Friday, January 3, 2014

The Athame & The Pentacle

The Athame

Pronounced ah-tha-may. Many people begin with a letter opener or other such implement pressed into service as an athame so if this is what you use don't feel you're unusual. Once you know you're on your true path you may want to invest in a real athame, if you're at that point these comments may be useful. Traditionally double edged, made of steel, with a black handle which may be painted or engraved with markings which vary from one tradition to another the Athame is one of the four elemental tools. The edges are not normally sharpened as the athame is a symbolic tool rather than a practical knife. The athame represents fire in most traditions, the only exceptions being those who follow the attribution of the knife to air as given in some early Golden Dawn documents. There is a theory that this was a deliberate obfuscation on their part, intended to confuse outsiders. Athames are available from occult suppliers for a wide range of prices, it has been my experience that in many cases you will be able to get a better quality knife for less money by going to a sporting goods store or army/navy surplus store to purchase your athame. It is possible to find very elegant athames if you are willing and able to pay the price and it is also possible to have one custom made to your specifications.

It is considered desirable to forge or construct the athame yourself if possible or at least make the handle. Practically speaking, unless you are a blacksmith, or know one, most of us must purchase the blade for our athames. One good possibility is to purchase what is referred to as a boot knife and then create the handle for it. These are available at surplus stores or sporting goods stores for very reasonable prices, often under $10.00. What you want if you want to add your own handle is one that does not already have one, this will appear in a catalog as "solid 420 stainless construction". If you can manage to produce a wooden handle and paint it black it will add to your connection to the tool but there are other options for the unhandy. I found that Fimo clay, available at the craft store, made a wonderful handle for my first one. You knead it till its pliable enough then form it in the shape you want on the knife blade. By baking it in a regular oven it hardens permanently. And talk about connection, it even has your
fingerprints in it!

If you don't care to create the handle, you can purchase fabulous knives that will make a wonderful athame very inexpensively from a sporting goods or surplus store. Boot knives are available with a variety of ready made handles and generally are a convenient size being about 8-9 inches long. You want a fixed rather than a folding blade and with two edges not one, that is why I recommend looking for a boot knife as most fit these specifications. The blade should be unsharpened as it is much safer and it will never be used for cutting in any case. Most come with a sheath that will have a boot clip which can be hooked over your belt.

Generally you would want a knife that was to be used to have a carbon steel blade which is perfect for honing to a fine edge, but this is not the case with the athame. If the knife you are most drawn to has a carbon steel blade that's fine, but it is not necessarily desireable. Carbon steel blades darken with age and use, there is no way to prevent this, it is a natural effect. Such darkening may be removed with wet/dry emery paper in a very fine grit. You will need to take precautions with a carbon steel blade to protect it from rust, occasionally oiling the blade will help prevent corrosion. Always keep the blade dry and clean, remove fingerprints and wipe the blade after use and once a month wipe it down with a clean cotton cloth dampened with warm water and a bit of soap. Dry
the blade completely and apply a thin coat of metal polish. When the polish is dry remove it using a dry cotton cloth to buff it off. Apply a thin coat of mineral oil to the blade with a clean cloth.

The easiest thing is to get a knife with a stainless steel blade which I resistant to rust, but not rustproof. You should still keep the knife clean and wipe it down with a soft cloth after use. Twice a year you should clean it more thoroughly, wiping it down with a clean cotton cloth moistened with warm water and then polishing it dry with a clean cotton cloth. If you will be storing a knife for a long period take it out of the sheath as it will encourage rust. If the knife has a wood handle it should be polished periodically with paste wax with a high carnuba content or linseed oil, those with leather handles may be periodically cleaned with saddle soap and then polished with untinted boot
polish. This same treatment may be used on the leather sheath.

In some traditions the handle of the knife is marked with symbols of some sort. The Farrars suggest markings based on Gardeners writings as follows. They stand for the Horned God, the ankh, the Salute and the Scourge, The Goddess and Scorpio the sign of death and the beyond on side one. Side two is The Perfect Couple, power springing forth, and the eight ritual occasions. Buckland recommends marking your magical name on either the hilt or blade. Cuningham states that no markings are necessary. You may want to write, engrave, or paint your magical name on the handle in runes or any other alphabet if you like to increase your connection to the tool. If you like you may also draw a pentagram or other symbol or affix a stone or crystal to the athame.

