For anyone who doesn’t know, an athame is just another name for a double-edged knife, and in practice a single edged knife can just as easily be used for the same purpose. For the sake of this article I’m making no distinction in use between an athame and a knife. Anything that’s too small to be a sword is a knife, and anything too big to be a knife is a sword.
There are knives made out of glass, ivory, bone, and other materials, but for the scope of this article we’re talking about knives and swords with blades made out of metal, typically steel.
Knives and swords are elemental tools, this time the element of air. Air, like fire (wands and staves), is a masculine element, and our masculine elemental tools are tools of action. Some people are under the mistaken belief that wands and staves represent air and knives and swords represent fire. This is a stupid, idiotic, belief based on the fact that fire, like swords, hurts with no actual understanding of the properties of the various elements. Fire is the element of passion, fury, and pure force, and staves, which are naturally occurring in nature, hurt people through blunt force trauma. The metal in swords and knives is man made and thus evidence of the ingenuity of man. They are weapons of skill and precision, not purely brute force and strength. Air is the element of intelligence, science, imagination, and swiftness. If you swing a sword it moves and cuts through the air as if it were becoming part of it. Wands and staves can be set on fire.
What to look for in a sword or knife.
With knives and swords it’s important to have decent tools. Prices vary widely from store to store, but there’s no need to spend a fortune on these tools for most magical work. However a lot of what’s out there is flimsy and made for decoration, not actual use, and this won’t do at all. For starters, knives and swords are weapons that cut. A lot of their symbolism and use is tied up in this. Any knife or sword used for magical practice should have a sharp point and a sharp edge. You want decent quality metal for the blade (personally the lowest quality I would use would be 440 stainless steel). Lastly you want to make sure that the quality of the hilt is good and that the blade is securely attached to it. The last thing you want is to be waving around your sword or knife in ritual and have the blade suddenly detach and go flying across the room or into you.
For the most part knives and swords serve the same purpose in magical work. However because of mundane reasons knives are usually far more useful. Swords require a lot more space to work with than knives, and so they aren’t suited for small enclosed ritual spaces Knives are also easier to conceal on your person, and in many areas even legal to carry on you, where as swords are more difficult to hide and more commonly illegal to have in public.
Size does matter, a lot. All other things being equal, a larger blade will be able to both hold and work with larger amounts of energy. For most acts a large knife will be good enough. Smaller knives, about the size of your hand, are not as useful in magical work, and should be used for more mundane magical purposes like cutting herbs, drawing blood, or carving symbols into candles. Swords are useful for directing very large amounts of energy. Sometimes a large knife is enough to seal an entity, but with larger entities a sword may be preferable. Due to the large amount of energy they can hold swords are preferable as sentient objects. Very large swords can utilize massive amounts of energy.
Remember swords and knives are airy objects. They’re a representation of intelligence and craftsmanship. Because of this better crafted swords tend to work better. This is true of both the quality of the blade, and of the art that may decorate it (such as symbols on the blade or the beauty of the hilt). A very expensive, well made, hand-crafted sword would be best, but unfortunately most of us are going to find that out of our price range. We can still get good swords and knives at decent prices (expect to pay between $60-300 for a good sword, considerably less for a good knife if you shop intelligently). As a general rule, better technologies used in the bladework, such as with Japanese swords or the smaller, later era European swords, are going to work better. However blades that are made with technologies meant to lower the cost of the blade by sacrificing quality, such as putting a hole through the center, will be detrimental.
The typical use of the type of sword will also lend some bearing to its use in ritual. For this reason dull, purely decorative swords and knives are not very useful in ritual. By their nature they are inactive, and this is even worse with swords which represent the most active element. As another example, the tanto was traditional used to commit ritual suicide, and so tanto knives tend to be more adept at dealing with death energy and people who have been suicidal, especially those who have survived attempts, usually find themselves very compatible with the knife.
As a personal note, I would recommend against buying reproductions of famous swords from movies and video games for ritual use. The swords are generally made for decoration, not for use, and in almost every case I’ve noticed the swords are inferior to other equally priced swords. You’re paying extra for the product branding.
Cool stuff to do with a blade.
