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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The one personal tool, used by every Witch, whether Solitary or coven member, is the athamé (pronounced either a-tham-ay or a-th'm-ay). It is a knife with a straight, double-edged blade, although a few traditions accept a single-edged blade. In many traditions, the handle and/or blade is incised with various symbols pertinent to that particular tradition. The handle is usually black, to aid in the tool's absorption of energies from the user.

The name athamé is of unknown origin, although the Clavicle of Solomon, an ancient magical manuscript or grimoire from 1572, mentions the name Arthana in connection with a similar ritual knife.

As with all magical tools, the best are entirely handmade. Ready-made, storebought, knives are acceptable as long as the owner then does some work on the tool, if only the carving of the symbols. In this way, it is believed that he or she is putting personal energy into the knife.

Iron has universally been thought of as a magical metal, being found in meteoric stones that fell to earth. The Ancient Egyptians called iron "metal from the sky"; the Aztecs called it "the gift of heaven." Its power was seen to come from the fact that it was scarcer than wood or stone and yet far superior to these for the making of tools and weapons. A specialist was needed to fashion the metal and that specialist, the smith, came to be regarded as magical as well.

Knives and swords used in magic invariably have metal blades, reflecting this belief in the power of iron. The one exception in Wicca seems to be the Frost tradition, where iron is studiously avoided in favor of brass or copper.

Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah says that a sixteenth-century manuscript, telling of the manufacture of a magical sword, specifies that it be fashioned of unalloyed steel tempered in the blood of a goose or the juice of the pimpernel, consecrated on a Sunday and exorcised by being exposed to a fire made of laurel and vervane (verbena). Other manuscripts say that the tool should be consecrated in the hour and on the day of Mercury. Witches are not as specific, being content simply to consecrate with salt and water (never blood) and the smoke of incense.

The athamé is not used for physical cutting. It is a ritual tool, used for casting a Circle, for cutting through such a Circle to enter or leave, and for invocations and evocations. It can serve in place of a Sword or a Wand, if necessary. From such use, it becomes charged with the energy of its owner and can act like a capacitor, storing energy for later release.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
But in Liverpool city centre, there are several stores that sell daggers, labelled as athames - ceremonial daggers used by wiccans, many of whom are teenaged Goths.
AThames Valley Policespokesman confirmed that they were at the scene as part of an ongoing murder investigation after an incident in Southfield Road, Oxford.