The black-handled knife that is the traditional witches’ weapon. It is
used for drawing the magic circle and for controlling and banishing
The use by witches of a magical weapon of this kind is very ancient.
A picture upon a Greek vase of circa 200 B.C. shows two naked witches
engaged in ‘drawing down the moon’, that is, invoking the powers of the
moon to aid in their magic. One holds a wand and the other a short
sword. Evidently the magical knife could have evolved from this sword.
An engraved gem from ancient Rome shows Hecate, the goddess of
witchcraft, in triple form. Her three pairs of arms bear the symbols of a
burning torch, a scourge, and a magical dagger; once again, this appears
to be a prototype of the Athame.
An early edition of the grimoire called the Clavicle of Solomon, dated
1 572 and now in the British Museum, mentions the magical knife by the
name Arthana. A woodcut which illustrates Olaus Magnus’ Historia de
Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples), published
at Rome in 1 555, shows a witch controlling a phantasmagoria of
demons which she has conjured up, by brandishing an Athame in one
hand and a bunch of magical herbs in the other. One of the fantastic
witchcraft pictures of the Dutch artist Teniers depicts a similar scene
of a witch controlling spirits by means of her Athame.
The use of a consecrated dagger to control spirits is also known in
Tibet. These weapons, known to Westerners as ‘devil-daggers’, have a
triangular blade and a haft in the shape of the dorje, or thunderbolt. It
is curious how such a magical belief should be found in places so far