A Witch’s book of Shadows is many things. It is a combination of a how-to manual, a journal, a recipe book, a spell book and reference manual all in one. Every one of them is different, as different as the varied witches who write them. There are a lot of similarities between all these books, however, and that is what this article is intended to address.
The Wiccan Rede and The Charge of the Goddess
The Wiccan Rede, as well as The Charge of the Goddess are two pieces of literature that every witch is familiar with, and they usually include them in their books of shadows within the first handful of pages.
The Wiccan Rede is a collection of rules and codes of conduct that most witches adhere to very strictly. It is a reflection of many of the beliefs and behaviors that many witches share, and boils down to one basic commandment:
“If it harms none, do what thou will.”
The Charge of The Goodess serves a very similar purpose. For most witches, it is an empowering piece of poetry that describes the Goddess, and the basics of the ways She intends for us to follow Her path.
Both of these are often recited as part of many Wiccan ceremonies and rituals. Reciting them in ritual serves the purpose of reminding Witches of their values, and instilling the sense of connecting with Deity through ceremony.
Codes and Magickal Alphabets
Due to the fact that the practice of Witchcraft was persecuted for so many years led to most, if not all practitioners to devise ways to keep their magickal practices secret. One of the ways that this manifested was the invention of codes and ciphers to keep the Book of Shadows safe from prying eyes.
Though people poke fun at the use of terms such as “adder’s tongue” and “baby tears” that were apparently used as ingredients in certain magickal workings, these terms meant something entirely different from what they sound like. Most often, these terms were codes that referred to botanical ingredients. Keeping them in code in this fashion kept the recipes secret.
Another practice was to write all of the information in a book of shadows in an alternative alphabet, such as runes. Unless you knew what each symbol meant, the information was indecipherable.
The use of such alphabets is still alive today, though for a different reason. Many believe that certain alphabets lend power to magickal workings that would be lost if everyday language were to be used.
Another practice is to to use specialty inks. Most commonly, these specialty inks are dragon’s blood ink and dove’s blood ink. Just as above, no actual doves (or dragons!) are harmed in the making of the ink. These specialized inks are thought to lend additional power and protective qualities to the spell being cast.
Most of the content of a book of shadows is going to be recipes for incense, tinctures, oils and infusions. However, the possibilities of what goes into one of these books are virtually limitless. How to perform various rituals and spells is often high the list. Correspondences for astrology, color, stones and crystals, and botanicals will often fill many pages. The different glyphs, sigils and occult symbols that a witch will commonly use are often part of the makeup as well.
Many covens often incorporate song and chant into their rituals. The lyrics for these are often a big part of a book of shadows.
It is easy to see that a book of shadows can easily become a large resource for any witch. If that witch uses the book as a means of journaling their magickal undertakings, then it can be an especially large document.