The exchange of wedding rings as a sign of the marriage union has been practised for thousands of years. Among the earliest indications of the custom can be found in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that depict the wearing of wedding rings, but it is impossible to be certain when or where the practice really originated.
The ring is highly symbolic. Today it represents eternal love and commitment but in ancient cultures the meaning was much deeper. The ring was a symbol of eternity and reflected the constancy of the motion of the heavens and the never-ending cycle of the seasons. The ring also represented the passage of the sun and moon (as seen in the numerous stone circles made by the ancients and in their art). The sun and moon represent the male and female aspects of the cosmos, and this was represented in the preference of giving one spouse a gold band (associated with the sun) and the other a silver one (associated with the moon).
Even today, there is some paranormal significance attached to the wedding ring. In many religious marriage ceremonies, the ring is blessed to protect the wearer and to signify that the marriage is sanctified in the eyes of God. And, the customary wearing of the ring on the third finger of the left hand also has mystical connotations.
The Romans, and possibly even the Egyptians, believed that the ring finger, as it has become known, contained a vein – the vena amoris – that ran directly from the finger to the heart. Even though there is no evidence that such a vein exists the practice of wearing the wedding ring on that finger is still almost universal in the Western world.
But there are other schools of thought. One is that each finger is astrologically linked to a heavenly body and the ring finger of the left hand is associated with the sun; hence the wearing of gold – the traditional metal of the sun – on that finger. The finger is also associated with the Greek god Apollo who, among other attributes, was said to be the god of light and the sun.
Traditional wedding rings take the form of a simple gold band and these are still enormously popular. They have an enduring beauty and elegance that is hard to resist. Some modern couples, however, prefer to move away from the traditional and often like to incorporate gemstones like diamonds in their rings. Also becoming more popular are rings of Celtic design. These stunning rings have an open geometric pattern that is a stylised depiction of vines and other flora so often found in traditional Celtic art.
Whatever the ancient or traditional meanings of the wedding ring, it is today a token of love, given freely as a symbol of the eternal bonding of two people in marriage. It is a public statement of commitment to another and a personal reminder of that commitment. It should be worn with love and pride.
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