Day 267: The SATOR Charm (part 2)


Sator Square in a wall of the old district of Oppède in France’s Luberon

In today’s practice, Roderick teaches us the SATOR or ROTAS square as our first magical defense. This amulet of sorts is the Latin palindrome SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS (alternately ROTAS OPERA TENET AREPO SATOR) which when written in a square becomes a four-times palindrome. In other words, the phrase remains a palindrome whether it is read top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, left-to-right, or right-to-left. When the squares are found with SATOR as the first line, they are called SATOR squares. ROTAS squares are, of course, squares where ROTAS is the first word.

The Paternoster Cross

The Paternoster Cross, which incorporates all the letters of the SATOR square.

The earliest confirmed square was found written on a column near the amphitheatre in the ruins of Pompeii, which was buried by Mt. Vesuvius’s ash in 79 CE. Between the sixth century and nine­teenth centuries, the charm found a home in Christianity, possibly because each of the Ts (or crosses) in the square are flaked by an A and an O, or an Alpha and Omega, and therefore has an immediately obvious Christian appearance. Moreover, an anagram for the palindrome forms a cross of “paternosters” flanked by Alphas and Omegas, as seen on the right. In later years, the SATOR square is found in Bibles, scrolls and inscribed in the masonry across many churches and monestaries in Europe between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, and in the later years of this span it began to be ascribed protective powers. Some call it a protection for women in childbirth, others say it protects against fire. Two early books, De Varia Quercus Historia, by Jean du Choul, and De Rerum Varietate, by Jérôme Cardan, a medical astrologer, note that the square acts as a charm against insanity and fever. By the end of the Middle Ages, the square had become incorporated in other aspects of Christian mythology, too. Many sources adopted these words as names for the five wounds Christ suffered upon the cross. In tenth century Cappadocia, the shepherds of the Nativity story acquired the names SATOR, AREPON, and TENETON, and an earlier Byzantine bible names the three Magi, ATOR, SATOR, and PERATORAS.

Despite the square’s massive Christian adoption, no one is really sure where the square originated. Its discovery at Pompeii gives doubt to its origin as a Christian one, for it is highly unlikely the city had a large Christian population at the time of Vesuvius’s eruption. There is some speculation as to whether the SATOR square had a Mithraic or Jewish origin, but it also very likely that the palindrome is thoroughly Roman. The Roman gentry were fond of composing palindromes, and their composition could be considered a word game much in the same way upper-middle class Americans labor over the New York Times crossword puzzle. This square could easily have just been some Roman’s crowning achievement in the game. It may also be, though, that the Romans saw some protective power in this peculiar palindrome.  In the 1950s, M. Jérôme Carcopino studied a Hungarian inscription of the square from Aquincum where the inscription was preceded by some partially effaced words.  The words Roma tibi are clear on one line, and the letters ta are clear on a second.  Carcopino hypothesized the complete phrase would read as “Roma tibi salus ita“, which would mean something like “So that Rome is healthy: SQUARE.”  This implies that the display of the square would magically work to keep the Empire safe and strong.

Unlike any other four-times palindrome that I’ve been able to find, the SATOR square has the additional power of being a grammatically correct and complete sentence, often translated as “The sower Arepo holds the wheels with care” or “The sower Arepo holds the wheels with effort.”  Sator is a noun meaning either sower/planter or an originator/founder or a divine progenitor.  Arepo is a hapax legomenon, so its meaning is unclear.  It is very likely that it is a made-up proper name used for the sake of the palindrome.  It might also be a truncation of the Latin word arrepo, which is a verb meaning “to creep towards,” and Carcopino has hypothesized that it is connected to the Gaelic word for “plough”.  The verb Tenet means to hold/keep, to comprehend, to possess, to have mastery over, or to preserve.  Opera means work, care, aid, service, or an effort or trouble, and Rotas means a wheel or rotating.  The connotations of some of these words have led to some more profound translations than the literal one.  Some have hypothesized that the wheels this Arepo holds are akin to the “celestial spheres” the ancients thought surrounded the earth and which held all the elements of the universe.  This, then, seems to weight our Arepo to being a divine progenitor, which makes the sentence more akin to “The god Arepo holds/preserves/masters the universe with care/effort”.  To me, this version of the sentence might just be what gives it protective power.  Because the god preserves the universe, he will preserve us, too.

Practice:  The SATOR Charm

You will need:

  • A blank piece of white paper, at least 8 x 8 inches square
  • Dragon’s blood ink or a red ink pen
  • Rosemary essential oil
  • Your circle casting tools

Cast a circle as you normally do.  At the center point of your ritual, work this magic.  On a blank piece of paper, use your red ink pen to write the SATOR square.

Anoint the edges of the paper with rosemary essential oil.  Raise energy and then direct it into the charm, using your powers of visualization to imagine that this charm takes on a silvery glow.  When you are done, close the circle as usual.  Hang the SATOR charm above your front door.  If you would like extra protection, create several of these charms.  Charge them magically (all together) and then hang them above each door and window of your home.

I believe I will save this charm for a future date, as I do not currently feel under attack and already have some “evil eye” sort of talismans in place.


2 thoughts on “Day 267: The SATOR Charm (part 2)

  1. Someone told me that I can write this Sator square in a piece of paper, burn it, then put the ash in a glass of drinking water & drink it. Is this ok? Does it gives protection towards bad luck?

    • You wouldn’t receive any ill-effects physically from drinking ashy water, though I would make sure to choose paper processed with a minimum amount of chemicals and probably use berry juice or something for the ink. You’d be surprised just what goes into inks these days.

      Historically, the SATOR square has been used for protective purposes, and protection against bad luck would fall under that category. My feeling on the matter, though, is that simply performing these actions will give minimal protection. My thought is that it would be better to charge the ashy water to your specific purpose and take the time to feel that purpose take hold. You also do need to live in accordance: no charging into a hailstorm of bullets on the grounds you have imbibed magical protection!

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