Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Athame, Kerfan, and Bolline

I recently was looking for an altar on Etsy and ran across a shop selling what they called a boline.
However, it was NOT a boline, it was a kerfan.
So I began researching the internet and found that "in some traditions the white handled blade is called a boline."

Well.. I'm sorry.
I disagree.

You can call a turnip a tomato as long as you want to, but it remains a turnip.

A bolline is not a kerfan and a kerfan is not a bolline.

Yes, I realize that the Italian version of The Keys of Solomon list a "bolino" and that it is not curved. But an adept is aware of blinds and that's all I will say on the subject.

So... here are the blades of the Craft as I know them, with photos to explain their use:


This is the BLACK HANDLED BLADE. It is double edged, and in most Wiccan traditions is NOT sharp, and is never used for cutting. It is used for casting the Circle and for other magical acts, such as invoking and controlling guardians and spirits. Like most of the witch’s tools, it is given a name.

Etymology: An early edition of the Grimoire Clavicle of Solomon, dated 1572, mentions a magical knife by the name Arthana. It has been suggested that this is the source of the name for the Wiccan black handled ritual blade. Idries Shah, who was personal secretary and close friend of Gardner, provides yet another etymology from an alleged Arabic al-dhammé "blood-letter", which was supposed to be the ritual knife of a medieval magical cult of Morocco and Andalusia. The information appears in his book The Sufis as a quotation from A History of Secret Societies by Arkon Daraul (a probable pseudonym of Shah). Robert Graves (an acquaintance of Shah) suggests an Arabic derivation from al thame (or adh-dhame), which he translates as "the arrow".


Some traditions of the Craft require that you have both a black-handled and a white-handled knife. The white handled knife is called a Kerfan. The Kerfan is the witch's sharp blade, using for carving wood, making other tools, and cutting substances. It is generally sharp on only one side. The handle can be made from bone, horn, antler, wood, or plastic or any substance pleasing to the witch.

Boline. The Boline is the curved, sickle-bladed knife used for culling herbs and mushrooms. It is sharp on one edge only and is small, about the size of a human hand. It is kept very sharp on the inside edge and is used by grabbing a handful of herb, placing the curve around the stem, and pulling swiftly. This is generally done after the herb has been consulted, asked permission, and an offering made.

Handmade Boline by Boline Apothecary

Boline by Magical Herbs

Handmade Boline wrapped in Leather

The student is given particular runes to put on each blade, depending on tradition. The name may be put on the handle or the blade. It may be carved or written in some substance which creates an object link between the witch and the tool. The runes serve to enliven the tool and bind it to the witch.

Oakmist Blades.
The athame, kerfan, and boline blades are derived from Ceremonial Magic, not traditionalist witchcraft. Witches in my family used only two blades, one copper ceremonial blade and one sharp blade that was used for everything from cutting herbs to cleaning chickens. Only the High Priestess needed a copper blade. The sharp blade was kept in the kitchen and most likely started out with a light colored wooden handle, slowly becoming brown, then black with age and use as oils from the person's hands seeped into the wood. I have my grandmother's blade. The steel blade has been sharpened so much that it is only about 3 inches long. I remember, as a child, when it was about 8 inches.

Below is a photo of my copper blade. In Oakmist Grove, which is a training tradition, each witch is required to make all of their tools, including their own blade.

I made this blade from a copper bar. I used an actual oak leaf and acorn (using the lost wax method) to fashion guard and pommel. The tang is simply cut and wrapped in leather. I've used this blade for over 30 years. It has served me well.

Side View

Acorn Pommel
Oak Leaves Guard
I hope this clears up which blade is which.
Please feel free to leave comments or questions for me.

In L.V.X.

Rowan of Oakmist

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