Grimoires, Book of Shadows & Other Magical Texts
“There are books about magic and there are books of magic, and the price of the latter is far above rubies.” ― Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Just as Susanna Clarke made the distinction in her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, there are primarily two kinds of books when it comes to magic: Books ABOUT magic, and books OF magic.
The difference between the two is that books about magic cover topics such as; the history of magical practices; the theoretical use of magic; folklore; runes; witchcraft; tools of the craft; working with deities, and so on. But these books do not actually include how-to cast spells, or how to use magical items for the purpose of performing witchcraft. They have information about these topics as researched by the author, but are not intended for people (witches) to use, as the authors of such texts are rarely practicing witches themselves.
Books about “magic,” “magick,” “the craft,” “pagan practices,” “Wicca,” “satanism,” so on and so forth, that are NOT written by a witch, mage, shaman, warlock, alchemist, occultist (or similar), for the purpose of documenting or actuating arcane magic and magical practices, fall under the category of books about magic.
Real books of magic, are more akin to a magic cookbook or magic diary. These often contain one particular witch’s (or coven’s) “recipe” for spell casting, use of magical items, successful divination practices, chants, runes, sigils, etc. They are created for spell casting by those who believe in what they have written and have experimented with different types of witchcraft.
Grimoires are a coven or witch’s guidebook.
They are often considered sacred or religious texts.
They are not usually sold or replicated.
Books of magic are often private, hard to come by, hand-written, handed down, protected, or kept secret.
They are texts written by a witch (or similar) for other witches or for their own solitary practice.
These include Grimoires, Spell books, Book of Shadows, Hex Texts, etc.
Today, we are here today to talk about books of magic.
What’s a Grimoire:
“A grimoire, also known as a“book of spells” or a “spell book,” is a textbook of magic, typically including instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms, and divination, how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as spirits, deities, and demons. In many cases, the books themselves are believed to be imbued with magical powers, although in many cultures, other sacred texts that are not grimoires (such as the Bible) have been believed to have supernatural properties intrinsically.”
One of the most common questions I run across is: “How can I create my own Book of Shadows (grimoire)?”
Honestly, there is no easy answer. It is both complicated, and simple. On one hand, there aren’t really any set rules to writing one. Anyone can create one, and there is no specific style it needs to be in. It doesn’t need to be bound in leather, written in blood (please don’t), anointed with oils, passed down for generations, and it certainly doesn’t have to be pretty (despite recent popular belief.) — But, it DOES have to be treated right (blessed, cleansed) in order to be “activated.”
There are so many kinds of grimoires out there, there is no “right” or “wrong” way about it.
As with all things in witchcraft, the creator’s intention is always an important part. That said, it's not the only important part which I will discuss in a later post.
It is important to understand the history of spell books, and why you may or may not want to create one or seek one out.
A Brief History of Magical Texts:
While there is so much history behind the practices that have developed and become popular today, one of the most important things to keep in mind is: In reality, our understanding of these books of magic has been largely fictionalized over the centuries.
The history of grimoires (and the like) is so complicated and convoluted, that you have to remind yourself at certain times, our understanding of them has warped into something of a work of fiction over time. So much so, that most people just accept what grimoires have become, without first understanding what they were.
This doesn’t make them any less valid or effective, but it is something to keep in mind when creating your own and weeding out the “should” and “shouldn’t,” or what we’ve come to know as expected.
For example: The word grimoire likely originated from the Old French word grammaire — which used to mean any text written in Latin.
We still see this misunderstanding today in virtually every fictional tale involving witchcraft. Many stories depict people reading spells written in Latin, as if these spells would only be effective if read in their original language.
However, this isn’t the case.
Yes, many ancient grimoires were originally written in Latin. The reason they stayed that way for so long was because they often did not get translated as quickly as other texts, and some were not discovered or deemed important until long after Latin became a dead language.
So the old Latin grimoires stuck around until people eventually translated them into more modern languages. This helped them develop their own sense of lore and mystery, because they were so hard to come by, and hard to read.
And while it might seem cool to write or read a spell book in some complicated, archaic language, (as depicted in Hollywood) it really isn’t necessary. Latin is not the universal language for witchcraft, and you don’t have to use any special or old sounding language to make one effectively.
