A Witch’s Guide to Starting Your Grimoire and/or Book of Shadows

This little adventure started when I tried to find planner supplies for my Grimoire. There’s almost nothing out there that’s specifically designed for witches, and what is out there is too fussy for my taste. I don’t know about you all, but for me, compiling a good Book of Shadows is very important to the practice of my Craft. Additionally, it’s so personal, it has to be perfect. The New Year (Lunar, Solar, or the Vernal Equinox) is such a wonderful opportunity for things like this, I think, but you can start your Book of Shadows any time. I don’t know about you, but I love a project. As far as witchcraft is concerned, this is the project of all projects.

For me, figuring out the format for my Book of Shadows was a near-identity crisis. Counting some missteps and corrections it took a year and a half for me to figure out what I really wanted. Here’s some advice from my try/fail/do it the hard way experience that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Grimoire or Book of Shadows?

I tend to use the two terms almost interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. In short, a Grimoire is impersonal and a Book of Shadows is personal. A Grimoire wouldn’t feature your personal dreams, tarot readings, crystal grids, etc., but a Book of Shadows would. Grimoires would be comparable to Commonplace Books which are/were collections of interesting facts, puzzles, and quotations that people used to maintain. It wasn’t a personal diary, but it was personal in an impersonal way. A Grimoire would be similar; it’s not a magickal diary, but it does contain magickal information. In short: You can put Grimoire information in a Book of Shadows, but you cannot put Book of Shadows (personal) information in a Grimoire and still have it considered a Grimoire. Some people suggest keeping two books (Flying the Hedge has a good article), and my partner suggested this very thing to me as well. The dashboards I made for my coven and myself (shown below) are designed for a Book of Shadows, because they’re about the here and now, containing specific a month, year, and dates. It’s not ‘evergreen’ material, which is what goes in a Grimoire. Eventually, I would like it maintain both a Book of Shadows and a Grimoire.

Format: Handwritten or Typed, Physical or Digital

Handwritten versus typed is the great BoS debate, and there was even an article about it in Llewellyn’s 2016 Witches Companion book. Alongside the writing debate is the physical book or digital collection debate. There is the argument that transferring things to paper by hand ingrains them into your memory more than typing, and it does. The counter-argument is that typing is faster and more convenient, plus you can search your work easily. Some people hate their handwriting, or write so slow or sloppy that it hinders more than it helps (you do need to be able to review the information, after all). When you lay it out, the options are:

– Purely handwritten, physical hard copy only. Pros: No one can hack it, and it can’t be accidentally deleted or lost in a computer crash. Cons: You could literally lose it, some people hate their handwriting, you have to pick a format (discussed below), and it’s less flexible than digital.

– Handwritten and typed, physical hard copy and digital copy (both). Pros: You can scan handwritten pages and combine them with typed pages on a computer so the whole thing can be backed up. If it’s both printed and stored digitally it’s very unlikely that it will be lost. Cons: When you reorganize it once you have to reorganize it in two places, and it’s a lot of work if you maintain it in two places. Doesn’t have a consistent look.

– Handwritten and typed, physical hard copy (printing the typed page) and digital copy (typed pages only). Pros: Typed things have a backup on the computer that are easily reorganized. Still has the primary feeling of being handwritten and compiled. Cons: Doesn’t have a consistent look. Typed and printed pages can feel less ‘special.’

– Purely typed, physical hard copy (ie: printed out from your computer, may or may not have a digital backup). Pros: Looks consistent and organized. Easy to reprint pages if changes need to be made. Easy to reorganize depending on storage format. Able to back up work while maintaining physical copy easily. Cons: Doesn’t feel as ‘special’ as hand-written entries. Typing doesn’t move information into the memory as effectively as writing it.

– Purely digital/digital copy (ie: blog/website, Google Drive, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.). Pros: Easy to search, reorganize, convenient. Most people type faster than they write by hand. Cons: Not necessarily secure, feels less ‘special.’

