The Practice of the
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?
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 his massive publication The Equinox. This idea of a scientific approach to mysticism and Magick is a key component of the Thelemic tradition, 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 specifable by a set of propositions that everyone would agree with. In the 18th and 19th 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 than in his use of the diary 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 own 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 your 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 attempted in it was completely successful, 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 infltrate 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 exercises I have found to be of particular value. These come originally 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 analogue 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 judgments 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. This kind of mindfulness is most necessary when one is working with a spiritual group, where projection issues are in continual danger of distracting from a frank commitment to the work that occurs there.
One good rule of thumb in the practice is always to remember that it concerns one's own projections only, not those of others. Making judgements about the projections of others is often its own subtle form of projection. It is also not the focus of the practice. So if the diary starts to fill up with what you think other people are doing wrong, those opinions may be right or wrong, but they are not the practice.
Both of these 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.
We can learn a bit more about the diary from reading what Crowley has to say about it in his magnum opus Book 4. In part two of this work he devotes a chapter called 'The Book' to this subject. He begins by writing:
"The Book of Spells or of Conjurations is the Record of every thought, word, and deed of the Magician; for everything that he has willed is willed to a purpose. It is the same as if he had taken an oath to perform some achievement."
In speaking of 'the Book' Crowley is here speaking of far more than the physical diary. That is here revealed to be a symbol of the very life as a whole of the magician. This Book is said to be a book of Spells and Conjurations, for one's life is itself a spell, the greatest spell that one will ever cast. It is the creation and conjuration of a reality, of a life. Everything in this life is said to be willed to a purpose. That is, every occurrence in one's life is an expression, in one phase or another, of the True Will. Insofar as the diary comes to demonstrate this, it will come more and more to correspond to the sacred Book described by Crowley. The goal of the diary, therefore, is to make a record of this life, such that through its analysis the True Will can be shown. This is the ultimate purpose of the record.
"Now this Book must be a holy Book, not a scribbling book in which you jot down every piece of rubbish that comes into your head. It is written, Liber VII, V 22-29: 'Every breath, every word, every thought, every deed is an act of love with Thee. Be this devotion a potent spell to exorcise the demons of the Five.'"
One's life, one's career in Magick is not a meaningless, random sequence of occurrences. It is an expression of the True Will. Nihilism is not the ultimate philosophy. The discovery that this has always already been the case is the Great Work. How is this accomplished, and what part does the magical record have to play in this? The quoted passage from the Holy Books might give us a clue. It reads in full:
"23. Every breath, every word, every thought, every deed is an act of love with Thee.
24. The songs of me are the soft sighs:
25. The thoughts of me are very rapture:
26. And my deeds are the myriads of Thy children, the stars and the atoms.
27. Let there be nothing!
28. Let all things drop into this ocean of Love!
29. Be this devotion a potent spell to exorcise the demons of the Five!"
The demons of the five are obscurations and distractions of Will, Thought, Emotion, Body, and Spirit away from the True Will — Qlippoth of the elemental realm. They are overcome through dedication of these components of the self to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Then the deeds of one's will become the myriads of children of the living God — the stars and the atoms. One's thoughts become "very rapture". The songs of one's emotions become the "soft sighs". The life of one's body, the beat of one's heart, becomes the pendulum of love to the Angel. Finally, one's spirit becomes one pointed to the experience of what Liber 7 calls in mystical language "the Nothing". All things, all experiences are then immersed into "this ocean of love" of gnosis of the Angel. This gnosis is the goal of all magical and mystical practice of the Thelemic initiate.
The task of the diary is to build mindfulness of this goal. The awareness of the angel is built in stages. One of the most difficult things for the beginning or even advanced magician to overcome is a kind of forgetfulness of past moments of breakthrough experience. This becomes particularly acute during periods of ordeal. The record can be a weapon in this struggle. The passions and distractions of the moment may seem to overwhelm the larger trajectory of the True Will. The diary can bring us back to an awareness of that trajectory, back to what is essential. "All the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains." (AL II: 9) This remembrance acts to bind and exorcise the demons of distraction.
"The Book must then be thus written. In the first place the Magician must perform the practice laid down in Liber 913 so that he understands perfectly who he is, and to what his development must necessarily tend. So much for the first page of the Book."
This is a recommendation to undertake the practices laid out in the A∴A∴ instructional paper Liber Thisharb. These exercises are assigned to the Exempt Adept insofar as their successful completion results in the Gnosis of the True Will, and therefore passage through the Abyss to Understanding. Even though this Liber's tasks are specifically assigned to the Exempt Adept, anyone can undertake them in a preliminary manner. Some of these practices are very advanced in nature, but the general exercise is a very basic one. One must ask of oneself the three questions posed at the 1st pylon of initiation in Liber Pyramidos:
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Where am I going?
