Folks new to the craft often like to ask, what is a Book of Shadows? The Book of Shadows is a book which contains a Wiccan or witch’s spells, rituals, information on the different Sabbats of the year, how to cast magic circles and how to close them, how to draw symbols such as pentagrams, moon phases, herbs and their uses, types of divination for example such as tarot and ruins, information on pantheons and deities, crystals, incense and so on. It can literally contain anything to do with all of your activities in Wicca and witchcraft. So it is essentially the personal diary for a Wiccan or witch. There is no wrong or right way to lay out your Book of Shadows, and it is a very personal preference. Some people prefer to start a Book of Shadows with certain types of information perhaps such as a vow that they took when becoming a Wiccan or witch or perhaps the basic Wiccan testaments (Wiccan Rede) or for example the rules and regulations of your Coven.
There are some folks who like to start their Book of Shadows immediately with spells, and then they’ll add other information about rituals and general Wiccan information near the back of the Book of Shadows. There really isn’t a particular order in which you should place things in yours, that really depends on you.
There are even some witches who have more than one Book of Shadows, for example one Book of Shadows might just contain spells and another Book of Shadows might contain rules and regulations of the Coven, any vows they’ve made, information on rituals and Sabbats, information on tarot layouts and rune layouts and so on. Let’s talk about the types of Books of Shadows that you can have, in other words, the format that the book is in.
Types of Books of Shadows (Physical or Digital Formats)
There really are three different types of so-called formats that you can use for a Book of Shadows, I am sure that there are probably even more than these, but these are the most popular types that I have seen most Wiccans use over the years.
A Diary, Journal or Book with Empty Pages
This is one of the most popular, and you often see in movies that the Book of Shadows is portrayed as being a huge leather-bound book. This is not far from the truth as many witches do you like to have a very ornately decorated Book of Shadows, often it is leather-bound, and has a lot of decoration on the front cover. But it doesn’t have to be too fancy, it can just be a diary or a journal that you purchased from your local store.
Now using a book has the disadvantage that you don’t know immediately at the offset how much space you’re going to need for each section in your Book of Shadows. For example, you may need to count how many blank pages to leave for a particular section of your Book of Shadows, such as for spells, general information and rituals. But often times, if you look at other people’s Book of Shadows (if you’re lucky for some to show you theirs) and I have seen quite a few myself, there isn’t a particular order in which things are added to the book, and often times it’s not very well organised, simply because people add things to the Book of Shadows as time goes on.
A File or Folder
A file or folder is a great way to create your Book of Shadows. Immediately the advantages are that you can add things in any order you want and you can change the order as well. So if you go ahead and add some new spells you’ve learnt, you can immediately flip the file to the section for your spells and add the spell in that section in any order you want. If you want to erase or remove something from the Book of Shadows it as easy as taking that note out of the file and throwing it away. Whereas with a physical book, you don’t have that luxury, and you’d most likely have to paste something over that page to replace whatever was there before or rip a page out which is definitely not recommended as it will ruin the structure / integrity of the whole book.
Of course, the problem with a file or folder is that it’s normally quite big, and it can be easy for pages to go missing if you’re not careful when you are working on the Book of Shadows, and it is difficult to carry around with you compared to a smaller physical book which is a lot lighter and can just be tucked away in a backpack. But many witches and Wiccans do use a file or folder, and it is a much more modern and convenient method just because organisation is easiest. So if you prefer this kind of Book of Shadows, then I’d recommend going for a file or folder. Also, with a file, you can easily create an index in the front for each section such as spells, herbs, essential oils, 8 Sabbats, and then it’s easy to just add notes to each section as needed.
Digital Book of Shadows
With the modern age and era, more and more Wiccans and witches are starting to use digital versions for their Book of Shadows. Immediately, I think it’s easy to see the advantage of it, you can carry your Book of Shadows in mobile form on your mobile phone, or on a tablet, or on your laptop or computer. It’s super easy to use searching to instantly find a spell or information on a particular herb without having to page through hundreds of pages or notes physically.
You can easily add and remove pages to it depending on how you structure it. It could be Word documents that you keep in a folder called Book of Shadows, or you might have a dedicated app or programme that allows you to keep a diary or journal and you can easily add or remove pages to that journal. I also enjoy using Evernote since it’s always online and I can find anything I am searching for in an instant.
It is also really easy to decorate a digital version of a Book of Shadows, because you can get digital images for free from websites such as Pixabay, and you can add those images into your digital Book of Shadows to make it look pretty and to decorate it. Applications such as PowerPoint really make this very easy and if you use a Mac, then the equivalent to PowerPoint is called Keynote, which can make this process really fun and easy to do was well.
I think in addition to the mobility of your Book of Shadows, you could save your book in the Cloud, for example on Google Docs and have access to your Book of Shadows anywhere you go in the world and never having to worry about losing it. Especially with iPads and Android tablets, more and more witches and Wiccans use these mobile formats to work with their Book of Shadows on the go. You can of course also password protect your Book of Shadows and encrypt it to ensure that no one has access to it so you have additional security and privacy, especially if you share a computer with someone else.
Book of Shadows Layout
So, as I mentioned earlier, there is no wrong or right way in which to lay out your Book of Shadows, but I’ve been doing a lot of research on how others like to lay out their books, and having seen a few Book of Shadows myself, this particular layout seems to suit most people, and is perhaps a good way to start the lay out as a beginner for your first Book of Shadows.
Let’s discuss the basic layout, you are welcome to use this to start off your first Book of Shadows as a beginner to Wicca or witchcraft, and you can later adapt it to change it or improve it for your own liking. Of course, remember that if you are not happy with the Book of Shadows, you can always get another one and start your layout from scratch, which is again why I prefer using a file or a digital version for my Book of Shadows, because you don’t have to worry about starting from scratch if you mess up. So yes, I personally prefer a file or folder or digital format, but there are some beautiful books that you can buy on Amazon, and let’s be honest, a book just feels so much more ‘witchy’
Wiccan or Witch Vows
You can start off your Book of Shadows with any vows you took, whether it be a personal vow between you and your God and Goddess, or with your coven, or both or any other personal vows or promises you wish to add.
After any vows have been added, you can paste the Wiccan Rede in to your book, or add it to your file or digital Book of Shadows, just to remind yourself what the guidelines or rules are for Wicca or witchcraft in general. If you have joined a coven, feel free to add their rules and regulations into this section as well to remind yourself what duties your coven may expect from you and so on.
The Wheel of the Year and Sabbats
In this section go ahead and add details for the 8 Sabbats of the year (the wheel of the year), including the dates for them, and any special rituals or decorations for those particular Sabbat days, and information on any elements or ingredients to make use for those Sabbats. Again, get really creative and try to make it very colourful.
You can have a Sabbat on each page dedicated to itself, or have small paragraphs of each Sabbat with images and just a summary of the most important information for each Sabbat. Many folks like to add a picture of the wheel of the year, with the dates and names of the different Sabbats. You can find some beautiful colour images on the Internet to down and print for your personal use.
The Four Quarters / The Four Elements
In this section add information about the four elements, for example fire, earth, air and water. Take note of any correspondences, important properties, types of offerings that provide for each type of element, and any other important information for each element to remind yourself how to use them (and work with their elementals) in rituals and spells.
How to Draw A Pentagram
Include some diagrams of how to invoke, or banish, using a pentagram. You can see my related post on the best way to draw a pentagram, and feel free to include that information into your Book of Shadows. It’s easy to forget the simple things if you haven’t done it for a while. So having a page or two dedicated to this in your Book of Shadows is a good idea, as well as to include how and when to use a pentagram in spells and rituals.
How to Cast / Close a Magic Circle
Something you do for every single ritual, and for any spell work, is cast a magic circle. Having a small ritual in your Book of Shadows that explains how to cast a magic circle, or some common verses and words that you normally would use to cast a magic circle, along with the process and procedure to close one, is a good idea. Dedicate a page or two to explain to yourself how to cast a magic circle and any information required to do that during the process, e.g. how to hold your athame when casting, things to say to the four quarters and so on. Also remember to add information on how to enter and leave the magic circle if needed, I cover this information in more detail in my other post.
Include information on the moon phases and what the meaning each moon phase has for your rituals and spells. There are certain moon phases where it is best to perform certain types of spells and rituals, so make sure to add all of this information so it’s easy to reference for the future. You could also include the full moon phases for the current year if you want to, along with their dates and times, although this is probably best if you have a file or digital format type of Book of Shadows, since adding it to a physical book for each year can take up space fast.
Include information here on tarot card layouts and rune layouts, as well as information on how to read or interpret tarot cards and ruins (although it’s likely best to use a separate book for reference when reading runes or tarot). This can take a considerable amount of space so if you’re using a book try to set aside quite a few blank pages to have enough space to add information on this. If you are using a file or using digital version this is perfect because you can just add interpretations and meanings for different cards and runes as you go without worrying about not having enough blank pages or space for all the different interpretations.
Let’s face it, your Book of Shadows is mostly about spells, and it’s going to be filled to the brim with loads of different spells as you learn them and use them throughout your time as a witch or Wiccan. It’s really difficult to allocate space for all the spells that you might want to add, so this is something probably best left for somewhere about halfway through your Book of Shadows, and then from that point on add only spells from the centre of the book to the end, so it’s easier to find spells. Again, here is where a file or digital Book of Shadows really comes in useful, because you don’t have to worry about allocating space for any other information for your spell section.
Some people do you like to start putting spells into their book right from the beginning, and I have also seen Books of Shadows where spells are actually intermixed in between all the other information such as rituals and moon phases. That is actually also perfectly fine, although it can be a lot harder to find a particular spell that you want to use when doing that kind of thing, but if it works for you go ahead and do that. I just think having a file with a spells section makes it super easy to add new spells, and of course, it’s so much easier to find them, especially if you add a spell index for your spells section.
You want a section in your Book of Shadows dedicated to your God and Goddess, and information on each of them. You also will want information on your pantheon in general, as well as the names of the Gods and Goddesses in your pantheon, and when to work with those particular deities in different types of rituals and spells. I dedicate an entire page to my God and another entire page to my Goddess, and then for the other Gods and Goddesses I tend to have two on each page with any specific information I may need to remember for spells and rituals. But I also use file and digital these days and so now I can dedicate a full page for each God and Goddess in my pantheon with colour pictures, symbols, images and so on to make it easier to remember things about them.
This is optional, since you can have a separate reference book on different herbs, but if you really want to, you can add to your Book of Shadows information on different herbs (and even essential oils) listing information about the most common types of herbs and their uses in spells and rituals. Information on magical properties, how and when to use them, and so on. Same is true for essential oils, you could have a separate section for essential oils and how and when to use them.
It’s useful to have a section in your Book of Shadows about crystals, when to use them and how to use them. For example, should they be worn or should they be included on your altar? Should the crystal be left next to a particular object, and how many crystals to use for particular types of situations. It’s also good to keep a list of all the names of the different crystals and perhaps a picture of each crystal and common uses and properties of each.
Incense and Smudge Sticks
Having an area dedicated to the different types of incense that you can use in your spells and rituals, as well as the kind of properties that they have and when it’s best to use each type, is also very useful. As you know, certain types of incense are best used for certain types of spells or rituals, so keeping a list of perhaps the most common ones that you like to use and their uses is a good idea for easy reference. And it could be useful to add some information on the use of smudge sticks.
Perhaps a small section dedicated to different types of altar tools, and their common uses would be a nice addition to your Book of Shadows. For example, information on the athame, how to use your wand, and perhaps information on your cauldron and how to use that for potions and herb burning and so on. You can even include information on your preferred altar layout or even altar layouts for different seasons and events such as Samhain, Yule or Litha or any other Sabbats where you might want a custom altar layout for that Sabbat.
The above list should just help to give you some ideas of what you can include in your Book of Shadows as a beginner. I think starting with the basic layout of having your vows, your Wiccan Rede, the different Sabbats of the year and how to celebrate them, the four quarters (or four elements), as well as basic information on how to open and close the magic circle as well as moon phases and information on your God and Goddess, should be standard in your Book of Shadows. Everything else can kind of follow on from that as you develop the Book of Shadows further.
Remember that the Book of Shadows is your personal diary as a witch or Wiccan, so get really creative and on your pages / notes make really colourful patterns and add lots of pictures to make it interesting to read and look at. Feel free to decorate the borders of your pages and even to experiment with different types of writing styles perhaps adding some cursive writing or colouring in the first letter of each entry on each page in your Book of Shadows, with a nice big bold letter, the kind you would normally have seen on books of old. It really is your personal diary so feel free to go crazy with it.
As a beginner don’t worry too much about whether you have included every single thing that needs to be in there, no Book of Shadows is perfect, nor should it be. It might be easier to start off with a file or a digital format Book of Shadows, just because they are a lot easier to edit and modify as time goes on. They are totally acceptable and totally fine to use as Book of Shadows. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to be an actual physical book. For me personally I use a file, as well as a digital format version, but I did start off with a physical book at first. To be honest, I do prefer an actual physical book, just because it feels more traditional. If you’re interested in starting off with a physical book, have a look at this post for some of my recommendations for great looking Books of Shadows on Amazon which are excellent for beginners.