It sounds pretty epic, doesn’t it? Like a tome of ancient wisdom passed down from Merlin himself or a quest item in the sprawling RPG you’ve poured hundreds of hours into (looking at you Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition). If you’ve seen Charmed, the Book of Shadows the Halliwell sisters consult in every episode only bolsters the image of a large, leather-bound, mystical compendium of arcane knowledge that works a bit like Google but for witches. The reality is not nearly so interesting. Though, it would be wonderful if I’d just inherited one from my mother or grandmother, I, like many other witches, have to create my own.
It wasn’t always the case, at least in the Wiccan tradition. It used to be that a coven would have one Book of Shadows for everyone, usually kept and maintained by the high priest or priestess. They were kept secret from those not initiated. Famously, Gerald Gardner, who is credited with bringing Wicca to the public in the twentieth century, kept a top secret Book of Shadows. However, as things tend to do, it was leaked various times by various people. The point, though, is that it didn’t take long for people to realize that it just didn’t make much sense for only one or two people to keep up with such an important item. Aside from that, with more and more Wiccans deciding to walk a more solitary path rather than join traditional covens, it naturally followed that the Book of Shadows would become something that the individual creates for themselves.
So what is a Book of Shadows, and how is it different from a Grimoire?
Both a Book of Shadows (Or BoS as I’ll be referring to it from now on) and a Grimoire contain spells, recipes, and rituals. The major difference, however, is that a BoS may also include more personalized notes specific to the individual such as how a spell worked, how it made them feel, if they’ll be tweaking it in the future, etc. A Grimoire is more clinical. Though, in honesty, a lot of people do use the terms interchangeably. After all, given the eclectic nature of Wicca and the lack of organization from a central authority, many things have been made to fit the individual rather than a collective, so it is also reasonable to say that very few BoS or Grimoires are exactly alike.
A BoS is also not something exclusive to Wiccans. Pagans and witches of different faiths are likely to have a BoS or Grimoire as well. While they are similar in nature, they will definitely not look the same. It is also possible that a witch may have more than one. I have three because I like to categorize and keep things separate and easy to reference later. In addition, I have a separate journal to accompany them that contains most of my thoughts and divinations. My sister’s BoS is a binder because, like me, she likes to keep things organized, but rather than have three books, she wanted to be able to have it all in once place. The binder allows her to move things around as she needs to.
It really doesn’t have to be anything fancy. One of my BoS is a leather-bound behemoth of a book while another is a simple, black journal. It’s also not something you have to have completed at the outset of your spiritual journey. As you progress, remember, too, that you and your beliefs are ever evolving and your BoS will grow with you. Because of that, I’m actually in the process of moving mine to a digital media, and it would seem that digital BoS are growing in popularity.
However you decide to do it (if you decide at all) should feel right for you. If it’s something that becomes a headache or a chore, it’s probably worth considering a different method. I personally love working with technology and using my drawing tablet, so making a digital BoS is a lot more enjoyable and relaxing than keeping up with pen and paper. It’s also better for mistakes… A stray pen mark or spot where my eraser sucked is enough for me to want to rip out an entire page and start again. But for some, nothing will ever beat the catharsis of putting a quill to parchment or turning a physical page. Choose what works best for you and have fun doing it!
Be sure to check out HeCrafte’s Etsy Shop which, at the moment, contains digital/printable Book of Shadows pages such as a cover page, a list of herbs and their uses, candle colors and their meanings, and a tarot reading template!
Also, if you enjoy what I do, please support Hecrafte on Ko-Fi!