Books of Shadows are a scary sounding name for something simple and basic. Scientists take notes of their experiments and so do Mages, Witches and other magic practitioners. Historically, it was a bad idea to get caught with notes in your handwriting concerning magic, so most practitioners kept their books hidden and secretive (AKA in the Shadows). It was also common that their writings were in code. I've heard arguments that the code was to prevent practitioners from punishment if the book was found, but I've also heard that the code was to keep their secrets, well... secret. Another theory is that personal Books of Shadows weren't written in code as much as shorthand.
Take my personal Book of Shadows for example. While I put spells into it, people reading my book of shadows would have a hard time gaining anything major from it. On one page I have a three measure song which is only the initial 5% of the song (as soon as I sing those 3 measures I know the rest). On another I have a rambling thought concerning the nature of energy work which only makes sense if you are realize I'm contemplating the laws of shape shifting.
It's not that I'm keeping secrets, it's just that my notes are for ME. I have no interest in making the effort to express ALL of the pertinent details someone else might need to emulate my work. These are reminders to myself of my mental state and what I feel I will need to be reminded of in order to repeat this personally. If you read my details of a spell, I skip what I consider the obvious stuff... and the more experienced I get, the more I skip. Now days, a 2 page spell would in actuality be more of a 25 page spell; however, I know all of the stuff that isn't in there so completely that I don't write it down or reference it with a code word or phrase. I'm not hiding things from "thieves," I'm just saving time.
This issue only becomes more intense with Group Books of Shadows. While this "law of laziness" still applies, Groups WILL write in code to protect a book's content from the wrong readers. Common tricks included:
- Intentionally leaving out VERY important details that a "true initiate" would know
- Writing the Book of Shadows in a special language or character code that only "true initiates" would know. (aka secret handshake coolness/dorkiness)
- Intentionally placing spells into the book so that people who ignore the rules of reading the book are casting spells upon themselves just by reading it.
It is also common to assume a first or even second degree level of personal knowledge. Again the groups spell may have been only a page long, yet if you count the "unwritten" details the spell be much, much longer. Most groups have a group ritual opening, summon methodology, guardians and closing, and most of their spells utilize aspects of this unwritten information.
Thus : "Open Circle"
Might actually mean: "Have everyone in the circle take a ritual bath with fire based herbs and oils. Have the High Priest, The High Priestess and the Warder all draw (with chalk) and then triply cut a circle. Have the Warder stand at the edge of the circle and challenge all who would enter with a sword at their neck to remind them of the focus, purpose and intensity of this ritual and confirm that everyone who joins intends to share in it. The High Priest and High Priestess alternate calling to earth, air, fire and water to bring their energies into the circle. Then the High Priest calls the God first (because this is a fire based ritual) using a specific name and chant that all group members know. Then the High Priestess will do the same for the specific Goddess and chant that all members know and use. Finally call the group's Fetch and ally spirits (currently 23 of them) and give them offerings. Keep in mind that tonight's ritual will require specific aid from 9 of the ally spirits so give them extra goodies."
By the way, from altar design to garb and participant positioning, I left out a LOT of common details that groups care about above. All of this put together means that you would probably be stupid to try to perform a ritual from a Book of Shadows you didn't help make. If you gain permission to read one that's not your own, my best recommendation is to use it for ideas to help yourself ask the right questions and come up with new ideas. If you REALLY want to copy something in the book, ask someone who either helped write the book or was trained by someone who helped write the book to show you what you don't know...
Power Before Wisdom