Athame is what some practitioners of ritual magic call their ceremonial knives. In some traditions, the athame is a knife with a double edged blade and short (often black) handle; other traditions require that the blade be dull, curved, wavy, or a variety of other specifications.
The athame is usually used for ritual and magical purposes only, to direct energy; if something such as herbs or cord needs to be cut, another knife called a boline or white-handled knife is used. Exceptions include "kitchen witchcraft", which actively encourages the use of magical tools for mundane purposes to increase the witch’s familiarity with it.
Many traditions associate the athame with the masculine principle and with the element of air, though traditions associating it with fire are not uncommon.
As a masculine principle, it is often used in combination with the cup or Graal, as feminine principle, and evokes clearly the act of procreation, as symbol of universal creativity. This moment is the central symbol of the Great Rite in Wiccan rituals.
Other traditions forbid the ritual use of blades in general, or specifically of iron blades. This is most common amongst traditions that have a particular fondness of the Sidhe, to whom iron is supposedly harmful.
There are rituals of consecration for a newly acquired Athame, be it new, or acquired from another person.
Modern popular usage of the athame originates in Wicca as it was publicised by Gerald Gardner in the 1950’s. Gardner had taken a particular interest in the magical kris knives of Malaysia during his years there, and this may have contributed to the athame being given such central importance in modern Wicca.
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