Supposed cursed items and places come in all shapes and sizes, and it seems like pretty much anything is capable of being endowed with malevolent power under the right circumstances. Throughout the ages there have been everything from cursed tombs, to cursed paintings, to even cursed books, and many, many more. Here we are going to talk about cursed rings. Magical rings themselves have a prominent place in folklore, legend, and fiction, but are there any real rings that are actually cursed? Let’s take a look.
One of the most infamous of supposedly cursed rings is perhaps the very one that inspired “The One Ring to Rule Them All” when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his beloved Middle Earth books. The tale begins in 1785, on what was probably a normal day for a farmer out just ploughing his field near Silchester, in Hampshire, England. As the farmer toiled away just like any other day, he noticed something there amongst the broken earth, something shining and glinting in the sun, which turned out to be a large and heavy ring fashioned of gold, bearing ten facets upon its band and the letters “VE” and “NVS” on different sides, written in mirror writing suggesting that it was a signet ring meant to be used to stamp documents, as well as an inscription that reads “”SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE,” which translates to “Senicianus live well in God.”
When this rather mysterious ring was analyzed by experts, it was speculated to have been of Roman origin, dating back to the 4th century and probably meant to be worn over a glove considering its unwieldy size. How it got into that remote field was anyone’s guess, and although the area was within the area of the ancient Iron Age Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, no one really knew why it had ended up discarded there or who it had actually belonged to. It would go on to be sold to the wealthy Chute Family and fall into obscurity for many years. Indeed, it would not be until 1929 that any new information would illuminate the enigmatic, forgotten ring, when some curious and rather sinister details were found related to a completely unrelated archeological dig that had been conducted in the early 19th century just 80 miles away at a site called Lydney, in Gloucestershire, more commonly referred to as “Dwarf Hill.” Here there had been unearthed a lead tablet at the site of a Roman temple dedicated to the god Nodens, and bearing a rather ominous inscription that read:
For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one half [its worth] to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens.
At the time it had been found no one was really sure what it meant, only that it seemed to be without a doubt some kind of curse aimed at someone named Senicianus, who had stolen the ring of this Silvianus fellow, written down on a type of ancient Roman curse tablet known as a defixio. That was the end of it for decades, with both the ring and the tablet sort of collecting dust until in 1929 archeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler uncovered the tablet and made the connection between it and the name inscribed upon the ring. It seemed fairly obvious that that ring found in the field was the very same stolen one that the tablet spoke of, but Wheeler was not familiar with the name Nodens, and so approached none other than J.R.R. Tolkien, who at the time was working as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. It is highly speculated that what has now come to be known as the Ring of Silvianus, with its inscription and sinister curse, may have influenced Tolkien’s writing and been shaped to become the One Ring of Middle Earth in his books.
It is unclear of how cursed the Ring of Silvianus actually is, but it certainly seemed to have cut Senicianus’ journey short there at Silchester. Whether it is imbued with the dark magic of an angry Roman god or not, the ring is noteworthy in that if this is true it gives a rare piece of physical evidence of a source for Tolkien’s work, as he almost always drew inspiration from intangible legends and literature. Indeed, the Dwarf Hill site where the tablet was found is also thought to have helped to inspire Tolkien’s vision of his Dwarves. In 2013, the Ring of Silvianus was put on display for the first time, along with the inscription of the curse tablet and various memorabilia from the Tolkien Society, so you can go see it for yourself. Just beware if you find yourself mumbling “My precious” as you gaze upon it.
Although it is unknown just how potent the supposed curse of the Ring of Silvianus is, or whether it ever was really able to achieve its dark mission through magical means at all, other such cursed rings definitely seem to have had potent sinister powers. In 1903 there were newspaper stories in both the Southland Times and the Marlborough Express, which gave the account of a man called M. Mace, who had been Chief of the Detective Police of Paris from 1879 to 1884, and who also had a rather bizarre tale to tell. He allegedly claimed that over the course of around 50 years there had been a total of five corpses that had turned up at the Paris Morgue, oddly all wearing the same exact ring. All of the bodies had had no noticeable connection to each other, and the ring was of such a unique and distinct design that it surely had to be the very same one. How had these different disparate people come into the possession of the ring and why had they all ended up dead? No one knew.
