Pagan Studies

The youth of today's Paganism have more to offer than ever before. Gain a unique perspective on Pagan leadership, advocacy, and spirituality from the next generation.

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Youth Q&A: Swordless in New York State

In the correspondence-based work that I do with Pagan youth, much of my communications revolve around answering questions and giving suggestions about how to live a Pagan life with both the restraints and opportunities that being a young person represents. This Youth Q&A column will be updated regularly with my questions and answers, shared with permission from the questioner. Only the names will be removed for privacy and safety.

Having a sword or athame is the only thing my mom won’t let me do. Everything else is fine with her. I have to have one for my altar, right?
Age 16, Syracuse NY

When I was first training, I was told that the athame was the most important of all of the witch tools. The knife represents our will, which we need to keep sharp and slick if want to work effective magick and live our lives as powerful individuals. In some traditions, the knife is a symbol of fire, since the metal is forged in the flames and represents our need to be strong, yet flexible under pressure. In other traditions, the knife belongs to air, representing our intellect and the ability to “cut out” the things that cloud our judgment and cause us to be unsure.

So yes, the athame or sword is a very important tool in many Wiccan and witchcraft traditions. On the bright side, you’re lucky that this one little obstacle is the only one your family is giving you right now. I talk to teens all the time who can’t have any tools, or even a simple altar. Luckily, this is a pretty easy problem to work around! Here are a few thoughts:

Will your mom let you have a simple butter knife? You can either grab one from the kitchen or just buy your own for around $1. Ideally, your knife should be sharp, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can get a knife like that, just paint the handle part black with nail polish, enamel, or waterproof black paint. The handle of the ritual knife is traditionally black because black absorbs and holds energy. Just make sure you cleanse and bless it before you use it and don’t use it for anything other than ritual (aka, try not to butter your morning toast with your athame).

If even having a butter knife is out of the question, you can always point with your pointer and middle fingers extended together. Place your thumb over the pinky and ring finger. This is the “knife position” of the hand and works just fine for directing energy. In fact, I think it’s better to learn how to direct energy with just your fingers to begin with anyways. Tools are an extension of our energy bodies. If you’ve practiced using your imagination to visualize things, imagine that your fingers are the blade of a long and sharp knife. The plus side with this solution is that you can take it anywhere and you’ll never forget to bring it into circle with you.

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David Salisbury is a queer, vegan, Witch and author experiencing life in our nations capital. David is Wiccan clergy within the Firefly Tradition and is High Priest of Coven of the Spiral Moon, a Firefly coven based in DC. The focal point of his spiritual practice is one of service, activism and respect. To fulfill this vocation, he is a full time employee with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization. He is the author of The Deep Heart of Witchcraft (Moon Books, 2013) and Teen Spirit Wicca (Soul Rocks, 2014).


  • Diane Hedden
    Diane Hedden Wednesday, 11 June 2014

    I am a witch who has worked both as a solitary and with a coven for over 25 years. I have met quite a few other witches who do not use a knife their "athame" . Most did happen to be women and were avowed pacifists who did not feel comfortable using a bladed "weapon" to focus and direct their energy. After all that is what the athame really represents. I know of practioners who have used wooden wands (one which had a metal cap/tip), one who used a spade (she was heavily into gardening), and last one who had a beautiful antique pair of scissors ( she was a professional seamstress and costume designer in L.A). All of these practioners felt their particular tool served them best instead of a traditional athame.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Wednesday, 11 June 2014

    For my handfasting, the priest was more than happy to use the titanium spork I provided.

  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan Wednesday, 11 June 2014

    In the bad old days when living with my parents or unsympathetic partners I would use secret, mundane tools. The Athame was a Swiss Army knife, or my diver's knife. A butter knife, metal or plastic could do just as well. These days I almost always invoke with my wands, one being a wooden rod, the other, a shaped stone. The tools are of course just props to assist your mind and it's imagination. At most, their properties may help with operations in the etheric. But the real magical work happens on the astral and relies on the symbol you hold in your mind, rather than the tool you hold in your hand.

  • Jennifer Bisson
    Jennifer Bisson Thursday, 12 June 2014

    I also started out using a letter opener. I have also used a pointed crystal, a wooden folding fan, a pencil, a small spear point and a piece of petrified wood. Over the years I have used many different tools in ritual, and known many others who use unique tools as well.

    I find the personal connection to the tool is what is important. I have had tools that I use 'for the moment', ones that I feel I want to work with something, but that I don't think that particular tool is one that will stay with me for long. I have also had tools where I saw them the first time and knew that was one I wanted to work with.

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