In her autobiography, High Priestess, Patricia Crowther refers to the Book of Shadows as also being called the Black Book. This is an interesting observation, as Gardner had a manuscript copy of the Grimoire of Honorius in his collection, which was alternatively known as the Black Book. The Grimoire of Honorius is essentially a spell book with techniques for circle casting and conjuration, with a curious mixture of angelic and demonic entities summoned. Considering Gardner’s description of what the Book of Shadows should contain, it is easy to see why the term Black Book might have been appropriated.
As an aside we may note the Scandinavian tradition of Black Books of magick, which have some similarities to the Book of Shadows, and speculate as to whether any influence from these works found its way into the tradition. Black Books were generally hand-copied books of herb lore, charms and incantations. These books, of which more than two hundred have been identified, date from 1480 – 1920, with the majority from the period 1750 – 1850.
Returning to the connection between the grimoire tradition and the Book of Shadows, there is one more source which we need to consider here. Extracts from grimoires and popular Renaissance works on magick were commonly used by British cunning folk in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries as their ’source of power’ for their textual amulets. Contrary to some popular views, cunning men were often literate, this being a major indication of magickal power in a time of high illiteracy. In this the cunning men were continuing the medieval tradition of religious beneficial magickal textual amulets which still permeated the church until at least the fifteenth century.
Popular influential occult texts amongst cunning folk included the Key of Solomon, Albertus Magnus’s Book of Secrets, Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy & Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, Giambattista della Porta’s Natural Magic, John Heydon’s Theomagia and Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. It was a common phenomena for a cunning man to have a unique book containing their successful charms and spirit names, whose contents they kept entirely secret and would only pass on to a worthy successor. Here again we see the same approach as subsequently found in the Wiccan tradition with the Book of Shadows.
It is clear that the use and copying of grimoires and spell books was not restricted to Britain. As previously discussed in Emergence, the Venetian witch Laura Malapiero, on her arrest in 1654 was found to possess a number of magickal manuscripts for copying, including the Key of Solomon and many other books containing magickal incantations and spells.
The hand copying magickal documents was also a standard practice in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn where the initiate had to swear in the Neophyte ritual that they would:
“Neither copy nor allow to be copied, any manuscript until I had obtained permission from the Second Order, lest our Secret Knowledge be revealed through my neglect…”
This demonstrates that the transmission of the practices and beliefs of the magickal tradition by hand was still in common use just a few decades before the emergence of the same practice in the Wiccan tradition.
<1> The Religion of Babylonia & Assyria, Jastrow, 1893, also quoted in The Book of Witches, Hueffer, 1908
<2> An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft: With Observations Upon Matters of Fact, Hutchinson, 1718
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.