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, although I prefer to record the herbs and plants all together at the end of the book, which makes them easier to find.
A Book of Shadows may contain a Grimoire, but it can also have other information. Herbs, correspondences, magical studies, meditations, drawings, symbols, lore and legends, personal observations, divination tips or any other info that the Witch has found personally useful in their 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. You may go through several, as I did, before you find the one you really like.
The magical journals of Old World witches were 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, 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.
- 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. I prefer to leave my cover unadorned.
- 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. There are also some gorgeous leather-bound books of parchment paper, which is what I use. Check your local art stores or look online to get a better variety. Consider your Book of Shadows a sacred object. The contents within are for your eyes only, hidden from public view and away from prying eyes. When not in use, keep it wrapped in a natural fiber.
My own Book of Shadows, which I have named Llyfr o Dewiniaeth (Welsh for ‘Book of Magic’) is a large leather-bound book of parchment pages that have been given an antique appearance. I found this on Amazon, of all places. The pages are quite thick and suitable for writing, drawing or even painting on. It is a rare thing for me to share photos of my sacred book of magic, but here you only get to see the first page with it’s name. This book is one of my most prized possessions.
I want to emphasize again about not getting something too small. It is kind of a drag transferring everything from a smaller book into a larger one, and is very time-consuming. The larger ones are more expensive, but are well worth it in the long run. In my own book, I document the spells, rituals and magical information that I use most often, including information from books and teachers that have been most meaningful in my life and personal path. Do not just put random information in your book, but only that which has the most meaning for you and that which you will use on a regular basis. Your Book of Shadows, or whatever you choose to call it, is meant to be personal and an extension of your magical identity.