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About the Book of Shadows

Updated on September 28, 2015

When people hear the term, Book of Shadows, they often think it is akin to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. However, it is not one in the same. The Book of Shadows is a book used by those practicing magick- it is a journal that is meant to be private. Each person who practices magick has a Book of Shadows. It contains information on rituals, spells that may have been passed down, chants, incantations and anything else that a wiccan or witchcraft practitioner wants to remember about their magickal life. It is different from a grimoire, which is a book of spells. It is possible to combine the two if you are a solitary practitioner, but if you intend to share information at some point with others, such as spells, keep the two books separate.

Brief History of the Book of Shadows

The idea behind the Book of Shadows has been largely attributed to Gerald Gardner who is known as the father of modern Wicca. Gardner's Book of Shadows seems to have a lot of information that was taken from other sources. Some of these sources include:

  • Order of Templars of the Orient
  • Gospel of the Witches
  • Key of Solomon
  • Freemasons

According to high priestess Doreen Valiente of Gardner's Bricket Wood coven, Gardner had taken some of the information for his Book of Shadows from the New Forest coven and filled in the blanks using these other sources. Ironically, some of these sources have ties to other organized religions, such as Catholicism, the brawn behind the Malleus Mallificarum or Hammer Against Witches.

Modern witches who belong to covens may obtain their Book of Shadows from the person who has initiated them. These Book of Shadows mainly contain spells, incantations and chants and not as much personal information.

The Book of Shadows, as described by Gerald Gardner, seems to have only been in existence since the late 1940's. There doesn't seem to be any mention of books with this name in occult texts.

What the Book of Shadows Isn't

Contrary to some beliefs, the Book of Shadows isn't about black magick or devil worship.  It is simply a book used to write down personal information regarding the practice of Wicca or witchcraft.  If you were to come upon a person's Book of Shadows you may be disappointed if you were hoping to learn about dealings with the devil or other such information.  That is the stuff of urban legends, folklore and misinformation passed down through the ages, 

Things that may be found in an individual's Book of Shadows include details about a ritual, phases of the moon, incantations and chants.  It may include the names of other witches (never their real names) and how the writer felt about any magickal experiences. 

Storing a Book of Shadows

Since the book is a journal, it should be kept in a safe place, away from prying eyes.  Some magical practitioners keep it with their other ritual items, while others have more secretive hiding places.  Where you keep the journal is entirely up to you, but leaving it lying around casually may tempt even your closest confidants!

Destroying a Book of Shadows

A person's Book of Shadows may be destroyed, usually by fire, once they have passed.  This is to protect the information, as well as the names, of their fellow witches.  It is no different than protecting someone's "regular" personal journals after they have passed. 

If you destroy a person's Book of Shadows out of malice, it won't do anything the person it belonged to, other than make them unhappy.  It won't keep them from practicing magick, nor will it take away their knowledge.  In other words, the book doesn't make the witch or Wiccan.


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