The Pagan Basics series is for those looking to find out more about the basic concepts, symbols and values of paganism. A series of short articles which give explanations to some of paganism’s most fundamental concepts, images and shared understandings.
Pronounced variously as ‘ath-AYME’, ‘ATH-a-may’, ‘ath-AR-may’ or, um… ‘DAGG-er’, this is the most instantly recognisable tool of the Wiccan arts; and it’s quite well-known in other Craft-based traditions, too.
The athame is a ritual dagger, and it’s used – like the wand, staff and sword, (all of which see) – to direct magical energy (see that, too) and represent the masculine in ritual. The athame is commonly described as being double-edged, though it’s not entirely necessary for the blades to be sharpened: so long as the dagger has a pointed tip, it’s generally good. It is double-edged to express the dual nature of the universe; positive/negative, active/passive, masculine/feminine, and so on. It’s not uncommon for practitioners to use ornamental paper knives as athames. As with many tools of the Craft, the ‘right’ tool isn’t a matter of what’s prescribed by books or other practitioners, so much as what feels right to the user. Some, like the one above, are decorated, some are plain, so it’s what feels right for you.
Many sources also claim that the athame should have a black handle (and in some publications the term ‘black-handled dagger’ is used in place of ‘athame’). This is a convention, not a rule: the main purpose of the black handle seems to be to allow the athame to be easily and quickly distinguished from the boline.
The athame is commonly made with a metal blade, usually steel or silver, although you can also get ones made from wood, or with blades made from slate or quartz.