I suppose I was prompted to start writing this article because yet again I heard ‘athame’ pronounced in a somewhat idiosyncratic way (I’m being polite): ‘ath-ah-may’, ‘ath-aim’, ‘ath-ugh-mee’….I’ve heard them all. So let’s be very clear from the outset: ‘Athame’ is pronounced ‘ath-ay-me’, not ‘ath–a-may’ or ‘ath-aim’ etc. But how do we know that?
The co-founder of Wicca, Doreen Valiente (and you don’t get a better authority than that!) says so on Page 78 of her book ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’:
‘ The typical weapon of Witchcraft is the athame, or ritual knife (pronounced ath-ay-me)’.
Now to be very clear, Doreen isn’t writing in a phonetical sense, so the last syllable is ‘me’ as in ‘you and me’ and definitely not as in ‘may’.
We can go off into all sorts of speculations about where the word originates from and how it might have been pronounced in whatever language back in the late Middle Ages, but frankly, this would be ‘an exercise in futility’ to quote Mr. Dillinger who used the phrase in a very different context. We don’t pronounce the word ‘through’ in the guttural phonetic way it was originally pronounced by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (like it is spelled), we pronounce it ‘thru’ today. So let’s put an end to the debate once and for all – athame is pronounced ‘ath-ay-me’ ( the middle syllable ‘ay’ as in the word ‘hay’ and the last syllable ‘me’ as in ‘you and me’).
I have long pondered leaving behind the word ‘athame’ and simply using instead ‘ritual dagger’, but somehow ‘athame’ feels right, probably because I have known it for so long now, well over 30 years.
An athame traditionally has a black hilt (= handle). The authority here again is Doreen Valiente:
‘Traditionally, the athame should have a black hilt, a circumstance which caused Gerald Gardner to think that it might be related to the Scottish Highlander’s skean-dhu, which literally means ‘black knife’ and, in fact, usually has a hilt of this colour’ – Page 78, ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’.
I suspect that Gerald Gardner was being a little disingenuous with regard to his Scottish speculation – he almost certainly knew that ‘athame’ was one form of the word used in some French manuscript versions of the medieval grimoire ‘The Key of Solomon’.
The old grimoires give a variety of different markings that should be engraved on the hilt and/or blade. The writers had specific reasons for these markings that may not be relevant to our own use. I therefore believe that unless your particular Path or Tradition requires hilt markings, then unless you want to put them on….and can justify why you have done so…. then they are not necessary and your athame remains an athame even unmarked.
If you search eBay and other internet sites you will find a wide range of daggers being called ‘athames’. Beware, they aren’t athames just because a seller calls them athames. An athame should have a straight ‘dagger’ shaped blade or at least a blade the shape of a kitchen carving knife. It can be single or double-edged, but those edges should not be sharp. An athame is never used for mundane work such as cutting or killing for that matter. It is a weapon of the spiritual world, an extension of the will of its user as any ordinary dagger is, but the use of an athame is purely spiritual. A lot is said about sharp edges being a danger in Circle work with others, this is obvious, but an athame still has a point even if it is blunt and if I fell on you with it, you are pretty much going to get stabbed. The real point about blunt edges and tip is that it emphasises its spiritual function.
The hilt of the athame should be wood, horn, blackened bone or even metal, but definitely not plastic or resin. The guard on the athame can be ornate or plain, it might not even have one. The pommel (the bit on top of the hilt) can also be ornate or plain or, again, it might not have one.
The blade of the athame should be steel / iron or bronze. Bronze would be unusual and perhaps more appropriate for a boline (the curved knife used for cutting herbs etc). An athame does not have a blade made of wood. Some people use them, but this is a modern invention perhaps promoted by crafters who can carve up a ‘wooden athame’ in a few minutes, burn a few markings into it and sell it on Etsy for a serious profit to the unwary.
I do not want to denounce innovations and so if you like your wooden ‘athame’, then fine, but don’t pretend to yourself that it has any traditional historical legitimacy as an athame.
And as to plastic or ‘bronze resin’ athames – ughhhh! Please don’t even go there.
The finest blades are hand-forged and are made by folding different grades of red-hot carbon steel over and over giving an end result of beautiful grain patterns on the blade – these are sometimes referred to as ‘damascus steel’, ‘watered steel’ or ‘pattern-welded steel’ blades.
Don’t be cheap when buying an athame. You buy the best cell phone you can afford so why buy a cheap and trashy athame from China when surely you should buy the most expensive one you can afford. After all, you intend to use it for spiritual purposes – the highest of all purposes. Your purchase is a sacrifice – it should be, so don’t buy a piece of junk and wave it before the Gods and spirits as if you are proud of being cheap.
