Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Building: Part II

Building a Book of Magic

My cunning books.  From Top left: my tome (over a foot long), my solid oak (a foot long), and three journal-style books

Building a book of power: a book of shadows, spell book, grimoire, book of cunning- etc- is a process that in my opinion never really ends.  If you reach a point where you think you've learned everything you need to know, you are failing.  Knowledge is a resource that never runs empty, and part of the nature of having these books is to continuously refine and research your path.

Looking back on your work helps you see the way from which you came and make notes of what has continued to work and what has not.  I look back in all of my many, many books and always find something new there I had forgotten or cringe in horror at the idiocy of my youth lol.

As I said once before, the point isn't perfection, it's growth.  Your first few books will almost always contain information that is no longer of use to you or is inaccurate.  I remember being in my "neo-wiccan stage" as so many teenagers tend to go through and writing pretty much every wiccan or wiccanesque concept in, thinking it was liturgy and intrinsic to that religion.  Years down the line I tore those pages out as age and wisdom taught me how to think more critically about information.  That's not to say that one should not jot down any interesting facts- the point is to review those "facts" later on in life to determine their validity to your current practice.

Organizing the Book by Subject and Series

a page about some of my favorite tools, the border was freehanded by Andrew G. Jimenez

I touched on this in Part One of this series, but I think I should go a little more in depth.

So many beginners get this part mixed-up, myself included.  I remember seeing a standard layout of a book of shadows as a kid and for a decade after, only organized my book in that same format.  The problem with following the rules of others is that you ultimately wind up regretting it when you think for yourself.   We all organize rooms, homes and lives differently from one another.  One witch's clutter is another witch's perfection.  We are often taught that the format of the book is everything and we find ourselves quite irritated when we run out of room, dislike the layout or just plain can't find the information.

This is when you need to analyse your own style.  What is most important to you and your practice?  What is least important?  When you look in a department store, do you want to see clothing racks up front or the accessories?  Do you like descending or ascending order on a list?  Does small come first or does big?  How do you categorize books: by title, author or genre?

These are important things to notice about your personality because you're probably going to want your book to follow that same format.  Some witches do not organize at all: they simply write titles, dates and information.  Some witches organize their book simply by placing memorized symbols on each page corner that denote what the subject matter is. I've tried them all and it came down to my own personal organization preference:
  • Title Page “Book of Cunning”
  • Basic information on myself and history
  • Folk medicine, folk magic and correspondences related to MY craft (lunar, solar, element, herbal, geo, etc)
  • The Divine (patrons, philosophy, mythology) 
  • Charms, Rituals, Folktales
  • Chants and Litanies (my own written chants, prayers I favor)
  • Observations and Journal (attempts, notes on healing, daily thoughts)

Organization also calls for you to really know how you organize the little things.  In terms of herbcrafting which falls under my Folk Medicine section, the subjects appear in this order (NOTE: for privacy reasons I am not disclosing the literal format of my book but giving a broad example of what works for me):

Herbs, plant identification dictionary, herbal medicinal (poultices, tinctures, ointments, compress, creams, elixirs, syrups, decoctions, distilling, poisons, infusions, etc), herbal cunning (sachets, pillows, cauldron waters, teas, rubs, flying ointment, hangings, wreaths, dolls, etc), floral energy, floral essences, oils, washes, waters incenses, burns, resins, brewing (booze)- and that's just to start.
Those are some things that have a lot to do with herbal medicine so i organize each subject down to the bone because that is how my mind thinks and that's how I retain information successfully.

Other examples of my neurosis:
Organizing the section on the Divine in order- The Universe, Philosophies on the Divine, the Divine Masculine and Feminine, pantheism, patrons, pantheon, ancestors, favored spirits, spirits of nature- and on.
Organizing the Correspondences- symbols, altars, ritual formats, circles, sacred space, tools, elements, colors, crystals, trees etc.
For every subject in witchcraft that pertains to the practice, there are a dozen or more sub-subjects and even more details.  You have to decide what's important for you to log and what isn't.  I tend to log everything for the obvious reason: I'm a writer and I like any excuse to be wordy!

For some of you, just making basic diagrams helps, or even just writing down the bare essentials and retaining the rest by memory.  Nearly everything I've committed to the pages of my various cunning books also happen to be committed entirely to memory... then again, I have the uncanny ability to retain almost any information I read verbatim and with good accuracy.  So why go through the trouble?  I am who I am, that's why.  And that is what I'm getting at- there is no real right way to go about organizing your tome- but it does need to reflect who you are and be all about you.

Taking Pride in the Pages
I installed very expensive but rewarding handmade paper and copper-leafed the hell out of it!

This is not just about art, people!  This is about aesthetic.
What is Aesthetic?
adjective /esˈTHetik/

  1. Concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty
    • - the pictures give great aesthetic pleasure
  2. Giving or designed to give pleasure through beauty; of pleasing appearance
We all have varied ideas of what we consider to be beautiful.  The Libra in me sees the beauty in almost every aesthetic you can think of, but what about YOU?  Are you drawn towards Greek art?  Celtic?  Art nouveau? Realism? Do you enjoy paintings?  Sketches?  Cartoons?  You can't really go wrong because the BOS, BOC, Grimoire etc. is about your own taste and your own style.

