Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The People of the Knife

How do you say “athame” in Old Witch?

“Athame”—the standard modern name for the witch's ritual knife—is a word of French origin, from Old French atamer, “to cut.”

(Variously pronounced across contemporary Witchdom, around here the word rhymes with “Hathaway.”)

As such, mythically speaking, it will have entered the vocabulary of English-speaking witchery along with the Norman Craft at some point after 1066.

So what did the Hwicce—the original Anglo-Saxon Tribe of Witches—call their ritual knives?

The dialect of Old English spoken by the Hwicce distinguished between two kinds of knife: cníf (K'NEEF), ancestral to modern “knife,” and seax, defined variously as a knife, hip-knife, short sword, dirk, or dagger.

Deriving ultimately from a proto-Indo-European root meaning “to cut”—the same root also gave rise to “scythe,” “saw,” and “sedge” (originally “sword”)—seax is also said to have given rise to the ethnonym Saxon as well: the “People of the Knife.”

Although seax fell out of general usage, it has survived to modern times with specific application as a name for a “slater's ax” used to cut (and pierce) roof-slates: variously sax, saxe, or zax.

Athame is, in my estimation, a fine word: evocative, witchy, mysterious. But if you're looking for a native term for the witch's blade, you'll probably want to go with saxe (or sax or zax); which, interestingly, is more or less what Uncle Bucky's Seax-Wiccans (“knife witches”) have been calling it all along.

Like the Saxons, Witches have always been a People of the Knife.

And hey, it sounds like "sex," so that's got to be good, right?

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

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