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from the compose-yourself dept.
Keeping a diary of one's spiritual exercises, experiences, and reflections is one of the most important and effective activities the aspiring magician can dedicate themselves to mastering. Why is this? It's not a necessary activity for spiritual attainment, since most other religious traditions do not promote a diary practice as a normative undertaking. Thelema does.
Crowley was fond of describing his approach to magical training with the motto "the method of science, the aim of religion". This motto was used in every issue of The Equinox, which he also called the 'organ of Scientific Illuminism'. This idea of a scientific approach to mysticism and magick is a key component of the Thelemic way, and is at the basis of the usefulness of the diary as well.
What is 'science' then? If we attempt to answer that question, we will discover that the word designates more of a variety of background assumptions, activities, and attitudes, rather than something really specifiable by a set of propositions that everyone would agree with. In the 19th and 18th centuries, 'science' was often used to connote any kind of knowledge arrived at through reason. Hegel uses the term in this manner, for example. Magick posits a transrational source of knowledge, however, so Magick is not scientific in this sense. Today, science is perhaps best understood as a set of methods for recognizing repeatable regularities. The goal of using these methods is not itself determined by the methods, so this kind of 'science' is not necessarily tied to a particular metaphysics such as materialism or physicalism. Many scientists are materialists. Many are not. This way of understanding the idea of science also has the attitude that beliefs, assertions, or theories should be subjected to some kind of appropriate testing or verification.
Crowley's Magick does legitimately have some features of this type of science, and in few places more clearly then in his use of the record. The diary functions explicitly as a kind of lab notebook for various investigations that the magician undertakes. What is the nature of these investigations?
The oath of the probationer of A.'.A.'. is to explore the nature of one's being. One's own being, one's self, is therefore the phenomenon to be subjected to experimentation. The aim of the experimentation is 'religion' and so this determines the type of experiments with which the phenomenon is interrogated. Our questions therefore are: what is this self, what is its nature, its limits, its meaning?
It may turn out, in exploring this phenomenon, that the self is not at all like a physical object, and that it is opaque to analysis in quite the same quantitative manner as are the chemical properties of H2O, for example. Nevertheless, the method will remain scientific in the broad sense already outlined if one proceeds with attention paid to the observation of repeatable regularities, and if one refuses to be convinced of states of affairs by other then conclusive results. Skepticism is an important element but, as in physical science, as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself. The end is the attempted discovery of the meaning of one's existence. Most crucial to all of this is that a record of the procedure be made for oneself and others. This is the magical diary.
As for the actual practice of the magical record, here are a few personal reflections from my own work along these lines over the years:
First of all, don't worry too much about presentability in terms of what one writes on. Fancy manuscript books give a weight to the value of one's diary work -- but loose binder paper sheets have become my preferred means of recording entries. They transport easily and can be copied without difficulty. The value of the diary is what is written in it, not what it's written on. Nevertheless, a quality bound book has a real magical effect that should not be overlooked. This is a matter of preference, but don't be afraid to use a format that gets you to write, but doesn't look pretty.
Try to write something every day, even if it's "did nothing", because if you get that down you haven't done nothing, you've at least worked on you're diary. Crowley would not advance anyone past Probationer in A.'.A.'. unless they could keep a complete diary for a year. He didn't care if what was in it was any good, that was the Probationers business, but they had to do something, and there had to be a record of it. Try holding yourself to the same standard and see what happens. I guarantee that whatever practices you are doing or experiences you are having, they will be enriched by writing them down. The self-reflection necessitated by the nature of the activity will act to deepen your spirituality.
Don't try to make too much of a distinction between your spiritual activities and your daily life. Let the record deal with your mundane goings on -- let it be a regular diary at times -- but keep in mind as you do so the ultimately religious nature of the record. Let that aspect of the diary bleed into and infiltrate your supposedly profane goings about. See how they tie into and are inseparable from your explicitly magical practice. Let yourself discover, through your diary work, exactly how it is that your whole life really is dedicated to the Great Work.
Finally, don't worry about how good a writer you are. The important thing is to write. If you're a poor prose stylist, keeping a regular diary will make you a better one.
There are many more kinds of work one can do with the record, above and beyond the basic use that has already been discussed. Two particular exercises I have found to be of special value. These come from Phyllis Seckler.
The first involves keeping a record every day for 3 months of issues related to your health. What are you doing to keep yourself healthy? Do you feel ill often or have chronic problems? What are you eating? Do you smoke and if so how much? Try each day to do something in a positive direction toward maintaining or enhancing your health. Make a note of it in the diary.
Many kinds of spirituality suffer from a kind of dualism, a belief that the physical body is somehow unimportant or inessential. This is a limited point of view. Thomas Aquinas says that the human existence is a unity of body, soul and spirit. These are distinguishable in some contexts, and yet if they are separated the human being ceases to be as such. In alchemy, the analog is the presence of the three alchemical principles in all things. Salt is body, sulfur is soul, and mercury is spirit. This sacred triad further corresponds to the three mother letters and ultimately to the Supernal trinity - which is thereby manifest in all substance. You can't abuse a third of yourself and hope to succeed in your goals of a superior life. This health practice is designed to remedy that tendency to imbalance, and to keep one in a balanced and grounded state.
The second practice is to make notes, every day for three months, on one's process of psychological projection. That is to say, on one's tendency to interpret others, or to expect them to behave in a manner that has not to do with the way they actually are, but with the processes and prejudices of one's own psyche. This kind of thing goes on all the time to color our perceptions. It is not something which we can ever somehow stop, because all of our judgements and perceptions will necessarily be from some perspective. The task of this exercise is rather to become mindful and aware of our own process, so that we can learn to project in appropriate, rather then inappropriate ways.
Both of these two diary practices are intended to develop habits that should persist throughout one's life. They are mindfulness exercises, and while they have initial time limits, they can be returned to formally or informally in one's future journal work. They're tools, so to speak, which one may keep in one's kit to use when necessary.
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