In ancient Egypt knives were used as a symbol of protection and retribution. Malevolent creatures were often shown in images being cut with knives to render them powerless, giving a good example of the use of the knife in that culture, many thousands of years preceding that of the Irish folk magic uses, yet remarkably similar.
George Hill in Notes and Queries quotes from a newspaper from January 17, 1942 on the use of a black-handled knife by sailors in the Mediterranean.
“In his ‘Description de toute l’isle de Cypre’ (Paris, 1580, fo 212) the Dominican Father Estienne de Lusignan describes a spell by which certain mariners have the power of dispersing tornadoes or whirlwinds.
It is a custom of the mariners of the East, when they see whirlwinds approaching them, to take a knife, with which they make the sign of the Cross in the air, uttering these words of the Gospel of St John, ‘In principio erat verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum:’ and incontinently the whirlwinds are broken up and divided. I have seen this remedy used twice, and the second time was when I came from Cyprus to Italy. In this procedure I find no superstition, except it be that the knife must have a black handle.”
The newspaper article goes on to say that similar spells were used against waterspouts, again using a black-handled knife to cut the waterspout, quoting Thevenot’s work, Voyage au Levant. This practice was also recorded in nineteenth century fiction, such as the novel The Strange Adventures of Captain Dangerous published in 1863.
“Our Sailors, to conjure it away, had recourse to the Superstitious Devices of cutting the air with a black-handled knife, and reading the first chapter of St John’s Gospel, accounted of great efficacy in dispersing these Spouts.”
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.