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Book of Shadows
A book containing
beliefs, rituals, Witchcraft laws and ethics, herbal and healing lore, incarnations, chants, dances, spells, divinatory methods, and miscellaneous topics that serve to guide
Witches in their Craft and religion. There is no one general or definitive
book of shadows for Witchcraft; each tradition may have its own standard
book of shadows, which can be added to or adapted by each coven. In addition
to this, individual Witches may add their own personal material. Until recent
times the book of shadows was kept in secrecy, however, some Witches have
gone public with their books over the years.
Traditionally, it was held that only one book of shadows was to exist in
a coven, and kept by the high priestess or high priest. However, this rule
proved to be unfeasible, so now, generally, each Witch have their personal
copies. It was customary that the Witch's copy had to be hand copied by
the Witch from the copy of the high priestess or priest. But, as with all
things changes do occur; now days it is not uncommon for a copy of the book
of shadows to be copied from a computer floppy disk.
Frequently it is customarily for some Witches, especially solitaire Witches,
to begin their book of shadows when they enter the Craft, and sometimes
before their entrance into a coven. Such books are often thought of as personal
notebooks, or diaries. The material in them enables the Witch to grow in
the Craft. The books are kept until the Witch's death. Some Witches feel
that they return to their book of shadows when they are reborn (see Reincarnation).
Much about the book of shadows prior to the reawakening of modern Witchcraft
in the mid-twentieth century remains a mystery. In the early centuries folk
magic and lore was not usually recorded but was orally described to the
next generations. However, it seems, as some hereditary Witches claim that
some of their descents did record some of their secret spells and lore in
little black books. One of the first prototypical book of shadows published
in English was Ardia, or Gospel of the Witches (1899) by Charles
Godfrey Leland. Leland claimed it contained Witch lore passed to him by
an Etruscan Witch.
The book of shadows of Gerald
B.Gardner might be taken as an example of the
way that a book of shadows may be acquired and passed on. Gardner was initiated
into a coven of hereditary Witches in 1939. The basic rituals he published
in the pseudonymous novel High Magic's Aid in 1949. Within Gardner's
book of shadows were extracts from material written by Aleister Crowley.
During the years from 1954-1957, with the help of Doreen Valiente whom Gardner
had initiated in 1953, Gardner's book of shadows was rewritten with most
of Crowley's material eliminated. The book became the basis for the Gardnerian
tradition of Witchcraft. It subsequently was used by Alexander
Sanders and modified to form the Alexandrian
tradition of Witchcraft. Gardner's book has inspired the books of shadows
for other traditions as well.
Normally, the book of shadows reflects the practices and beliefs of each
coven within a tradition, and those that are independent of a tradition,
as well as the interests and specialties of an individual Witch. It can
serve as a dynamic collection of information, with additions being made
Traditionally a Witch's book of shadows is burned upon the person's death.
However, Gardner's book was passed onto Valiente. Probably other books of
shadows are kept as remembrances or documents of historical significance.