“[The Book of Shadows] is an individual’s combination notebook, journal, memoir, spell book, cookbook, encyclopedia, and general catchall for information magickal and Wiccan.” (Essential Wicca, Paul Tuitéan and Estelle Daniels)
Book of Shadows. Isn’t that a wonderfully magical phrase? When I first encountered it in Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner ten years before Essential Wicca was published, I was fascinated. Cunningham’s definition was fairly prosaic: “The Book of Shadows is a Wiccan workbook containing invocations, ritual patterns, spells, runes, rules governing magic, and so on.” But I saw potential there. It could combine my love of the mystical and the fantastic with my nerdier passion for three-ring binders and organizational systems. Obviously my Book of Shadows would need to be a three-ring binder. Aesthetically pleasing as a leather-bound tome might be, its structure would be too rigid and I’d have commitment issues about writing in it. So I picked out a gray binder—gray for shadows, of course—popped in tab dividers and blank paper, and prepared to document Wiccan practice.
I have yet to create this masterpiece.
Despite almost every Wicca 101 book describing the Book of Shadows and urging readers to make one for themselves, the only one I’d ever seen was the artificial one that Cunningham included in Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. It lacked the personal notes that I later came to see were the reason to have a Book of Shadows in the first place. So although Cunningham included a Mabon ritual—it was the first ritual I ever did by myself—he had no notes on how it went for him, so I didn’t take any either. And without the personal touch, I lost interest.
Of course, even an artificial Book of Shadows is filled with the “body” of a spiritual practice: rituals, spells, tables of correspondences—all that stuff which you need to refer to but which you haven’t learned yet or which is too complicated to memorize. And that’s where my would-be Book of Shadows abandoned the confines of a binder altogether. I came into Wicca with a good background in both astrology and tarot and with the library to prove it. I was used to buying books to learn esoteric topics and I continued that practice as I plunged further into Wicca. Maybe if I’d been able to rely on my public library to get me materials, I’d have ended up copying them into my Book of Shadows. But in the 1990s, this was just not where my library was putting its resources, leaving me to come up with my own. And once I had the books in hand, I looked up information in them directly rather than copy bits of them into still yet another book.
Today I have a bookcase filled with Wiccan/Pagan books and another stuffed with astrology and tarot books, while books on the I Ching, geomancy, Jungian archetypes, and runes are slipped into the other bookcases wherever possible. A similar collection is slowly growing on my e-reader and computer. I am testing ways of collecting my astrological notes and putting them in a searchable format with keywords, using software that simply didn’t exist twenty years ago. I suspect I’ll never have the Book of Shadows I dreamed about once, but the Library of Shadows has merits of its own.
And as the original post over at Pagan Blog Prompts asked, what is your Book of Shadows (or Grimoire) like, if (unlike me) you have one?