The book which helps to guide and assist the witches in performing their witchcraft and practicing their religion and which contains miscellaneous topics like divinatory methods, spells, dances, chants, incarnations, healing lore and herbal lore, ethics and laws related to witchcraft, witchcraft rituals and beliefs is referred to as the Witches Book of Shadows. However, the Witches Book of Shadows is not one in number and there is no presence of any one definitive or general book as such.
Usually a standard treatise of shadows covers the ethics and laws of each tradition of witchcraft. And each coven is empowered to adapt or change or add to the existing journal of shadows of each tradition. Even independent and individual witches have the permission to include their own personal observations, findings and content in this Witch’s notebook.
The Witches Book of Shadows was a closely guarded secret until recently and was not meant for public viewing. But in recent past, quite a number of Witches Apothecary Cabinet have spilled out the contents of their Witches Book of Shadows in public.
Tradition demanded the existence of only 1 such journal per coven and the high priest or priestess of witchcraft was to keep it in his/her charge. But since this tradition isn’t very feasible, it was done away with and nowadays almost every single witch, usually, possesses her own personal copy of this treatise.
Tradition also demanded that a witch had to copy down the contents of her book of shadows from the high priestess’ copy in her own hands, but since this was time consuming, this practice was abandoned as well. Nowadays, witches copy their shadows journal through the medium of a computer into DVDs or store it in the hard drives of their laptops.
The solitaire witches especially, as demanded by custom, start their Witch’s record/diary either before entering a coven or at the time of entering their craft. You may compare such records with personal diaries or notebooks.
Till the time of the witch’s death, this record is kept with her as this book and the content inside it helps in the professional growth and development of the witch. There are many witches who believe that on their death, they return to their Witches Book of Shadows and are therefore reborn.
As was the tradition, this type of annal is usually burned to ashes when its owner/writer dies. However, an exception was made in the case of Gerald B. Gardner’s case as Valiente inherited his book. The other Witches Book of Shadows usually serves as documents or remembrances or mementos/keepsakes of historical importance and isn’t burnt.