The leatherbound cover of the centuries-old book felt heavy in my hands. It was obvious that this book hadn’t been opened or even touched in a very long time. In addition to the many smells the book had acquired over the years, from sandalwood and patchouli mixed with slight mildew and dust of the ancient bindings to the aromas of all the rituals and spellwork it had participated in, it gave off a lonely feeling. It was as if the book had felt abandoned from not being discovered until now.
I had some trouble believing that my mom had even brought it into the house herself, much less used it in the time that I was born. A part of me felt instantly repulsed by it, as if the leather was hiding razorblades somewhere in its surface and was waiting for the right time to punish me for touching it. It slowly washed over me and was gone after I realized it must have had some type of protection spell bound to it to protect it from getting into the wrong hands. As soon as that idea came into my brain it dawned on me that up until this point in my life I had never even heard of a protection “spell” or any other kind of witchy thing. And I hadn’t even opened the book up yet! All of these new phrases suddenly poured into my mind and settled there, as if they had been there all along and I was just NOW noticing. I forged ahead.
I took a deep breath and carefully opened the book to a random page somewhere in the middle. “How to Astral Project,” the headline read. My mind was suddenly ablaze, filled with all of the places in the world I could potentially travel to, even all the people I could see in my dreams if I picked a place we could both get to.
The journal itself was handmade by the very first witch in my bloodline. I could just tell by the binding that it couldn’t have come from a store–and besides, if I was 11th generation witch, how did people even sell their wares way back when? They were all made by hand from people who spent their lives in their trade. I could see from the inside cover that the book itself was branded with my mother’s maiden name, “Born.” The pages themselves were all written in different handwritings, each carrying a signia of how people during that time wrote. DIfferent instruments were used–from the very first calligraphy plume to more modern pens, some in crayon, marker, and whatever else they could get their hands on. This was all visible to me because these women were in my blood, but I caught a glimpse of what it would look like to someone else. To the outside world, it looked harmless enough to sit on my bedside table or bookshelf in plain view without going noticed. The leather binding, although ancient, shimmered with renewed life once I picked it up and started looking inside it. The only thing I could see myself worrying about were the actual pages, which crumbled at the slightest touch. I felt a sudden incredible urge to attempt to restore this book somehow, taking extra care not to rip any pages as I continued to flip through them. The information was almost too unreal, as every witch who had had this book made it her own until it was ready to be passed down to the next generation, then that witch would get to write her own notes, as well as comment in the margins of the pages that came before.
I felt an immediate connection to these women, and the flashback of my dream came into my mind, stronger than before. I flipped back a couple of pages to the first entry I had found and instantly felt the gears in my brain click. It wasn’t just my mother and myself dancing around the fire. The other women came into my mind, first just as shapes all with matching pearly white dresses that had short sleeves and fell at their feet. The more I held this book in my hand, the more I could clearly use what they had looked like. They were all the authors of this book, including the woman who had made it herself out of leather, handmade paper, and a needle and thread. I knew instinctively that if I had opened the book towards the end, I would have seen my mother’s handwriting. I was tempted, but I just couldn’t make myself go there. At least not right at this historical moment. Just reading her journal was a little bit too much for me. I told myself that maybe I’d be ready a little later on. I promised myself that I’d at least try to be ready sooner rather than later. I didn’t want too much time to go by without giving this special book the attention it truly deserved. And then something even more strange happened.
