Viktuuri amigurumis, both finally finished! It was difficult to pick the outfits to crochet, I’m still not 100% sure about my choice but the coats and scarves are removable so if I just have the energy I may try some other looks for them too
Oh, the beautiful working altar! It is a place of magic, with lots of shiny and smelly things on it which make me feel at home. But to the new witch, it can sometimes seem daunting, and even downright scary to look at - almost as if it came right out of some dark fantasy story.
But there’s nothing to be afraid of. Each object on the altar is merely a tool to help visually direct energy. In witchcraft, every tool has its significance and its own symbolism, and it often helps to understand what makes these tools so important. In this series of articles, I will endeavor to lift the shroud of mystery from these tools and assist in helping you understand what each tool is used for, where it comes from, and why we use it.
The Book of Shadows
We’ve all seen various shows that portray witches with various spell books, from the massive tome in Sabrina, The Teenage Witch to the living spell book in Hocus Pocus. It sometimes seems as if the book is as inseparable from witchcraft as the broom, pointed hat, and black cat! However, unlike how they’re portrayed in media, spell books, or Books of Shadows, are unique to each individual, and may have spells, correspondences, references, or may simply be a journal.
Ultimately, the Book of Shadows (hereafter, “BoS”) is a repository of knowledge pertinent to your practice. It’s your reference guide and a measure of your growth as you progress and learn more.
As many experienced witches who teach can attest to, one of the most frequent questions we get is “How to I make a BoS?” or “What do I need to do to get a spell book?” And this question is tricky not because of complexity, but because of its simplicity. So let’s take a look at the different types of BoS, and what could go into them!
Hard Copies, Media Files, and Oral Tradition
Every witch has his or her own aesthetic, preferred method of going about things, and pocketbook. As such, the types of BoS out there vary depending upon the witch! The most stereotypical BoS is the hard copy book. Durable, long lasting, and with a rather gorgeous look, it’s no surprise that from the get go, many of us will reach out to take hold of one of those faux-leather-bound blank journals lining the back wall of Barnes & Noble.
However, when first starting out, jumping straight to these often expensive books is not necessarily practical. The reason for this is that like our practice, our book will likely change and evolve over time to reflect our growth. As such, it isn’t uncommon early on to tear pages out, reorganize, and add pages to incorporate what suits you.
That said, it’s often recommended for the new witch to start simple. And for that there are a couple of options! First is for those who prefer hard copies. In the .gif above, the keen eye might notice that the BoS shown is a simple graph paper notebook. This is not uncommon, and while some may initially fear having a BoS that looks “tacky,” remember that the book will change over time, and as you practice more and find aspects that you know will not be going away anytime soon, you can incorporate them into another more aesthetically pleasing BoS (there’s no rule that says you can’t have more than one! I have several, and for different aspects of my practice).
Far less expensive is the digital BoS. Earlier on, I addressed Technopaganism and how it relates to paganism and witchcraft. In it, I acknowledged that one rather practical aspect to technopaganism is that witches who adopt this philosophy will often set aside files on their devices specifically for witchcraft. For instance, on my computer, I have a folder dedicated to witchcraft, with subfolders that have word files for notes, rites and spells, my blog articles (yes, my articles go in my BoS!) pictures, and correspondences. Though many witches prefer to cast spells and blessings on their BoS and may scoff at the thought of having a digital BoS, remember that in technopaganism, it is not uncommon to bless and cast spells on the device or drive that has the files in question, just as one would bless and cast a spell on a physical book.
Some witches who like the digital aspect even create public BoS’s here on Tumblr! Blogs are often a great repository for spells and notes regarding witchcraft, so it’s good to keep your eyes peeled for a good BoS page!
Lastly, there is another type of BoS that often goes unrecognized and treated less carefully because it’s not a physical object, and that’s oral tradition. Many of our ancient ancestors who did not have a written language passed their traditions, spells, and rites down to one another through strictly oral means. And some who had a written system maintained a mostly oral tradition as well (take, for instance, the Celts and Norse - both had written systems but maintained their traditions orally). The message here is that if you don’t feel that having a BoS is necessary or desired, you are not a lesser witch for it. Even today, some families maintain an oral system, passing their faith and traditions down from one generation to the next with the spoken word.
