What is a Grimoire?
There are two schools of thought on this:
1) A Grimoire is a complete work based on perfected spells and recipes
2) A Grimoire is the work-in-progress record and journal of your practice
There's nothing wrong with either one, and you could even have both.
My personal view and practice treats the Grimoire as the work-in-progress type. So here's my definition: A Grimoire is a compendium of information gathered along your magickal journey. It’s a unique combination of a recipe book + scrapbook + almanac + reference book + workbook + encyclopedia + instruction manual + journal. In short, it is a spell book.
Gerald Gardner coined the term ‘Book of Shadows’ (BOS) making it more connected to Wicca, while the term Grimoire is much more ancient and is not Wiccan-derived. Most modern practitioners who keep a book now use BOS to mean any personal magickal journal regardless if they are Wiccan or not. You can also call your book something else entirely!
For many, a Grimoire, or BOS, is a sacred tool and an item of power and should be treated as such. Once you purchase or make your Grimoire it's a good idea to cleanse and consecrate your Grimoire just like you would any other tool of the craft. Some people will then dedicate their Grimoire to their coven, tradition, Gods and Goddesses, or simply to their Spiritual path before using.
What a Grimoire Isn't
Let’s first clear up a any misconceptions that may be floating somewhere in the back of your brain. First, your Grimoire is not a movie prop. Only in Hollywood does a Book of Shadows even closely resemble what you’ve seen on TV shows like Charmed. On the other hand, the Grimoire in Practical Magick is a bit more accurate, but still really outside the skills of most Witches. However, no matter what your book looks like, it won’t magickally come to you when called (“Oh BooOOK!”) nor will it magickally flip to the page you want simply by calling it out.
Your book is not meant to be ornamental. No matter how 'cool' you make it look, if you don't use it it's a useless dust collector that makes a great Halloween decoration.
There are some really neat things you can do with your Grimoire, though. You can write in code, use different alphabets (or create your own), use invisible ink, make your own ink, and you can make it more interactive and ‘magickal’ with pop-up features, fold-out pages, pockets, sliding elements, even battery-powered lights and music (like in greeting cards!). How much effort you want to put into these features is entirely up to you.
For most of us average Witches, we tend to stay fairly practical in how we put our books together. Think about how your favorite, most loved and used cookbook looks, and that's a fairly accurate reality for a Grimoire. What we often want and what we have time, energy, skills and resources for usually live on different planets, so we work with what we have.
There's also something else to consider- the more fancy you make your book, the more time and effort you put into making it perfectly match the picture in your head, the less likely you will be willing to use it. You'll be afraid to make a mistake or try something that may not work out, and that does you no good! You'll also potentially dread having to 'update' it because so much care and attention is required to enter anything into your Grimoire- you can't just scribble down a note or recipe, it must be lettered with art and borders and... If you feel called out by this- join the club!
We all started in our baby Witch days aspiring for the book that rivaled all books. We all wanted that Charmed book- anyone who says otherwise is a lying liar pants. We all wanted a uniquely magickal tome that would stand the test of time and be passed down through our bloodlines and one day be THE Witch Book that all new generations of Witches based their practices on because it was so damn GOOD!! But then the phone rings and the kids track mud through your just cleaned house and you have that paper due tomorrow that is only half finished and work needs you in for an extra shift this week and your tires need rotating and the garden hasn't been watered in three days... lol, and you float back down to reality where you have responsibilities and limited energy for new projects and you make an executive decision to start with what you can do for now.
Never be afraid to be ambitious - always dream BIG. But also don't let that get in the way of getting started or making progress.
There's a saying, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." One day, many years into your practice, you'll feel ecstatically happy with the way your book looks, because it will reflect you and your journey to that point, and you will be in a place maturity-wise to appreciate all the work you did. Let your book be an authentic representation of who you are right now, rather than an aspirational work of fiction.
Whether your book is plain and simple or fabulous and blinged out- what matters most is that it works for you, and that you are actually using it.
Handwritten v/s Printed
Does My Grimoire Need To Be Handwritten?
The short answer is no.
Your Grimoire can be hand-written using a feather quill you crafted by hand and ink you created from mermaid tears & bat blood on handmade paper you made yourself from wildcrafted plant fibers and rain water collected during an eclipse, hand-bound in leather you tanned yourself from a stag you raised from birth and slaughtered on the Waning Moon as an offering to Abrasax.
Or, ORRR… your Grimoire can be a composition notebook or a lined journal from the grocery store. It can be a photo album, or a bullet journal. It can be typed and printed from a computer and placed in a three ring binder with unicorns and rainbow stickers plastered everywhere. *My first Grimoire was a bright, shiny puffy pink Trapper Keeper.* It can be a wide-ruled notebook full of scraps of paper and post-its. It can be completely digital and exist on your hard drive, on a flash drive, on your phone or only in the cloud. And of course, it can be a combination of all of these choices.
