Circles form the basis for a great many other symbols: the elements, infinity, the sun, planets, atoms, the zero, spiral, mandala, chakra, Zodiac, the egg, the womb, the great wheel of life, and more.
The circle is the most important geometric shape in spiritual and mystical thinking -- universally a symbol for the divine. It often represented ancient sun deities, probably the first of the gods conceived of by humankind.
Since it has no beginning and no end, it implies infinity and perfection, the wholeness of things. The movements of the planets, the rhythm of the days and seasons, suggest cosmic powers that are cyclical and eternal -- that is, circular in nature.
The vast circles traced by the motion of planets and stars in the skies above was reflected below in symbolic magic circles created by ceremonial walks or dances around fires, altars, sacred trees and maypoles.
The circle’s boundary forms an enclosure. It surrounds, suggesting protection as well as inclusion. The fencing or barricades surrounding ancient settlements were often circular, as were early dwellings. In her book, Amulets -- Sacred Charms of Power and Protection, Sheila Paine comments, “The idea that a circle protects from invasion is behind many a necklace of amulets…”
It’s the only geometrical form that is alike at all points, suggesting equality and democracy. This idea was promoted in the fable of King Arthur’s Round Table. Even today, a discussion that takes place at a round table is often intended to downplay or abolish hierarchical leadership. There are sewing circles, circles for healing, study, parents, etc., usually organized to provide peer group support.
The Circle in Jewelry
Rings and circles: nearly interchangeable terms. But we aren’t usually conscious of how rings (and in fact most jewelry) are linked to deeper meanings derived from their basic shape: the magical circle.
In jewelry, it’s especially in finger rings that the ancient circle symbolism lives on. The circle is a very old cultural archetype and when combined with the associations of a chosen gem, metal, engraving, etc., it can embody many layers of meaning and personal significance.
Though its origins are uncertain, one theory is that rings were originally used as seals. Ancient seals were cylindrical in shape and were first worn around the neck, then later reduced in size to be conveniently worn on the finger, such as Tutankhamen's seal ring (shown at right). A later evolution was the signet ring of European nobles. They were usually worn on the little finger, and pressed into wax to seal various documents with their authority.
In times past, when magic was woven into the fabric of life, all rings were amulets of power. They were sacred emblems of royalty and other kinds of authority, and were thought to have a protective and binding magic. For example, the coronation ring of the Kings of Scotland (c. 1660 or earlier) (shown at left) was presented for the new king to place on his finger, to symbolize his marriage to the land and his subjects.
Throughout history and in many cultures, rings were (and often still are) used to bestow and delegate power, and to symbolize vows and pledges of all kinds. This is thought to stem from the circle symbolism of enclosure (containing, binding) and endlessness (permanence, eternal continuity).
Today the most popular and most widely worn symbolic ring is the wedding ring. It represents many ideals of marriage derived from ancient circle magic, such as sanctity, completeness, enclosing security, the vow of permanence (“Till death do us part”) and the circle's associations with life.
The Romans of antiquity started the custom of wearing rings to signal betrothal and marriage. They assigned them to the third finger of the left hand, having adopted an ancient Egyptian belief in what the Romans called the vena amoris, a special vein that was said to be connected from that finger to the heart, an old and venerable symbol of love.
Ring Fingers in Palm Reading
The lore of palmistry adds another level of significance, depending upon whether we have mystical inclinations. It's believed that the fingers that we choose to wear rings on have different meanings and occult effects.
In the western tradition of palmistry, the ring fingers are assigned to different Roman deities that represent various characteristics and attributes. Wearing a ring on a particular finger is said to emphasize the qualities that it represents. When someone puts two rings on the same finger, it doubles the importance of that quality.
The Jupiter finger or index finger represents ego, ambition, leadership, authority. Is this why we use it to point with? Jupiter (Greek Zeus) was a thunderbolt-wielding sky god, ruler (and often father) of the other Roman gods.
The middle finger belongs to Saturn, Roman god of law and agriculture, and stands for responsibility, justice, ethics, role in life. It’s sometimes called the identity finger.
The little (pinky) finger represents communication, intuition, and cleverness. It’s the finger of Mercury, the messenger with winged sandals, the Roman god of trade, travel — and (I’m not sure why) thieves!
The thumb (not dedicated to a Roman god) represents independence, will and self-assertion. In the 16th century thumb rings were worn by physicians. In many cultures, a thumb ring was the hallmark of an archer. It was used to protect the flexed thumb as it pulled the bowstring before releasing the arrow. It is one of the oldest kinds of rings, and in dynastic China the archer’s thumb ring came to signify military rank.
The traditional Ring Finger is known as the finger of Apollo, and represents creativity and self-expression. Apollo was the Roman god of truth and prophecy, beauty and the arts. Many cultures view the ring finger as being particularly magical and best suited for wearing amulet rings. Even store-bought symbolic rings, such as those with your astrological sign, birthstone or even a general symbol like an ankh, are thought to bring good luck. But a special ring that is custom-designed to your individual specifications is believed to be a more powerful amulet.