The Electronic Book of Shadows

This is an article I wrote in 2011 for the Witches Companion 2013. A little use of our current technology can assure you do not lose your precious notes, recipes and research. There are so many ways to save our hard learned lessons. I have included some tips and tricks to help you find files easier and track their origins and sources better.

We all have them.  Notebooks crammed with material we have copied off the web or out of books that we reference again and again in our practice.  We have shelves of books, notebooks and sheets of papers in folders that we really do want to keep; or maybe not.  I used that spell, well, maybe two, or was it three years ago and it worked well, but I forgot what I used it for and I thought I remembered it worked well, but maybe some of those notes in the margins, scribbled quickly.

Some of us may have a mess of notes.  I know I did.  Well, I still do to be honest.  It is going to take a long time to get my BOS sorted out.  Recipes, spells, chants, rituals, poems, miscellaneous writings, material copied from the web, pictures – all for my own private use.  And I do use them.  I am, after all, a practicing witch. 

So, how can we organize this better?  Well, many of us have a great tool at our disposal yet we never think of using it - our computer or laptop or tablet or smartphone.  Well, how about an e-BOS (electronic Book of Shadows.)  Oh, you tried that years ago, and now you have CDs with info on them that you can’t read.   But the technology is much better and storage is easier to do and just as easy to back up and keep safe.

So, let’s start with the mess.  I am sure, as I have material on both my computer and on paper, that you face the same issue.  How to sort this all out and make sense of it?  Let’s start with software, and work our way up the line.

Word processing programs are available for many folks at no cost, or low cost.  Open Source software is free for personal use.  Open Office provides several mediums to work with – word processor, presentation program and graphics program.  There is more, but for what we are looking to do, this is all the basics you will need.

If you are interested in Microsoft Office, that is available at huge discounts to students through the Microsoft Student and Microsoft Office Professional Academic.  The software is available through their website and offers Office with Word, OneNote, PowerPoint and more to ALL students, including non-traditional students. 

A side note and addition to the original article:  There are Microsoft Office Aps that are available for free for many electronic devices.  What this means is that you can use the aps to do basic copy/paste routines to save to laptops, phones, tables and more.  Check Google Store and Microsoft Store for more information and the aps.

Running Windows 10 on your home PC also allows you to download these aps.  And if you are like me and absolutely must have the Office package, you can purchase a yearly subscription to Office 365 Home for $99.99.  The home package gives you Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, Publisher, Access, cloud storage and Skype.  The software is the latest, newest version and you get all the software fixes over the year.  When you renew next year, you get the newest version.  Hopefully they keep the same price points.

All kinds of word processing and storage software is available to use on mobile devices as well.  But all you really need is a word processing program of some kind.

A big advantage would be to have a program that creates .pdf files.  This kind of program allows you to create .pdf files from any website, complete with the website address (URL.)  This would allow you to track and when needed, quote your resource.  Some of these features are built into OneNote, where anything you copy is also “stamped” with a URL of the site it came from.  A .pdf program allows you to “print” to a .pdf file, which opens with Adobe Reader.  There are PDF Creators on line for free, and Adobe reader is also a free program.  Or you can purchase Adobe Acrobat to create and edit .pdf files.  This will also eliminate lots of paper and ink.  Check around, there are some free Adobe programs today because the market is that competative.

Why would you care where it came from?  Well, for purposes of identifying the material you are saving.  Look at the paperwork you have already collected.  Do you know where it all came from?  Some printouts may have a URL on it, but it may be abbreviated or hard to trace.  And if you decide to share, are you sure you wrote that spell or was copied from somewhere?

This brings us to a brief discussion on copyrights.   You are free to use anything “for your own personal use.”  That means for you and you alone.  Not to be copied to the web, a website, Facebook or anywhere else.  You can copy anything to your computer, use it, print it out and keep it in your own personal folders.  But you can’t publish it or share it in a public forum.  So, keep tabs on what is yours and what belongs to someone else, and you will never end up embarrassed.  Enough said.

So, let’s start sorting through your paperwork. 

First, how old is it?  Old material can sometimes be good, or sometimes be so much Unicorn Farts.  It depends on how far you have advanced and what you have learned thus far.  And who wrote it.  Make a choice.  Keep it, or throw it away because it doesn’t apply anymore.

Do you know where it came from?  If not, you can either look it up on the web, or you can throw it away.  I am sure you will find something better once you start researching again to fill up your new e-BOS.

Does it mean anything to you?  It’s all well and good that you have it, but really, did you ever use it?  Do you still relate to it?  Does it mean something special or unique to you and you alone?  If so, then it is worth cherishing.  If not, throw it away.

And as you go through your paperwork, you are going to find duplicates.  Throw away the duplicates.  You don’t need 6 copies of “Charge of the Goddess.”  Or three copies of the pagan light bulb jokes.  You will be surprised how often we print something out, simply because over the years we knew we had seen that already but can’t find the copy we had.  Or you don’t realize that it’s the same thing again; as it seems new to you, so you print it out, or save it, again.  If you are unsure you had seen that piece of paper earlier, don’t worry about it; we are going to sort through this paperwork and file system one more time, to get it into working order.

