athame

What is an Athame?

I was watching a Wiccan ritual where the High Priestess was using an athame and decided to follow up with other beginners of the craft if they understood its purpose. And I suddenly realized that there are many folks who ask what is an athame used for and what meaning does it have in ritual?

An athame, is a ritualistic knife (or dagger), used in Wiccan rituals, ceremonies, spells and rites. It is most commonly used to focus one’s intention, energy and mind during spell work or rituals. It is used to direct your thoughts, intention, and mind at a specific goal. Whereas some other tools such as wands, and staffs might be used to gather energy, an athame can be used to focus it, control it and also to cut through it.

A great example of that is using an athame to draw a magic circle before the start of a ritual, rite, or ceremony. To cast the circle, the witch walks around the sacred space three times in a clockwise direction, while holding out the athame and pointing it towards the ground. As they walk around the circle, they envision the image of pure white being transferred through the actual athame blade tip and would imagine a white light being drawn on the ground as they walk around the circle. Similarly, if the which wishes to close the magic circle after spell work, or a ritual has been completed, he or she would walk anticlockwise around the sacred space, while pointing the athame down towards the ground erasing the magic circle, or pulling it back up into the blade. The athame, as I mentioned earlier, is also excellent for cutting through energy when a magic circle is in place, for example if someone needs to temporarily leave the circle or someone needs to enter the circle, the athame can be used to cut a doorway through the circle temporarily to allow someone to pass through. This allows other witches to enter and leave the circle without breaking it. Creating a magic circle is just one of the many uses of an athame, but is one of the most common.

Is It Evil or Dangerous?

An athame is not dangerous, nor is an athame evil, it is a ritualistic knife used for spiritual purposes. As you can see, it as a tool that is most often used by pagans of all kinds, whether they be witches, Wiccans, Druids or any other type of tradition. However, the athame, is more commonly used in witchcraft and Wiccan traditions. Another way that I have seen some folks using the athame is when drawing down the moon or where the athame may be a representation of the male God as it represents the phallus. Often in rituals, the athame’s blade is thrusted slowly downwards into a cup, or chalice. It represents the unifying of the God and the Goddess. The athame representing the masculine, and the chalice representing the feminine. I talk more about that later in this post.

I also want to say that an athame should not be used for anything other than spiritual practice, it can’t be used to cut any foods, especially flesh / meat, and it can’t be used for self-defence. This is because you consecrate the athame before you start using it, so it isn’t filled with negative energy. Using it to draw blood in any way, basically invalidates the athame and it can no longer be used for spiritual purposes. So, it’s important that your athame is only used for spell craft, rituals and so on.

From doing some research and reading some books on Wicca and spell craft, I have noticed that some people are quite strict as to how they would use their athame in spell craft and rituals, whereas others are not as rigid in their use of an athame. There are some that say you should hold an athame in a very particular way, for example: underhanded grip with blade horizontal, pointing away from you at chest level. Whereas others prefer an overhand grip, and the athame blade pointing vertically. I think for me personally it should be whatever feels comfortable for you. If you feel comfortable holding an athame with two hands, or one hand, whether it is held vertically or horizontally, whether it is held below waist level or at chest level or over your head, the intent is still the same. And honestly an athame is supposed to be an extension of yourself so it really should feel comfortable to you and you shouldn’t feel restricted when using it. Personally, for me, I would hold an athame like a I would a wand, and I would use it to draw images made of spiritual and mental energy in the air in front of me, or around me, such as symbols made of white light to help me focus my intent more or to help me visualise better what it is that I am trying to do.

What An Athame Is Made Of

It seems that an athame can be made of many different types of materials. For example, some athame have a wooden handle, some have a bone handle, others have a metal handle with a black grip (the most popular type I have seen) and there are even some that have a stone handle, or woven string for a grip or even just plain metal. I don’t think that traditionally there is any particular way that an athame is supposed to look like because reading through various books on the subject, and looking at various articles, there is no agreement on exactly how an athame should be made. It seems that the more popular kind of athame, has a metal handle with black grip or with weaving work on the handle. The handle is normally also quite decorative, and may have embedded in it, various shapes and patterns such as skulls. Some say a black handle on an athame represents the feminine that takes in the masculine of the blade.

When it comes to the athame blade, many ask, does an athame need to be double-edged? Well an athame is traditionally a double-sided blade, very much like a dagger. However, I have seen some athame that are not double-sided, though they are definitely not as popular as the traditional double-edged knife athame that most witches use. Although most athame blades are made of metal, there are some that are made from bone, glass, crystal and rock such as obsidian. But again, the most common type that I have seen consists of stainless steel metal and is normally completely straight (quite a phallic symbol indeed). There are some blades that are not necessarily straight (although they are not to be confused with another Wiccan tool called a Boline, which has a bent blade and its purpose is more for cutting). Most athame normally come with a sheath, or holder, and your athame should at all times be kept in the holder when not in use. It is very important that your athame does not touch anything else in your environment when it is not in use.

