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Wicca Book of Shadows


Gerald Gardner's (the "father of Wicca") Book of Shadows

Wicca: Book of Shadows

The Book of Shadows is the name used for a book that contains magical and religious texts in the religion of Wicca and certain other neopagan witchcraft traditions. Typically, a Book of Shadows contains the core rituals, magical practices, ethics and philosophy of Wicca within it, and more often a list of the witch's personal spells.

In British Traditional Wicca, which largely revolves around the structure of the coven, the book is traditionally copied by hand from that of one's initiating High Priestess or Priest, who copied theirs in turn from their initiator. In Eclectic Wiccan terminology, however, a Book of Shadows is a personal journal, though often serves in a similar capacity to that of traditionalists.

Within traditional lineaged forms of Wicca there are a number of versions of the Book of Shadows, their contents varying to a greater or lesser degree from the early versions belonging to Gerald Gardner, who first popularised Wicca. While Gardner seems to have originally treated the book as a personal journal, it has come to be considered a religious text in most traditions.


Gerald Gardner, the "father of Wicca", first introduced the Book of Shadows to people that he had initiated into the craft through his Bricket Wood coven in the 1950s. He claimed that it was a personal cookbook of spells that have worked for the owner; they could copy from his own book and add or remove material as they saw fit. He said that the practice of Witches keeping such a book was ancient, and was practiced by the Witch-cult throughout history. According to tradition, Gardner claimed, the book was burned after a person died, so that it would not be discovered that they had been a witch.

Gerald Gardner did not mention any such thing as a "Book of Shadows" in his 1949 (though written three years earlier), novel about mediaeval witchcraft, High Magic's Aid. Doreen Valiente claimed that this was because at the time, Gardner had not yet conceived of the idea, and only invented it after writing his novel.

High Priestess Doreen Valiente made the claim that Gardner found the term "Book of Shadows" from a 1949 edition (Volume I, Number 3) of a magazine known as The Occult Observer. In this edition, she claimed, was an advertisement for Gardner's novel, High Magic's Aid, which was opposite an article entitled "The Book of Shadows" written by the palmist Mir Bashir. The article in question was about an allegedly ancient Sanskrit divination manual which explained how to foretell things based upon the length of a person's shadow.[1] Valiente theorised that Gardner then adopted this term for his Witches' grimoire. She maintained that "It was a good name, and it is a good name still, wherever Gardner found it".

A leatherbound manuscript written in Gardner's handwriting that was titled Ye Booke of Ye Art Magical (Ronald Hutton claims that it was spelt Ye Bok, but Valiente claims Ye Booke) was later found amongst his papers from the Museum after his death and was obtained by Valiente. It appeared to be a first draft of Gardner's Book of Shadows, and featured sections based upon the rituals of the Order of Templars of the Orient which had been devised by the occultist Aleister Crowley. Gardner had gained access to these rituals in 1946, when he had purchased a charter from Crowley giving him permission to perform the OTO rituals.

Taking this evidence into account, it seems that Gardner invented the idea of a Witches' Grimoire sometime between 1946 (when he finished his novel High Magic's Aid), and 1949, and had named it Ye Booke of Ye Art Magical. In 1949, he had renamed it to the Book of Shadows, and soon began to make use of it with his Bricket Wood Coven. Adding weight to the evidence indicating Gardner invented the Book was that other neopagan witches of the time, such as Robert Cochrane, never made use of such a book.

Valiente's rewriting

In 1953, Doreen Valiente joined Gardner's Bricket Wood coven, and soon rose to become its High Priestess. She noticed how much of the material in his Book of Shadows was taken not from ancient sources as Gardner had initially claimed, but from the works of the occultist Aleister Crowley, from Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, from the Key of Solomon and also from the rituals of Freemasonry. She confronted Gardner with this, who admitted that the text he had received from the New Forest coven had been fragmentary and he had had to fill much of it using various sources. He also stated that "well, if you think you can do any better, go ahead", and Valiente thought that she could, later stating that:

 I accepted the challenge and set out to rewrite the Book of Shadows, cutting out the Crowleyanity as much as I could and trying to bring it back to what I felt was, if not so elaborate as Crowley's phraseology, at least our own and in our own words. 

