Developmental Journaling

© 2017 R. Eugene Laughlin
All Rights Reserved


The "results" for any practical application of magick should be considered in terms of the long-range goals of your operations, rather than the effects experienced during workings, as remarkable as they might be. That's not to say that what happens during an operation is not important. Often the events as they unfold during magick operations are vitally important for a number of reasons that are not always obvious in the moment. The meaning of events during an operation may come into view only in retrospect and in consideration of the context of the operation, including the trajectory of ones life as it ran for the weeks or even months before and after the operation. Of course, for divinitory work and any type of spirit communication, events during operations are obviously important because they include delivery of information sought, but even in those cases, the "outcome" of the operation should be found in the use and practical value of the information gained, with respect to the overall purpose of the operation, not merely the experience of interacting with a spirit entity nor the fact that information was delivered.

In addition to developing a faithful record of ones goals and outcomes, good journing is essential to an empirical approach to magical development, as will become increasingly apparent in subsequent instructional documents. To foreshadow the developmental aspect of journaling, the 21st Century approach to magick with the Magician's Zoidac as its Central Glyph assumes no detailed lists of correspondences derived from myth or tradition, beyond the organizational structure, the general idea that things tend to rise, peak, and fall, and the most basic conceptions of Elemental nature. The details are to be fleshed out empirically through the developmental efforts of each individual.  

That being the case, it's clear that one needs to capture and record events that occur during operations and training sessions, for future review and consolidation of the personal system of magick that emerges from the work. For the fully functioning magician,sound journaling skills are essential for assessing the effects of operations over the long run, specifically in terms of ones ultimate reasons for conducting the operations in the first place. There are some peculiar challenges to both of those functions, however, which are considered below. 

Dream Journaling for Skill Development

Some kinds of magick-related experiences include dream-like qualities. For example, events in dreams can seem to make perfect sense while one is dreaming, but upon waking the memory of those events can seem quite bizarre and nonsensical. That fact can actually interfere with the memory of dream events, or at least can make them difficult to describe. Even when the events in a dream are relatively consistent with the typical dynamics of waking life, dream recall is often fragmented and ambiguous, and most importantly, fleeting. While scrying (with or without a device) and so-called astral experiences as part of a magick practice aren't themselves dreams. They can vary considerably from one event to anothe and memory for such experiences can suffer from some of the same kinds of challenges as dream memories. It is therefore essential to develop good, consistent journaling habits immediately following magick operations and experiences, and it turns out that keeping a dream journal with discipline is an excellent training exercise for developing good magick-related journaling skills.

Cogntive Biases in Assessment of Results

Magicians of all sorts should be aware of two well-known cognitive biases that can make discerning magick effects from random or otherwise non-magick effects somewhat difficult. The first is known as base-rate neglect. For magicians, that particular bias comes into play when we do magick for a specific outcome, the target outcome occurs, and we automatically and quite naturally assume that the magick caused the result. Practical magicians, because they engage in magick acts to achieve their goals as a matter of course, can easily lose sight of the fact that everyone chooses goals and often archives them whether they think they're doing magick or not. So there is a base rate of wanting something to happen and that thing happening among all people. To assume that every goal or desire realized is an indication of ones magical effectiveness is to risk self-deception and erroneous ideas about which magick acts are truly useful and which might be superfluous.

Another angle on base-rate neglect worth considering stems from the basic idea that strange and inexplicable things happen to everyone. There's likely to be a general assumption that inexplicable events happen to practicing magicians at a higher rate than in the general population, but that is by no means a certainty. It's possible that the real difference between practicing magicians and everyone else is the results of attention and memory effects. Theoretically, performing magick acts may establish an attentional bias toward noticing inexplicable events, and also provides a generic explanation for them, which together makes the events more memorable. Most everyone else may have a head-scratching moment but without reason to associate the event with anything they did or do on a regular basis, the incidents may be less memorable. If that's the case, then we would expect that the magician's perception of the rate of inexplicable events will become more accurate with time, while the average person will know they happen but perhaps with a less accurate perception of the actual rate. The position taken here is that whatever the truth of the matter is, an objective record resulting from a sound and disciplined journaling method is a superior basis for understanding ones own rate inexplicable events than sheer personal memory by comparison with other people's reports. 

