There are many Books of Shadows that have charts of correspondence tables to tell you when to work a spell, what color of candle to use for every situation, and which invocations to use. There is no need for this type of reiteration. Much of Craft writing and teaching discusses what technical knowledge is required to be a 'first, second or third degree initiate' or how to work a spell. However, these are simply presentations of technique. Without an understanding of what it takes to find, develop and use power, technique is just decoration. Decorating your house doesn't help if you never clean your house in the first place.
There is power in Witchcraft. This power is a drawing card that attracts all kinds of people with all types of motives. Finding a book, a teacher, or a mentor that is clear and honest can be a challenging task. The quest for power can be an honorable one, but all too frequently there are people who claim to be a "Grand High Elder of the So & So Tradition" or say that they are a "Third Degree High Priest/ess of The High & Mighty Coven". Too many of these people have missed the point. In the quest for power, they have in turn created that which they may have been trying to escape in the first place. The only difference may be that this time they are at the top of the hierarchical pyramid.
Categorizations and labels in the Craft are numerous. There are now "non-Wiccan Witches", "Green Eclectic Kitchen Witches" and even "Ceremonial Magick Witches". It would be convenient to be able to describe our beliefs in a handful of words, but why place spirituality into little compartments? Following in the footsteps of others can often be an easier route, but many these paths may not lead to real power. These narrow compartments can get cramped and often lead to some shameful practices such as public notices of banishment from a tradition, or a higher up telling another covener what God/dess is 'appropriate' for them to worship at their "level". Unfortunately in the quest for power, some have found that ruling over others, and dictating what is "correct and true" for others is easier than finding their own power.
This Book of Shadows proposes that you make your own path. If you are Suzy, create Suzyism, if you are Tom, create Tomism. A Witch finds his or her own path to power because that power is very individualistic. This unusual Book of Shadows may provide a general road map to finding your own path. The best teacher you will ever have is YOU! If you read a hundred books and extract from them only a few ideas that are meaningful to you, you're well on your way. Witchcraft is not an easy path. There are times that it is lonely, confusing, and treacherous.
It is tempting at times to find a coven to join, particularly when you have just begun your path. But spirituality is so individualistic that it can be difficult to find others who share your views and style. Many people then are tempted to create their own coven or tradition and teach others their own style and views so they have others to share with. Often, these people have no power and are either using the power of their "underlings" or are seeking confirmation that their path is valid. Rather than forming a coven, it can sometimes be preferable to surround yourself with loving people who will help you out when you need it. Covens are wonderful social structures, but why work magick and worship with people you don't know, love and trust enough to marry any one of them or call them family? Magical bonds can last a long time, some believe even lifetimes. Try not to rush into a coven or join one because it is geographically close to you. Besides, until you have found your own power, you cannot offer anything genuine to a coven and would simply be another warm body. A coven that recruits or accepts inexperienced members should be regarded with caution. Such a coven may have an 'outer court training circle' or some other measure to help you as a newcomer, but all too often you will find covens accepting new members are only accepting individuals who are willing to take orders and be a subservient subject.
It is not my intention to present here any dogma which is to be strictly adhered to in fear of repercussions on any level. By reading through this book, experimenting, studying, researching, practicing and otherwise applying your entire being to the pursuit of knowledge (self-knowledge, people-knowledge, world-knowledge, spiritual-knowledge, etc.) you will be undertaking an initiation on your own path.
Initiation is a process of change, it doesn't occur instantly during an arcane rite. For many, it takes over a year to even begin the internal changes that are often necessary for initiation. Hence the traditional "year and a day" will be suggested here as a base time line for practical and traditional purposes. Within a year of the application of your energy to the pursuit of knowledge you will notice many transformations in your self. Sometimes newcomers are all too anxious to be initiated. This is understandable however a dedication ritual might be more appropriate. Dedicating yourself to a "year and a day" of study will help you to find your own power and determine if Witchcraft truly is the path that is right for you.
The ideas presented in this book may evoke a variety of responses. Some of them will be immediate, such as doubt, confusion, inspiration, curiosity, boredom, anger, and on and on. Some of the responses may be more subtle.
Intellectual analysis of this text may stir responses such as curiosity or skepticism on a cerebral or mental level. Internal changes however, often evoke the powerful reactions of the emotions such as fear, hope, joy, anger, rejection, inspiration etc. Through all of these responses, it is hoped that there is something within this work that speaks to the One Who Knows... that spark of divine in all of us, our inner child, our inner bell of truth, our subconscious, the aspect inside of each of us that is connected to the All. Perhaps this work will arouse that inner voice from a long sleep in this mundane world, or, if that voice is already heard, it may give it leave to speak up more frequently, or with greater clarity.
Daring to take the first step down this path is confusing. You may have to contend with external forces in our society (anti-Craft propaganda, peers, modern societal attitudes, etc.) and you will certainly have to address the forces within yourself that will resist these changes. These internal forces are often manifestations of prior religious upbringing, fear of knowing yourself and accepting yourself, low self-esteem, etc.
As an excellent starting point, there is one basic guideline that should be kept in mind before anything else. (nope, not the Witches' Rede!) Be true to yourself! This first guideline can be one that is difficult to apply on a personal level. If you are trying to gain self-knowledge and feel that what you are doing is wrong in some way, you must question whether your mind has put up a wall of resistance to change or whether you are doing something that is truly wrong for you. Because you will be questioning everything at this point, it is hard to find your sense of security and stability. This forces you to draw strength from within yourself and find the power within you, but it can also be like groping in the dark if you are having trouble finding that strength. If your self-esteem has been low for many years, if you've never trusted yourself and your thoughts, then you must be careful to know that "being true to yourself" is not the same as being true to your old patterns.
The guideline of 'Be true to yourself" is also difficult to follow when we are faced with our own fears, egos, and insecurities. It is easy to think that we are being true to ourselves, acting for the good of all, or for what is best, when, from another perspective, we are being selfish or power hungry.
For example, imagine that a Witch who is rather new to the Craft is invited to teach a small group of people interested in Wicca. We will name him Jack. Now Jack found a great deal out about himself by using an herbal concoction he had made. After a few weeks of teaching the basics, Jack is motivated to speed the progress of his students by administering this herbal brew to them. His justifications to himself for doing this were to help his students. But was Jack being true to himself? Was he being honest with himself? Did he wish to bolster his ego by being an expert teacher? Were his actions really the best for all involved? Were the students ready or willing to 'advance' that quickly or by such means? Or was Jack being motivated by a need to flaunt his herbal knowledge or have his powers acknowledged?
Being true to yourself at first may mean questioning even your own actions, not simply questioning your old beliefs and teachings. It is also a difficult guideline to apply when you are venturing out on a path that is so persecuted that it is considered "evil" by much of society. At the same time you are trying to open up to new ideas, you are faced with information (from people books, etc.) that is misguiding, is provided with duplicitous motives, or is just plain misinformation. These 'attacks' can make you defensive which makes it even harder to remain true to yourself because you are closed off.
The two things to remember that will assist you in following the first guideline of "Being true to yourself" are:
1) Keep asking questions, even of yourself, check your motives, other peoples' motives, question those things you assumed were true that you were taught, question the new materials you read in the Craft, question why you are draw to the Craft in the first place.
2) If you become confused about your motives, other peoples' motives, etc. and aren't sure which direction you should go to be true to yourself, then try to step away from the situation. "Ground" yourself, take deep breaths, try to get outside and take a long walk in nature, write down the situation in your journal or Book of Shadows, try some form of to shed light on the situation. Then, when you make your choice, write it down in the Book of Shadows again. If you've made a mistake, you can go back and learn from it, if you didn't make a mistake, you can go back to remember how you brought yourself out of the confusion.
So now that the first guideline is clear, where do we begin in the Craft, especially in the practice of magic? The next guideline is called the Wiccan Rede. There are many versions of this, here's the long and the short of it:
- An' it harm none, do as you will.
Or the long version:
- Bide the Wiccan (Witches) law we must,
- In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.
- Eight Words the Wiccan Rede fulfill(s),
- ‘An it harm none, do as (what) ye will.
- Lest in thy self-defense it be,
- Ever mind the rule of three.
- Follow this with mind and heart,
- And merry meet and merry part.
