A Book of Shadows is a book containing religious texts and instructions for magical rituals found within the Neopagan religion of Wicca. Originating within the Gardnerian tradition of the Craft, the first Book of Shadows was created by the pioneering Wiccan Gerald Gardner sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and which he utilised first in his Bricket Wood coven and then in other covens which he founded in following decades. The concept of the Book of Shadows was then adopted by other Wiccan traditions, such as Alexandrianism and Mohsianism, and with the rise of books teaching people how to begin following Wicca in the 1970s onward, the idea of the Book of Shadows was then further propagated amongst solitary practitioners unconnected to earlier traditions.Initially, when Wicca was still dominated by covens, "only one copy [of the Book] existed for an entire coven, kept by the high priestess or high priest. That rule has proved unfeasible, and it is [now] commonplace for all Witches to have their own copies." In the various traditions that make up British Traditional Wicca, copies of the original Book composed by Gerald Gardner with the aid of his High Priestess Doreen Valiente, along with alterations and additions that have been made since then, is followed by adherents. They have tried to keep the contents of this Book a secret, although it has been published on a number of occasions by figures such as Charles Cardell, Lady Sheba and Janet and Stewart Farrar. In other Wiccan traditions and amongst a number of solitary practitioners, alternate versions of the Book have been written that are independent of Gardners original.
Numerous associations and traditions have since grown up around the Book of Shadows. Traditionally, "a Witchs book of shadows is destroyed upon death." The concept of the Book of Shadows has subsequently appeared in popular culture, for instance being utilised in the American television series Charmed and providing the title of films, musical albums and comics. However, in all these cases it was taken out of its original Wiccan context.
Gerald Gardner, the "father of Wicca", first introduced the Book of Shadows to people that he had initiated into the craft through his Bricket Wood coven in the 1950s. He claimed that it was a personal cookbook of spells that have worked for the owner; they could copy from his own book and add or remove material as they saw fit. He said that the practice of Witches keeping such a book was ancient, and was practised by the Witch-cult throughout history. According to tradition, Gardner claimed, the book was burned after a person died, so that it would not be discovered that they had been a witch.
Gerald Gardner did not mention any such thing as a "Book of Shadows" in his 1949 (though written three years earlier), novel about mediaeval witchcraft, High Magics Aid. Doreen Valiente claimed that this was because at the time, Gardner had not yet conceived of the idea, and only invented it after writing his novel.