Journals and records

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One great practice to get used to is keeping notes of what you’re doing and learning. This doesn’t need to be big, or formal, or even the method you’re going to use a year from now. Instead, focus on reminders to yourself of what you’ve learned, found interesting, or experienced. Trust me, you’ll find it handy later.

What should you keep track of?

It’s a good idea to keep note of:

  • Rituals you’ve done.
  • Books (and other material) you’ve read.
  • Dreams (even ones that seem really silly.)
  • Any significant ups and down in your life (health, relationships, family, etc.)
  • Any divination work you do.

Over time, you’ll probably start to see patterns in some of these – you might find that particular times of year bring similar thing up, or that you start seeing the same Tarot cards showing up over and over again.

I also make a point of doing check-in notes at regular intervals after a particularly peak experience (dedication, initiation, elevation, a ritual where everything shifts a little bit for me.) Most of the time, I make notes when I’m done cleaning up from ritual, and then the next morning: for these more major events, I do that, plus notes 2-3 days later, a week later, a month later, and 2-3 months later.

How to keep track?

Some people really like pen and paper. Some people like computer files. I do a little of both.

I use pen and paper when I want to take time and reflect.
(And also for notes during ritual, when I don’t have my computer handy.) That means that most of my notes done during ritual and during divination readings are done with pen and paper in a small notebook.

I keep more general notes, especially those I want to search and reorganise, online:
That includes general ritual notes (preparation, outlines of what I did, reflection afterwards), dreams, books, and other notes of that kind. That’s partly because I type much much faster than I write by hand, and also because it makes it easier to search for a particular ritual or experience or topic. Computers also make it very easy to search through or organise lots of information, so when I decide I want to use this piece in that ritual, it’s easy to paste it into the new setting.

Keeping track:
I use plain text files for quick notes, but eventually move them into a program that lets me share and link material together for ongoing projects (I use a program called VoodooPad, but there are other forms of software that let you pull up related documents together, and flip between them easily.)

A few technology notes:
When you keep files electronically, keep a few things in mind:

  • Regular backups are your friend. You don’t want to lose months or years of work because your computer dies.
  • Think about how you’ll access files on future computers. Plain text files are the most reliable format, because any computer can read them. If you put them into another program, choose one that makes it easy to get a plain text export.
  • If you share your computer or other people have access to it, consider privacy. Keeping your files on a USB (thumb) drive can be a good choice in these cases.

Consider a more general journalling practice as well:
I also started the practice of regular journaling around the time I started training, and find it immensely helpful. I do some of that in an online journal setting (first on LiveJournal.com, and now on Dreamwidth.org: I’m Jenett both places). Both places let me make an entry public, keep it to a group of people I select, or keep it private to just me.

I use public entries when something comes up that I do want to share in public – not terribly often, these days, but sometimes. I use ‘locked’ entries (limited to a group of people I select) most of the time, because I’ve found that writing to an audience helps me write in a way that’s more useful to me. (And often, my friends and readers have great suggestions or ideas about a particular thing I’m working on.)

Much of what I write is general daily life stuff. I make note of rituals (in a very general sense), but I don’t write down oathbound pieces online – those I keep in a separate file on my own computer. I often also keep more personal notes (things I don’t want to share even with friends, or things that would take a lot of time to explain.) that way. However, I’ve found over and over again that it’s turned out to be useful to link the ritual I did that week with how I felt afterwards.

I use private entries for dreams, usually, because most of the time, I don’t think other people need to read them. I find it really helpful to have them in with the rest of what I was doing – often, I’ll go back over my dreams, and see a particular pattern or trigger I didn’t recognise at the time.

What about a Book of Shadows?

As you may know, a Book of Shadows is a common term for a collection of rituals, magical techniques, and other materials that many witches collect. Sometimes they’re a personal collection (things you’ve done yourself), sometimes they collect material from a coven, or from a tradition.

My advice is to not worry about creating one just yet: a Book of Shadows isn’t “Everything I’ve downloaded from online” or even “Everything I’ve tried”.

Instead, it should be a record of the actual persistent practices you do (along with specific notes on rituals and outcomes, when that’s appropriate.) So, it makes sense to wait on creating one until you’ve figured out what those practices and approaches are for you. That usually takes a while to do – at least a year or two.

I have piles and piles of paper (from handouts during my training) and lots of files on my computer. My actual Book of Shadows, though, is pretty simple:

  • The core ritual structure and texts for both the group I trained with, and my own coven.
  • Texts for the relevant initiation rituals
  • And growing resources on my own personal correspondences.

In the last case, I don’t mean “Book A says this, so it must be true” – but rather, my own personal view on a particular color/plant/scent/symbol based on my own ongoing work and learning. That includes things I’ve learned from books, but much more of it is based on meditation, working with whatever the thing is, and seeing how it fits into other patterns.

[last edited December 24, 2016]

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