What will likely happen is a combination of more than one of the above, especially if you maintain both a BoS and a Grimoire. I went back and forth a lot, and ended up deciding on a purely handwritten Book of Shadows. It didn’t start out that way, but ended that way because I feel like putting your physical handwriting into it makes it more magickal. I had to do a lot of work to get over leaving scribbles on the page when I misspelled something, and I confess that I do rewrite pages from time to time.

If you really hate your handwriting, but still want to do the hard copy version, they’ve started selling typewriters again (I saw one at Michael’s recently). I think it’s a really clever compromise because it still takes effort to type with a typewriter, since it’s more engaging than a keyboard, which makes it a good half-step between physical and digital.

Importantly, you will probably not share your Book of Shadows with others, because it is so personal, and you may want to protect it magickally. This is especially true if you want to take it out of the house or live with people who don’t know you’re a witch or who don’t support your path. A Grimoire, on the other hand, can be shared with others because it’s purely research.

Spirals, Planners, and Comp Books, Oh My!

Once you decide on a format, the next step is deciding where to house it. If you go purely digital you can use a private blog (WordPress, Tumblr, etc.) or make your “Book of Shadows” posts private and your “Grimoire” posts public. I feel like the digital versions are the easiest; maybe that’s also why I feel like they’re the least rewarding. If you go hard copy in any combination it’s more work, but I feel like the additional effort makes it more rewarding.

Choosing a place to host my Book of Shadows was the hardest step for me, and I agonized over this decision for weeks at a time. Basic options include:

– Composition Book
– Discbound Planner
– Journal (hardbound or spiral bound)
– Moleskine Notebook
– Planner (usually 6 rings)
– Spiral Notebook
– Three Ring Binder (any size)

Things to consider when choosing a format are ease of moving pages, ease of writing, ease of storage (size), and portability. For me, the most important feature ended up being the ability for a BoS to lay flat on a desk so I could write in it easily. I suggest buying a few different types of the inexpensive BoS options (spiral, composition book, and three ring binder) in a few sizes and trying them all out. If you’re writing at home, your BoS can be bigger, but if you write at a coffee shop you might want something more discreet and portable. Trying those three main options in two sizes, standard and small, should cost around $10 at an office supply store. Once you’ve figured out what you want to use, transfer the information from your practice books into your final one.

When I was a baby witch in High School (memories!) my coven leader kept everything in spiral notebooks; it was what we had access to and it blended in with our school stuff. Pick the format that works for you where you are now. The book The Witch’s Book of Shadows by Jason Mankey helpfully reminds us that you can transfer material any time, and that your first BoS is pretty much always going to be a mess. That means there’s no pressure, so just jump on in and start testing formats. Because a Book of Shadows is so personal, it might take some time, and money, to figure out what works for you.

Trial Period

Before you do a BoS/Grimoire dedication and put a hex on it to jinx the lives of any who gaze upon it … give yourself a trial period with the book/format. For a little while your stuff will be all over the place, and that will be stressful for organized witches like me. Remember, you can always transfer anything you like into your final book when you do figure out what’s right for you. Testing out a bunch of different types of books is not something you’ll regret and it is well worth your time. When you are ready to do your dedication, think about where your BoS is going to live. If it doesn’t leave the house and you’re comfortable with everyone in the house, there may be no need to hex it. Instead you can write “Only the good may enter herein,” on the first page, so that naughty spirits will stay away. If you do frequently take your BoS outside to write (at school, at the beach, on the lawn, at a park, at a coffee house), but are good at keeping track of things, you can put a protection sigil on it so that you’ll never leave it behind. Another protection would be an invisibility sigil, on the front or inside cover, so that no one will notice you writing. If you have a specific path or God/dess that you want to dedicate your Book of Shadows to, that’s great, but there are a lot of variations on this practice. As always in witchcraft and paganism, follow your gut.

In Conclusion

I hope that you found this helpful in your own quest for a functional, beautiful Book of Shadows and/or Grimoire. Let me know what else you’d like to learn about in the comments. Blessed be!

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