What is a book of shadows journal? Learn why it’s more than a prop for a 90s TV series. See why it’s an essential tool for inner work and spiritual exploration.
It’s not your usual everyday journal for keeping track of to-do lists, recipes, appointments, and random thoughts. It’s a special kind of journal for inner work, exploring our shadow side. Yep, you’ve got one.
“We all have a dark side. Most of us go through life avoiding direct confrontation with that aspect of ourselves, which I call the shadow self. There’s a reason why. It carries a great deal of energy.” — Lorraine Toussaint
What is a Book of Shadows Journal?
Essentially, it’s a book, a spiritual journal, where you keep track of your deepest thoughts, personal rituals, and traditions.
“The Shadow” or shadow-self are terms used in many Eastern systems of thought referring to the esoteric or hidden aspects of our Being. Our shadow is what some psychologists call our shadow aspect.
For Jung, the shadow includes everything beyond our conscious level of thought. It stays hidden by the Ego because we tend to reject or deny the negative aspects of our thinking and values.
“The result of the Freudian method of elucidation is a minute elaboration of man’s shadow side unexampled in any previous age.” — Carl Gustav Jung
“The shadows are as important as the light.” — Charlotte Bronte
The Terrain of Inner Work
Our subconscious mind contains valuable information about our beliefs, values, and fears. It’s this information that is useful in our spiritual journey. The inward journey is where we deal with what may be hindering our path. So. it’s a good idea to start a book of shadows.
“You only have to gaze around you at the natural world to see the proof that beauty, form, order, and growth have survived for billions of years. In dealing with your shadow, you are aligning yourself with the same infinite power. The shadow isn’t a fearsome opponent but a worthy one. Powerful as it is, the power of wholeness is infinitely greater, and by a miracle of creation, it is within your grasp.” — Deepak Chopra
Most people are probably familiar with this title or term because of TV shows from the 90s like the Book of Shadows or Charmed. Today it is associated primarily with Witchcraft and other Neopagan practices. In these systems, this document becomes a focal point for rituals.
Of course, magical texts are not new. Magical texts are considered different than plain literature. The idea of holy texts and scriptures comes from the concept of divine inspiration. It is this connection with the divine that gives these books their power. Rituals are man’s connection with this power.
The term came into popularity in the West in the 1950s because of the modern Wiccan pioneer, Gerald Gardner (1). He used the term in the title of his work known as the Gardnerian Book of Shadows Journal. It is a catalog of modern Wiccan rituals and mantras. It was initially only given to high-level devotees. However, today it is used by many other covens. Some covens call it a book of ways since it contains their “how-to” formulas and rituals.
The term caught on in many pagan traditions, but the origins go back much further in history than the 1950s. You’ll find it in Pagan and indigenous cultures around the globe. People create them because they are helpful for personal growth and development.
Applications for Spiritual Exploration
Concerning a journal, it refers to recording deeper aspects of thinking. We all have deeper hidden thinking patterns, our spiritual shadow. We can use specific handwriting techniques to explore these aspects of our subconscious, our spirit.
Your handwriting contains a lot of information. The size and slant, the pressure, the script or print you use all say something about what’s going on.
It is often used with techniques like automatic writing or exploring memories to delve into the subconscious mind. It helps us decipher the typologies that present themselves in our dreams and nightmares. As such, it is the best life coach you will ever have.
You can use it to delve into the subconscious with specific writing techniques. You can use it to develop affirmations and other types of tools to change your behavior.
“The abyss you stare into and that stares back at you is your reflection in the mirror – we all have it — that shadow self — that dark heart… — John J. Geddes
Of course, our modern culture is still heavily influenced by Western organized religion; these are the Abrahamic religions (2) of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. They see any other tools for spiritual exploration as competition for their customer base. If you are a part of this paradigm, you will see this document as evil.
So, what is a book of shadows journal? If you describe it to people in other cultures, they will automatically recognize it. They may use other names for this tool, but the purpose is the same. It is not necessarily associated with Witchcraft. It is a tool for spiritual exploration. It’s not uncommon for them to tell you about the importance of this kind of document.
The common thread is how this document reveals our hidden side, our shadow self.
“I embrace my shadow self. Shadows give depth and dimension to my life. I believe in embracing my duality, in learning to let darkness and light, peacefully co-exist, as illumination.” — Jaeda DeWalt
It’s a versatile friend that will help you spot roadblocks in your journey. It will help you see incremental growth or thought patterns that you need to address. When people want to start their spiritual journey, this is the first tool we recommend.
Since it contains sensitive personal information, it’s a good idea to keep them someplace safe.
How to Start Book of Shadows Journal
We think of this as a working document that we will refer to and add to in the future. So, we don’t recommend buying an expensive one with a fancy cover. You’ll want something you can scribble in—more than likely; you’ll have more than one.
Your handwriting is a connection to your subconscious mind. So, any handwritten journal contains clues to your subconscious mind. Journaling your dreams and dream fragments is a great place to start. It’s your subconscious mind communicating in typologies and symbols. So, if you are curious about what these messages are, you are ready to begin looking in the shadows of your mind.
Take your dreams and use the automatic writing technique, recording your scribbles and rambling in your book of shadows journal. Work for about 20 minutes and see what you can find. At first, you may not see anything meaningful. Most people will need to do the exercise a few times. We recommend waiting for several days or weeks in between sessions. After 3 or 4 sessions, you should see some patterns emerging. After each exercise, it’s not uncommon to have the dreams repeat or the same typologies repeat.
Some people like to keep several separate journals by topic. Others do them chronologically. Either way, you’ll compile some exciting data. Take time to go back over them.
Why You Need a Book of Shadows
Here are some other good reasons to create and use this tool. This tool can help you spot both the roadblocks on your path and your incremental growth. It’s a great way of documenting the significant events of your life and making the connection to the lessons of life.
You don’t have to write in it every day, every week, or even every year. You can use it when you need it.
“Your life creates a shadow; it’s the mark you make in the lives of people. So, what is a book of shadows? In essence, you are a living book that creates a shadow.”— Guru Tua
Never thought about yourself as a living document before? Well, it’s time to start. This journaling tool will help you open and understand “the book of your experience.” It helps you keep things in perspective. Time goes by quickly, and we don’t know how much to spend. If you want to get the most out of your spiritual journey, you need to use all available resources.
So, what is a book of shadows? It’s an indispensable life coach, a barometer of my emotional state and compass showing my spiritual progression. So, when you watch those re-runs of the TV programs where they use one, use it as a reminder to get out your own.
Once you start using one, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner. It is the foundation of inner work which can help overcome roadblocks in our path while revealing our spiritual gifts.
“Strangely enough, we strengthen love in ourselves when we raise into consciousness the shadow side of our lives. Conversely, when we keep negative feelings out of sight, they smother the love that seems to lie deeper and closer to the real self. This is probably why there is so much pain in not loving. The life that is not able to express the love which is so integral to it grows deformed.” — Elizabeth O’Connor
(1) Book of Shadows, Wikipedia
(2) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia