Crafting the Book of Shadows: Get over the Illuminated Manuscript

I obviously can’t speak for all pagans, but I’m pretty sure that most of us under the Pagan Umbrella keep some sort of written account of their work.  In Wicca, the body of writings a practitioner produces is called their Book of Shadows.  Of course, what that collection is made of can differ widely.  In more eclectic traditions, it can be some sort of amalgam of personal journal or a ‘lab notebook’ of various spells, rituals, and magical resource material. If you’re a British Traditional practitioner, you might have a system like that, but you’ll probably also have a Book of Shadows that you copy from your initiator and which might not be allowed to be changed or added to depending on your tradition.

A view of “The Book of Shadows” from the TV series “Charmed.”

No matter what the specific type of one’s own Book of Shadows is, I do know that every Pagan I’ve ever met seems to have a mental picture of this ‘ideal BOS’ in the back of their minds.  Sometimes it seems that everyone thinks that a giant leatherbound tome handwritten in gorgeous calligraphy and masterfully illuminated is what we should be striving for when we create our books.  You know, something that has the effect of the prop in the TV show Charmed.

A photograph of pages from one of Gardner’s surviving Books of Shadows.

Please.  That’s never going to happen for 99% of us.  In the first place, practically no one has the money to have some craftsman bind up folios of vellum into massive leather covers.  In the second place, practically no one has the technical skill and artistic talent to fill those vellum pages with beautiful, even calligraphy and intricate inked drawings.  The likelihood of one person being able to do both seems pretty astronomical to me.  Even Gerald Gardner, the guy who gave us the term “Book of Shadows”, didn’t even try to pull this off…and I’m sure he would have if he could, given his penchant for the theatric!  In this picture, you can see the nod in the ‘ideal’ direction as Gardner clearly broke out the calligraphy (probably a good thing as his handwriting and spelling were atrocious) and dotted the text with some drawings, but it’s certainly not done with an artist’s eye and the book itself is no great affair.  It’s a basically a simple composition notebook!

But it’s still an important and powerful magical tool, isn’t it?

For the longest time I struggled with the idea of keeping a Book of Shadows because I had this idea that I should be creating sacred art with it.  My art was never good enough, so consequently my ‘proper’ Books of Shadows rarely had much in them aside from a few poems and things while I slowly acquired stacks and stacks of notebooks and binders crammed with scraps of paper and various drafts and journals…not to mention the countless files I curated in a hidden folder on my computer.  And, of course, it was a ridiculously unorganized mess.

I think that the concept of the ‘ideal’ BOS kept me from coming up with something workable for the longest time, and that’s just a crime.  So I’m dedicating the next couple of posts to discussing what systems I’ve developed and am developing in order to keep my magical writings flowing and organized.

One thought on “Crafting the Book of Shadows: Get over the Illuminated Manuscript

  1. Pingback: Snoozing and record-keeping | Travelling a path between Church and Circle

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