Grimoire, Book of Shadows, Book of Secrets, Book of Spells… Magical research is often collected into a book (or two) and is known by a specific name. There isn’t a universal name that is correct for your book. You can name it whatever you want! Although “grimoire” isn’t a technically accurate name for my magical research, I use it as it feels best to me and my personal practice. For this post, I’m going to use BoS to refer to this book, whatever you may call it. BoS is often an abbreviation used within the community so it’s probably already familiar to you.
Let’s clear away some of the nonsense right now. You can have a BoS in a notebook. You can have a BoS that is completely digital on the computer or a website. You do not need to have a super pretty book or even have one book – you can have multiple! And you are not bound to that singular book forever. You can fill a book, decide to retire it, and get rid of it, if you so choose.
The sacredness of the Book of Shadows stems entirely on two things – one, Wiccan covens often have specific rituals written down in their BoS and those books contain their secrets and initiations rites. The books are secretive and sacred because they need to be, as part of the initiation religion. The second reason why magical books have this air of sacredness is because books are, historically, expensive.
Books aren’t commonplace historically. Your average person rarely owned a book except for the Bible. Literacy wasn’t commonplace until public schools were more accessible and even then, many PoC were banned from learning to read. (In fact, in the US, literacy rates between PoC and white people didn’t equal out until 1979 and PoC still suffer from lack of opportunities for education even today.) The rest of it comes from the fact that education was commonly given to the wealthy. You can look through numerous historical household records and find years worth of expenses – but never once is a book mentioned. Even if a person did read well, there was no guarantee that they would read for pleasure.
The most learned men, until recent history, were clergy. Secular scholars were something of a rarity through much of history. So it isn’t surprising that there’s this idea that books are sacred because, for a long time, they were. Families may only own the Bible. It is literal a sacred book. Plus, as said above, until fairly recently in human history, vast majority of the world didn’t have access to literacy or books. Books could also be poorly translated or contain so much academic wording that the average person would struggle to read it (something that holds true even today.) Information was passed down through word of mouth and if it was written down, things often got left out. This is true for just about everything. I’ve personally have three different recipes written by my grandmother for the same dinner roll recipe. Some of those recipes are just a list of ingredients – and none of the recipes have the same ingredients on the list yet all are titled the same. None of the recipes produce the rolls from my mother’s childhood. If that can happen just passing down a family recipe from grandparent to grandchild, imagine what trying to write down family lore would be like?
Suddenly, the lack of magical books and the sacredness of the written historical rituals we do have becomes extremely important. Books are fragile things. They can be easily destroyed. Technical information can be extremely difficult to copy down correctly by memory. Those are the practical reasons why the BoS gained many of the sacredness it has and why it’s so commonplace within the witchcraft community. It’s why the BoS has names like “book of shadows” or “book of secrets”.
ANYWAY, none of that gives you the information you need to actually create a BoS.
In order to create a BoS, you need to write or record information you want to keep on hand. That’s it. You don’t NEED to have a dedication. You don’t NEED to have a correspondence chart. Would that help? Sure, if it’s useful to your practice.
The best way to start of BoS is to get a blank journal that you like and can take some damage. So while a school notebook is perfectly acceptable (and I had one as my first BoS as a kid myself), having something that can take some candle wax spilling on it is ideal.
Don’t be afraid to mess up the BoS. I, like many of you, fear messing up a beautiful new journal. But, uh, you bought it for that purpose? If you don’t like how it turns out, you can always rip out the page or cover it with white out.
Binders are actually incredibly common for modern practitioners. It may not be pretty but it sure it handy. Using a binder allows you to print out spells or resources from online, or type them up and print them out. It also allows you to remove stuff from the BoS without damaging the BoS itself. Plus, tabs. Tabs are great things.
Scrapbooking books are also useful for BoS. I’m very fond of the post-style binders or scrapbooking books because it allows you to remove things like a binder but still have that book feel.
Of course, lots of people also use folders on their computers, information saved to their cloud drives, or private blogs to organize their BoS too. Some people have huge Word documents and others have a neat tumblr blog filled with spells.
As said before, you can also organize things by separating your BoS into different books – one book for dreams, another for spells, a third for divination, etc.
Try different systems until you get one to work for you. If you’re not much of a recorder when it comes to data, that’s OK. Some people just work best off the cuff.
So if the actual physical form of the book doesn’t matter, what does matter?
The information has to mean something to you.
It’s fine to copy things down or take notes for the sake of learning, but what’s the point of writing down a whole bunch of stuff in your BoS if you’re not going to use it? It may be a good idea to keep a separate section, notebook, etc on research that you might want to look back on later but don’t use in your day to day practice.
An index is your best friend.
An index is a list of subjects that are contained within a book that lists where you can find those subjects by page. It’s like a table of contents on steroids. And it’s an amazing thing that you’re probably not using.
Your homemade index is probably not going to contain every page a subject is listed on unless you’re super organized or diligent. And if you’re setting up your BoS now, you can plan so you won’t need an index. But for those of you who started a BoS without a plan and are sick of flipping through a hundred pages for that luck spell you KNOW you saw just last week, then you need an index. Take a weekend, write out what pages you can find what information on, and stick that at the front of the book.
Indexes, weirdly, come at the back of the book. Which is super illogical to me because, uh, shouldn’t they all be at the front of the book? So you don’t have to keep flipping to the back of the book to look up something? Do yourself a favorite and put your index at the front of your book. Help your future, exhausted, “I’ve been done with this shit for three hours and just want to go to bed” self out. Not that I’d know that feeling from experiences or anything. Nope, not me.
This a labor of love
Writing in your BoS probably won’t be your favorite thing to do. This is especially true if you’re worried about aesthetics. It’s a time consuming task and one that will require consistent and diligent work to be actually useful.
If that’s not your thing, that’s OK! You’re the one who gets to decide how you use that BoS. But if you want it to be indispensable, you’re going to need to put some serious time into it.
Space for you to add notes and grow
Most importantly of all, you need to be able to take notes on the information you have written down. Maybe you learned later on that that cool piece of trivia is actually related to some folklore. You might want to add that folklore in but alas! You didn’t save room. Now you’ll need to either add a page or make a note to look up a different page to get your information.
Additionally, your practice will likely grow and change as you grow and change. Your BoS will reflect that over time as well. Make sure there’s enough room to grow or that you’re willing to put your BoS aside and make a new one if the time comes where it no longer serves.
Of course, you do not need a BoS. You just don’t. My grimoires are spread across a dozen books and, honestly, I barely touch half of them. This is largely because I often make up my spells at a drop of a hat. I don’t really plan out much of my spells so I don’t really need pages upon pages of spells. Do I have them, sure. But they’re not necessary for me.
Maybe you’re the same. Maybe you’ll find that your BoS isn’t useful to you or that you would be better with a journal style rather than a textbook style BoS. You BoS has to be useful and suit you.
That’s it. That’s all you need! Good luck to the new witchlings out there! And for you old hats, maybe it’s time to dust the cover off that BoS and take a gander at it, hm?
Links for more reading:
Cornell has a over 3000 books from the time of the Inquisition on witchcraft. http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/w/witch/index.html
I happen to have some online posts on hand regarding household purchases for the 1850-1870s. Keep in mind that the term “dime novels” stems from literally paying a ten cents for a small novel, something that started in 1860. To keep things in perspective, you could buy a pound of granulated sugar or a yard of bleached shirting fabric for the same dime in 1860. Your rent for a four room tenement was $4.45 in 1860.