K is for Knife
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
My 9-year-old son has a fascination for sharp things. When I was 12 or 13, I had a fascination for sharp things, too. I asked my Dad for a pocketknife, and he said yes. In the whole time I whittled and carved, I never had one scar, knick, or scrape. The only two memorable moments were how I loved my Buck knife chosen behind the glass at a Sherper’s military surplus store and the alligator head I carved even though the wood was already that shape. Eventually I got busy with other things—like being a parent— and my Buck knife was set aside.
Knives can be more than something displayed behind some glass. Knives do more than whittle away time. Sometimes knives are used for ritual sacrifices involving animals and the occasional human.
In Christianity, Abraham was told to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When he raised his knife, ready to obey, an angel came and said that the Lord knew Abraham was faithful to the end and a ram took the boy’s place on the alter as a sacrifice. The sacrifice was in similitude of Heavenly Father’s sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
For the Jews, the knife was symbolic of circumcision. This was an outward sign of obeying God. There is also comparison of circumcising one’s heart for the Lord.
Not all sacrifices gloried God. Aztec priests performed their own sacrifices and cut out the hearts of prisoners. When choosing a knife for this act, the amount of decoration on the hilt showed how important or how high the status was of the prisoner. These knives were than an extension of the fingers and acted as claws.
Apollo, the Greek god of music, always had a temper that could cut as deep as claws. Perhaps he needed that music to calm him. One time, King Midas acted as judge along with the Nine Muse in a competition of Apollo and his lyre against Pan, the god of the woodlands, and his pipes. When King Midas felt that Pan played with more passion and moved him more, Apollo said King Midas had the ears of a donkey and that is exactly what grew out of King Midas’ head. For another competition, Marsyas the satyr was not so lucky. When that satyr dared to play his flute against Apollo’s lyre-playing, Apollo flayed the satyr with a knife.
The Anglo-Saxons were buried with knives so they would not be defenseless in the afterworld. Chinese and Japanese warriors were often buried with martial arts instruments including knives. This act represented their skills learned while on earth. For the living, sleeping on a bed of knives could scare away the evil spirits. A knife with a black handle and placed under your pillow could keep (and fight back) nightmares in Greece.
Many superstitions connect with the knife. In Romania, if you play with a knife, then the angels stay away from you. In Russia, licking a knife will transform you into a mean person or at least make you as angry as a wild dog. Stirring anything with a knife will stir up trouble. In Ireland, crossed knives will mean there will be cross people and a fight to remember. Though, this same country saw that if the knife’s blade was made of steel, one could ward off curses and fairies, those mischief-makers.
The Egyptians had magic curved knifes made from animal bone. When the knife was drawn out of its hilt and waved about, this act would strengthen that area of the home. Animals and patterns were carved into the bone to imbue the knife with those magic powers.
Some stories that feature a knife:
- “Bloody Knife,” Nova Scotia tale from Micmac tribe, two Micmac warriors fight with knives until one slips into the creek and cannot reach his knife—dies—and since then no one could reach the blood-stained knife
- “Armadillo’s Song,” Bolivian folktale, an armadillo fails to sing until he is willing to be sacrificed by a knife by a wise man and create an instrument from the armadillo
- “Cinderella,” by Brothers Grimm, stepmother tells her stepdaughters to cut their own heel or toes to fit the (though blood dripping on the ride to the castle alerts the prince)
What stories do you know that involves a knife? Do you know any stories that has sacrifice or a ritual? Please comment below and share with others of this post.
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