Monday, March 1, 2010

Your Magickal Documentation: Book of Shadows and Grimoires

Many pagans believe that it’s important to keep a written record of successes, not-so-successes and things they want to remember down the road. You’ll often find that pagans and Wiccans/Witches have books detailing their magickal practice for their own personal reference – you’ve probably heard the terms before: “Book of Shadows” (often referred to as the BoS) and “Grimoire”. Like so much in Paganism, there are multiple definitions for the same item. Depending on your own personal definition, and/or the definition you were taught, your Book of Shadows is different than your Grimoire; and your personal definition will dictate which one is your private documentation and which one can be shared with others.

A Book of Shadows and a Grimoire share the same purpose – they are both compilations of information & knowledge. The difference in what you call each one depends on how you use them. Your personal definitions of a Grimoire and a BoS are linked with the group you practice with, your own personal understanding of each type of book, and your personal comfort level. You can substitute the word “Grimoire” for “Book of Shadows” as many pagans do, but the bottom line is that one book is private and one book is public, which means that the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. I was taught to define and use my own Grimoires and BoS by my own teachers; please understand that mine is just one way of approaching my magickal documentation and not necessarily the only or right way. My training might be very different from what you’ve read or were trained yourself. Remember, the definition that works best for you is the right one!

What are these books?

Grimoire – my Grimoire is a public book. I like to refer to my Grimoire as my “recipe book”. It contains information that I refer to frequently and share with my pagan friends, lists, classes and for research. Many of my public and private classes have benefitted from information I’ve collected in my Grimoire over the years. My Grimoire contains public ritual liturgies, recipes (oils, herbs, soaps, beauty items, foods, etc.), activities, information about other cultures, how other pagans practice their beliefs, chants, music, and other magickal systems. In my Grimoire you will find historical information, articles I found particularly useful, resource information, God & Goddess information from outside my own personal pantheon, and a LOT of pagan humor.

Book of Shadows – my BoS is an intensely private book. Like many other Traditionalist Witches, it is passed down from teacher to student and must initially be copied by hand. Currently my BoS is a plain journal with over 110 typed pages (much to my students’ chagrin!). The Coven BoS contains information on our practice (much of which is Oathbound), spells and outcomes of said spells, our Initiatory Lineage tree, important rituals, and the Lore which is particular to my Tradition and Coven. Needless to say, this book is definitely not for public consumption. Not only does it have items that I carefully guard, but it contains rituals such as Initiations that we do not perform frequently and might forget if they weren’t written down. In the past, BoS’s were required to be memorized in case they had to be destroyed quickly and needed to be recreated from memory. This is a hearkening to the time when Witchcraft was illegal, and Witches had to dispose of any evidence of their religion.

Each book should be treated as a magickal tool – for that is what they are. They should be consecrated in sacred space – the easiest way to do this is to smudge them with sage incense or to place a drop of protection oil on the inside cover. If you consecrate your sacred jewelry or other ritual tools, use the same format for your book of shadows. Many people have inscriptions, sigils, and other protective devices in their Book of Shadows and/or Grimoires. Some people even dedicate their books to deities such as Athena, Ogma, or Thoth to as for the Gods’ protection and inspiration. Either way, these books are not to be tossed about willy-nilly as you would last week’s magazine. These are sacred books which hold your magickal secrets and knowledge.

There are tons of e-BoS’s and e-Grimoires on the Internet, both for sale and for free. Some of these are very elaborate, using fancy software tools and containing animation, graphics and sound. Some are simply PDF files of typewritten page scans. A favorite place for me to visit is which has great information! Be careful if you come across a coven’s private Book of Shadows or Grimoire (whichever is their “private” book). That’s like finding someone’s diary – make sure that coven/group is ok with handing out their private documentation. There are unscrupulous people out there looking to make a buck off of others – it’s not unheard of for a disgruntled student to seek revenge against their erstwhile coven by posting that coven’s Book of Shadows on the Internet or selling it for a profit.

But what about electronic versions?

In our modern age of technology and computers, it is becoming more common to see all kinds of Pagans keeping their Grimoires and BoS’s in electronic form. Certainly I do this, and there are ways to make sure you safeguard your information while keeping your documentation completely portable and user-friendly. My personal Grimoire is electronic, which is perfectly fine since it is designed to be shared with others. Practicality is the reason why I keep my Grimoire on my computer - I currently have over 30,000 files in it and add more every day via pagan lists, emailed information I get from friends and tidbits I come across on the Internet. I’d have to dedicate a room in my home to store all those printed documents – and think of the trees! Not to mention, trying to find a single file would be impossible if I had to manually flip through every page. The e-Grimoire is useful because I can easily share it with my pagan friends. I am often asked for information, and it’s really nice to be able to cut & paste the appropriate information in an email. It’s another way for me to remain active with my community.

Now, the electronic Book of Shadows is a whole other beastie. Choosing to make this electronic or not is a personal decision which should be based on how guarded you want this documentation to be and how well you understand what it takes to protect it. Some Books of Shadows, like Lady Sheba’s in the early/mid 1970’s, are published and open to be read. The majority, however, are kept privately and never shared outside the Tradition or Coven. I would humbly suggest that you refrain from digitalizing your private Book of Shadows unless you’re familiar with how to safeguard it. Furthermore, you should never email or post your BoS on the internet. It’s amazingly easy for an opportunist to pick up information in transit across the internet. Just think about all the people who frequent the internet – we know they’re not all benign and kind. There are actual programs that do nothing but connect to the internet and sift out information to be used for selfish purposes.

Here’s what I do to protect my own e-BoS. I’m a little bit of a technical geek, so my training in computer security is pretty comprehensive. My BoS is not only encrypted using a highly sophisticated algorithm, but has a mechanism that will corrupt and destroy the file if the wrong password is chosen 3 times. Unless you are comfortable with this level of technology, you might want to rethink whether your private magickal information is appropriate in this form. After all, this is your magickal record; you want to be able to safeguard it as much as possible.

However you choose to definite your Grimoire or your Book of Shadows is up to you. But it’s nice to have them nearby, whether you want to replicate that money spell that worked so well 3 years ago, or to look up the words to a Mill Wheel chant you want to incorporate in your next ritual. Your magickal documentation is your own private history on what you’ve done, what you’ve learned and how you’ve used it to evolve spiritually. These books are an invaluable tool which will serve your practice for many years to come!