The one major rule when it comes to magical tools is that the practitioner should make them whenever possible, but that’s a really tall order to fill when it comes to metal work. Of course, it’s not impossible. If you don’t happen to have a forge in your back yard, you could use much more manageable grinding and polishing tools to work the blade of something like a file down to a dagger-like blade. Less laboriously, you could purchase the blank blade (places such as Atlanta Cutlery sell them). After that, it’s basically a matter of finding a wood you like to make a handle. A favorite past athame of mine was an old butter knife that a child had taken a Dremel tool to, giving it a wavy, pointed blade.
I personally feel, though, that if you don’t have the skill or tools necessary to make a magical tool that you’ll be satisfied with, it is perfectly acceptable to outsource the work. You could, of course, get a mass-produced athame or dagger from any number of metaphysical or sporting good stores, and it will certainly be up for the job. Speaking from experience, though, you might end up with a blade that looks just like one of your covenmates. No one wants to switch blades–especially if it’s at a very big gathering!
Therefore, if you do want to outsource your athame crafting, I’d really suggest saving your pennies and supporting a skilled Pagan artisan. Believe it or not, they do exist, they do amazing work, and they provide a valuable service to a community that often takes them for granted. Better yet, finding a bevvy of artisans is often as simple as a Google search. I’ve made no secret here that I’m a great fan of Brewan Blacksmith’s The Metal Craft, but he’s not the only blacksmith in town. Gary and Suzy Zahradka of Omega Artworks in Minnesota have a dedicated following, thanks to their past years serving at the famed Minnesota Rennaisance Festival. Jim Hrisoulas of Salamander Armoury has a BTW seal of approval, and Govannan Knifemaker [EDIT: link removed, see comment below] out in Omaha has long had his fair share of Gardnerian fans. Many of these artists have premade pieces, but are also willing to provide custom work–meaning that even if you can’t actually man the forge, you can make your blade through helping to design it.
If you do have the opportunity to make or design your own blade, you might want to research some of the magical properties of the different metals and woods if you’d like to magically hone your athame to the purposes for which you’ll most often use it. Before you make or commission a piece, though, you might want to give your chosen materials a try. You may find, as Frederic Lamond did, that nature spirits shy away from steel or iron. I’ve noticed a similar effect, so I specifically chose an athame that only used copper and bronze (an alloy of copper and zinc). Copper is an excellent energy conductor–after all, it’s the metal of choice for both electrical and heat transfer!–and its Venusian, feminine energy attracts love. Brass is a sunny, male metal and encourages protection and prosperity. Those seem ideal to me for an energetic blade!
Of course, Roderick offers a few pieces of athame lore. Here they are, with my own parenthetical commentary.
- Haggling over the price of the athame (or any magical tool) reputedly taints the efficacity and quality of your magic. (My note: It’s also kind of rude to an artisan–they’re rarely out to make oodles of profit.)
- The athame should be new; the blade should never before have been used for any purpose. Avoid searching for an athame in antique or secondhand stores since it is important to know the history of your blade. (My note: While I agree that objects absorb energy from their previous handlers, I would be honored to inherit an athame from a spiritual ancestor. I feel that as long as you know the blade wasn’t used to harm or kill someone, it can be cleansed enough to work well for you.)
- Your athame should never have drawn blood; some witches feel that once it does so, it is rendered magically useless. (My note: While I know of some Pagan craftsmen who discard materials used for athames if they injure themselves while making the blade, I don’t think a slight accidental wound is anything to concern yourself with. Lots of kitchen witches use their cooking knives ritually, and their magic is perfectly potent.)
- It is customary for the athame blade to have both of its edges and point sharp at all times. (My note: I think the appearance of sharpness is good enough, especially if you feel that a drop of blood will ruin the magical effectiveness of the tool. Energies do not need scalpel precision to be cut well. Besides, in Gardnerian craft, it’s customary to kiss the athame. I’d certainly prefer not to kiss a sharp blade in a dark room!)
- The athame handle does not have to be perfectly black; it can be any dark color: dark brown, blue, or green. (My note: Preach, brother!)
- The length or shape of your athame has no effect on its potency. (My note: Agreed. However, it is important to note that individual traditions might disagree, especially those that insist the athame and wand correspond to some bodily proportion of the practitioner.)
- Witches advise that one should never use the athame outside of ritual. (My note: I agree, unless you’re a kitchen witch.)
- Use the athame for only these purposes: to bless elements, to consecrate other magical tools, to create ritual sacred space, to direct magical energy, and to invoke spiritual forces during a ritual. (My note: Agreed.)
- If a witch needs a utensil for any other cutting purposes, he or she should use the white-handled knife. (My note: As much as tool redundancy annoys me, I must agree with this.)