If you’ve begun to incorporate elements of Neo-Paganism into your spiritual practice, I’ll bet you’ve seen the term “Book of Shadows” thrown around a LOT in your studies.
But what is a Book of Shadows?
In general, it would seem that “Book of Shadows” is simply an alternate term for a witch’s spell book, but if not all witchcraft is “dark,” why call it a book of shadows? Furthermore, what if you’re not into writing spells, or copying other witches’ traditions out of their books? Does every witch have to have a Book of Shadows?
Whether you’re taking notes from spiritual teachers, writing your own spells, or simply keeping an account of your spiritual growth, a diary is an essential tool for any witch!
In this article, you’ll receive a brief crash-course on the history and interpretation of the term “Book of Shadows,” as well as some practical advice on how you can incorporate the tradition of keeping a magical diary into your personal practice in a way that resonates with you!
According to Enhancing Your Mind Body and Spirit
magazine, a witch’s book of traditions is called a Book of Shadows because “the written word is a mere shadow of experience, intended to prompt and inspire, but not to instruct. A Book of Shadows records the legacy of a witch and passes down her magic and wisdom to other practitioners.”
Additionally, I’ve also read that the term shadows alludes to the way witches in previous generations often had to keep their traditions a secret to avoid religious persecution. Some say that even basic herbal remedies were often written in code so that anyone who happened upon the recipe would not be able to understand it. Supposedly, this is where concepts like the “witch’s alphabet” and terms like “eye of newt and tongue of dog” as code words for common herbs came from.
Still, some insist that the term Book of Shadows
originated in the mid 1900’s with the “Father of Wicca,” Gerald Gardener. It’s said that he created his book and claimed that it contained ancient information passed down from witches past, who’s books had been burned upon death. However, there is apparently plenty of evidence suggesting that he may well have dreamed the whole thing up on his own… But who knows!
Whether the history is fact or fiction, the spell book is a tool we associate almost automatically when we think of witches in contemporary culture.
Regardless of which terminology we choose, most practicing witches like to write about their spiritual experiences in a book of some kind.
There are as many uses for magical diaries as there are magical people! So how can you incorporate this practice into your spiritual journey?
Challenging the Traditional Methods
At first, I’ll admit I was a bit lost when it came to understanding how to start my “book of shadows.”
My studies seemed to suggest that every witch needed to have some sort of “standard book of spells.” But for someone just starting out, that seemed to suggest that I had to collect and copy other people’s spells and recipes, even if I hadn’t successfully used them yet myself… and that is SO not my style! The whole point of letting go of the religious dogma of my childhood was to go on a journey of self discovery, not to blindly initiate myself into yet another dogmatic tradition.
I began by taking notes in an informal way. Any time I came across something that I wanted to try incorporating in my practice, I’d write it down in a random notebook, or save it online. While this was a great place to start, it didn’t always flow well when I attempted to get in the zone and perform a ritual. I’d have to search through all my notes, and use this fragmented information to write up something that resembled a structured ritual, even though I had no idea what I was doing! Usually, by the time I was done doing all this, I was no longer even in the spiritual mood that had inspired the ritual in the first place!
Part of my frustration came from my compulsion to create these flawless works of art in everything I do. When I found a beautiful journal that I thought would make a perfect “Book of Shadows,” I was practically afraid to write in it. I wanted to be absolutely sure of what I was documenting, as if it would go down in history and be referred to and repeated by myself or some future readers for generations to come… After attempting this overly thought out method a couple of times, I quickly got tired of it. I began to experience what they call “spiritual burn-out,” from trying too hard. I also noticed that all this studying and “official” documentation was draining the energy out of my rituals, and had left no time for my life long practice of keeping a personal diary… And then, it clicked!
I experienced a major breakthrough which totally changed my view of the “spell book.”
Rather than planning everything out in advance, I simply gathered some herbs, stones, and objects that “felt” right for the intention I was setting that day, and used them to create an inspiring environment around me as I threw tradition to the wind and began a free flow journal entry in my “official” book.
