The most controversial of the four Weapons of Ceremonial Magick, it is the only one that could actually be considered a weapon: that is, a real knife that could be used to kill something, like a dove, or a goat, or...well, you get the idea. Initially, one of the most popular magickal tools, it underwent a sea-change during the Satanic Panic into a somewhat embarrassing vestige of "the old ways", somewhat like the downright brutal animal husbandry suggested in Pennsylvania Hexerei in the “Pow-Wows or, The Long Lost Friend”.
Forget about how it's got to have two sides, a white/black handle, or never drawn blood. If you're interested in reenacting the mindset of a peasant of the early Middle Ages, bear this in mind: if you are so lucky as to own a knife, this is most probably the only knife you own, a family heirloom of some generations. This is the blade that you use to cut carrots into bite-sized pieces for a stew. This is the knife you cut the rope with when you bound poles together to make the fence around the garden where the carrots grew. This knife has skinned many rabbits and once killed a wolf, and it cut the umbilical cord of your son. If you lose it down a well, a miracle will have to restore it: you can't buy another. If it cuts you while groping in the dark, it's not going to invalidate it, you're just going to have to be more careful, next time. (And if I haven't instilled in you at least a little of how this would make a knife more sacred than some dubious 'faerie tradition', then I hope you will go back to your Llewellyn books, and leave the grown-ups alone.)
Hate to burst someone's fluffy bubble, but the Pentagram Banishings (both Lesser and Greater) and the Star Ruby (a turbo-banishing, in words of my teacher) are done with a dagger. Read Aleister Crowley. You wand-wavers are just caving into the fundies. Really.
In order to appreciate the difference, let's examine the place of the Dagger in Ceremonial Magick.
Outside of contemporary Wicca, the Dagger is the Weapon of Air, the symbol of Knowlege, the First Crafted tool of Humankind. Performing a banishing with it is to say, in essence, fear cannot reach me, for I oppose it with a Pentagram of Knowlege. A wand, contrariwise, is the Weapon of Fire and Will. Swishing a wand around and using Will to oppose evil is kind of like laying down a dare. "You aren't going to get to me, 'cause I don't wanna."
But isn't the wand "gentler" and "nicer", more like "Please, Mr. Demon don't come into my Circle right now, because I need my personal space for a while"? You are Good, opposing Evil. Do you think Evil is going to shrug and move off? On the other hand, what makes you think that wands are so nice in the first place? Tinker Bell? You're waving a phallus in the air!
The real reason why so much Wicca is wand-crazy is because of a schism dating from the 1980's.
Back in the 60's and 70's, most Witchcraft was about, well, having fun: sex, and drugs, and the life of the senses, living life according to primal Freudian/Jungian archetypes instead of the sterile ideals of Madison Avenue. Daggers and swords were well, just part of the package: Aleister Crowley liked sharps, so did Jack Parsons, and so did Herman Slater, who sold me the Dagger I dearly treasure. And, it made me feel badass.
Enter the 80's. Suddenly, Witchcraft was becoming Wicca. Psychedelic reveries were Out, detox was In. Sex was endangered by AIDS. Meat was Out, to be replaced by various grain and sugar based products. And a whole generation of laid-back hippies became hyper responsible Yuppies.
As in the 1950's, responsibility came with a whole set of fears, some legitimate, some unfounded. "Stranger danger", role-playing games, punk rock (linked to street gangs), heavy metal lyrics, cutting, and all manner of dark ritual was supposed to lurk behind the gentle facade of middle school and sleepovers, much the way comic books and rock and roll were supposed to be corrupting the nation's youth. With a newfound focus on dysfunctional families, Satanic Ritual Abuse crept into view. And Witchcraft found itself caught in the crosshairs of both Christian fundamentalists, and simply concerned parents alike, with allegations of child and animal abuse and even sacrifices, kidnapping, theft, and jaywalking.
While not entirely ambivalent about the subject, mid-century Magick did not draw a hard line between Black and White. That is, while there were people like Anton Szandor LaVey walking around proclaiming themselves Satanists, and some practitioners ("White Lighters") playing more-holy-than-thou, most practitioners had a fairly balanced notion that sometimes, there are grey areas in morality and in Magick. For example, that man with horns might have been a European hunting God who just happened to have gotten drafted into service as a visual representation of an Angel who sometimes took the form of a snake, and therefore not a bad fellow. Is he worthy of worship or not? Then there was sex. In the 1960's, the jury was still out on whether homosexuality was a mental illness, abortion was illegal everywhere, birth control, pre-marital sex, sodomy, adultery, and miscegenation was only spottily legal, and written (not pictures or movies) porn was being legalized, one book at a time. Lastly, anyone who examines a real grimoire (not a "Book of Shadows") will soon realize that most of traditional Witchcraft, and a good deal of ceremonial Magick, is about a)sex, b)money, c) revenge, and d) having cheap thrills and witchy fun, sometimes at someone else's expense. It was simply taken for granted that the morality of Magick just wasn't cognate with that of Nixon's America. Now, twenty years later, they were being forced to clean up their act and account for themselves on pain of police raids and other harassment.
The solution was to split in two: white Witches could go their way of ecology, feminism, and post-Marxist thought (in academia) and neo-Pagan wish fulfillment fantasies (outside it). A casual code was adopted: no underage sex, no blood sacrifices, no coercive spellcasting, no curses. Feasting was to be (as much as possible) vegan. Drugs were discouraged, in favor of meditation and "spiritual healing". Any inquiries into morality were to be met by the Wiccan Rede and Law of Three, and as far as possible Wiccan morals were to be entirely congruent with that of educated, contemporary, Americans.
The rest were to be "fed to the fundies". They wanted shaven-headed tattoo addicts who ate raw steak and boasted of vampirism? Norse metal heads who enjoyed torching churches? Neo-psychedelic whippersnappers into house music and techno-shamanism? They could have 'em.
This left the Dagger, like the Horned God in a highly vulnerable position. First, the Four Elemental Weapons were renamed the Four Elemental Tools. "We're not violent." The Dagger was hedged around with all kinds of requirements: it had to have a black handle, it had to have two sides, it should ideally be made of glass, not metal, blahblahblah. "No, it's purely symbolic." And most of all, it should never be actually used as a knife, and above that, never ever have drawn blood, lest it be totally invalidated as a Magickal anything. So it hardly ever gets taken out of its scabbard. Better yet, don't use it at all. Use a wand, instead.
Wands are cute: they make people think warm and friendly thoughts about little fairies and guys with top hats. We've even given them a cool new name: Atheme, ah-THEM-a, and you can design and decorate them with crystals and LED's and big Pentagrams and ribbons on the end of them to make them look really, truly magical. What, they're phallic? And you can hit people with them? For shame!
Ok, so you want to do a banishing, and don't have a pewter skull-handled Solingen tactical knife from the Magickal Childe that's been fed clove oil for thirty years and honed to razor-sharpness. Or you're traveling, or where sharps are banned.
First right off, you can use whatever knife you have. Your neck knife, your cooking knife, your trusty Swiss Army knife. Throw a quick "field consecration" over it, apply a little imagination, presto!You have an...athem...worthy of the Adepts. (Hmm...I wonder whether that's why they're called...) Second, if you don't have that, my favorite field Dagger is a clear plastic knife from Au Bon Pain. With Visualization, it's the Crystal Knife of my dreams. Lastly, you have a pointed finger. En grade!
Anyway, all of these are better than a wand. 93