Pagans are a creative bunch. Whether it's because artistic and creative thinkers tend to shy away from the mainstream and therefore tend to congregate in alternative religions, or because our up-close-and-personal relationship with Deity tends to inspire us so passionately we have to find some way of expressing our ecstasy, or both, or something else entirely, over the years I have seen some of the most fantastic art and craft from my people, ranging from Tarot to music to sculpture and all points West.
I’m something of an artist, and by that I mean I have artistic talent but not the drive to make use of it regularly. My creativity finds its outlet in the written word, plus occasional forays into colored pencil art, wee sculptures in polymer clay, and even a painting or two. (Painting is difficult for me, as I have essential tremors in both hands, so mostly I stick to pencil and clay.)
Even if you don’t think you have any talent, there are some forms of art that any enterprising Pagan can create. The most obvious, and perhaps most important, is of course the altar, where form and function unite, making a Michelangelo out of every Aradia WeaselFox. The second is that "ancient" form of magical recordkeeping, the Book of Shadows.
Grimoire, cookbook, journal, scrapbook--a BoS, or whatever your brand of Pagan calls a similar book, is an often-underutilized opportunity for creative expression. Even the modern-day equivalent, the My Documents Folder of Shadows, has its art; you can decorate your files with Witchy fonts, images, and even scary/annoying sound files that you still find on a few websites out there.
More often than not I find that people tend to be a bit scattershot in their recordkeeping, and end up rummaging desperately in the Stack of Crap of Shadows for that incense recipe they’re sure they wrote down, or clicking through the Firefox Bookmarks Menu of Shadows for a ritual idea they saw on a site somewhere last June. Or, the BoS becomes such a hefty tome that carting it from shelf to altar requires a wheelbarrow/hernia operation.
In my career as a Wiccan my BoS has undergone several incarnations. My favorites have been the scrapbook variation, in which each page was decorated with photographs, bits of Nature glued to the cardstock, and paint; and my current version, a bound book with handmade paper pages, evey page handwritten, illuminated with vines and other mystical doodles. (Click here to have a peek at the title page, to give you some idea of how much time I put into this thing.)
The problem is that by the time I’ve finished work on a BoS, or gotten it to where I like its content, it's obsolete. I find that the more experienced I get, the less I need a BoS at all. Most of my personal rituals are made up on the fly, and I know my herbs well enough that I don't usually have to consult a recipe to select the ingredients for a charm or incense. After thirteen years, it's all in my head, and anything that isn't, I would have to look up in an herbal encyclopedia anyway.
So my poor BoS sits beside my altar, gorgeous and full of my energy, but mostly unused--is art really art if it’s never enjoyed? I suspect this happens to a lot of Craft veterans. A computer file lacks romance, as does a binder, but a bound book is difficult to edit and doesn't evolve with you, unless you periodically start from scratch.
I do have a magical recipe binder of printed pages and dividers (also rarely used, although I keep formulas I’ve created myself and nifty blends I might want to use again someday but won’t remember in it). I also have a small book of prayers…or, I think I do. It’s lost somewhere in the chaos of my desk. Prayer, like ritual, tends to be spontaneous in my world. My BoS, however, is a sort of portrait of how I viewed my spirituality and how, ideally, I practiced it circa 2002.
Recently I had a moment of wacky inspiration handed down from the gods (or blown in my ear by a Faery as I slept, which amounts to the same thing really). I’ve been feeling the itch to redo my BoS, as in the last five years my worldview and practice have both experienced a slight tectonic shift, but the idea of putting hours and hours of work into another book to sit by my altar coated in incense dust (a Knickknack By Default of Shadows) seemed rather sad.
I was discussing spiritual reconnection with a covenmate over a divinatory reading, and suddenly I remembered The Red Book, or rather, the author’s original concept for it: a large red journal full of passages, prayers, and collages whose purpose was not to record the minute details of rituals or catalog recipes, but to inspire.
Now, that sounds like something I can get behind. At this point on my path I don’t need a cookbook, I need a touchstone, something to turn to on those days when the waking sleep of mundanity sounds more attractive--or at least easier--than the dreaming wakefulness of the sacred life. I envision a combination of scrapbook and oracle where all I have to do is open it to any page and find words or an image to elbow me out of my oh-so-hip and oh-so-dull postmodern ennui.
All I have to do now is find the right medium, materials…but that’s the fun part. Hooray for new projects!
Because, you know, I don’t already have enough to occupy my time. *laugh*