A book containing beliefs, rituals, Witchcraft laws and 
ethics, herbal lore, incarnations, chants, dances, spells, 
divinatory methods and other topics that serve to guide 
Witches in their Craft and Religion.  There is no one 
general or definitive book of shadows for Witchcraft; each 
tradition may have its own standard book of shadows, which 
can be added to or adapted by each coven. In addition to 
this, individual Witches may add their own personal material. 
Until recent times the book of shadows was kept in secrecy, 
however, some Witches have gone public with their books over 
the years.

Traditionally, it was held that only one book of shadows was 
to exist in a coven, and kept by the high priestess or high 
priest. However, this rule proved to be unfeasible, so now, 
generally, each Witch have their personal copies. It was 
customary that the Witch's copy had to be hand copied by
the Witch from the copy of the high priestess or priest. But, 
as with all things changes do occur; now days it is not 
uncommon for a copy of the book of shadows to be copied from 
a computer floppy disk.

Frequently it is customarily for some Witches, especially 
solitaire Witches, to begin their book of shadows when they 
enter the Craft, and sometimes before their entrance into a 
coven. Such books are often thought of as personal notebooks 
or diaries. The material in them enables the Witch to grow in
the Craft. The books are kept until the Witch's death. Some 
Witches feel that they return to their book of shadows when 
they are reborn. 

Much about the book of shadows prior to the reawakening of 
modern Witchcraft in the mid-twentieth century remains a 
mystery. In the early centuries folk magic and lore was not 
usually recorded but was orally described to the next 
generations. However, it seems, as some hereditary Witches 
claim that some of their descents did record some of their 
secret spells and lore in little black books. One of the 
first prototypical 
book of shadows published in English was Ardia or Gospel of 
the Witches (1899) by Charles Godfrey Leland. Leland claimed 
it contained Witch lore passed to him by an Etruscan Witch.

The book of shadows of Gerald B.Gardner might be taken as 
an example of the way that a book of shadows may be acquired 
and passed on. Gardner was initiated into a coven of hereditary 
Witches in 1939. The basic rituals he published in the 
pseudonymous novel High Magic's Aid in 1949. Within Gardner's 
book of shadows were extracts from material written by Aleister 
Crowley.  During the years from 1954-1957 with the help of 
Doreen Valiente whom Gardner had initiated in 1953, Gardner's 
book of shadows was rewritten with most of Crowley's material 
eliminated. The book became the basis for the Gardnerian 
tradition of Witchcraft. It subsequently was used by Alexander 
Sanders and modified to form the Alexandrian tradition of 
Witchcraft. Gardner's book has inspired the books of shadows 
for other traditions as well.

Normally, the book of shadows reflects the practices and 
beliefs of each coven within a tradition, and those that are 
independent of a tradition,as well as the interests and 
specialties of an individual Witch. It can serve as a dynamic 
collection of information, with additions being made
when necessary.

Traditionally a Witch's book of shadows is burned upon the 
person's death.  However, Gardner's book was passed onto 
Valiente. Probably other books of shadows are kept as 
remembrances or documents of historical significance.