As soon as I made that tiny little promise, I swear the book actually started glowing. I’m not sure if that’s what happened, but as I held it in my hands I could feel it getting warmer, as if it was going to burst into flame. It didn’t, though. It just kept glowing until it didn’t look old anymore. In fact, it looked like another regular journal. I opened the book up again and saw that someone had left me some blank pages with lines on them, although I couldn’t quite figure out how they got in there. The book might have been centuries old, but the binding looked to be as strong as the day it was made. Where could the extra pages have come from?? I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I set it aside anyhow until I knew for sure. I particularly liked that I could just leave it out in the open and nobody would even think of going through it. Although, I tucked it away on my bookshelf anyhow, just because the last thing I wanted was for it to get ruined because I accidentally spilled coffee or something all over it. I spent the whole rest of the day doing chores while really obsessing over what in the world I could possibly put in there. Needless to say, the rest of the day was an uneventful as ever, between meticulously scrubbing down every surface I could find and wracking my brain for something to put in the book. Before I knew it, I was power washing the deck floors and still couldn’t come up with anything. I finally calmed down enough to decide that I’d at least wait until I was inspired to write something down, so it wouldn’t feel forced and I wouldn’t waste any paper. By the time the entire house was spotless from top to bottom, and I was finally finished cleaning, the sun was completely gone and the moon hung in the sky like a giant glowing orb. I changed into my bathing suit, a black one piece with a lavender and white yin yang symbol on it, grabbed an oversized beach towel, and climbed into the hot tub.
There is a lot to love about this house. It’s big without being cold, spacious while still remaining cozy, and I can still see my mother in the plants in the garden and the pieces of the structure of the house that managed to stay after all of my dad’s purges, including the crystal grids I managed to find in all four corners of the house, hidden in the actual brick. THe only way someone can tell what they’re looking at is if they caught the glint of sparkle the crystals give when the morning sun reaches them. Out of all the little discoveries I’m constantly making about this house, my current favorite thing about it (besides the hot tub, of course), would be the windows. First and foremost, they are big enough to see everything surrounding the house. My mom was big on wanting us all to see the “big picture,” not wanting us to be robbed of anything the land our house was built on had to offer. No matter where a person sat in any spot on the 2nd and 3rd floors, they could always count on getting a breathtaking view of the dark blue of the bay, the local wildlife in their various stages of socializing and surviving, and anything else that was happening outside. It was better than anything that might be even remotely interesting on tv, without the annoyance of commercials and ladies in their 50s with plastic faces. Who needed the Food Network when you had birds fighting over the suet feeder, reality dating shows when there was mating season, and the same four episodes of some shitty outdated sitcom when you had the constantly-changing chronicles of the skunks, raccoons, and deer all either fighting for territory or working together, depending on the time of year and how scarce food was?
The swimming pool and hot tub were smack dab in the middle of the backyard, which was nearly 2 acres of land surrounded by trees instead of a fence that a lot of people in the neighborhood hand. My mom didn’t mind the neighbors using the pool, and felt that people would respect it more if they didn’t have to sneak in to use it. But nearly everyone in the neighborhood either already had their own pool or just swam in the beach on those gorgeous summer days. Every once in awhile, though, I would surprise a neighbor who had decided to take a moonlit dip.
Tonight, however, there was nobody around for miles around, and I got to take advantage of having the place all to myself. I set the temperature of the hot tub to a toasty 95 degrees, and while it was starting up, jumped into the attached kidney-shaped pool cannonball style, splashing around in the cold water that still felt great in the balmy summer air. It didn’t take very long at all to get used to it, and before long I was stretched out in a T shape, floating on my back looking up at the gorgeous night sky. I continued breathing gently as I stared up at it, trying to make out as many constellations as I possibly could. I could always spot the big and little dippers, with their handles sticking out like someone had just hung them there to dry after washing them. I could recognize a few others, and turned it into a game to see how many I could make up on my own. I did this during the day, too, with clouds. It often drove my friends nuts with my constant pointing up to the sky and asking, “did you see that bunny?” Sighing, one of them would almost always answer back with a snarky comment, like the following: “Nope, nobody saw that bunny you are imagining you’re seeing right now. Now stop looking up and pay attention to where you’re going so you don’t crash head first into that tree.” After a while I stopped asking, and just turned it into a game I played just for myself.
