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BOND OF THE WEDDING-RING.
And the subsequent story of that covenanting armring, fills thrilling pages in Norseland lore.1
Yet again, in the German cycle of the "Nibelungen Lied," Gotelind, the wife of Sir Rudeger, gives bracelets to the warrior-bard Folker, to bind him as her knightly champion in the court of King Etzel, to which he goes. Her jewel casket is brought to her. "From this she took twelve bracelets, and drew them o'er his hand; 'These you must take, and with you bear hence to Etzel's land, And for the sake of Gotelind the same at court must wear,
That I may learn, when hither again you all repair,
The lady's wish thereafter full well perform'd the knight.",
And when the fight waxed sore at the court of Etzel, the daring and dying Folker called on Sir Rudeger to bear witness to his bracelet-bound fidelity:
"For me, most noble margrave! you must a message bear; These bracelets red were given me late by your lady fair,
To wear at this high festal before the royal Hun.
View them thyself, and tell her that I've her bidding done."2
It would, indeed, seem, that from this root-idea of the binding force of an endless covenant, symbolized in the form, and in the primitive name, of the bracelet, the armlet, the ring,-there has come down to us the use of the wedding-ring, or the wedding-bracelet, and
1 See Anderson's Norse Mythol., p. 149; his Viking Tales, pp. 184, 237, 272 f.; Wood's Wedding Day in all Ages and Countries, p. 139. 2 Lettsom's Nibelungen Lied, pp. 299, 388.
of the signet-ring as the seal of the most sacred covenants. The signet-ring appears in earliest history. When Pharaoh would exalt Joseph over all the land of Egypt, "Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand." Similarly with Ahasuerus and Haman: "The king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman;" and the irrevocable decrees when written were sealed with the king's ring." When again Haman was deposed and Mordecai was exalted, "the king took off his ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai."2 The re-instatement of the prodigal son, in the parable, was by putting "a ring on his hand." And these illustrations out of ancient Egypt, Persia, and Syria, indicate a world-wide custom, so far. One's signetring stood for his very self, and represented, thus, his blood, as his life.
The use of rings, or bracelets, or armlets, in the covenant of betrothal, or of marriage, is from of old, and it is of wide-spread acceptance. References to it are cited from Pliny, Tertullian, Juvenal, Isidore; and traces of it are found, earlier or later, among the peoples of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Islands of the Sea. In Iceland, the covenanting-ring was large enough for the palm of the hand to be passed through;
1 Gen. 41: 41, 42. 2 Esther 3: 10-12; 8: 2. 3 Luke 15: 22. See Wood's Wedding Day; also Jones's Finger Ring Lore.
MARRIED TO A THUMB.
so, in betrothal "the bridegroom passed four fingers and his palm through one of these rings, and in this manner he received the hand of the bride." In Ireland, long ago, "a usual gift from a woman to her betrothed husband was a pair of bracelets made of her own hair"; as if a portion of her very self-as in the case of one's blood-entered into the covenant rite. Again in Ireland, as also among the old Romans, the wedding-ring was in the form of two hands clasped (called a “fede”) in token of union and fidelity.
Sometimes, in England, the wedding-ring was worn upon the thumb, as extant portraits illustrate; and as suggested in Butler's Hudibras:
"Others were for abolishing
That tool of matrimony, a ring,
With which the unsanctify'd bridegroom
Is marry'd only to a thumb."
In Southern's "Maid's Last Prayer," the heroine says: "Marry him I must, and wear my wedding-ring upon my thumb too, that I'm resolved." These thumb-weddings were said to be introduced from the East; and Chardin reports a form of marriage in Ceylon, by the binding together of the thumbs of the contracting parties; as, according to the classics, the thumbs were bound together in the rite of blood-covenanting. Indeed, the selection of the ring-finger for
1 Cited in Jones's Finger Ring Lore, p. 289.
3 Persian-und Ost-Indische Reise, II., 196.
See Ibid., pp. 87-90. 4 See pp. 59 f., 62, supra.
the wedding-covenant has commonly been attributed to the relation of that finger to the heart as the bloodcentre, and as the seat of life. "Aulus Gellius tells us, that Appianus asserts, in his Egyptian books, that a very delicate nerve runs from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart, on which account this finger is used for the marriage-ring." Macrobius says that in Roman espousals the woman put the covenant ring" on the third finger of her left hand [not counting the thumb], because it was believed that a nerve ran from that finger to the heart." And as to the significance of this point, it has been said: "The fact [of the nerve connection with the heart] has nothing to do with the question: that the ancients believed it, is all we require to know."1
Among the Copts of Egypt, both the blood and the ring have their part in the covenant of marriage. Two rings are employed, one for the bride and one for the bridegroom. At the door of the bridegroom's house, as the bride approaches it, a lamb or a sheep is slaughtered; and the bride must have a care to step over the covenanting-blood as she enters the door, to join the bridegroom. It is after this ceremony, that the two contracting parties exchange the rings, which are as the tokens of the covenant of blood.2
1 See Godwyn's Romanæ Historia, p. 69; Brewer's Dict. of Phrase and Fable, s. vv. "Ring," "Ring Finger"; Jones's Finger Ring Lore, p. 275. See also Appendix, infra. Lane's Mod. Egypt., II., 293.
THE RING IN THE CUP.
In Borneo, among the Tring Dayaks, the marriage ceremony includes the smearing with a bloody sword, the clasped hands of the bride and groom, in conjunction with an invoking of the protecting spirits. In this case, the wedding-ring would seem to be a bond of blood.
Again, in Little Russia, the bride gives to the bridegroom a covenanting draught in "a cup of wine, in which a ring has been put ";2 as if in that case the wine and the blood-bond of the covenant were commingled in a true assiratum.3 That this latter custom is an ancient one, would seem to be indicated by the indirect reference to it in Sir Walter Scott's ballad of "The Noble Moringer," a mediæval lay-where the long absent knight returns from the Holy Land just in time to be at the wedding-feast of his enticed wife. He appears unrecognized at the feast, as a poor palmer. A cup of wine is sent to him by the bride.
"It was the noble Moringer that dropped amid the wine A bridal ring of burning gold so costly and so fine: Now listen, gentles, to my song, it tells you but the sooth, 'Twas with that very ring of gold he pledged his bridal truth."
Clearly this was not the ring he gave at his bridal, but the one which he accepted, in the covenanting-cup, from his bride. The cup was carried back from the palmer to the bride, for her drinking.
1 See Bock's Head Hunters of Borneo, p. 221 f.
2 Finger Ring Lore, p. 174.
3 See page 63 f., supra.