A robed man stands in front of a candle-lit altar, and reads from the yellowing pages of an old, heavy book. Illuminated only by the flickering candles and the light of the Moon, he begins to recite words from this magickal book, as he has done many times before.
The ‘Book of Shadows’ is shrouded in mystery and mysticism. Nearly every Witch has one, and while many may look similar on the outside, the contents therein are unique and individual to the Witch who owns it. Some say the Book of Shadows is a product of modern Wicca, however there are mentions of handwritten books kept by Witches as far back as the 17th century. There is also some confusion as to the difference between a Book of Shadows and a Grimoire. Many use the two words interchangeably, but there is a slight difference.
A Grimoire is a book (or portion thereof) that contains only spells and rituals. Many Witches have a Grimoire contained within their Book of Shadows. For most modern Witches, when we speak of a Book of Shadows, it is usually assumed that it contains a Grimoire. (In my own Book of Shadows, I do have spells and rituals recorded, but they are not kept in a special section labeled “Grimoire”. They are interspersed throughout the book, with other information. There is no hard and fast rule about where to put things).
A Book of Shadows may contain a Grimoire, but it can also have other information. Herbs, correspondences, magickal studies, meditations, drawings, symbols, lore and legends, personal observations, divination tips or any other info that the Witch has found personally useful in his/her own practice can be documented in a Book of Shadows.
So where does one find a Book of Shadows? Some simply use a special journal or a notebook, while others have large, elaborate tri-fold books that have 1,000 pages and weigh a ton. There are a few websites where you can purchase handmade Books of Shadows, but they are priced in the hundreds of dollars and take months to produce. If you are willing to invest the money and time, go for it. Or, you can use something a bit smaller, less expensive and more practical. It’s really up to you what you want to use, but I will offer a few suggestions later in this article. You may go through several, as I did, before you find the one you really like.
Traditionally, Books of Shadows are hand-written on parchment paper, using special inks and writing instruments, such as a feather quill. Dragon’s Blood Ink or India Ink are popular choices, as they take longer to break down. On the other hand, I say if something else works better for you, (or is more affordable), then use it. Some hardcore traditionalists would cringe at the thought of using colored pencils, stencils or rub-ons in their Book of Shadows, but I use them frequently. You don’t have to use them in yours.
- Look for something that fits your personality. Many seem to want something they have seen in movies or on TV, such as the Charmed Book of Shadows. Don’t fall into the pop culture trap. Find something that represents you.
- Simple is often best. Instead of going for a mass-produced Book of Shadows covered with symbols or drawings, find something with a blank cover that you can personalize and decorate yourself.
- Don’t get something too small. Journals and notebooks are great, but eventually they will be full and you’ll have to start another one. I recommend looking at artist sketchbooks in hardcover. You can find them in larger sizes with 200+ pages and they are made specifically for those who paint or draw. Check your local art stores or look online to get a better variety.
My own Book of Shadows is a nearly 400 page 11 x 12 ½ hardcover sketchbook that I found on Amazon, It weighs over 8 pounds and is 2 ½ inches thick. I only paid about 40 bucks for it. Seriously. It has a blank black cover, and I attached a silver pentacle in the center of it. Simple, and it looks just as great as those four-hundred dollar books on those websites. This is proof that if you look hard enough, you can find something really nice without spending the equivalent of a house payment.
Consider your Book of Shadows as a sacred object. The contents within it are for your eyes only. Noone is to see what you have written. When you’re not using it, keep it wrapped in a natural fiber such as silk, cotton or wool, and keep it hidden away from public view. Your Book of Shadows is sacred and should be kept away from prying eyes.