The Sun smiled through my window that early spring day, as if to congratulate me on finally giving up the charade and living in the magic of the moment!
The fact of the matter is that, unless you’re drawn to a very structured branch of witchcraft, you’ll likely be in the process of defining and refining your spiritual “traditions” for the rest of your life. Therefore, your “book of shadows” need not be something stuffy and official. It shouldn’t be something you think so hard about that it’s constantly pulling you into the past or future. The timeless space of the present moment is where magic happens! Turn the practice of writing in your book of shadows into a meditative experience, and it will always be something you can look back on and smile about as you evolve along your spiritual path.
How to Incorporate a Spiritual Journal into Your Practice
While the many myths and legends are all fascinating enough to keep your imagination running wild, whichever stories you choose to believe about what a Book of Shadows is are entirely up to you.
At the end of the day, keeping a spiritual journal for yourself is an extremely fun and rewarding practice! Here are some ideas on how you can make your Book of Shadows an essential part of your craft:
As A Spiritual Diary
Whenever you’re feeling the vibe, simply light a candle, burn some incense, and start writing! Write about a breakthrough you’ve had, your thoughts on a spiritual topic, or your feelings about an intention you’re setting. Anything goes, but make it a sacred, meditative practice by being conscious of the type of energy you’re putting into it. Keep it positive and progressive! Remember, these are the types of feelings you’re choosing to attract more of!
As A Reference Book
To make your magical and spiritual studies into a fun and personal process, use your book of shadows as a place to neatly copy down notes on topics as you learn about them. For example, if you’re studying the tarot, take notes on the meanings of the cards, the various spreads, etc. Or, if you’re learning about gardening, write down tips about how to bless seeds, when to sow and harvest specific plants in your area, etc. You can make your whole book about one subject, or you can create eclectic entries. Don’t over think it! Studying can be a fun and magical practice too!
For Creative Visualization
If you’re into the Law of Attraction (or manifesting, which is the basis of most forms of magic), use your book of shadows as a place to artfully record your intentions and visions. Describe what you intend to attract into your life in beautifully excruciating detail! Re-read your entries any time you’re having doubts about the manifestation of your wish, or look back on it to see how the Universe unfolded that experience for you. This is a great way to keep track of your progress as you learn how the Universe works!
As a Spiritual Scrap Book
If you’re inspired by art, poetry, music, and quotes, let your book of shadows be a place to honor your inspirations! Print out song lyrics, glue in illustrations, press flowers and herbs into your book. Create collages of things that remind you of a magical moment you’ve had, and look back on it whenever you’re seeking inspiration in your life!
As a Gratitude Journal
Manifesting more good things into your experience always starts with being thankful for what you already have. Use your book of shadows to list off things that you’re grateful to have in your life. Make it a short daily practice to keep your spirits up, or periodically write an ode to a particular thing that makes you smile. As you go along, you’ll find you’ve lived a beautifully full life, and will always be able to count your blessings!
As an Art Journal
If you’re an artist like I am, let your book of shadows be a place to honor your divinely channeled creativity! Write poems in it, or draw sketches. Do full on paintings in your book of shadows, if you want to! The possibilities are truly endless!
As a Recipe Book
If you’re into cooking, making incenses, oils, or anything that follows a recipe, use your book of shadows to remember what you’ve cooked up! Whether you’ve successfully repeated someone else’s recipe, or invented your own, your book of shadows is a perfect place to document your process!
As a Grimoire
If you’re becoming a more experienced magical practitioner, you may use your book of shadows in the more traditional sense, to record the way you’ve performed spells and rituals that have actually worked for you and become a meaningful part of your spiritual practice. This can be as simple as writing about how you like to celebrate the seasonal festivals on the Wheel of the Year, for example.
Or, don’t use any structure at all!
Remember, nothing has to be written in stone! Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to let your process evolve!
So, how do YOU use your magickal journal?
Looking for even more ideas on how to bring depth into your spiritual writing practice?
Check out this episode of Work It Witch Radio!
I’m going into much more detail on how exactly to use these practices to manifest your real life goals!