Witch: My very unshadowy book of shadows

Before I get started here, I want to define a few terms (as I use them) in language that should hopefully make sense to non-witchy people or people who are new to witching.

Witch
Person (of any gender) who does witchcraft (not specifically wiccan!)

Eclectic witch
Witch who draws from a variety of spiritual paths and traditions

Deities/Gods
Personified/archetypal representations of aspects of the human condition, nature and cultural experience

Ritual
Set of words and actions used to focus intent and desire

Spell
Set of ingredients and tools used to focus intent and desire

Magic
The art, ceremony and practice of focusing intent to achieve desired results

OK, now that’s out of the way and you hopefully get where I’m coming from, let’s move onto the book of shadows stuff!

What is a book of shadows?

If you’ve read any witchy things on the internet, chances are you’ve run into the term book of shadows, book of mirrors or grimoire. Depending on what you read or who you ask, these can be different things or different words for the same thing. Because witchcraft is such an individual path, there is no one correct definition of a book of shadows/mirrors/whatevers. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use book of shadows, but in doing so I’m referring to all the things I just talked about.

A witch’s book is (usually, generally) a place to gather reference material relevant to their practice as well as to record spells and workings they do. Some witches prefer to use a heavy, leather-bound book filled with beautiful calligraphy for this purpose. I use a pink Filofax Clipbook filled with scribblings in pink and black ink, and also Microsoft OneNote synced between my laptop and phone because I like to have a portable version of my book with me at all times.

Witches who follow a Wiccan path and/or work as part of a coven may have a very different book of shadows from a solitary eclectic witch. The point is, there is no right and wrong. It’s all down to the preferences of the individual and what works for each person.

What’s in my book of shadows?

I’m going to refer mostly to my physical book here, but my digital version is pretty much exactly the same. The picture at the top of this post is the first page of my book.

My book contains ritual words and processes, including specific spells and ritual workings with notes about when I carried out them out and how I felt during and after. I also have an ever-growing collection of research and reference material about everything from deities (Hel and Thor are my patrons) to festivals to tarot to runes to colour, nature and conceptual symbolism and correspondences. I also keep records of tarot readings I do for myself as well as dedications and prayers I’ve written.

My book is a living document, a place of study and growth. Things get added constantly and shuffled as suits me, which is why using a ring binder rather than a regular notebook works best for me. I’ve been there with the ever-so-serious only-write-perfect-things-here books and I ended up not really using them because I didn’t want to mess them up or do anything wrong. For me, a process of life-long learning is all about messing up and doing things wrong. That’s how learning happens. Rough drafts, scribbles and ideas are just as important as beautiful, finished pieces of art.

What should you put in your book of shadows?

The short answer is anything you want. If you’re starting your own book, I would encourage you to make it in such a way that you actually use it and aren’t scared of not writing neatly enough or revising information based on new experiences. Some witches are totally against keeping a digital book of shadows. Some feel it’s more powerful to hand-write everything. Others are happy to print pages from the internet. Some keep their book completely private and others share photos of their pages on Tumblr and Instagram. However you create and keep your book, it should be what works best and feels right for you.

If you’re staring at a blank page with literally no idea where to start, here are a few ideas:

  • Information about your chosen deities or pantheon
  • Prayers and dedications to your patron/matron/whatever-you-call-them deities
  • Research into herbs, plants, incense and oils that you use
  • Notes on seasonal festivals you celebrate
  • Principles and concepts relating to your spiritual practice
  • Spells you’ve worked and notes about your experiences
  • Correspondences for colours, days of the week, phases of the moon etc
  • Reference for divination processes you use, like tarot or runes
  • Quotes and song lyrics that speak to your beliefs and practices
  • Records of your dreams and meditations

The internet is an AMAZING starting point, especially YouTube and Tumblr, as are books that other people have written. Read the hell out of everything you can get your hands on but when it comes to filling the pages of your book, make it your own. Your experience of the divine will never be exactly the same as someone else’s. The plants you have access to will depend on where you live. Even the dates of seasonal festivals and sabbats will be different depending on your location – the wheel of the year in the Southern Hemisphere is the opposite way round from the Northern Hemisphere. Certain ritual processes will resonate with you more strongly than others. Where possible, use your own words as they will always hold more power for you.

This is my book of shadows. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

A note about my solitary, eclectic Pagan witchcraft, research and reference, and other cultures

My spiritual path is one of eclectic Paganism with mostly Celtic, Norse and, to a lesser degree, modern Wiccan influences. This has happened naturally over the twenty or so years I’ve been witching. I never set out to choose specific influences or deities but certain things have caught my attention and called to me. In a practical sense, this is probably because I’m a half-Irish half-English person currently living in Scotland with, to the best of my knowledge, mostly Celtic and Norse heritage, so those are the things that I’ve encountered as part of the culture I live in and that feel most relevant to me.

