TIP: Books of Shadows

Hey guys. Been a while, huh? Sorry about that. Well, here we are with a new tip. This week we’re talking about Books of Shadows.

A Book of Shadows is a personal book containing rituals, spells, poetry, experiences and information that a person comes across in their studies. It’s a term primarily used in Neo-Pagan witchcrafts of various types, but I’ve met non-witch Pagans who use the term also for their personal religious book. It’s usually considered distinct from a spiritual journal and reserved for things of import that are representative of one’s craft. (Or indeed one’s faith.) To some, it can serve as a self-compiled set of scriptures; to others, it’s a recipe book of all their favourite spells, oils and tinctures.

The term comes to us through Wicca. Gardner reportedly discovered the term “book of shadows” in a magazine and snapped it up for his own use. In Wicca (and in some other initiatory or semi-initiatory witchcrafts that follow Wicca’s lead) the Book of Shadows is copied out by each initiate, in his or her own “hand of write”. The content of each BoS is the same, but each Wiccan can add his or her own impressions after the main text. Some Wiccans will refer to the Wiccan BoS by capitalising it (Book of Shadows, vs book of shadows) but the term is one any witch can use. (This includes non-Pagans!)

Don’t feel like you have to have one, though. Whether or not a person creates a book of shadows is up to them. Many people will create one as a compendium of notes when they are starting out – for this reason many more experienced witches will recommend starting out with a ring-binder of shadows instead, so that things are easy to re-arrange, add to or remove. It’s pretty gutting to buy a fabulous expensive book of shadows and have to rip out several pages – or trash the entire thing – years later when your craft and your ideas change! Regardless, keeping one is a personal choice, and many people prefer sticking with an exercise book for their notes and keeping a spiritual journal. And unless you’re a part of a specific tradition, there isn’t anything you must (or can’t) include in yours. Aside from the term applying mostly to a book of craft work rather than more of a journal, everything in it is up to you. Some people will have tarot spreads, some will have the Charge of the Goddess, others will have recipes for oils.

It’s also common now to have, instead of (or as well as) a book, a folder on your computer or a flash drive to store the information you come across and wish to keep. People also use blogs for this purpose – some private, some public.

There are other terms for the book of shadows, many of which have their own implications. A “Grimoire” tends to refer to an old book of ceremonial magic, while some use “Book of Mirrors” to refer to a book of just one’s thoughts and experiences – more of a spiritual journal, no spells or rites. Others will use this term as a straight synonym. Another, perhaps less popular, name is “Book of Light”. The Seax-Wican book is called “The Tree”. You can call yours whatever you like, but “Book of Shadows” does seem to remain the most popular.

For my part, I’ve heard that “Book of Shadows” is meant to imply that what one reads in it – rituals, thoughts etc. – are just the shadows, the silhouettes of the practice and craft itself. Valiente explains that it is so named “because its contents can only be this world’s shadows of the Other World”. This is one of those things that doesn’t need to be one or the other; I imagine the term means many different things to different people.

Do you have a book of shadows, reader? If so, what form does it take, and what does it contain?

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