‘There must be a book, written under the influence of a powerful spiritual inspiration, which forms the permanent nucleus of any movement that is to survive it’s founder. Such a book exalts the consciousness of those who read it and puts them in psychic touch with the sources whence the inspiration came; they are then able to work independently.’ – Dion Fortune- Applied Magic p68
The Book of Shadows… This beautiful and evocative name given to the book of liturgy and rituals within the Craft conjures up all sorts of images in the mind. From a tome that flips open thrice, to hereditary books full of demons, charms and potions. Most of these images are to the credit of movies and television shows like Charmed and Practical Magic.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these images and they can sometimes enhance and inspire the creative expression that we can channel into making a Book of Shadows worthy of the beautiful rituals and lore that it contains.
The Book of Shadows in Traditional Wicca is NOT a journal wherein the witches record all their spells and rituals and thoughts and ideas, neither is it a spell book per se. It is a specific book that contains the core rites and liturgies of the Wica. An initiate would immediately be able to identify a BOS of their specific tradition, as there are some slight, but definitive variations.
After initiation into the Craft, a Witch will usually copy the Book of Shadows from their initiator. This practice has been beautifully retained in the Alexandrian Tradition, and the Book is copied by the initiate by candlelight, preferably for no more than an hour at a time.
Now, another thing about the basic Book of Shadows within the Alexandrian Tradition is that we do not add to this original book. The basic Book of Shadows remains unaltered. This might not necessarily the case in other traditions. We do however have what is sometimes called a Coven Book, in which we will record rituals and experiments and all further development of that which was done within a specific coven. These may or may not be shared among initiates for purposes of sharing knowledge, experience and wisdom, but it is the unique expression of the experiences of that particular coven, and is not added to the core BOS.
Another misconception is that the entirety of the Book has been published. It has not. In other words, you will not find a complete Alexandrian Book of Shadows online, or in print, contrary to what some have claimed. What is also misunderstood is that even if the entire Book was published today, it would be almost entirely worthless without the oral lore and training that goes hand in hand with it. The Book of Shadows can in this way be viewed as a short hand for the initiate who has been trained to work the rites.
Although The Craft is certainly not a “religion of the book”, it remains a religion with core rites and principles that has kept the integrity of the tradition, and will hopefully continue for years to come.