B is for Book of Shadows

This is my third article in the year-long Pagan Blog Project series.  Click here to see all of my articles in this series.

In brainstorming a topic for the letter “B,” one of my first ideas was to write on my personal Book of Shadows.  I discarded the idea almost immediately, but I found my thoughts kept returning to it as the days passed until I felt compelled to choose the topic.

The reason I discarded the idea in the first place is because I haven’t really used my Book of Shadows in years.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I haven’t used my original Book of Shadows in year, but I have used a “Book” of Shadows.

Allow me to explain the evolution of my Book of Shadows.

Book of Shadows version 1.0

When I first discovered Wicca, I read just about every beginning Wicca book I could find.  And in every one of them, I was instructed to create a Book of Shadows – pronto.

Now a Book of Shadows, for those who don’t know, is basically a self-created notebook of Wiccan information and rituals.  It chronicles a Wiccan’s learning and practices and serves as a unique reference book.  (Covens also have their own Books of Shadows, but I’m a solitary practitioner, so I’ll just be discussing my own personal Book of Shadows here.)

As I dove into learning more on Wicca, it quickly became apparent that I needed to take the advice of those authors and start my own Book of Shadows, both for learning and record-keeping purposes.  I acquired a big, black, blank book and decorated the cover by hand with a pentacle and moons and stars.  (See it in the photo above.)

This Book served me well through my early years.  I divided it into sections for Correspondences, Gods/Goddesses, Rituals, Sabbats, Glossary of Terms, Tarot, Stones, and Oils/Incense/Herbs.  As I learned new material and began creating my own spells and rituals, I faithfully added it all to my Book – hand-written, of course.  For years, I found it very pleasing.

Unfortunately, this book’s binding was not expandable, and I began to run out of room in some sections. Eventually just opening my Book of Shadows caused an avalanche of paper to attack me as all the additional unbound pages, spells, and artwork that didn’t fit and got tucked into the book inevitably fell out.

Frustrated, I gave up on my Book of Shadows.  I still referenced it from time to time, but it mostly collected dust.  I knew that nstead of adding to my existing Book, I needed better solution.  A binder didn’t feel right to me, and I couldn’t bear the thought of transferring everything from my existing Book into a bigger book.  I wasn’t quite sure what my ideal solution was, but I knew I needed to come up with something different in the meantime.

Book of Shadows version 2.0

And boy did I venture into the realm of “different.”  At the time, I happened to be taking several online courses at The Pagan Online Campus (back in its heyday) and I had a wealth of digital material from my classes saved into folders on my hard drive.  That inspired me to keep a digital Book of Shadows, and it turned out to be a great interim solution.

I was no longer limited by the number of pages in my book, and I could save as many files, links, clippings, and my own original typed work as I wanted.  I added sections for all of my studies from Astrology to Shamanism.  And best of all, I could organize and reorganize the “book” to my heart’s content, thanks to the simplicity of virtual file folders and OneNote.

I have used my digital Book of Shadows for about six years now and while it’s been great from time-saving and organizational perspectives, I’ve actually grown less and less fond of it as time has passed.

Why?  Because it’s just not the same as a physical Book of Shadows.  It just doesn’t feel the same.

I miss being able to flip through the pages of my book, reading things I had forgotten that I had written.  Now I have to open documents to see anything, and it’s rare that I bother to open more than the one I am looking for at the time.

I also miss hand-writing my material.  Yes, I suffered through many hand cramps as I diligently copied or wrote page after page, but there is something special about scribing your own book and reading back the words in your own handwriting.  It’s also convenient and magical to perform rituals using your own Book.  With my virtual Book of Shadows, I must endure Times New Roman on a bright screen and tote printouts to my altar.

No, this is definitely not a permanent solution.

Book of Shadows version 3.0

Fortunately, I already have plans for my next Book of Shadows.  I thought long and hard about it and worked out the kinks with my original Book of Shadows – and I think this next version will be a keeper.

In the near(ish) future, I will create a scrapbook-style Book of Shadows.  The book itself will be a leather-covered, post-bound album.  The advantage of using a postbound album is that it is endlessly expandable and the pages are removable for resorting and editing.

I also plan to use plastic page protectors to safely hold my pages.  Plastic isn’t pretty, but it is very functional for ensuring a long life for my precious pages.  I will no longer have to fear spills, drips, splatters, smudges, or tears.

And the part I’m most excited about: I’m a scrapbooker, so I would like to use my talents to make my Book of Shadows not only a book of information, but a book of art in my own style, as well.  I envision pages that are a marriage of design and text, of color and content.  Since I conceived this idea a couple of years ago, I’ve been stashing away papers and embellishments that would be perfect in certain sections of my new Book of Shadows.

I’m excited to have these plans set for my next Book of Shadows, but I’m patiently waiting until I have the time and energy to take on such a massive, fun project.  And once I start it, I hope to use it for the rest of my life.

If you have a Book of Shadows, what form does it take?  Are you satisfied with it?  Please share in the comments!

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24 Responses to B is for Book of Shadows

  1. Rigjht now I have pages put in many different binders. I am not fully satisfied with it as mine is a family BOS, so I am trying to update it and make it a little prettier. My hope is that my kids will use it with their kids, and so on. So it needs to be readable for sure.

