The Book of Shadows is an important book in witchcraft. It contains magical spells and magical lore from witchcraft and is used in Wicca and in other types of witchcraft. The Book of Shadows teaches us basic rituals, magical practices and traditions, magical ethics and magical philosophic thought. It contains spells that are specific to a given witch or used by many witches in the practice of witchcraft.
Interestingly, in traditional British Wicca, the hand copying of the Book of Shadows is part of the initiation one goes through in order to be a High Priestess or Priest. It is copied from the book of the one doing the initiation of the person. In certain Wiccan circles, the Book of Shadows is a private book—a personal one that contains the spells a particular practitioner of Wicca has decided to make her own.
As you can imagine, there are wide variations in what constitutes the Book of Shadows. There are old Wiccan Books of Shadows, one of which was created by Gerald Gardner, and there are newer versions of the Book of Shadows that date from today’s time.
The Different Books of Shadows
Gerald Gardner is considered the original Wiccan practitioner or the “father of Wicca”. He wrote the book to be his own personal journal in the 1950s. He believed the spells worked for him and said that anyone could copy or alter the book for their own purposes. He believed that such a book was an ancient aspect of being a witch and that the book needed to be burned after the person’s death in order to hide the fact that he or she was a witch.
The Book of Shadows dates back before Gerald Gardner. It was believed that there existed a Sanskrit book of divination that discussed how to divine a person’s future by the length of their shadow. This is believed to be where Gerald Gardner came up with the name “Book of Shadows”. Gardner’s book was found along with other papers he had at the time of his death and was obtained by another practitioner of Wicca. The book contained sections that were based on oriental magic and were written with permission of the writers of the rituals, called the Order of Templars of the Orient. The original Book of Shadows was entitled “Ye Booke of Ye Art Magical”. It was renamed The Book of Shadows in 1949.
Doreen Valiente got a hold of the Book when she entered Gardner’s Bricket Wood Coven. She became the High Priestess of the coven and took several different parts of the original Book of Shadows and other book parts to create the Second Book of Shadows. She rewrote much of the book and cut out some sections she did not agree with. This was in the mid 1950s. She took a poem from her childhood and created a chant that was part of a specific ritual. Most forms of British Traditional Wicca use books based on what Gardner and Valiente wrote.
A man by the name of Aleister Crowley also put parts of his teachings in the current Books of Shadows. More recent scholars of Wicca doubt the authenticity of these parts, however. It is believed by most that the rest of the book has ancient provenance and that aspects have been put together by more current witches to fill in that part of the book that did not carry forth into history.
There are two Books of Shadows used in Modern Wicca. There is a book of core rituals and spells that is copied from a superior witch to a novitiate. There is also a coven book that is used by each coven and that differs from coven to coven. It contains material related to astrology, herbs and divination. Covens often trade this information among one another.
What is The Book of Shadows?
Readers may have heard of the book of shadows. What is that? Much of the time it contains spells and the notes of a witch or warlock or other spell caster. These are books which are exciting but often useless if found by someone other than the one who wrote it. They are very important to the author, in most cases. In that sense, they are like diaries. The Book of Shadows is also like a diary in that it is usually mainly about the author. It is also like a diary in that it often shows, when properly read, the development of the spell caster over the course of time.
How to Make a Book of Shadows
The Book of Shadows can be carefully selected by an individual. It may be plain and discrete or it may be quite fancy – to help reveal how special it is. There are many small scale ways for something like this to be achieved. Readers may wish to search at small markets, art fairs or festivals where there are hand-crafted books, or fancy notebooks boasting wooden or even metal covers. This is largely a matter of personal preference, in that scraps of paper stuck in a desk drawer would work, if really necessary. In such a case, a person’s spells would end up being like the restaurant napkin some musician wrote a song’s first draft on, only to become a hit single later. That wasn’t not really important.
Consecrating and Blessing a Book of Shadows
It might be a good idea to consecrate a book of shadows. This means to bless it which is simply to treat as special on yet another level. If practicing as part of an Order or religious person, then one could have the consecration done by a professional. If not, then it might be possible to get a cleric to do it, or to do the best one can for oneself.
The Proper Way to Organize it
In order to be used again in the future – even by the author, it helps if these are kept in an organized fashion. How that is done, may vary to some extent, by the one who’s book of shadows it is. Some will prefer to go more by date; others to arrange things by subject matter – as done with school notebooks. There could be space for group work and for solitary rites. In an article by About.com guide Patti Wigington, she points out that it can also be a good idea for people to write the main rules of the tradition that their book of shadows follows. Not everyone uses only one tradition, particularly is the owner of the book of shadows is self taught, and or ‘eclectic’. Because of all that, the book of shadows is often highly treasured by the author of it. It is not likely to be even half as useful to anyone else.