The Basics of Journaling
Many books and articles that I’ve read, as well as some I have written, espouse writing in a journal. Since middle school I’ve not had a class or person require me to keep one, so a lot of skills that I had back then I lost until I became a pagan and I started to practice ceremonial magic. What I write here may not be academic or “the right way” of journal writing, but these techniques have worked for me. What I hope you get from this is both a sense of what to use your journal for, and how to write in it so you can actually benefit from using it.
Physical Journal or Blog?
We’ll first delve into using paper journals, then move on to blogs. This isn’t because I dislike the medium for journal writing, but the purpose of a physical journal as opposed to one online can be and usually is totally different. I look at physical journals as useful because they can act as repositories of everything contained within an experience. I used to be more honest in my physical journals because I’m not writing for an audience, but as I’ve become more comfortable with writing online, this has changed (more on that below). I also tend to record more in the introduction, where I include time, moon phase, and the like, and in the body of the entry, where I tend to include more details. I do this because I’m usually doing my journal alongside or immediately following the magic or spirit-work, lending the journaling itself to being part and parcel of that spiritual work. It can be as much a time to ground as it can be a time to record, write down insights, and reflect on the working.
As for blogs, out of the gate they have a ton of advantages. Perhaps the greatest advantage a blog has is that you have a worldwide audience able to comment on your journal, suggest changes, give advice and provide links for more information, or vice versa. Most are highly customizable, even without knowledge of HTML, letting your design your journal however you like. There are other benefits, such as being able to upload photos of your working area or tools, as well as other media and even polls for some blog sites. Personally, this is the only way some friends will see my journals. Some live too far away or are people I only know online, and for the remainder, my blog tends to be much more convenient than coming over and reading my journal. My handwriting isn’t the greatest, and blogs allow for quick dissemination of ideas and occurrences within your life to an audience you can choose to let in or not, as the feeling takes you.
With regard to journals, the security of your work is also a factor: Do you want this work to be seen, even critiqued? Do you want to deal with questions about “Why did you” or outright rude or abusive statements like “you don’t know what you’re doing”? I’ve yet to receive one of these kinds of statements, but you may potentially have to deal with them in an online setting. The spirits you may work with may or may not want their work with you to be posted online. Another thing to consider is that if your physical journal is lost or destroyed, that’s it, and you may have to write everything over from scratch or memory. A physical journal, however, can be right there with you alongside all your other working tools, it needn’t be plugged in, and it can be another physical way to connect you to what you are doing or have done. I personally do a mix of both. Some things I write may never reach my blog because they are deeply personal, whereas my blog contains some quite personal entries that my physical journals do not because I wanted feedback and it is easier for me to type than write. Ultimately, the choice as to where your journal ends up is yours.
The first thing you should decide on is why you want to keep a journal. I’ll give you some examples below, but I look at there being three main archetypes: 1) Experimental, 2) Experiential, and 3) Multipurpose. Experimental journals are entirely about experiments in spirituality, magic, etc. and are written in a straightforward format that nearly entirely eliminates personal perspective save where it is needed. This is a style that closely mimics a scientific journal. The Experiential style is almost exclusively about subjective experiences, opinions, and observations. The Multipurpose style can be either of the two in whatever amounts you need and the flow in it changes as needed. The writing styles will vary greatly; I’ll show you examples so you can decide which you want to use.
I personally advocate a two-pronged approach to physical journaling. Keep your physical journal, but electronically back it up. Either scan it or write it out in a word processor. If you lose the journal, you’ll at least have a backup, and can print it off or refer to it in later sections of your physical journal. The advantage here is that if you have spelling errors, or large sections crossed out (like spirit-corrected entries of spirit communications) you can put your journal into a more logical, and less messy format.
As the actual content is largely up to you, here are some suggestions:
- Regardless of which style you go with, the journal should have all the information you may want to reference later. Write down anything which may affect a working at the beginning of an entry — information like the date, time, moon phase, astrological time, etc. of the working.
- Write as thoroughly as you can, noting feelings and facts with equal weight. Sometimes those feelings can be looked back upon, and you can note trends, or how your emotions may have affected the outcome of a working. It could also give you ideas of how to do a working better next time.
- Do not censor yourself. This is so incredibly difficult, but keep in mind no one needs to read this but you. This is your work, your private journal if you make it so. The details you put in here may help you when you least expect it, so honesty really may help you out some day.
- Nothing is inconsequential. You have feelings, reactions, instincts and intuitions for a reason. It is good to reflect on them, even if they prove wrong later on. Again, as above, your honesty can help you fix or avoid problems altogether.
- Have fun or, at the least, do not make this a chore. If you really don’t like journaling on paper, find another medium. If journaling is going to be a help, approaching it with The Death March playing in the background won’t endear you to it.
DR: OR: RR:
Today begins with a meditation to Hela, then Odin. After getting my breathing and heart calmed, I did square breathing for 15 minutes and slipped into trance state. I went utiseta (out of body).
The DR, or Daily Rune, can also be replaced with DC or Daily Card if you’re using tarot. The OR is Outworking Rune, and RR is Results Rune, and all can be labeled according to what you need. The PDS is the Planetary Day Sign and the PHS is the Planetary Hour Sign, all of which can mean something according to what system of magic or spirituality you are working in. These are just suggestions as to what you can record. To me, anything that you record during these workings can be of value.
Some Sample Activities to Journal On
Sometimes you get settled with doing activities that you can journal on, like spiritual events, spells, and the like. What do you do when you’ve hit a dry spell? Here are some things you can do and journal on to give yourself something to write, and perhaps jump start a low period in your life or spirituality.
- Write on a spell you’ve done that did not work. You may be surprised to learn that the spell worked in a way you didn’t think it did, or you may uncover why it didn’t work.
- Revisit a topic you thought you’d mastered, even something relatively simple like basic energy work. Refreshers can help you spiritually, and going back over it can show progress or give you some new tricks to play with.
- Commune with Deity, noting particulars like how they might appear to you, what they’ve said, or information they’ve told you that their myths, legends, and lore doesn’t cover.
- Commune with your Ancestors; learn a skill or insight into your family tree from them.
- Write a tune, chant, mantra or ritual for a God/dess or spirit.
- Do research on a God/dess, spirit, spell, ritual, or religion and write about what you find.
Comment here if you have suggestions!
©2010 by Sarenth.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Sarenth has been a Neopagan since 2004, on and off as a solitary eclectic. His personal practice consists of NeoShamanism stemming from the Norse pantheon, but he also engages in ceremonial magick and works with a variety of other gods. He is a co-founder of the Pandoran Society. Visit his blog here.