Just about everybody - Wiccan or not - has heard of a Book of Shadows. Granted, most of them will visualise the big leather-bound book from Charmed, but the idea is right - a big book of lore, rituals and spells used by a Witch (although they don't have the Charmed book's supernatural powers of defence in the real world...)
What is a Book of Shadows?
The Book of Shadows, basically, is a record - a book containing your knowledge and experiences in the Craft. Everyone says Book of Shadows, but it doesn't have to be a book per se - if you like, it could be a collection of Microsoft Word files (backed up on disc, of course). Or you could use a foolscap folder or buy a blank hardcover Book of Shadows (which is what I did). My BOS (apart from being online here at Shadows of Oz) is being written in a pretty copper-cover, leather-bound 500pg blank book (see it here) that I bought on eBay Australia from a small business in Illinois, USA. Also, a Book of Shadows isn't always called the 'Book of Shadows' - it has been called the Black Book and the Grimoire, too. Personally, I have two books - that nice copper-cover BOS is where all my information goes - sabbat and esbat info, the God and Goddess, pantheons, history, the Ordains and the Rede and so on - all the 'theory', you might say. The practical stuff goes in my grimoire (my 'recipe book') which is contained in a red folder on foolscap paper so I can take pages out and move them around. The BOS is more of a reference book while the grimoire is the practical guide. Not everybody does this, but it works for me.
What goes into a Book of Shadows?
A Book of Shadows generally contains all your Wiccan knowledge:
- Basic Wiccan info and principles - traditions, ethics, the Rede, the Ordains, etc.;
- Deity info - the God and Goddess as well as the pantheons - Roman/Egyptian/Greek, etc.;
- A smattering of history;
- Sabbat/esbat info and rituals;
- Spells and their outcomes (or lack thereof);
- Stones, candles, botanicals - information and their effectiveness for you;
- Class/seminar notes;
- Divination/trance experiences and records; and so on and so forth.
Are there any rules concerning the Book of Shadows?
There are a few conventions concerning a Witch's Book of Shadows - they are more like customs than rules, but they're important. These vary between traditions, covens and even individual Witches, but there are a few common ones:
- Before the BOS is written in, you should purify it with a ritual;
- It should have a protection spell cast over it;
- You should include a book blessing at the front of the book;
- The BOS is treated as the sacred object it is, and kept safe (like an old family Bible would be);
- Other people are only allowed to look inside/touch the BOS with the permission of its owner;
- Choose who you allow to see your BOS carefully - you must be able to trust them not to damage it or reveal its contents;
- If a Witch is initiated into a coven with its own BOS, he/she will generally copy it out as part of his/her training;
- When a Witch dies, he/she may will their BOS to another person (student, relative, etc), order it to be destroyed, or have it buried with them; and
- If a Witch has a copy of their coven's BOS, it may have to be returned to the coven after their death.
These customs exist to protect the BOS, and the information in it - the Book of Shadows contains sacred knowledge, and so it is a sacred thing that deserves to be treated as such.