Consecrating An Athame

Before using an athame for the first time, it is very important to consecrate the athame before usage. This is to ensure that the blade has no negative energy associated with it, and also to ground it, as it will likely have been handled not only by the person who made it, but also by those who may have tested it to ensure its quality. And if you are purchasing from a shop it’s likely that someone else whom wanted to buy it might have touched the blade. To make an athame yours, just like you would with crystals, or a tarot deck, you should perform some basic steps to consecrate it. You’ll notice on the Internet that there are many various techniques to do this, but I just follow a basic process I use to consecrate any pagan tools and equipment I purchase such as healing crystals or altar related tools. You are welcome to use it for your own consecration process.

Gently and carefully rinse the blade under cold water from the tap, or you could buy mineral water from the shop (any still Spring water will do), and just pour very carefully pour the water over the blade for a few seconds. While the water is gently pouring over the blade, I envision in my mind that the water is cleansing the spirit of the athame, and washing away any bad vibes and negative energy it may have picked up while being handled by others. Please note, don’t wash the handle, just the blade. Take some tissue paper or kitchen towel and dab it dry.

After having done that, light some incense or a smudge stick, and take your athame and gently move it through the smoke that is being given off from the incense or smudge stick, imagining in your mind the air element enveloping the athame, and again purifying it, and getting rid of all the negative energy. You are welcome to utter some personal words to help strengthen the effect. This is also a good time to introduce yourself to your athame’s spirit, and say that you look forward to working with it. After all, you will be working with the athame in many rituals to come, so a certain kinship will be developed between you and it.

Lastly, on a full moon, I would place my athame in the window sill of my home, or any place where the moon light is shining, so the moon can fully touch the athame. If you have a safe place in your home somewhere that gets full light of a full moon, then I’d recommend putting it there for the night. This further allows the power of the moon and the Goddess to shine upon your athame and cleanse it completely, as well as empower it with magical energy. Only after I have done all the above steps would I use my athame for the first time. I use the same process when I purchase any magical item from a pagan shop. Whether it be crystals, runes, or a tarot deck for example, I always follow the same process. I feel it also makes the item personally mine.

Using An Athame

So, as I said earlier, there is no rigid way in which an athame should or should not be used. Yes, there are many Wiccan Covens who have very particular ways in which they prefer to use an athame, but for the sole practitioner of the craft, it is going to really be your own interpretation at the time how you decide to use it and in what manner, it depends on what is most comfortable to you. Let me just say that there is no right or wrong way to use any tool or accessory in your spells or rituals. Whether it be crystals, runes, wands or athame, you should do what feels right to you. The importance is not the tool itself, the tool is just an extension of your mind and of yourself, its major function is just to extend something that you already have and helps focus it – personal energy. The true power comes from your intention, what you’re trying to achieve, and the strength of your spell or ritual is only going to be as strong as your intention, will and mind. So personally, I would say find a way to use your athame that is comfortable for you, you will still achieve the same outcome as any other witch or Wiccan, even those in popular Covens using their own specific techniques. In the end, all spells and rituals are about intent, manifestation and the power of your personal energy and mind. All of those things come together with the help of the universe and the gods to achieve a particular outcome that you are after.

Having said that, here are some ideas of how you can use your athame, I speak only from how I have seen others use it, and how I personally use it, and from my research that I have done on its uses. One of the most common ways of using an athame, is to draw a magic circle. As you may know, a magic circle is used for protection of a sacred space, where you will be performing a spell or ritual. This could be out in the wilds in a forest, it could be in your backyard, it could be in your bedroom, literally anyplace that you feel comfortable with. Two main methods that I have seen for casting a magic circle with an athame, are:

In your sacred space, where you want to perform your spell or ritual, walk from the centre (where you will be sitting or standing) towards the outer edge of where you want the protection circle to surround you. So, envision in your mind, how large your protection circle should be, and then in your mind imagine drawing a circle all around that spot. Make the circle big enough to give yourself a little bit of room in case you need to move around inside the circle, so I would say from where you want to perform the ritual, walk outwards away from that spot, perhaps 6 foot (2m). Now you walk in a clockwise direction slowly, around the central point as if the you were drawing a circle by walking around it. At this point you could utter some words to create that magic circle, whether you made those yourself or you got them from someone else’s spell, while pointing your athame towards the ground as you walk, and preferably you would be pointing the athame slightly away from yourself and away from the centre point where you will be working your ritual. This ensures that you are creating the magic circle on the outside of your position so that you are safely on the inside of it. The easiest is to imagine a powerful white light extending outwards from the tip of the athame blade, shooting down towards the ground, and imagine it drawing, a bright, powerful white light on the ground as you walk around the circle three times. Once you have completed your circle with your athame you can then go to the centre of it and then perform your spell or ritual.

