Book of Shadows

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Book of Shadows

The "bible" of the modern witch coven. It contains basic beliefs, rituals, charms, spells, and incantations. There is no authentic definitive edition, since the form and scope of the book differs from coven to coven. Normal procedure is for a witch to copy the work in her own handwriting and destroy the original, but in many covens, copies are made without destroying the original. However, no copy is intended to be kept by a witch who leaves the coven, and this rule is enforced by various threats and curses.

Although the act of copying the book in manuscript suggests a centuries-old secret tradition, there is little doubt that the material contained in most modern versions of the Book of Shadows derives from sources such as Aradia; or The Gospel of the Witches (1899) by Charles Godfrey Leland, a compilation of witchcraft folklore reportedly collected by Leland from a Florentine fortune-teller and hereditary. It was the first English-language publication of its kind. The average modern Book of Shadows derives from the one constructed in stages by Gerald B. Gardner for use in his revived Witchcraft group in Great Britain during the 1940s and 1950s. He borrowed heavily from the writings of Aleister Crowley, especially for the third degree. During the 1960s and 1970s various Witches mixed the Gardnerian Book of Shadows with material from modern occult and folklore texts.

The Gardnerian Book of Shadows was actually released in 1964 by a hostile ex-member, and over the years additional variations on the text have been published, as have new Books of Shadows inspired by it. Wide circulation was given to Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows, released in 1973.

Sources:

The Book of Shadows and Substance. Owlexandrian Multimedia/Hermetic Educational Institute, n.d.

Budapest, Zsuzsanna Emese. The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows. Venice, Calif.: Luna Publications, 1976.

Rex Nemorensis [Charles Cardell]. Witch. London: Privately published, 1964.

Sheba, Lady. The Book of Shadows. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1973.

Tarostar. A Book of Shadows. New Brunswick, N.J.: Inner Light Publications,1987.