Here are some pros and cons to consider:
1. Handwritten adds energy, aids ability to remember contents, is always available and not dependent on technology to work, great for people who are creative and artistic, people who enjoy writing or feel drawn to infuse their Grimoire with more energy or personalization, can add physical element, ephemera and keepsakes; not helpful for people who don’t enjoy writing, and people with poor penmanship if they can’t read their own writing!
2. A printed journal in a binder can be rearranged and organized more easily, pages taken out, added to and moved around without losing hard work or messing up a ‘system’, easily expandable, can protect pages and avoid hole punches in pages by using plastic sleeves, opens up options for incorporating coloring pages and artwork into your journal if you aren’t artistic but want some art in your book, doesn’t require electricity or wi-fi to use; does require a computer and printer to create
3. Digital uses no paper, which can help the Earth, allows you to be more mobile and perform spells and rituals outside and on-the-go more easily, and lets you access your Grimoire information anytime, anywhere, in an inconspicuous way, backlit screens are easier to read from at night or in the dark v/s relying solely on candlelight or Moonlight; not helpful if you don’t have a computer at home or limited access to the data on your phone, or if the power goes out.
You can also have more than one Grimoire. You aren't limited by anything. You can have a digital Grimoire that's saved and protected in the cloud and that can be accessed on-the-go, while also having it printed and in a binder, while also having a sweet arty Grimoire of finished work that you pull out for special rituals and such.
What Can I Put Into My Grimoire?
There is a nearly limitless amount of information that can go into your Grimoire. Some folks like a separate journal for their spells and spell work and yet another for their dream journal, while some people find it easier to keep it all together. I think that whatever works or is easier for you is what you should do.
I can’t count the number people who have said that their experience is more fulfilling after looking back at the old entries they have in their Grimoire or Book of Shadows. Looking back on how you have grown as a Witch will make you see everything with fresh eyes. It’ll also remind you of the foundations of your beginning journey you may have forgotten that you need to revisit.
Here are some ideas for basic Grimoire content. Whatever else you might add (additional suggestions at the end) these are a good place to start. With that said, all are optional unless of course you follow a specific tradition with different guidance.
You can write it any way you want. This can be your Spiritual or Craft name if you use one, your birth or married name, an alias, or any name that you identify with. Writing you name does something else- it tells the book who to work with. No one else can just pick your book up and expect the spells to work as expected if their name isn't the one in that book. Your Spiritual Authority is key in making many spells work successfully- writing your name in your books stakes a claim to the energy and power over what you write in it.
Your Tradition & Origin
Are you an initiate into any tradition or religion? Are you a free agent? Are you creating your own tradition? What culture(s) do you your beliefs and traditions come from? What is your connection to them? Are you in a coven? Does your practice involve an oath or promise? Was your tradition learned from someone else- if so, who? Where did they learn it from and what was their connection to the culture it came from? Who are the important people in this lineage or tradition your practice?
Your World Tree
What does your World Tree or Cosmic World look like? This is your idea or belief in how the Universe or the Spiritual realms work.
Is there an afterlife? If so, where? How do you get there? What happens once you’re there? Is there anyone ‘in charge’? What planes of existence can your Spirit access? Is there an Underworld or Lower World- if so, what does it look like and what happens there? Do you have a belief in a heaven-type place, Summerland or an Astral plane?
Try to create a map or a sketch of how you perceive these. You can always update it and modify it as you go! If you’ve never visited the Lower World or Underworld, you may only be able to guess at what you think it is- when you actually go there, you can update your map with your experiences. Or, you may decide it doesn’t exist at all and erase it from your page!
If it’s relevant to you, a family tree or list of Ancestors. Include pictures and biographies if available.
Code Of Ethics
What are you primary ethical laws or tenants? If your tradition has these, include them, if it doesn’t, take time to create some of your own. You can add to, take away and modify these as you grow and learn more about yourself, your path and your practices.
For Christians they have the Ten Commandments. The Wiccan Rede is an example of a Code of Ethics that Traditional Wiccans follow. Most Pagans and Witches are not Wiccan, however, and do not believe in the ‘Law of Three’ or ‘Harm None’. What are your acceptable Rules of Magick? This is the place to write down what you DO believe in terms of Right v/s Wrong or however you like to categorize or define those concepts.
