exWitch Australia
Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

ATHAME (Ritual Knife) - (pron: "Ath-a-MAY" or "Ath-AY-Mee")
The WebMaster's Athame... looking a little worn around the edges and still with wax on the handle from a toppled Altar candle during a ritual...
The WebMaster's old Athame
...looking a little worn around the edges and still with wax on the handle from a toppled Altar candle during a ritual...

        Most Traditions of Wicca recognise the use of eight Working Tools (Sword, Athame, Boline, Wand, Pentacle, Thurible, Scourge, Cords), which in some Traditions are all presented to a Witch on their 1st Degree of Initiation, whilst in others only the Athame is presented to the 1st Degree Initiate.

The Athame is a black-handled, double-edged dagger or knife employed to draw or cast, and to consecrate, the nine-foot Magic Circle within which a Pentagram may be laid and cosmic powers concentrated.

It is also representative of the phallus in the rite of cakes and wine, when it is dipped ritually into the Chalice to symbolize the sexual and divine union of male and female - God and Goddess.

Regarded as the most important tool of a witch, the Athame is generally placed on the Altar, though in some Traditions (such as that practiced by my old Coven) may be worn in a scabbard slung from the waist.

Generally speaking, any knife can function as a ritual knife and hunting and weaponry shops offer an assortment of futuristic, medieval, and gothic styles, and a variety of shapes, sizes, and blades.  However, many extract a purer sense of self, Spiritualism, and magical results through the personal construction and use of an Athame.

The origin of the use of daggers in Pagan rituals is uncertain and the subject of much disagreement among Pagan scholars.   It is clear, however, that numerous magical and religious Traditions, ancient and modern, used a knife of some kind in ritual.   The medieval magical text known as the Key of Solomon includes description of a magical knife identified as an arthana.  

The Athame, represents a subtle energy not easily comprehended by an individual who has never used the tool in spiritual or magical practice.

Many people think of the knife as a weapon of destruction, combat and victory.   These common descriptions offer clues to the knife's ritualistic role; destruction of evil, combat in life (survival), and victory within the natural and unnatural worlds.

The ancient use of the knife constituted a force or power that was easily understood and recognized.   Often, the ancient rites recognized the ritual dagger as the magician's power manifested in matter.

In contemporary Paganism, the ritual knife is not usually used for cutting - in fact it is absolutely forbidden to use the blade to cut anything physical in most Wiccan Traditions!

It must be remembered, however, that different Pagan Traditions use the ritual knife for different reasons and roles.   Often it is incorporated into ritual for the Casting or closing of the circle and is frequendy associated with the masculine aspects of Nature - the God.

The phallic structure of the ritual knife links it to the Wiccan God.  

One use descended from ancient practice still exists - the tool channels and tames the imperceptible energies of the religious or magical cause (the will of the owner), and enables them to be used in ritual.

In Wicca, the ritual knife is primarily used to direct energy raised during Spells and ritual and to channel energy through the knife.   The athame is a tool that causes change, and it is an instrument of power, manipulation, and command.

Members of the Golden Dawn use an Air Dagger, a double-edged blade with a "T" shaped wooden handle.   It represents the element of Air and is restricted from cutting any living thing.

Essentially, a ritual knife may be used for whatever purpose you deemed fit under the ethical and constructive practices of one's individual path.

This is an especially honoured tool is considered extremely personal.   Many Pagan Traditions stress this personal nature by not using another practitioner's knife.

In some cases of working partners, a couple, or a Coven, this etiquette may be bypassed by acquiring the owner's permission.

Unlike other Pagan paths, most established Wiccan Traditions consider the athame a personal tool belonging to one Witch only, not shared even within a Coven.

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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one defintion may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differring practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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