On your computer, let’s see your filing system.  Umm, you do have a filing system for all your files, correct?  I thought so.  Let’s start fresh and work on a system to file, backup and find your files. 

You can save your files to your hard drive.  That is, if it is big enough, if it is new enough and if you trust your computer.  I have external hard drives.  These have become so cheap that I have found uses for many different drives.  I save to my hard drive and I then back it up onto external drives, which then gives me a duplicate system for all my files.  Invest in an external hard drive.  They are small, they are cheap, and they are easy to hook up – plug and play is wonderful.  This will be the critical backup you need to keep your e-BOS and all your other essential files safe and available.  Spend money where it counts.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to spend a few bucks to save time and energy and your precious memories.

Another updated entry - cloud storage.  You can get all sorts of storage in the cloud for free or larger amounts for free.  Microsoft, Google, Amazon - they are all reliable and they offer free storage.  What does this mean?  Well, if you back it up to the cloud, you will not lose it.  Also, it can be shared between your devices.  So what you save on  your PC you can access from the cloud on your phone.  If you sort your files right, that special Bend Over spell is right at your fingertips.

Next, how do you set up your filing system?  I can make suggestions, but in the end you will find a system that works for you.  But, I can give some helpful hints that will assist you in getting started.

How would we want to file away our information?  By topic!  So let’s create some topics.  How about starting with MyeBOS as the top file?  Start clean with an empty file.  And then add into that from elsewhere on your computer and add your paperwork.  Inside MyeBOS start your topics: spells, recipes, chants, songs, prayers, rituals, photos, pictures.  Make them very basic; you can get more specific within these topics. 

OK, what about your actual files?  Do you name them to match the content, or are they a mishmash of files with names that don’t seem to make much sense.  We can fix this by creating a system of file naming.  All mine have a date, written in year, month and day.  Why?  I hate outdated information.  I also like to know when I wrote something, or when I first catalogued that piece of information.  Then I catalog what the item is.  Spell, recipe, chant, song.  And a further topic, Hekate or protection, or chicken soup.  Yes, I include recipes in my BOS because there is nothing more magical than a meal made to be memorable, happy, healing or comforting; you get the idea. 

So, my file names can look like:  Please be aware that naming conventions on different computers will vary and you will need to adjust your names to fit what your computer will accept.  For something someone else wrote: spell.healing.morrison.2010.docx.  You can save rituals in a similar way: yule.for2.20071222.pdf, referencing a Yule ritual for two I wrote for the web in 2007. How about a picture? I like to add the name of the artist or those pictured and the year the picture was taken; oracle.collier.jpg or mary.pagan event.2010.jpg  Remember, this is a suggestion only.  You may find a way that works even better for you. 

So, what about all that paper?  Well, we do the same thing; start sorting out the paper into piles like your files.  Once you have gone thru everything, you have three options.  First, find the same article on the web.  You may get lucky with Google searches.  When you find it, print the webpage to a .pdf file and save with the appropriate name in the appropriate MyeBOS location.  Recycle the paper.  Or, you can scan the paperwork into your computer using a scanner; very cheap these days, and it comes with many printers.  Again, scan and save as a .pdf, name appropriately and file away.

Last resort is to re-copy the material by hand.  Yes; type it into a word processing program.  This will take time but it can be done.  Good typing practice and it will allow you to learn how to use the many features of the program you have. 

Now for some good ideas on what to do with your new e-BOS!  You can save pictures from the web that you feel are pretty, appropriate or just touch you in the right way.  And when you find something you want to save on the web, you can use these pictures to embellish your e-documents by adding them to the files.  Adding graphics to documents has become very easy, and you can make your BOS pretty as well as functional.  For frequently used files, print out and place in a protective plastic sleeve and place in a binder!  If it gets dirty or worn, replace from the file on your computer.

A friend of mine purchased a handmade BOS.  Beautiful embossed cover, lovely paper inside, well bound.  It cost a fortune and she was very delighted with it.  But the book did not allow her to insert pages.  It was pre-bound, and she didn’t want to actually “write” in it as she felt she would probably mess it up.  I suggested she get some specialty papers either from the office supply store or from the hobby shop and then design her work in a processing program, pick a script that was both legible and elegant, type her BOS entry and add pictures and graphics.  Then print the pages out.  She could glue them to the book pages or insert them between the pages so she can take them out and use them.  She thought that an excellent idea!  You can do the same with scrap books or other books purchased from stores with blank pages.  Your e-BOS does not have to be confined to your computer.

There are so many ideas you can come up with for arranging and using your saved material.  And with today’s technology, you can save just about anything for your own personal use.  Just be sure to keep track of where you got it from.  Always give the original author or artist credit.  From this you can create hard copy or electronic keepsakes that can be passed on from generation to generation.

Copyright © 2011 Boudica Foster


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Boudica Foster is the pen name for Margaret Foster. All website material written, drawn or photographed is the work of Margaret Foster.