In Seax Wicca, the Book of Shadows is called 'The Tree' and in Devotional Wicca, the book is titled 'The Book of Ways'; many traditions refer to their Books of Shadows as simply 'The Book'. Whether it's called a Book of Magick, a Magical Grimoire or a Book of Shadows (BOS), it's important for everyone to create a book of records. These are your personal notes, a diary of your spiritual or magical experiences. A book used to record your dreams, interpretations, aspirations, rituals and affirmations. In a simplified definition, it is a book kept and used to record research, thoughts, experiences and spiritual information, such as spells, incantations, potions and so on.
Sagas and Eddas are stories about ancient Scandinavian and Germanic history; about early Viking voyages, many mythological stories, the battles that took place during the voyages, poetry, about migration to Iceland and of feuds between families. Saga has various meanings, in Old Norse they are approximately equivalent to something said or a narrative in prose; somewhat along the lines of a story, a tale or a history in English.
Initially, when Wicca was still dominated by covens, "only one copy of The Book existed for an entire coven, kept by the high priestess or high priest. That rule has proved unfeasible, and it is now commonplace for all Wiccans to have their own copies."
As with all spiritual texts, there is large debate about where and how they came into use. Some say they were prevalent during the Middle Ages, written only in Witches' runic alphabets to hide their magical meanings. Some say the Witches during the Middle Ages were illiterate and the books did not come into practice until the 14th or 15th centuries. Even then, runic alphabets were used to protect the owner from persecution and death if it were found by a Witch hunter.
The Book of Light and Shadows is a term that found use during the mid-to-late 1800s in Europe. Just about the same time Alester Crowley began to publicize his many works on the Craft. This title is meant to reflect the spiritual information contained within, as well as, the spells and rituals that are performed at night beneath the moon.
Grimoire became a popular label for these personal books during the Victorian era. Many a young woman could be found resting in a park, or flower garden writing thoughts, poems and wishes inside a diary. Upon closer review, you might also find remedies passed down from grandmother to child for various ailments. Elixirs and salves for poison ivy, fevers and more serious ailments such as heart problems or arthritis were often shared amongst family members as well as within tight knit communities. It is from these family recipes and remedies that the term 'Kitchen Witch' sprang.
High Priestess Doreen Valiente made the claim that Gardner found the term 'Book of Shadows' from a 1949 edition of a magazine known as The Occult Observer. He claimed that it was a personal cookbook of spells that have worked for the owner; they could copy from his own book and add or remove material as they saw fit.
The television fantasy series Charmed features a fictional Book of Shadows which contains spells and arcane law, and has a supernatural ability to defend itself from harm. In the 1996 film The Craft, the Book of Shadows was referred to as an object in which a Witch keeps her power thoughts. In the 2011 CW Series The Secret Circle, each family is shown to have their own Book of Shadows, with each book containing unique spells. As the book is passed down from generation to generation, each generation appears to write their own spells or notes.
Today the most common label for these personal diaries is a Book of Shadows, containing spiritual information and energy that is kept hidden until a Wiccan opens the book and springs forth the words into the light. It doesn't matter what you chose to call your personal magical diary. It's just important to keep a record of your research, experiences and magical information.
Start by deciding what kind of book you want to use. A spiral notebook is one favorite method. A three hole binder is another, making it easy to maintain sections for organization. Some people purchase hard cover stationary books at their local book store, making various volumes or collections of magical information. Many Pagans and Wiccans feel a BOS should be handwritten, but some use a computer to store information as well. Others cut and paste images and words from magazines.
This blog's information comes from my BOS - both the three ring binders and saved links in my bookmarks on the computer. The first year of the blog was from my three ring binders while this second year comes from my electronic book and requests from readers.
The biggest dilemma with any BOS is how to keep it organized. You can use tabbed dividers; create an index at the back or a table of contents in the front. As you study and learn more, you’ll have more information to include – this is why the three-ring binder is such a practical idea. Some people choose instead to use a simple bound notebook and just add to the back of it as they discover new items.
