A Book of Shadows, also called a Grimoire, is a book containing rituals, religious writings, meditations and other Craft-related writings. Although almost all Wiccan covens and practitioners have Books of Shadows, many non-Wiccan pagans have them, too.
In traditional Gardnerian Wicca, which is dominated by covens, there was one Book of Shadows per coven. The High Priestess or High Priest was responsible for maintaining the Book. It contained the core rules, beliefs and rituals for the coven, and it never changed.
New initiates would copy the Book of Shadows for their own use, but they would not add to the coven’s Book. In eclectic Wicca and in many neopagan movements, each witch has his or her own Book, and the one-book-to-a-coven rule has gone by the wayside, especially in light of the increase in the number of solitaries.
There are no hard and fast rules about what a Book of Shadows is or should be, but there are certain elements that almost all grimoires contain. These are:
- Your name, either your given name or your Craft name
- Your deities
- The Wiccan Rede
- The Wheel of the Year and the Sabbats
- The elements and their correspondences
- Astrology and its correspondences
- Spells and rituals
- Herbs, incenses and oils and their properties
- Crystals and their properties
- Moon phases and their correspondences
- Inspirations (sketches, ideas for rituals, guidance from other paths, etc.)
- Meditations and visualizations
- Runes and their meanings
- Tarot spreads and readings
- Energy work journal
- Spiritual work journal
- Reflexology charts and other alternative healing information
Obviously, these aren’t set in stone, nor should they be. The Book of Shadows should be specific and personal to every witch. Anything that the witch thinks, feels, dreams or believes can be entered into a Book of Shadows… and it should be.
There are some things that don’t belong in grimoires, though. The Book is, by its nature, a spiritual document recording your own spiritual journey from initiate to seasoned witch.
Don’t include things that aren’t related to the Craft or the path that you’ve chosen to follow. The grimoire is not the place for grocery lists, addresses or phone numbers. It’s also not a place for negativity, hatred or hexes – unless, of course, your personal journey includes dark magic. In that case, hexes are appropriate. For Wiccans, hexes are contrary to the Rede, so they should not be included.
Some witches have elaborate leather-bound grimoires, adorned with feathers and shells and crystals, and they only write in it with calligraphy pens using dragon’s blood ink. Other witches have wire bound college ruled notebooks from the office supply store, and they write in it with a Bic.
It truthfully doesn’t matter what physical form the book takes. The important thing is what’s inside.
In some circles, Books of Shadows are meant to be kept secret, and some people say that the book should be destroyed upon the death of the witch who owned it. Others say that no one but the witch who owns the book should ever see what’s inside. Still others believe that Books are meant to be shared, and that initiates learn best from studying the grimoires of their sponsors.
My personal opinion stands somewhere in the middle. I have no trouble letting other witches see my Book, but if someone doesn’t believe, or if they’re antipathic to my path, I don’t show it to them. My Book is mine, and I don’t want anyone to attach any negative “vibes” to it based on their own doubts or hostilities.
Another variation in opinion about what’s included in the Book surrounds shared information. Some people think that you should never put anything into your Book that was written by someone else. In my opinion, that’s impossible. The Wiccan Rede was written by someone else. The Wheel of the Year has been written and re-written by a million witches and pagans over the years. Elements and their correspondences? Ancient knowledge. Some witches aren’t writers. That’s a particular gift that not everyone shares. For some witches, if they were to only include things they themselves wrote, their Books would be empty! When you’re including things that other people wrote, there are only two things that you must consider.
First, don’t include something just because someone else told you it should be included. Second, if the thing you’re including is copyrighted, then it’s essential to give credit where credit is due. This doesn’t have to be a big thing, but writing in “by so-and-so” honors the work that was done by those who came before you, and it shows integrity on your part.
I think that the content of a Book of Shadows should be whatever is relevant to the Craft as you practice it. If you see something that resonates with you on a spiritual level, include it. This might be photographs from magazines or quotes from online articles. It might be poems or song lyrics or sketches of wands. The important determining factor is whether or not the information is spiritual in nature and feels “right” to you. This is your Book. Only you have the right to say what it holds.
There is a stunningly encyclopedic online Book of Shadows on Witchipedia, and I am deeply impressed by the exhaustive nature of the information it contains. If you’re looking to flesh out your grimoire, that would be an excellent place to start. It has a little bit of everything, including an A to Z listing of pagan gods and goddesses that would be an amazing source for finding a patron deity.
In the modern age, Books of Shadows can be anything. As the Witchipedia entry shows, they can even be electronic. There’s actually a Book of Shadows app for iPhones. And why not? Everything can be digital, so why couldn’t a grimoire? This is especially true for technomancers and web witches. There are other publicly available Books of Shadows on line, and I encourage you to do a Google search or two. Mr. Google is your friend, and he can help you find a wealth of information you might want to include in your grimoire.
Now, the layout of a Book of Shadows is only a guideline, something that helps you to find what you’re looking for in this encyclopedia of magick that you’ve created. It helps to break the Book up into sections.
