The athame, a knife, is one of the primary tools employed
by modern Wiccans (or Witches) in their rituals. It has a black
handle and double-edged blade. The blade is never used for
cutting and no attempt is made to keep it sharp, though often
great care is taken to make it artistic. The athame is normally
used to cast the circle at the beginning of rituals, thus establishing
the magical space within which rituals are performed. It is
also used for summoning and banishing the spirit entities who
are called to be present as guardians of the ceremony. At the
climax of the ritual at which wine is shared, the athame is often
plunged into the chalice of wine (symbolic of the sex act).
Although occasional pieces of art show figures identified as
Pagans or Witches holding a knife, knives were conspicuous by
their absence in European Witchcraft texts. They appear to be
one of the several elements introduced by Gerald B. Gardner
(18841964), who was largely responsible for creating modern
Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Gardner had spent most of his life as
a British civil servant in Asia. While in Malaysia, he became familiar
with the local ritual weapon known as the kris. This wavy
dagger was a well-known object, but almost nothing had been
written about its use and significance. He learned of the kris
majapahit, the magical instrument that was reputed to work
wonders. It was believed to be possessed of a hantu, a spirit.
Owning such a weapon was said to bring good fortune, providing
protection for those fortunate enough to have one. Gardners
work on the kris is still the standard reference source.
By the time Gardner returned to England in the 1930s, he
had hopes of creating a new magical religion built around the
worship of a female deity. He drew from a multitude of sources,
but added the ritual knife from his knowledge of the kris. The
athame is one of the most distinctive contributions of Gardner
to modern magical practice.
Bracelin, Jack L. Gerald Gardner Witch. London Octagon
Valiente, Doreen. The ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. New
York St. Martins Press, 1973.