Apparently baffled police approached the relatives of the last corpse that came in wearing it, and they claimed that the ring had once been cursed to kill whoever wore it. It is an odd detail to the tale, as it seems strange that not only should the family of the last victim know about the curse, but that the victim would have been wearing it at all had he been aware of the supposed curse. There is also the fact that there was apparently never a Paris Chief of Detective Police by the name of M. Mace during that time period, meaning that this was either a mistake on the part of the reporter or that is was merely a piece of sensational fake news in an era that had much of this. Whatever the case may be, the “Cursed Ring of the Paris Morgue” is a strange little historical oddity nevertheless.
Another one of these sinister and lethal rings would be what has come to be called The Destiny Ring, which was owned by the Hollywood movie star Rudolph Valentino back in the 1920s. The Italian born Valentino was a mega star back in the era of silent films, and everything was looking up for him until he one day wandered into a pawn shop in San Francisco and a ring caught his fancy, simple in its design, not flashy at all by movie star standards, but for some reason calling out to the actor, who bought it even after the shop owner warned him not to, saying it was cursed.
The details of why it was supposedly cursed or the origins of the ring itself are shrouded in mystery, but its alleged ominous effects could supposedly be seen almost immediately. Shortly after purchasing the ring, Valentino, who had had hit after hit in the past, experienced a series of catastrophic flops, his career nosediving as he developed bleeding ulcers that required surgery, ending with a severe infection that would kill him at the age of just 31. According to the lore he was wearing the ring when he died. After Valentino’s death, his girlfriend, actress Pola Negri, acquired it and she too almost immediately fell gravely ill and although she survived her career spiraled downhill until she was a nobody.
This was not even the end of the sinister curse of the Destiny Ring, and it continued its dark work as it passed on to a singer by the name of Russ Colombo, who promptly got himself shot in a tragic accident. Colombo’s friend, Joe Casino then got hold of the insidious ring, which he kept in a case with no ill effects for several weeks. As soon as he put it on, he stepped out of his home and was fatally crushed by an oncoming truck. Casino’s brother then inherited the ring, and by this time it was gaining a bit of an ominous reputation as being nothing but trouble, so he had it locked away in a safe. It probably would have stayed there forever and been forgotten if it weren’t for a thief who broke into the home and stole the ring, shortly after which police arrived and shot the would be thief to death.
The ring ended up back in the safe, and was once again sort of forgotten, its curse satiated for the time being and with no further incidents, until the movie director Edward Small came along and wanted to use it as a prop in a biography film about Valentino, with the late actor being played by a Jack Dunn. When filming commenced Dunn put on the diabolical ring to film his scenes, and just about 2 weeks later he developed a rare blood disease that would kill him. The ring ended its reign of terror at a bank vault in Los Angeles, presumably still waiting for its next victim. Since then, the story of Valentino’s cursed ring has become almost legendary, and author and journalist Alyse Wax, who wrote on the eerie events, would say of the whole odd story:
I do not know (exactly) where it came from, nor do I know where it is now. I believe that the actual events took place; however, I do not believe the ring is cursed. I don’t really believe in curses. I think it was a string of unfortunate incidents that people attach to a physical object. Despite the fact that I don’t believe in curses, it is quite a remarkable sequence of events, and I don’t blame anyone for believing in a curse. The timing is just eerie.
Adding to the spooky lore hanging over Valentino’s ring are various details such as that the ring can’t be destroyed and that many who have tried to steal it have ended up dead, as well as rumors that the one kept at the bank is a fake and that the real one is still out there up to no good. There are even stories that the ring is so cursed that even paintings of Valentino wearing it or photos of the ring bring misfortune, somehow permeated by its deadly power. Valentino himself has gone on to become a sort of paranormal mystery himself, with his ghost said to be frequently seen near his grave or wandering around Paramount Studios, and even his beloved dog Kabar is said to appear as a spectral hound at the L.A. Pet Cemetery where he was buried.
What are we to make of these scary tales? Can an object truly hold within it some malicious energy or be imbued with dark powers from beyond our understanding? Do these rings perhaps hold some ability to retain these swirling ominous powers and lash out at those around them? Curses are a difficult phenomenon to know what to make of at the best of times. It can be hard to provide any solid link to these tragedies and the object in question, almost impossible to prove a direct causal relationship, to discern dark coincidence from true paranormal activity, all made even murkier by tall tales and exaggerations that tend to flock about such tales. Yet magic rings or not, at the very least we have some interesting historical oddities and fuel for the imagination.