In dark ages past, those who worshiped the Goddess as well as the God found themselves in danger of being tortured, stoned, hung, or burned by those who would rule by fear. Those who followed the ways of Nature found the need to practice their religion and craft in secret... in the shadows, so to speak.
Since many of them were unable to read or write—those privileges were reserved for the clerical and monied classes only—their faith and traditions were passed down orally, from mother to daughter, father to son, priestess to coveners. The Laws, Rituals, and Sabbats were carefully taught and memorized during that darksome time. Always in secret and always with one eye and one ear open for the oppressor.
In time, Witchcraft—as far as the non-Magickal world was concerned—passed into the realm of the fairy story. Still the Children of the Goddess remained quiet and hidden. Even though many dismissed the Wicca as myth, the practitioners of the old religions still found themselves pursued, harassed, and murdered if they were discovered.
As they learned to read and write, they began committing the old ways to paper and ink. Still fearful, and rightfully so, they were careful to copy the laws and sacred rites word for word from their priestess' book of Magickal Arts, which had become known as the Book of Shadows. These Books of Shadows were protected and kept well hidden. They knew that if the Books were found, it might mean an untimely and excruciating end to them and possibly their families and friends.
In the early 1950s, England's harsh anti-Witchcraft laws were repealed, and the Wicca began to let themselves be known to the worlds. Still, they faced opposition, fear, and anger from those who had no understanding of the ways of the wise. Witches such as Sybil Leek, Gerald Gardner, and others began a long crusade to educate the world as to the truth of Witchcraft today.
In 1971, Lady Sheba, a self-described Witch by tradition and a Gardnerian by choice, allowed Llewellyn to publish her own hand-copied Book of Shadows. Even though it was controversial and there were those who accused her of violating her "Oath of Secrecy," she claimed the time of secrecy was past. She published it in the hope that it would bring to light the authentic beliefs of Witchcraft and reestablish the respectability of the ancient arts.
And apparently it was time. Lady Sheba was among the first to register Wicca as a legally recognized religion, inspiring many others to do the same. Such was the response to Lady Sheba's Book of Shadows that Llewellyn had to reprint it again in 1973. Now, thanks to the bravery of Lady Sheba and those few before her who had the courage to "come out of the broom closet," there are hundreds of groups and organizations with tens of thousands of openly magickal Wiccans and Pagans practicing their faith throughout the United States and abroad.
The Book of Shadows is more than a simple collection of spells. It is a repository of the key tenets of the Wiccan religion. It is an invaluable guide on the journey to spiritual fulfillment. If your only exposure to a Book of Shadows has been on television shows such as Charmed, or Sabrina, the Teen-aged Witch, you'll be astonished at what a true Book contains.
The Book of Shadows is in three sections: The Laws, The Rituals, and The Sabbats. The Laws contain the description of the High Priestess and Priest, and the 162 rules of conduct for Witches. The Rituals describe the rites of initiation, consecration, and worship. Included are the actual chants and dances for calling on the Goddess and Gods. Finally, the rites for the Eight Sabbats—the most sacred of times for the Wicca—are revealed in their entirety in The Sabbats.
In spite of its success, The Book of Shadows has been out of print for over twenty years. Copies were guarded as jealously as the Books of Shadows of old. Rare and valued, they provided guidance to thousands of Witches throughout the world. Now, a new generation can study an authentic Book of Shadows and rediscover for themselves the truth of the Old Ways.