This fascinating little book is one of the titles in Llewellyn’s series on the tools of witchcraft. It never occurred to me that there could be enough information about athames to fill a whole book, but there really is, and it’s all interesting.

The author begins with the basics: what an athame is and the many ways it can be used (and pronounced!). This includes the history of the form as a black-handled knife with a double-edged blade going back to Renaissance magic, plus European and Native American folklore about knives in general and sacred blades in particular. One interesting idea that Mankey points out is that today, knives are not an item most people use outside the kitchen, with the possible exception of pocket knives for outdoorsy folks. But the athame harks back to a time when a knife was a practical tool that people prized and kept with them all day for a wide variety of uses. That definitely puts a different spin on the athame for me, since that shows how it could have been a ‘hidden’ magical tool in the past, one that other people wouldn’t necessarily notice.

Mankey goes into a lot of detail about the different materials athames can be made out of (metal, stone, wood, bone) and their different practical and magical properties. This section is liable to give the reader all sorts of ideas about athames beyond the usual; I know I found the information quite inspiring. The author also includes ways to make your own blade or start with a store-bought one and personalize it, since most of us don’t have the tools or skills to make one from scratch.

The author includes a section about the boline (the white-handled knife) as well, going into the history and details of this close relative of the athame. And of course, since this is a book about blades, Mankey adds a section about the sword, which is a sort of beefed-up athame from a magical perspective. I really enjoyed reading the compare-and-contrast between the athame and the sword, with the athame being more of a personal magical tool and the sword usually being a collective or group tool. The informational section also contains instructions for caring for your athame, since blades need more care than most other magical tools.

Though I found the informational section interesting, my favorite part of the book was the part about using the athame, and not just in the usual ways. Of course, the author is very thorough and has included instructions for cleansing and consecrating your athame by yourself or in a group setting. And he discusses the myriad traditional uses of the athame in ritual: circle casting, invocations, the Great Rite, cakes and ale, and so on. But then he moves on to more imaginative functions.

I’m sure many readers will be interested in Mankey’s ideas for using the athame in the kitchen (that only makes sense; it’s a knife) and for cleansing the home. But I love the ideas he offers for using the athame in divination and spellwork. For instance, did you know that you can scry in an athame blade, as long as it’s made of a reflective material? You can even use it as a pendulum, but be sure to follow the author’s instructions for how to tie it to the cord so it hangs evenly. And of course, you can use your athame to carve candles for your spellwork. In every instance, Mankey gives explicit details for how to use the athame, all the way down to chants and rhymes to use while you’re doing your working.

In addition to the author’s text, several of the chapters include short essays by other people about their experiences with athames. I enjoyed getting to hear other perspectives. These essays help to round out the book in a way that plain information simply can’t.

The whole book is very Wiccan-oriented, but that makes sense because the athame is a specifically Wiccan tool. However, there is a lot of good information for practitioners of other traditions. Mankey includes descriptions of the use of ritual blades in several types of Craft besides Wicca, such as Cunning Craft and British Traditional Witchcraft. And the book is generally interesting and helpful for anyone who uses a blade for ritual or magic, regardless of their path.

Throughout the book, the author emphasizes the idea of doing what works for you. He does stress that the reader should stay within the guidelines of their particular tradition, if they follow one, but he focuses more on the practical, on getting it done, whether ‘it’ is a ritual, a spell, a home cleansing, or some other magical activity.

Overall I found this to be a very interesting and useful book. If you use a blade in any part of your magical or spiritual practice, you’ll be informed and inspired by the information and ideas the author presents. Highly recommended.

~review by Laura Perry
Author: Jason Mankey
Llewellyn, 2016
pp. 257, $15.99