    • Jacquelyn says:

      That’s a great idea to have a family BOS to pass down! You know, it’s never even occurred to me to make one. Uh oh, now I might have another side project to work on… :)

  2. Thanks for sharing the progression of your book of shadows! I agree that while a digital book is really useful, it just not the same as a physical book. I have a pair of 3 ring binders that I put illuminated pages in. I’m not a great illuminator, but I enjoy decorating the pages. One book contains spells, and the other book contains reference information. Both were decorated by me so they have my own stamp on them.

  3. OKIFOLKI says:

    I have similar intentions myself. I have lately been using art to make affirmations in my art journal (see my PBP post here: http://www.okifolki.co.uk/2012/01/pagan-z-is-for-art-affirmations.html). But it’s getting to the point now where I feel a dedicated ‘pagan art journal’ is needed… basically, a Book Of Shadows, but with a heavy art-focus. I’ve been feeling inspired lately by medieval manuscripts. :)

    As an alternative to using plastic folders, you could paint your pages in some watered-down PVA glue, which will render the paper wipeable and much more resilient against tears and wear, but without looking quite so ugly. :)

    • Jacquelyn says:

      I just checked out your art journal and WOW! Yes, I could definitely see you doing an art-focused Book of Shadows.

      The PVA glue idea is fantastic! It never even occurred to me to coat the pages. Definitely making a note of that! :)

  4. Nichole says:

    A scrapbook style BOS sounds like a fantastic idea. I’m also a scrapbooker, and while my current book is still rather small (and empty), it’s a good idea for something more long-term. I might have to steal your idea later. 😛

    Aw, now I wish you had it already done, ’cause I want to see what the pages would look like! I bet it would be awesome.

  5. Rhiannon says:

    I also have several Books of Shadows – a digital collection of material, an old, unfinished scrapbook, a more recent finished one, a little one I ‘scrapbooked’ on the computer and printed out so that it’s replaceable if I lose it while travelling, an old notebook full of my progress notes, a big shiny one I use for art/scribbling, and a notebook/journal for my Bardic work… and now a blog as well!

  6. I actually have two “Books of Shadows” (though I just call them grimoires) at the moment. One is a leather bound book of blank pages, the other is a journal with the Green Lantern symbol on the front (I know, odd choice, but it was cool and “leather”).

    I also have a third book in the works, which I call the Helabok, or Hel’s Book, which is another “journal” book where I put thoughts, meditations, spells, prayers, etc to Hel, Norse Goddess of Death.

  7. Weissdorn says:

    If you are interested, I downloaded a very old manual from the 1920’s as PDF about how to make your own books (I think I found it at archive books). I searched for it on the net after “screwing up” two rather expensive blank grimoire books with mistakes. The book shows you step by step how to fold and cut pages, sew together booklets and bind these booklets into books. It also show you how to make covers, including how to make leather covers, and gold leaf the binding lettering. What it does not show how to do is to tool work leather. I used it to make two grimoires but instead of leather I used fabric, and embroidered a design for the cover. Send me an email if this interests you.

  8. Calenth says:

    Wonderful post – very similar progression to my own BOS journeys. I have a black leather bound scrapbook that I am working into making my BOS which is expandable – sounds like its the same as yours. I like the idea of embellishing with scrap booking skills to make my writing pretty.

  9. Jenn says:

    I have been using an 8.5 x 11 scrapbook as my BOS for about a year. The only trouble I have found is the spine only likes to accept about 2 inches of content. I found a series of videos on youtube that has completely solved that. Hopefully soon I will have pulled all of the supplies together to craft my own leather cover! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFqe14SFwk8&list=UUw06w-1ofzpzOXG6gJtmKRQ&index=9&feature=plcp

  10. perlaflora says:

    All of this sounds great, but here is my own personal dilemma. (I’m actually hoping someone with art skills and someone with computer skills will get together and make this product.)

    I would love to decorate my book of shadows with drawings, etc., but I can’t even draw a stick figure and my handwriting is terrible (my hands shake a bit).

    I still want my BOS to be personalized and artistic, though.

    So what we un-coordinated sort of non-artistic types need is a little help from the digital world. It would be great if some of these digital scrapbook companies could come up with backgrounds, design elements and fonts with a witchy focus and put them all in a program that allowed you to create pages however you wanted. The good thing about this is there could also be a search feature. Want to see all your spells that use rosemary? Just search for it. Can’t remember where exactly that reference to tiger eye is? No problem. There could even be a feature that allowed scanned in handwriting to be combined with a created page. (Writing things out by hand really is the best way to integrate the knowledge into your psyche and bring your BOS to life. It’s just not an option for some people.)

    So what do you think? Is there already a product out there that I don’t know about? Let me know. Thanks!

    • Riley says:

      Perlaflora, I hear you!

      I find that sometimes, googling is the only way to go :(
      For the handwriting thing, you can actually make your own fonts with your writing! You can google ‘make font with handwriting’ to find a couple places that do it for free. I think one of them is called FontPanda.

      I think even if someone had a Pinterest account set up just for this I would love them forever!

    • Madameclaws says:

      Check out Ghostwriter for the iPad if you happen to have one. It records your handwriting, you can choose a paper type or create your own, and you can insert pictures into it. It might be an option for those of us who want to have a digital BoS, but would still like to handwrite things.

  11. Riley says:

    I would like to say your postbound album idea is awesome!
    I have an ugly zippered binder I’ve been using (Yuck!) And have just started getting into smashbooking/scrapbooking!

    This is an awesome idea! <3
    I didn't like the idea of a digital BoS either… I thought it was too… techie for such an earthy craft. This is a wonderful idea! And you can get some really nice scrapbook paper too… Maybe different colours for different spells or sections? Great idea! <3

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