book of shadows In contemporary witchcraft and
Wicca, a book of beliefs, rituals, Witchcraft laws and
ethics, herbal and healing lore, incantations, chants,
dances, spells, divination methods, rituals and miscellaneous
topics that serves as a guide for Witches in practicing
their Craft and religion. There is no definitive
book of shadows for Witchcraft in general; each tradition
may have a standard book of shadows, which may be
added to or adapted by separate covens (see coven). In
addition, individual Witches add their own personal
material. The book is to be kept secret, but some Witches
have gone public with their books of shadows over the
years (see Lady Sheba).
Traditionally, only one copy existed for an entire coven,
kept by the high priestess or high priest. That rule has
proved unfeasible, and it is commonplace for all Witches
to have their own copies. In the early days of Wicca, a
newly initiated Witch copied the coven’s master copy,
held by the high priestess or high priest, in her or his own
handwriting, and added original material as inspired. Today,
many books of shadows are kept on computers.
Material is given according to the Witch’s position in
the hierarchy. As a Witch advances in skill and in the
hierarchy—the most common system is one of three degrees—more
material is provided. The book of shadows
cannot be kept by a Witch if he or she leaves the coven.
Gerald B. Gardner, considered the father of contemporary
Witchcraft, claimed that when he was initiated into
his coven in 1939, he inherited a fragmentary book of shadows
representing the coven’s alleged historical tradition.
Gardner, who believed Margaret Alice Murray’s ideas
about an unbroken lineage of witchcraft as a religion since
ancient times, claimed his coven was part of this heritage.
Murray’s theories were later proved to be without merit,
book of shadows 35
and similarly Gardner’s claim of an ancient Witch religion
The true origins of his book of shadows have been disputed
for decades. It is unlikely that such books existed
in earlier times, as folk magic generally was passed orally
through the generations.
Gardner wrote down some rituals in an unpublished
manuscript called Ye Bok of ye Art Magical, and published
some rituals allegedly taken from his book of shadows in
a pseudonymous novel, High Magic’s Aid (1949). There is
evidence that he drew from a variety of sources, including
Murray, The Greater Key of Solomon (a magical grimoire),
James G. Frazer, Robert Graves, the Aradia legend of
Charles Leland, various classicists, Aleister Crowley,
Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and the Hermetic Order
of the Golden Dawn and other sources. Most likely, most
of this material—to which Gardner probably made his
own additions—was assembled between 1947 and 1950.
In 1952, Gardner met Doreen Valiente and initiated
her into his coven in 1953. Valiente, a good writer with
a poetic flair, helped him revise the rituals and write additional
ones; she accepted the book as a product of a long
witchcraft heritage but objected to the Crowley material
and removed most of it, substituting simpler wording, including
her own poetry. She also gave more emphasis to
the Goddess. It is estimated that she may have contributed
up to half of the book of shadows by the mid-1950s.
Valiente and Gardner parted company in 1957, and
Gardner revised the book of shadows on his own. He died
in 1964. When Gardnerian Witchcraft was exported to
other countries, such as the United States, the book of
shadows became the guide and rule book.
Regardless of its origins, the book of shadows is a
living text in contemporary Witchcraft. It reflects the
practices and beliefs of each individual coven and the interests
or specialties of the individual Witch. It can be a
dynamic collection of information, with additions being
made as necessary.
According to tradition, a Witch’s book of shadows is
destroyed upon death. Gardner’s original book of shadows,
however, was passed to Valiente after his death.
Other books of shadows are passed on as keepsakes and
documents of historical significance
Categories: Paganism and Witchcraft
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