The Burning Times Encyclopedia


Vomiting strange objects.

During exorcism, possessed people frequently vomited unusual items: pins, yarn, toads, worms, clothing, etc. Demonologists believed that Satan placed these objects within the possessed, as a sign that He had entered into them. When the possessed person was exorcised, they expelled these foreign objects.

In some cases, allotriophagy was pure chicanery. The possessed were *expected* to cough up strange objects, and so several people admitted that they'd faked allotriophagy to make their possession more believable. These people palmed small objects and pretended to vomit them at an opportune moment. Other cases appear genuine. Mentally disturbed people were often considered possessed. We can only assume that they swallowed strange items, which they later vomited up.


In modern Witchcraft, a sanctified black-handled knife.

The word "athame" is of unknown origin. James W. Baker suggests that it may come from the Old French "attame" (to cut or pierce). Other writers suggest that "athame" comes from Basque, or the Arabic phrase "Al-dhamme". While we can't rule these possibilities out, "attame" seems to be a much more likely source. There's no evidence that such a Basque or Arabic phrase was ever used in the English language, while the loan-word "attame" does indeed pop up occasionally in early English.

The history of athames is equally unclear. We don't have any evidence that Witches used athames before the 20th century. They don't appear in the Witch trials. Witches did occasionally use knives, but there's no indication that these knives were especially blessed, called "athames", or had to be of a specific color. On the other hand, many 19th century Irish spells call for a "black-handled" knife. This knife is never referred to as an "athame", but it is an important tool in Irish folk magick.

It seems more likely that athames were adopted from the ceremonial (or "high" magickal) tradition. The _Clavicula Salomonis_ (Key of Solomon), one of the earliest and most famous grimoires of high magick, lists black- and white-handled knives amongst the various instruments a mage must possess. The black handled knife is used to cast the magickal circle, just as it is in Witchcraft. Other cutting tasks are performed with the white-handled knife.

When did these traditions merge? It's hard to say. We have no solid evidence that Witches used black- and white-handled knives before the 20th century. So the simplest explanation is that athames are not traditional -- Gerald Gardner picked them up from ceremonial magick. On the other hand, we know that Witches have been using the _Clavicula Salomonis_ for centuries. Laura Malipiero, a 16th century Venetian Strega, was arrested by the Inquisition for making copies of this text, which the Church had placed on its list of banned books. Thus we can't rule out the possibility that athames entered into Witchcraft traditions during the Burning Times.

However this still doesn't explain where the word "athame" came from. In ceremonial magick the black-handled knife has no special name. One 16th century copy of the _Keys of Solomon_ (Sloane ms. 3847) does call a white-handled knife an "arthana". Aiden Kelly also points out that in "The Master of the Crabs", a 1934 horror story by Clark Ashton Smith, the magician's ceremonial knife is called an "arthame".

So the possible histories for the word "athame" seem to be: 1) Athame is an ancient but rare word that has entirely disappeared from the historical record. 2) Athame is a misunderstanding/variation of "arthana", an uncommon English name for a ceremonial magician's white-handled knife. 3) Athames were invented by Gerald Gardner, and were inspired either by "The Master of Crabs" or the English translation of the _Key of Solomon_ which mentioned arthanas. Gardner chose to apply the name to the "Witchier" black handled knife, rather than the more "mundane" white-handled one.