To close your magic circle, you would do exactly the opposite. Walk in an anticlockwise direction around your circle, pointing your athame to the ground. And what I normally like to do, is imagine the energy either being pulled back into the blade (drawing the energy back into the blade), or that my athame is erasing the line that I had previously drawn in the ground. You should walk anticlockwise three times while you do this. As I mentioned earlier in this article, if you want to go outside the circle temporarily, say you forgot something important for your ritual and would like to fetch it, or perhaps you want to let another witch or Wiccan in, the best thing is not to step out the circle directly, you need to create a door or gateway. Take your athame and point it at the edge of your circle, and in your mind imagine cutting open a doorway through your protective circle, big enough for yourself or someone else to fit through. To close that gateway again, draw your athame over the gateway, and just imagine the athame closing that gap. That will be enough to seal the circle once again. To re-enter the circle is the same process, cut open a gateway into it and upon entering your circle, close the gateway again with your athame. So, I think you can see that the athame is an incredible tool to help focus your energy and intent, not just to create a magic circle but also to be able to move through it, and close it again.

Another method that is quite popular to create a magic circle (and you may find this method easier) using your athame, is to stand at the centre point of where your ritual is going to take place, then point your athame outwards towards the ground, judging how far you want your circle to be from where you currently are, so maybe 6-12ft (2-4m) away from you. Then slowly on the spot turn clockwise pointing the athame towards that outer space on the ground. Rotate three times on the spot, and in your mind imagine a bright powerful protective light of energy being drawn on the ground all around you creating a magic circle. You would still move in and out through the circle the normal method by cutting a gateway and closing a gateway. And when you close the circle after your ritual or spell, you can again stand on the spot, and pointing the athame out towards where the magic circle boundary is, slowly turn anticlockwise, imagining the energy being pulled back into the blade, or that you are erasing the energy that you previously drew on the ground.

Athame For Protection

Of course, an athame can be used for more than just creating and closing magic circles. An athame, just like a pentagram / pentacle, is also a very strong symbol of protection, and so carrying it with you, or having it close to you, during a ritual helps to provide you with additional protection from negative energy, and any external entities that may try to cause you harm or may have negative intent. Again, it is not meant to be used for self-defence. Its protection is of a spiritual nature against spiritual entities or spiritual energies that may have bad intentions. Your athame is a protective symbol and will protect you from those things that try to cause you harm. And so, it is also excellent to put your athame on your altar when not in use, to provide additional protection to the place where the altar is set up. If you don’t have an altar that’s fine, you can simply leave your athame in a safe place where it won’t be touched by others, preferably in your room or somewhere close to you, to benefit from its protection. Remember that laws in your state or county may not allow a person to carry a knife on their person, even if for protection or for religious reasons. If you will be performing a ritual away from home, be sure to keep it out of sight during transit so it is not visible, preferably in your bag. To be safe, check your state / county laws, to see what is recommended. An athame, in addition to being used in spells and also for protection, is also used to symbolise the symbol of the God because of its shape, a long straight phallic shape. It is also often used in ritual to represent the union of the God and the Goddess, where it is carefully lowered into a ritualistic chalice.

Focusing Intent and Energy

In addition to all the above, remember that an athame can be used in any way that you personally feel is suited for your ritual or spell. You may want to use it to help focus your intent or energy by holding it in front of you, blade vertical and point facing up, to help you concentrate while you recite or manifest something. You could also use it for example, to draw down the power of the Goddess into the blade by pointing your athame upwards at the moon, and imagining the power of the Goddess, pouring into the blade and energizing the athame, which can further strengthen and enhance the athame as a ritual tool during that ritual or spell. Also, if you wanted to, you could use it to draw some shapes in the air or symbols on the ground, not actually touching the ground with the blade, but the same way that you would imagine white energy coming out the tip, you can imagine tracing magical energy in the air such as runic symbols to help make your spell stronger. The way that I think it could be useful, is if I wanted to make a house safe and protect it from evil spirits or energies for example, I would go around to different places in the home with my athame, and I would in my mind imagine a strong, positive, vibrant energy of protection shooting out from the tip of the blade while I draw a pentacle in the air in different rooms.

An athame really is a very powerful and useful tool because there is so much that you can actually do with it. I think every witch or Wiccan should have at least one, or even a collection to be used for spells and rituals. Another useful way to use it is if you wanted to cleanse evil energies from a particular space, you could envision using your athame as a sword, to cut away negative energies from spaces by just slicing into the air and imagining that the athame is literally cutting through spiritual negative energy and releasing it and dispersing it back into the Universe to be repurposed for good intent. As you can see, there are so many different ways that you can use an athame. Just remember that it is intended as a spiritual tool to provide you with more focus and more control over what it is that you are trying to manifest. I hope this has helped you see how amazing an athame can be.