A few years back when I was just getting interested in pagan spirituality I got a book from the library on Wicca. In it was an initiation ceremony, I think a Gardnerian one, one that was handed down from some teacher who wasn’t around to explain quite what he meant anyway. One line in it was that the initiate should be there ‘not bound and not free’. This puzzled the author of the book. They didn’t quite get what was meant, they admitted, but their solution was to tie them up sort of loosely. This seemed to me an unsatisfactory solution. It was a very deliberate phrase in the instructions, one of those that stick in the memory (to the point it is about the only thing in the book I remember now). I thought it was one of those mystical puzzles that would come clear if the right kind of thought was applied to it, so I filed it away in the part of my mind that works on such things and waited for it to report back with a solution. Whilst reading ‘Tolkien’s Ring’ by David Day, it did so. Here’s what I read:

There is one ancient Greek myth that tells of the forging of the first ring. The tale begins at the dawn of time, long before humans or even gods existed. In fact, the story of the first ring is bound up with the tale of the coming of the gods and the creation of man.

The Titans were the first race to rule the primeval world. They were the giant sons and daughters of Gaea, who is Mother Earth. Titans were tall as the hills and both wise and strong. They also possessed magic powers with which they brought forth unlimited wealth and bounty.

The Titans gave birth to many children: sons and daughters who became the spirits of rivers and forests. All nature was animated by their offspring: the nymphs of the sea, the mermaids, the naiads, the satyrs and the sylphs.

One of the wisest of the Titans was gifted with the art of prophecy, and for this reason was named Prometheus, which means ‘foresighted’. By this gift Prometheus had foreknowledge of the end of this age. He saw that by craft and cunning the Titans would be overthrown by the lesser race of the gods. Furthermore, he knew that his own fate was to be different from that of his soon-to-be-vanquished race; that it was to be bound up with that of these youthful gods.

When the war between the Titans and the gods was fought, it all but consumed the world. For ten long years the terror of that war racked the earth. From the height of Olympus, Zeus the storm god hurled down his thunderbolts, while his brother Poseidon the sea god with his trident commanded the earth to quake. Rock ran in molten rivers. The sea boiled. Steam and flame filled the air. Great canyons gaped and continents split and shifted. Yet with their strength and magicians’ powers, the Titans stood and fought the gods with glittering armour and shining spears. But valiant though they were, the Titans were overwhelmed by the gods. They were blasted by thunderbolts and the earth was rent from under them, causing them to fall into the deep pits of Tartarus where cruel Hades the god of the Underworld ruled and none could escape.

The Titan Prometheus was not condemned to such a fate as his brother, Atlas, who eternally held the weight of the heavens on his shoulders; nor indeed was he placed on the wheel of fire like Ixion; nor crushed by the weight of stone like Sisyphus; nor drowned in the abysmal boiling sea like many other Titans. Prometheus had taken no part in the war against the gods, and though he grieved for his people, he long had known their fate.

Prometheus went among the new gods and gave these harsh new rulers gifts of wisdom and knowledge. Prometheus turned his hand more and more to the arts of shaping metals and the substances of the earth he loved. He chose as a companion the lame son of Zeus called Hephaestos, the least haughty and overbearing of the gods. To Hephaestos he brought the fire and the forge, and with that god shared his deep knowledge of the earth. In the volcanic hearts of mountains Prometheus taught Hephaestos the skills of the forging of metals. There they forged jewelled crowns, sceptres and golden thrones for the gods of Olympus. They made bright weapons and armour blessed with magical powers. Hephaestos the Smith soon became so valued by Zeus that he gave the lame god the hand of Aphrodite, the beautiful goddess of love, in marriage.

Yet far-seeing Prometheus had also employed other crafts in his delving and forging. For the skills of the magician as well as the smith were endowed to those of the Titan race, so that in time the secret of life itself came to him. And, as is well known, Prometheus was the deity who shaped men from clay and breathed into them the breath of life. Furthermore, it was Prometheus who brought to men the gift of fire, for in the beginning they lived in darkness. With this gift of fire came also the light of wisdom and the heat of unquenchable desire, and all the things that make men greater than beasts and cause them to strive to achieve immortal fame.

The Olympian gods were greatly displeased, for they wished no rivals in the world, and claimed that Prometheus had given to the mortals what the gods alone should possess. Yet the act could not be undone and the fire could not be quenched. In wrath, Zeus commanded Hephaestos to forge a great chain of unbreakable adamantine, the iron of the gods. Then he commanded that Prometheus be take into the Asian wilderness among the White Mountains between Scythia and Cimmeria, and upon the mountain called the Caucasus be chained. To that rock, Zeus swore, Prometheus would forever be bound. To Prometheus, Zeus sent a great eagle and a vulture of immense size. By these cruel birds, Prometheus’s side was pierced and his liver torn out. Each night his liver grew again, only to be torn from him the next day. To him also came the fiery sun and the freezing rain and hail. Thus, like his brethren beneath the earth, Prometheus was filled with eternal pain.

Yet Prometheus endured and did not repent his deeds. By night came many nymphs, sylphs and spirits who grieved for him and sang soothing songs. Even some few of the race of men dared come to that terrible wilderness and seek his counsel. Yet none had the strength to break his bonds, and he seemed forever doomed to this torture.

As the long ages passed, it is said that the gods became less cruel, and though their treatment of men was not always fair or good, many among that mortal race they came to favour and even love. Between gods and men there grew a bond and a union, and from that union came many offspring. Mightiest of all of these was Heracles, the son of Zeus.

Zeus had come at last to regret his punishment of Prometheus. However, he was restrained by his own unbreakable oath of eternal bondage. However, when Heracles went into the Asian wilderness, Zeus did not drive him away from the White Mountains and allowed him to seek out Prometheus. Zeus knew that only Heracles possessed the strength to break the chains of adamantine, and the courage to slay the eagle and the vulture.

When Prometheus was at last freed, Zeus spoke to him in a voice of thunder. Zeus swore that he would both keep his oath of bondage, yet allow Prometheus to keep his freedom. So Zeus took from the chain of adamantine a broken link, and from Mount Caucasus he took a fragment of rock. With his immortal hand, Zeus welded the stone to the link. He then took the hand of Prometheus and about his finger he closed the link of adamantine. By this device Zeus kept his oath to chain the Titan to the rock of Caucasus forever, and yet he fulfilled his promise to let Prometheus walk free.

This was how the first ring was made. Afterwards, it is said, men came to wear rings to honour Prometheus, the bringer of fire and the father of man. It is claimed that the ring is a sign of the smith who is master of fire, and the magician who is master of life. And those who are kings of men wear the ring as a sign of their descent from Prometheus and the Titans who once ruled the earth.

There is more, but this bit has the lightbulb point. Rings have been used for centuries to signify being part of a secret society, to hold magical power, as a secret sign or seal, and to make seperate people part of a whole. One who wears a ring is not bound but not free, part of a covenant, or in this case coven, but not losing their individuality or free will.

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