Out in the country, the stars are so much more visible than in the city. I don’t have very much experience with cities, but just from visiting my grandparents who are in Chicago I could tell the difference. For one, the sky in the city is pink. PINK!!! What in the hell is that about? And the noise. I can maybe hear the crickets chirping outside, along with cars honking and backfiring, sirens blasting and people screaming at 3am. Sure, you get your regular nature noises up here as well, mixed in with the neighbors on one side having really angry sex and the neighbors on the other side either partying or fighting all night. It’s not like that part is all that much different, no matter where you live. But at least up here in Door County I’m tucked away in a little neighborhood here and I do have neighbors, but we’re all on acres of land so we have some room to breathe. The sky here is as black as it can be with patches of light sewn in. In the city, you could only see the stars on an extremely clear night. But here… it’s as if the smog and pollution haven’t found our address. I could stay in this hot tub all night looking up at the stars and the insects would be my only company.
I shall wait a little while longer to pay my cloud game. Even though it’s dark outside and the stars are out, there’s still some clouds I’d like to get rid of. The sky itself is gorgeous enough at 12am, but as it gets later out, it changes drastically. The stars appear to be closer to the Earth, as if they were so close that if I reached my hand out to them, I could grab a handful of them. As 3am approaches it appears as if Gaia herself is holding a bowl over the night sky with holes punched in the bottom of it. This is my absolute FAVORITE time because I can really let my imagination run wild and free. I check my phone and see that it’s only a little after 1am, and debate on whether or not I should stay up. I’m still exhausted from not really sleeping the past couple of nights, and I don’t really want to sit in the water for 2 more hours. I decide to compromise and set the time for another half hour. The bubbles all gather in the middle of the tub as the jets swirl all the water around. I sit back and rest my head on the deck floor as I stare up lazily. Before I know it, I’m in a trance. I keep my eyes relaxed, as if they’re not really looking for anything in particular. I let them settle where they want to, and I start making up scenes in my head.
At first, there’s a meadow. The breeze is blowing, there’s dandelions and butterflies flitting around everywhere. A tiny hand reaches for mind and I’m so startled at the contact that the scene changes completely. THe stars are now tall buildings and I’m walking down the street, admiring the structures. The stars reflect in the glass and I go deeper into the trance as I can make all sorts of details out about this city. I can even hear jazz music playing in the background. I start walking towards it, finally coming across a man with a jacket and gloves on, playing the shit out of a tenor saxophone. A crowd gathers around him and they all clap as he finishes his last note. He winks at me, and again the scene has changed. The stars have all somehow recreated the scene from my dream from the previous night, except where there was a fire and 12 women standing around it, they’ve been outlined in stardust. The vision takes my breath away as I watch my mother take my starry hand.
The contact of it is so entirely vivid and real that I snap out of it completely. The jets in the hot tub have all since stopped running, the bubbles have all disappeared and the only noise I am able to hear now are the crickets chirping, the frogs mating and various other night creatures. I look up again in disbelief, only to see that the sky is once again just the sky. I finally call it a night as I get out of the hot tub, find my towel and dry off before heading back to the house. “Well,” I think to myself, “at least now I know what my first contribution to the Book of Shadows will be.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
By the time I get inside, it’s already after 2am. It’ll be August pretty soon and I honestly have no idea how I’m going to wake up at 6am everyday to get to school on time, which starts at 7:40am. It sounds like I’ll have a bunch of time to get ready, especially if I’m waking up in advance, but it’s barely enough time to get much of anything done. And I can’t just go back to sleep because I’ll end up fighting with myself to wake up and have to scramble to get ready at the last minute, which I hate doing but what usually ends up happening anyways. I’m so glad that this is my last year before college. It’s not even like the school is all that far from me, anyway. I’m just not a morning person in the slightest. Especially if I keep this summer pattern up of drifting off to sleep somewhere between 3:30am and 4am most nights. I just get this huge bout of inspiration at about 2am that keeps me writing until my eyelids can’t stay up anymore. Most nights I wake up with my pen still in my hand.
