If you are a long-time reader of ours, you have probably read our article on Wiccan symbols. Today, we are having a more detailed look on the athame knife/dagger which is not only one of the most prominent Wiccan symbols but is also physically used as an integral piece of Wiccan rituals. Here is all you need to know about the athame knife, its use as a symbol and importance for Wiccan faith.
But what is an athame? Pronounced A-thuh-may or a-THAW-me, an athame is a double-edged ritual knife that is used in witchcraft and neopagan religions to cut energies, draw boundaries and other sacred symbols.
It typically features a black handle that is often inscribed with some sacred symbols and about a 6-inch long, double-edged and pointed blade.
The blade, however, is not sharp because it is not used to cut anything on the physical plane. Another reason for the dull blade is to prevent any harm to the user while performing rituals.
The blades of athames were traditionally made of steel, but now they are being made with different materials, such as bronze, copper, bone, and wood.
The term ‘athame’ is believed to have originated from the Latin word ‘artavus’, which was a quill knife and has been mentioned in the old manuscripts of ‘The Key of Solomon’; a popular grimoire from the medieval period.
The practitioners of modern witchcraft are of the opinion that the word ‘athame’ was first used by Gerald Brosseau Gardner, the British author who wrote Witchcraft Today. This is why many believe that ‘athame’ is his own variation of ‘arthame’; a word that is found in earlier witchcraft and magic books.
There are only a few pieces of art that show witches and pagans holding an athame.
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What is an Athame Knife/Dagger Used for?
With the exception of Kitchen Witchcraft, a growing movement within modern Paganism that encourages witches to use magical tools for other (mundane) purposes so they can get familiar with them, Pagan religions only use athame knives for performing certain ritual acts.
These include casting circles at the start of rituals, directing a Wiccan’s personal energy, and for summoning and banishing the spirit entities that are believed to be present at the ceremonies as guardian angels. It is also used to cut and reseal a door in a ritual circle and for cutting negative energies.
And while Hollywood has made many of us believe otherwise, an athame dagger is never used to cut any tangible thing. The athame is often confused with the ‘boline’, which is the knife that is used for cutting ingredients, rope, and twine for the ritual.
The reason why most witchcraft traditions place a huge emphasis on exercising precaution while using an athame dagger and strictly prohibit its use for any other purpose than performing rituals is because it is believed that an athame dagger doesn’t remain a symbol of will, once it has tasted blood. Instead, it becomes a weapon that is consecrated to service the God of War.
The knife is considered a personal tool of Wiccans. There are specific rituals for purification and consecration that should be performed when a person buys or acquires an athame knife from someone else.
Using or even touching someone else’s athame without permission is considered a ritual faux pas and an intrusion of personal space. The act is also believed to violate the bond between the owner and the athame and requires ritual purification and consecration to be performed once again.
The ownership of the ritual knife is held in such high regard that it is also buried into the ground with the owner when they die, so they can take their personal tool to the next world.
Athame Knife as a Symbol and Its Meaning
In many witchcraft traditions and Pagan religions, the athame is considered the symbol of the element of fire. However, some also regard it as the symbol of the element of air.
The first association comes from the fact that knives are forged in the fire during the manufacturing process. Another reason for linking the knife with fire is that they both are considered agents of transformation.
Those who link athame with the element of air draw the association on the basis of the fact that the athame is used in the air to direct energy. It also comes from the fact that knives are sharp and sharpness is associated with intellect – in the psychological context, the element of air symbolizes intellect and knowledge.
Due to its assertive and masculine qualities, the athame is also considered a representation of God.
The knife is also one of the four essential tools of modern Wicca; the other three are chalice, wand, and pentacle, and its handle is believed to store magical energy. The magical energy is raised in rituals to be used for certain tasks later on, such as for performing spells.
In many Wiccan traditions, the use of athame is also considered a metaphorical symbol of cutting out or killing the old, unpleasant, and unwanted memories and emotions.
Often, the athame dagger is also plunged into the wine chalice before it is shared at the climax of the ceremony or ritual. Since the athame is considered a masculine principle and the chalice is a feminine principle, this act is considered a symbol of procreation and universal creativity.
Since the knife is one of the essential tools of witchcraft, it is also considered a symbol of witch-hood.
The double edges of the blade are considered to represent the dual nature of the universe, such as good and evil, positive and negative, masculine and feminine, and projection and reception. It also symbolizes the dual nature of magic or the purpose it is used for, i.e., protection and attack, healing and destruction, or good or evil.
Lastly, the athame knife also symbolizes the ability of a person to make choices and distinctions, to separate things, to bring change, and to kill falsehood to reveal the truth.
If you liked our piece on the athame knife, its meaning and uses in Wicca, we highly recommend you to read our posts on Wiccan and pagan symbols as well as individual articles on other symbols like pentacle.
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