This is partially in response to this post, but mainly it is just me rambling on about my own practices!
A Book of Shadows or Grimoire can be simply described as a witch’s magical journal of rituals, spells, devotions, formulae, and correspondences. Some people keep separate journals for dreams, tarot and other things. Some people use files, the computer, or a book, (or books if you’re like me).
I keep small journals and a larger Grimoire style magical book. I am currently on journal no.13. Each journal contains a potpourri of things including dreams, tarot readings, spells, incense formulae, recipes, rituals, inspirational quotes, rants, correspondences, planting diary etc.
Some may not agree with the fact that I put all of this in my BOS. I’m a witch who does not feel that there is a separation between mundane and spiritual, and I do feel it is important to record dreams, readings, planting information, moods etc, in order for me to better understand my own craft and how it weaves into every aspect of my life.
Way back when I begun practicing the craft I kept files, big 3 ring binders, and they worked well for a while… except for the fact that they felt so impersonal and that if I had something that fitted the description of more than one file or category I was always confused as to where to put it. I never liked the plastic folders I kept things in, despite the fact that they protected the pages, they lost the tactile quality that I love so much. Let me make it clear that I have no issue with how anyone wants to keep their information, or what form their BOS takes, whatever floats your boat is what I say.
Aside from my little journals, I have a big Grimoire, the book itself was a gift from Earthdragon, and it has the feel of one of those really awesome books you see in TV :). Inside this goes devotionals and prayers that I say regularly, rituals that I do that have become part of my system, spells that I’ve worked that I’ll likely use again, recipes that have also become “traditional” and thus a part of my system.
I have just started working on a contents page for it. I’m not sure that I’ve left enough space for the contents in total, as the book has just over 500 pages, but other than that, it is nice to have a contents page as more information gets placed in the book every three months so that things are easier to find.
For my journals, things are added on a daily basis, and only things that I find currently useful to my craft or path are placed in there, new information on gods I work with, interesting insights, and herbs that I work with while I’m working with them. I find that this works for me quite well, and I keep a separate “index” book in case I’ve forgotten where I’ve put something.
I like to think of my Book of shadows as a reflection of my life, you learn and experience things at different times, sometimes you will learn something, and then years, months or weeks later, you’ll learn something new about it that relates to something else. Things weave in and out of each other, and categories cannot necessarily be put on memories and experiences, at least not in the conventional sense, so this is how I keep my Books of Shadows. Although it may be useful to keep all of my information on Bees in one section, it wouldn’t accurately reflect my experiences.
My Grimoire then is like a summary or working reference of that experience, things about myself that I keep or develop, like my sparkling personality ;), at least that’s the only type of analogy I can come up with at this moment.
A BOS is a Witch’s tool, and often one that is overlooked as less important than an athame or chalice etc, but it holds great power. It holds all of the experiences of the Witch, and often contains the Witch’s own handwriting, blood, spit and skin cells. This is one reason why non witches should not be granted access to your personal BOS and why you need to be careful about who you let use and see your BOS, even if that person is a Witch themselves.
We often see these magical tomes being treated in a special manner on television programs and movies for instance in Hocus Pocus, the book has a personality of its own, it guides the 3 sisters and without it they struggle to remember a certain recipe. The Charmed book of Shadows is an extension of the Charmed sisters, when they lose their powers the book loses its magic and becomes blank, as the charmed/Halliwell line grows, the book of shadows grows too.
These may be fictional accounts of a magical tome, but it still holds relevance in reality, as the same principle applies. Your book is an extension of yourself, it keeps record of things you have done in the past so you may be able to do them again without struggling to remember if it was a pinch of Datura or a tbsp of Mugwort that went into a formula. It also grows as you grow and will likely never be “finished”.
In traditional practice a book of shadows would be burned after a witch’s death, but many of us now would likely pass it on down the family lines. In either case the BOS is a highly personal record of the witch and should be treated in the same manner as other ritual tools, with reverence and respect.
The blog post linked above gives a nice summary of things that can be put in a book of shadows so check that out if you’re confused about what goes in a book of shadows. PixieHowl also gives her own perspective on what goes where.