There are those who would argue that the ideas presented here are not that of Wicca, Witchcraft, The Craft, The Old Religion, etc. However in my studies and experiences, I have discovered that there is no True and Right form of Witchcraft. It is a religion without orthodoxy or dogmatic doctrine. There are only a few guidelines, however, if you intend to call yourself a Witch, it is honorable to abide by at least some of the few widely accepted (but not holy writ) tenets of the path. (See Pagan Paths & Trads in the Library section.) Every tradition is only a derivative of many elements, refined and distilled into a living spiritual path. No differentiation is made here between Wicca and Witchcraft as it is felt to be unnecessary. Some will disagree with this, however nearly every aspect of the Craft could be argued into the ground until it no longer existed. Perhaps this is exactly what some who promote these arguments would desire. We will not participate in such self defeating battles.
This then, could be considered by some as yet another tradition, but it is really more of an approach. It is presented here for you to draw from, in whatever way you wish. In order to find a clear path, sometimes you have to abandon the ones made by those who have gone before you and make your own. Doing so presents more challenges, as there are no guideposts, no safety catches of a coven or priest/priestess. With only the divine within yourself to guide you, how can you tell if you are deluding yourself or being directed by fear, hate, insecurity, lust for power, need for love, and desire for control? This is the doom of many of the Self-initiated then, to succumb to those aspects of humanity that create disharmony and lack of ecstasy, but it doesn't have to be you're pitfall. Following the Wiccan Rede is, again, a good place to start. At the same time, some self-initiated Witches who follow individual paths are spared the issues of repeating mistakes made by so many others, and often make more progress than they would have if they'd followed a traditional path.
In order to maintain balance within yourself while walking this path, it is necessary to toggle between diligent research and intuitive practice. Lets look at Witchcraft for a moment as an artist would. An artist must study and practice the traditional techniques of art in order to have a base line of knowledge. Their natural talents and this traditional training will help their art to become better. However, their art is not truly wonderful until they make it their own and move forward with it. A popular saying among many artists is, "You must know the rules of your art in order to break them."
Another example would be to look at Witchcraft as you would your health. You wouldn't just eat what you wanted and label it 'healthy' without a base line of knowledge. Researching nutrition and health provides a base line of knowledge. Your research may uncover information that is incorrect or misleading, but it will ground your ideas. Then, the final step is to listen to your body, your inner voice, and take it from there.
To gain a base line of knowledge, a Witch must be willing to spend the time to do the research, and spend the energy to listen to their inner voice. There is much knowledge to be gained in books. In them you can read of the signposts that others have seen on their paths, you can be warned of their pitfalls, but only you can know of your own. I present to you, the reader, and perhaps initiate, this book, to help you discover how to get in touch with that inner guide who will assist you down your own, individual path. My personal experiences will echo throughout this work as is entirely appropriate, but they are not meant to be a hindrance or even a guide to you, simply an example. The path you discover on your own may be the only true one for you. Here is just one path in a universal web of spiraling paths that all lead to the center, and all lead out, expanding and contracting to make a complete whole, the All of life, death, and all forms of energy and it's exchange.
It is difficult to express in such a static form as the written word, a concept that is living and moving, always evolving, forever in flux. This work could never come close to representing Witchcraft as a whole, for Witchcraft is the All. Therefore, this shall represent the fraction of the All that is my understanding at this time. I'm quite sure that as I progress through these pages, many changes shall come about, as is the nature of the Craft, energy, and life itself. However, this is only a representation, a snapshot in time, a symbol for us to look at, to analyze, to take apart and reconstruct until it is known to us and is nearly a part of our psyches, then, perhaps it will trigger that gateway to the all, open us to understanding, not just the symbol, but our own places in it and our own personal truths. This work may lead you to your inner One Who Knows. This work is an initiation....
A mind, once expanded to a new idea,
can rarely return to its previous dimensions.
This quote represents the only true "evil" in the Craft. For example, if you didn't know the truth about something like, the dangers of tobacco smoking, you could live your entire life enjoying a peaceful cigarette now and then. Once you know the truth, it is difficult to enjoy that cigarette with the same pleasure. This can be applied to many areas of the Craft. Seeking truth in yourself and in the world is an essential aspect of many traditions. Ignorance may truly be bliss, but a Witch recognizes that "knowledge is power", and generally chooses the later.