Two default assumptions of the Neuromagick Perspective and a core principle of this 21st Centruy Magick system: 1) that magick acts should grant an advantage to magicians compared with non-magicians, and 2) that a magician's skill and effectiveness should naturally improve with continued practice/experience over time. However, assessing ones results in a one-to-one, working-to-outcome manner is inherently problematic for most goals, because of the base rate issue. The problem is that the base rate of fulfilled desire in the general population is unknown, and there's no practical way to get an accurate assessment. So while a goal achieved might be the result of a magick act, one cannot be certain that it wouldn't have come about anyway. Magicians are therefore better-advised to avoid assessing individual workings in that manner, and instead look for trends and rates of goals-achieved, over time as a function of continued experience.If the rate of successes demonstrably improves with continued magick practice, that's a reasonable marker of successful magick.  

Another cognitive issue to be aware of is known the confirmation bias,. which is actually more than one bias that together form a particular category of natural but error-prone reasoning. In general it means that we tend to see what we expect, want or like, while at the same time tending to ignore or fail to notice evidence that may be contradictory to what we expect, want, or like. That dynamic tends to be amplified the more emotionally invested one is in their expectations. Here some of the traditions and common banter about magick may actually add to the problem. For example, a common assumption is that high confidence (or faith) that ones magick will work as desired is a necessity to making it work. Or less drastically stated, confidence in ones abilities tends to be helpful in making magick happen. And while there may well be something to that way of thinking, it's not difficult to understand how that kind of attitude might indeed support a confirmation bias that could lead to over-interpreting working-outcome relationships and potentially erroneous conclusions. As my early mentors were wont to say: magick is about a lot of things, but one thing it should never be about is bullshitting yourself. That thinking leads to a fundamental priniciple: where there's a risk of self-deception,reserve judgment. The assumption here is that with good methods exercised faithfully, time will tell.  

A Comprehensive Journaling System

Issues of recall interference (similar to the problems with dream recall) and the typical cognitive biases that could lead to superstition and self-deception are here addressed with a well-designed journaling system and methodology.

General Method

This system entails keeping three separate journals, or at least separating entries into three distinct categories: dreams, magick workings (practical or developmental), and general life events. Entries for each should follow specific guidelines, aimed at overcoming the most common pitfalls. Individuals employing the system are likely to develop private techniques as well, which they may discover are helpful for personal reasons. The guidelines that are common to each entry type are:

  • Make all entries terse and factual, and most importantly, without adding interpretations. Do not under any circumstance record what you think an observation, occurrence, or event might mean when recording the facts of what occurred. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the method. Of course, interpretation and assuming or interjecting meaning into our experience is part and parcel of being human, so be aware that you're not trying to avoid your natural tendencies to infer meaning. Nor do you have to try to ignore such thoughts when they inevitably arise. You're simply not to write them in your journals. Instead, strive to journal using brief, simple, and direct statements of fact: I saw X, Q did this, O said that, etc.
  • Describe your feelings. In addition to jorunaling what what you saw, heard, smelled, etc., or what people or other creatures did during an event or observation, whether during a dream,  a developmental contemplation, a magick working, or as you go about your routine business, make an effort to describe how you felt during the event. Here too, it's vital that you record your feelings in the same brief, simple, factual manner as directed above (e.g. I felt sad, I felt apprehensive, etc.).
  • Do not re-read your journal entries except as described below in the Periodic Review section. Also try to avoid ruminating on the events you've described in your journal after entries have been made. Recognize that ideas about such things will naturally occur often enough, especially if they relate to things that are important to you. Understand that you don't need to suppress naturally emergent thoughts. The important thing is that when they do inevitably come up at random times, try to let go of them as quickly. When you notice that you're thinking a lot about something you've committed to your journals, focus your attention on something else for awhile. That's usually enough.


