To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Part 6: Post 3: More Tools

Rick has the same type of knife I do, as does Charlie. I’m guessing that Charlie made all three. The main difference, that I can see, is that where mine has an owl feather, Rick’s has a raven feather and Charlie’s has a grouse feather. And no, I can’t recognize all these different feathers at a glance—I got curious and asked Otter about my feather, and he told me about Rick’s and Charlie’s. Evidently, he can tell the difference between a crow feather and a raven feather at a glance.

I didn’t ask Charlie or Rick themselves, and I certainly didn’t examine their knives, because knives are personal. I was just thinking about this—why it feels so deeply ingrained not to touch Rick or Charlie’s knife. I’m pretty sure I had no such inhibition a year ago.

I think what it is, is that these are ritual knives. Charlie never said so, and Rick and I haven’t talked about it, but there is a lot that Charlie does not talk about that nevertheless is true. And Kit says to never touch someone else’s ritual equipment, particularly not knives.

I haven’t written much about Kit in a while. She’s not one of my teachers this semester, and she’s not my master in anything yet—though I may ask to work with her in magic, as Charlie doesn’t teach it. We do hang out sometimes, I see her at breakfast and so forth, but the long and the short of it is I don’t see her that often these days, and I haven’t had anything specific to write about her in a while. But in a way, she’s everywhere.
Part of it is that she has a lot of students. I think Kit’s the most popular master here. I don’t wonder why—did I say this already? It’s like she’s the reason half of us came here, not that anyone had heard of her, I don’t think, but she’s what people think of if they imagine a school for magic, especially the Wiccans—she’s this beautiful, red-headed witch-woman.   

So with what seems like almost every other person choosing her as a master for something, almost every conversation I have includes somebody who is getting their ideas from Kit. Plus…Kit talks in a way the other masters don’t. I mean, what I mentioned about Charlie not saying a lot? He really doesn’t. He’s my spirit master, but I don’t actually know the first thing about his personal beliefs. We don’t talk philosophy or cosmology much. Greg is the same way—I know he’s Buddhist, and I’ve been meditating with him daily and listening to his Dharma talks every week, but I also know he’s an alchemist and I have no idea what that means. Karen hardly talks about anything, personal or otherwise, and while Joy talks freely about religion, as far as I can tell she mostly talks to people only across the back of a horse. Allen, of course, mostly asks questions instead of answering them. Kit is
different. She talks constantly about magic and ceremony and symbolism and if you ask why about anything she gives a clear and straight-forward answer.

And so, even though I’m not Kit’s student directly, I’m picking up these ideas from her almost without meaning to. And so I know this knife of mine is a ritual knife and I know that no one except my teacher is allowed to touch it.

It’s not an athame, though. The athame isn’t supposed to cut physical objects, and my knife is clearly meant for practical, physical cutting.  Kit would say my knife is a bolline. Charlie would say it’s a work knife.
Charlie does not use anything like an athame, as far as I know, but he does carry his work knife with him everywhere. It’s almost always on his belt, even when he doesn’t have any particular reason to use it. I think all the masters carry a tool of some type. Kit, of course, has her athame.  Allen has his white-tipped magician’s wand—I don’t know where he keeps it, in a pocket or something, but he can make it appear any time he wants to. Joy carries a pendulum, a little chain with a pointed crystal
set in silver at the end. She usually keeps it clipped onto a necklace as a pendant, but she sometimes un-clips it and asks it questions, interpreting the answer based on whether it swings round and round or back and forth. And Karen always carries a knife. I just found out about this. Her knife isn’t for use in ritual; it’s a weapon.

“Why?” I asked her, after she'd confirmed that the rumor was true. She looked at me a moment, as if considering whether to answer me.

"Because I don't want to be mentally or morally lazy," she told me, carefully. I don't think she was reluctant to share, so much as not sure how to answer the question. She seldom talks philosophy with people who are not established students of her, people who already know her well and understand her. I didn't, so she tried again. "Do you ever get angry with someone and so imagine doing violence to them?"

"Well, yes," I admitted, not sure where she was going.

"Could you act on those fantasies? Might you ever?"

"I don't know," I told her. "I hope not, but it's never really come up."

"Exactly," she said, smiling at me a little. "You don't have a weapon. I don't have that option. I have to make up my mind." She's such a little,shy, girlish person. She makes me think of a teenage saint in some movie, but I've seen her throw guys double her size.