In other words, ask seriously the big question — what is the meaning of my life? As we say in Thelema — what is my True Will?
The diary is one of the best ways to begin to approach this question, as it involves a study of oneself. Through this conscious study, carried out in the record, one can begin to grasp the parameters of the issues involved.
Completion of the task of Liber Thisharb is said by Crowley to constitute only the "first page" of the Book. After discovering one's True Will, one must then live it.
"Let him then be careful to write nothing therein that is inharmonious or untrue. Nor can he avoid this writing, for this is a Magick Book. If you abandon even for an hour the one purpose of your life, you will find a number of meaningless scratches and scrawls on the white vellum; and these cannot be erased. In such a case, when you come to conjure a demon by the power of the Book, he will mock you; he will point to all this foolish writing, more like his own than yours. In vain will you continue with the subsequent spells; you have broken by your own foolishness the chain which would have bound him."
Evocation, or more properly Goetia, is here again used as a metaphor for the confrontation in our lives of perceived obstacles to our True Wills. These must be summoned, faced and bound by the power of the Angel, by the power of the True Will. Insofar as we distract ourselves from our real purpose we are helpless before these forces of dispersion. We cannot control them and so they master and use us, rather than the proper relationship — where we should master and use them in accordance with our True Will.
The situation described in this passage is metaphor — and yet in some situations it can be literal. In The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage the first task of one who has accomplished the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel is to summon the 4 great devils of the world and all of their legion of servitors. These are evoked and bound by the traditional magical methods. The Adeptus Major in A∴A∴ is expected to perform or have performed some kind of analogous task. Some interpret it as assigned to the path of Lamed, corresponding to Libra the balances. This path involves the equilibration of one's past karma.
With regard to the practice of the diary, this passage involves an exhortation by Crowley to discipline and dedication in the execution of its writing. The more seriously one takes the exercise of the magical record, the more seriously it will be of value to one.
"Even the calligraphy of the Book must be firm, clear and beautiful; in the cloud of incense it is hard to read the conjurations. While you peer dimly through the smoke, the demon will vanish, and you will have to write the terrible word 'failure'.
"And yet there is no page of this Book on which this word is not written; but so long as it is immediately followed by a new affirmation, all is not lost; and as in this Book the word 'failure' is thus made of little account, so also must the word 'success' never be employed, for it is the last word that may be written therein, and it is followed by a full stop.
"This full stop may never be written anywhere else; for the writing of the Book goes on eternally; there is no way of closing the record until the goal of all has been attained. Let every page of this Book be filled with song — for it is a Book of incantation!"
These passages involve some rather deep reflections. Crowley seems to imply here the mystery and paradox that one can never completely realize one's True Will, that one can never achieve a completely perfect state, because imperfection and failure to achieve the True Will somehow is itself part of the True Will. Suffering and ordeal is part of the game of life, of a constant veiling and unveiling of the True Will by the True Will. To remove this completely and forever is to create a perfect stasis of that Will. This is a negation of the value of life. Being in a coma is not a state of perfect mastery.
So we can never stop this practice of the magical diary. We can never put down our pen and say — I've become enlightened, I don't need to practice anymore. That's death. Better to shun it for life.
"The pages of this Book are of virgin vellum, made from the calf which was borne by Isis-Hathor the Great Mother, to Osiris-Apis the Redeemer. It is bound in blue leather on which the word Thelema is written in gold. Let the pen with which the writing is done be the feather of a young male swan - the swan whose name is AUM. And let the ink be made of the gall of a fish, the fish Oannes.
"Thus far concerning the Book."
The life of the initiate is the product or issue of the dualities of existence, here represented by Isis and Osiris. Their child is Horus, the chief deity of the Thelemic pantheon, eidolon of the True Will. The book is blue to signify Chesed, which corresponds to the faculty of memory in the Qabalistic system. The name of the book is written in gold to signify Tiphareth and the True Will, and its title is 'Thelema' to signify the same. All of the other materials associated with the book are likewise divine. So is the life of the initiate. Let him try to understand this through its use.
Crowley, Aleister, The Equinox Volume I, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1992.
These exercises are assigned as part of the course work of the College of Thelema.
The following excepts are from Crowley, Aleister, Magick: Book 4, pg. 107-108.
Crowley, Aleister, The Holy Books of Thelema, pg. 27.
Included in Crowley, Aleister, Magick: Book 4, pg. 647-652.
Included in Crowley, Aleister et. al., Commentaries on the Holy Books: The Equinox Vol. IV #1, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1996, pg. 59-72.
Mathers, S.L. MacGregor (ed.), The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, Dover, New York, New York, 1975.