Compilations, Dreams, and Magic
So we’ve seen the different formats used for a BoS. But… what goes into it? Well, the simple answer is anything you want! And much to the frustration of many new witches, that’s exactly the answer they get. So let’s take a look at what commonly goes into a BoS, and how it can be varied.
Spells: This one’s the most common subject. After all, many witches prefer a repository of their successful spells for future reference. So many include a section in their books dedicated specifically to spells. (If the book were dedicated solely to spells and rites, it is often referred to as a grimoire instead of a BoS, though this is mostly a matter of preference).
Rites: This varies from tradition to tradition, as some partake in full rites whereas others don’t. But a section devoted to rites will likely include rituals for the Wheel of the Year, other holidays and sabbats, esbat (lunar) rites, and even initiation and dedication rites for covens.
Correspondences: If you rely heavily on correspondences, be they for astrology, color, runes, plants, or otherwise, it is often recommended to have a reference or resource where you can look up the proper correspondences for your tradition. As such, many witches who work with such correspondences will have a section dedicated appropriately.
Recipes: Giggle as you may, but kitchen witches often joke about their BoS being a cookbook. And some legitimately have a cookbook as a BoS. Regardless, those who work magic into their cooking may prefer to have some good go-to recipes on hand! Need an example? One of my books is dedicated solely to Foodie Friday recipes, and I do consider it to be a BoS!
Journals: Whether it be a dream journal, or a diary, there are many witches out there who incorporate their journals into their BoS. This has a couple of benefits: the first is that it is an excellent way of tracking growth; the second is that it provides a cross reference, so if you forget something in another section of your BoS, you could have it in your journal. It is also an excellent way of providing a personal narrative regarding your development and relationship to the gods, if that is part of your path.
Notes: Let’s face it, as a new witch (or even an experienced witch), you probably do a lot of note-taking, jotting down new information or spells or philosophies for your craft. The BoS is an excellent repository for these scribbles!
There is plenty more that can be added to a BoS, but these are the most common subjects. Is there a proper order to have in a BoS? Only if you feel you need one. However, for me, I have found that if I were to establish a table of contents in my BoS, it would be rendered null rather quickly as I add and remove subjects. Instead, sticky notes, tabs, bookmarks, or ribbons can be used to separate sections so that you can easily page through your book!
Many new witches might see a lot of those rather gorgeous home-made books out there. Though your book need not be pretty to be functional, it is encouraged to make your book your own. If you’re artistically inclined, bend that toward your book and create a BoS that doubles as a masterpiece! Some will create wood bindings, while others may simply draw and decorate the edges of their pages. It can be as complicated as that, or as simple as adding a ribbon with a crystal on it. The book is yours, so do what you’d like with it!
So Josh, what kinds of BoS do you have?
Well, I have several. The first is my aforementioned digital BoS. Though I don’t use it for spellcasting, it is a backup repository of my notes and articles, as well as a place where I can write out new spells and rites as needed before printing them for coven work (because my handwriting isn’t exactly the easiest for others to read). The second is the aforementioned Foodie Friday Notebook. The notes and recipes that I write down are later shared with all of you, and I keep it all for future reference and for my own work! Third is my coven BoS. This is a hard cover blank journal in which I write down all of the rites and spells that we do together, as well as where I write down any notes that may be pertinent to our practice. Fourth is my personal BoS, which is a faux-leather-bound journal in which I write my finalized aspects to my practice.
It’s likely that I could end up with new books in the future, and my BoS’s will continue to change over time!
How can I make my own BoS?
Use everything we’ve covered above as a guideline in crafting your personal BoS. Remember that if affordability is an issue, you can always start small and later on build up to something you’d prefer. Whether it be a digital file, a spiral bound notebook, or a blank journal, remember that your BoS is your reflection and repository! Treat it with care and as much respect as you would any other tool for the craft!