Physical Self Defense – Swords and knives were meant to hurt and kill, and so long as they’re sharp they do it well. Killing is also one area where a sword far exceeds the capabilities of a knife, and for this reason, at least traditionally, swords were present at most dangerous ceremonial rituals. On the off chance you manage to physically manifest a hostile creature during a ritual (or one manifests during something like a house cleaning), a sword will be able to hurt and maybe kill anything that has a physicality. A more common use though would be defending yourself against someone who has become possessed and violent during a ritual. Note that I would recommend doing everything possible not to hurt someone during a ritual, and that local laws concerning what constitutes self-defense and justified force vary and you should be familiar with those laws before using a sword or knife in this manner. However I’ve also been shot by a medium who accidentally became possessed during an evocation, so I can understand the need to be able to defend yourself.
Battery – This is probably the first thing most practitioners do when they get their first knife. Metal doesn’t absorb energy as easily as wood, but it does hold on to it much better. Although any energy can be used, typically practitioners will enchant the knife with their own energy when they are in a calm and balanced mood. For many practitioners, the knife they use as their battery is an essential ritual tool. It acts as an emergency failsafe should something go wrong. If a practitioner ends up completely exhausting themselves during a ritual and then finds they need more energy, like if for instance they were attacked in their weakened state, the blade is a reserve of energy they can use. If they are bound by another practitioner, they can use the energy in the blade to cast an unbinding. If they’re psychologically attacked or otherwise become emotionally unstable during ritual, they can use the energy in the blade to balance out their own energy.
The metal will not absorb energy as easily as the wood in a wand will. Because of that it often times isn’t enough just to leave a blade on an altar or to take it with you to rituals in order to make a battery. More often than not a practitioner will have to specifically charge the blade with energy. The first time you charge a blade with energy, it could take hours. However you’ll notice the metal will hold the charge very well and the blade will lose very little energy over time without use. Because of this you only have to replenish the blade after you’ve used it, and not much more than what you’ve taken out of it. After doing this several times you may even find that the blade begins to replenish itself after use.
To charge the blade, first make sure that you are in a calm, balanced, and strong state. Hold the knife or sword by the hilt and move energy through your hand, into the hilt, and then into the blade itself. You may wish to meditate or otherwise achieve trance in order to make this process easier. As I said it could take several hours to do this properly depending on how good you are at it. You can also try singing with the sword in your hand, and pushing the energy out of your mouth with the words to the song and into the blade through your hand. You can also try something similar involving dancing, and these two methods can be combined. I don’t know if this is a better method, but it’s definitely more fun than just sitting there with your sword. You can also try doing other tasks like watching TV while doing this, but the entire process will take longer. Also, if you need to you can split this ritual up over several days.
Energy Manipulation – Blades manipulate energy differently than wooden wands. Where as wands move very large amounts of energy, blades move energy in much smaller amounts. For the trade off though, blades are able to manipulate energy in a much finer manner. For instance the smaller amount of energy used by a sword can form a far more devastating attack than a wand could because the energy can be directed at a small, single, specific point. The sword is also going to be better at directing energy at a specific point rather than just pointing a large amount into a single direction hitting everything. For example if you had a barrier around your working area and someone or something wished to enter, you could use your wand to throw a massive amount of energy at the barrier knocking it down. Or you could use your sword to cut a small and specific place for someone to enter and then repair the damage afterwards.
Sealing Entities – You can seal entities into blades. You might want to do this for a variety of reasons. You may want the entity in the blade so that it would aid you in battle. You may want it in there so you can access its power during magical rituals, or to empower it with a physical form so that it can act in this world and somehow help you, or to keep it in one place so it is there to do what you need when you need it. Or you could just seal an entity in there to get rid of it and then throw the blade into the back of some closet.
Some entities will willingly enter the blade because they want to be inside it. If they cannot do this on their own, you may have to develop a method to help them in. If an entity is unwilling to enter the blade, then you would need to grab it and push it in there, like you would with energy, and then seal the blade so it cannot escape. A basic seal would be a small amount of energy entered into the blade, possibly in the formation of a sigil denoting no entry or exit or a lock or something being closed, empowered with the intent not to let anything escape. A stronger seal would be to charge wax and melt it on top of the sword and sheath in order to seal the two together. Done correctly the entity will only be able to come out and effect the physical world when the wax seal is broken.
