A Look at Dark Items 3 from The Binding of Isaac The Book of Shadows
Post author By Charlie March 17, 2022
A Look at Dark Items #3 – The Binding of Isaac – The
Book of Shadows
Featured photo: by Midnightblueowl at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0. Source.
I find it tough when it comes to looking into the occult. I am quite a superstitious and
anxious person and so I can easily become scared at things that could go wrong in this
area. This can include summoning bad things you do not want to, or even attracting such
bad things by getting oneself involved with things considered to be a part of the occult.
Not everything considered occult is necessarily bad, actually many things apart of it are
totally fine. But there is a lot of stigma attached to strange and odd things that go outside
of both science and more so due to not being within one of the main religions that are
followed these days. Of course, those who are strongly religious and are strict about it
consider things like magic, as an example, to be of the devil and a sin to become involved
As such we have been scared and influenced by many such stories and legends of
people who have got themselves involved with things of the occult. People who have got
themselves into extremely bad situations such as by summoning some kind of entity or
messing with forces they do not understand.
Such stories serve the purpose of scaring people away from such irreligious practices
and beliefs. We have been taught and had ingrained within us for centuries the fear of
things that are considered to go against the main religions and as such they are paraded
It is like how we tell children of a boogeyman to stop them doing things that may be
dangerous to them or to make them learn to come home at a certain time period or some
kind of monster might get them. Such stories of bad things that have happened to those
that have meddled in occult practices can be considered a kind-of boogeyman story.
But even when reasoning on this I still cannot help but wonder what if there are
nonetheless some dangers involved with certain things within the occult. I am still very
reluctant to look into many things within the occult for fear of attracting the unwanted,
even thinking about such things makes me uneasy, and I don’t even come from a
Like I said at the start my natural anxious tendencies probably play a large role in why I
am like this. I do not see reason to mess with such things even if you do not believe
anything would happen, to me it is not a risk I am willing to take. Another reason is I have
a wide and open mind, I am interested in many things and willing to not dismiss things
outright so easily.
The curse of having an open mind is that it can make you more easily scared of things
that you are considering as a potential possibility. I may not necessarily fully believe in it
but the ‘what if?’ in my mind keeps me scared and fearful.
Fear of the unknown is another natural human tendency so if you believe or have
considerations that such things could exist, it is still something you do not hardly
understand and therefore your brain tells you to be fearful of it in a bid to defend you. It is
the fight or flight response and for me it is flight, not messing with anything like this.
Others may choose to fight by meddling in such things to prove to themselves that it is
silly nonsense and that nothing will happen. The religious see these things as a threat to
their religion, something not sanctioned by God and therefore of the Devil, this could also
be considered a fight response as they enforce their kin against messing with such things
and tell of stories of those who do.
Why am I speaking of the occult anyway? Well, the Book of Shadows is a book that does
exist and is of the modern pagan religion of Wicca. A Pagan religion is a type of religion
that is not of the main religions, so Vikings believing in Odin and their other gods and
goddesses were and are called pagans as a major example, especially seen in pop
Many if not all Pagan religions are considered part of the occult also due to this.
The Book of Shadows in the Binding of Isaac
In the Binding of Isaac, the Book of Shadows is an active item that when activated gives
the character a shield that makes them invincible for a short amount of time. Just like with
the Anarchists Cookbook, the item does not change the character’s aesthetic, unlike the
wire coat hanger.
So, in the game I would not say it is exactly a dark item as it does not give a gruesome
look, does not present danger, and provides protection. This makes sense as many spells
and rituals a part of Wicca are meant for protection, and spells and rituals in Wicca are
not meant to be dark or have ill-intent towards others.
I am sure Isaac’s Mum would view it as a dark item though considering her cult-like
What is Wicca?
The Pentacle is one of the most common symbols used in Wicca. Photo by Malloym from
Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0. Source.
To understand what the Book of Shadows is entails us to first look into what Wicca is, so
let’s get into a basic overview.
I myself have heard of it before and in pop culture it has been portrayed as a feminine
religion where you may see covens of young females dressed in dark robes out in the
forest chanting around some kind of symbol made from plants, twigs and other things
from nature, performing magical rituals.
It is often dusk and candles are also usually present as well as a general spooky
atmosphere. It can be seen in these showings as a rebellious act against parental and
community expectations and discipline when a girl joins one of these Wiccan covens.
But what about outside of pop culture?