Your Spiritual Court
This is where you may list and describe the Spiritual Entities you work with. Include Deities if you work with them, Spirit Guides, Totems, Familiars, Muses, Helper Spirits, Elementals you work with, etc. If you did not do a family tree of Ancestry page for yourself, here would be an appropriate space for any Ancestors you work with.
• Myths, artwork, pictures- include these for any spiritual entity that is Known.
• You can classify your Spiritual Court in any way that fits your tradition or beliefs.
• If working with Deities, consider including the pantheon they belong to.
For all of your Spiritual Court, also consider including how you first encountered this entity, what messages they have given you, what questions you’ve asked and what answers you received- and of those are there any answers still pending? How do they communicate with you? What's your protocol are for contacting and interacting with them, what offerings you’ve used/they liked/didn’t like, what their role has been for your Spiritual Journey so far, what incense, colors, foods, days, etc. they prefer, and any other information that you can add.
Your Spells and Rituals
Spells you love doing (that may have come from a book, a friend, or online), spells you created, spells you are looking forward to trying, spells you tried that didn’t work as intended. Favorite rituals, the rituals you yourself created, and the rituals you are looking forward to trying.
One useful way to use your spell book or magickal journal is to record results – think of yourself as a Magickal Scientist. If you aren’t familiar with the Scientific Method, it’s a good idea to become well acquainted! It will help you immensely in your ritual and spell craft, especially when it comes to problem solving.
Write down spells and rituals you do in great detail. Time and day, Moon phase, herbs, candle colors, every single ingredient and their ratio in any blends you’ve made, incense used, what room of your home or outdoor location you used, what direction you faced, step-by-step instructions for what you did first through last in your process. Leave nothing out.
Then follow up with how the spell worked for you. From there, if you don’t get the desired results, you have a clear and detailed record to analyze and consult for where changes and adjustments might be needed. It’s also OK to keep a record of a failed spell and simply ‘retire’ it so it’s essentially deleted, but never delete the work you recorded, because it can still help you learn in the future.
Time and day are really quite vital things to always record. Even if you don’t record any other timings you can always go back to find what phase the Moon was in or what planet was where based on the date and time you wrote down. Sometimes what doesn’t seem important at the time (who cares what Saturn is doing today- it doesn’t affect me!) may in retrospect reveal a greater influence on your working than you realized.
Your Annual Observances, Celebrations & Traditions
As a Pagan or Witch, you will probably have some special days to celebrate through the year. You might think of them as Holy days, Holidays, High Rituals, The Wheel of the Year, Seasons, Sabbats or have another name for them. Your observances may be informed by your tradition or religion, such as the Wiccan’s Wheel of the Year. For many non-Wiccans, however, their Holy Days are more personalized and unique to their coven, practice or local seasons. It’s OK to create your own celebrations and traditions! Write down these important days or periods and what they mean to you.
How do you celebrate these days? Include each Holiday’s:
• Date or range of dates
• Origin story
• If your Holiday comes from a specific culture, write down that information, include how that culture traditionally celebrated or honored that day and how they celebrate it today (if they still do)
• Special foods
• Altar décor or arrangement
• Rituals you perform
• Special Deities you honor
• Other traditions associated with your celebration
You might consider creating correspondence charts for:
• Days of the Week
• Moon Phases
• Full Moons by Month
• Stones & Minerals
• Time of Day
• Directions / Winds
Your Book of Shadows also serves as your reference material. Instead of flipping through forty-seven books or online sources every time you need to look up something, a Grimoire is a perfect place to hold all the information you want to have on hand in one convenient place. It also allows you to personalize your correspondence charts to suit your own preferences, traditions and beliefs.
Add in instructions, references, correspondences and wisdom gained from divination tools and practices. Common ones can include Tarot, Runes, Pendulums & Dowsing, Scrying, Tea Leaf Reading, etc. I personally recommend you write these as you go, recording them as you learn them, because what the internet says and what books say about these can often be very different from your experiences. And after all, this is your book, filled with your wisdom and experiences, not someone else’s.
Reflections, Thoughts and Experiences
Your Book of Shadows also counts as your journal or diary. How else would you see how far you have gone in your spiritual journey when you don’t have anything that shows your previous mindset and realizations? Do not hold back on pouring your thoughts and feelings out since your Book of Shadows is private and absolutely no one should have access to it.
More Content Ideas
In addition to my list of basic content to consider adding to your Grimoire, there are oodles of other things Witches commonly add to their magickal journals. This is just a partial list - you will find many other things to add!
Goals, things you want to learn, what you want to accomplish, herbs you want to learn, spells you want to try, skills you want to master, books you’ve read/ want to read, etc.
2. Magickal Alphabets
There are many others!
3. Magickal Theory/ies
4. Tools of Your Craft (if it applies to your practice)