What Goes Into a Wiccan Book of Shadows?
My Digital BOS Pages
Wiccan Book of Shadows
There are many Wiccan ritual tools that may aid a person in their religious practices. The Book of Shadows (BOS) is arguably the most essential. In fact, if cataclysmic events required me to flee my homeland, and I could only fit one tool in my bug out bag, it would be my BOS. I feel like just about everything else is expendable. I can find a substitute for blades, cups, pots, discs, censers and candle holders; I can even work without them. But the nearly 2 ½ decades it’s taken me to accumulate the knowledge and experienced as outlined in my BOS is not so easily or quickly replaced. I even have much of it memorized—but still, it’d be hard to recall everything and cobble it back together.
So what goes into a BOS? That depends on the Wiccan, really… and I hate to say there are any absolutes. I will say there are the most essential things, the somewhat essential things, and then there are the optional things.
I also want to mention that, while I absolutely respect that many non-Wiccan Pagans and Witches have adopted the tool for their own use, the content with different religions may vary. This is an article aimed at Wiccans, thus the contents discussed are more specific to that religion.
Most Essential BOS Items
The most essential items in the BOS are generally those items that are most essential to the religion and practice of it. These are the kinds of things you’ll go back to again and again, the kind of stuff you need to keep on hand or that you may refer to from time to time. Some things that are more essential found in the BOS include:
- Information on the Wiccan religion itself (beliefs, tenets, ethics, etc.)
- Info specific to your trad or path
- Information on the Divine (your deities, theology, etc.)
- Ritual (structure, tools, methods, procedures, Esbats, Sabbats, outlines, circle casting, etc.)
- Essential Liturgy, prayers and chants (Charge of the Goddess, Wiccan Rede, invocations, power-raising chants, etc. )
- Ongoing spiritual journal
These are the basis for your spiritual growth and practices. These are the things you’re one day going to know so well, inside and out, that you’re not going to have to go back and reference them very often, but they’re still something you’re occasionally going to go through and rethink throughout your life as a Wiccan.
Somewhat Essential BOS Items
These items are not necessarily vital to being Wiccan, though you may find them useful to mention them at least—but for some of you, these might be very vital sections to your spiritual practice. Things will vary from Wiccan to Wiccan, as I will discuss in a minute, but first let me give the list:
- Sabbat information (dates, traditions, incense, altar decorations, etc.)
- Esbat information (moon phases, moon energy, etc.)
- Element information
- Magic (information/instructions)
- Dream journal
The reason these things are not entirely essential is because the emphasis any Wiccan puts on them may vary. For example, if you live for Sabbats and love planning big family or community celebrations, you might want to have fairly large sections for your Sabbats. If, on the other hand, Sabbats are something you mark very quietly, without a lot of pomp and circumstance, a few little blurbs on them can fit all on one page. Likewise, not every Wiccan records their dreams. If you don’t, you should not feel pressured to do so for a BOS. Some Wiccans place more emphasis on the elements than others, so they may need a bigger section.
Still at some point in your book, you will probably touch on at least some of these. You may not need an entire section, but they’ll no doubt enter into your practice in one way or another.
Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows
"Sage, should I just save myself the trouble and buy a completed BOS from E-Bay?"
No-- there is no such thing as a 'completed BOS'. It's a constant work in progress, and it's supposed to be a personal journal and record keeping system for your own spiritual journey. Many people who frankly in my opinion watched too much Charmed like to sell 'complete' BOS's full of (usually plagiarized) spells and mumbo-jumbo. This is a complete waste of your money and defeats the purpose of a BOS altogether. The only purpose to buy a BOS is to read, enjoy and learn from it-- it shouldn't take the place of your own personal BOS. It doesn't have to be fancy-- you can buy a blank book or keep notebook papers in a 3-ring binder, but do make your own!
Optional things are things you might include in your book because you simply would like to. These are things that are not necessarily inherent to Wicca or vital to being Wiccan, but that you have adopted because they have spiritual meaning for you. Or they may be things that you feel add your own personal sentiments and energy to your book. Some of these things include but are not limited to:
- A BOS blessing
- Poetry, artwork, inspirational quotes, etc.
- Astrology and astrological correspondences
- Divination practices (Tarot, Runes, scrying, etc.)
- Herbalism (anything from growing them to using them magically or medicinally)
- Recipes (infusions, potions, incenses, favorite Sabbat/Esbat foods, etc.)
- Crystals, Gems and Metal Studies and Practices
- Other Religions & religious teachings that inspire you (Eightfold path of Buddhism, Chakras of Hinduism, etc.)
- Alternative Healing & energy work
- Spiritualism & working with spirits (ghosts, spirit guides, spirit animals, etc.)
- Psychic practices and studies (telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc.)
- Crafts (tool crafting, spiritually inspired artwork, etc.)
Of course this is not a comprehensive list, as it is your book. When it comes down to it, all the information should be essential to your religious experiences. There’s no limit to what your book might include.
What I Love About My BOS...
Is how I can revisit my spiritual journey whenever I want, and see it unfolding. It's so easy to forget details, but it's not necessary.
As an example, check out my article Musings on Samhains Past: A Personal Essay in which I reflect on my experiences and the things I've learned during this most sacred Sabbat, pulling passages out of my own BOS.
What A BOS Should Not Include
While there are things the BOS should or at least can include, there are also things it should not include. Some of these items I would list are:
- Things that hold no meaning to you, but a book or friend said it should be in there
- Things that you rush copied from the internet or books just to stuff your BOS full and make it look bigger
- Things you shoved in there that are essentially useless to you, you just haven’t gotten around to cleaning it out
- Copyrighted information that you have not credited (especially if you plan on sharing your BOS, you should not mislead anyone into thinking you wrote certain things when you didn’t)
You can probably see a trend, here. Basically, the BOS is not for gathering junk, it’s not for thoughtless stuffing or to make us look Super-Wiccany to others. Wiccans don’t stand around having a “My BOS is bigger than your BOS” arguments.
It’s not how big your Book of Shadows is, it’s what you can do with it. It’s meant to be a tool, a tool of learning and transformation.
So when you’re thinking, “What should I put into my Book of Shadows?” stop right there. A better way to approach it is that, when you do come across something meaningful to you, you might say to yourself, “This is worthy of my Book of Shadows.”