In addition to the general guidelines above, dream journaling has some unique challenges that share at least some of the issues associated with journaling about events that occur during certain kinds of magick operations, as mentioned above. One such problem is embellishment after the fact, which usually gets worse as a function of time between the [dream] event and journaling about it. That's probably because we might have a sense that the dream was quite intricate and elaborate but can only recall disjointed bits and pieces of it. It's natural to try to fill in the gaps, but that urge must be resisted. In that way this journaling system becomes more than simple record-keeping: it's training a vital self-disciplinary skill too. But even before that, you can minimize unnecessary gaps in information by minimizing the time between your dreams and journaling about them, and by filling whatever time gap there is with unembellished recall of the dream images.

Dream recall can be enhanced without embellishing, but how that can be done varies considerably from person to person, so only very general advice can be given here. One strategy is that as soon as you become aware of waking and you have any bit of the dream you were having in mind, do not stir. Lay still and focus in on that image and do not allow your mind to wonder far from it into a concerned for the coming day or any other aspect of your waking life. Keep your attention on that dream image and see if you can recall what preceded it. If you can, chances are you will be able to recall many things about your dreams that night, so long as you keep your attention on the recall process and don't allow thoughts of the upcoming day to intrude too much.

Then, if specific details are sketchy or uncertain, instead of trying to infer the details, strive to capture the more general themes, for example: people were angry, it was cold and windy, I was embarrassed, etc. If there was a person in your dreams that you feel represented someone you know but you're not sure who, it's best to avoid speculating about who it was and again go for the more general information: a woman was chasing me, a tall and dark man was speaking solfty, a little boy was crying mournfully, etc.  

Finally, make a note in your dream journal every single day without fail. If you can only recall one little thing about your dreams, write it down, and if you truly have no dream recall at all that day, note that. Dream recall tends to come and go for most people, but exercising a formal dream journaling plan tends to enhance dream recall over time, sometimes after an initial period of little to no recall. So, if you find that you're not recalling dream images at the beginning, stick with it. 

Magick Workings

Your Magick Workings Journal is for describing your magick-specic activities, including daily developmental work such as routine ritual, meditation/contemplation, energy work, etc. Journaling about you periodic practical magick aimed at changing specific aspects of your life and/or the lives of others is also recorded here. The steps of routine work, such as daily ritual, daily contemplation, etc., should be detailed once and needn't be described every time that work is performed. Give each individual routine practice name then after the first description of it, simply use the name in daily entries. When instituting a change in routine work, the entire routine should be rewritten.

A planned working should be described in detail well in advance of the working itself, as much as possible.   

In addition to describing what you do that constitutes the performance of magick, the Workings Journal is also where you will describe what happened during the performance. Entries of this type can include personal assessment of the performance itself, or aspects of it, so that performance improvement and progress can be tracked over time. However, harsh self-criticism is to be avoided. That is, regardless of how you feel about your performance, strive to get the kinds of detailed information that might serve efforts to improve, for example, I lost focus when doing X, I lost my balance which disrupted my concentration, etc.

Finally, you should include details about your personal experience during the working. Here the most significant challenges arise for workings that include substantial "energy work" and/or anything that fosters any sort of altered state of awareness. That may include include routine ritual, energy work, and meditative work. Most of the general advice for dream journaling applies here, particularly the admonishments about time lapse between events and embellishment. The same general attitude about sketchy details and a preference for recording thematic information is useful here as well. Keep your entries terse and factual, and avoid recording interpretations.  

