The Bad Witch’s Guide to Athames

August, 2018


The Bad Witch’s Guide to Athames

Athame rhymes with “a plane” not “ath harm eh”.

The black-handled knife, the witch’s blade, the athame: a ritual knife for casting and cutting energy and power. I’ve never been uncomfortable with knives (blame She-ra) from my pen-knife I got around 9 years old to the kitchen knives I used all the time from about 11 years of age, yet there is this anxiety about blades, more now than when I was younger most especially with some women.

Much in the same way I think everyone should know how to use a saw, axe, drill and spade (shovels are from moving stuff, spades are for digging) and knife, I believe all magickal practitioners need to learn how to use a magickal knife.

The athame is different from a boline (or white-handled knife) in that it doesn’t cut physical things. A good knife is worth its weight and mine is an old pairing or pruning knife. As an avid forager it’s a handy tool out and about and in circle.

My athame is not actually black-handled. It is hand turned pear wood, and has a hand forged blade. Where I keep my boline in my handbag or on a shelf my athame is covered and hidden. It doesn’t leave my home unless I’m doing ritual somewhere else.

To some it represents air, thought and focus, while for others it represents fire. Both have merit, a blade is after all usually formed of metal which is forged or at least heated to high temperatures, yet it is cool and sharp like a cold wind when formed. I’m in general not usually a fan of crystal knives. Mainly because they are not knife like enough. Made of soft, porous and delicate crystal I find it as useful and ridiculous as a glass hammer. There are exceptions, a friend has a family athame which is a jaw bone (I forget which animal) and a sharp slate blade. Flit, obsidian and other knapped or worked sharp stones are can be rather cool but require a LOT of skill to make and use.

This anxiety of using a knife, a cutting knife as a tool often steams from the same place as women whom are afraid of other “masculine” tools. Unless it is operated with your genitals it is just a tool. Female surgeons don’t shun scalpels as “too scary”. Cutting things away, letting them go, removing the unhealthy isn’t cruel it is necessary. When you are creating anything you must also be able to destroy or dissolve. A witch blade is also a lightning rod for power.

While a wand can and does bring that kind of power in circle it is more insulated, muted or defused. That is to say what it channels feels distinctively different than that of a metal blade. If the staff is warm and nurturing the blade crackles with potential.

I like to use my blade when casting and calling. It is empowering and when I salute after drawing my evocations it feels respectful and powerful. When used in the symbolic Great Rite it channels that powerful masculine presence into the cup or chalice. (You can’t do that with a selenite “blade”). When I release the circle I can cut away anything that shouldn’t be there. If I need to banish something I take my athame. Apparently there isn’t much scary than an irate ginger with a knife, even for dead and icky things. A witch’s blade is an extension of their power and connection to the Gods. To touch it of defile it is an act of spiritual desecration and great dishonour. This is why having a simple blade when you begin is not only acceptable but necessary. Better a cheap or simple athame that reflects where you are with your power and connection to the Gods than one that is fancy and unconnected. While precious it is a tool and we become better at handling tools with practice. Likewise you might want something small if you are in a smaller space on a regular basis or if that feel more comfortable in the hand. There is a tradition where you don’t haggling the price of an athame. I like this idea. You can buy vintage or exotic blades but some of these can have dark histories and I would never recommend military weapons, like WW2 daggers, however nice they look. These have most likely seen blood and even reproductions can have violent vibration. If you are going to buy second hand cleanse the fuck out of them (a full ritual is best) laying the blade within in a circle of salt and cleansing herbs and even clean with metal safe oils.

Another cool tradition I like about athames is naming them. It should represent itself (the essence of the thing) as well as what you hope it will become. Don’t use unknown languages to you, rather keep it crisp and simple. Fin, (some blades have fish scale patterns) Brink, Storm, Courage. Steel, Wolf’s Tooth, or whatever you and your Gods find appropriate. It is important to maintain your blade and its name secretly. Privately might be a better way of putting it. This is between you and the Divine.

An athame should never be used to draw blood and ones that have are considered “cursed” and most often destroyed rather than reused. (I worked in the largest pagan store in Manchester for a while and you would not believe the crazy shit I saw, including a husband who cut himself deliberately with his wife’s athame as she was leaving him).

My point about athames is this: since before we had fabric, we had blades. We are a tool making species. Drawing a shining blade from heating rocks was as magickal then as it is now. Knives first made from sharp stone, cooper, then bronze, then iron and then steel. Every adult used to own and carry their own knife. While they definitely have a “masculine” energy they are not evil, or inherently violent. They do require some skill and patience to use correctly. Athames are no different in this respect. They, like thoughts can be cutting or healing, kind or cruel. An athame can liberate and empower. It is a double edge one more witch’s should feel comfortable wielding.

