Building Books: of Shadows, Cunning, Grimoires etc.
A BOS or BOC (Book of Shadows or Book of Cunning) are both central themes in many forms of modern witchcraft. Those of us who are not wiccan use the term Spell Book, Girmoire, Book of Cunning- really anything we chose to refer to the books that contain information. Many steps go into creating a truly articulate well thought-out and organized book. You may choose to use any vessel to contain the information you with to immortalize, but one thing I’ve noticed that seems to work best is to keep creating new books every so often, keeping the old ones, just to trace your growth and change of thought. I have seven books that I’ve kept over the course of my life. The first was just a blue diary my grandma bought me, the next three were black leather bound sketchbooks, the next was a solid oak one I bought for an exorbitant amount of money, the next two were small diary-sized art books and my final one (or most current) is a handmade post bound leather tome designed to last as an heirloom for generations. You may be asking, why in Brighid’s name would I need so much? Well, this gets to my first point: you, as a witch are forever changing. Your practice today will not be the same three years from now nor is it the same as it was three years ago. The craft for some of us is about change, flowing with nature and allowing ourselves to admit when we’ve changed our minds. It doesn’t mean we were all wrong. It means that we are still evolving, and life IS evolution. I started my first book as a novice in eclectic folk religion, and then I delved into Wicca for a little under ten years. Later, when I began to pursue Celtic reconstuctionism, it occurred to me that I had, in essence, traced my entire life and thoughts as a witch since my childhood and kept detailed records of things I’ve done, seen and changed. My most recent book is perhaps my greatest achievement yet. Because it is post bound, I was able to individualize each page safely, without worry of messing up and having to cross out an entire page of work or rip in out, leaving the fragments behind. My post bound book, which is built to last and be weathered is perfectly organized, containing art, all manner of information, my history, things I’d like to try and all the quirks about magic I so love.
Step One:Information Well, isn’t the entire point of a book of shadows or cunning to contain information of all kinds about your practice as a witch? It is! Compile, either on your computer or in a notebook every single bit of information you’re going to need and currently have available to you that pertains to your practice. This means correspondences, info on deities, booklists, terminology, chapters on tools, elements, ideas, spells, prayers and litanies- everything. I organized mine by computer, making sections and typing up a basic title or description of what would be needed for each chapter, and of course, this is arranged by how I would want it in the book itself. Example: 1. Title Page “A Cunning Book” 2. Basic information on myself and history 3. Dedication prayer 4. Chapter 1: correspondences (lunar, solar, element, herbal, geo, etc) 5. Chapter 2: The Divine (patrons, philosophy, mythology) 6. Chapter 3: Spells and Rituals (from healing to hexing) 7. Chapter 4: Prayers, Chants and Litanies (my own written chants, prayers I favor) 8. Chapter 5: Observations and Journal (spell attempts, notes on healing, daily thoughts) This is simply how I chose to organize. Each chapter is full of pages of information and I use all available space. Step 2: Editing Editing down the content of your book is both a good and bad thing, this depends entirely upon your personality. Some people second guess themselves so much that that leave out valuable facts or beliefes that make their practice whole- others, like myself, tend to hoard tons of information, including some very erronius or useless crap just to collect. When i got my last book of cunning, i spent months in preparation before writing in the pages, going through my old books and my beliefes, erasing the information least usefull to my current life or practice. it was hard to determine; what if i need that later!? Was all i kept thinking about, but after organising in step 1, i was able to gauge what would serve me and what would just take up a lot of space in the book. Be sure to really ask yourself if you're a practical witch. Do you ever use numerology or even believe in it? I do not really have any tie to numerology and had to eliminate page after page of information on a subject i didnt even use in my practice. Do you work a lot with the elements yet have very little information on the subject? Well, take the time to write in length about your experiences and ideas on that matter. What is your tradition? Do you use herbs and stones or are they useless for you? Does the astrological phenomonon have anything to do with your practice or are you just hoarding information on the stars with no reason? These are the questions to aks yourself. Look at all of your past work or current beliefes and start sctratching out and eliminating the waste. As a green witch, i have absolutly nothing to do with high magic diagrams, demonology, tiers of degrees or any kind of occultism that goes against or ignores nature's factor, so i needed to discard information on the subjects and only stick to the basics. I touch breifly on these esoteric realms in my book, just for reference, but i do not have any real information on these things because they are unrelated to my craft. Step 3: Embellisment. This step comes later for some, ealier for others. I am an artist and adore making everything around me more beautiful or asthetic, so i planned out ahead of time what embellisments and decorations i would use to illustrate certain subjects. I live in Seattle Washington right on the Puget Sound, literally five minutes from my house, less that two hours away from the open sea. Because of my ties to the ocean (though i am quite disconnected to water in general), i wanted to write extensivly on how living in the Emerald and Sapphire State (we are nothing but trees and sea out here!) has effected my spirituality and my craft. So, when writing on Ocean Craft, i planned ahead of time what i would decorate the page with: moon shells, cockles, conches, clams, nautilises, full moons, salmon and all manner of celtic views on this realm. Most of my pages are embellished and if you fancy yourself an artistic pagan, don't be shy in making your pages reflect your love for beauty. Sometimes, you will NEED a diagram or illustraition to refer to during spells or rites. I have tons of drawings of herbs, plants and flowers and their components because i work a lot with homeopathic medicine and have to constantly identify wild herbs by picture. Step 4: Construction At this point, you must already have a book in mind or one in your possetion and are finaly ready to put it all together. First off... how are you planning to do this. My asthetic is very different from some modern pagans- i'm old school. I dig handwritten caligraphy pages-- something that can be tresured and passed down generations. Some may choose to take the pages out of their books (if possible), design pages on a word document and print each page from the computer. Some choose to write everything neatly in pencil and pen, more like a college notebook than an heirloom. there is no wrong answer, but you really have to trust your asthetic at the time. As a kid, i wrote my BOS's in different colored caligraphy and grew fustrated that i would mess up so much, the ink would run or i would misspell a million words and either have to live with it or tear out the pages and try again. In my latest book, which is post bound, i am able to remove pages and work on them without the whole book in the way. Complicated pages were done on computer in a font most like my own handwriting-- the rest was done in pencil first on scrap paper and them done carefully by caligraphy. Be sure to make the page look the way you know you're going to want it to look years down the line.
Step 5: Keeping an open eye and open mind
Often, we include everything in our books and because we worked so hard, we sometimes stick to outdated information and let it clutter up our books. So, it is very important that a witch ALWAYS keeps their mind open to change and their eyes open to arbitrary crap.
That's all for now, more later! Hope this was interesting or helpful.