Tools of the Craft - Athame
25th August, 1998
On a Wiccans altar, there are many things that one would associated with ritual and religion - a chalice, an incense burner or a bell. One other common item is one that is often misunderstood by non-Wiccans or Witches. That tool is the athame.
The athame (pronounced "a-thAM-ay" or "ATH-a-may") is a ritual knife, usually black-handled. As with all ritual tools, the athame is a very personal magickal item. Within most traditions it is usually used to direct energy. It can also be used to cast the magick or sacred circle, call the "quarters" or elements, and is part of many an opening ritual, handfasting (wedding) or initiation rite. It is associated with the element of fire (most likely due to how they are made) and the direction of South.
It customarily has a black handle (black is an absorbant colour; the handle stores small amounts of energy for later use). It is customary in some traditions to have your blade given to you as a gift or lore surrounding the athame says that one should never give an athame as a gift, as this will at some stage "cut" the relationship. As with many things in Wicca and Witchcraft, this is a matter of personal belief and experience.
Many Witches make their own blades (http://www.sacred-space.com/make-your-own-athame.html) or "personalize" purchased ones with runes, carvings and other symbols, all of which serve to blend the energy of the tool with their own magickal intentions. As with most tools, Wiccans tend to consecrate their athames before use. As with any consecrated (http://www.orci.com/personal/winterhawk/athame.htm) item, most people don't let others touch their athame.
Since the athame is used mainly to direct energy, they are often dull on the double blade. There is also argument about whether they should be used to cut anything. Some people believe that a knife is just a tool, one designed for cutting. Others argue that is shouldn't be used for mundane purposes. Others are somewhere in the middle. For example, many people use there athame to carve runes or other symbols into candles that they may be using in a spell or ritual.
Unlike other ritual tools, the athame provides some unique problems.
Concealed Weapons and Knife Laws
In many parts of the world, carrying a knife (which is a weapon) is illegal. In some states in the United States of America, "carrying" a concealed weapon includes transporting it in a locked car trunk, as well as carrying it on your person. This can prove to be more than just inconvenient. It means that any Witch, Wiccan or other Pagan who is travelling to a festival where a ritual is to be held, risks being arrested for breaking any number of weapons laws.
This situation has also recently arisen in the Australian state of New South Wales, where after a series of attacks (fatal in one case) upon police, a new search and knife the Police and Public Safety Act (law (http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/) was passed. This allows police to stop and search people (under strict conditions) for knives. This means that Pagans in NSW also face the possibility of arrest for carrying what is to them a ritual tool. For more advice on what to do if stop under this law, see Pagans and NSW Knife Laws the (http://webspace.webring.com/people/pu/um_1212/knife_laws.html) page.
While it is unlikely that these laws would ever be abused, Pagans are very aware that there is always a chance that they could be arrested for carrying a ritual item to them. It only takes one person in a position of authority, and a grudge against Pagans, for someones life to be ruined.
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