That’s not to say I don’t have any interest in influences from other cultures, because I do. I’ve always been intrigued by the similarities and differences between spiritual and religious beliefs and practices from all over the world and  have read widely about various topics from Native American spirituality to Buddhism to Christianity. I’ve definitely been influenced by this research, and I absolutely adore talking to people who follow spiritual paths that differ from mine, but there’s a big difference between “I’ve read about these practices and am influenced by them to an extent because aspects of them resonate with me” and “I’ve read about these practices so I am now that thing”.

That’s actually a really hard concept to wrap words around and I’m not sure that I’ve done a very good job of it. It’s such a broad subject and I really only feel comfortable speaking to my own experience and perspective. Also, I feel it’s important to remember that when a spiritual or religious practice is part of the culture of living people who currently exist, that should always be respected. To take it out of the context of religion for a moment, I eat Chinese food, I cook Chinese food, I go to Chinese restaurants but none of that makes me Chinese. You know?

I also lean towards chaos magic in my practice of witchcraft. For me (I am not defining chaos magic here – please do go and read about it though, cause it’s really interesting), that involves using the power of belief as the individual chooses to direct it with the intent of focusing personal desire and action. For example, I don’t believe that a bit of rock is inherently powerful or capable of making a thing happen. I do believe that using an object like a crystal (or literally any object) as a conscious focus for intent can increase the potential power of actions taken in relation to that intent. Even the least witchy of people can probably relate to wearing a ‘lucky’ pair of pants to a job interview, saying “Break a leg!” to an actor about to go on-stage or keeping a keepsake from a special holiday in a specific place on the mantelpiece.

It’s also worth mentioning that not all witches are Pagans. I know Buddhist witches, Christian witches and witches who believe in no deities at all. My husband shares my chaos magic leanings and we sometimes perform ritual work together, especially around season-based festivals, but he doesn’t refer to himself as a witch or have any religious beliefs. If I haven’t made it super clear already, witchery and magic are very individual things.

Finally…

This has been a long post! I really want to write more about Paganism and witchcraft because it’s a HUGE part of my life. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have, although I can only answer based on my own experience and perspective.

Bewitched

❤ Eclectic pagan witch

Tools of the craft, bits and pieces from my altar, and part of my collection of lovely ritual paraphernalia.

Prints are available here.

Celebrating the Spring Equinox

Today is the Spring, or Vernal, Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. Other witchy and Pagan people might refer to it as Ostara, which is how it appears on many depictions of the Wheel of the Year along with mentions of a goddess called Eostre (or Aostre). There’s a lot of “Was Eostre/Aostre ever actually worshipped? Is the word Ostara a comparatively recent quirk or mistake of language? Was this actually a Pagan festival before it was a Christian one?” floating around the internet. While that’s all really interesting to read about, it’s not a conversation I’m joining in, mostly because the name of a time of year doesn’t matter as much to me as what it represents and what actions it inspires.

So I’m going with Spring Equinox because (so far) there haven’t been any great arguments around that name and I’m celebrating it because equinoxes are times of balance and equilibrium, and Spring is a time for renewal, beginnings and growth. Those are all good and lovely things.

I don’t connect, on a person level, to the whole maiden-goddess-fertility-dude-god-impregnation thing because while I understand that ‘feminine and masculine energies’ can be seen as being represented in all people and don’t have to literally represent a woman and a man, it’s still a wee bit too prescriptive gender-binary to sit comfortably with my own experience of the world. Also, the concepts of virginity/maidenhood and motherhood as innate and universal ‘feminine’ (for want of a better word) qualities and experiences couldn’t be further from my truth or my views of gender. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of this – if it fits into your world, by all means embrace that connection. One of the things I love about Paganism and witchcraft is that there’s room for it to be a deeply personal and flexible experience so if something doesn’t work for you, respectfully and thoughtfully alter it so it does.

My Spring Equinox ‘fertility’ is about the fertility and growth of creativity and ideas, the blossoming and blooming of nature, new beginnings, setting forth, adventures and brave leaps into the unknown. The fact that Camp NaNoWriMo, and therefore the writing of the first draft of The Book, begins in less than two weeks feels like perfect timing.

