Broom With A View is participating in the Pagan Blog Project during 2012. I like blogging projects; they're fun for me and I get to visit blogs I might not otherwise read. I've come across the work of some great writers that way.
Each of us participating in this particular project is supposed to pick a subject that corresponds with a letter of the alphabet and match a subject which begins with that letter to write about each Friday during 2012. No doubt I will screw this up at some point because I am notoriously bad with deadlines, but I'm still up for the challenge.
Since this is the second Friday of the new year, and we're still working on the letter A, I'm going to write about my first athame.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athame) The only point made in the article that I anywhere nearly violently disagree with is that the handle of the athame is required to be black if you are practicing Wicca or a form of British Traditional Witchcraft. I was elevated to the third degree in a Gardnerian coven during the 1980's, and although we used black-handled ritual blades because it was traditional, our training elders never mentioned that the handle absolutely had to be black. I understand and appreciate the color correspondence of black and the magickal theory that it absorbs energy more readily than other colors and I don't dispute that here. The companion ritual blade, the boline, has a curved blade and a traditionally white handle to distinguish it from the athame. It is essentially a short- handled scythe which-unlike the athame- is used as a utility knife for cutting things. Recently, I have seen some gorgeous ritual knives with painted, carved or inlaid handles of various colors and woods. My own personal athame, the one I currently use the most, has a composition handle which looks like white pearl and a pair of thin triple jet bands set near the yellow brass hilt and pommel respectively. The blade is double-edged stainless steel, polished to a mirror finish...and it is razor sharp. I have never used this knife for anything other than ceremonial purposes. Nothing has ever been cut with it's blade, other than to etch a rune on a wax candle. Comfortable in the hand and perfectly balanced, it is a potentially dangerous weapon which is kept peace-bound in its leather sheath when not inside the circle. I dropped it once during a rite and nearly lopped off a toe, so I have a healthy respect for it's ability to harm if used for purposes other than intended by this witch.
My first athame was different. It was an old single edged paring knife my grandmother used during my childhood. When I was discovering Paganism there weren't many places to purchase tools. The Craft was still essentially closed to anyone other than an initiate being formally trained in a specific tradition, and few stores carried occult supplies. There were a couple of places that fronted as bookstores where you could buy arcane volumes, incense and candles. That was it. Otherwise, something such as a ritual blade had to be acquired through the 'right' connections.
The old paring knife had been retired to my grandfather's workbench in the basement. It's steel wasn't the wonderfully tempered variety found in modern day kitchen tools that seemingly never needed sharpening. When 'the knife' needed sharpening, Pop would disappear to the basement with it, hone the edge back, and return it to the drawer that held the wooden spoons and spatula. It was the only knife I remember being in our kitchen other than a meat cleaver when I was a kid. The day came when Mom was given a set of carving knives with keenly thin blades for Christmas, and the humble little paring knife of my childhood became a prying tool in Pop's vast array of makeshift tools.
While poking around the workbench one day in search of some nails, I came across the old paring knife. It was coated with grease and grime, the blade was a dull gray and had rust spots on it-but it called to me. Literally. I found myself riveted to it. Plucking it from the pile of cat food cans filled with screws, tacks, nails and assorted what-not, it felt familiar and warm in my hand. I saw Mom slicing meat, dicing herbs, and chopping onions and tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. In my mind's eye, the blade drew a perfect circle of crust around a pie plate, it sliced savory chicken breast for Sunday dinner. The memories of what this knife had done were overwhelming. It was imbued with my grandmother's energy, with the Divine energy of the Crone.
It took me several days to painstakingly clean the knife so it was presentable. I carefully honed it on Pop's stone with oil, but it quickly became apparent that it would never be seeing it's days of glory again. The blade simply wouldn't hold an edge because the steel was spent: I took it to the hand grinder and permanently dulled the blade so it would never be used to cut anything again, then smoothed the harsh grit marks with sandpaper until the surface was uniform. This would be my first ritual blade, and in restoring it, I was charging it with my own personal energy.
When I returned to college that week, I was eager to show the elder mentoring me my 'new' ritual blade. I'd made a soft leather bag for it, and pulled it out to be viewed with a flourish. In my hand was an old, dull paring knife. I recall feeling slightly embarrassed as we both stood there staring at it. I don't know what I was expecting from that moment, but things were a lot more anti-climatic than I had imagined. My mentor smiled," It will serve you well. The first witch's knife came from the kitchen when our tools had to be hidden and required to do double duty." She took the knife in her hand and raised it a few inches, so it was level with her gaze," There's a lot of power in this." My knife was ritually cleansed and dedicated that evening in a formal circle, along with the tools of my coven mates.
And yes, it does have a lot of power in it, because it holds the energy and essence of both of my grandparents and me. It has been used to prepare meals from vegetables grown in the backyard of the home I grew up in, and to cast magickal circles wherever I have traveled- on a mountaintop in Colorado, by the beach of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in the outback of Australia in the shadow of Uluru, and in an Inuit village in Alaska on a salmon fishing expedition. This knife has helped to feed me both physically and spiritually most of my life. Every time I hold it in circle as a conduit, it releases the Feminine Divine. Specifically, Crone-energy manifests through it, and I am filled with a feeling of agelessness that has not been reproduced with any other magickal tool.
It is said that our magickal tools find and acquire us, and not the other way around. I believe this to be true- how else can I explain how a humble paring knife, long discarded and no longer usable in the kitchen has re-purposed its self as a ritual blade in service to the Goddess?