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Ch.7 A Real Witches' Weapon (WMB 7.f)

Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @


As with the attributions of symbols and divine names around the magick circle, Gardner transposed the symbols on the handle of the black-handled knife from those found in Mathers’ Key of Solomon. Thus the top line of symbols in the Key of Solomon became the bottom line in High Magic’s Aid and vice versa, excluding the eight-rayed star figure at the end of the hilt nearest the blade. According to the Farrars in The Witches’ Way, Gardner then subsequently divided these two lines of symbols in the Book of Shadows with his top line of symbols going on the left hand side of the hilt and the bottom line on the right hand side of the hilt. The Farrars also printed Valiente’s version of the markings, together with her explanation of why she replaced some of the symbols with different ones.

(The hilt of the black-handled knife as portrayed in

Gerald Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid)

(The hilt of the black-handled knife as portrayed in Mathers’ Key of Solomon)

What follows is a table with the symbols used by Gardner, the meanings of these symbols as published by the Farrar’s on Doreen Valiente’s information. In addition we also give the interpretation of the symbols as they are found in magickal documents and symbolic language throughout the centuries preceding Gardnerian Wicca. This clearly indicates a lack of basic understanding of the symbols being used by Gardner and Valiente as in all instances the symbolic meanings given by them have little or no bearing on what they were used for historically. [web edit: The tables are below the pasted text, which has been included as it contains the footnote references which would not transfer with the image otherwise needed.]



Symbolic interpretation

Horned God

Taurus (fixed Earth)

Muriel (angel of the Moon & Cancer) [1]

Cauda Leonis (‘the tail of the lion’) [2]

Alzarhpa or Azarpha (the 12th of the 28 Mansions of the Moon which gives prosperity to harvests)[3]

The alchemical principle of Salt[4]

Initial of his name[5]


Kiss and Scourge




Waxing and Waning Moon

Capricorn (the goat)[10]


Hanael (angel of Venus)[12]

Prima Materia (the first material of alchemy from which life springs) [13]

Realgar (arsenic sulphide, which burns with a brilliant white flame) [14]

Initial of her many names in Hebrew script[15]

As the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet it is attributed to the divine as the beginning, and also corresponds to the element of Air.

Eight ritual occasions, eight weapons

Gnostic symbol for Christ[16]

Power flowing from the horned god

Mercury (planet) [17]

Sickle, symbol of death[18]


(The markings on the athame according to Doreen Valiente, quoted in The Witches Way by Janet and Stewart Farrar)

(The different knives used in the earliest known

Key of Solomon, Sloane MS 3847)

So from the evidence it would seem that the idea of the athame, or the black-handled knife, is another practice which made its way into the tradition of Wicca straight from the Key of Solomon. We would point out that the earliest known manuscript of the Key of Solomon dating to 1572, Sloane MS 3847, has three different knives in it, the black knife (‘cuttellus niger’), white knife (‘cuttellus albus’) and arthany (a possible root of the word athame). Thus the terms were originally distinct and subsequently were equated. Additionally this manuscript does not distinguish between black and white handled knives in their function, saying:

“with such a knife as the circles should be made with, if it be grievous for you to make such a knife, finde some knife of the foresaid fashion, with a haft all white or all blacke,”

[1] Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa, 1531 [2] Anulorum Experimenta, Abano, 1303 [3] Harley MS 6482, Thomas Rudd, 1712 [4] Encylopédie Receueil de Planches, sur les Sciences et les Arts, Diderot, 1763 [5] The Farrars point out in The Witches Way that this glyph is similar to the letter ‘F’ in the Theban Script. However they are mistaken in this, as a cursory glance will show that it does not resemble any of the letters of the Theban Script. Valiente chooses in her list of symbols to replace it with the ankh, misreading a Venus symbol. This may be because she has actually used the wrong bladed weapon as her basis! Study of her symbols and the differences from Gardner’s athame markings reveals a different tool with the symbols used by Valiente, the poniard. However, although she has used the wrong tool, if we look at the weapons in the Key of Solomon, the poniard looks much more like the double-edged dagger that most people associate with the shape an athame should be. [6] Collection of medical observations, Tables of Sigils and Alchemical Receipts, Shelton, Sloane MS 997, 17th century [7] De aspectibus planetas ad Lunam, Scaliger, 15th century [8] Calendarium, Brahe, 1582 [9] Lexicon Pharmaceutico-Chymicum, Sommerhoff, 1701 [10] Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa, 1510 [11] Astronomical and Astrological Tracts, Herne, 15th century [12] Calendarium, Brahe, 1582 [13] Lexicon Pharmaceutico-Chymicum, Sommerhoff, 1701 [14] Lexicon Pharmaceutico-Chymicum, Sommerhoff, 1701 [15] Valiente replaces it completely with the astrological symbol for Scorpio as the sign of death and the Lord of the Underworld, and the dark half of the year in counterbalance to the light half of the year represented by the Taurus symbol. [16] Il Simbolism dei Giudeo-Christiani, Testa, 1962 [17] A New and Complete illustration of the Occult Sciences, Sibley, 1790 [18] Valiente changes it completely so it becomes the two sets of straight line figures which she calls ‘the perfect couple’. [19] Greek Horoscopes, Neugebauer, 1959

Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.



My name is Sorita d'Este

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Many years ago I dedicated myself to the pursuit of both esoteric knowledge, and an understanding of polytheism, the Gods and Nature.  I have been a full-time writer, author and publisher, specialising subjects linked to the occult, witchcraft, Paganism, mythology, ancient religions and magic - and all kinds of things in between since 2003. 


I live on a hill in Glastonbury, overlooking the marshes of Somerset,  a place of myth and legend, and a crossroad for many different religions. Here I am frequently found digging and growing, serving my fluffy rescue cat and navigating the unknown with my teenage son.  

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