Cords and censer, scourge and knife:

Power of the Witch’s blade;

Waken ye unto life,

Come ye as the charm is made!”


Moon Owl Observations

December, 2011

The Athame

Even though knives, daggers and swords have been used in magic for a long time, we owe Gerald Gardner with the specifics and uses of the modern day athame. He first mentioned it in his writings in the 1950s and many people may not realize that he actually is the founder of the ceremonial dagger itself.

The athame is typically a short, black handled knife with a double edged blade. There are a large number of people that will dull down the tip of the blade so as not to accidentally cut something. Using the blade for self defence, drawing blood or cutting anything makes it null of any magical use. If you need to cut something, a white handled blade called a boline (bolline) should be used. Generally the athame represents Fire specifically because the blade itself is forged in flame. Some modern pagans will use an athame with a wooden blade, and when this is the case it should then be associated with Air. It is common practice to place symbols or inscriptions like your astrological sign on the athame to build up the magical link.

When choosing your athame, you should feel comfortable and confident while handling it. Never haggle over the price and remember the athame chooses you as much as you choose it. It should be considered as an extension of the users self. Once it is in your possession try to keep it within your aura for at least a month. This may be hard in some cases for security reasons so try to at a minimum keep it with you while you sleep. Once the athame is consecrated and a strong bond is formed the athame is connected to you and some pagans consider it to have it’s own soul and choose to name it.  You should always treat your athame with the greatest respect and it should be a necessary tool for your magic. When you are not using it, wrap it up and keep it with you or in a safe place.

The athame’s primary use is to channel and direct energy. It is traditionally used to invoke the elemental guardians, or calling the quarters and in covens, the athame can be used for initiation ceremonies. The athame has a masculine principle and so it is often used with the chalice(cup) as a feminine principle. This clearly evokes the art of universal creativity and the act of procreation.  This tool is important in magical ritual and even though it hasn’t been around for a long time, it has been adopted into ritual and magic since the revival in the 50’s.

Wicca 101

January, 2010

Tool Time


In the TV sitcom Home Improvement, the father Tim Taylor was obsessed with tools and “more power.”  We Wiccans use tools in our spiritual practice and magick and they are means of representing and channeling power.  But, there are misunderstandings as far as their necessity, cost and purpose.

I met one of my online friends because of a message she posted on a board regarding tools.  She asked if it was necessary to have every tool in order to be a Wiccan and if it was necessary to spend a lot of money on them because someone told her both things were true.  I posted a reply explaining that she did not have to have every tool upfront, paying more for them did not make them better and when all was said and done, the magick was in her and the tools were just props.  We are still in contact and she has returned the favor by giving me advice at a difficult time in my life.

It has been said that it is possible to practice magick without any tools but yourself and I have found that to be true.  I have conducted rituals and raised power strictly in my head, but I prefer it with tools and find it more fulfilling that way.  Seeing tools, especially on an altar, sets the mood and tells your subconscious that it is time for ritual and all the emotions and focus involved in it.  I have participated in a group ritual only once and there was an altar and tools as well as a candle for each participant.  I imagine that it would be quite difficult to have an effective group ritual without tools because it would not be likely that everyone could have the same focus and imagination that it takes to perform a ritual without tools.

Each tool and other items on your altar serve as a visual/physical representation of an element and/or purpose.  Besides, it can be fun to find and use them and you don’t even have to grunt, “more power.”  It is easier to focus on calling the elements to your circle when you are looking at and touching objects that represent them.  Many Wiccans purify the ritual area with the elements at the start of ritual and in my experience it is more effective to have an object at hand, such as a broom to sweep negativity out of the area, than to just visualize it.  Candles definitely add to the mood of a ritual and can be used for candle magick.  There are items that may not be considered tools in the strict sense, but are quite useful in magick. It would be impossible to work cord magick without a piece of cord or yarn or to use crystals and herbs without having them in front of you.  Traditionally, we have images or representations of the Lady and Lord and it is easier to connect with a particular god or goddess when you have an image of them.  There could also be items related to a type of magick you practice such as scales for justice or a hex sign for Braucherei.

