Why the left hand?

Why do we wear a wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand?

Why do we use the third finger of the left hand?

A wedding ring is sort of a tourniquet worn on one's finger to stop circulation (Anon)

As pointed out on our main page about wedding rings, circles have always enjoyed a universal perception of having strong magical properties. And with such magical power, a ring around the heart would surely protect a person from evil spirits. It doesn't work of course, but that's superstition, folks.

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Long, long ago, before Cartier and Mikimoto, people believed the third finger had a vein running directly to the heart. And as the left hand is a bit closer to the heart than the right, they placed wedding rings on the third finger of the left hand. 

In chiromancy (a combination of astrology and palmistry) the third (Apollo) finger relates to the heart. Wearing a ring on that finger would not only protect the heart from evil spirits, but also enhance the life of the wearer by transmitting energy to the heart.

Quacks were interested in such metaphysical stuff and it was the custom for physicians, herbalists and other healers, to use their third finger when applying medicinal ointment or powder to their patients. Using this finger strengthened the effectiveness of the cure.

The practice was pretty much universal. Japanese call the ring-finger kusuri-yubi, in German Arzt-Finger, in Latin digitus medicinalis and in Old Anglo-Saxon it was called lech-man. All those terms translate to 'medical finger' and it was considered as such because:

  1. Long ago doctors applied medical ointment with this finger.

    Patient: "It hurts when I press here, here, and here."

    Doctor: "You've broken your finger"

    Sure, any finger could have been used but this finger seems 'natural' because the hand can be steadied by the middle finger and the little finger whilst applying the medicine.

    Being closer to the thumb, the first and second fingers are used a lot for other things, so the third finger, being less used and weaker, is slightly more sensitive to touch, making it more suitable for delicate tasks like applying ointment.


  2. Long ago people believed that a nerve or vein ran directly from this finger to the heart.

    Did Roman paramedics refer to IV's as 4's?

    Roman doctors called this vena amoris - the vein of love. If medicine was applied by this finger, then the medicine would be enhanced by the mystical energy of the physician's heart.

    Medicine has its roots in magic (medico - to heal by magic) and the German Arzt (physician) originally meant magician.


  3. If medicine is applied to this finger, then the medicine would shoot directly to the heart.

    Nice idea.


  4. In the Middle Ages, the wedding ring was worn on the right thumb, until King James VI levied a tax on people wearing wedding rings. He defined a 'wedding ring' as "...the bridelope of the riht puma...". To avoid paying tax, people moved their wedding rings to their left ring-finger.

    Yes, we've just made that up.

¶ Nobody really knows why the third finger is used, but whatever the original reasoning was, this finger became rather special and the natural choice to bear a wedding ring.

Interestingly (well, OK, maybe not so interesting), recent studies. suggest that the length of the ring-finger, relative to the length of other fingers, is determined by the prenatal exposure to higher levels of testosterone. And higher levels of testosterone can affect one's ability in sport, language acquisition, susceptibility to autism, analytical superiority, sexual orientation, visual-motor skills, etc. A much greater brain-shaping influence is likely to be one's experiences, opportunities and environment, but the ring-finger length ratio remains an appealing study for psychologists.

Some cultures have different traditions. The Irish, for example, have an interesting 'code', where the position of a ring can send a subtle message to prospective suitors. (See Claddagh Ring.)

As most people are right-handed, the right hand is used more frequently for work, so not as touch-sensitive as the left. And because the right hand does more work, it poses a greater risk of damage to any jewellery. Watchmakers put the winder on the right hand side of the watch face, because most people wear their watches on the 'safer' left wrist. A groom stands to the right of his bride so his stronger right arm is free to ward off potential kidnappers. (Jewish weddings see the groom standing to the left, based on Ps. 45:9)

¶ There is no right or wrong way to wear a wedding ring, and the wedding ring has no magical properties where-ever it is worn. It is, however, a way for you to show the world that you have found a loving partner, a friend with whom you can share the rest of your life.

Return to Wedding rings page

Some people (Colombians, Germans, Greeks, Norwegians, Peruvians, Poles, Russians, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Venezuelans, for example) wear their wedding rings on the right hand, since that is considered more righteous.

The first and second fingers tend to be the busiest for pianists, stringed-instrument players, and brass instrumentalists. For the rest of us untalented people, they are traditionally used for fingers crossed.

The Finger Book by John Manning, published by Faber and Faber, ISBN: 9780571215393


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