Today, I’m going to do a ritual to cleanse our home of built-up negative energy and welcome lovely things for the new season. This is Equinox-specific work rather than Spring-Equinox-specific work and involves the following ingredients put around entranceways (doors and windows):

  • Bay, for cleansing and banishing negativity, and promoting creative energy
  • Black salt, for removing and repelling negative energy
  • Water that has been bathed in the light of the full moon, to increase power

I don’t usually share online the words I use in rituals but there’s no particular reason for that. I love reading other people’s spells and ritual words, so I thought it would be nice to put my own ‘out there’ for other people like me.

Our home is cleansed of pain and fear
From earth below to sky above
We welcome joy and comfort here
In perfect trust and perfect love

I don’t intentionally force ritual words to rhyme and it rarely happens naturally, but it did happen naturally here. I also tend to avoid super formal and flowery language simply because it feels right for me to speak the way I usually speak rather than getting all lo-thine-goddess about things. Some people find using different styles of writing and speaking in ritual work helps them to connect with their power, so again it’s a case of doing what works for you.

This evening we’ll be enjoying a meal of fresh, natural ingredients, connecting to the spirit of the Spring Equinox by spending time in nature (even if ‘nature’ is just the garden) and enjoying the signs of new life beginning. My husband is doing some landscaping work in our garden at the moment using reclaimed and recycled materials, so even though it’s all a bit of a work in progress right now, there are still beautiful flowers blooming.

I wrote a short (non-gendered, non-literal-fertility-related) Spring Equinox blessing, which you’re welcome to borrow, use and adjust to suit if you like.

With my heart and soul as fertile ground
I will grow in strength and courage
Charging and channelling creative energies
I will welcome adventure and abundance

I wish a happy Spring Equinox to my fellow Northern Hemisphere-dwellers and a happy Autumn Equinox to those in the Southern Hemisphere!

❤ Tanya

Dancing With My Muse

I had a major breakthrough today with The Book. I’ve been struggling with The Awkward Middle Bit and my brain has been all over the place for the last couple of days, trying to figure out what happens to get my protagonist from the beginning to the end, both of which I’ve been 100% certain about since the project first appeared in my head. Even the backstory and a ridiculous amount of detail about the characters arrived with very little actual effort. Usually when I’m stuck with something I get into just sit down and do the damn thing mode because that’s what works for me – I’m stubborn as hell and even if nothing else is working, my self-motivation never fails – but I couldn’t force this story to be.

Yesterday I had a day off to celebrate my piece of short fiction being published. I figured that maybe what I needed to do was stop trying and let things happen in their own time, even though just typing those words makes me twitchy as hell. I drove around this beautiful city for a while, bought some incense and candles, rearranged my altar and had a chat with my patron deities, Hel and Thor. They’re all about determination and straight-up dealing with shit, so when it got dark and the weather got stormy, I took it as a sign and went out for a wander. It was a clear, blustery night and the moon was beautiful so even though the Awkward Middle Bit didn’t appear, I felt more open to inspiration and bit less like torturing myself over it.

When I woke up this morning, a bit of story had arrived. It was just an outline, a quick “this happens, then that happens”, but it was a start. Since I’d already hit up Inspiration Station #1: Stormy Night, I decided to give Inspiration Station #2: The Sea a go. Turns out it was a good move. I summoned a rock anthems radio station on Play Music, ignored all the people and wandered along by the beach. I even stopped to take a picture, because of course I did. Check out those birds being in exactly the right place at the right time.

By the time I got back to the car, I felt all “I am strong! I am invincible! I am having serious difficulty moving my legs and everything hurts cause I suck at remembering that I’m not great at walking!” but I could feel my brain-cogs clicking and whirring. When I got home, I dropped everything (literally), opened my laptop and the whole plot poured out into Scrivener, scene by scene, with notes so I remember what to write when I get to writing it. Take that, Awkward Middle Bit! You are no match for divine inspiration, the beauty of nature and my ability to make stuff happen in my brain with the power of ill-advised physical over-exertion.

I’m not going to lie, I feel pretty fantastic right now (apart from my spine imploding, but I’m choosing to ignore that because I’m stupid and I never learn). Something I adore in books (and films and TV shows) is when you get to discover, or uncover, back story intertwined with the what’s-happening-now and I was determined to find a way to include that as a structural device in The Book. I still have some character profiles to finalise and some research to do by the end of this month, but in terms of plot I’m pretty much sorted and ready to rock when Camp NaNoWriMo starts in April.

It means a lot to me that people are following along with this writing-stuff mission I’m on and I’m going to do my best to keep nattering about progress as it happens. Thank you so much for the support and encouragement. I’m so excited about making a thing for you to read ❤