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A common ritual tool for witches is the athame, or ceremonial dagger used in rituals and magic work.
A similar tool is the boline, which has a different purpose. While the athame is usually only used for directing energy, a boline can be used for cutting ritual ingredients like herbs as well.
The name athame was probably made up by Gerald Gardner, but the term is in popular use now by many types of pagans and witches, even outside of Wicca.
One possible etymological link comes from the Latin word artavus. While not directly related to witchcraft or magic, an artavus was a specific kind of knife: A small penknife that was used to sharpen pens for scribes.
In that translation, I can see the link to a magical use: Writing has long been associated with magic.
The ritual use of knives in magic is actually of ancient origin. Both the Key of Solomon and the Grimoire of Honorius mentioned the used of knives to cast circles and invoke the directions. That means ritual daggers have been used for at least 800 years, and maybe even longer.
The athame has a few different energetic and spiritual correspondences.
- Some traditions hold the athame corresponds with the fire element, while others say it corresponds with the air element.
- It has masculine energy. It’s a phallic symbol that corresponds to male deities and maleness in general.
- It is energetically projective, meaning it directs and projects energy.
- Its colors are red and yellow.
- Its directions are South and East.
What Is The Purpose Of An Athame?
In ritual and magic work, athames are used to direct energy and draw boundaries.
For instance, if you are working with a coven and you are trying to direct healing energy at a member of your coven that is sick or dealing with a break up, you could do that by building up that healing energy in the athame then pointing it at that person to release the energy.
Another use for the athame is to channel your will into a magical intent. Our magical will is the power that allows us to create change in the world, it is the energy source of all magic.
How To Use An Athame
There are many uses for an athame, keeping in mind its purpose of holding and employing magical energy.
- Casting the circle: If you cast circles or other protective boundaries in your practice, an athame can direct your protective energy.
- Calling the quarters: This is when you invite the elements of earth, air, fire, and water into your ritual to aid and empower your magic. The athame acts as a lightning rod to draw these elements to your ritual space.
- Drawing lines: These can be either visible or magical lines carved into dirt, salt, or magical objects.
- Mixing: The athame is used for mixing salt and water, combining the elements of a potion, picking up ingredients with the point, and even measuring proportions by the tip of the blade.
- Scrying: You can scry in the reflective surface of the athame. Unline mirrors and other scrying methods, this is best done to find your true path or discover your heart’s true desire.
- Charging: Use the athame to direct energy when consecrating or charging magical objects like amulets, talismans, or poppets.
- Setting limits: Create boundary lines with your athame, ceremonially marking a limit between yourself and someone or something else. This is useful in divorces.
- Pendulums: A string wrapped around the handle of your blade will allow you to use the tip of the ritual dagger as a pendulum, answering yes or no questions.
- Carving: When you’re carving into candles or other objects for ritual, your athame can help to infuse your carving with your magical intent.
It’s important to note that many people recommend avoiding letting others touch your athame. Personally, if I am working with someone I do allow them to touch my athame, but then I cleanse it of their energy after by rinsing it with salt water.
How To Choose An Athame
Ritual knives come in many different shapes, sizes and materials. Which you choose will depend on the uses of your knife and how much built in energy you want it to hold.
You should choose a size and shape that is aesthetically pleasing for you, but it should also fit into your hand easily. You don’t want a knife that is too heavy to wield easily.
The size of your athame is of no magical relevance, so just choose one that suits your needs. Consider where your athame will be used most often.
If you have a small altar, a smaller athame makes more sense. But if you work with a coven, you will probably want an athame large enough to be seen from somewhat far away.
You should also consider the size of your other tools. You don’t want your athame to be much larger or comically smaller than your chalice or wand.
Don’t forget, though, that you can have multiple athames for different uses. Having a few that can be used for different needs means you will have one less thing to worry about and accommodate for.
Unlike the size of the athame, the material does have magical relevance and should be considered before making a purchase. Different materials have different magical correspondences which can have an effect on your magic or rituals.
Traditionally, athames are made of steel or iron with wooden handles. However, if you work with the Fae, you may want to avoid iron as it offends the Fae.
You can find athames made from plastic, wood, bone, resin, or even crystals.
Shamans may find themselves called to have an athame made from the bone of an animal they work with often, while others may be called to an all-wood athame.
Rubber, plastic, and resin materials aren’t ideal for most rituals and spells. They do allow for an energetically neutral tool. These materials hold no specific correspondences and thus won’t flavor your spell, so if you only want your own magical intent to go into your magic, one of those materials may be ideal for you.
And if you find that your athame is almost perfect but could use some more magical power, you can always add your own gemstones, handle carvings, and other embellishments.
Gerald Gardner specified that the blade of an athame should be double edged, and this has stuck around. Did this happen because most illustrations of athames depicted double edged knives, or is there a specific magical reason for this? No one knows for sure.
There is, though, a benefit in not having to rotate your athame or worry about cutting in the wrong direction when your knife is double edged.
Metaphorically, a double edged blade can do either good or harm.
One thing is certain, though: Your blade should be sharp. There are times when a duller knife is better, like when you’re doing a ritual with children present, but in most cases a sharper knife will lead to more precise spells and energy projection.
Just make sure you have your athame effectively wrapped when not in use to keep yourself and others safe.
Purifying And Consecrating An Athame
Purifying an athame allows you to change or dissipate the energy that the knife holds.
A pre-owned knife may have a history of negative energy, and it may have even been used to harm another person. I’m sure you don’t want that kind of energy going into your spell work!
Methods Of Purification
- Expose the athame to sunlight for a full hour every day for a full moon cycle.
- Cleanse the entire knife with salt water (For best results, use moon water).
- Keep the athame surrounded by crystals for a full week. Make sure some of those crystals are black, since black crystals are the best at absorbing negative energy.
- Use smoke cleansing by allowing the smoke of an herb bundle or incense to flow over every inch of the athame.
What about consecrating your athame?
Consecrating allows a normal knife to be transformed into an athame ready to be used for magic. This process should be done after purification.
There are many ways to consecrate a knife, and how you do it may depend on your tradition. A simple method can be done for eclectic witches:
Place your athame on your altar, where it will sit for 24 hours after this ritual is performed.
Cast a circle if desired, and then call on any deities you wish to work with to help you to consecrate this knife.
Then, you must inform the knife of its new purpose. Eileen Holland suggests using the phrase, “Knife, you are brought into this circle of transformation to be forever after my athame.”
Once this is done, you simply leave your athame on your altar for 24 hours, after which it is ready to be used.
Some witches name their athame, as well. I suggest you choose a name that resonates with you, but would caution against using the name of a deity. It comes off as presumptuous.