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Article ID: 13538

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What Should I Put In My Book of Shadows?

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: October 4th. 2009
Times Viewed: 27,879

The most common question I’ve seen on various online forums and been asked by my own students is, “What should I put on my altar?” The second most common question is “What should I put in my Book of Shadows?” For some reason, the Book of Shadows – like an altar – is something that most Pagans are scared spitless about “messing up.” They will go out and buy a lovely bound blank journal from their local mega chain bookstore or a leather-bound notebook with a pentacle carved on the front, and do absolutely nothing with it for years.

I freely admit that I am guilty of this; I have *both* a bound blank journal from my local mega chain bookstore *and* a leather-bound notebook (black leather, no less) with Celtic knotwork carved on the front and they are both, well, basically blank. My excuse is that my handwriting is lousy and I don’t want to “mess them up.”

The first step toward the fulfillment (literally and figuratively) of a Book of Shadows is to determine exactly what a Book is and what it does. A Book of Shadows is part poetry collection, part journal, part dictionary and encyclopedia, part recipe book and part ritual construction guide (I’ll go over these in a minute) . Depending on your own interests and practice, some of these parts may be bigger than others in your own Book. What a Book of Shadows *does* is keep all of this information in safe, easily referenced place.

Does it actually have to be in book form? Nope! My journal and leather notebook are blank, but I have a four-drawer file cabinet stuffed (and I do mean stuffed. Trust me, I recently moved it halfway across the country) with printouts and photocopies of articles I’ve found useful to my practice and my writing in the past or that may be useful in the future; copies of poems I think might be nice to read in ritual someday; notes on how to teach a basic Tarot class; handouts from workshops I’ve taken on Norse spaeworking, knot/string magic, and drumming; and scripts from old rituals I’ve led or attended, just to name a bit of it.

I guess you could say I have a File Cabinet of Shadows. It may not be pretty, or open to the exact file I need just by asking like the Hallowell sisters’ Book did on Charmed, but it’s mostly organized and I can find what I need in it pretty quickly. Also, as a recent flash drive accident reminded me, I can access the material in my file cabinet for years without worrying about hardware or software malfunction, unlike folks who prefer a Disk of Shadows or something similar. Also, barring an unlikely full-house-immersion flood, the material in my File Cabinet of Shadows will be around for a long, long time.

So let’s talk about the specific stuff you can put in your own Book. As you read more and practice more, you’re likely to run across bits of poetry that you think would be great to use in ritual. You might even be inspired to write some poems of your own. Your Book is the perfect place to store them.

If you do a lot of tarot or rune readings for yourself or others, or if you incorporate specific cards in your rituals, you can – and probably should – record your reading in your Book of Shadows. That way you can go back and look at it weeks or months later and see how accurate your predictions were. If you work with your dreams (interpretation, etc.) , your Books is a good place to record those, too.

There is so much material to absorb when you first start on the Pagan path. When is Samhain, and how do I pronounce it? What’s an athame for, and how do I spell it? When do I use a boline? What’s a thurbile?

You can make notes in your Book so you can look stuff up again later – much like you took/take notes in class. Writing this information down also helps you keep it all straight in your mind.

If you take a Paganism/Witchcraft 101 class and the teacher gives you handouts, either get a three-ring Binder of Shadows (not a bad idea, actually) and stick them in there or find some way to get the information from those handouts into your smaller Book.

If you like to blend your own essential oils or incense, or are an herbalist, your Book of Shadows is the perfect place to write down recipes you like and also make note of recipes or blends that didn’t work as well as you’d hoped.

You can also write down basic spellworkings as recipes, “Do this, then say that, then light the yellow candle, then do this…” Next time you need to do that particular working, the “ingredients” are all right there.

You can also write down the basics of how you’ve celebrated each sabbat/esbat. That way, when the holiday comes up again next year, you’ve got a record of what you did, what worked and what didn’t (you can write that down, too) , and you don’t have to reinvent the ritual from scratch. Also, if in January, say, you have a great idea for something to do next Samhain, you can write it down in your Book so a) you know where it is and b) you don’t forget it.

In short, a Book of Shadows is as individual as the person who makes it, and that’s okay. Let me repeat that: it’s okay to make your Book of Shadows uniquely *yours*. I have my File Cabinet. My husband, who learns best from watching other peoples’ mistakes, says that his Book (if he were to have one) would be page after page of “Don’t do” and “Never try.” Neither of us is particularly artistic (I’m even completely incompetent at scrapbooking) , but if you are, don’t be afraid to add artwork to your Book.

If you are an accomplished scrapbooker, use those skills to make your book even more personal. If you’ve traveled to a place that has particular spiritual significance for you, put some of the pictures you took or postcards you bought in your Book.

Couldn’t you just download one of the Books of Shadows on the Internet? You could – but I don’t recommend it. And that’s a subject for a completely different Witchvox article for another day.

In the meantime, my File Cabinet of Shadows needs dusting!


Bronwen Forbes

Location: Bloomington, Indiana


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