Bigger entities are going to require bigger blades. Large knives will usually be big enough to seal most entities you’ll find, but swords are always better for sealings, especially with larger more powerful entities. Some entities, like say gods, are just going to be too big and can’t possibly be sealed into a sword (and they’d probably destroy you if you made a serious attempt at doing this).
Living Blades – Better than sealing in an entity is a living blade. Some blades do become sentient over time because of energy constantly being passed through them, although this doesn’t happen too often accidentally and is much more difficult and rarer than with wood. However, in the instance of a handcrafted blade, if the craftsman puts enough time, devotion, and enough of himself into the blade there is a chance the blade will be born as a sentient and living object. There will happen a lot more often with swords than with knives, mainly because swords take a lot more time to make and require a lot more skill. A living blade will have a personality all its own, and will have some power to act within this world. If the craftsman knows what he’s doing, he can do various things like continually charging the object during creation, casting certain spells while making it, and writing certain symbols and ruins on the sword in order to further empower it.
Sword Memory – Living swords will naturally remember the people who have wielded them, their fighting techniques, the battles they’ve fought in and the rituals they’ve been used in. They can then, to some extent, impart this past knowledge and these abilities to whoever is currently wielding them, and even use these abilities themselves in some instances. A non-living blade can also be made to hold a memory (and by non-living I also mean nothing is sealed in it). This isn’t usually an effortless process though, and the practitioner needs to make a special effort to place the image and memory of what has occurred into the blade.
Soul Holding – This is far more effective when done with a living sword. In that instance you would merge your soul together with that of the sword, each taking a piece of the others soul, and this would create a closer bond between you and the sword and also allow you to act at times like you were a single entity. You can also do this with a non-living blade, and the purpose in this instance is to leave a small part of your soul behind with the intent that, after death, most or all of your remaining soul will seek that piece out and also enter into the blade. From there you can continue to live on and affect the world as a blade, but the typical intent is to find a suitable host and draw them to the sword, and then over time to work your way either into possessing them or being a true walk-in, effectively achieving immortality.
Astral attacks – Finally any of the above blade can be used for an astral type attack, so long as it has some sort of energy charge to it. In this instance you would literally attack a non-corporeal entity with the sword or knife and the blade would cut through them hurting and possibly even killing them. Living swords and swords with sealed entities will do this of their own volition. You might need to tell the sword that you need it to attack astrally, or the sword may be able to figure it out on its own. A sword which is holding a piece of your soul may be strong enough to attack astrally just because you want it to, but you might also need to treat it as if it were a battery. With a battery, the energy is already in the blade and will go through what you are hitting, but it won’t actually hurt your victim. You need to access the energy in the blade and attune it with aggression, or possibly pain, and give it an intent to hurt. So long as you’ve attuned the energy correctly and keep it that way, once you move the sword through the area where the entity is it will hit it the same as if you were cutting through a physical person. This would also hurt a physical person if you were moving the blade through them, but then so would the blade.
For the most part, the sheath is going to be the least important part of the sword. To cut costs, many swords out there come with very cheap sheaths. If you want to do something special with the sheath, you can always buy a better one to fit over the sword. If you just want it for a utilitarian purpose, you’re probably fine with the one you got with the sword.
If you’re planning to seal something with wax, ideally you’d want a metal sheath and a metal hilt on the blade. You’re going to want to buy this with the blade because metal sheaths have to be kind of exact. A wooden sheath would be the second best choice, especially if it had a coat of pain or some fabric covering it. Plastic sheaths are going to be useless for this. In fact, plastic sheaths are completely useless for any magical work.
If you want to put an enchantment of some sort on the sheath, a wooden sheath is the best choice. You’d ideally want a wooden sheath that looked nice, that was a work of art in its own right. You might also want to put gemstones on the sheath.