While it is fun to shop for tools at a metaphysical shop or online, especially if you can afford the fancy, pretty ones, it is not necessary and spending more does not make them one bit more effective.  I agree with the statement that when you make something you use in ritual, it is embedded with your own personal power, making for a stronger link.  While it is not practical to make your own athame unless you are a blacksmith, it is easy to make your own wand and depending on your skill, you could make your own chalice (ceramic or wood) or pentacle altar tile out of wood, wax or ceramic.  If you are skilled at sewing, you could also make your own ritual gown.  I paid at total of about $65 for all the tools on my altar and spent about eleven years accumulating them.  My altar cloth is 3/4 of a yard of a fabric with a moon and stars pattern that appealed to me.  My broom is a cinnamon broom that is commonly used for decorative purposes and my wand is a stick from a maple tree in the front yard of a house where I lived at the time that I whittled.  The chalice is a green glass goblet with a gold rim that I bought at a fast food restaurant one Yule for 99 cents and my athame is a bone letter opener purchased at a Native American pow-wow.  I found my brass cauldron at a yard sale and the glass candle holders I favor can be found at any store for about a dollar each.  The images of the Lady and Lord that are placed on my altar are small prints purchased for about $10 each from a Pagan artist.  There are things that cost me nothing such as a black raven feather representing air but also a gift from the goddess Morrighan which fell at my feet as I was mowing the yard and a rock I found that represents earth.

The important thing when you are acquiring tools is that they appeal to you, mean something to you and fit your magickal practice.  I did not purchase a traditional steel bladed athame because I like to work with the fae and iron negatively affects their energy.  Two years ago, I was at a local pow-wow where Native American craftspeople were selling their wares and spotted a bone letter opener.  I picked it up and held it as I would an athame and it felt right, so I bought it.  If you follow a Native American influenced path you will probably want to focus on tools with that theme, but if you are Celtic or Norse, your tools will likely reflect that in some way.  If you can’t afford a tool, pass on it and maybe you will have the money another day or something else will come along that you will like better.

It is not necessary to have a complete collection of tools to call yourself Wiccan.  Until I found the right athame, I used my hand by curling back my ring finger, little finger and thumb like the Boy Scout salute and never had a problem casting a circle.  You can use a cup you already have until you find one you want to set aside as a chalice and you could use two candles (which are cheap) to represent the Lady and Lord.  I found the process of finding the right tools to be an adventure and learning experience, not to be rushed.  You may find over time that your selection of tools changes.  My first wand was also a stick from a tree in my yard, but I carved characters in it and stained it.  I just didn’t like the way it turned out and it did not feel right in my hand, so I whittled another stick and left it plain, which suited me much better.  At one time, I had a Barbie doll in a witch outfit that I used to represent our witchy “ancestors”,  but I decided that the image of Barbie was not appropriate.  Someone to whom I delivered mail gave me a pewter miniature of a wizard, probably from a Dungeons and Dragons game, which served the same purpose and I felt much better about using it in that manner.

Lets briefly review the purpose of the common tools.  The broom or besom is used to sweep away negativity and is a symbol closely associated with witches.  The athame is used to direct power, particularly in casting and taking down the circle, as well as cutting a door in the circle when necessary.  It is not used for cutting anything physical.  The wand is used as an instrument of communication, particularly when calling or speaking to entities.  The cauldron is an instrument of transformation as well as a place where things come together to make something new.  Candles provide illumination as well as having a magick of their own.  Incense also sets the mood as well as representing air in the circle.  The important thing to remember about tools is that they are a means to magick and a representation of something in ritual.  The real magick is in each of us and we channel energy through us and our tools to accomplish our ends.  If you think of ritual as a play, our tools are props in that they make it easier to perform the play and make it more meaningful, but they are not the play.  Happy hunting in seeking out your tools and may it be as rewarding and educational an experience for you as it was for me.

New to the Craft

January, 2009

Tools of the Trade

Wicca is a path rich in symbolism.  Ritual and symbols connect practitioners, forming a common thread which ties them to the same tradition.  Solitary Wiccans are not necessarily as bound as coven members to follow the same protocols – after all there is no one working alongside them to see what they may or may not do in their private practice.  But just as myths form a common heritage of wisdom which we can all draw upon, the traditional symbols of Wicca offer a way of joining both coven witches and solitaries via the same language.  After all, symbols are not necessarily useful in themselves, but instead point us towards profound ideas and truths which we may not see in our ordinary lives.

