The magic ring.
In the second book of the Republic, Plato tells of the shepherd Gyges and a ring that made the wearer invisible. The first stories of magic rings, therefore, to classical antiquity.
Myths and legends tell of rings with extraordinary powers, capable of conferring particular abilities or granting desires and spells such as love and happiness. In Norse and Norse mythology the most famous is the Ring of the Nibelungus, which gave a power of boundless dominion; in the Hebrew one we find the Ring of Solomon, which had the property of making the latter omniscient and of speaking with animals; in the Arab tradition, Aladdin receives a ring from the magician Maghrabi that allows him to summon a genius.
Propitiatory, protective or evocative as they are, the magic rings arouse a certain amazement in me; to the ornamental function is added a hermetic and mysterious content and the mysteries have always fascinated me.
Unsolved puzzles, inexplicable apparitions, indecipherable codes and bizarre coincidences, which find no plausible or univocal explanation, have captured my attention since I was a child.
One of these is the mysterious Magic Square of the Sator, an inscription that over the centuries has appeared in various places, even very far from each other.
The inscription appears everywhere in Latin, in a sequence of words with an obscure meaning that many scholars have tried to decode.
‘SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS’
The sequence of the words is almost always the same. Sometimes it starts with the last lemma and ends with the first. The writing is palindrome both horizontally and vertically. Although many have undertaken to search for a meaning in this sequence, it still remains an unanswered question today.
But it is precisely the mystery that makes this square so interesting.
The impression is that it has a magical symbolism, full of obscure meanings, to the point of becoming a talisman or an amulet in some communities, which have reproduced the formula on artifacts or even on edible products.
The interest and attraction for the Sator square made me think of creating a superstitious jewel in which to include the inscription shown in it and make it a sort of lucky charm or an apotropaic object, a bit like the horn against the evil eye, dear to the Neapolitan culture.
A ring is an ornament, a toy to wear (according to the etymology of the term ‘jewel’, which derives from the Latin ‘iocus’); but here, in addition to the aesthetics of the object itself, there are also many hidden meanings. It immediately catches the eye that some letters are mirrored, probably inviting palidromic and boustrophedic reading, alternating the direction from left to right and right to left of the whole sentence. Could it be just a puzzle, a play on words?
It’s fun to have a puzzle game on your finger, I think.
Throughout history, the Sator square has been linked to mystical, religious, esoteric, but also initiatic, alchemical and mathematical symbols.
However you want to understand it, its mystery remains unchanged over the centuries and is a code as incomprehensible as its origin is unknown.
Attributing magical values or arcane powers to a jewel is something that has no foundation in reality, but the suggestive potential of an idea or belief should not be underestimated, especially if this is shared, and above all the evocative power of words. The word, in fact, is a concept, but also an image. Many images arise in my mind when I see the letters flowing on the surface of the ring…
SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS
What is hidden in this sentence, which seems to make little sense? What was the intention of those who formulated it? The semantics of this very short text is an enigma and much speculation has been made about its meaning. It is not necessary to be a person of faith to identify in the inscription the crux disguised at the intersection of the word TENET and the link with Christian iconography. In truth, there is much more.
First of all, the word SATOR, (from the Latin ‘serere’, to sow) which is the subject of this sentence: he who sows. In the scriptures, God is often referred to as the Sower, as in a well-known parable. This made us think of a code of recognition widespread among the first Christians, who perhaps feared persecution and disguised their religious beliefs. If they were the first Christians to utter those words, as a kind of invocation or prayer, an Our Father in a few lines?
In fact, the oldest inscriptions referring to the Sator square are prior to 79 AD, the year in which Pompeii was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius. It is in Pompeii that archaeologists found the words engraved on the house of a baker who became influential and also on the Palestra Grande. The historical and archaeological evidence does not give news of Christian communities settled there, therefore the square of the Sator must have a pagan origin.
But are we really sure?
I observe the ring and the engraved inscription and think of the course of events, I imagine Pompeii submerged by lava, I try to reconstruct a story, the intent of someone behind this sentence.
SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS.
‘The sower with the plow takes care of the wheels’. What does it mean?
AREPO is a hapax legomenon, that is, it does not appear in any other text.
Perhaps it is a term of Greek derivation, which indicates the sickle, or it comes from the Celtic language and indicates the cart, perhaps the plow, and this would explain the presence of the word ROTAS, the wheels. What if Arepo were the name of a man, a peasant good at plowing his field, or someone had simply forced his hand a little to close the puzzle of the square in reference to the word OPERA read backwards?
I hold the ring in my fingers and try to imagine the fear of someone hiding, who does not want to be discovered, who believes in a good God who saves and is convinced that everything will be fine, repeating to himself the sequence of words of the magic square. Everything will be OK. The square is a protection.
“This ring is an amulet“, I think turning it over in my fingers…
The square is a perfect shape, which conveys a sense of stability and balance. It symbolizes the created universe (earth and sky), in opposition to the non-created and the creator, therefore it is the antithesis of the transcendent. But there is the idea of a divine sower plowing the earth with a plow. An image linked to the ancient world and the life of the fields, but also to the idea of a job completed with some care.
The Sator in question could refer to Saturn, god of crops and agriculture. I imagine him as a stern, bearded guy who just wants to do his job well.
I go back to look at the writing on the ring. I polish the engraving a little and I can’t help but notice that the O’s have a dot in the middle. The circle with the dot in the center is the symbol of the Sun, I have seen it thousands of times. It is also the symbol of gold in the alchemical tradition.
Until the Renaissance, alchemists worked hard to find the formula that transforms all base metals into gold. None of this has anything to do with chemistry or any scientific foundation. A vain attempt to practice the magical arts.
The ring, however, has something magical about it. Maybe it’s just my suggestion, but I feel good when I wear it and it gives me a positive charge.
The Sun and gold are shining, symbols of life, energy and wealth. Symbols auspicious, auspicious.
The Sator square was supposed to be a good luck charm.
It has been found mainly on religious buildings, carved or engraved in stone. Someone claims that the square was a symbol dear to the Templar Knights.
It seems that between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries the engraving on Cistercian abbeys and cathedrals was widely spread by the Order of the Temple. The Templars, at a certain point, became very rich and powerful, so much so that it was annoying.
What if it were some kind of secret code, an encrypted way of transferring information only to someone belonging to a small circle and able to understand the message? We will probably never know. But it is interesting to discover that mathematicians have also worked hard to reveal the enigma through a rational and logical explanation.
In fact, it seems that the Sator square has the structure of an algebraic matrix in which the letters correspond to numbers, according to the method of Hebrew gematria. This doctrine attributes a correlation to words or phrases and numbers. This procedure can also be applied to the Greek language (isopsefia) or to the Latin one. Reading in a mathematical key opens the way to new possibilities of decryption; while words are open to interpretation, numbers are a universal language.
A kind of complacency mixed with excitement pervades me. I like to think that the ring also contains a mathematical geometric structure, a writing in numerical code that no one has yet understood.
Beyond all possible interpretations, the Sator square remains shrouded in mystery and this is why its charm is due. Inside this palindrome inscription lies the key to a secret that perhaps no one will be able to reveal. However, I made the ring with my hands and if it is true that energy is also transferred in quantum terms, as an interaction, there must be in this object the ancient force of the magic square, which does not have never stopped protecting, added to my creative intention. Wearing it, however, reassures me.