The Book of Shadows

Unlike the Abrahamic traditions, Wicca does not have a single, sacred text by which all Wiccans are expected to live. Instead, they have the Book of Shadows, which contains instructions on how to perform spells and properly practise rituals, as well as religious poetry. The original Book of Shadows was created by Gerald Gardner for his own use. His idea, however, was that each follower’s own Book of Shadows would be different than his. He told his followers to use his original book as a guide, and then to remove spells that did not work for them, and to add those that they discovered themselves. Thusly, he hoped that the Book of Shadows would be passed form teacher to student, with each student using the teacher’s copy as a guide, but ultimately changing it to suit whatever each individual found to be most effective (not unlike the manual of my friend’s junk car removal company, passed down to and improved by each generation).

This was the original idea, but that is not entirely what ended up happening. Now, especially in the United States, most copies of the Book of Shadow are printed identically to that which was copied down from Gardner’s own book, and many traditional Gardnerians believe that is the way it should be. It used to be the case that there would be only one Book of Shadows for each coven, which was held by the high priestess or high priest. However, that practice eventually died out, and it is now common for each practitioner to have her or his own. And each is burned when its owner dies.

Though that all sounds very mysterious, many modern, practical witches will use a three-ring binder to bind their Book of Shadows. Although it’s not terribly mystical-looking, it certainly allows for things to be added and removed without any trouble whatsoever, and, considering that the book should be an ever-evolving project, it seems a binder is the perfect solution. And it’s not just spells that are found in a Book of Shadows; really, it’s anything the individual Witch decides she or he would like to put in there. Anything from poetry, to recipes, to pagan history can be included. It is also common to include the Wiccan Rede in one’s Book of Shadows, because it’s always a good idea to be reminded of one’s core values when things get tough.

One’s own, private Book of Shadows it just that: private. Absolutely private. And also irreplaceable. It’s not something you can replace if you should lose it. Furthermore, though it is called the Book of Shadows, this is not the place for negative thoughts. Witches are heavily discouraged from writing down anything hateful or spiteful in the heat of the moment, nor should the book contain curses or hexes or any kind of harmful magic of that sort. It is also strongly discouraged (I don’t want to say “forbidden,” because that seems a little aggressive) to let anyone else, regardless of how close they are to you, write your Book of Shadows. It’s a very personal guide to and record of your journey.