The athamé (pronounced a-THAH-may or AH-tha-may) is a magickal dagger that signifies action, domination, and power. Most traditional athamés consist of a blade that is anywhere from four to ten inches long, made from stainless steel, with a sharp point, and a hilt that is either the traditional black or a similarly dark color. The reason for the black or dark color comes from the idea that it will absorb any excess energy in a magickal working. Some magick practitioners prefer an athamé that is closer to nature, while others work with nature spirits and/or the Fae – who are offended by, or even pained by the iron in steel – while still others engage in workings that require no metal at all. For such practitioners, there are athamés with blades made from antler, bone, brass, copper, crystal, flint, polished stone, or wood. The important thing is for the blade, whatever material it is made out of, to feel natural in the practitioner’s grasp.
Some magick practitioners view the athamé as a tool that represents the element of Fire, whereas others – who have aligned themselves more closely with the ceremonial magick way of doing things – view it as a tool that represents the element of Air. As a tool that represents Fire, the athamé is traditionally associated with the South; as a tool that represents Air, it is traditionally associated with the East. For magickal practitioners who attach importance to traditional gender associations, the athamé represents the Masculine principle.
Many magick practitioners use the athamé to cast their circles. The reason for this is that the circle was traditionally cast not only keep energy within, but also to keep out anything or anyone that the practitioner didn’t want to be present. The athamé is really the shorter version of a sword, which means it is a martial tool, thereby making it the perfect tool to keep any unwanted energies and entities at bay. In keeping with its martial nature, the athamé is also the tool of choice for binding magick, or any kind of spell or working that asserts dominance and/or control. However, for many magick practitioners the athamé is also their primary tool for the channeling, focusing, and manipulation of energy. It is typically not used for cutting or engraving. For that a boline often does the job.
Whatever material the athamé is made of, it is vitally important to clean it before using it for the first time – both physically and psychically. The reason for this is because, in addition to whatever dust it may have accumulated while waiting to be purchased, it will have absorbed the energy of its environment and whoever handled it, for good or ill. Careful hand washing and hand drying will take care of the physical cleaning. For the psychic cleansing portion, there are a number of methods from which to choose. Depending on what the athamé is made of, burying it in the earth, a container of sand, or a container of sea salt for a few days will get rid of any psychic residue that might be clinging to it. Another method is to plunge the athamé into the sea, or dip it into a tub of water that has been purified with sea salt – provided it is made with materials that can handle that much water and salt. Some witches go all out by infusing martial herbs like powdered ginger root, peppercorns, chili powder, or dragon’s blood resin in distilled water mixed while the moon is waning. After sprinkling distilled water from another container onto their athamé, they pass it through smoke created by more martial herbs burning on special charcoal in their incense burner. They then heat the blade on the charcoal. Once it is good and hot, they plunge the blade into the infusion of martial herbs and blood. They do this three times, chanting the following (courtesy of Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft, Perigee, 1980):
Blade of steel I conjure thee
to ban such things as named by me!
As my word, so mote it be!
Once that is finished, they take a lodestone or a bar magnet and stroke the blade from hilt to point, chanting:
Blade of steel, I conjure thee
attract all things as named by me!
As my word, so mote it be!
After that, they paint special runes, or their own name, or the athamé’s name onto the handle, chanting something like, “Blessed be, thou knife of art.” Finally, they bury it in the earth, point down, for three days and three nights, after which they dig up the ready-to-use athamé, and wrap it in a suitably cleansed cloth for safekeeping.
The size, color and material of your athamé is a completely personal choice. It is often said your blade will choose you. It’s main job will be channeling your own energy and directing it with an amplifying focus, almost as if it is an extension of you. Choose the blade that calls to you and it will serve you well in your magickal endeavours.