Popular Superstitions - A Ring Superstition
( Originally Published 1884 )
Popular superstitions are always worth recording ; they illustrate tradition, and exemplify manners. I do not remember to have ever seen mention of a notion which prevails in Berkshire, and, for aught I know, in other parts of England that a ring, made from a piece of silver collected at the communion, is a cure for convulsions and fits of every kind. A woman in my parish, which is in Berkshire, applied to me for a shilling on Easter Sunday, in the hope of deriving benefit from the effect of a ring to be made from it by a blacksmith in or near the town. As I was convinced she was not influenced by any mercenary motive, but had really confidence in the remedy, I took care not to deprive her of such benefit, at least, as she might derive from her imagination. I have not yet heard of the success of the donation ; but have since understood that the superstition prevails very generally in the neighbourhood ; and shall be obliged to any of your correspondents who can inform me of its operation in any other parts of England. The notion should seem to originate from Popish ideas of the Eucharist.
In answer to B. b. p. 433, I can inform him that, about two years ago, I was applied to for silver to make a ring for a young girl of the place where I live (Gloucestershire), but not in the same way your correspondent was. The girl's mother came to me ; and, after a prelude of " Sir, I hope you will excuse my boldness !" " I do not wish to offend you !" " I beg your pardon for troubling you !" etc., etc., with a great many more introductory phrases, which almost put me out of countenance, not being able to guess what dreadful tale she would unfold at length she said that her daughter, a young girl in her teens, was very much troubled with convulsion fits. " Well!" cried I, a little recovered from the surprise she had occasioned, "do you mistake me for a doctor ?" " No, sir, but I came to beg that you will collect five sixpences of five different batchelors, which you will be so good as to convey by the hands of a batchelor to a smith who is a batchelor, for him to make a ring for my daughter, to cure her fits." Thus the mighty business was out. It was to be kept a profound secret ; not the persons who gave the money were to know what for or whom they gave it to. I did as desired; and, behold ! it cured the girl. This I can affirm. Now, Mr. Urban, I think with your correspondent B. b., that it must be the power of imagination entirely that did this. I have since known more instances with the same effect, though differing as to the number of sixpences, some taking three, seven, or nine, to make the ring.
R. C. observes that the superstition respecting sacrament rings, p. 433, is not confined to Berkshire ; he has heard of it in a county t00 miles north of Berks. That it occurs in Gloucestershire, see, in the present month, p. 597. Norfolciensis also has sent us some instances of it in Norfolk ; and A Rustic Swain of others in Sussex.
In your excellent Repository for May, p. 433, is a letter from a Berkshire correspondent respecting a superstitious custom which obtains in his neighbourhood, of applying a piece of silver collected at the Communion to the cure of convulsions, when worn as a ring. In answer to his queries, I beg leave to inform him that we have in Devonshire a custom very similar, and made use of for the same purpose. The materials are, however, different; with us the ring must be made of three nails or screws which have been used to fasten a coffin, and must be dug out of the churchyard. The force of imagination in a case which I recollect produced a temporary cure; and the patient, having unfortunately lost her ring, was so shocked at her misfortune, as she thought it, that her spasms returned, and were cured again by procuring another ring made of the same materials. I should be most ready to ascribe the origin of these superstitious customs, the rings, the touch of a dead man's hand, etc., to the same source.