A lot of people spend a lot of time arguing over the particular relevance and general veracity of this or that holy book. The Bible. The Qur’an. The Torah. The Guru Granth Sahib.
Wiccans, as far as I understand these things, have a slightly different kind of holy text. Their Main Book is called the Book of Shadows, and it’s a self-written (i.e. written by the Wiccan, not by the book itself) combination of personal journal, notebook, recipe book, ritual guide and magical grimoire.
Despite recent calls in what I might have to describe as a vaguely witchy direction — at least insofar as Diana Nemorensis, Diana Luna, is a triple moon goddess, among other aspects — I’m not and have never truly been Wiccan. I have only a passing familiarity with the faith, largely drawn from the Scott Cunningham books that were my initial experience of paganism as a legitimate path.
Like many, I wondered at first why Wiccans called their book the Book of Shadows, but fortunately they’re happy to explain. Their mythic narrative is that Wicca is an ancient faith which existed before Christianity came to Europe – and when the Roman Church did arrive, it cracked down on the Nature-focused witchcraft of the ancient pagans and substituted its own patriarchal religious dictatorship.
Wiccans seeking to avoid discovery and punishment by the Church for their heresy had to keep their journals and grimoires in the Shadows – so hence the name.
I have a holy text, of sorts. And while the name ‘Book of Shadows’ would be fitting, I’ve never really settled on what to call it.
In Taoism, the Tao itself – the mystical flow that carries us all through life – can’t be plainly described. Like the Matrix in the Wachowski Sisters’ most popular movie, it can only be experienced. You can’t ever actually see it or feel it directly. If you try, you might catch sight of one of its effects, but you can’t hold the thing itself. You can only see its ripples. Its Shadows.
For me, what I might have otherwise called the Book of Shadows is not a book you can take hold of, open at a page and start reading. It’s the book that exists in, well, in the shadows, and the reflections of all other books, as well as all plays, all songs, all paintings, sculptures, movies, TV shows, dances and poems. It is the text that weaves through every computer program, every debate and political speech, every confession, every calculation, every email, text message and letter. It’s every kind word and every insult. It’s every declaration of war and every peace treaty. It is the book we all write with our every word, and with every act of creation or destruction.
This is all important to me, because the place I come from is a world of words. It’s a place that would not exist, or might be very different, but for the words that describe it.
There is infinite wisdom in the book. Innumerable sayings and lessons and warnings and principles. There is always a relevant passage from which to learn.
Tonight I’m reminded that the Book once showed me a scene: two people, both functionally immortal, stand at the end of the universe. And one said:
“I’ve been watching the stars die. It was beautiful.”
“No,” replied the other. “It was sad.”
“No.” The first again. “It was both. But that’s not something you would understand, is it? You don’t like endings.”
And I found that that spoke to me, perhaps more deeply than just words of dialogue might be expected to. Because I do understand it. I do know that something can be sad and beautiful at the same time. Because everything is. It must be. Every beautiful thing carries its pang: the certain knowledge that the beauty will one day fade, and wither, and pass away – but that it is all the more beautiful for it. Indeed, without that inevitability, could it be said to be truly beautiful at all?
And I love beautiful things and wish I could preserve them – but how? Where?
And it’s true for me as for that speaker at the end of the universe: I don’t like endings, either. I admit, I’ve become too attracted to the beauty and pained too greatly by the sadness, and I’ve lost track of each one in the other. And this is an anomaly for one such as me, from the world I came from. I should understand that the two are inextricable – that as defining and realising good also necessity realises evil, so beauty and transience give reality to and describe each other.
“Nothing is sad until it stops,” says the speaker, quoted in the Book. “Then everything is.”