1583 – Charm: Talisman

Physical description:
Magic Square SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS incised on slate.
Museum classification:
Protection
Size:
88 x 140 x 4
Information:

Wall text: In this Magic Square the words read the same backwards and forwards, horizontally and vertically. It was used for protection and for overcoming danger and difficulties.
The words are Latin, and the earliest examples are from 1st century Pompeii. It was often scratched on the walls of houses, or written out on paper as a charm by cunning folk for their clients.
The exact meaning of the words is debated, but is probably something like, 'The Creator, to whom I appeal for help, controls all our endeavours and all the changes of fortune that befall us.'

The fact that the letters are the same as the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin – Pater Noster – appears to be purely coincidence. The earliest known examples, in Pompeii, date to a period before Christianity was established there, and the name Sator is one of the Sacred Names of the Roman God Jupiter. It literally means the Sower, with, of course, the implication of Creator.

‘Arepo’ literally means ‘I crawl to’ (it is an abbreviated form of ‘adrepo’); ‘Tenet’ means ‘He holds’; ‘Opera’ means ‘Endeavours’ or ‘Achievements’; ‘Rotas’ literally means ‘Wheels’, indicating the cycles of the Wheel of Fortune and the cycles of life.

Particularly interesting is the fact that the reverse of each word (except ‘Tenet’) is also its opposite in meaning. Thus ‘Sator’ indicates a unified divine creative principle, and its reverse, ‘Rotas’, indicates a state of change and uncertainty. ‘Arepo’ depicts the human individual as a supplicant dependant on the help of the divine, while ‘Opera’ reminds us that the world consists of the endeavours and achievements of individuals. ‘Tenet’ – which of course begins and ends with the Tau cross, a symbol of creation – forms a cross shape that represents these elements as both connected and in a state of creative tension. The Sator Square can thus be seen as making a powerful statement about the nature of the universe, the position of the individual within the universe, and the relationship between the human and the divine.

It is also of course interesting that something with a profound philosophical content became a pragmatic protection charm. That says a great deal about the nature of magic. It was possible to use the Sator Square as a charm without going into its philosophical complexities – but the knowledge that it was underpinned by a complex philosophy was essential to the idea that it had magical power.

Sator as a Sacred Name of Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter is addressed as “summe sator” (supreme creator) by the God Sol (the Sun) in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica (1.505-6).

Later (2.561) the Phrygian King says to Hercules of Jupiter “sator unus et idem” (our father [Jupiter] is one and the same).

Jupiter is referred to as “hominum sator atque deorum” (the creator of humans and gods) twice in Virgil’s Aeneid (1.254 (where Venus uses the phrase to address Jupiter) and 11.725 (simply a reference in the narrative)).

The phrase “aeternum humanum sator” (the eternal creator of humans) is used for Jupiter by the poet/dramatist Marcus Pacuvius.

However, Sator may originally have been a Sacred Name of Saturn. The Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (De Lingua Latina, 5.64) was of the opinion that the name Saturn had its origins in the verb sero (sow/beget), which the noun sator is derived from. Certainly Saturn was not only an ancient God of Creation and Destruction, but was also a God of Agriculture.

See ‘Virgilian Prophecy and the Reign of Jupiter’ by Randall T. Ganiban in Brill’s Companion to Valerius Flaccus, edited by Mark Heerink and Gesine Manuwald, Brill Academic Publishers, 2014, pp.255-6.

What is particularly interesting about the possible connection of the name Sator – and therefore the Sator Square – with Saturn is that like many ancient Creator/Destroyer deities, Saturn was associated with magic. The Square of Saturn – which is a magic number square consisting of a 3 by 3 grid with the numbers 1 – 9 arranged so that each horizontal, vertical and diagonal adds up to the same number, 15 – seems likely to be the first of the magic squares.

It would be possible to argue, therefore, that the Sator Square is a Magic Word Square of Saturn, the verbal equivalent of the Magic Number Square of Saturn.

Saturn was also of course associated with the festival Saturnalia – which has possible links with other ancient festivals like the Padstow Oss, and strongly influenced Christmas celebrations (it was celebrated on 17th December).

The Greek equivalent of Saturn, Kronos, was one of the Titans (primordial Gods), as was the Goddess of Witchcraft Hecate. (Similarly, the Norse Goddess of Witchcraft, Gullveig, was one of the ancient Chaos Gods the Jőtnar.)

Many religious systems seem to begin with ambivalent, mysterious, magical and sometimes chaotic deities representing Cosmic and natural forces, which are then supplanted by more politicized deities representing Cosmic and social order. The ancient deities are then demonised, or become the subjects of cults, or are relegated to secondary deities in the official religious system.

