An athame is, quite simply, a ceremonial knife.
You can obtain an athame from a specialist magical shop, but as I said before, any knife – even a letter opener – will do, although it should preferably have a silver-colored blade.
Athames are traditionally double-edged and black-handled, but a single-edged blade is better if you are new to magick, to avoid unintentional cuts.
There is a vast array of scouting and craft knives available, with black wooden handles on which you can engrave magical symbols such as your zodiacal and planetary glyphs with a pyrographic set obtained from an art shop.
You can also paint moons, stars, spirals, suns, or crosses with silver paint.
The athame is set in the East of the altar and represents the element of Air. Like the sword, it is traditionally used for drawing magical circles on the ground and directing magical Air energies into a symbol.
When you are casting a circle, you can point your athame diagonally towards the ground, so that you do not need to stoop to draw (which is not very elegant and bad for the back).
With practice, the movement becomes as graceful as with a sword.
The athame can also be used as a conductor of energy, especially in solitary rituals, being held above the head with both hands to draw down light and energy into the body.
This uses the same principle as that of arching your arms over your head to create a light body.
One method of releasing the power is then to bring the athame down with a swift, cutting movement, horizontally at waist level, then thrust it away from the body and upwards once more to release this power.
If others are present, direct the athame towards the center of the circle.
After the ritual, you can drain excess energies by pointing the athame to the ground.
An athame may be used to invoke the elemental Guardian Spirits by drawing a pentagram in the air and for closing down the elemental energies after the ritual.
With its cutting steel of Mars, it is effective in power, matters of the mind, change, action, justice, banishing magick, protection, and for cutting through inertia and stagnation.
The athame is sometimes also associated with the Fire element.
If you don’t like the idea of a full-sized athame, there are some lovely paper knives in the shape of swords or with animal or birds’ heads.
Some covens give each of their members a tiny athame, to be used for drawing down energies during ceremonies.
The main athame is used by the person leading the ritual who may draw the circle, open all four quarters and close them after the ritual.
An athame with a white handle is used for cutting wands, harvesting herbs for magick or healing, carving the traditional Samhain jack-o’-lantern, and etching runes, and other magical or astrological symbols on candles and talismans.
Some practitioners believe that you should never use metal for cutting herbs but instead pull them up, shred them and pound them in a mortar and pestle, kept for the purpose.
Pearl-handled athames are considered to be especially magical.