The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Athames-Witches Ritual Knives and their History

This week I was very busy in the shop unpacking orders and getting ready for the harvest season, specifically for our biggest holiday of the year and many people's favorite, Halloween.  As I unpacked the athames, which are double edged ritual knives, I started to go over their history, their legend and lore in my mind.

I often have lectures I wish to give and articles I plan to write forming in my head, because teaching is my first love and primary responsibility.  I placed the knives carefully in the showcase, as they are very sharp and the irony struck me as traditionally , these ritual athames never cut anything physical.  The history of the athame, which is the history of ritual daggers and blades, is found in many religious and cultural rituals and traditions  from ancient Egyptian rituals to Native American ceremonies to writings from the Key of Solomon written in the Middle Ages.

In ancient cultures the athame was used as the knife the new bride and groom held together to make the first cut in the wedding cake.  The athame is a magickal tool, and this was the only allowable physical cut it  would ever make. In my understanding of the nature of magick, it makes sense. Why that is, today,  we never cut anything physical with this ritual tool. Because it was used to cut the wedding cake,  the ritual cake, similar to the wafer served in a church mass, or the ceremony we modern pagans call cakes and ale, and having been used to make such a sacred, blessed action,  the first cut, the energy, the love, the magick of that moment would be suspended in the blade of that knife, making it a relic of sorts, for the couple. A magickal talisman or charm if you will.  The knife used in wedding ceremonies today, while not as sharp, is still a double edged blade (the cutting edge surrounds the blade, not just one side) so newly married couples are still practicing an ancient custom, although many are not aware of it as such.

I can see a natural progression from this old folk magick custom to the practice followed today by modern practitioners, of never cutting anything physical with their athames.  Instead it is customary to use a knife called a boline to cut herbs, cords, inscribe candles and other cutting actions . Many also refer to this witch's tool, the boline,  as the white handled knife.

 From the research and study I have done, my use of the athame in ritual is as Gerald Gardener introduced its usage in the works he published in the 1950's which brought Wicca into being. Yes, as an aside, Wicca was first created and introduced into being in the 1950's, but I'll discuss that in another story.

Back to the athame.  In this country often pronounced (ath) as in path and (ame) as in Chardonnay.  In Great Britain, it is pronounced   Ahh- (tham) as in bomb -Aye . The Athame is also referred to as the black handled knife. The athame and boline, today are not required to be any specific color, you just need to be able to tell them apart.

We use the athame in ritual much as legend and lore has shown the use of the magick wand.  We use it to direct energy, to extend beyond ourselves in ritual, and as a tool.

As humans, we love our tools. Come on, admit it. There's at least one tool you love! Even if its often a gel pen for me, pens and my cool, new pair of silver chop sticks I got in Salem a few weeks ago.  Many in the magickal world will acknowledge that what we do in ritual,  in performing magick, can be done without the tools, supplies and accoutrement we crave, but would it be as satisfying? Not for me.  I like the atmosphere of a candle lit circle, incense wafting, low music playing. It all aides in a satisfying, ritual experience.  The same goes when I'm casting magickal spells, I prefer to do those in the evenings, under the moon or on the darkest of nights. 

When wielding the athame in ritual,  holding it aloft as I draw in the energy, I feel the power of the earth and the universe flow through my body, making the ritual tool as significant to the ritual as everything else on the altar.  My magickal practice uses a blade to cast the circle because of the belief that metal seals a circle from unwanted energies.

If you are unable to use a blade, one may use a wand for the very same purpose, and it may be warranted if you have small children or those who should be kept away from sharp objects. And, well . .  let's be honest. We all know people who should be kept away from sharp, hot and flammable substances, now don't we?

The athame has an interesting history and plays an important part in contemporary magick and ritual.  In the years I've lived a magickal life I've had several, all special and significant. I'm the same with my wands, but really .  .  .  can a witch have too many wands??!!  Not this one!!
(c) 2010 Enchantments, LLC

Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book "Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies."  For more information, see 

1 comment:

  1. And who might we be referring to in the next to last paragraph? Seriously, love what your'e doing with this. The best of you is coming through. Peggy