My definition for a Book of Shadows is: A book kept by an individual Witch or a coven of Witches that holds the rites and traditions of that Witch or coven. These books are highly personal, often including spells, chants, incantations, prayers, rituals, and other ritual records. Modern Witches may choose to use the computer and compile a ‘disc of shadows’ instead. That is their choice, but I will say that there is something deeply personal and sacred to putting a pen to paper for your individual book.
Over the years I’ve built up several different Books of Shadows (BOS), my first few being spiral notebooks and journals that I filled with all sorts of things. I first came to Witchcraft as a practice through reading and studying books about it and didn’t meet another Witch for several years. Books about the Craft told me that a BOS is a Witch’s personal diary and record of her studies, spells, and other magical things so that’s what I put into my various journals and notebooks. I copied down favorite poems and incantations from other sources. I recorded lesson notes and personal experiments and their results. But I write a lot and these things were either flimsy or too small to hold my continuous contributions. So I started keeping a 3-ring binder as a BOS.
I filled it with the papers from those spiral notebooks, happier now that I could organize them into better sections (I’m nuts about organizing and keeping records for things) and offer the pages more protection and security than the worn-out cardboard covers provided. Using the notebooks made writing and recording information very convenient, but it became a very confusing jumble of contents. I would have a spurt of ten or so pages about herbs, teas, and potions and then write down notes about a particular astrological occurrence. Then I’d write down some correspondences and maybe some dream or meditation notes. Whenever I wanted to find my herbal later, I had to flip through random work and that became really frustrating. Using a binder meant I could insert folders and page dividers, creating sections for everything I wanted to include. It’s been my favorite method for a BOS since.
My first binder was about 2 inches wide. I’ve long since graduated to my current preference for 5-inch binders that I’ve had to separate into different topics. Altogether now, my BOS consists of three 5-inch binders, two 4-inch binders, and four 2-inch binders. I have one binder that I consider The Tome, and it is my go-to and main BOS. It sees the most use and covers many different subjects while my other binders are specialized to individual topics like herbalism, astrology, divination, and clergy work.
I cannot recommend this format for a BOS enough. Binders are amazing and Athena agrees with me.
I also own a lovely leatherbound BOS with parchment pages and both covers bearing embossed pentacles surrounded by Celtic knotwork, and I’ve put it to use, but it also has the same problem with my first spiral notebooks — keeping everything sectioned — but I’ve sort of overcome that problem by using colored ribbons to mark different topics.
So if you are building your own BOS, these are some of the formats available to you. You can use notebooks, journals, binders, or artisan-crafted BOSes. Or, you may determine that you prefer being a cyber-witch and utilize a flash drive or files on your computer. I use my computer a great deal as well and have specialized folders and files for my magical stuff. Most of this is related to study, class, teaching, and writing work, but I do keep some more magically-focused work there as well. I just don’t really consider anything on my computer to be a Folder or Flash-Drive of Shadows.
Putting together a personal BOS is a labor of love and devotion. Enjoy yours as you build it up and continue to fill it with new and exciting things you’ve worked on and learned.