Regardless, I’m still not anywhere near as exhausted as I feel I should be right now. I feel electric, as if my body has somehow been plugged into the wall, at least long enough for me to write what I need to write. It’s as if my body knows that I need to get all of this out before it can shut down enough for me to finally go to sleep. But before that happens, I need to get out of my bathing suit and into some comfy clothes before grabbing the Book of Shadows and crawling into bed.
It may look new, but it is still so old that I feel like maybe I shouldn’t write in it, even though I know that I’m supposed to be writing in it. That’s why it was given to me. It’s in my hands now and my mom wouldn’t have let me find it and entrust me with it if she didn’t think I was responsible enough for it. It’s a feeling I hold tightly onto when I finally find a blank page to write on. It’s right after my mom’s last entry, but I can’t bear to look at it right now. I’m not ready to know what my mom’s last thoughts in this book were just yet. Regardless of that, I have a project to work on. I find a pen in a cup of pens that I keep on my night stand and make sure it works before attempting to write on the almost-too delicate paper. To my amazement, this section appears to look brand-spanking-new, almost as if it was meant just for me, which is kind of impossible, considering the book itself was obviously made quite a few centuries ago, and I couldn’t imagine where the new pages could have come from. I didn’t think it had very much room for anything new, but maybe that was simply because I could see it in its organic form. Either the first witch who made this knew exactly how many pages to put in, or they’re brand new. EIther of which I’m too exhausted to really wrap my head around right now.
Before I can get too distracted in trying to figure it out, I chalk it up to the book being magic so I really shouldn’t be too surprised at the fact that it can add pages all on its own. This conclusion satisfies me for the moment and I start to brainstorm about what the perfect title for my first entry should be. It’s not too long before a really cool one pops into my brain. I write in bold, confident black ink at the top of the first black page I find:
“Scrying in the Sky.” Perfect.
Ingredients for Scrying in the Sky:
First, one has to find the section in here on scrying if there is one, which I’m sure there is somewhere inside the vast recesses of this massive book. A little background on the subject will be extremely helpful with the entire process in general. (I don’t add that I’m extremely tired and am too lazy to actually take the time to look through it right now, but I’ll do that later.)
Once acquainted with what scrying actually is (which I finally found on page 73. The definition here is “to foretell the future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface), bring a towel or blanket to lie on. Since we’re doing this outside, make sure to bring something to snuggle up in too if it’s cool out. Lay down in the darkest spot you can find that feels safe to you so you’re not in danger of being eaten alive by spiders or bears or something. The spot also has to be clear of trees blocking your view.
Decide on a time of night that works best for you; however, the later, the better. 2-3am is ideal.
Now, here comes the fun part: once you are all situated, clear your mind or at least think calming, resting thoughts as you go into a meditative state. However you get to that place of relaxation and meditation is fine, as long as you still feel completely safe. Once you feel up for starting, simply look up at the sky, but try not to focus too much on it. Look at it in a sort of sideways way, like you’re looking in a mirror not to look at yourself, but to see if there’s anyone behind you. Your eyes need to be relaxed and will adjust accordingly. The stars might dance for you, or they might stand perfectly still. In time, and with a bit of practice, you can use this to see anything the stars want to show you. You might also be able to manipulate the starts to look like pictures that you want to see, but that’s a little different. I think the term would be called “cloud bursting,” which is something different than this. Maybe that’ll be my next entry.
The last thing you want to do before finishing up for the night is writing down what you see or drawing pictures if that works better for you. Depending on how tired you are by this time, either just write some keywords you can focus on in the morning or a little sentence before going to sleep. And that’s it!
My first contribution to the Book of Shadows was short, but it felt like it was a good starting place. A feeling passed over me like I should have been scared to write in the book lest I mess things up royally but I think that was just my feelings of insecurity coming out and I dismissed them quickly as a new feeling of complete peace came over me, a happy and giddy feeling mixed together like I had just kissed someone I had always wanted to kiss and I was anxious to do it again.