The Qualities of Some Common Metals
Steel – Steel is a masculine metal, representing air. Steel is the crystal of the metal world. It doesn’t amplify, but the metal is largely blank and can be given a wide variety of different enchantments. The only actual attributes found in steel are its strength and durability, and maybe to some extent beauty (but in a very specific way). Considering what we usually use metal for in ritual, it’s unlikely any of these attributes would run counter to our goals. It’s also purity, but only to the extent that it is pure and anything can be written on to it. Most swords and knives are going to be some kind of steel. Steel rings are also very affordable and are suitable for general enchantments and magical experiments (although if you want a very powerful ring, you may want to spring for a more expensive metal with a gemstone attached).
Silver – Silver represents the feminine aspect of metal specifically water. Silver is a purifier. This is why, in folklore, silver weapons are ideal for fighting things which are an abomination to nature, such as vampires and werewolves. Silver is also very good at hiding things. It would be typical for a silver tool to not seem like much but actually hold a great deal of power. Something sealed into silver could also be very difficult to detect or hard to quantify. Silver is also useful with spells concerning invisibility. As for our tools, we usually see silver in jewelry (such as rings and necklaces). Some people do have silver chalices (and due to its feminine aspect silver is ideal), silver framed mirrors, and silver candle holders, but more often than not these items aren’t sterling silver but just have a coat of silver on top (be very careful, a lot of manufacturers list items with a topcoat of sterling silver as being sterling silver. Large sterling silver items are rather expensive. If you paid $20 or $40 for it, it isn’t completely silver). Due to its high cost, they don’t make silver swords, and its very rare to see a good sized silver knife (although they do exist, but they are pretty pricey). A large silver knife is a very cool tool to have though, especially if you want something for general metaphysical combat or cleaning houses.
Gold – Gold represents the masculine aspect of metal, specifically fire. Gold is good at amplifying things, and because of this it is most often used in spells to amplify wealth. It also tends to draw attention to itself, which makes it ideal for glamours and other spells which are meant to get you noticed. Whatever kind of energy, or entity, is sealed into a gold item tends to be amplified outward and is easily detectable. Because of its high cost, gold tools are usually limited to small jewelry. Smaller gold-alloy cooking knives do exist, although they are still fairly expensive. Gold is generally used sparingly for decoration on hilts and sheaths. Solid gold knives do exist, but you need to be rich (not just well-off and not Pagan rich, like Forbes rich) to afford these.
Platinum – Platinum is a feminine metal which represents the element of Earth. It’s generally associated with stability, resistance, and endurance. It’s also good for spellwork which is meant to attract physical pleasures such as sex and sexual contact, wealth, and food. Because of its high price, the fact that it is not as vibrant as gold (which is cheaper), and that it actually resembles silver (which is way cheaper), you’re not really going to see any tools made out of platinum except for jewelry.
Lead – Lead also has an Earth association. It represents stability, durability, and resistance. It’s also considered an ancient metal and represents age. Out of all metals, lead is the most protective and also is the best at keeping things sealed inside. Due to the fact that it is poisonous, you don’t typically see magical tools made out of lead.
Tin – Tin is masculine and represents strength, particularly increasing strength.
Copper – Copper is a feminine metal and is associated with love, beauty, desire, sex, fragility, and impermanence. It is ideal for casting glamours and love spells. It can also be used to cast spells meant to end things, promote decay, or for spells concerning general destruction.
Bronze – Bronze is associated with love, beauty and desire, strength, and permanence. Used as an enchanted weapon, it can attack with the destructive powers of beauty and love (properly channeled love energy is very destructive). Bronze weapons are sometimes seen as the weapons of the righteous warrior in battle. Bronze jewelry still exists today and is not very expensive. For centuries now steel has been universally used for weapons instead of bronze because it is both cheaper and makes a better blade. However prior to the discovery of steel, bronze was a common metal used in blades and recreations of copper knives and swords are still on the market, although they tend to cost a bit more than their steel counterparts (but not by much).
Planetary Associations of Metals
Sun –> Gold
Moon –> Silver
Mercury –> Mercury
Mars –> Iron (Steel)
Venus –> Copper (Brass, Bronze)
Jupiter –> Tin (Bronze)
Saturn –> Lead