The athame – the tool that some say is the most important for any practicing Witch or Pagan, and the one most misunderstood by law enforcement and other non-Pagans. What is the athame? How do you pronounce “athame”? Should it be sharp?
What’s the difference between an athame and a boline? Where can you get one? How can you safely take your athame to a ritual not at your house? And just which of the four elements is it supposed to represent anyway?
What is an athame?
The athame is a double-edged knife – double-edged like a dagger, rather than single-edged like your favorite kitchen paring knife. Traditionally, it also has a plain, black, wooden hilt, although that is not necessarily the rule unless your coven leader says it is.
There are some lovely athames with intricately carved hilts out there, including some with silver or gemstone inlay. If one of them “speaks to you” and your group allows it (and you can afford it) , then by all means get it and use it joyfully! The athame is used to physically draw the circle in the air during circle casting, and to consecrate pretty much anything the owner wants consecrated.
Your athame is your own – you may let other people touch your tarot cards and drink from your ritual chalice, but your athame should only be touched by *you*. If you have a large enough ritual space, i.e. you tend to lead a lot of rituals outdoors that are attended by several dozen people each, you may wish to forego the smaller blade in favor of a ritual sword. It serves the same purpose and is easier for the participants to see.
How do you pronounce “athame”?
“Athame” is pronounced either uh-THAW-mee or ATH-uh-may. Ath-AIM is incorrect; so is ARTH-aim, uh-THEEM and uh-THEEM-ee.
Should the athame be sharp?
In general, the athame is not sharpened, primarily for safety reasons. Think about it – in order to cast a circle, one is usually walking around a *very* dark room that is at best comfortably full of furniture and at worst also uncomfortably full of people sitting on the floor. This is not a good situation in which to be tripping and falling with a very sharp knife in your hand. Just so the blade has the potential to be sharp if necessary, i.e. it is made of metal. That is good enough for the Gods and should be good enough for us, too. Which leads us to…
What’s the difference between a boline and an athame?
Easy: a boline is sharp and an athame is not. Traditionally, the boline also has a white handle, but I have known many witches who have gone to a camping store and purchased a perfectly good red-hilted Swiss Army knife to use as their boline (which has the added benefit of a built-in corkscrew with which to open the bottle of ritual wine!) .
An athame *never* cuts anything physical – it is strictly an energy tool. The boline is the practical knife – if you need to trim a too-long candle wick, cut up some herbs, etc. while in ritual, the boline is the tool you reach for, not your athame.
Where can you get an athame?
There are countless online shops that sell pre-made athames. If you want something more personalized, do a Google search on “handcrafted athame” and see if you like the wares from any of the artisans’ sites that pop up. Wal-Mart used to sell the little four-inch wooden-handled boot daggers, complete with a clip on the sheath; I don’t know if Wal-Mart still sells them, though.
Check out flea markets and garage sales near you – you never know what someone is willing to getting rid of for a dollar or two. If you are a devout kitchen witch and consider cooking and feeding folks to be your primary ritual/magickal practice, you probably don’t need a double-edged blade. Treat yourself to a really nice kitchen knife – and sharpen it!
How can you safely take an athame to a ritual