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Book of Shadows

Updated on April 10, 2011

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

This is the cottage where Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into, what he then called. "The Witch Cult'
This is the cottage where Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into, what he then called. "The Witch Cult' | Source

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.


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    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Thank you for stopping by James and thank you for your restraint. However I'm inclined to believe that you and I could hotly disagree while still being gentlemen and friends.

      I'm also very glad you enjoyed this piece.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      I will refrain from commenting about the subject matter. But I enjoyed reading this piece and I learned a lot from you. Thank you for the good read. It is surely interesting. :)

    • JasonPLittleton profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice article, I am glade to read this.

    • deblipp profile image


      7 years ago

      Philip Heselton's excellent research has identified most of the members of the coven Gerald Gardner was initiated into.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hello Dave; Your comments are always welcome and i appreciate your support. Many best wishes in your endeavors my friend.

    • D.A.L. profile image


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      IantoPF, once again the dedication to the task of producing another well explained informative hub comes through..I am familiar with the history of the witches in my neck of the woods, The witches of Pendle Hill Lancashire. Enjoyed this one my friend. Rated up.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      4elements; Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm sure your Book of Shadows will bring inspiration to you and those who follow. many Bright Blessings................Ianto

    • 4elements profile image


      7 years ago

      I thought it was a very well writen hub, full of information. I actually bought a black leather bound book and I myself decorated the cover with my symbols. I love my BOS and hope to pass it down to my daughters.

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      DzyMsLizzy; Thank you for your comments. You write fascinating and interesting Hubs, if I have returned the favor I have achieved something worthwhile.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Thanks for this further contribution to my education in all things pagan. This was a very interesting read.

      Voted up!

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Triciajean; Thank you for stopping by.

      I'm happy to have shed some light on the name. I have a number of Hubs about the Pagan path and the particular long and winding road that I am on. I hope you can enjoy them too.

      Best Wishes................Ianto

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Seafarer Mama; Thank you, By the way I'm nothing but Celt as far back as I know so perhaps you'll have a soft spot for me ;)

      i do agree with you, by allowing magic into our lives the awareness grows.

      many Bright Blessings.

    • triciajean profile image

      Patricia Lapidus 

      7 years ago from Bantam, CT

      Good hub, iantoPF. I didn't know where the term Wicca started. It's good to have this history reviewed.

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen A Szklany 

      7 years ago from New England

      Hi Ianto.

      Enjoyed this hub about the history of the Book of Shadows. Beautiful example of one provided in that picture - have a soft spot in my heart for all things Celtic. I have a Book of Shadows, which was bought at a wiccan supply store. I think I will make my next one myself...or just decorate this one more personally..or both.

      Somehow, the magic seems to multiply when we acknowledge its power in our lives by entering such blessings involved in our practice in our book of shadows.

      Blessed be!

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Shw mae Eiddwen;

      Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you for your support. This is one of my Hubs on Magic and I'm planning to do a few more. They are all based on ancient Brythonic traditions.

      We must chat soon. Pob Bendithiad dda..................Ianto

    • iantoPF profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Freeman 

      7 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      Hi there Scarytaff; Thanks for reading and commenting. I've been away from Hubpages for a while but i hope to start contributing again.

      As always I appreciate your support.

      Best Wishes................Ianto

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Brilliant Ianto,

      All the hard work that you have obviously out into this one has certainly paid off.

      Da iawn ti.

      Take care


    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      7 years ago from South Wales

      Great hub,Ianto. An excellent insight into a shadowy world.


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