The symbolism of the Knife refers to psychological or emotional separation. The image also may involve some form of release, or personal revelation. As such, the meaning of the knife image is highly dependent upon the action and placement of the sharp instrument itself. Appropriately, a kitchen knife which slices a loaf of bread, may be representative of sharing, equality and community; while a dagger, hidden in the pocket of a stranger’s jacket, may represent potential and very real danger.
The symbolism of all cutting tools in general, that of the active principle which changes passive matter, noted under the entry chisel, is fully operative here. The importance given to this symbol varies with the races using the particular tool. The Montagnards of southern Vietnam use knives or machetes for virtually every task and the two words are used to cover all male work indiscriminately.
In Hindu iconography, knives as attributes are confined to the gods who inspire fear and in whose hands knives are to be viewed as the instruments of their cruelty. The same is true of Mexican and Mayan hieroglyphics.
In China knives were primarily emblems of the Moon, in the first place because they were curved and in the second because they were consonant with the ‘paring away’ of the waning Moon.
In many different parts of the world knives were believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits, a power apparently linked to one of the aspects of the symbolism of iron.
Knives with blades of bone, flint or obsidian survived from neolithic times for ritual and sacrificial use among some races long after iron had replaced them for everyday employment.