I want to dedicate this article to my friend and birthday twin Nicole. I hope you can hone your fire and manifest everything you deserve and desire. (That rhymed… unintentional).
What is an Athame?
An Athame is a ritual knife used is several sects of the craft. Traditionally in Neo-Pagan and Wiccan practices the hilt is black and the blade is double-sided. These knives can come in many designs, made out of many materials. Sometimes the blade, hilt, or scabbard is inscribed with designs or sigils relating to the power and use of the blade. It is one of the four consecrated ritual tools in a witch’s arsenal.
None of these tools are completely necessary, but all help channel and hone energy while practicing magic. A witch can use one, many, or none of these tools in their practice.
Athames and the Elements
The four tools that witches find sacred in these traditional practices are the athame, the wand, the pentacle, and the chalice or cauldron. They all correspond with an element – the chalice or cauldron with the element of water, the pentacle with earth, the wand with air, and the athame with fire. (Each element and tool also relates to a suit in traditional tarot – swords, wands, pentacles, and cups respectively). In some traditions the athame also relates to the element of air and the color yellow.
Because it is associated with fire, it is seen as a tool of power and directing one’s power. Thus an athame is an effective tool when evoking or banishing/releasing spirits and energies.
Uses for an Athame
Because of its relation to the elements, and evoking spirits, athames are used primarily for two things – casting a circle and calling the quarters. These are two practices are done at the beginning and end of rituals to create a safe and purified space for your magical work. This relates to fire because traditionally the circle is cast by visualizing a ring of blue or purple divine fire around your space.
Casting a Circle
When I first learned to cast a circle I was advised to picture or draw a clockwise circle three times. This invites spirits in. At the end of the ritual you draw the circle three times counter clockwise to release the spirits and energy. The athame is used as a tool to channel this protective energy. It can help focus intention and aid in visualization. The athame can also be used to slice a “door” in your protective circle if you have to exit or enter the space mid-ritual.
Calling the Quarters.
Because I practice with the elements, I found this part particularly interesting – There is a practice after the circle is cast called “calling the quarters”. It invites the energy of the elements in to your work and helps charge and protect your ritual.
The practicing witch faces each cardinal direction and invites in the corresponding element (north for earth, east for air, south for fire, west for water). To evoke the element I usually say an incantation or prayer or give an offering of some kind.
A practitioner can use an athame to draw an invoking pentagram. This visualization helps invite the element and their energy in to the cast circle. Some choose to summon the element in a clockwise rotation. At the end of the ritual you can release the elements counterclockwise using a banishing pentagram.
Here is a link showing the difference between a banishing and invoking pentagram.
I read that these pentagrams are speculated to be the reason why the blade is double sided – so you aren’t twisting your hand to cut along the proper path. I believe, personally, that it is more important to have the double-sided blade to symbolize balance since it is both an invoking and banishing tool.
All the sources I’ve found suggest that you cleanse or smudge your athame like you would any other magical object you bring into your home. Most places also recommend taking it a step further if you do plan to use the tool for regular ritual practice. It is recommended to bless or consecrate your athame.
You can look up ritual ideas for this online but it is much like imbuing any magical item with your intention. You can do it in a way that works for you. Some suggest anointing the blade or hilt with a part of you. This symbolizes your energy connected to the blade and that the item is yours now. You can use saliva, hair, vaginal fluid, or even blood if that’s your cup of tea. Just don’t use the blade for any actual cutting.
Most sources suggest keeping the blade separate from utilitarian uses. That’s for ritual purposes – you want to use this knife for specific, magical intentions and using it for mundane tasks will muddy up that energy. (The one exception I saw was kitchen witches – using knives repeatedly in kitchen witchcraft helps create a bond with the item and will help with the focusing of energy.)
I liked this reminder from one site – once consecrated your item is now sacred to you and should be treated as such.
- It’s advised to never haggle the price over an athame, ritual knife, or any other ritual tool. There wasn’t a lot of explanation why but I think it has to do with the above – aka being respectful.
- It is considered a disrespectful intrusion to touch someone else’s athame (or any sacred ritual tool) without the owner’s permission. Get that consent honeys.
- The athame, through its relations to fire, can be used to symbolize and evoke the sun god. It is used in some rituals with the chalice- symbolizing the divine, feminine moon- to evoke energy of fertility or creation.
- One website advised to never let your athame touch meat as it is associated with death and that energy will be nearly impossible to cleanse from your blade. I think this is hyperbole and I rarely subscribe to these hard lines of “never do x,y,z” in witchcraft – but as a vegan I appreciate this sentiment.
- Surprisingly, none of the sites I found had any relation between athames and ritual sacrifice. I like this. For me, it relates to the idea that this blade is not for any “cutting” use – it is purely for ritual invocation.
- There are other knives that have use in traditions of witchcraft. One is a boline – a traditionally white handled knife, sometimes with a crescent blade. This type of knife was often used for mundane purposes like cutting herbs.
- Lastly, I feel the need to say this because so many other sites do – Don’t use athames in public areas. This seems like common sense to me but I want to cover my bases. Many places have laws preventing you from openly wielding a knife in public even if it is dulled or for religious purposes. Please do your research before taking an athame out and about with you.
This tool is new to me so I wanted to do a quick deep dive on its uses and history but I am always interested in how the modern witch practically uses traditional tools. If you have an athame, let me know some of the ways you use it in your practice!
I would love to cover the other three tools I outlined above. If that is something you find interesting or have questions about, please leave comments!
Much love, and happy birthday Nikki! -Riss
Most of this article is synthesized from Wikipedia and its sources on athames. For more links from my research, look at my post HERE.