CRAFT SCHOOL: Working Tools
This is not only the Witches principal working tool, but also a symbolic representation of their magical power. A Witch may have none of the other Magical tools, but they will always have a knife set aside for magical use, regardless of what material it is made out of.
The term 'Athame' probably originated in Ceremonial Magick (see The Witches Way/The Witches Bible) from the word 'Arthana'. In Ritual Magick their are two knives; the black handled knife used for ritual within the circle and the white handled knife for actual cutting. It is from here that Gardner took the idea of the two knives which we find in Wicca today. Quite simply, they are imports from Ritual Magick, although the roots of the knife in Pagan magical practice are far older.
The knife as a magical tool can be traced back to the dawn of mankind. A bladed weapon was the first purpose made tool, initially by the knapping of flint and later as early technology developed, made in metals such as bronze and iron. It was an important tool, and still is, in a setting where survival was dependant on being able to cut and scrape materials from your immediate environment. It is not surprising that the knife came to magically represent an individuals control of the elements when you look at it from this perspective. The knife therefore became an important symbolic tool in magical ritual.
For the above reasons the element of Fire is traditionally attributed to the Athame. Principally because of the use of Will in controlling the elements, but also because it was forged by the Smith (a magical profession) in the furnace. Event the original flint knaped blade can be associated with this element - flint being an important tool in the production of fire. Of course, not all Witches use metal Athames nowadays, and there has been a fashion in recent years for ones made of sacred woods (in which case an association with the element of Air is probably more fitting).
If you work with certain energies you may want to choose a knife made of an appropriate material. It is said, for instance, that 'iron scares away the fairy folk'. So, obviously, if you intend to work with 'Fairy energies' you may be better off with one made of wood or if your budget can stretch to it, one of bronze or silver. We should point our that a wooden Athame is used more like a wand, and is not an instrument of 'command' in the same way that a metal Athame is. You may not find it as effective magically when dealing with raw elemental power.
Choosing an Athame is one of the Witches first important acts. It must be a blade that they 'resonate' with; a knife that feels comfortable to handle and feels 'right'. In this respect, it can be said that it chooses you as much as you choose it. Traditionally there should be no haggling over the price once you find it, and once consecrated it should stay in your possession (within your aura) for at least a month. Nowadays, this may not be easy, as security measures may make it impossible to carry around during mundane activities such as shopping. We therefore recommend that the Athame should at least be kept close during the hours of sleep - most of our initiates have placed them under their pillows or mattresses for this reason.
The purpose of consecrating the Athame is to produce an astral double of it; to give it its own 'soul'. For this reason it is given its own 'name'. This is an old tradition and can be traced back beyond the dark ages. Most warriors in Pagan Europe named their bladed weapons, be it knife, dagger or sword, and attributed magical power to it. The most famous example is of course Excalibur, which came to represent the power and sovereignty of pre-Saxon Britain. For this reason, once consecrated, the Athame should be treated with immense repect; to pick up someone elses Athame without permission is considered by most Witches to be a gross invasion of their privacy and poor magical etiquette. When not in use it should be wrapped in an appropriate material e.g. velvet and kept somewhere safe.
In Gardnerian/Alexandrian Wiccan it is traditional that the Athame is black handled and not used for cutting. These are both hangovers from ritual magick. It is quite common for Witches to keep the original wooden grain to their handle or even have handles made of antler or bone. The black was originally symbol to denote the otherworldy nature of the knife. Some Witches now even use their Athame for cutting with; it must be remembered that in the middle ages a knife was an expensive tool and simple country folk could not afford to have a knife which had no practical mundane purpose. It was Ceremonial Magick which introduced the idea of the non-cutting knife because of its belief that all magical tools in the circle should be pure. We have known Witches who use their knives for eveyday purposes, for camping weekends and for use in the countryside; this has far from reduced their power magically and we can say that, in somecases, that it has in fact increased it by producing an even stronger bond between its self and its owner. We leave the individual Witch to decide on this matter, and would recommend sticking to convention if you practise Ceremonial Magick.
The blades or handles of the ritual knife are traditionally decorated with magical symbolism. Again, this is very traditional. The Anglo-saxons and the Norse cut the Rune of Tyr in to the blades of their weapons to invoke the deity in battle. Interestingly, this symbol can still be found on the weapons of the British Army today as the War Department symbol (the upright arrow). Other Runes were also used along the blades, a good example being the 8th Century Thames Scram-Seax. The traditional symbols found on the Gardnerian/Alexandrian Athame originate from the Key of Solomon, so again, relate to Ceremonial Magick. There is no reason why a Witch or a coven cannot create its own symbols for its Athame(s). Many individuals put their own Astrological sign on their knife to build up the magical link. It is also common for the Witch to put place its name in a chosen magical script somewhere on the handle or blade. Most Witches also put symbols to represent the God, Goddess, attributed element, and purpose on their Athames. It is not essential to stick to tradtional dogma when it comes to using symbolism and you may even want to create your own symbols.