Whether Wiccan or just pagan, a book to record their journey through witchcraft is essential for witches. Information of a magickal nature can be written in either a Book of Shadows, a Grimoire, or both—but what's the difference between these mystical tomes?
A Book of Shadows (BoS) is a witch's personal journal that details rituals and spells they've performed, information about their path, details about their shadow work, can include their personal spell-book, etc. The pages of a BoS are typically kept private from most people due to their sensitive nature.
A Grimoire differs in that it's a general magickal guide written by a witch from research and experience, to be shared with family, coven mates, and potentially close friends. The information the author includes is typically not too private to keep close loved ones from reading the book and accessing the information within.
The Importance of Documenting Your Journey Through Witchcraft
Documenting your journey through witchcraft in a Book of Shadows or Grimoire (but especially a Book of Shadows) is essential for expanding the knowledge and growth of a witch. Without documenting your spells and rituals, the moon phases, your efforts in learning divination, your relationships with deities, etc., you will never be able to remember or review past events and be able to grow from them.
Also, when you've reached a new level on your path, you'll find that it's nice to have a record of everything you've been through and learned to reach the point you're at and be able to take a walk down witchcraft memory lane.
Pages Commonly Found in a Book of Shadows
It's not at all uncommon for the first several pages of a Book of Shadows to include a spell or enchantment placed by the witch author to keep unwanted eyes from reading or understanding the information held within the sacred, magickal book.
Sometimes this is just a sigil, other times a spell, sometimes written in a language like Gaelic or Latin, or even translated into Theban (the witch's alphabet). Witches take the privacy of their Book of Shadows very seriously and use all protective spells at their disposal to keep prying eyes out of their sacred book.
Witches initiated into Wicca almost always use a page near the beginning of their Book of Shadows to copy the Wiccan Rede, which includes the guidelines of practicing Wicca. Whether Wiccan or not, most witches who are part of a coven also choose to copy their coven's laws near the front of their Book of Shadows.
A witch will often use a page, sometimes several pages, to write a dedication in their BoS. This dedication could be to their coven or a deity, but it usually reads something like, "I [author] dedicate myself today [date] to goddess..." and it goes on to say why the witch has chosen to dedicate themselves.
If a witch works with deities, they are frequently inspired to use many pages in their Book of Shadows to create artwork of their gods or goddesses and also make notes about the mythology and legends of their deities. It's not unusual for a pagan to make notes on everything they read about the deities they work with in the pages of their BoS.
Witches typically document their magickal spells and rituals in their Book of Shadows. They might note recipes, incantations, make notes about how it felt, document outcomes, etc.
If a witch is learning a new type of divination like scrying, tarot, astrology, etc., they often keep notes about what they are learning and see when they practice in their Book of Shadows.
You can start to see why the pages of a Book of Shadows are so private to a witch and why people are not typically allowed to read them. These are books that pagans often feel contain more sensitive information than a diary.
Pages Commonly Found in a Grimoire
A Grimoire is a much less private book of magick, so a witch may or may not choose to use one of their protection spells in the first few pages. However, just because Grimoires are less private books, that doesn't mean they're less important. Grimoires are intended to be passed down throughout a witchcraft family over generations of witches.
Some witches create correspondence tables, page-by-page, in their Grimoires. Common correspondence tables are gemstones and crystals, herbs, essential oils, candle colors, moon phases, etc. There are books on the market that contain all this information, but some witches feel drawn to make a book of their own to pass down because it's more personal.
The Wheel of The Year contains the eight pagan sabbats. It is usually included in a Grimoire along with detailed information about all of the sabbats, their history, correspondences, and how to celebrate them. There are also countless books on the market about this topic. Still, again, many feel it's more personal to create a book of your own for your witchcraft family to read and reference for generations.
There is frequently a large section for herbalism in a Grimoire. Modern pagans take a page out of the books of those who lived centuries ago, before the advent of modern medicine. Witchcraft often requires one to know all of the uses of an herb, not just its magickal purposes.
Grimoires are also where you will find family recipes for spells, kitchen magick, and more. Anything ancestral that needs to be passed along to each new generation can be found in a family Grimoire.
Types of Books Used for a Book of Shadows or Grimoire
Starting out, it's common for a witch to use a notebook or three-ring binder as a magick book. People do this because they don't want to mess up the big, pretty, often expensive book when they don't know how they want to organize it yet or really what to put in it. Once they have a good idea of what they want their book to be, they move to the permanent book.
Many pagans simply visit a site like Etsy that sells handmade witchcraft goods and picks their favorite handmade magick book with a pentagram or triple moon goddess on the front. And just like that, they have a book to use for their Book of Shadows or Grimoire.
Still, others want to include the process of making the book (or books) by hand as part of its magick and put ritualistic effort into book construction. A trend in homemade magick books is antique pages. To create this effect, people take the time to use tea to individually stain and dry every page that goes into the book.
Imagine someone having the gall to read your Book of Shadows after you've gone through that much effort to create it and make it sacred. Many would say they'd be staring at the business end of a hex. Unless you practice Wicca and believe in the Law of Three, that is. Most following the traditions of Wicca believe the energy of the spells you cast will return to you threefold, but more on the Wiccan Rede another time.
Victoria is an eclectic witch based in the Midwest who stays actively involved in the online pagan community. When she’s not writing, you can find her offering guidance to less experienced witches and moderating large witchcraft groups and forums. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @witch_imightbe