When I went to pick up lunch today I bumped into Kit. She was waiting for some bread to toast and impatiently tasting her hot soup with one finger. I'd gotten steamed greens and beans with onions and decided to get some toast, too.

"Kit? You know Karen's knife?" I asked.

"Hmm?" she answered, her soup-burnt finger in her mouth.

"Does it count as an athame?"

"Sure. I guess so, why?"

"Just wondering. I mean, it's for cutting something physical."

"Only sort-of," she answered, rescuing her toast from the toaster. I waited while she burnt her fingers again and we took our trays to an empty table. "Karen doesn't actually cut anything with her knife; it's the idea of being able to cut something that's important. So I'd say it's an athame, yeah. What does she call it?"

"I don't know that she calls it anything, other than a knife. You don't know?" I asked, in surprise. She shook her head.

"We don't know everything about each other. And I've never asked."

"Why the distinction, anyway? Why aren't athames supposed to cut things?"

"Some people use their athames to cut things in rituals. I don't. Anyway, astral constructs are things, too." She smiled.

"Yeah, ok, I know," I acknowledged. "But still, what's the difference? Athames are, what, phallic symbols, right?" I knew fertility and sexuality are important in Wicca, so the idea that they might use phallic symbols in rituals made sense to me. But Kit gave me a scolding look, dunked her bread in her soup, and took a bite.

"You should know better than that," she told me, when she could speak past the bread. "You wouldn't be very popular with women if yours was sharp, would you?"

I think I blushed. I bet students in normal schools don't have to deal with their professors commenting on their genitals. At least she made complimentary assumptions. She grinned, in a friendly way, acknowledging my embarrassment, but didn't otherwise react to it. She ate some more soup and then continued.

"Athames aren't phallic. Wands are. Think about how a wand works--remember Harry Potter? You point, you touch, you say the right words and form the right intentions, and--alakazam!--something transforms. You get the comparison? But that's not what athames do. Athames are supposed to be sharp because you have to decide what to do with them. You know that the 'cide' in 'decide' is the same as in 'homicide' or 'pesticide,' right? It means to kill. You kill off options when you decide. So, we, as priestesses and priests, carry athames as symbols of our authority and autonomy. We get to decide."

"That's what Karen said her knife is for."

"Exactly. That's why it's an athame. So, if a wand symbolizes that which is embodied in the erect penis, what embodies that which the athame symbolizes?"

"The mind. The brain--whatever parts of it make decisions," I answered, suddenly sure. I don't get how I can answer these questions, but I open my mind and there it is, at the bottom, waiting for me. Kit smiled at me, and I started eating my lunch, so I wouldn't grin like a proud schoolboy.

"Right!" she confirmed, and ate some more soup and bread. Then she shook her head as she chewed. "Phallic knives," she said, with some scorn. "You're not the first person to make that mistake. People think anything longer than it is wide must be phallic. It's actually pretty horrific, if you think about the implications." She actually shuddered, and while I think the shudder was deliberate for my benefit, her horror seemed genuine. She smiled at me, to show me, maybe, that she didn't think poorly of me, personally. "Too many people excused and encouraged bad behavior for too long. Now, many people think male sexuality is violence, and they don't even recognize how screwed up that is."

She looked at me strangely for a moment, and then finished her soup. We made small-talk until she was ready to leave, and I finished my lunch alone.

And you know, I think I understand what she means. I know a lot of people talk about about sex--male sexuality specifically--in violent terms. And it bothers me. And I feel pretty dumb now that it didn't occur to me what a phallic knife might look like to a woman. I feel pretty bad. But at the same time, I don't know, I think she's missing something.

After I was finished my lunch, I went to the Mansion to change into my uniform for class, and I took out my athame. I hadn't done much with it since I chose it, but it still feels good in my hand. Alone in my room, I moved around with it, dancing, almost, waving it around, stabbing and slicing at the air. I looked at my arm, the muscles moving around each other and ending in the knife that looked like and extension of my hand. I'm still surprised, sometimes, by how long my arms have gotten, how tall I am now. I looked at myself in the mirror, half naked, with my knife. I can name my feelings now, and I did, indeed feel decisive, but more than that I felt strong. I felt sexy.

And I was late to class, for the first time this year.

[Next Post: Monday, September 30th: Reiki]

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