A lot of people wonder, "What is a book of shadows? Is it fact or fiction?" In fact, thousands of people type in the search term "real book of shadows" every month to try to find out. If you watch the TV show "Charmed" then you'll know that the Halliwell sisters have a giant book of spells written by their ancestors called a book of shadows. Others will take a hint from the title of the second "Blair Witch" movie, despite there being no actual book in the movie. Still others think a book of shadows is something of a personal journal for Wiccans, an idea popularized by Gerald Gardner, who brought Wiccan practices to public attention with his book "Witchcraft Today," published in 1954.
Obviously the definition of a real book of shadows varies widely in popular culture, and it does among magical and shamanic practitioners as well, depending on which tradition they practice. However, most practitioners agree on three common usages and purposes for a real book of shadows.
** 1. Record Spell Details **
A real book of shadows is used to record all the details of spells that have been cast, including the divinations used prior to casting the spell, the directors and limiters (or parameters) of the spell, the actual methods used in the spell, the results of divinations to check the progress of the spell, and any results of the spell. These details are crucial in case a spell ever goes wrong and has to be taken down. The way a practitioner takes down a spell that has already been cast depends on the way that the spell was cast. For instance, if a spell was cast using a carved candle then to take down the spell the practitioner could break the candle used in the spell and bury the remnants in the garden for a moon cycle.
** 2. Track Magical and Shamanic Research **
Magical and shamanic practitioners are often engaged in research. This research can be to discover facts about past lives, divine future events, try out new techniques, or travel to different planes. For instance, magical practitioners in our tradition will record the results of walks in the black mirror, which is a portal to other planes of existence, commonly called the half-worlds. When walking in the black mirror, the practitioner needs to use a litany or chant to direct the walk and keep from getting lost. After returning from such a walk, not only will the practitioner record the results of the walk in a real book of shadows, including any new facts or revelations, but will also record the effectiveness of the chant so that it can be used again or fine-tuned for future use.
** 3. Preserve Magic and Shamanism for the Future **
Of course, one of the most important purposes of a real book of shadows is to preserve magical and shamanic knowledge for future practitioners. Practitioners of most traditions "stand on the shoulders" of those giants who have come before. There's no real reason to keep re-inventing the wheel. A real book of shadows, which can contain the research and results of multiple generations of practitioners, is usually handed down through the generations. Each generation of practitioners (who are not necessarily related) adds their experience to the book. In fact, the material in a real book of shadows is often so voluminous that the "book" becomes a multi-volume set.
A real book of shadows is really a record of magical and shamanic experience that is preserved either for an individual's use or for future use. Some practitioners keep individual books of shadows and never hand them down, either because they have no one to hand them to or because they are secretive. In any event, if you are a practitioner of the magical arts, you should definitely start your own book of shadows. It will help you remember what you have done, track your magical experiments, and possibly create a magical asset for the future.