have occurred in the year 287 or 290 or in the large-scale persecutions under Diocletian, which began in 303 A.D.
A study of Saint Faith (c. 1013) attributed to Bernard of Angers gives us an example of a story circulating at the time. In the story, a dying woman directs her husband to dedicate her wedding ring to the shrine of Saint Faith. Instead, the man uses the ring to wed a second woman.
As a result, Saint Faith made the finger of the new wife swell to an enormous size causing excruciating pain. The man and his new wife visit the Saint’s shrine and beg for her forgiveness and mercy. After three days, the woman has an occasion to blow her nose and much to her great relief, the ring flew off her finger.
Jewish Magic and Superstition
Jewish medicine from the 10th–15th centuries is rich in superstition and magic. In Joshua Trachtenberg’s (1939) survey called Jewish Magic and Superstition, the following treatment is prescribed for the safe delivery of babies:
“Sometimes the mere repetition of a magic “name” is sufficient to effect the cure, or the name is inscribed directly upon the person of the invalid, or is brought into action by means of a specially prepared amulet…[In one cure, we are instructed to] “inscribe this name on the woman’s wedding ring, and place it under her tongue, and say ten times, ‘Go out, you and all the company of your followers, and then I will go out.’ And then the child will be delivered.”
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Notes on Magical Rings
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535) was a German magician, occult writer, astrologer, and alchemist. His works and his person have been referenced by authors throughout the ages including Mary Shelley in her novel Frankenstein, as well as Christopher Marlowe and Soren Kierkegaard. In his famous book, The Philosophy of Natural Magic (edited by L. W. de Laurence, 1913), we are given insights into the lore of ancient magical love rings:
“In like manner Moses, the lawgiver and ruler of the Hebrews, being skilled in the Magic of the Egyptians, is said by Josephus to have made rings of love and oblivion. There was also, as saith Aristotle, amongst the Cireneans, a ring of Battus, which could procure love and honor.”
Levinus Lemnius’s Fainting Cure
Levinus Lemnius (1505-1568) was an influential Dutch physician whose occult-medical books were copied and translated for at least one hundred years after his death. He was quite religious, even becoming a priest later in life. His works attempted to reconcile natural philosophy with Christian doctrine while emphasizing fantastical elements.
In one of his works, he stated his practice of reviving women who had fainted by pinching the wedding ring finger and rubbing the wedding ring with saffron. This treatment was effective, in his opinion, because it relied on a vein in finger, the vena amoris, which lead directly to the heart.
Thaumaturgy and Wedding Rings
From the Renaissance onward, the study or performance of miracles and magic was called thaumaturgy and its practitioners, thaumaturges. Books published on the subject were often published anonymously or under a pseudonym. One example is a book titled Thaumaturgia, Or Elucidations Of The Marvellous, written by “an Oxonian” in 1835. From it we learn:
“The wedding ring rubbing upon that little abscess called the stye, which is frequently seen on the tarsi of the eyes, is said to remove it.”
Throughout history, there have been many Famous Love Rings | A Selection from History, and we cover them next.