Before I closed the book up and snuggled myself into bed, I took some time to study my handwriting. I was left handed so normally my handwriting was a flurry of too many half-assed thoughts mixed with smudges from my pinky finger (the left handed curse), but there was none of that happening in the book. It seemed like it was almost my handwriting, or at least a more mature version of what it might evolve into in the future. It was very clean and tidy, but I was happy to see that it still had my flourishes on all the squiggly letters. I almost flipped back a few pages, knowing that my mom had been the last one to write her final thoughts in this book, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. I did, however, open up to the very beginning where some of the pages looked the most aged. It was quite difficult for me to decipher some of the words, as if the very first owner (and quite possibly maker) of the book had some extremely tightly-wound handwriting. I’m sure the first few women to write their contributions in here had to use plumes as pens weren’t yet invented, so they had to be extremely pristine with what they wrote. The ink was starting to go in sports and it validated my first instincts to get this book into better shape. “Alright, book,” I said out loud as if it could hear me, and maybe it could, “I’m going to made a deal with you.” I fought back the sensation to scold myself for talking to it. It sounded like a silly thing to say, but I really felt as if it was alive and was fully capable of understanding me, as well as answering back to me in its own way. As the book waited for me to say something else, I got the eerie feeling as if it was actually looking at me like my mom used to when she waited for me to continue onto my point. I carried on.
“I want to keep you in my family for as long as I can, but I can’t do that if I’m always afraid I’m going to break you. So, if you would let me, I will transcribe every word on these pages and make you like new.” I at first had the thought that the proposition of me fixing up the book would make me feel better about having it, but I immediately got the feeling that that’s not what either of us really wanted. “Well,” I started again. “Maybe we could compromise. I can’t really get to know you if I can’t read you, so will you at least make it easier for me to read? And maybe make the pages a little less fragile? I really don’t want to break you by accidentally ripping your pages out.” This made me feel a little bit better, and the book hummed at me as the entire first page turned from something akin to what I would have found in my grandmother’s basement to a diary of mine from last year. I breathed a sigh of relief as I could finally scan the pages and not have to squint my eyes to see the words and attempt to even remotely understand them. Even though the idea of transcribing what I could now fully read and understand was on the pages still swam in my head, I calmed down considerably after I saw for myself the transformation that the book had so flawlessly went through just now. Obviously, it had gone through 11 entire generations of witches in my family, and it had survived them all with every single page still completely in tact. The only thing the book really needed was someone to care enough about it to look after it, pick it up and write in it. It was still amazing to me how it could fit so much witchy knowledge inside of it… it didn’t need anything extra at all. When a new witch in the line picked it up, it adjusted itself completely to that witch’s tastes and needs. I had fully underestimated it. But as I set it down beside me on my night stand, I promised that for as long as I lived, I would always take care of it and treat it as a part of the family, writing in it as often as I possibly could. I was still new to this “witch” thing, so I really had no idea what I could contribute to it that wasn’t already there, but it made me think of how many things I go through in a day that normal people either don’t notice or don’t think about too much to ever think of as “strange.”
I fell asleep still thinking about anything anyone had ever said about me or to me that was remotely “witchy,” something that went beyond a stroke of luck or that had happened simply because I wished it into being. I could tell that this was the beginning of a huge adventure for me, and for once I was ready to tackle it. Not just for my mom and me, who it felt great to be in a project with again, but to every woman in my family who had to hide her power. My heart broke for those women, but I also vowed that I wouldn’t stifle my power away. My last conscious thought was me thinking about all the women who had shown up in my dreams lately, and I couldn’t wait to learn all the lessons they all had to teach me.
I didn’t open my eyes again until a huge roll of thunder shook my bed and woke me up.