Life Events

Finally, use a third journal to track the major events of your life, or any observation/occurrence outside of your formal magick efforts, which strike you as interesting enough to note. Keeping separate records of your magick workings and your life events is one way of reducing the impact of the cognitive biases discussed above, along with the general method of learning to journal without embellishment, assumptions, or interpretations. Never note in your life journal that you suspect a life event relates to one of your magick workings (this will prove a difficult skill to master for many aspirants). The thought may occur to you and there's no need to try to suppress the thoughts, but under no circumstances are you to journal it. The system includes periodic reviews for linking events, making assessments, and applying interpretations. 

For the Life Events Journal, let your inspiration dictate what kind of events you record here. Certainly capture major decisions and events that will obviously have an impact on your life and future (e.g. moving to a new place, starting a new business venture or job, serious illness for you or loved ones, death in the family, etc. You might also note news stories and world events (on any scale) that strike you as noteworthy. Again, resist the temptation of noting why you think a particular news item or other event in your society at large is worth noting; simply note them. Let the entries in this journal stand as a record of the way it was, and nothing more. 

Periodic Reviews

At regular intervals, once or twice, or perhaps up to four times per year (e.g. At the Winter Solstice, on the Equinoxes, at the turn of the seasons, etc.), you should review your journal entries altogether, with an eye out for relationships across your entry categories. You can limit your review to the previous period, such as the previous year, or you may include your entire journaling history if you wish.  Of course, the longer you keep up this practice the more onerous the review process can become if you try to reach too far into the past. At first, review everything, and thereafter use your own judgment for how far back to go.

While conducting your reviews, remember that the purpose of keeping separate journal entries for magick activities and life events is to minimize the automatic tendency to judge anything and everything that happens as a magick-related success, in the heat of passion around the goal. Strive to maintain a dispassionate, objective attitude during your reviews, as if you were reading someone else's journal entries. What you'll most likely find during this process is that the connection between your magick activities and the life events you recorded is often ambiguous, at best. Don't be discouraged by that. The purpose of journaling this way is the opportunity to see things how they really are, which may not always be how you want them to be. So if after reviewing your entries you cannot reasonably conclude that a given working had a specific effect, simply don't draw that conclusion in your periodic entry. It's okay to admit uncertainty if you are indeed uncertain, and it's advisable to set the standard for certainty very high. Remember, magick is about a lot of things, but it should never be about bullshitting yourself. 

The long range benefits of this journaling system don't come into play after one or two review periods, but only after years of diligent, honest journling, when eventually the arch of your life on the whole becomes undeniably apparent.There are, however, many short term and developmental benefits of the system, which tend to be noticeable within a year or less. 

Sorting/Grouping Variables

The most basic information to include with every entry is the date and time of day, which allows for making timing assessments on your periodic reviews. You might also want to note the weather or other external status indicators (workday vs. day off, etc.), and perhaps your mood and general health status at the time of the event you're recording. How you record information of this nature is important, because you can use it to group and sort entries across your entry categories for comparative purposes. One way to go about it might be to simply the entries in all three journals for a given date, then the next date, and so on. There are many possibilities though. You might want to review all events that occurred on Tuesdays, or on your days off from work, or perhaps while you were notably sad, or angry, or happy, etc.

If your magick practice incorporates astronomical events as timing variables, you might also want to include that data with each entry: Then during your reviews you might compare entries related to the full moon, and so on. A general rule of thumb when setting up your journaling system for the first time is to include as much of this sort of information as you can think of, even if you don't think it's very important. You might change your mind about how important certain kinds of information might be at some point in the future, and while you can always ignore variables during your reviews, you can't always easily go back and insert the data if you find you wish you had recorded it in the first place.

Sample list of sorting variables:

  • Date, day of the week, and time of day
  • Moon phase (waxing, full, waning, new)
  • Planet ruling the day
  • Zodiac sign
  • Element and Mode of Sign
  • Place of event
  • Weather conditions
  • Mood



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