I began my book of shadows almost 20 years ago. It's been through a lot in that span of time, as have I, and it shows the wear and tear of the years. It's nothing special to look at, just an old, black three-ring binder with a broken cover. There are pages hanging out, scraps of paper tucked every which way within, stains on the paper, ink turning odd colors. In all honesty, it's an ugly old thing.
I worked so diligently on it when I first began my journey, envisioning that one day I would have one of those massive tomes, leatherbound and heavy, lots of metalwork and ornamental drawings and crinkly parchment pages. I would work in it every day and record every scrap of information I could get my hands on. It would be my magical opus. I mean, that's what we think of when we think of a book of shadows, right? At least, that's how I always imagined it. That's the image that's been sold to us.
Well, it didn't quite turn out the way I envisioned that it would. I never bought one of those huge leather volumes because, to be honest, they intimidated the hell out of me. I couldn't imagine putting my chicken scratch script in something so beautiful. And what if I screwed up a page?! Gasp! So, I stuck with my old binder notebook. It served its purpose and I felt comfortable working in it. I thought, when I run out of space, (which I surely would!) I'll just add more pages. Yes, it will become this big fat, ratty notebook stuffed to the gills with the knowledge of the ages! I'll be writing in my old notebook far into my golden years. My grandkids will be begging me to leave it to them in my will!
Yeah... that didn't happen, either.
Oh, it went well for awhile - a lot of research, a lot of writing, a lot of time and effort invested. I would flip through it and see all that hard work and just feel so proud of myself. At the time, it meant everything to me, but as I progressed along my path, I found myself going to my book less and less. Eventually, it ended up on a shelf collecting dust unless I needed to haul it down to look up a correspondence. Sure, every now and then I would come across something that would interest me and I'd print it out and cram it into one of the folders I kept inside the notebook, but working in it on a consistent basis was a thing of the past.
I felt guilty about this. What sort of witch leaves her sacred book neglected on a shelf? Yet, something always came up, life led me in different directions, I no longer felt inclined to read or write in my book anymore and, eventually, I didn't bother with it at all. The internet had become my go-to, anything I needed to know just a Google search away. Why would I go through the trouble of digging through all those pages and folders in my notebook when I could just look the answer up online? In essence, my book of shadows had become obsolete.
So, I had to ask myself, why? Why did my book of shadows become a dust catcher? What happened?
I began flipping through my book. I read what I had written down, the words that had seemed so important to me at the time, and I finally came to one hard but true realization: this was not my book. Sure, I had written down what was in there, but for the most part, they were other people's words. There were entire sections of copied information from various books on Wicca and magic, but there was little there of my own. I was just regurgitating information. I rarely wrote down my own personal thoughts and experiences. The pages that took precedence in my book read more like a textbook than a personal magical journal. There was very little of ME in the book. Sure, there was the occasional spell or ritual I had crafted myself, a few pages dedicated to my personal thoughts on a subject or a personal record of a sabbat, but for the most part, it was a cold piece of data processing. Small wonder that I lost interest in it. There was nothing there to bring me back once I became proficient in my work. My personal journals were where I recorded all my magical experiences, not my book of shadows, and that's what its original purpose was for!
I felt so bad about this. I thought I had failed as a witch somehow. So I began to do some research, hoping to discover how other witches had stayed true to their books. I began by typing 'Book of Shadows' into my search engine. Information overload! There were scores of links on how to create a book of shadows, what to put in your book of shadows, how to design your pages, how to organize it. There were also hundreds of videos on the subject. So, without further ado, I clicked a link and fell into the rabbit hole.
For me, the videos were the most telling. There were dozens of videos of witches doing "flip-throughs" of their books. Basically, they would go through their book of shadows, page by page, discussing what was in them and sometimes their process of creating them. The style of books varied, but what struck me was how alike they all were. They had the same information in their books that I did, more or less what I consider the basics - correspondence tables, information on the elements and moon phases, expansive herb and crystal lists, sabbat descriptions, etc., etc.. Some were highly stylized- beautiful, ornate works with tea-stained pages and artistic embellishments - and it was obvious that a great deal of time, effort, and money had gone into creating their books. Some had even opted to pay for copies of BoS pages instead of making their own. Still, it was all essentially the same, which disappointed me more than it should have.
Don't get me wrong. These books were beautiful. So much attention and care had been put into their content and design. Yet, what really hit home for me was that these books seemed to be just as impersonal as mine. There was nothing of them in their books, nothing that expressed their own personalities. The bulk of their content was basically what I had, just done in a more pleasingly aesthetic style. Even worse, a lot of these books contained nothing but pretty print-outs and images. There was nothing of a personal nature contained in them at all. Again, I was confronted with textbook-style, generalized content. I felt frustrated and I had to ask myself, was I being too overly-sensitive? Too particular? Too judgmental?
I then watched a video of a man who was no longer a Wiccan but began his path there. He had since moved on to a different magical path. However, he decided he would do a video showing his old book of shadows. He had happened across it while cleaning out a closet, I believe. Again, here was this massive tome filled to bursting with print-outs and photocopied information on everything under the magical moon. Lots of information, but again, very little of a personal nature, save for a journaled page here and there. You could tell he had put a great deal of time and effort into its creation, but now it was nothing more than a novelty piece to him. He still had a sentimental connection to his old book of shadows, but he no longer had any use for it. I was finally starting to comprehend what my issue was.
I considered all I had read and seen. One thing I noticed while watching all of these "flip-through" videos was that when these people happened upon a page that held particular personal meaning for them - a journal page or ritual or spell they had written themselves - they paused. They lingered over that page. They touched it, reread the words, smiled, relived the moment of its creation. It was sentimental for them, a personal experience of their magical journey.
This! This is what I was looking for, I realized. This is what would give my own book meaning again. Enough with copying down others' knowledge and experiences. I had moved past that. It wasn't relevant to my path any longer. It was time to make a book of shadows in my own words. What were my experiences working with this element, this herb? How do I celebrate a sabbat? What herbs do I use? What are my thoughts, my beliefs, my practices? This is what needs to be in my book of shadows now.
I've been at this a long time. I no longer need basic information and how-to instructions taking up large sections of my book of shadows. I won't throw the information I've gathered away, but it is time for me to retire it and move on.
I learned an important lesson here. Just like I have changed, grown and advanced on my journey, so should have my book of shadows. Yet, instead of allowing my book to progress with me, I overfilled it with information that no longer serves (or never did serve) me. I filled it up and then let it go stagnant, like a swampy pond. Just like me, to progress - to grow - it must be allowed to flow. It has to change and move forward, right along with me.
Will I retire my old book for good? Perhaps. Or maybe I'll section off the old pages, finally add in those new pages I talked about all those years ago and just start writing again.
No, she's not the beautiful tome I once longed for. She's a homely old thing, really, just an old black binder with a broken cover, but she's mine and always will be. We've seen a lot, that old scarred notebook and me, and I've finally come to realize that I still love her, despite it all.
You were never the problem, my dear old book. It was always me.