So a couple of interesting photos from Jim Halverson today, where you can see what looks like Amish women wearing rings. This first is from a recent auction in Clare, Michigan:
And here’s another, also from an event at Clare (2020) – the woman in purple:
Now, when looking closer, I must admit it occurred to me that the woman with the bags could perhaps have part of the bag looped through her fingers, to give the appearance of a ring.
However, that would be an odd way to carry the bag, and the thickness of what we see on her finger does not match to the thickness of the bag material, in my opinion.
And more importantly, Jim states that it is “definitely a ring”, and that he observed it several times during the event.
And in the first photo, could that be a part of her kapp string looped through her finger in a similar manner? I considered that, but it seems that if that were the case, the kapp string would lay considerably shorter than the other one. Additionally, the physical angle would appear to be off.
And in both photos, the finger is the same, the ring finger.
Some Amish DO wear rings: a special exception
So you may have heard that the Amish don’t wear jewelry like wedding rings, necklaces, etc. This is true.
Jewelry is generally seen as an adornment drawing attention to or enhancing physical beauty, which Amish discourage, given that it can lead to pride. Thus the Amish do not exchange wedding rings, or wear other pieces of jewelry (now, if it’s a young Amish woman during Rumspringa we’re talking about, it’s possible).
So that said, what’s going on in these photos?
Well, in some of the more traditional communities, some Amish do wear copper rings or bracelets for health purposes (specifically to counter arthritis). For example, Karen Johnson-Weiner mentions bracelet wearing for this purpose in New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State when discussing another unconventional health practice, pain-pulling (see page 70).
I have actually never seen (or just didn’t notice) this before, and I’ve never seen photos either, so I’m glad Jim is able to provide some visual illustration.
Now again, this is one practice among the many health and wellness practices found across the diverse groups within Amish society. Some of which can be termed more conventional – and others unconventional, “folk” or alternative practices.
In the book The Amish, the authors capture this gap in this brief sentence:
Some Amish people wear copper rings to ward off arthritis, go to unlicensed Amish “doctors” for care, and have their teeth pulled to avoid the need for future dental care, while members of other Amish groups dismiss such practices as foolhardy. (The Amish. Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, & Nolt, pp. 336-337).
Of course, this type of thing is not seen only among the Amish. One of my loved ones wears an amber ring also for supposed health purposes.
So, if you notice something like this, this is probably what you are seeing.
In both photos above, you can tell by the women’s style of dress that they are from plainer groups, though I can’t say for sure which. Events like certain auctions will draw a diverse group of Amish from different communities with widely varying practices.
Thanks to Jim for sharing these visuals of a lesser-known health practice found among some Amish.
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I commend the Amish for not wearing jewelry of any kind, especially pertaining to weddings/engagements, so this would be quite surprising if they were wearing rings. I have always personally disliked jewelry and can appreciate the Amish point of view that it can lead to pride. That said, I certainly don’t deny a person’s right to wear jewelry and can admire the artistry and work that goes into making a piece of jewelry, at least that which is handmade. I don’t want to bluntly state that I’m “disappointed” since the plastic bag controversy of a previous post by Erik which expressed a reader’s “disappointment” started a long winded discussion leading off into other topics not related to the idea of using plastic bags to sell popcorn. Perhaps if they are rings the women in question perhaps want to see what wearing a ring is like, but I’m sure if it continued and they are baptized members of the church, their bishop might have to remind them to take them off and put them away, at least around other members.
Well here it’s really a health thing, not a vanity thing, so it’s going to be accepted in some places (while it’s not 100% clear, these appear to be church-member-age women). There are other accounts of church member Amish wearing them (male as well). So I don’t expect the bishop would be telling them to put them away in this case. I think this is just another example of how Amish practices can vary, like Walter’s comment below suggests.
I grew up in a Swartzentruber Amish setting. Copper rings amongst the youth were very common in our circles. We did not view “finger rings” (as we called them) as jewelry. Even though that is the real reason we wore them.
I remember us boys polishing our rings during church services by rubbing them against our rubber shoe soles. . Some families didn’t allow them. But I don’t remember the issue ever being a controversial one.
Interesting Andy, in your community would people put them away once joining church, or continue to wear them?
Your comment “Even though that is the real reason we wore them” reminds me a little bit of the idea of house decor being visually attractive as long as it is an item with a purpose (like a calendar, clock or china).
I may change my observation that a generality about Amish is probably wrong. It might be more accurate to say “All absolutes about the Amish are wrong.” I too am a bit surprised but not shocked to see this. I do think it would be interesting to ask a respectful question… perhaps one more thing we can learn from the Amish is to be comfortable with uncertainty.
A good question to consider. What are the “Amish absolutes”? Not talking about cases where one person deviates from the norm, but which all Amish churches would share in common. Obviously core theological ideas like belief in Jesus as Lord, and so on, would qualify. But cultural things – I think you could include plain clothing and appearance for one. I was going to say horse-and-buggy travel, though Pinecraft throws a little wrench in that one.