Grimoires of all kinds have been found dating back to early civilizations. Over the centuries, there have been bouts where they were particularly popular.
During the Italian Renaissance, the Key of Solomon was written as a fictional grimoire and accredited to the (then dead) King Solomon. From this text, many variations and versions spawned. These were then translated and rewritten in other languages. This went on for so long, that the original book’s origin became murky, and people began to believe that it was not a work of fiction, but an actual grimoire.
Fast forward a few centuries to the Victorian era, and there was again a rise in popularity of occult studies which led to an increased interest in grimoires. At that time, a handful of secret societies began to collect, translate, and create their own versions of spell books, document rituals, and create rules for each sect.
Many of these groups believed in what they were doing. They were “practical magicians” — people who were researching magic with the intent to use it.
From this, Wicca was (eventually) born.
Book of Shadows
One of the most commonly misunderstood and misused terms in modern witchcraft is the Book of Shadows.
There is so much to unpack when it comes to “creating a book of shadows” Like so many other parts of what we now know or associate with witchcraft, the Book of Shadows is another that has been so highly fictionalized, many people have no idea that there was a “real” one at one time.
I put “real” in quotes because even though the intent of the creator (Gerald Gardner) of the original Book of Shadows may have been genuine, its creation was not.
After the popularity of the occult studies done in the Victorian era, many of the texts gathered from the various grimoires created and unearthed at the time were then consolidated, and plagiarized to create the Book of Shadows, by Gerald Gardner.
(Gerald Gardner also happened to have been a fiction writer before creating Wicca and the Book of Shadows.) As the story goes, Gerald Gardner’s friend called the fictional book of spells within his fictional book, a “Book of Shadows” in a review to sell the book. The name stuck. It sounded so cool that Gerald Gardner started calling his own manual which detailed the rules of Wicca (which he created) the “Book of Shadows.”
According to Wikipedia: “A Book of Shadows is a book containing religious text and instructions for magical rituals found within the Neopagan religion of Wicca. Since its conception in the 1970s, it has made its way into many pagan practices and paths. The most famous Book of Shadows was created by the pioneering Wiccan Gerald Gardner sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and which he utilized first in his Bricket Wood coven and then in other covens which he founded in following decades.”
So, unless you are practicing Wicca, you’re not really going to be creating or dealing with a true “Book of Shadows.”
However, since the name was never copyrighted, anyone can use the term Book of Shadows.
Now that the history is out of the way, if you still wish to make your own book of spells, regardless of what you want to call it: Go ahead!
Sadly, most of the documented texts of this kind that people have access to are not authentic in the sense that very few were created by practicing witches for the sake of practical witchcraft.
The good news is: You are not bound to any set of rules when creating your own.
Additionally: You don’t have to have one in order to be considered a witch.
Traditionally wiccans believe that “only a witch can make a witch.” But like I constantly say.. no one else can define your practice but yourself. So for many, it is a personal journey, as is creating your own grimoire. Do what makes you comfortable and do it with the right intention.
If your goal is to recreate a beautiful spell book you saw online, go for it! But, be careful of your intentions. If you are only creating a spell book because you feel like you need it for “witchy credibility or hot topic witch aesthetic” — skip it until you are truly ready to take on something so sacred.
Grimoires were meant to be used for teaching and as tools. Tools don’t have to look pretty to work. Pretty tools are nice to have, but it’s the strength of the tool that makes it effective.
But if you do decide to make one: Make it special.
Some people like to write spells they’ve tried and perfected, or ones they want to remember.
Others document everything and keep them as a guide for their practice. From the tools they use, to tarot card spreads, from herbs, to crystals, or moon phases, etc.
Let your intuition guide you, don’t worry about getting it all in, just worry about writing down what’s really important to you, or things you might want to reference later.
Of course, it is good practice to cleanse or bless whichever book you choose to use. Just like a regular tool, if you want it to last, you have to take care of it. If you treat your spell book right, it will treat you right.
But remember the most important rule: There are no rules.
Many Blessings to you on your spell book creation journey!