The Story of Three Athames

I have owned three athames in my life — or more precisely two athames plus a new knife that may well become one.

There is a story in here of changing Craft practice.

Actually, the first athame was simply my wooden-handled Mora hunting knife, not in the photo.1)Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price. I cleaned the first deer that I ever killed with it, and it still rides in one of my daypacks.

1 — Then one February 28th in my mid-twenties, I went rabbit hunting on the Pike National Forest west of my home in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I know it was February 28th because that is the last day of the season, and I wanted to get out one more time.

As I recall, I saw no rabbits, but while walking through the woods I found an antler-handled knife.2)Made in Spain by Muela. Of course I picked it up. Of course (being a relatively new Pagan) I thought it was a sign. Some god or daemon had given me a ritual knife — terrific!

I walked on — and then I found a cup — an aluminum cup of the kind that come with campware cooking sets.

“This is too much!” I thought. “Where is the pentacle?” (No need to ask about a wand; I was in the forest, after all.)

No pentacle appeared, but I felt somehow honored all the same. The gods or simply the universe had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re in.”

That knife was my athame for several years, and I will still use it sometimes; otherwise, since it takes an edge, it makes a good “white-handled knife.”

2 — But a new teacher entered my life, and he had different ideas about how magic worked. He and some engineer buddies postulated that maybe magical energies were on the electromagnetic spectrum . . . somewhere. They experimented with psionic “machines” that were said to amplify mental energies, psychic healing, fields of protection, and so on.

He suggested removing all ferrous metal from the ritual circle, and — if you were indoors — turning off the electric power for the duration.

So I had to replace the stainless steel (inox) athame. The high priest of my coven (a different person) found me a piece of very hard bronze. I took it to the HP of another coven, who was also an SCA fighter and an armorer — I would put his articulated steel gauntlets, for example, up against any from the 14th or 15th centuries.

He ground and polished this bronze billet into a full-tang leaf-shaped blade. The crystal in the hilt was my addition — it might help, who knows?

I made some other changes in my practice, becoming more aware of bodily energy flows. And I just liked the idea of bronze. Ah, the Bronze Age. Thuban was the North Star, and those were Shining Times.

Ritual. Long memories,
houses built on poles,
mountains, glaciers, trading parties
of tattooed men and women, faience beads,
packs filled with poppies, tin, and amber
threading through a pass.
Hammered bronze knives. Helen,
mixing her potions,
the blue Aegean stretching
like a storyteller’s breath.

Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Poeia, Revised and Updated:
Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft

Maybe that was not what my teacher had in mind, but it is where I drifted.

3 — Last year at Yule M. gave me a flint knife. I know where she bought it, at a trade fair in Taos, New Mexico3)Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post, and it was made just down the road by Charlie Acuña of The Stone Edge (say it). For three months it has been sitting on my desk while I think about it.

But where has my practice been heading? More and more to the local level. I have written a little about paying attention to Tlaloc, our regional god of the hydrological cycle, for example. I’ve been working with volunteer crews to clear fallen logs and other debris from Hardscrabble Creek, before the run-off from a large burn scar upstream causes flooding in our communities, which gives me plenty of time to think about the spirit of the creek while adjusting the saw chain tension.

Am I moving backwards from the Bronze Age now? It’s all just dreams and talking to the plants and animals. Doing certain feral things. Letting so much fall away.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price.
2. Made in Spain by Muela.
3. Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post

11 Comments

  1. Julia says:

    Hi Chas-
    Thank you for the last paragraph of this piece. It took my breath for a moment.

  2. Medeina Ragana says:

    First of all, I absolutely love the bronze athame. My first athame was supposed to have been made by my ex-husband who was a tool & die maker. I wanted a kris blade. That never happened, but when I moved from Florida to Philly, I walked into a cutlery store in one of the local malls and there was a fantastic kris-bladed stainless steel West German-made Soligen blade that was half price! Woo hoo! Still have that on my altar.

    It’s funny you should be noting that your practice has moved towards local spirit/entities. That’s what’s been happening to me over these last 15 years as well. I recently got a book by Claude Lecouteux entitled “The Tradition of Household Spirits – Ancestral Lore and Practices”, in which he summarizes what has been gleaned from classical literature from old Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Slavic lands – all of these are, for me, priceless pieces of information on ancestral Pagan practices that my Polish grandmother forbade my Belorussian grandfather from passing down. So now I’m not only working with local land spirits, but the household spirits as well.

  3. Medeina Ragana says:

    ” But a new teacher entered my life, and he had different ideas about how magic worked. He and some engineer buddies postulated that maybe magical energies were on the electromagnetic spectrum . . . somewhere.” I’ve been thinking about this as well, and I’m wondering if maybe “dark energy” might have something to do with this. Just speculation on my part.

  4. Unenlightened says:

    I do not claim to know much about you. However, can you explain this statement “Of course I picked it up. Of course (being a relatively new Pagan) I thought it was a sign.” What, looking back, do you believe it is was then? Many older Pagans would still look at this moment as a sign. Can you enlightened us more on how your believes have changed?

    • Chas Clifton says:

      Good question. If I were walking in the woods today and found a knife (that has happened, in fact), the context would be different.

      In this case, I was new to the Craft and did not yet have a designated athame; as I said, I was using my hunting knife. So when I saw the Muela knife with its symbolic antler (“stag”) handle, it seemed to shout, “I am your new athame.”

      But now that I have two — or three — athames, if I found another similar knife, I would probably ponder whether to keep it, sell it, or give it away. The context has changed.

  5. JudithAnn says:

    Thank you for sharing this. For the many years that I longed to reach out, to belong to a community – to perhaps even be a leader, I find now I’m pulling inward. It causes me some concern and doubts – which I haven’t been able to articulate. Reading this helps me consider there is nothing “wrong” with retreating to nature, dreams and a quiet, solitary practice.

    • Chas Clifton says:

      Your blog subheading mentions a “second-half life.” So if you try lots of things in your first half, then by the second half you should be figuring out what you are good at, right?

  6. Pitch313 says:

    These days the distinction that I probably make about athames (and magical tools as a whole) is: home vs. away. Thanks to the furballs about what is legal where. Away athames are less expensive/more easily replaceable in case of loss or seizure by law enforcement. As well as more likely to satisfy regulations concerning bladed weapons in more localities–so smaller.

    Everyday Carry websites typically display such knives.

    Some avenues of Craft practice encourage (even demand) the use of non-ferrous materials in athames. Silver. Bronze. Gold. Crystal. Bone. Stone. I have two obsidian-bladed ones knapped by contemporary artisans. One home. One away.

    Local can be powerful and transforming. But the preponderance of occultural resources seems to ignore local circumstances in favor of imposing trans-regional standards. European oaks are not the same as California oaks, let alone redwoods. And so on. Discovering local plants that fulfill similar magical functions can be both difficult and exciting.

  7. Since I avoid flying commercial as much as possible — and when I do, often take only carry-on luggage — I don’t usually have to think about stupid regulations or light-fingered baggage handlers. (or light-fingered TSA agents). That aside, you make good points, Pitch.

    Maybe a <A href="Polyresin Non-Metallic CIA ” Letter Opener ” Covert Defense Tool“>”CIA letter opener” would make a good travel athame.

  8. Chas Clifton says:

    Since I avoid flying commercial as much as possible — and when I do, often take only carry-on luggage — I don’t usually have to think about stupid regulations or light-fingered baggage handlers. (or light-fingered TSA agents). That aside, you make good points, Pitch.

    Maybe a “CIA Letter Opener” would make a good travel athame.