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The Witch’s Blade – Some Athame Basics

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: December 6th. 2009
Times Viewed: 13,511

The athame – the tool that some say is the most important for any practicing Witch or Pagan, and the one most misunderstood by law enforcement and other non-Pagans. What is the athame? How do you pronounce “athame”? Should it be sharp?

What’s the difference between an athame and a boline? Where can you get one? How can you safely take your athame to a ritual not at your house? And just which of the four elements is it supposed to represent anyway?

What is an athame?

The athame is a double-edged knife – double-edged like a dagger, rather than single-edged like your favorite kitchen paring knife. Traditionally, it also has a plain, black, wooden hilt, although that is not necessarily the rule unless your coven leader says it is.

There are some lovely athames with intricately carved hilts out there, including some with silver or gemstone inlay. If one of them “speaks to you” and your group allows it (and you can afford it) , then by all means get it and use it joyfully! The athame is used to physically draw the circle in the air during circle casting, and to consecrate pretty much anything the owner wants consecrated.

Your athame is your own – you may let other people touch your tarot cards and drink from your ritual chalice, but your athame should only be touched by *you*. If you have a large enough ritual space, i.e. you tend to lead a lot of rituals outdoors that are attended by several dozen people each, you may wish to forego the smaller blade in favor of a ritual sword. It serves the same purpose and is easier for the participants to see.

How do you pronounce “athame”?

“Athame” is pronounced either uh-THAW-mee or ATH-uh-may. Ath-AIM is incorrect; so is ARTH-aim, uh-THEEM and uh-THEEM-ee.

Should the athame be sharp?

In general, the athame is not sharpened, primarily for safety reasons. Think about it – in order to cast a circle, one is usually walking around a *very* dark room that is at best comfortably full of furniture and at worst also uncomfortably full of people sitting on the floor. This is not a good situation in which to be tripping and falling with a very sharp knife in your hand. Just so the blade has the potential to be sharp if necessary, i.e. it is made of metal. That is good enough for the Gods and should be good enough for us, too. Which leads us to…

What’s the difference between a boline and an athame?

Easy: a boline is sharp and an athame is not. Traditionally, the boline also has a white handle, but I have known many witches who have gone to a camping store and purchased a perfectly good red-hilted Swiss Army knife to use as their boline (which has the added benefit of a built-in corkscrew with which to open the bottle of ritual wine!) .

An athame *never* cuts anything physical – it is strictly an energy tool. The boline is the practical knife – if you need to trim a too-long candle wick, cut up some herbs, etc. while in ritual, the boline is the tool you reach for, not your athame.

Where can you get an athame?

There are countless online shops that sell pre-made athames. If you want something more personalized, do a Google search on “handcrafted athame” and see if you like the wares from any of the artisans’ sites that pop up. Wal-Mart used to sell the little four-inch wooden-handled boot daggers, complete with a clip on the sheath; I don’t know if Wal-Mart still sells them, though.

Check out flea markets and garage sales near you – you never know what someone is willing to getting rid of for a dollar or two. If you are a devout kitchen witch and consider cooking and feeding folks to be your primary ritual/magickal practice, you probably don’t need a double-edged blade. Treat yourself to a really nice kitchen knife – and sharpen it!

How can you safely take an athame to a ritual not at your house?

First, you need to do a little Internet research and find out what the legal limit is for blade length in your state. For example, in my state (Kansas) the law reads, in part: Criminal use of weapons is knowingly…carrying concealed on one's person, or possessing with intent to use the same unlawfully against another, a dagger, dirk, dangerous knife, … except that an ordinary pocket knife with no blade more than four inches in length shall not be construed to be a dangerous knife, or a dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument…

What this means is, not only could your dull athame be confiscated, your super-sharp non-Swiss Army boline could be, too, if it exceeds the legal blade length for your state (my boline, for example, is a bone-handled hunting knife with at least a six-inch blade) .

Bottom line: use common sense. If you are driving to the ritual, treat your athame like you would the ritual wine and store it safely in the trunk of your car – preferably in a backpack or purse. Don’t drive in such a way as to be pulled over by the police on your way to or from ritual. If you are walking or taking a bus or taxi to the ritual, put your knife (knives) in a backpack carefully wrapped in your ritual garb.

And do I even have to mention that if you are flying to a Pagan gathering or other far-away ritual event that you should leave your athame at home?

Finally, just which of the four elements does the athame represent anyway?

Welcome to one of the longest debates in Neo-pagan history! Okay, the debate is actually about the wand, but the athame gets sucked into the argument. Either way, it goes like this:

Some argue that the wand should be a representative of East, the element of Air, because wands are traditionally made of wood, wood comes from trees, and trees blow around in the wind. Which would make the athame, something that you need heat in order to forge, the South/Fire tool.

Others say that the wand should represent South, the element of Fire, because wands are traditionally made of wood and wood burns – so therefore the athame should be the East/Air tool.

Where do I stand in this debate? I go with the wand is East and athame is South camp, not because of the wooden wand, but because to me, my athame is a symbol of my Will, and Will is part of the South/Fire correspondences.

Plus, you really do need fire in order to make an athame in the first place. Your mileage may vary!





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