I was delighted to attend a fantastic talk on athames and other sacred blades by Patheos Pagan’s managing editor, the awesome Jason Mankey of Raise the Horns.
It was held at the Atlantis Bookshop in London where Jason was promoting his new book, The Witch’s Athame: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Ritual Blades (which I shall review here at Pagan Tama at the end of the month!). It was a really friendly and personal talk with a lot of opportunity for discussion, and Jason (as you already know if you’re a regular Raise the Horns reader) not only really knows his stuff, but also knows how to explain it in a clear and engaging way. He’s as good a speaker as he is a writer.
Although it was a really valuable experience to hear about the fascinating history of the athame, and its use and meaning in witchcraft, I still have my own ideas about the athame which I am stubbornly retaining. The athame one of the most important tools in witchcraft, and perhaps that is why it generates so many debates. So here’s what I think about those debates – of course, these are just my own personal opinions and I wouldn’t for one second say that my way is the “right” way – I just wanted to share what I think about it!
To cut or not to cut?
One thing I hear repeatedly is that the athame should never be used for cutting things. Cutting somehow makes the blade impure and some witches will also tell you that the athame should never be sharp for this reason. If you want any cutting done, some witches suggest using a boline (sickle) instead, or a white-handled knife (if you want to know the difference between the two, read Jason’s book!)I respect that leaving the athame to cut only “ethereal” matter is probably what Gardner and co intended. But I have to be honest – I couldn’t imagine not using my athame to cut things. I’m not quite the same as some “Kitchen Witches” who say that athames should be used for cutting as many thing as possible to strengthen the witch’s bond with the tool – I only use my athame for ritual purposes, never the mundane.
The way I see it, the athame is a blade; it is designed for cutting, just as a chalice is designed for holding liquid (and I’ve never heard of any witches who say that chalices should not be used for holding liquid – quite the opposite!) It therefore seems very strange to me not to use it for any physical cutting at all. And a lot of cutting goes on in magic and ritual. My athame has been used to cut the bread in my Lammas ritual, cut apples offered to the deities, and even cut my wedding cake – yes, the cutting of the wedding cake is absolutely a sacred, ritual act.
With all this cutting and slicing going on, I feel that my athame would end up being made rather redundant and supplanted in its importance by the boline/white handled knife if I were to use both. Especially because there’s already a phallic, pointy tool that can’t be used for cutting on many witch’s altars – the humble wand! I realise that not all witches use the wand much, but I personally try to use every tool on my altar for as equal a time as possible, otherwise it feels rather unbalanced. Tools I find myself not using at all I remove. I suppose that if you don’t use a wand at all in your magic, it makes sense to use a non-cutting athame and a cutting boline; but if you do use a wand, I don’t see why the athame can’t be your go-to cutting tool. I personally do like using a wand, probably because wand-like implements are common in Shinto.
Speaking of athames and wands leads me on to the next point…