The Pentacle

Also known as the altar paten, the pentacle is pronounced pen-ti-cal. One of the four elemental tools, the Pentacle may be made of wood, copper, brass, silver, clay, gold, tile; nearly any material; and either plain or ornamented with crystals and/or symbols. The Pentacle represents earth. The primary and often only marking is the pentagram. It is usually five or six inches in diameter. It may be used as the centerpiece of the altar. Sometimes it is displayed on an easel, other times it is laid flat on the altar. In some cases the bowl of salt is placed on top of it.

Pentacles are one of the simplest tools to make for yourself since there are so many options available on what materials they should be made from. One of the easiest methods is to create a circular plaque out of clay and incise the pentagram in it. This may be fired if you have access to a kiln or it may be
left to dry. If left to dry you may want to paint it with some polyurethane to protect it from moisture. Instead of natural clay you may use Fimo or Sculpey which can be baked in your home oven to harden them.

Those of you old enough to remember sand candles may want to try using the sand cast method to create a pentacle out of plaster of paris. You just need a shallow pan full of moist packed sand, some vermiculite, and a box of plaster. Scoop out a depression in the sand the size and shape you want your pentacle to be. Cut a pentagram and any other symbols you'd like into the bottom of the sand. You may place crystals or other items in the sand as well if you like. Mix up the plaster with water according to the package directions and add about half as much vermiculite as plaster. Stir till completely combined. Pour into the depression in the sand up to the level of the surface of the sand. Don't make the pentacle thinner than about a half inch or thicker than about an inch. Allow time for the pentacle to set up completely before digging it out of the sand. Brush off any loose sand, but there will be a thin layer embedded in the plaster. Use a spray finish to protect the surface from moisture.

Another good option is to obtain a round wood plaque of the sort intended for decoupage from a crafts store. This may be painted, stained or otherwise decorated and the pentagram painted, carved or burned into the wood. This is quite an inexpensive type of pentacle to create as such plaques are generally under $5.00. If desired you can add cabochon stones to the pentacle that are symbolic to you or represent the earth element. I made my first pentacle of a wood plaque which I painted black and topped with a circle of copper on which I painted the pentagram and affixed a sodalite cabochon. It was a very effective tool and cost very little to make.

There is no need to make your own pentacle, it is however nice to construct your tools when it is possible to do so. Pentacles in a variety of materials and designs are available ready made for those who don't choose to make their own. The one illustrated above right is a widely distributed design by artist Paul Borda called the "Moon Crescent Pentacle Plaque". This product line has several different pentacle designs available in two different finishes cast in resin. There are beautiful brass, copper and silver pentacles available if you prefer. Not every Wiccan tradition uses the pentacle, Buckland does not mention the pentacle, nor does Valiente, neither of their traditions utilize it. Some simply
use a bowl of salt to represent earth, or a crystal. The pentacle was in fact borrowed from Ceremonial Magic as is stated by Cunningham and Farrar. In that tradition it is used as a defensive weapon. Ceremonial magic sources indicate that it should be a disk of stone, tin or wood four inches in diameter with a 1/2 inch border in which should be engraved the Archangelic and Godname of
Earth. In their description the pentacle is engraved with a pentagram on one side and a hexagram on the other.

The Farrars illustrate the pentacle with additional symbols on the face along with the pentagram and describe a circle of stones to represent the astrological signs, along with the symbols of those signs. Their pentacle includes the following symbolism: inverted triangle is the first degree, inverted pentagram second degree, upright triangle third degree, waxing and waning moons the Goddess, Taurus the God, the two S's represent Mercy and Severity as the Salute and the Scourge. The stones they used are Aries-bloodstone, Taurus-carnelian, Gemini-alexandrite, Cancer-moonstone, Leo-tigers eye, Virgo-sapphire, Libra-opal, Scorpio-lapis lazuli, Sagittarius-topaz, Capricorn-jet, Aquarius-amethyst, and Pisces-pearl. Their design is by far the most elaborate that I have heard of and by no means represents what you should have. The symbolism is meaningful to them, they designed it, the example is given to indicate what you could design to suit

*Arthur Unknown

- The Crafty Witch

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