You know, for all the talk about books of shadows and magical journaling, Wiccans tend to be terrible record-keepers. Having been around long enough to meet lots of other witches and even get my hands on other personal books of shadows (whether inherited, gifted, or otherwise acquired), I’ve found that overwhelmingly it’s copied material. Usually, it’s copied from published books or from the Internet. You discover Wicca, you buy a blank book to use as a personal book of shadows, and then you copy “Rede of the Wiccae,” the Charge, and maybe some tables of correspondences into the first few pages. Then, if you’re most people, you put it away and don’t really write in it anymore. About the only thing personal about this personal book of shadows is the cover page that you made after hours of sifting through Celtic clip art and Googling “illuminated lettering.”
Maybe you never really started one at all. Maybe you bought a really nice leather book and are afraid to actually write in it because you think your handwriting sucks. Or maybe you’re just printing things off from the Internet into a three-ring binder, figuring that you’ll get around to something nicer once you’re further along. Maybe you’re so concerned with “passing on [your] tradition” to your future children that you spend all of your time formulating the details of said tradition instead of actually documenting the things you do or think (which usually just equates to, again, copying the Rede and maybe writing something about the goddess you chose for your altar that month).
This is a public service announcement from a history enthusiast begging you to please get over whatever your hang-up is and start really writing. Nobody in the future wants to read your handwritten copies of other peoples’ works. I know this because, as Future Thorn, I have all of Past Thorn’s hand-copied books, and the only stuff that’s at all useful is the stuff that was original. If I wanted to read yet another rendition of Scott Cunningham’s “13 Goals of a Witch” (thanks for that, Past Thorn), I’d just look it up in Scott Cunningham. Put all the stuff from the Internet and your favorite books in there if you want to, by all means, but not at the expense of actually journaling.
Imagine that your book of shadows is a lab notebook. What if, instead of keeping notes about experiments and writing down their conclusions, chemists just copied the periodic table over and over? Not only would it be boring, but we’d never get anywhere.
That’s all I see when I look at other books of shadows: the Wiccan equivalent of the periodic table over and over. I’d rather be reading about your struggles starting a coven, telling your mom you’re Pagan, rationalizing your belief in magic with your love for science, what you really think about all of this Threefold Law business, why you think your last spell didn’t work, or what you feel when you connect with your gods. Anything. It’s frustrating going through material from past generations of witches and just seeing the same old shit over and over (though the Geocities archive remains spectacular). There’s so little insight into anyone’s lives. Bbout how their groups operated, what their solitary practice looked like, how they worked magic, or what they thought and felt. Those are the kinds of things that will be valuable to you (and whoever reads your book) in the future.
[As an aside, I’ll take a second to note that I’m using the term “book of shadows” to refer to an individual’s personal record book (as opposed to a specific body of material passed through a tradition, i.e. the Book of Shadows) because this has become an accepted, colloquial term.]