The Perfect Athame
Author: The Redneck Pagan
As some of you may recall, I have recently decided to go back to the basics of my knowledge and experience and begin a process of going deeper. And for those of you who are scratching their heads and wondering if I spent too much time with the glue cap off, here is an excerpt from an earlier blog post to explain:
“I am beginning to realize how little I actually know (…) I mean I have read probably over a hundred books, but rarely stopped to really read them. I would do one or two exercises and then go to the next. I skimmed over the material without properly allowing myself the time and effort to go deeper.
With that little epiphany in mind, I do believe it is time for me to go back to the basics! (…) I am finding myself digging out those 101 books that have been collecting dust, and have started re-reading them. My next goal is to start doing the exercises, and really documenting my results. Not just the half fast skimming I did before, but really seeking the experiences and knowledge. How successful I will be, I don’t yet know. We shall find out how much determination, discipline and dedication I have. “
So with that primer in hand, forwards we go!
In reviewing the basis, I have discovered something of note… the stuff that used to make my heart race with excitement, the books I spent hours reading (and much time and money locating and acquiring) … are getting rather boring! This has been a far more difficult task than I initially gave it credit for. Now before the fingers start wagging and people start saying, “you said you were going deeper”, I have been doing the work (my mother would be shocked at how well I have been doing my “homework”) . I have diligently gone through all of the exercises in the first third of one of my basic books, which is a primer on craft history and some basic jargon … very important stuff for anybody with an interest in Witchcraft and Paganism. However, after I read Doreen Valiente’s “The Rebirth of Witchcraft”, reading about craft history from a Lady who was present for much of it, well… the 101 stuff is boring.
I decided to review some material on the different tools in the 101 books as, being nine years away from my first introduction, I felt it was important to review and check up on newest teachings and theories.
I stumbled across the usual descriptions: the Athame is a black handled, double edge knife used by Witches to direct energy. Witches typically use it to charge items, cast their circle, and cut astral cords. It is never used to cut anything on the physical plane, and some argue that it looses its power if it ever draws blood. I then read about how it is supposed to be made. Made? Uh-oh!
According one author, a witch should always try to make his/her own Athame! I give this author full credit, he goes into great detail on how one should go about it. He explains the equipment needed, ways to get it done, the proper metals to use, wood in the fire, symbols you can carve onto the blade or the handle and even how to consecrate it. And I have to agree with his reasoning: when a witch takes the time, effort and intention on the creation of the Athame it becomes part of him/her. It becomes part of their power. I can see that and understand that. I just have a problem… I am not what you would call “handy”!
When I was younger and living with my parents, we bought a bunch of IKEA furniture for the house. My mother and I shopped and brought it home, and then my father and I put it together. The reason my father and I had to put it together is because my mother and brother refused to work with us. My dad is a brilliant man, he’s been a teacher for over 30 years now, he has helped revamp parts of the elementary school curriculum and I hate playing Trivial Pursuit with the man because I always get my assets handed to me! But for the love of the Gods… DO NOT give that man a hammer. (When I first brought my husband home to meet my father, he was a little hesitant. My husband proceeded to fix his sink trap and tap and realign some closets on their track. My father turned to me and said, “I love him; keep him!”) I have inherited some of my father’s difficulty with tools.
I can recall one day when my husband and I had first moved in together. He was watching a documentary on TV and I was in the bedroom hanging pictures. There was a picture I wanted hung up that was out of my reach. He said he would come hang it up at the next commercial break. I, being the soul of patience, decided to take matters into my own hands. I stacked some towels on the edge of the bed and standing with one foot on the towels and one braced against the wall I prepared to hammer the nail. Well, the hammer was on the floor (and my perch felt a bit precarious) , so I grabbed the closest thing I had, a high-heeled shoe. As I was about to hammer the nail in, I heard “What the hell are you doing! ` My husband lifted me off my perch (he is six-foot-three-inches and I am five-feet-two-inches) He lifted me under the one arm like a rag doll (an amusing sight for the dogs, I’m sure) and took care of the picture for me.
So having said that.. I really don’t think having me playing with a forge and blacksmithing materials is the best idea. The life I save could be my own, and I think the fire department is busy enough without having to come out and rescue me. So what should I do? Well, another option mentioned is ‘receiving one as a gift from another magical person’… I live in Central Alberta, not exactly the place you will find a lot of practicing Pagans. I was very much a solitary practitioner. Receiving one as a gift would have been ideal… but not exactly practical.
Being eager to begin my practice (and being too new to fully understand where the power lay) , I began to scour the city for the Perfect Athame. Dollar stores, Wal-Mart, Zellers and secondhand stores became my playground. I bought several different types of knives (ranging in price from 50 cents to five bucks) . Nothing seemed to be working and I was getting very discouraged. I was too new to truly understand the idea of ‘magic within’ and was worried that if I was unable to find a real and proper Athame that I would never be a proper witch (silly sounding now, but a huge fear at the time) .
I settled on using one of the knives I had picked up at Wal-Mart; it had the best feel in the handle and wasn’t very sharp. I was having decent success with the knife, but it never felt right. My subconscious was not satisfied with the toy I was using! (This was, of course, nine years ago, before the Internet had really blossomed; sites like eBay were in their infancy and specialty websites were few and far between.) I tried to find Athames online but the only ones I found were well out of a college student’s budget.
One day, I was digging through some of my old treasure boxes (you know, the boxes you keep under your bed, filled with what other people might call ‘junk’) . While digging through the box I came across a knife. This particular type of knife is known as a Sgian Dubh (pronounced Skin-Doo) . They are a type of Scottish small knife kept next to the calf in the socks. I received it years ago from Grandfather. He had bought it when he was visiting his brother in Dublin and at the time he gave it to me, I was playing in a pipe band and was a Highland Dancer.
I wore it for two years in the pipe band and another year and a half as a Highland Dancer. I took it anytime I did a performance of a Sword Dance or Highland Fling for an additional two years after that, and then when I no longer danced, I put it away and had not thought of it for years. When I picked it up again I felt like it almost sang in my hand! I began to toy with the notion of using it as my Athame.
It had many positive characteristics. It was double-edged but was blunted so as not to hurt me. It was in a sheath, so I could put it in a bag and take it with me to outdoor rituals if I wanted. The handle was black and was made of a solid molded plastic. It was a gift from my Irish Grandfather (incidentally my path is most closely related to Irish Reconstructionalism and it was my Irish roots and the mythology of my people that first got me interested in paganism) . It came from my family’s homeland and so had a connection to the land of my ancestors. And I had worn it during high-energy activities that I loved!
I gave it a try for the first time at a Sabbat. It just seemed to click. It felt perfect in my hand. I felt powerful with it, mysterious and magical. In recent years, I have seen some beautiful Athames, many of which have been “properly made” and most at a very reasonable price. But I have never had a desire to get a new one. I have my Perfect Athame.
The Redneck Pagan