My pages tend to have flora and fauna EVERYWHERE.  Most of my pages are empowered with the embellishment I give them which have a reoccurring nature theme.  Some pages are decorated with gold-leaf vines, copper leaf letters, flowers emerging from the corners, and all sorts of animals in Celtic knots.  That is my aesthetic- ancient and natural.  I have a serious fetish for gold-leafing and ivy vines- so I let that show in all of my work.  My best friend and witchy-colleague Trisha prefers ornate decorative floral borders in imaginative colors.  My partner prefers that his sacred texts be embellished with Sanskrit mantras and mudras of the Medicine Buddha.  Aesthetic is all about who you are and what you like to see.

FAQ's About Sacred Books
my solid oak book from age 17 to 21- completed and retired

Do I have to call it a Book of Shadows?
Nope.  Book of Shadows is a Wiccan term, which was started by Gerald Gardener, it's founder.  If you are not Wiccan, you do not have to use the term BOS- hell, even some Wiccans don't call it that.  Some witches call it a grimoire, which is a ceremonial and medieval term for a spell-book most often used for demonology.  Some witches just use the name Spell book or diary.  You can call it whatever you like.  Mine is a book of cunning or just plain cunning book.  Why?  Because it is a glossary of folk magic and I'm a cunning woman.  Who came up with that name?  Me... or at least I've never heard it from anywhere else lol.

What are the most common subjects written about in a personal spell book?
Here is a basic list I see circulating the world of witches, particularly neo-Wiccans.  My own book is arranged quite differently.

Personal magical experiences*
Book list
Circle diagrams
Circle philosophy
Weekday meanings
Experiences with the Otherworld
Animistic practices
Shamanistic practices
Entheogens and sacred hallucinogenic plants
Hair magic
Midsummer (Litha)
Midwinter (Yule)
Rites of Spring (Ostara)
Last Harvest (Mabon)
Initiation Rite
Intuitive gifts
Magical lists
Sigil wheel
Sigil by words
Personal sigils
Herbs (A-Z, magic and medicine)
Floral Magic
Delphic herbs
Planetary observances
The Divine
The Dark and Light
Spell craft
- to name a few
Can I share mine with my friends?
NO!  Naw, just kidding, sure, if you want.  Some of us don't share all of our books with our loved ones because we keep a very personal dairy in English and that can get ugly.  Some witches believe it is wrong to share such a personal object of power.  It's up to you.

What happens if I mess up?
Nothing, the world won't end.  Messing up is a part of life.  If you don't like it, tear it out or glue over it.  If you're like me, you let the mistakes keep their place because they are just part of the flow.

Can it be used as a diary?

Where do I find the perfect book?
This tends to give witches a lot of grief.  As I stated in Part One, the book's outside doesn't matter as much as its contents and it can be whatever you like.  If you want a beautiful and ornate book, you're either going to have to make it yourself or shell out the big bucks.  My current book was custom made by Lapulia Studios and cost nearly $400 dollars.  The one previous to that is a solid oak grimoire I bought from Dwarve Song when I was a teenager for $175.   The true perfect book is one specially made to your preferences but you can have just as much luck with any pretty journal from Borders or even a college-ruled notebook.  Other big-budget favorites are Brahms Books and Witches Moon.

What should I do with my old books?
Anything you like.  If you feel connected to them, then by all means keep them or pass them along to others for their own use.  Another option is to turn completed books into offerings to the one's spirits or gods.  When I come to the end of a book, I make a very simple decision- sacrifice or keep.  The first four books were sacrificed at some point in time to the fires of the Spring Equinox on the sand dunes beside the sea.  I currently have five books in my possession that are still somewhat active.  I plan on turning one into a basic for any of my friends interested in having a starter- as you can see, there are a ton of options.

Interesting tidbits and ideas
If you have a post-bound book, try switching out the pages for decorative paper you buy from the art store.

Try hand-dying paper using natural herbal dyes, berries, red wine, liquor or even food coloring- watch out for shrinking paper!

Try to find light weight resins to glue in pressed flowers (they can flake over time), pictures or pages.  This is sort of like scrap booking.  For those of you unconcerned with keeping it all-natural, double sided tape does wonders or traditional glue (though the effect can be a crumpled back to your page and welts).

Get creative with colors- unless you enjoy the monochrome road, colors can do wonders in expressing the meaning of each subject.

Leafing-  gold, silver, copper and bronze leaf come in several forms: loose leaf which  is flaky and deliciously shiny and requires an adhesive application first, liquid leaf which ought to be painted on with a clean precision brush or actual leafing pens (the quality isn't great but it will do in a pinch: watch out for page bleeding though).  Use the leaf wisely- too much can turn out tacky-looking.