The athame is the most recognizable magickal tool of the Modern Witch. It is a ceremonial dagger and one of several tools used in traditional witchcraft. The athame is a tool that many witches recognize as highly personal and while they may allow other witches to drink from their chalice they will not allow anyone else to touch or use their blade.
Many witches will suggest that the athame should have a black handle, which absorbs energy, inscribed with symbols dictated by their coven. Some common symbols are: astrological glyphs, runes, deity symbols, or elemental symbols. The athame should bear a sharp steel double-edged blade though old time witches will choose a single blade and use the straight edge to ring the bell during their rituals.
Mention of the athame appears in early works such as the fourteenth century, The Key of Solomon which refers to a magical knife as an artave, arthane, and arthame, which all have been suggested, are distorted versions of artavus, a Latin word for a small knife used for sharpening the scribe’s pens. The word arthana appears in the book Mysteries and Secrets of Magic, which quoted The Key of Solomon and contains an image showing both a white handled knife (boline) and a black handled knife, both to be used in magical pracitce.
The primary use for the athame is to channel and direct psychic energy during ceremony such as required when casting Circle, doing banishings, or evoking elemental energies. Within a coven or group ritual a sword may be used instead of the athame.
The athame is associated with the element of Fire and corresponds with projective energy or the masculine principle while the chalice corresponds with receptive energy or the feminine principal; when joined together they represent the act of procreation. Within alchemy and traditional magical practice these two elements are considered to be polar opposites and are considered to be the two primordial elements, which when combined created the elements of earth and fire.