Whichever you choose, label the book and set its purpose and energy from the start. You can record the title on the outside or on the page inside the cover. After the title, date the book. Some Wiccans create a new book at the beginning of each magical year during Samhain. While others use the same book over a period of time until it's full and then they start a new volume. It's up to you which way to date your book, but you should enter a date and a volume reference. This will help keep your books organized over the years.
Next, take some time and think of a personal blessing to record on the first page or after the title page. The book blessing is done as a dedication to your spiritual growth, your path of learning and protection for the information you'll gain and record within the covers of your book. You might write out the blessing on scrap paper until you get just right and then transfer the blessing into your BOS. If you are keeping an electronic copy of your BOS, you can add the title and blessing as a pdf, jpeg or other easy to read format.
You can record as much information as you want or stick with a bare minimum. You can choose to use it as a daily diary, where all your information is kept. Or you can maintain a couple of different books, separating your daily thoughts into one, research and magical information into an other, with spells and incantations into a third. It's entirely up to you. But keep in mind, you want your book to be well organized. You want to be able to quickly turn to a particular section and page to find some particular information when needed.
Magical Rules and Principles: Write down your personal principles, beliefs, and/or magical rules that you chose to follow and believe in. These are your values of life and spiritual path. If you don’t set yourself some guidelines, how will you know when you’ve crossed over them? This may include a variation on the Pagan Rede or some similar concept. They can also be created from scratch each time you begin a new book. This way you'll be able to review past volumes and see how much you've grown.
Goals and Aspirations: Write down what your short term goals are. Include a date to achieve the goal and outline a few steps you plan to take in order to reach it. Then write down your long term spiritual aspirations, what you feel you need to work on and how you plan on succeeding. What you would like to achieve and by when.
Background Information: Write an introduction on what Paganism is and isn't. Give a brief explanation of initiations into the Craft and your thoughts on them. This is a good place to note about the history of your ancestors and your background into your path. There are many written sources from Norse culture which contain sacred lore and poems.
Dream and Divination Records: If you’re learning about Tarot, scrying, astrology, runes or any other form of divination, keep information in here. This section is for messages you receive through dreams or some type of divination. Either a reading you've given to yourself or received from someone else. This is the section where you want to record your personal introspection and interpretations.
Research & Experiences: Here you can record all the research and particular information you receive along your path. Record your experiences; what you liked, what didn't work and what you'd like to do differently next time. You might consider organizing this into sub-sections in alphabetical order. Astrology, candles, crystals, Gods, Goddess, tarot and timeliness research could be some examples.
Spells, Incantations & Prayers: Record the spells, incantations and prayers you find along your spiritual path. Those you like and even those you really dislike. Poetry was a sacred art in Norse Paganism and poets could take great liberty and apply endless variety in their use of allegory and metaphor in order to convey a message. Later when you have time, re-read the words and try to find the message hidden within for you.
Rituals & Ceremonies: Plan out your rituals and ceremonies. Record your experiences during or after conducting the event. Include your thoughts about what you liked, what worked well and what you'd like to change next time. When it comes to spell casting, correspondence tables can be helpful tools. Phases of the moon, herbs, stones and crystals, colors – all have different meanings and purposes.
Herbal Remedies and Potions: As you collect recipes for oils, incense, or herb blends, keep them in your BOS. You may even want to include a section of food recipes for Sabbat celebrations. They can cover various herbology information and recopies to specific potions which are to be used in conjunction with a spell or incantation.
Closing Thoughts: At the end of the year, or once the book is filled, save a few pages for a review and reflection of your BOS. Note the goals and aspirations you achieved, the reflections of what you learned during the research and practices you made. End this section with a blessing of thanks and gratitude to all those forces, seen and unseen, that helped you along this journey and with the lessons contained within this volume.
Like a altar, you don't need a fancy or rich book. Start with a left-over notebook. Or open the Word program or Notebook app and just start typing what comes to mind. Find and use what you have and build on that. If you find that the book you've chosen loses its appeal, or isn't adequate for your needs, don't hesitate in finding a new one. You should feel comfortable and attached to your book. This gives the book energy and meaning within your spiritual life.
Traditionally, a Witch's BOS is destroyed at their death. But some books are a mix of old book, family book and the new book.
Find the method that works best for you and take good care of your Book. After all, it’s a sacred object and should be treated accordingly!