What if you cannot afford an expensive athame? Then buy what you can afford and save for a better one when you can afford it. Think: ‘my cell phone cost ‘x’, surely, I can and should spend more on my athame’. Of course, you could always make an athame….and that is a real sacrificial act. It doesn’t matter if you are not a master bladesmith, you tried and that is a true sacrifice and your athame, no matter how humble your efforts, will still be an athame and special.
But having said all this…Do you actually need an athame? It is after all a ‘prop’ and so whether you do or don’t is up to you. if you feel satisfied with conjuring a Circle by pointing your finger at the perimeter, dipping it into a chalice to exorcise the water in it, or even commanding a demon with your finger, fine! Maybe all the medieval grimoires that recommended ‘black hilted daggers’ didn’t take into account such a powerful person as you. Personally, I need to use and athame.
Cauldrons – to be cauldrons – should be cauldron shaped! If it isn’t that shape
you simply have a pot or pan. Frankly, that doesn’t matter for practical
purposes but somehow a cauldron looks and feels a lot more ‘witchy’
than a new stainless-steel saucepan just bought from the supermarket!
Very occasionally you might find a cauldron with a side handle like the one our
friend in the photo above is using, but the most common is this type with the
handle joined at both sides:
Cauldrons can be suspended over a fire by their handles or chains from branches or a triangular framework in metal or wood:
From around the mid 1990’s cauldrons began to be made with the Wiccan
market in mind and are cast with pentagrams and triple moons etc. They are
made well and are inexpensive. Personally, we prefer the traditional
unembellished style but if the type below appeals to you they should serve you well.
One of our members recently found and bought the little antique iron cauldron below. It measures just 5 ½ inches by 4 ½” diameter (14cm x11cm). He’s been looking for a small
antique one this size for ages and uses it for brewing interesting potions
and also for burning incense inside. (Note of caution: add a liner to the cauldron when burning incense, or just put sand or salt in to insulate the charcoal and prevent burns!).
So, now you want to know where to buy a cauldron and how to look after it?
…Even Amazon sells them now as does eBay. Old ones come up on eBay sometimes at reasonable prices and sometimes at prices bordering on insanely expensive…
Also, just because the seller says it’s a cauldron doesn’t mean it is – it has to look like one
and not just a pot or bowl – sellers put the word ‘cauldron’ into the description
to attract naïve and unwary buyers ….usually as Halloween approaches.
Having bought your cauldron, you need to clean it – a new one with warm
soapy water / an old one with a wire brush ….and then warm soapy water!
Check for leaks at this stage and if ANY water no matter how little is leaking
out, return it to the seller and get your money back. Leaks have a tendency to
get worse under heat or over time.
Once cleaned you need to ‘prove’ the cauldron: All you need is 1-2 tablespoons
of olive oil and some salt depending on the size of the cauldron. Pour the oil
into the pan and sprinkle salt liberally all over the inside. Heat over moderate
heat until smoking hot, and then carefully rub the salt and oil well into the pan
with a paper towel. Remove from the heat and wipe dry. Proving provides a
natural protective ‘Teflon’ type coating which is non-toxic (unlike Teflon).
Today we celebrate May Eve, one of the most magical Sabbats bringing new life, inspiration, and enchantment into our world – mundane and occult alike.
This is also the season when our Coven begins a new period of recruitment and so we welcome membership applications from those sincerely interested in Traditional English Witchcraft and the Old Ways.
If you came across our website wishing to find like-minded people to honor the Old Gods with, celebrate the Sabbats in the truly magical way – outdoors – and study Traditional Witchcraft of England and the Cotswolds, then perhaps this might be a sign for You.
We are a friendly, supportive group of individuals deeply interested in the old witchcraft practices and dedicated to honoring the Gods, our ancestors, and the Spirits of the land. We are very practically oriented and welcome all those who not only love to read and learn, but also to get out in the nature and live what they believe in.
We are happy to consider applications from those new to our Path as well as from those who have been walking it for a long time but miss the powerful experiences that working in a group offers.
Although we never charge for teaching or membership, we ask for and value commitment in our members. We look for the willingness to learn, do some memorization and those who are prepared to attend Coven meeting at least once a month.
If this appeals to you, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.
Bright Blessings and Merry May Eve,
Frankincense is an aromatic resin that is obtained from various species of the Boswellia tree species. It is widely used in the West both in the world of the occult and Christianity.
The name ‘frankincense’ is from the French: ‘franc encense’ meaning incense of high quality. There are many types of frankincense some of which are poor quality. The finest frankincense comes from Oman.
The very finest frankincense is ‘Green Sultan Hojari’ and is very expensive and sometimes impossible to obtain outside the Middle East – occasionally it can be obtained from specialist suppliers lucky enough to have contacts in Oman who have access to this precious commodity.
