In truth, Roderick’s Day 267 was pretty simple. It really was just a list of the warning signs of a magical attack, the admonishment that people other than magical practitioners are capable of launching a magical/psychic attack, and the practice of the SATOR charm. I decided to do more research into just what the SATOR square was, and that when combined with my own psychic attack story sort of blew Day 267 into a very long exercise. My research into SATOR squares, though, has given me a great side opportunity.
The SATOR square has so much going for it. Not only is it a word square, or a special acrostic consisting of a set of words written into a square grid such that the same words can be read horizontally and vertically, it is a four-times palindrome AND a grammatically correct sentence on top of all that. It’s completely fascinating from a non-magical standpoint, and it only gets more interesting when you layer cultural and historical incorporations on top of that. But just because the SATOR square has so much going for it doesn’t mean we can’t make our own magical squares. In fact, The Solitary Walker recently did just that, as we see below:
In his blog, Walker recounts learning that the words “earth” and “heart” were anagrams, which started him on his journey. Luckily for him, the two words join at their first and last letters, which means they could form the outsides of a word square. He then chose to use the word “rumba” as the square’s cross since it is a Cuban dance whose “roots are in Africa, which is our human heartland, since the first homo sapiens developed on Africa’s earth.” The Latin plural for water, aquae, worked quite well to fill in the top part of the cross, and Walker notes that since “water is essential for life and basic to our very existence […] you could say that water lies at the heart of our very presence on this earth.” That left only two English options for the last word, “tabor” and “taber”, and both mean refer to a small snare drum, which delighted Walker as the word could stand for “a potent symbol for music, the very heart and soul of individual and communal spiritual and earthly life.”
I think that Walker was very lucky to find words that worked out so well to complete his square (and to incorporate an anagram to boot!). It has been my experience that at least one word might have an ‘unincorporable’ meaning to your intent. To the left is a square that I made pairing together the two main components of mead: honey and yeast. I was able to find a lovely complementing word with “olive”, but the only 5-letter word in English beginning with “ni” and ending in “a, is the Japanese-borrowed “ninja.” That left a very awkward “evj_s”, and there is no way to turn that into a word. The Latin “nivea” (snow white) allowed me to finish with boring “evens”.
If constructing magical word squares for your spells appeals to you, I do have some advice to share. The first is to stick with words of 5 letters. In addition to allowing you to make an appeal to the five points of the pentacle, it will give you enough trouble as to be sufficiently complicated and interesting without making you want to pull out all your hair in frustration. Another practical reason to stick to 5 letters? The English Language Best Word Club’s Useful Word List only goes to words of five letters in length. This Scrabble player’s site is invaluable for word square construction, as it allows you to search for words with letters at any of the 5 positions. I personally found it helpful to use the function to search for words ending in the letter I wanted, and then manually narrowing that list down to words that started in the letters I wanted. This site quite literally shaved hours off my word square construction time.
Another piece of advice I have is to feel free to play with palindromes. It is incredibly unlikely you’ll ever find anything that works out as well as the SATOR square, but so long as you can play with palindromes of 16, 25, or 36 characters in length, you’ll be able to make an interesting square. If you use magical words or if the palindrome has a magical intent, putting the letters into a square might help you create an interesting talisman. The following are a few nonsense palindrome squares I’ve done:
As you can see, just because a phrase is a palindrome, it doesn’t mean it will automatically be a palindrome in more than one direction. In these three, you can see that the first two actually form a three-way palindrome (with ‘lay a’ being exactly 1 letter’s difference from being a 4-way palindrome!), but the third is still only a palindrome in the regular direction. In any case, though, the sense of the palindrome becomes something you have to puzzle out and spend time on. It could be magically interesting!