Saturday, October 2, 2010

Druidic Tools: Knives

A recent conversation inspired this post.  I was talking with a group of (mostly) Wiccans and eclectic Pagans.  They all have varying amounts of experience and knowledge.  Many of them adhere to the belief that a magic practitioner should possess two knives - the athame, the ritual knife, and the boleen, the "practical" or "mundane" knife which is used for cutting herbs, wood, etc...    If you know me well, you know that I hate those words when juxtaposed to magic as if magic couldn't be practical or mundane, or as if your everyday actions couldn't be magical and therefore meaningful.  If you believe that such a distinction is an important practice, by all means continue!  You must remember that I'm a Druid and our practices are, sometimes, different from those of Wicca*.

When I first started to study Paganism, I went to the usual suspects - the Llewellyn 101 books.  They were very nearly clones and I tired of them.  They came with the usual chapters on ritual tools - a shopping list of sorts.  Every book said the same thing - one knife for energy work, and one knife for practical work.  Some of them attempted to explain this because of some tradition they couldn't easily explain - as if every magician that ever was did exactly that.  So much for being a real witch and thinking for yourself!  Some of the books explained that to cut an object with your ritual knife would somehow tarnish the athame.  Really?  Now I could, perhaps, understand if you were more interested in transcending earthly bonds, but a majority of Pagans I know are adamant about being an Earth-based religion.  How can you claim to celebrate the beauty and magic of the world around you while somehow declaring contact with earthly things like herbs or stone to be profane?  That makes no sense to me.  If you are offended, I do not mean to be harsh, but plenty of Pagans point out the inconsistencies in Christianity.  If we're going to be critical of other religious practices, we must first be critical of our own or else we will never grow.

I have a knife.  I use it for ritual purposes and I consider the gathering of herbs and the carving of tools and charms to be a ritual.  I do use kitchen knives and I suppose, in that sense, I do own more than one ritual knife.  Like kitchen witches, I believe that working in the kitchen on even a lowly bowl of gruel is magic.  Preparing the food is magic.  Peeling the veggies is magic.  Chopping them is magic.  Removing the inedible bits is magic.  I believe that the world is magic - the whole world - not just the ritual circle.  Are some things more magical?  Sure, but everything has magic and putting one in contact with the other will not somehow tarnish it.  Trust me.  It may change the energy or transform it (I don't advice touching lava with your ritual knife!), but it won't make the knife profane unless you yourself ritualize such an action and declare it so.  If you are comfortable doing that, by all means continue (I can understand how keeping one knife strictly for ritual space would work as a mental key), but in my belief and practice, magic is spiritual and physical.  My knife follows me outside of my sacred space into the larger, shared sacred space of the world.  Do I sometimes work with one aspect instead of another?  Sure.  Trance is one way where I move more on the spiritual plane than the physical - but I am still seeing the spirit world as I would the physical world.  Our perception is based on the physical and it seems incredibly hard to escape.  I don't believe the two can easily be separated - if that's even possible.  To me, they are interconnected.  They are like inhaling and exhaling - each part of the same life processes.  If I use different knives, it's because I don't want the potentially poisonous juices of an herb to mix with my food.  That is all.  Primarily, I use one knife in my ritual - the knife I use to carve sigils into candles; the knife I use to harvest herbs; the knife I use to cut twine in the garden; the knife I use to carve ogham; the knife I carry on my nature walks in case I need to defend myself.  I use that knife for so much and I believe that it is infused with a lot of energy.  It has the green energy of the garden, the fiery energy of hearthside crafts, the metallic energy of protection, and the wild energy from beyond the hedge.  Through such frequent use, it is one of my most important tools.  It is as multi-talented as Lugh or Brighid.  My practice is very influenced by ancient Irish belief and multitalented spirits were and are highly valued!

And let us be sensible.  Imagine yourself generations back.  If not a wealthy ceremonial magician with ties to masons and aristocratic patrons, you were probably a wise man or woman of some sort.  You were poor like most people.  You were lucky if you could afford one knife, let alone two.  Your magic was practical.  If you want a knife dedicated to a very specific goal, and only want it to be filled with energy relating to that one practice or occasion*** - go for it!  I'm certain that your knife will be filled with power through such consecration and use, and that it will be exceptionally helpful to you in that goal.  Me?  I like my kitchen witch, multi-talented approach.  :)

In the end, all one can say is, "To each his or her own!"

* You also must remember that not all Druids practice or believe the same.  I'm highly influenced by ADF, CR, and, most recently, traditional witchcraft.
**The above photo is from The Witch of Forest Grove. It's an athame she carved.  Beautiful work, don't you think?
*** I know of knives or sickles only used for initiation or the harvesting of one type of plant, for example.

( For My LJ Friends: )


  1. The knife thing always bugged me because like you said, knives are expensive. Having a big expensive knife and not using it seems very wasteful to me. I still have the first athame (dagger) I bought, but now I keep it in my truck for personal protection. I use my plain old pocket knife for everything- from opening boxes to harvesting herbs. I've never had a problem with spells. I think my intent when harvesting is more important that what I use to cut. I never take more than I need, I never take too much of the plant, and I don't let the harvest touch the ground. I'm going to do a lot with the herbs, wash, dry, grind, mix, enchant- I'll have lots of chances to infuse them with magick. As for casting circles, it has never made sense to me to 'draw' energy with something that cuts. I use my hand and again, I've never had a problem.

    1. I was taught to work beyond tools. Its all intentions anyways so technically you should be able to do a spell while setting in a chair out on your porch. I think tools just help you change gears in your mind. I mean I love the knives wands staves swords cards runes and all that but I don't think they're necessary.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts! It's nice to know I'm not alone in my beliefs and experiences. You know, I realize I never explained what kind of knife I have. Mine is just a pocket knife as well! My father gave it to me for Solstice and it gets the job done!

  3. I still have the Swiss Army style knife my dad got for me as a Christmas present back when I was a teenager. I've since collected a couple more--always liked blades--and they serve as tools both mundane and magical.
    I can see how something like a wand could be dedicated strictly to magical use, but a knife is just too utilitarian. It can make dang near anything: food, other ritual supplies, fire if you know how, can even dig out a splinter if you have to. I guess we practical pagans just don't see a need to bother with getting the hundred-dollar, gold-chased hoozemedingus when this thing I've got right here and had for years will work just as well.
    (plus... I admit, I'm a cheapskate ^^)