An Introduction to the Book of Shadows
Witchcraft is an oral tradition, in which lore, rituals and spells are handed down through the generations, but many witches also keep magic chronicles.
Unlike the formal patriarchal religions, witchcraft has evolved with time; ceremonies are influenced by the dreams, visions and insights of the participants, they are not set in stone according to some bygone era. Witchcraft's legacy as a living, oral tradition may in some part be due to the penalties of death, torture or dispossession, which hung heavily over witches in the past - and so nothing was recorded. Thankfully, many of today's witches live in an age of tolerance and most covens and individuals keep journals.
These are the Books of Shadows, because the written word is a mere shadow of experience, intended to prompt and inspire, but not to instruct. Each witch copies parts of the book from her priestess or teacher, and adds her own account of her unique, magical journey and experiences.
Historical accounts of Books of Shadows are often shrouded in death, reflecting the dark times that fell against witchcraft. An Italian legend, for example, tells of a spell book that fell into the hands of the inquisition after its author was burned at the stake. Everyone who read it heard the witch's screams in their dreams at night.
A more uplifting tale surrounds a spell book from Sussex, England. This Book of Shadows survived fire and flood, through many generations, keeping alive the legacy of its writers and remains with its coven even today.
You can create a magic journal. It should only contain your handwriting as this hold the imprint of your energy and makes the book more powerful.
Purchasing and preparing your Book of Shadows for use can be almost as much fun as actually writing down your spells and rituals inside it.
Traditionally, a Book of Shadows is bound in black leather and has parchment leaves. There are many beautiful books available to buy, which are suitable to use as your witch's journal. Select one with plain pages, so you can draw symbols and charts easily.
Choose a color and style you love - if it feels special to you it will generate more positive energy. Speak to the sales person and smile, as a friendly transaction makes an excellent start to your history with the book. Don't haggle over the price, give money willingly with an open heart - symbolizing that you have unconditionally opened your heart and mind to the book. Take your time when selecting your Book of Shadows and trawl for unusual finds in second-hand bookshops.
Before you begin writing in your Book of Shadows, you should consecrate its pages. This will cleanse it of the stale energy it has absorbed sitting on the shop shelf waiting to be bought and infuse it with your own spiritual vibrations.
On the night of the full Moon, hold your book and say, "I call upon the ancestors of my tradition to consecrate my Book of Shadows". With care, anoint the cover with salt, incense smoke and spring water. Let moonlight fall upon each page of the book, saying "Great Mother, bless my path to you". Store your Book of Shadows wrapped in silk.
Making a ritual of writing in your Book of Shadows that you repeat each time, will help you to attune to and express your inner guidance. Use certain writing tools, candles or herbs to make recording in your book truly special. Consider choosing from one of the following rituals:
Make up a simple prayer to repeat each time you use your book. You can even write this opening prayer on the inside front cover. Light a purple candle (the color of Jupiter, god of learning) before beginning to write an account or spell. Use a special pen or a quill and ink, to make writing in the book feel like a really special experience, set apart from everyday activities. Smudge the book using white sage (also ruled by Jupiter) before you read from it. This will cleanse the air around its magical aura.
The content of Books of Shadows generally includes these following points:
Draw a Wheel of the Year, incorporating festivals and correspondents. Write down dreams and any spiritual or meditative experiences. Record the spells you perform and their outcome. Copy influential spells and rituals, special to you. Use a magical alphabet to write secret information. Report any divinatory and healing experiences.