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An athame (pronounced "ä-'thä-may") is a wiccan ritual knife. It traditionally has a black handle with magical symbols on it. However, in practice there are many varieties and exceptions.



The athame has a black handle and a pointed steel blade. In practice, it is often a unique object, so as to represent the individual witch.

The description of the traditional athame is given by Gerald Gardner's 1949 book High Magic's Aid, and his 1954 book Witchcraft Today. In High Magic's Aid, the athame is described as being a knife that is pointed, has a black handle, and has "marks on hilt and blade that shout 'magic' ". In Witchcraft Today, the athame is described as a "black-hilted knife, with magic signs on the hilt".

Considering the fact that the athame is called "the true Witch's weapon"[1][2], the use of a steel blade may well relate to the fact that iron is commonly held to offer protection against and power over spirits, fairies, demons, and other harmful supernatural beings in a variety of cultures[3].

While covens that operate an outer court may have non-initiates using a black-handled knife, a knife is not considered an athame until it is consecrated as part of the first degree initiation.

According to the Farrars[4] an athame should be blunted. Rankine & D'Este argue that using a blunted blade which is symbolic of one's will is also to represent that one's will is "blunted" or "unfocused", which could symbolically mean that you are ineffective in directing your intent[5]

Some practices of witchcraft influenced by Wicca depart in all three regards, particularly in either considering the bluntness of the blade to be an inherent aspect of the athame rather than a practical consideration, or in prohibiting the use of steel[6].

While there are eight listed ritual objects in Wicca, the athame is pre-eminent among them in being used by all participants in a ritual, whereas the other objects will be either shared or used only by people who are performing particular tasks.

The athame is used primarily in the exorcism of the water and blessing of salt at the beginning of a rite, in calling the quarters and in blessing a chalice of wine (in which use it is a phallic symbol, the blessing representing the place of sexual reproduction in fertility). It can also be used in the place of the sword in casting the circle, should there be no sword available.


The use of an athame in Wicca is often incorrectly thought to be another invention of Gerald Gardner. While Gerald Gardner had a strong interest in ritual blades, his interest lay with asian blades which were curved (unlike the traditional athame). Instead, the athame derived from the Key of Solomon, wherein the writer Joseph Peterson found variations of it's french spelling, including arthame, arthane, artave, and artavus. The original spelling was "artavus", which is a medieval latin word that means "quill knife". The spelling "arthame" was used in the book "Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy" (published in english in 1931) by the french author Grillot de Givry, when referring to it's use to cast a circle and inscribe pentagrams. Gerald Gardner got the word "arthame" from that book, and slightly altered it to "athame".

The name "arthame" (and variants thereof) from the Key of Solomon actually referred to a different object, a quill-sharpening knife (called an "artavus" in latin) rather than a full-sized knife. Grillot de Givry, in his book "Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy", conflated the arthame/artavus with the object that is called simply "the black knife". That conflation was then passed on to Gerald Gardner, and thus to Wicca.

A quill knife is a hand-held implement that is about the size and shape of a thick pencil or scalpel, and has a small thin single-edged blade on the end, which is about 1 inch in length. In the Key of Solomon, the quill knife is stuck into the ground, and then one end of a cord is tied around it, and then the other end of the cord is used to trace the inner circle. The quill knife is also used to sharpen quill pens, and it is one of the three objects that may be used to trace the outer circle (the other two objects being the black knife and a sword).

The black knife is called the "cortel nero" in the italian language (as it is called in at least one italian grimoire), or "gladius niger" (meaning "black shortsword") in a latin version of the Key of Solomon. Gerald Gardner's description of the traditional athame is based upon the description of the black knife in the Key of Solomon. The black knife is described as being a pointed steel-bladed knife with a black handle, and magical symbols engraved on the handle and written in ink on the blade. The black knife is used to draw the circles, just like the athame of Wicca.


  1. Gardner, Gerald. High Magic's Aid. 1949. Chapter 27
  2. Hutton, Ronald. Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. 2001. ISBN 0192854496. p. 229
  3. Frazer, Sir James. The Golden Bough (1922 Abridgement). 1922.
  4. Farrar, Stewart. 1971, 1983. What Witches Do. Blaine: Phoenix Publishing. ISBN 0919345174
  5. Sorite D'Este & David Rankine. 2008. Wicca Magical Beginnings: Avaloneia. ISBN 1905297157
  6. Hanna, Jon. What Thou Wilt. Evertype. 2010. ISBN 1904808433, pp. 40-43.