Book of Shadows
The Witches Journal
The term “Book of Shadows” was unfamiliar to the general public until the emergence of the popular television series “Charmed” In the series, the Haliwell sisters open the mysterious Book of Shadows to identify the demons they are fighting and discover the spells and potions that will destroy said demon. All great fun but what is a “Book of Shadows”? Is there such a thing outside the fictional T.V. series?
The answer is yes, with qualifications. It was not called a “Book of Shadows” until the early 1950’s, before that it was a witch’s journal, of sorts. So let’s begin with a controversial premise; There have always been Witches among us.
Ancient lore was always handed down orally. Much of it was told in the form of story and/or poetry. This was necessary in a time when the majority of the people were illiterate, how better to remember a lesson than to find it in song or story. For example; the story of Taliesin reveals that Ceridwen added herbs to the cauldron of inspiration “According to the seasons” and in the tale of Llew LLaw Gyffes he can only be killed by a Magic spear fashioned over the space of a year with nothing done to it except at the seasons. So the turning of the seasons was important in the Magic of the ancestors. Traditions and the teaching of Magic were passed on in this way until literacy became available to the majority. Then a journal was kept that would contain specifics that were not so easily hidden in story. A written tome could contain the invocations, spells and potions along with the Magical experiences and wisdom of the owner. These were dangerous times, to be discovered as a Witch could have some dire consequences. So it became customary for a Witch, when in later years, or if she felt death was approaching, to have another Witch copy the spells and potions and any other information considered relevant and the original was burned. This was done to protect the relatives and associates of the Witches. So the Witches journal was passed down over the years then, 1951 and Gerald Gardner happened.
The New Forest Coven
Gerald Gardner and the Witches
Over most of Europe, Witchcraft and the practices thereof were illegal. There had been a great deal of pressure in the United Kingdom to have the Witchcraft laws repealed. The campaign was led by prominent spiritualists such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1951 the UK government finally repealed the laws prohibiting witchcraft and Witches were now free to come out of the “Broom Closet” Centuries of secrecy could not be broken so easily and there was still the social stigma. “Witchcraft” originally the “Craft of the Wise” had been twisted to be defined as “Workers of Wickedness” and exists in the public imagination, to some extent, even today.
Gerald Gardner was an Englishman interested in the occult. He appears to have been well read on the subject and in 1949 published a book called “High Magic’s Aid” This book contained no reference to a Book of Shadows, however he did keep a journal that he called “Ye book of ye art Magical” found after his death. In the same year that High magic’s Aid was published there was an article in a magazine that referred to an ancient Sanskrit manual that purported to tell a person’s future by the length of his shadow. He probably got the idea of a Book of Shadows from that article. It’s catchy and the name has caught on even if it is of dubious origin.
Gerald Gardner was problematical though. He was a showman; he brought the practice of Witchcraft into the open. He claimed to have been initiated into the craft by an ancient coven; he started a coven of his own, the Bricket Wood Coven, and became quite public. This did not sit well with a people who had maintained secrecy for centuries and they withdrew from him.
Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows
The Book of Shadows
Gardner went on from strength to strength and many Pagans of today refer to themselves as Gardnerian Wiccans. (Wicca being a word he coined as being the old Anglo-Saxon word for witch though the etymology is suspect.) Originally his covens would have one Book of Shadows each to be accessed by the members of that coven. These days with the concept of the Book of Shadows capturing the public imagination along with the growing number of those who prefer to seek out wisdom and experiences without being attached to a coven, the “Solitary Witches” it has become customary for individuals to have their own personal copy of a Book of Shadows.
How to make a Book of Shadows
Take two pieces of wood, cut them to the size necessary to contain the pages safely. Use plywood if necessary but try to make it as natural as possible. Then make holes on the edge of the two pieces, align the holes, the recommended number is three or a number divisible by three. Three has magical properties and is the ideal number for your Book of Shadows. Make matching holes in your paper then bind the book with cord made from natural fibers; Hemp is good, some of the folk like to use leather. This is very much a personal preference, as is the whole concept of your Witches Journal. Only do that which feels right to you. On the covers put the symbols and devices that are important to you. Remember this is your book, for your eyes only, so only use the symbols and devices that are meaningful to you. Getting ideas and inspiration from another source is fine but do not forget, inspiration is your gift also. Don’t hurry, take your time and choose carefully and wisely.
Lady of the Moon, a Witches prayer to the Goddess
As you gather knowledge you may encounter spells and invocations that are particularly meaningful to you. This gathered knowledge is appropriate for your personal Book of Shadows and follows an ancient tradition of shared information. Other suggestions of what your personal Book of Shadows could contain are;
The things that are meaningful and Magical in your life.
A particularly vivid dream that means something to you.
An amazing coincidence or stroke of luck that has a life changing effect.
One of those “Uh-Oh” moments when everything suddenly comes clear and makes sense.
Did you perform a ritual that caused something miraculous to happen?
All these and anything else important to you can be put into your personal Book of Shadows. Then, when the time is right, your wisdom can be passed on to the next generation. That is how we ensure for future generations that, though our mortal life in the apparent world may end; The magic never ends.