The Book of Shadows - Your Own Tradition

Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - Scott Cunningham 1993

The Book of Shadows
Your Own Tradition

MOST WICCAN TRADITIONS treasure a Book of Shadows. Such books are rarely published or even shown to noninitiates. In them, the tradition’s specific beliefs and modes of worship are outlined.

Though contents and organization of these ritual manners vary, most Books of Shadows include instructions for the circle casting and banishing; religious rituals; the consecration of tools; laws; coven organizational notes; magical rites; prayers; and perhaps herbal lore. Some contain lists of the tradition’s pantheon, training exercises for new students and, finally, initiation ceremonies.

Such books are vitally important to the establishment and maintenance of all Wiccan traditions, for without them, the tradition’s specific rites and other lore must be carefully memorized and passed down by word of mouth. This always leaves room for error, misinterpretation, and even loss of the material.

Don’t misunderstand this: no Wiccan tradition that I know of has recorded every single bit of information. Much is verbally passed from teacher to student. Still, a tradition’s Book of Shadows provides an unchanging guide and memory trigger for the practitioner.

There are many different Books of Shadows today. Some are used by hundreds or thousands of Wiccans. Others are created by solitary Wiccans and are never shown to others. This chapter is a guide to writing your own Book of Shadows. In a sense, it’s the culmination of Part III of this book—for it’s in this book that you’ll record your new tradition.

The book itself can be of any type. Bound blank books are widely available today and can certainly be used—but only if you’re sure that your tradition has stopped evolving. (It’s difficult to make changes in a bound book.) If you have any doubt whatsoever, a loose-leaf notebook might be the answer. This allows you to add or delete new materials if and when the need arises.

Many traditional Wiccan Books of Shadows begin with initiation rituals, and contain other information that isn’t directly applicable to solitary Wiccans. If we set aside these sections, we can view the general outline of a typical Book of Shadows. This can be used when creating your own.

The process is simple—fill in the blanks with all the rituals, rules, and other information that you’ve determined are a part of your tradition. Add your own touches—a bit of poetry here, maybe a section of songs or chants. Most solitary Books of Shadows are highly personal creations.

Title page. This may say, “Book of Shadows,” “The Book of Shadows,” or something more specific to your tradition, such as “The Night Moon Tradition Book of Shadows” (if you’ve come up with a name for it). Alternately, the title page may bear only a pentagram, your name in runes, or other symbols. It can also be blank.

Laws. These could also be termed “rules,” “codes,” or “codes of conduct.”

Invocations of the Goddess and Godmay appear next, or before the laws. One or two invocations often appear early in the book to “bless” it.

An altar diagram.

Circle casting and dispersing instructions. Be as specific as possible.

Rituals: sabbats, full moon rite, tool consecrations, cakes and wine.

Prayers, chants, and invocations(for use as you see fit).

The tools of the Craft. (This can be placed in other locations. In some traditions, this information forms part of the initiation rites.)

• Self-initiation ritual. And, if you desire, a coven initiation ritual. All other rituals of all kinds.

Magical rites and information, including herbal lore and recipes as well as specifically Wiccan spells (i.e., those that directly involve the Goddess and God). Also, symbols and signs used in magical shorthand (in the Book of Shadows) as well as for magical purposes. Runes.

This sketchy outline can be altered to your liking.

Do you have to handwrite your Book of Shadows? Traditional Wiccans might say yes, but today many are typed or stored on disk and photocopied. Still, there’s no doubt that handwriting every single word does enhance the effectiveness of the Book of Shadows, for a part of your energy then physically exists within the words and the book itself.

Though using a computer to create your Book of Shadows may seem to be quite convenient, nothing is more evocative than turning to a handwritten book during ritual. It’s part of the romantic legacy of Wicca, and one we shouldn’t be without. (I would agree, however, due to recent personal experience, that a typed copy of everything handwritten can come in handy. In other words, the Book of Shadows in both forms may well be the ideal.)

Suggested Reading

Many alleged Books of Shadows have seen print, in varying formats. They’re in more or less complete versions, but many have been highly altered for publication by their presenters. Here are a few of them, with notes regarding each. (For additional publication information regarding these books, see the bibliography.):

Valiente, “The Liber Umbrarum” in Witchcraft For Tomorrow. (Written specifically for the solitary Wiccan, this work unfortunately lacks sabbat rituals.)

Buckland, The Tree. (A new Wiccan tradition based on a Saxon cultural framework, but clearly Wiccan through and through.)

Farrar and Farrar,The Witches’ Way. (Bits and pieces of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows and rituals; nothing complete. Chapters IV and V are of special interest.)

Slater (editor),A Book of Pagan Rituals. (Pagan-Way public materials, not quite Wiccan.)

Slater (editor),Pagan Rituals III: Outer Court Training Coven. (The second half of this work, “Book of Mysteries,” is a fairly complete coven-based Book of Shadows written for students of a Welsh tradition.)

Weinstein,Earth Magic: A Dianic Book of Shadows. (Perhaps the most singular of these works; an unusual guide to some aspects of Wiccan religious workings. No sabbat rituals are included.)

Starhawk,The Spiral Dance. (A Book of Shadows is scattered throughout this book.)

Reading just three or four of these published Books of Shadows may cause some confusion, but you’ll quickly grasp the concept of Wicca’s great variety. Remember: just because one Book of Shadows says that Wiccans do such and such is no reason why you must do so as well.

If you wish to create your own Wiccan tradition, it should possess a Book of Shadows. Though it can (and probably will) evolve over time, your Book of Shadows will stand as a symbol of your personal involvement with our religion; as a reaffirmation of your Wiccanhood.