Witch Balls: The Prettiest Spirit Traps Around

In yesterday’s 366 work, Roderick asked us to make a Witch Bottle, which is basically a concealed bottle with something to attract the ‘evil spirits’ and negative energies out to get you, your family, or your property, and then something to hold the spirits and energies in the jar and dissipate them.  In traditional magic, a person’s urine, blood, hair, and other odds and ends were used as the attractants, and pins, broken glass, rosemary, and red wine worked to fasten or impale the spirits, dissipate their energy, and drown them.

There are lots of variations on this charm, and a far more attractive one is the Witch Ball.  These are hollow glass balls with strands of glass caught inside, and they are meant to be hung in the windows of one’s house.  Like the bottle, the Witch Ball is a countermagical trap that operates on a theory of attract and hold.  In this case, malevolent spirits and energy are attracted to the shiny ball and its bright colors, then get looped about and caught in the net of glass strands within the ball.

Witch Ball

A rather lovely Witch Ball

Witch balls rather give me a feeling of hope when it comes to witch/mundane relations, since these balls weren’t used against witches.  Instead, the general populace actively sought out witches  to enchant these balls to increase their potency against evil, which means they thrived in areas where witches weren’t thought to be horrible, malevolent hags.  Traditionally, the witch balls were green or blue in color, but this might simply be a default, since most silica impurities will result in glass with a green or blue cast.  These days, witch balls are found in just about every color of the rainbow.

My housemate, V., is very fond of Witch Balls.  She displays a large one in her front window, and lines the bottom of her windowsill with a collection of solid glass spheres a friend of hers makes on his off-hours at Central Glassworks in Centralia.  Her influence is rubbing off on me.  A few months ago, I was browsing in the downtown Olympia store Compass Rose and saw that they had several smaller Witch Balls for sale.  I chose one on a whim and hung it in the window right next to my bed.  For now, I just enjoy the colored glass, but in the near future I think I will work a protective charm on the ball.  When I get a place of my own, I think I might adopt V.’s practice and get a few more larger ones to put in the main windows of my living space.  I really enjoy what I’ve seen on Iron Elegance‘s website, and they also offer several more economically priced “second quality” balls, too.  That certainly helps when you’re purchasing a quantity of them!

My own witch ball and the random collection of items I've put in the window with it.  To be honest, the collection's mostly developed out of color merchandizing more than anything else.

My own witch ball and the random collection of items I’ve put in the window with it, including my African Violet Maury.


Day 267: Other Word Squares (part 3)

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:

The Solitary Walker's "Dancing at the Heart of the Earth" magical square.

The Solitary Walker’s “Dancing at the Heart of the Earth” magical square.

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.”

Honey SquareI 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:


Delia, here we nine were hailed. / Lay a wallaby baby ball away, Al. / Evil did I dwell, lewd did I live.

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!

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.

Day 267: Magical Attack and Protection (part 1)

A woodcut depicting a demon attacking a man...I think.

A woodcut depicting a demon attacking a man…I think.  It kind of looks like he’s pulling the man out of his bowels.

Today, Roderick brings up the subject of magical attack and how to protect oneself from it.  Magical or psychic attack was a pretty big topic in the 1990s, as was the related topic of psychic self-defense.  I recall that I almost couldn’t pick up a book about Wicca without at least one chapter in it elaborating on one or the other or both.  To me, most of the symptoms of a magical or psychic attack sounded very similar to the onset of a depressive or a psychiatric episode.  Others sounded like they were straight out of a ghostbuster’s handbook.  Consider the following list of warning signs I found online:Psychic Attack List

Roderick’s list also reinforces a lot of the “depressions signs” in his warning signs to note in yourself where he recommends to “watch for signs of inexplicable lethargy, sadness, or anger, unexplained illnesses or multiple injuries in a short time span; look for unexplained mood swings, confusion, swift changes of heart, or a run of bad luck.”  Unlike many of these lists, however, he also gives warning signs in a family unit (watch for multiple, inexplicable arguments, estrangement, tantrums, illnesses, and injuries, or romantic affairs), a home (watch for an inexplicable sensation of heaviness or oppression in your home, a feeling of being watched, unexplained noises, odors, or images), and in pets (watch for inexplicable, unusual behavior or illness).

Because so much of these lists look like warning signs of medical issues, and because it’s been my experience that we pagans are largely a bunch of happy people who wish nothing but happiness for ourselves and others and who take our ethics very strongly, I’ve not been concerned with magical attack until very recently.  After all, I don’t think it would occur to most practitioners these days to actually wish a curse upon another.  Binding or wishing a karmetic return upon another person might be about as far as that grand majority of us go.

However, I had forgotten that witches and pagans don’t have exclusive access to magic.  We might be able to wield it more effectively and dramatically, but we’re not the only ones who can use it.  You can set the forces into motion even when you’re not aware of it.  As Roderick notes, magical energies “are natural forces that form the universe and all of life.  It doesn’t take much for someone unskilled in the ways of magic to set psychic energies in motion.”  Really, anyone in a nigh emotional state can conduct energy, and–unfortunately–jealousy, hate, anger, and sadness can pack a psychic wallop.

I have been very lucky in my life to have been surrounded by amazing, generous, wonderful friends and very, very few enemies.  In the few instances where I’ve had to prolong a relationship I did not like, I’ve done my best to be respectful of that person and to follow the very sage advice of Thumper’s mother from Bambi:  If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.  I figured that most educated, ethical people lived the same way, so I never really thought about psychic protection.

My last few months living at the co-op, though, taught me otherwise.  For about four months prior to leaving, I was inexplicably tired.  I didn’t want to do much of anything, and I was very sad.  It was one of those situations where “everything that could go wrong did”.  I got into a small car accident because I was rushing to leave the house, I was having terrible luck finding employment, I experienced a fair amount of wild mood swings, and I really didn’t know what was going on.  At the time, I attributed all of this to my academic frustrations and “grieving” and thought I might be entering a depressive spell.  But, in retrospect, I can see that these troubles weren’t isolated to me alone.  Lots of little arguments cropped up among my housemates, and alliances formed.  The very air in the house felt oppressive.

At the time, I attributed this to a very real, ongoing, and divisive fight we were all engaged in about the rats that had infested our home.  (The house was divided in a spectrum between “do everything to get rid of them short of setting the house on fire” to “live trap and release and love our new pets.”)  But now that I’ve been out of the house for several months, I think that perhaps what I’d experienced was a form of psychic attack against me–the one person who epitomized the far right anti-rat stance–and a girl who, though anti-rat, was also vehemently against us taking any action that might result in inadvertent harm to her dog.  I think that as the months passed she interpreted my immense desire to end the vermin problem as an attack on her dog.  She, consequently, put a LOT of energy into hating me.  When I entered a room, she’d shut up and glare at me.  She excluded me from a lot of impromptu house events, and she ended up spreading a TON of rumors about me (the most hurtful of which was that I abused animals).  It was during this period where so much went so wrong for me.  I, quite literally, felt like I was being boxed up in my own private room.  In reality, this was the case.  She put a lot of energy into making sure that I would not feel comfortable anywhere else in my house. What I experienced was a definite case of psychic attack, and one that was accompanied by real-world actions along with the psychic actions.  It’s certainly taught me a major lesson about how much psychic wallop untrained people can pack, and it’s solidly taught me the importance of good psychic defense.

Roderick offers us a few protective tools in the days that follow.