Royal Green Hojari is undoubtedly the next best – it is expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as ‘Green Sultan’.
There is also a Silver Hojari or ‘White’, but Green is superior in aroma. Silver is a good general quality grade.
Most commonly sold is the lower grade frankincense. The aroma is nothing like the finest grades, but for general use is far more economical. This grade is also ideal for use as a ‘base’ for incense blends; of course, you could use Green Sultan, but it would be like mixing the finest French wine with Pepsi …..somewhat of a waste!
Red Frankincense is seldom seen, but its aroma is unlike most frankincense varieties almost like musk.
Black Frankincense is generally greyish in colour rather than black, the scent is good, but does not compare to the highest grades. It is usually exported – the Arabs buy green.
So, to sum up: VERY occasionally treat yourself to Royal Sultan Hojari if you can find and afford it, use Royal Green Hojari when you need to smell very high-quality frankincense or maybe for that special ritual. Use Red or Black when you want something different from your frankincense collection and the general quality for everyday rituals, esbats and blending.
….and finally, I suppose I should say something about how to burn it. You can use incense charcoal disks for all grades of frankincense, but maybe with Sultan and Royal Green, you may wish to treat it with the utmost respect by burning it the Japanese way with odourless charcoal covered with rice stalk ash and with a mica place resting on the ash upon which to place a small amount of this green treasure. This is the best way to burn incense if you wish to go to the trouble – many incense lovers in Arab countries use electric incense burners, but for me, this just lacks some ancient and special quality – a bit like the difference between the light of a full moon and an electric street lamp, although to be fair, it works just as well as the Japanese method and is easier.
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Dymock is a small village in the Forest of Dean district of Gloucestershire, four miles south of Ledbury, with a population of approx. 300 people. In 1892 a 17th century curse was discovered hidden in a cupboard at Wilton Place. It is now housed in the Gloucester Museum.
At the top is the name for whom the curse was laid: ‘Sarah Ellis‘ – written backwards, as was the case with some Roman curses. Below are the names and symbols associated with the moon and most of you will recognise that they are derived from the Kamea of the Moon along with the spirit Hasmodai (Chasmodai).
Beneath, after an invocation of seven more spirit names, comes the curse itself:
make this person to Banish away from this place and countery amen to my desier amen
The curse inscribed on a lead plate:
Our initiates ( I can think of one or two exceptions!!!!) will be capable of creating a similar curse – although hopefully more accurately and correctly engraved than the original!
It is clear that the information used by the 17th century creator of the curse is derived from Agrippa’s Fourth Book which appeared in an English Language edition translated by Robert Turner in 1655.
The Dymock curse follows a long history of curses inscribed on lead which go back into antiquity. Many of you will be familiar with the numerous curses inscribed on lead, rolled up and thrown into the sacred spring in the city of Bath during the Roman period.
It should also be noted that even though the Dymock Curse relies on Spirits relating to the Moon for its efficacy, lead – a saturnine material – has been used, this is an acceptable practice as lead is the material par-excellence for curses even if it is not a metal related to the Moon.
A great number of curses written on paper or parchment are known and are preserved in museum collections – the Dymock Curse is however, as far as I know, almost unique being inscribed as it is on lead – only the lead curses of antiquity have been found in some profusion at various ancient and sacred sites. – why might this be? I would suggest that the reason may be that lead curses of later periods were buried within houses, beneath hearths, or the thresholds to doors and have either deteriorated as lead in certain conditions will or simply remain to be discovered. But I said ‘almost’ unique – I own a lead curse tablet that dates to around the very early 19th century and follows the illustrations in Francis Barrett’s ‘The Magus’ published in 1801 in that the magic square is rectangular rather than square as are the engravings in ‘The Magus’. In reality, rectangular ‘magic squares’ will distort the sigils and seals if drawn from them, but if copied straight out of a book, the engraver might not be aware of that.
To create a lead curse like the Dymock Curse required both literacy and access to the secret and occult knowledge contained in the great grimoires – this was a preserve of the literate. I would also suggest that at least from the 17th century the main method by which aggressive /counterspells were created was by the use of the ‘witch bottle’ – primarily the Bellarmine Jugs which were imported from Germany at that time in vast numbers and are frequently found buried within old houses – see the other article in this Newsletter which includes photos of a Bellarmine Jug (well, the top of two anyway!) and contents in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Initiates will be aware of the document we hold regarding the history and creation of witch bottles.
When I have time, I will re-produce the Dymock Curse ( that is not to imply I made the first one back in the 17th century!…even if I did !), but will make it with the sigils and lunar seals drawn correctly (unlike the original) – in fact I might make two and present one as a gift to the Gloucester Museum as a thank you for providing the illustrations of the curse.