This is one suggested layout:
Part One: Laws and Beliefs
- Your name
- Wiccan Rede (if you’re Wiccan)
- The Wheel of the Year (Esbats and Sabbats)
- Moon phases and their meanings
- Magickal rules for your tradition
- Blessing for the Book of Shadows itself
- Your patron Goddess
- Your patron God
- The rules of your specific coven (if you have one)
- Statement of beliefs
Part Two: Practicum
- Tools of the Craft and their Uses
- Symbols of the Craft and their Meanings
- Altar Design (Basic)
- Altar Design (Esbats)
- Altar Design (Sabbats)
- Circle Casting Rituals
- Consecration Rituals
- Cleansing Rituals
- Calling Down the Moon Ritual
- Centering and Grounding Rituals
- Invocations and Evocations
- Rituals for Familiars
Part Three: Lore
- Deities and Pantheons
- Legends from your tradition
- Animals and their correspondences
- Astrology and its meanings
- Candle magic
- Colors and their meanings
- Crystals and their properties
- Divination (Tarot, Runes, tea leaf reading, etc.)
- Elements and their correspondences
- Herbs and their uses
- Incense and its properties
- Oils and their properties
- Signs and sigils
Part Four: Esoterica
- Auras and their meanings
- Psychic development exercises
- Psychic self-defense exercises
- Astral projection exercises
- The Chakras
- Spirit Guides
- Spirit/ghost work
- Energy work (personal)
- Energy work (earth energies)
- Dream interpretation
- Past life regression work
Part Five: Spells, Rituals and Magickal Methods
- Guidelines for writing spells
- Guidelines for writing rituals
- Spells you’ve written
- Spells you’ve copied
- Rituals you’ve written
- Rituals you’ve copied
- Recipes (oils)
- Recipes (herbalism)
- Recipes (food and drink related to the sabbats and esbats)
- Rituals from other traditions
- Spells from other traditions
- Songs and chants
Part Six: Reference and Sources
- Websites – merchandise
- Websites – information
- Websites – networking
- Social media groups
- Moon phase calendar
- Local pagan festivals
- Regional pagan festivals
- National/international pagan festivals
You’ll notice that each section has thirteen entries. Thirteen is a very sacred number, echoing back into the earliest of traditions. There are 13 signs in the Sumerian zodiac. There are 13 lunar cycles in each solar year. Every day, the moon moves 13 degrees across the sky. The sacred cord of the Druids has 13 knots. Covens traditionally number 13, with twelve members and a High Priestess. Even in our folklore, the number has significance, albeit sometimes unlucky. King Arthur had twelve knights sitting with him at the Round Table, making the Round Table Fellowship number 13 in all. Jesus had twelve disciples, making a traveling party of 13.
In numerology, the number 13 is a number of upheaval and change, but not all changes are bad. In fact, you can’t grow until and unless you change. It’s therefore appropriate that the number 13 appears in a Book of Shadows.
The Book of Shadows is the guidebook of your journey from initiate to seasoned witch. If you follow the layout about, you’ll see that it starts with things you learn by rote, like a child in a classroom. The next section adds more data and more complication to the things that were learned as a foundation in section one. Section three adds more complexity still, and this is where you begin to learn things you never knew before, which is a change. Your old self is falling away like the husk of a seed as the new you sprouts and blossoms and grows.
Section four brings the really advanced ideas, the things that can’t be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands. This section can contain some of the hardest concepts and most difficult exercises you will encounter in your spiritual journey. The things you will learn in accordance with this section will shake you, challenge you, and change you… lucky number 13 in action.
Nobody says that you have to build your Book of Shadows in this order, of course, and you can add and subtract content to your heart’s content. To make this easier, you might want to use a three-ring binder and sheets of paper in sheet protectors to hold your entries. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: grocery stores and conventional department stores can be great sources for magickal material. The school supply section is no exception!
A friendly suggestion: If you’re planning on using one of those fancy blank books that they sell at bookstores, the ones with embossed images and leather bindings and built-in satin bookmarks, take heed. They may not be long enough to hold everything you want to put into them, so be prepared to buy several. Also, you’ll want to write out your spells and rituals in a notebook or on separate pieces of paper until they’re perfected. You can scribble, doodle and cross out words to your heart’s content on these practice papers until you get all of the tweaking done. Then, when your content is ready, you can carefully enter it into the bound Book of Shadows, where hopefully there won’t be any mistakes, scribbles, or strike-throughs.
Another word to the wise. There are some companies out there who are shrewdly capitalizing on the popularity of Wicca and paganism, as well as on the appearance of grimoires in books, movies and video games. They have created big and admittedly beautiful pre-made Books of Shadows that you can buy. These are usually incredibly expensive, and they often include material that’s pre-printed, which sort of defeats the purpose of having an individualized grimoire. What good is a Book of Shadows that’s exactly the same as the book used by the witch down the road? It doesn’t reflect your own spiritual journey or your spiritual growth, and it won’t be bound to your personal energy. It will just be inert, just another thing bought and sold in the modern marketplace. Kind of disappointing.
Whatever you put in your Book of Shadows, and whatever it looks like, I hope you make sure that it’s as individual as you are. Your Book is a reflection of your Craft and your place within the Craft, and as such, it should be a beautiful mirror of your beautiful soul.
Until next time, I wish you love and light. Blessed be.