Never had a proper grimoire/BoS/spellbook/etc so much as I’ve misplaced scribbled-on bits of paper. Feeling inspired (and of course, looking for any excuse to avoid The Thing™
), I’ve decided to get fancy with my magic(k)al record keeping. I know you don’t HAVE to, but if you WANT to, the library is still an amazing resource!
Samurai Jack: The Case for Mature Western Animation
When critics talk about the must-see television events happening so far this year, shows like Better Call Saul, American Gods, and The Handmaiden’s Tale are often brought up. This is, of course, for good reason: each of those shows are well-crafted, hard-hitting, and intelligent stories told by visionary showrunners in wholly unique ways.
We need to start including Samurai Jack on that list.
Genndy Tartakovsky has always been a cinematic animator. His original run on Samurai Jack nearly two decades ago nearly revolutionized how children’s action cartoons could be portrayed, with his careful and brilliant use of silence and color. He would continue this artistry with his tragically-underrated science-fiction epic, Sym-Bionic Titan (hey, Toonami, how about asking for a second season of that show next, huh?).
When Samurai Jack returned this year, Tartakovsky knew that his audience was going to have grown with the character. He knew that [adult swim] would’ve allowed him to use as much profanity, gore, and sexual innuendos as your average Family Guy episode, and a lesser showrunner would’ve run with that opportunity. Instead, Tartakovsky opted to tell a more mature story in the literal sense of the word. This meant more reflection, more spiritual and emotional symbolism, more grounded stakes, and a more hardened Jack. Indeed, this is what makes a majority of the season so fascinating to watch.
During the original series on Cartoon Network, our hero was a calm, silent, confident warrior on a mission. Despite being a stranger in a strange land, he always kept his wits about him. Rarely did he lose. Watching the show as kids, we just knew that he was going to eventually make it back to the past to stop Aku.
In season five, we’re not so certain anymore. Jack is now more of a ronin, wandering the apocalyptic wasteland of Aku’s future looking for lives to save. It’s become so routine that he’s almost forgotten why he does it anymore. His mind is corrupted by vicious thoughts that constantly bombard him with self-doubt. He suffers from hallucinations of his family and loved ones suffering in the past without him. All the while, he’s being followed by the spirit of death, who is patiently waiting for Jack’s seemingly-inevitable suicide. Even with the introduction of comedic characters like Scaramouche, we’re shown immediately just how much darker this world had become.
That threat grows worse with the introduction of the Daughters of Aku, seven warriors bred specifically to kill Jack. In my opinion, the episodes surrounding their hunt and the subsequent battles were the highlight of the season, showcasing Tartakovsky’s storytelling nuances at their brightest. The action is as swift and dazzling as ever, and the use of dramatic lighting and suspenseful music is downright ingenious. Balancing the hard-hitting violence with the somber moments of fear and reflection make the battles between Jack and the Daughters some of the best directed scenes not simply in recent animated history, but in television history as a whole.
After a poignant childhood flashback of his father reluctantly slaying an army of foes, Jack comes to terms with the fact that he sometimes needs to shed human blood, despite having never done such a thing before. He slays six of the seven Daughters of Aku in a beautiful snow-covered forest (again showing us how much Tartakovsky and his team love playing with color), sparing only one of their lives. This is when we meet Ashi, who becomes the driving force of the entire season.
I was legitimately impressed with how the show handled Ashi’s transformation from brainwashed killing machine to Jack’s partner in good. Within the span of two incredibly-paced episodes, we saw her slowly peel away the layers of both who she and the “evil” samurai were. Contrasting the unforgiving violence of her upbringing to the gentleness of her former enemy causes her to question everything she knew, and interacting with Jack’s old friends from the original series solidified her stance on the matter: Jack, despite everything she knew, was a hero.
(Just an aside, seeing Ashi break lose and dance at the Rave with a big smile on her face was one of the happiest damn moments of the season for me)
A lot of people were unsure of how to interpret Ashi. I know a lot of people felt she was very sexualized throughout the series, and I felt there was a definitive lack of understanding when it came time for the character to “wash herself clean” of Aku’s influence (does it matter if she was technically naked the whole time? Can’t we just accept physical metaphors and move on?). Some didn’t like that she had to save Jack on multiple occasions, while some didn’t like the fact that she, herself, had to be saved on multiple occasions. I feel as if those people were simply looking for something to complain about, because I legitimately found Ashi to be a great character.
