The Book of Shadows Question

The other day, I was going through my usual rounds in cyberspace. As I came to one of the online Paganism forums that I frequent, one message caught my eye. A relatively new forum member had made it. I remembered her introduction and noted that she was relatively new to Paganism. So I read with interest, as I always enjoy learning about what's happening with new Pagans. It seems that she was quite excited about her latest online find. She had come across a website that is offering a free "book of shadows" on CD. The only cost attached to the offer is a fee for shipping and handling.

Despite my skepticism of both anything that is advertised as free and online books of shadows, I decided to check the site out. I first looked through the information on pricing and ordering, verifying that their initial claims were accurate. I then checked the bio of the person making this offer. There was nothing too strange there, though I did note with curiosity that this person offering a free book of shadows did not explicitly identify her as a Wiccan or Pagan.

Finally, I checked the description of the CD's contents. Here I found a number of spells and rituals as well as the common tables of correspondences. For good measure, the makers of the CD threw in a lot of material on hermetic magic and the works of Aleister Crowley. As I looked through this list, a thought occurred to me. I began to wonder how helpful this "book of shadows" would be to any Pagan - especially a new one. I'm not convinced that it'd be helpful at all. Certainly, there are more effective ways to approach a book of shadows.

Let us remember that a book of shadows is primarily intended to record ones personal spiritual and magical practices. This record in effect becomes a workbook to aid the individual with one's personal spiritual growth. The term workbook implies a certain amount of writing on the part of the individual. It is this very nature of a book of shadows and its purpose that have left me with the firm conviction that one's book of shadows should be primarily written by oneself.

How can another write a record of one's own spiritual and magical practice? Who can another be more qualified than oneself? The best record of these things is formed as one writes down one's own thoughts, records one's own experiences and one's impression of them, and one's reactions to the things learned. The compilation of these things will provide the individual with a tool that one can evaluate and improve one's progress as a Pagan and a magician.

This isn't to say that one cannot include material by another author in one's book own book of shadows. I know of at least one friend who has honored me by including some of my writings in hers, in fact. However, she includes these writings because they hold a personal meaning for her. This demonstrates the essential rule that any materials from an outside source should only be included if it contains a truth with which one can personally identify.

As an extension to this rule, I would suggest that one should also add a note describing why one has included the piece from another source and how that piece touches the book of shadows' owner. My friend often follows my writings with her own journal entries that were inspired by them. In this way, even material written by others becomes intensely personal within her own book of shadows.

Paganism is an intensely personal religious practice. Because of this, the book of shadows that records our personal Pagan practice must be equally personal. It is only when we use it as a medium for developing our own intensely personal practice that we can realize the true power of this tool.