If someone were to come to you today and ask why it is that you do this crazy magic thing, what would you say? How would you answer this deceptively difficult question?
Just think about that for a second, because aside from the undeniable pull that many of us feel drawing us to this stuff like the proverbial moth to a flame, there’s probably also another goal there too. Maybe it’s a drive to do what is known as ‘The Great Work’, or maybe it’s an interminable curiosity that drives you? Whatever it is though, it’s irrelevant here.
Now imagine this self-same imaginary person were to ask you about that goal. “How do you think you’re doing with that?” they say, with their head cocked slightly to the side with interest. What would your answer be now?
The usefulness of asking ourselves how we’re doing with what we’re doing, or in other words, undergoing a periodic process of self-evaluation cannot be over-stated when it comes to magic. Because whatever our goal is, I’m betting that improvement is part and parcel of it, but you only really improve if you make a concerted effort to do so.
Recently a friend told me that she likes that I keep reminding people to do the work, but in truth, that is only half of the equation. It is not enough to simply do the work, you also have to evaluate the work you do and then decide how you’re going to either rectify issues or continue to improve. There is no end point when you are ‘fully trained’ and therefore do not need to continue improving. Not even the skies are limits to people like us, and nor should they be. But we’ll never figure out how far we’ve come if we do not occasionally take stock. Now I want you to think about the past month and what you’ve been doing magically. Go ahead, take a piece of paper and write it down. If you keep a journal, take a look at the pages you’ve filled. How does it look? Have you had any discernible gains or have did you not really do a whole lot and coast along? Does what you have before you look like the efforts of someone who is taking this *seriously* and who may actually eventually get somewhere?
If your answer was something that resembled a regular practice that was sustained – even if you didn’t have any gains – give yourself a pat on the back. That’s a record of self-discipline and willpower right there, and even though it may not have paid off this month, the point is that eventually it will.
But if your answers were a bit sparse, well, only you can decide what you want to take from that.
What you just did with this exercise though was a simple self-evaluation, and if you’re being honest with yourself, it can be an uncompromising process. But herein lies its value. Self-evaluation is about knowing yourself better, holding yourself accountable, and making sure that you take your magic seriously so that you continue to level up. You simply cannot do those things if you are fooling yourself about the work you’re not doing or the efficacy of the work you are.
The Tools of Self-Evaluation
If you did the exercise above, was it easy to remember everything you’d done during the course of a month? Could you even remember what had happened? And even if you did find it easy, did you remember all the details of the rituals/spells/meditations/dreams you had during that month? Could you have given a full account of what went right, what went wrong, and what you’d decided to change for the better in the future? This is really where journal keeping comes in and why more old-school teachers will insist that you keep one. Their usefulness really cannot be overemphasized. We live in an age of information, in which we’re bombarded by content pretty much constantly. Every time we go online, there are countless pieces of content vying for our attention. This blog post for example, is one of them.
The point though, is that it’s all too easy to forget what you had for dinner last week, let alone what happened during meditation three weeks ago! Finding a way to record for posterity is simply a wise choice, but this is not the only benefit of keeping a journal.
A couple of months ago, my parents sent me a box with stuff from when I was younger. In the box was an old, battered green A4 notebook with a garish fairy postcard glued on the front – my journal from when I was seventeen. Of course, back then I called it a ‘Book of Shadows’, because it was the nineties and that’s what the four or so library books I had access to called it. The pages are littered with rituals, ritual write-ups, spells, prayers, random snippets of information, and drawings of things I saw in my early trances. There are also random pictures of fairies and toadstools that I did with my complete lack of drawing ability scattered *everywhere* for ‘decoration’. (I really wanted one of those awesome-looking books that you see in movies back then, but didn’t we all?) So, it’s embarrassing looking back, but I also love it dearly for the snapshot it gives of who I was back then, the kind of witch I was, and the exercises that I built my craft around. (I did an awful lot of making candle flames leap.) Another book my mother sent me, the
one I created after this, informed me that these were my third and fourth journals; sadly I have no idea where the other two are.
With enough time, self-evaluation also comes with nostalgia and glad memories.
I have a nice leather-bound journal now, unassuming, black. The kind of book you wouldn’t look twice at on someone’s desk. I liked the size of the pages and the way they lie flat when you’re writing in it, and that was all that went into the process of finding a new journal for me. I also have flashier journals, but they don’t get nearly as much use because they’re not as comfortable to write in. The act of writing by hand is becoming increasingly rare nowadays, so if you are going to do it, it’s good to do it on surfaces that are comfortable – and prepare yourself for the inevitable aching hands.
Some people prefer to go the tech route with their journal, some even plan their month like a magical campaign that they plot in Excel. The format doesn’t matter though. Because all that really matters is that you actually use it.
The Process of Self-Evaluation
To evaluate yourself is to look at yourself with the hard eyes of objectivity. It is to periodically look back at the hard data of your record and ask yourself how you think you’re doing and also if you think you’re actually doing enough. What seemed like a good reason for not doing something at a certain time is often revealed to be a petty excuse.
On the months when the answer to your evaluation questions veer into the negatives, it can be a bitter pill to swallow if you care about your practice. However, it can also be one of our best teachers and motivators, serving as a proverbial kick up the butt. The experience of looking back and recognizing the petty excuse masquerading as a ‘good reason’ can help us to avoid falling into that trap again, and improvements can start out small and be done incrementally. There is always room for improvement if you commit to it. The act of self-evaluation, through revealing our failings, forces us to face up to not only our failings, but how dedicated we are.