The athame is traditionally a black-handled knife, and Gardner described it as "the true Witch's weapon" in the book of shadows, something for which he has been criticised by Frederic Lamond, who believes that there should be no "weapons" in Wicca. The athame is used to cast a magic circle, and to control spirits.
The term "athame" in its modern spelling is unique to Wicca, but originates from words found in two historical copies of the Key of Solomon, though was not included in Macgregor Mathers' published version. One version, currently held in the Biblioteque de l'Arsenal, Paris, uses the term "arthame" to describe a black handled knife. This was adopted by C.J.S Thompson in his 1927 book The Mysteries and Secrets of Magic and by Grillot de Givry, in his 1931 Book Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy. The historian Ronald Hutton theorised that Gardner got it either directly or indirectly from one of these sources, although changed the spelling. The athame is usually enscribed on the handle, sometimes in the Theban alphabet.
What is the Athame used for? The athame's primary use is to direct energy; if things such as herbs or cords need to be cut, another knife called a boline - a white-handled knife - is used. An exception is the "kitchen witchcraft" philosophy, which actively encourages the use of magical tools for mundane purposes to increase the witch's familiarity with them.
An athame may be employed in the demarcation of the Magic circle rite. As a masculine principle, it is often used in combination with the chalice, as feminine principle, evoking the act of procreation, as a symbol of universal creativity. This is a symbol of the Great Rite in Wiccan rituals. Some Modern Witchcraft traditions may prefer not to use iron blades, instead preferring alternatives such as copper, bronze or wood. This is most common amongst traditions that have a particular fondness of the Sidhe, to whom iron is supposedly harmful.
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