Athame

An athame or athamé is a ceremonial black-handled knife, one of several magical tools used in Wicca; other forms of modern witchcraft have since adopted the term for various ritual knives. It is variously pronounced /ˈæ.θə.meɪ/, /ə.ˈθeɪ.miː/, etc. The notion seems to have originated in the grimoire originating in the Middle Ages and usually known as the Key of Solomon[1].

The athame is first mentioned in the writings of Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, who claimed to have been initiated into a surviving tradition of witchcraft called Wicca. The athame was their most important ritual tool, which had many uses, but was not to be used for actual physical cutting[2].

There has been speculation[3] that Gardner's interest and expertise in antique swords and knives, and in particular the magical kris knives of Malaysia and Indonesia, may have contributed to the tool's central importance in modern Wicca[4].

An athame can take many forms. It frequently has a double-edged blade with a sharp point, and a handle which is often black. The handle may be inscribed with particular symbols dictated by the tradition[5]. Janet and Stewart Farrar in "A Witches Bible" suggest that the point of an athame be dulled so as to prevent un-intended physical harm during ritual use.

In "eclectic" forms of witchcraft the handle decorations range from astrological glyphs to runes, the symbols being chosen by the owner. Many fantasy-themed athames are also available from medieval and neopagan supply shops.

The athame's primary use is for ritual and magical purposes only, to direct energy; if things such as herbs or cords need to be cut, another knife called a boline - a white-handled knife - is used. An exception is the "kitchen witchcraft" philosophy, which actively encourages the use of magical tools for mundane purposes to increase the witch's familiarity with them.

As a masculine principle, it is often used in combination with the chalice, as feminine principle, evoking the act of procreation, as a symbol of universal creativity. This is a symbol of the Great Rite in Wiccan rituals[6]. Some modern witchcraft traditions may prefer not to use iron blades, instead preferring alternatives such as copper or bronze. This is most common amongst traditions that have a particular fondness of the Sidhe, to whom iron is supposedly harmful.

Many traditions associate the athame with the masculine principle and with the element of either air or fire. Janet and Stewart Farrar suggested this difference is due to the Golden Dawn releasing false information in the hopes of preventing its rituals being used in the correct way.[7]. They add that a witch should always choose the association which seems the most correct to them. Touching another person's athame without permission is considered an intrusion of the owner's personal space.

There are rituals of consecration for a newly acquired athame, be it new, or acquired from another person[8]. When purchasing a knife for this purpose (or any ritual tool) it is considered important never to haggle over the price.[9]

There is no proven etymology for this word, which does not appear in any European language. A ritual knife from the Key of Solomon (not however the main 'black-handled knife') is named in various manuscripts artavo, artavus, arthana, artanus, arthany or arthame. Idries Shah, who was personal secretary and close friend of Gerald Gardner, provides an etymology from an alleged Arabic al-dhammé "blood-letter", which was supposed to be the ritual knife of a medieval magical cult of Morocco and Andalusia. This etymology is controversial, however. It appears in his book The Sufis as a quote from A History of Secret Societies by Arkon Daraul (a probable pseudonym of Shah). Robert Graves (an acquaintance of Shah) suggests an Arabic derivation from al thame (or adh-dhame), which he translates as "the arrow". [citations needed]

A Latin manuscript version of the Key of Solomon has a drawing that looks like a sickle, labelled Artavo. It is possible that Gardner's use of 'athame' come from reading from modern French versions of the same text which read "arthane" or "arthame"[10].

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.