Wiccans have a wide array of tools that are essential to their practice, and one of the most important is The Book of Shadows, also known as The Book of Ways or The Tree. It is a record of information about the religion, and its practice, including detailed instructions for rituals and religious texts. It is believed that The Book of Shadows originated in the late 1940s, after Gerald Gardner, ‘the father of Wicca,’ introduced one to his coven. Gardner’s records illustrate that his inspiration came from ancient witches, who would keep journals of spells that would be burned after their death.
During its early days, Wicca was practiced in covens, where rituals and worship were group experiences. Each coven would have one Book of Shadows that was kept by the high priest or priestess. Members were free to copy its teachings into their personal BOS, adding and eliminating as they desired, but the original remained unchanged. Traditional British Wiccans continue to follow this path, and most keep A Book of Shadows modelled from Gardner’s original.
With Wicca’s non-traditional progression into a religion which is now practised individually, or in much smaller groups, each practitioner keeps their own BOS and the information recorded reflects their personal spiritual journey. Information added includes: details about the religion and the divine – such as deities worked with, rituals – incorporating methods and tools used, prayers and chants and any other information the individual may feel contributes to their spiritual growth. Non-traditional practitioners may divide their journaling into two separate books, The Book of Shadows for their spells, and The Book of Mirrors which reflects their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
The Book of Shadows is considered a sacred magickal tool, in the Wiccan religion, and it is essential that it is well taken care of. Most practitioners will become entirely familiar with the content of their Book of Shadows, and many pass their copy unto future generations. The spells contained in the book should be written by hand, as this is a ritual itself when done slowly, and carefully. The process transfers energy to the writer that is then directed into physical spells. Wicca is a path of peace and love, and The Wiccan Rede is normally written at the front of the Book of Shadows to remind all practitioners of the religion’s main guidelines. For this reason, it is not recommended that curses or hexes, as well as angry thoughts and feelings be recorded in any Book of Shadows.