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.
Person (of any gender) who does witchcraft (not specifically wiccan!)
Witch who draws from a variety of spiritual paths and traditions
Personified/archetypal representations of aspects of the human condition, nature and cultural experience
Set of words and actions used to focus intent and desire
Set of ingredients and tools used to focus intent and desire
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.
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.