Valiente rewrote much of it, cutting out a lot of sections that had come from Crowley (whose negative reputation she feared), though retaining parts that originated with Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, which she fealt was genuine witchcraft practice. Valiente dramatically rewrote sections such as the Charge of the Goddess and also wrote several poems for the book, such as The Witches Rune. She also helped to create a poem to include the Wiccan Rede within it.

Valiente also noticed that a chant in one ritual in the book was based upon the poem "A Tree Song" from Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling, which she had enjoyed as a child. The chant in question stated that:

    Oh, do not tell the priest our plight,
    Or he would call it sin;
    But - we have been in the woods all night,
    A-conjuring summer in !
    And we bring you news by word of mouth -
    Good news for cattle and corn -
    Now is the Sun come up from the South,
    With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

This version, written by both Gardner and Valiente, but containing sections adopted from various sources, such as Aleister Crowley, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, and even Rudyard Kipling, went on to become the traditional text for Gardnerian Wicca.

In British Traditional Wicca

In forms of British Traditional Wicca, which include Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca and Algard Wicca, the Book of Shadows used by adherants is based upon that written by Garder and Valiente.

Although his own book had been put together with the help of Doreen Valiente and included material from a variety of modern sources, (notably from Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches and the writings of Aleister Crowley) it also included sections written in an antique (or mock-antique) style, including advice for witches brought to trial and tortured. Gardner claimed that these sections were genuinely historical in origin, and that witches had not been allowed to write anything down until recently, to avoid incrimination; when at last Books of Shadows were allowed, the rituals and spells had to be written in a jumbled manner to prevent any non-initiate from using them. More recent scholars however have doubted their authenticity.

It seems likely that Gardner told his three subsequent initiatory lines that the book should be copied word for word, and Wiccans descended from Eleanor Bone, Patricia Crowther and Monique Wilson have widely believed that the book was of ancient provenance.[10] North American Gardnerians of the Long Island line allow covens to add rituals and teachings to the book, but nothing may be removed.

Contemporary Usage

Some Traditional Wiccans keep two Books of Shadows: one book of core rituals which does not change, and from which new initiates copy; and another coven book for ritual use, which is different from group to group and may contain much added material. Such material is often traded between covens. Some Wiccans keep a personal Book of Shadows in addition to that of their tradition. This is typically for individual use and is not passed on to one's initiates.


After Gardner's death, his rival, Charles Cardell, published much of the material from the Gardnerian Book of Shadows. In the 1970s, the Alexandrians Janet Farrar and Stewart Farrar decided, with the consent of Doreen Valiente, that much of the Gardnerian book should be published in its true form. Much of it was published by the Farrars in their 1984 book The Witches' Way.

Non-Traditional Wicca

In non-traditional or "eclectic" forms of Wiccan or neo-pagan practice, the term Book of Shadows is more often used to describe a personal journal, rather than a traditional text. This journal records rituals, spells, and their results, as well as other magical information. This can be either an individual or coven text, and is not normally passed from teacher to student. In many cases, this kind of Book of Shadows is an electronic document (disk or website) instead of a hand-written one. Some reserve the Book of Shadows for recording spells and keep a separate book, sometimes called the Book of Mirrors to contain thoughts, feelings and experiences.

In popular culture

The television fantasy series Charmed features a fictional Book of Shadows which contains spells and arcane law, and has a supernatural ability to defend itself from harm. In the 1996 film The Craft, which some critics saw as a major influence on the series Charmed, the Book of Shadows was referred to as an object in which a witch keeps her "power thoughts".

The 2000 sequel to The Blair Witch Project was titled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, despite there being no mention of a Book of Shadows during the film, the title was seen as an attempt to capitalise on the Charmed series' established market.

External Book of Shadows Links


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