Wicca is a modern pagan religion that is based in nature. Rituals and practices vary from
one Wiccan to another. Many Wiccans take part in festival celebrations and holidays of
solstices, equinoxes and moon phases, or that center around elements that include fire,
water, earth and air, they may honour male and female gods or goddesses, and include
herbalism and other objects of nature into rituals. Wiccans also usually choose to follow
an ethical code. Many will also choose to believe in reincarnation.
Some consider Wicca to be an interpretation of pre-Christian traditions while others claim
it originates in connection from ancient practices. Wicca can be practiced individually or
as part of a group, a group may be known as a coven but this is not always the case,
again it varies. Wicca is not just for females although it does have a strong connection
with feminist ideology since the 1970s, but originally it was very much a male-dominated
Due to Wicca’s connection to nature and the environment it can have similarities to
Druidism. Many (but not all) Wiccans are duo-theistic which means they worship both a
male and female god and goddess, they may be known as the Triple Goddess and the
Horned God, but again this is not always the case and it varies across those who practice
Wicca. The existence of a female goddess is another element that has served to attract
females and feminist elements to Wicca.
Wiccans may also have atheist, pantheist, and polytheistic beliefs and practices, or may
respect gods and goddesses as archetypal symbols but not actually something that exists
and/or do not believe that they are supernatural. Groups may perform initiation
ceremonies for new members.
The rituals used in Wicca are traced back to Margaret Murray, a first-wave feminist,
Egyptologist, anthropologist, and folklorist. She authored a number of books on medieval
religion that centered around witch cults in Europe. These books inspired people in Britain
to create covens and perform worship based on descriptions from Murray’s books.
Although Murray’s books have since been disputed for its claims on witch cults, the
influence of these books still continue within Wicca.
These practices that came about in Britain did not start being called Wicca until the
1950s. It was given a name in the 1954 book Witchcraft Today authored by Gerald
Gardner – wica – which Gardner says was derived from Scots-English and meant ‘wise
people’. Another c (for Wicca) did not appear until the next decade.
Due to his popularization of the name, Gardner is considered the founder of Wicca by
many. Gardner himself travelled the world and not unexpectedly had an interest in the
occult. Gardner had been involved with a coven in Highcliffe, England in the 1930s where
he says he first heard the word ‘Wica’ which he would later use in his book.
Gardner would later buy some land in the village of Brickett Wood in 1946 where he
founded a center for folkloric study and would also find his own coven.
Gardner had also met the controversial and strange occultist Aleister Crowley in 1947
and took a lot of inspiration from him when writing out Wiccan rituals. Both men shared
similar ideas, with Crowley having proposed the creation of a new religion in 1914 that
would be inspired by old pagan traditions that worshipped the earth, celebrated
equinoxes and solstices, and included other nature-based worshipping elements.
Gardner also published High Magic’s Aid in 1949 which is considered by many as one of
the first standards of Wicca. He also released the original Book of Shadows – and here
we are – which included a collection of spells and rituals and became centered to the
practice of Wicca.
Doreen Valiente is another important figure for many who follow Wicca. She had first met
Gardner in 1952 after she had read his article in Illustrated Magazine that had the goal of
explaining the reality of covens and the practices they use and portraying members as
normal and educated people.
Valiente, at the direction of Gardner, would go on to revise the Book of Shadows to make
it more appealing for popular consumption, in this Crowley’s influence was removed.
Although she split with Gardner’s coven in 1957 and created her own, she would go on to
be a prominent advocate and scholar of Wicca.
Raymond Buckland, a British expat who lived in Long Island, was an initiate of Gardner
from 1963 who would go on to found the Gardnerian Brentwood Coven which is
considered to be the first Wiccan coven in the United States. Buckland would promote
and bring Wicca to popularity in the US. He also moved to the US State of New
Hampshire in the 1970s and created Seax-Wicca which brought mythology of the Anglo-
Saxons into Wicca.
Sybil Leek was another who also spread Wicca in the United States and became a
celebrity to those who followed Wicca, and I do not doubt she (as well as other figures
like Laurie Cabot) helped to make Wicca more attractive to females and was perhaps one
of the early signs of growing feminism within the religion.
We also see some stranger elements being brought into Wicca during this time as well,
Leek herself claimed to be a hereditary witch while another popular figure, Alex Sanders,
brought about Alexandrian Wicca in the 1960s.
