What is a Book of Shadows? In general, it is a "book" (not always and I will explain this later) in which you store all of your Pagan/Witchcraft related knowledge. You may also see a Book of Shadows referred to as a Grimoire. As far as I know, there is not a difference between the two and the names seem to be interchangeable based on which you prefer. If I am wrong about this, please feel free to comment and let me know.
If you look, you will find several "Complete" versions available to buy. (I use "complete" lightly here as I don't think a proper BOS is ever truly finished.) These can be a valuable resource for someone just starting out. However, pretty much all of the information they contain is openly available online on blogs like this one as well as different online social groups. If you are interested in buying one, I would recommend Grimoire for the Green Witch by Ann Moura. For someone starting out, it is a fantastic example of what a Book of Shadows should contain. It is also a great resource for spells and rituals, correspondences, info on building your own spells, recipes, terminology, altar set-up, holidays, etc.
While pre-made books are a great resource for beginners, making your own Book of Shadows is a very important and valuable practice for beginners as well. It lets you document what you have learned and becomes a personalized resource for future ritual and spell work (as well as becoming a powerful tool in itself.). No two will be the same. The things I think are important to include in mine will be different from the things you think are important.
Lets take a moment to go over some of the items usually included:
- Religious texts or passages such as the Wiccan Rede
- Moral or ethical rules or guidelines
- These are often personal rules or guidelines as each individual will have differing sets of morals or ethics.
- If you are part of Coven, there will often be a set of rules agreed upon by every formal member of the Coven. These are often included in a coven BOS as well as the personal BOS of coven members.
- Spells and Rituals
- I don't know about others, but the spells and rituals that have been added to my own personal BOS are ones that I have personally used or made.
- Every now and then, I will add a spell or ritual I have come across and would like to save, but these are usually saved somewhere else until I have experience with them and know whether or not I will be interested in them later on.
- These usually include lists of things like herbs, stones, incense, oil, etc. and what they are used for.
- Also included will usually be charts that include things like holidays, gods/goddesses, planets, etc. and what elements, herbs, days of the week, moon phase, etc corresponds to them.
- Types of tools
The most important thing to remember when making your own BOS is that it is yours. You can leave out anything you don't want to include and add anything you do want to include. No one can tell you what you are putting yours is wrong.
It is important to remember that a BOS is a VERY personal and powerful item. I know there are many people who take great care to make sure no one other than themselves (and maybe a VERY select few) ever even sees their book or what it contains. Keep this in mind when asking friends, family, or strangers about theirs. However, I do not have a problem with people seeing (or even touching) mine. I believe knowledge is a powerful thing and should be openly shared with those willing and excited to learn.
Now, I'm going to include a little about my own BOS (both of them) and some DIY tips for making your own.
At this point, you might be asking yourself why I have two. This might seem a bit crazy for someone just starting out considering how much work seems to be involved in making one. The reason I have two is centered around practicality and my love for in-depth arts and crafts. It also has a lot to do with the fact that I love flea-markets.
Originally, I had opted for a digital BOS. This is a practice that is becoming more and more popular. A digital BOS allows you to keep tons of information in a small and easily accessible place. A tablet or smart phone takes up far less space on an altar during ritual and spell work than a large book. With a digital copy, it is often easier to find information as you can simply search for it instead of searching through page after page of a physical book.
First of all, remember this is 100% your own making. When I first started (and still to this day) when I am learning something new or planning a new spell/ritual, it gets written in a small journal before it goes into either of my BOS. If you don't want to create a full-blown BOS, consider keeping a journal so you can look back on things you have done in the past and keep track of things you would like to do or learn in the future.
Things you should consider:
- How much time and effort are you willing to put in?
- This book is your own. It can be as simple or ornate as you desire.
- Are you going to use your physical BOS during spell work and ritual"
- Keep in mind, there will likely be things like wax, liquid, fire, etc. near by that could damage your pages.
- I have seen BOS made out of 3-ring binders/notebooks and plastic page protectors to keep pages safe from things like liquid and wax.
- Ease of editing
- I would not suggest using a permanently bound book as it is nearly impossible to move things or add items once your book is full.
- The 3-ring binder/notebook option is also good for changing/adding things.
- Expandable scrapbooks are also a fantastic option.
- Your personal skill level
All of these reasons factored into my decision to use two different versions. I can use my digital BOS during everyday spell work or ritual and save my physical "formal" copy for special events. I also just like the idea of having a beautiful physical copy.
This wasn't the case at first. I was more than happy to continue on with only a digital copy and one day, a trip to a local flea-market changed things for me. As I walked past booth after booth in a part of the building that doesn't change too often, I came across a book sitting on top of a box like it was placed there for me to find. It was an old, expandable, rope bound, black paged scrapbook and I instantly fell in love. I paid a few dollars for it, took it home, and within a few days, I was making pages to put in it. As of today, I don't have very many pages completed because I want to take my time with it. I want to make each page special. As this is a formal copy and I also have a digital copy, I don't need this to contain anything and everything right away. There will come a day when it contains everything, but I'm in no rush.
(This is the front cover. I love it because it is dark and just a little creepy. If you look to the left side, you can see the rope that binds the pages together. It can be untied to allow you to take the book apart to remove/add/rearrange pages.)
(This is one of the completed pages. It is thick, tan (think paper bag color) paper I found in the scrapbook section of our local Walmart. Before writing on it, it has been burnt around the edges, wadded into a small ball, and then treated with liquid coffee to soften the paper and add a bit of depth to the color. It was then glued to the original black page with rubber cement.)
As you can see, my physical copy is very much my own style. While there are people out there who would love it, there are also people who would prefer something else. This is the best aspect of making your own.
Decide what you want out of your own BOS and jump right in! A BOS project is a fantastic way further your magickal knowledge as well as your arts-and-crafts skills. Most importantly, have fun with it!