The first source for the athame in Gardner’s writings is his novel High Magic’s Aid. An examination of the symbols shown on the illustration of the athame in High Magic’s Aid clearly indicates Mathers’ Key of Solomon as his primary source. We know that Gardner reproduced his illustrations from Mathers published Key of Solomon because they include a change made by Mathers and not found in any of the source manuscripts Mathers drew upon. In the preface of his Key of Solomon, Mathers wrote:
“In some places I have substituted the word AZOTH for ‘Alpha and Omega,’ e.g., on the blade of the Knife with the Black Hilt.”
Gardner’s illustration of the athame blade contains the word Azoth, as substituted by Mathers, and the Hebrew divine names Yah (IH) and Elohim (ALHIM). These three words comprise the shorter top line of the two lines of names found on the blade of the black-handled knife in Mathers’ Key of Solomon. Although subsequent images of the athame markings do not include any lettering on the blade, it is nonetheless relevant to look at these divine names and explore their significance.
(The black-handled knife markings as given for both the hilt and the blade in Mathers’ Key of Solomon)
Azoth is a composite word used in medieval alchemy and subsequently in the magickal traditions of the Western Mystery Tradition. Its symbolism lies in its use of letters, representing the beginning and end. It is usually written with a Hebrew Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponding to the English letter ‘A’ and the Greek letter Alpha. The letter Z is next, followed by the Greek Omega (Ω) and the Hebrew Tav. All of these letters are the last in their respective alphabets. Azoth thus symbolises the beginning and end, and as a result all that lies within. It represents perfection and for this reason it is easy to see why Mathers should have substituted it for the divine name of ‘Alpha and Omega’, which also represents beginning and end (as the letters of the Greek alphabet). In alchemy this term also represented the Mercurial essence, part of the process of creating the Philosopher’s Stone.
(Azoth as written on the blade of the
black-handled knife by Mathers)
Next on the athame blade is the Hebrew letters Yod Heh (IH), pronounced Yah, which is the divine name of the sephira of Chokmah on the image of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Chokmah means ‘wisdom’ and this sephira is attributed to the zodiac and the masculine principle as the ‘great father’. Yah is also known as the ‘inner chamber’, as being the first part of the unpronounceable name of god, Tetragrammaton. In this context it is considered a symbol of sexual union between the masculine letter Yod and the feminine letter Heh as father and mother. In some ways it is a shame these names have been dropped, as they are particularly symbolically appropriate to the Wiccan tradition.
The other divine name on the athame blade is Elohim. Elohim is the pronunciation of ALHIM (Aleph Lamed Heh Yod Mem), and means ‘gods’. It is significant as a divine name in that it is a feminine singular noun with a masculine plural ending. So not only does it combine masculine and feminine, but it also combines singular and plural. From a Wiccan perspective it could be interpreted as the mother goddess (singular feminine beginning) giving birth to the gods (masculine plural ending). Elohim is also part of the divine names of all three of the Sephiroth on the Black or Feminine Pillar of Severity on the Tree of Life. Significantly the name Elohim can also be linked to the Lords of the Watchtowers, as we will show in the later chapter The Mighty Ones. The names of Yah and Elohim thus both combine divine masculine and divine feminine symbolism, which is highly appropriate for the athame in the Wiccan tradition.