Sanders also claimed a lineage in which he invented a number of myths around, saying
he had royal ancestry and a Wiccan grandmother who had also learned witchcraft that he
claimed originated from Atlantis, as well as having connections to the mythical King
Arthur and the wizard Merlin.
Although he peddled stuff that many would consider nonsense, it nonetheless attracted
many younger followers to Wicca by the 1970s and made it an attractive alternate
lifestyle, this could be also connected to the growing counterculture movement of that
time period as well.
The 1970s and 1980s is the time when Wicca begun to move away from just being a
purely magic-based pagan religion into a nature based spiritual movement, with growing
environmentalist and feminist ideals.
One of the most influential feminist figures of Wicca at the time was Z. Budapest who had
founded the Susan B. Anthony coven in 1971, naming it after the American women’s
rights activist who paved the way for the 19 Amendment that enshrined women’s right to
vote in the Constitution.
Budapest also wrote a feminist version of the Book of Shadows and her own coven and
work inspired other feminist covens and feminism within Wicca in general.
It is to be noted that some argue what actually constitutes Wicca, with some considering
British Traditional Wicca to be the only actual Wicca and do not recognise newer
The Book of Shadows
So now that we have a general overview of what Wicca is and how it was shaped over
time, and where the Book of Shadows came from, let’s take a closer look at what it is.
As we learned in the last section the original Book of Shadows was authored by Gerald
Gardner and has been the basis for other versions and revisions of the Book of Shadows
ever since, many serious covens will even make their own Book of Shadows unique from
others but that still take inspiration from the original and/or other more popular versions
So, it is clear there is no one book or strict standard and there is a lot of freedom to create
your own version and it is often encouraged to do so and may sometimes even be a
requirement for initiation as well dependent on the rules of a coven/group.
There is no one book to focus on as even Gardner himself created many versions of his
own Book of Shadows with revisions, overhauls and updates and others also made
changes after him as well and released their own versions.
The entire point of a Book of Shadows is to outline magical rituals that a Wiccan or coven
can perform or practice and how to do them, and what they require to do them. Many of
these books will as such be rudimentary as they are home-made rather than mass-
produced, although mass-produced Book of Shadows’ do exist for the curious.
But again, most serious covens and Wiccans would likely go on to create their own
version of a Book of Shadows. And I think why not? It sounds like a fun and creative way
to spend your time as a hobby or for something you enjoy partaking in. Creating your own
lets you personalise it as you see fit and even invent your own or amended magical
rituals and spells. That makes me excited and I am not really even interested in practicing
Wicca, but I am a very creative person so I do love the sound of that aspect.
The freedom to express yourself and not be locked to some kind of standard or specific
rules, but that there is a lot of fluidity and varying forms of Wicca is very much another
reason why it is attractive to many, especially when compared to the strictness of many
Originally in Wicca each coven would usually just have one Book of Shadows and it
would be kept by the high priestess or high priest of the coven, but as we have discussed
it has since then expanded way beyond even those such restrictions. For Gerald Gardner,
Doreen Valiente was for a time the high priestess of his coven and that now makes more
sense as to her revision of his book.
So really at the end of the day when you really think about it the only reason the Book of
Shadows is controversial is due to the opinion of the strictly religious and those who
simply do not understand what Wicca is, how it came about, and what it is today. The fear
people have had ingrained into them of the occult and of pagan religions is the reason
why many see Wicca as dark and anything associated with it as dark objects.
Although each Book of Shadow is unique and it is up to each individual how they want
their own to look of be, many follow a general structure often based off of other books
they have read and certain other sources of inspiration and fascination.
A Book of Shadows is often not just spells and rituals, and in a many cases individuals
will even make a separate book for spells that may be known as a grimoire, which helps
with keeping things neatly organised.
Other things that a Book of Shadows often includes are coven bylaws and traditions; what
gods or goddesses the writer has dedicated themselves to; the method of the initiation
ceremony for the coven/group; myths and legends of gods and goddesses the
individual/coven follows and possibly even artistic depictions of them; tables and
schedules on moon phases, herbs, plants, stones and crystals among other things that is
useful to reference; rituals for moon phases and seasonal festivals (Sabbats); and pretty
much anything else you and/or your coven/group practice in Wicca.
I hope you found this post somewhat insightful. There is so much more than this to Wicca
though, this is just a very basic rundown for anyone who is curious about the Book of
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