The Witch’s Book of Shadows (Book Review)

There are two main types of witches: those whose practice mostly centers on rituals, and those who rarely do a formal ritual. Jason Mankey is firmly in the first category. This is reflected in a book on books of shadows that focuses more on books of rituals than on spell books. In fact, this book talks a lot about the author’s own path as a Gardnerian and the books he’s inherited as part of his path. Which is interesting in its own way but almost completely irrelevant to the vast majority of readers who have no interest in pursuing Gardnerian Wicca.

I like that he talks about having multiple books over the years, instead of feeling like you have to cram everything into one giant tome. I also like the focus on being practical and making a book you will use rather than on merely reproducing a movie prop. Though I love that aesthetic, it has a tendency to put so much pressure on us that some witches have no BOS because they can’t have the perfect BOS.

Mankey covers the history of magical books, putting together your own, what to put in one, magical alphabets, deities, using your book in ritual, cleansing and consecrating your book, and using technology such as an iPad in circle and the idea of storing your BOS entirely on a flash drive or in the cloud.

In addition to the text written by Mankey, there are also smaller essays called, “Every Trick in the Book.” My favorites are, “You Are Writing Your Own History” by Thorn Mooney and, “No-Fear Grimoire Crafting” by Laura Tempest Zakroff. Zakroff’s sections liken the BOS to a family cookbook that has been handed down and has notes in the margins and index cards and clippings stuffed in. She says:

It’s a work in progress, a growing, changing hodgepodge of stuff — which is exactly how you should view your Book of Shadows!

Your BoS should be an active, working collection of your thoughts, a place to gather your ideas and collage your favorite images and inspirations, a book that gets wax spilled on it during this candle spell and wine spilled on it during that esbat. it’s not the physical beauty of the book that makes it special or sacred, but the collection of experiences you gather upon its pages.

location 703 of the ebook

I liked her essay enough that I almost wish she’d written this particular book, with perhaps a short essay by Mankey on preserving the BOS handed down in one’s tradition.

One notably bizarre section of the book was on, “Retiring a Book of Shadows.” I like the part where he discussing passing the magic from the book into a new volume, as your active book will change over the years and a retired book may be shelved. Where he lost me was the idea that one would burn their book when it gets old and shabby. He says it’s about “oathbound promises,” which would make sense if he were talking about burning a witch’s book after they had died. But he’s talking about a binding wearing out and the book “leaking pages” (here I made the note, “Wait until he hears about book repair tape!”). Old and rare books are archived and handled with gloves, but burned? Just for being beat up? Like the Velveteen Rabbit, that’s when a book becomes Real.

As much as I gripe, the book does have plenty of ideas worth using and plenty of suggestions I may try. In particular, I liked his section on the difference between cleansing, consecrating and blessing. If you use your BOS mainly for ritual, you may appreciate that focus but if yours is more of the cookbook of spells you may be frustrated that the entire focus of the book is on stuff you won’t really use. There’s plenty of material here that you’ll inevitably find something that inspires you.

four out of five stars

The Witch’s Book of Shadows

Jason Mankey

Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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