The famous tools of the witch are an important part of traditional Wiccan symbology.  As a solitary it is easy to ask why and even if these tools are required.  For instance the athame, or black-handled knife, is a crucial part of circle construction in British Traditional Wicca.  Is a solitary therefore stuck unable to construct a circle until obtaining one?  Of course not.  One of the hallmarks of Wicca is improvisation.  Tools have the psychological impact of making one feel connected to and a part of Wicca, and at the same time they aid the new witch in using the most important tool of all: the mind.  Visualization and the manipulation of energy by willpower is the basic practice of magic.  It is completely possible to use no tools at all and perform successful spells.  But when you are a beginner that’s sort of like trying to fly before you can crawl.  If I use an athame to direct energy and create a circle my mind sees what I am doing and the visualization is reinforced.  All of our tools are used in this way, in order to strengthen our skills and aid our practice.  Here is a brief summary of the primary toolkit:

Athame – the black-handled knife used to direct energy, especially in circle construction; traditional Wiccans bestow this upon 1st level initiation to signify that the member has become a witch; commonly represents the element of fire

Cup/Chalice – a vessel which commonly holds wine or water to be consumed during ritual; many traditional rituals call for combined use of the athame (as the male symbol) and the chalice (as the female symbol); commonly represents the element of water

Pentacle – a flat disc inscribed with a five-pointed star; objects to be consecrated are typically placed upon the pentacle; commonly represents the element of earth

Wand – a length of wood (through sometimes made of other materials) used for invocations; commonly represents the element of air

Those four are the primary tools used in most rituals and representing the basic elements.  There are also a few tools which are very useful for practical reasons, they are:

Censer – the incense burner; burning incense is a common way of identifying the working space as sacred; it also combines the elements of fire and air in a literal way on the altar (to likewise combine water and earth Wiccans can add salt to the chalice of water in ritual)

Cauldron – a large vessel traditionally made of cast iron and resting on three legs; this is a very practical tool for creating brews or herbal remedies, but can be used for a variety of purposes including as an alternate incense burner; strong symbolic links to the Goddess and reincarnation

This comprises the basic list of Wiccan tools.  There are many others, such as the broom and the bell, which I will not mention here solely due to my unfamiliarity with them.  Many witches might also add tools of divination like the crystal ball.  Which tools one finds to be the most useful and necessary will naturally vary from person to person.  In my own practice I focus on the tools which represent the elements and aid in the creation of ritual space.

After knowing what the tools are and why they are important the next question for a beginner is when to obtain them.  I am not of the mind that you need to run right out to the nearest occult store and buy every tool on this list before you can begin.  In fact I am emphatically against it.  Sure you may end up with a shiny set of new tools, but if there is more of a process or effort in finding them the rewards are a set of meaningful tools that the practitioner can connect with and use much more effectively.  Handmade tools can be even more useful, and one doesn’t need to be a master craftsman to be effective.  Creativity can only add to the result.  A simple knife can be painted black at the handle and consecrated for use.  A found branch can be whittled to make a wand.  The more personal the tools are the greater they will be in harnessing your energy and imagination, after all that is what you are imprinting them with when you make them!  There is also something to be said for gradually obtaining or creating each tool as you progress in Wicca.  Solitary practitioners have no one to tell them how fast or slow to go, and sometimes in our eagerness we want to do everything at once.  That is when it is important to remember that it is not the outward symbols that are of primary importance, but rather the inner journey.  Witches can have no effectiveness unless they are able to train their will, and while these tools definitely assist in that process, they are no substitute for the discipline necessary to harness one’s power within.

Journal for the Month of December:

Most of this month was taken up with frenzied holiday cookie baking and shopping!  Currently I’m reading A Witches Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar.  It’s a fascinating look at traditional Wicca as practiced in Gardnerian and Alexandrian circles, and as a solitary I’m drawing a lot from it in terms of structure for rituals and such.  I’m not a big “follow the rules” kind of person when it comes to spirituality, but if I’m going to deviate it helps to know what I’m deviating from.

The holidays have confronted me with an issue I’m sure many of us deal with which is -how do I go about celebrating and do I tell my family anything about my new path?  Do I start saying Yule instead of Christmas?  Personally I have a very loving family who has never been anything but supportive – but I am not planning on telling any of them about my path in Wicca.  Of course I don’t want to risk a bad reaction with people I love and see every year, but I think it is also because I just don’t want to make everyone uncomfortable.  My family is Christian, though not overly-religious.  I don’t know how much they know of Wicca, and of course I could explain it to them, but for something I am new at myself I don’t want to put myself in the position of defending something I am maybe not yet equipped for.  I feel a bit sad keeping it inside, but I remind myself that this is after all a personal journey, and I understand that religion is a very sensitive issue to a lot of people.  Once I am more comfortable and knowledgeable there might be a time to “come out of the broom closet” so to speak.  But for now, I am planning on spending a wonderful solstice with my family and friends, and whatever name we all call it by, we are all there to celebrate the season with those we love – that part will never change.

Until next month, blessed be! )O(