Do Geese See God: Are Palindromes Wordplay or Witchcraft?

By Take Note Team on September, 18 2019
Take Note Team

You may or may not be aware, but we are currently living through 10 days of palindromic heaven. From September 10th through 19th, every date can be read both forwards and backwards and still mean the same:

 

9-10-19  

9-11-19

9-12-19

9-13-19

9-14-19

9-15-19

9-16-19

9-17-19

9-18-19

9-19-19

 

Okay, so you have to write the dates in a certain format, and it’s something that’s actually been happening every year since 2011, but, let’s be honest, it’s still kind of cool.

So, to celebrate this not-so-rare and only-true-if-you-write-dates-in-a-weird-way event, let’s talk palindromes.

 

From Mount Vesuvius to Manchester

Palindromes have been a form of human ingenuity since at least 79AD, when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Naples, Italy, preserved the earliest known example of the Sator Square amongst the ruins of Herculaneum, near Pompeii.  The Sator Square is not your average palindrome but a square 2D palindrome, which means it can be read left-to-right, right-to-left, top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top, then be rotated 180° and still be read in the same number of ways.

 

S A T O R

A R E P O

T E N E T

O P E R A

R O T A S

 

Its meaning is somewhat unclear, but examples of the Sator Square can be found all over Europe, including in England, Portugal, Sweden and Italy, leading to two wildly different theories as to their origins.  

 

Declarations of faith

The first, and most likely, is religion.  The majority of squares have been found at the location of places of worship, and, more specifically, Christian places of worship, including a small private chapel in Lancashire, England.  This theory is largely believed to be the truth, because the square can also be rearranged into a cross made up of the words ‘Pater Noster’, which is Latin for Our Father, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is also theorised that the square could have been used by Christians to discreetly seek out other Christians during a time when they were being persecuted by the Romans.  Such a theory is believed to be behind the Sator Square found near Manchester, which was formally the site of a Roman fort.

 

Magic squares and the occult

The other theory is that the squares were used in folk magic and are related to magic squares, numerical grids where the cumulative numbers in each row and column add up to the same amount.  Magic squares have long had an association with astrology, and are believed to help summon the influence of planets and/or spirits to aid with rituals. In contrast, however, the Sator Square is said to be immune from the devil’s influence and could have therefore been used to ward off dark magic.

 

Whatever their origins, Sator Squares prove that the human interest in palindromes and wordplay has persisted for over 2,000 years.  They have influenced language, literature and music and continue to be a form of satisfying entertainment for many today. In fact, perhaps the only unsatisfying thing about palindromes is that the term ‘palindrome’ itself is not a palindrome!

 

10 of the best palindromes

 

- Never odd or even.

 

- Mr Owl ate my metal worm.

 

- Was it a car or a cat I saw?

 

- A man, a plan, a canal: Panama

 

- Do geese see God?

 

- Evil olive.

 

- Taco cat.

 

- Madam, in Eden I’m Adam.

 

- Neil, an alien!

 

- Dammit, I’m mad!

 

Blog written by Transcriber Lydia


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