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SATOR Squares

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Have you ever heard of a palindrome? It's a series of characters that are the same forward and backward. For example, "racecar" spelled backwards is still "racecar." This can also be applied to multiple words and can ignore punctuation, such as "Madam, I'm Adam."

It's one of those fun little treats in the linguistics world. It's hard to make a full-sentence palindrome that makes sense, with the last example being the rare exception. That doesn't stop people from trying, mostly just because it's kind of fun. But people in the past and in the current magical community used palindromes in a different way: for protection and to facilitate change through magical means.

The most famous example of this is the SATOR square. It's five words that can be read left-to-right, right-to-left, top-to-bottom, and bottom-to-top, making it a word square. This makes it more impressive than a typical palindrome, since most palindromes are not nearly so symmetrical.

This set of five five-lettered words comes to us from Latin. The earliest example we've found is in the remains of Pompeii and likely dates to the early first century CE.

So what does it mean? Well... we don't really know for certain. The best people can figure is something like "The farmer Arepo turns the wheel." The word "Arepo" is not recognized in Latin, so it's been assumed that it's a proper name or simply some letters thrown in to make the palindrome work. If we break down the words one by one and do a literal translation, we get something like "seeder Arepo holds/works wheel." So... yeah, I'd say "The farmer Arepo turns the wheel" is probably pretty accurate.

This is used in magic a couple different ways. One way is to facilitate change: Arepo is turning the wheel, which could be a metaphor for whatever your work is meant to achieve. By turning the wheel, Arepo is making your goal happen. The other way a SATOR square is commonly used is as a protection charm. It's thought that any negative spirits who try to harm you will get stuck reading the charm over and over again, since it's the same forwards and backwards. They won't know when to stop reading.

If you want to use a SATOR square for protection, my suggestion would be to write it on a Thursday during the hour of Jupiter and anoint it with something like Four Thieves vinegar. You could use a magical ink for an added boost. Play around with it to find out what works best for you.

Stay safe!

- me

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