The modern esoteric scholar Joseph Peterson has traced the word athame to one of the French manuscripts of the Key of Solomon, showing a range of alternative spellings including arthame, arthane and artave, English spellings of arthanus and arthany, and Latin spelling of artavus, the latter meaning ’penknife’. The use of the word athame may well originate from this range of variant spellings in the Key of Solomon.
“The variability is easy to explain: Artavus is a Medieval Latin term, not found in most dictionaries. It is clearly described by Du Cange as ‘a small knife used for sharpening the pens of scribes’."
Interestingly the spelling of arthame was also used by Grillot de Givry in his book Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy first published in the French language in 1929 and in English in 1931. In this book de Givry discusses and quotes from a Key of Solomon manuscript, which he found in the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal in Paris:
“The circle must be nine feet in diameter: this space is ample for comfortable room. It must be traced with the arthame, or consecrated knife, and says the manuscript, ‘thou shalt make four Pentacles with the names of the Creator, and beyond these two circles thou shalt make a circle within a square by means of said arthame, as the circle here drawn will show and demonstrate to thee’.”
The term arthame was subsequently used by authors such as the horror writer Clark Ashton Smith, who used it in a number of his short stories and novels, the first of which was The Master of the Crabs, published in 1948. Smith also referred to the kris knife in a number of his works, including his first published short story, The Malay Krise, published in 1910 in the magazine Overland Monthly. The combined use of the terms arthame and kris by a well known author prior to Gardner is an interesting synchronicity, and we must speculate as to whether Gardner may have drawn inspiration from Smith’s work.
“for the Master wore his one-horned hat, and his cloak was girdled tightly about him, with the ancient arthame depending from the girdle in its shagreen sheath that time and the hands of many magickians had blackened.”
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.