The episode in which she needed to take down an entire army sent to kill Jack while he was meditating his anger away and acquiring his sword is an all-timer, and probably the most Tartakovsky-esque of the season. The action sequences are as brutal as they had ever been, with bright Tarantino-styled blood spilling over the battlefield; Meanwhile, Jack’s spiritual quest for inner-peace is filled with as much stillness and restraint as the creative staff could muster. Truly the last perfect episode of the season.
I felt as if every idea and story beat Tartakovsky had planned ended up in the season in some capacity, though I felt that the pacing was forced to grow a bit rushed as the season wrapped up. The best – and most unfortunate – example of this is the finale itself.
It’s exactly how we all secretly wanted the show to end: Jack is seemingly defeated, and Aku can’t help but gloat to everyone on the planet. Right as a possessed Ashi is about to deliver the fatal blow, all of Jack’s allies rally together for a full assault on Aku’s castle (what else could’ve possibly connected all of these strange characters than the capture of their legendary savior?). Jack breaks free and assists Ashi in overcoming Aku’s demonic grasp. Upon learning that she possesses all of Aku’s abilities, she’s the one who opens up a new portal in time, allowing Jack to go back to the past and finally defeat Aku.
(In what was easily my favorite part of the finale, Jack and Ashi appear almost immediately after his original self was sent back, leaving Aku flustered, baffled, ill-prepared, and horrified. “You’re back already?!” he spits out. Jack conquers his foe easily, and while some found the final battle anti-climactic, I felt it was perfect.)
Afterwards, Jack finally returns home, Ashi by his side. A wedding is arranged immediately, and they’re ready to spend the rest of their lives together. In a dark twist that those of us familiar with time travel almost saw coming, however, Ashi disappears from existence in Jack’s arms, having never been born due to Aku never taking over the future. Jack, bitterly alone, retreats to the forest, where a ladybug (a beautiful callback to Ashi’s character arc) allows him to see the promise of what’s to come.
It all sounds so perfect. Unfortunately, everything emotional that happened in this episode had to be squeezed into the last ten minutes. This maybe could’ve worked if Tartakovsky hadn’t perfectly spaced out Jack’s inner turmoil at the beginning of the season. After such perfect reflection, I wanted to see more emotion from these last few moments. There was a lot Jack needed to react to, from all of his friends coming together to fight Aku, to Ashi finally defeating and channeling the darkness within her, to the unadulterated and enormous impact of finally returning to the past! Jack had spent over fifty years trying to get there, and we didn’t even get to see an emotional reunion with his family. That just didn’t feel right to me.
Then there’s Ashi’s disappearance. She didn’t die, she was erased from existence. After struggling with his inner demons throughout the first half of the season, I wanted to see Jack mentally and emotionally try and cope with that. After all, it wasn’t simply Ashi who vanished; it was all of his friends and allies whose lives he had touched throughout his decades in the future. All of them were gone, a curse that inevitable if Jack were to complete his mission. There is pain, horror, and guilt bursting at the seams with such an ending. We could’ve had an entire half hour dedicated to Jack accepting what he had done. It’s such a bitter, dark, and beautiful ending emotionally, and I felt the writing staff wasn’t given the time to appropriately explore it.
Still, all of the ideas were there, and Genndy ended the show on his own terms creatively. He still provided us with nine-and-a-half perfect episodes that broke the boundaries of what Western animation was capable of. It practiced restraint and patience when other action cartoons insist on doing the complete opposite. It gave us a hero plagued with inner-darkness and mental illness on a journey of self-purpose. It gave us a character with a redemption arc we never saw coming and rooted for until her tragic end. And – for me, anyway – it gave me hope for animation as a medium, that more audiences will look at this sweeping epic of a story and think “I want more.”