Resource:
Object
Materials:
Stone
Copyright ownership:
Treetrunk Ltd

Wall text: In this Magic Square the words read the same backwards and forwards, horizontally and vertically. It was used for protection and for overcoming danger and difficulties.
The words are Latin, and the earliest examples are from 1st century Pompeii. It was often scratched on the walls of houses, or written out on paper as a charm by cunning folk for their clients.
The exact meaning of the words is debated, but is probably something like, 'The Creator, to whom I appeal for help, controls all our endeavours and all the changes of fortune that befall us.'

The fact that the letters are the same as the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin – Pater Noster – appears to be purely coincidence. The earliest known examples, in Pompeii, date to a period before Christianity was established there, and the name Sator is one of the Sacred Names of the Roman God Jupiter. It literally means the Sower, with, of course, the implication of Creator.

‘Arepo’ literally means ‘I crawl to’ (it is an abbreviated form of ‘adrepo’); ‘Tenet’ means ‘He holds’; ‘Opera’ means ‘Endeavours’ or ‘Achievements’; ‘Rotas’ literally means ‘Wheels’, indicating the cycles of the Wheel of Fortune and the cycles of life.

Particularly interesting is the fact that the reverse of each word (except ‘Tenet’) is also its opposite in meaning. Thus ‘Sator’ indicates a unified divine creative principle, and its reverse, ‘Rotas’, indicates a state of change and uncertainty. ‘Arepo’ depicts the human individual as a supplicant dependant on the help of the divine, while ‘Opera’ reminds us that the world consists of the endeavours and achievements of individuals. ‘Tenet’ – which of course begins and ends with the Tau cross, a symbol of creation – forms a cross shape that represents these elements as both connected and in a state of creative tension. The Sator Square can thus be seen as making a powerful statement about the nature of the universe, the position of the individual within the universe, and the relationship between the human and the divine.

It is also of course interesting that something with a profound philosophical content became a pragmatic protection charm. That says a great deal about the nature of magic. It was possible to use the Sator Square as a charm without going into its philosophical complexities – but the knowledge that it was underpinned by a complex philosophy was essential to the idea that it had magical power.

Sator as a Sacred Name of Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter is addressed as “summe sator” (supreme creator) by the God Sol (the Sun) in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica (1.505-6).

Later (2.561) the Phrygian King says to Hercules of Jupiter “sator unus et idem” (our father [Jupiter] is one and the same).

Jupiter is referred to as “hominum sator atque deorum” (the creator of humans and gods) twice in Virgil’s Aeneid (1.254 (where Venus uses the phrase to address Jupiter) and 11.725 (simply a reference in the narrative)).

The phrase “aeternum humanum sator” (the eternal creator of humans) is used for Jupiter by the poet/dramatist Marcus Pacuvius.

However, Sator may originally have been a Sacred Name of Saturn. The Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (De Lingua Latina, 5.64) was of the opinion that the name Saturn had its origins in the verb sero (sow/beget), which the noun sator is derived from. Certainly Saturn was not only an ancient God of Creation and Destruction, but was also a God of Agriculture.

See ‘Virgilian Prophecy and the Reign of Jupiter’ by Randall T. Ganiban in Brill’s Companion to Valerius Flaccus, edited by Mark Heerink and Gesine Manuwald, Brill Academic Publishers, 2014, pp.255-6.

What is particularly interesting about the possible connection of the name Sator – and therefore the Sator Square – with Saturn is that like many ancient Creator/Destroyer deities, Saturn was associated with magic. The Square of Saturn – which is a magic number square consisting of a 3 by 3 grid with the numbers 1 – 9 arranged so that each horizontal, vertical and diagonal adds up to the same number, 15 – seems likely to be the first of the magic squares.

It would be possible to argue, therefore, that the Sator Square is a Magic Word Square of Saturn, the verbal equivalent of the Magic Number Square of Saturn.

Saturn was also of course associated with the festival Saturnalia – which has possible links with other ancient festivals like the Padstow Oss, and strongly influenced Christmas celebrations (it was celebrated on 17th December).

The Greek equivalent of Saturn, Kronos, was one of the Titans (primordial Gods), as was the Goddess of Witchcraft Hecate. (Similarly, the Norse Goddess of Witchcraft, Gullveig, was one of the ancient Chaos Gods the Jőtnar.)

Many religious systems seem to begin with ambivalent, mysterious, magical and sometimes chaotic deities representing Cosmic and natural forces, which are then supplanted by more politicized deities representing Cosmic and social order. The ancient deities are then demonised, or become the subjects of cults, or are relegated to secondary deities in the official religious system.