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.