A ring on which there is an impression of a device is called a signet. They were far more common among the ancients than they are among the moderns, although they are still used by many persons. Formerly, as is the custom at this day in the East, letters were never signed by the persons who sent them; and their authenticity depended solely on the impression of the signets which were attached to them.
So common was their use among the ancients, that Clement of Alexandria, while forbidding the Christians of the second century to deck their fingers with rings, which would have been a mark of vanity, makes an exception in favor of signet rings. "We must wear," he says, "but one ring, for the use of a signet; all other rings we must east aside." Signets were originally engraved altogether upon stone; and Pliny says that metal ones did not come into use until the time of Claudius Caesar.
Signets are constantly alluded to in Scripture. The Hebrews called them nosed Sabaoth, and they appear to have been used among them from an early period, for we find that when Judah asks Tamar (Genesis xxxviii, 18) what pledge he shall give her she replies, "Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand."
They were worn on the finger, generally the index finger, and always on the right hand, as being the most honorable; thus (Jeremiah xxu, 24) we read: "As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniall, the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence."
The signets of the ancients were generally sculptured with religious symbols or the heads of their deities. The sphinx and the sacred beetle were favorite signets among the Egyptians. The former was adopted from that people by the Roman Emperor Augustus. The Babylonians followed the same eustom, and many of their signets, remaining to this day, exhibit beautifully sculptured images of BaalBerith and other Chaldean deities.
The impression from the signet-ring of a King gave the authority of a Royal Decree to any document to which it was affixed; and hence the delivery or transfer of the signet to anyone made him, for the time the representative of the King, and gave him the power of using the royal name.
SIGNET OF TRUTH
The signet of Zerubbabel, used in the instructions of the Royal Arch Degree, is also there called the Signet of Truth, to indicate that the neophyte who brings it to the Grand Council is in search of Divine Truth, and to give to him the promise that he will by its power speedily obtain his reward in the possession of that for which he is seeking. The Signet of Truth is presented to the aspirant to assure him that he is advancing in his progress to the attainment of truth, and that he is thus invested with the power to pursue the search.
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