When you’ve dedicated yourself to the study of craft, you’re going to want to start your own written record of the path. It is the most natural thing and the concept of keeping a grimoire, book of shadows, or book of methods is found across all of the cultures of magical traditions, East to West. Now it’s your turn to feel that pull. You’ve got your big, beautiful blank book ready to go. Where do you start? How do you start?
By its nature, a private journal means no one can tell you what to do. Yet some of us just want tangible insights for inspiration, so that’s what this is. I’m most certainly not trying to tell you how to keep your own private journal. My own grimoire does not come close to following the instructions I am about to give.
Yet the other day, I was thumbing through a rather incredible tome, quite esoteric in nature for sure, and that tome offered some of the most brilliant insights into grimoire organization that I have ever come across. So I shall share that text with you today.
That’s right. It’s The Professional Chef by The Culinary Institute of America.
Okay, it’s a cooking book. But I swear if you went through this thing you’d agree it’s esoteric as hell. Who knew broth making and a roux could be so complicated. I digress. And I’m serious. This book provides incredible insights into how you might consider organizing and creating your grimoire.
Let’s start with the cover. Don’t neglect it. Don’t keep it blank. Insert mood-setting imagery on these cover pages.
In mine, since I use a sketchbook, I doodled. Kuan Yin embodies my aspirations, so it was fitting to sketch Her on my front cover. On the recto page is a protection seal.
Next, create a title page. Name your book. The title should be meaningful and personal to you. Add design value to the title page, too. It can be minimalist like The Professional Chef, or it can get ornate, the way I have my book.
My personal art style is very “busy,” and you’ll see that demonstrated throughout my grimoire’s pages. The above photo of my current working grimoire’s title page shows that “busy” art style.
I’m going to insist that you set aside front pages for a table of contents. In some of my old books, I’ve done just that, and do have a table of contents. In my current working one, I don’t know what happened. I jumped right in, got started, and plumb forgot.
Here’s what actually goes through my head. When I start a new book with this anticipation that it’s going to “be a good one,” you know, like I expect myself to really put in my all to make it presentable, then I’ll go through the trouble of setting aside front pages for the contents. Other times I don’t plan things out, start journaling in a sketchbook, and so there are no reserved pages for contents.
For my current working one, I started it not thinking it’d be all that, but then it turned out to be one of the personal journals I am most proud of, that I’ve put the most effort in. However, that realization came too late, after I’d already completed about a dozen beginning pages. So this one has no table of contents. And I regret that.
So to keep you from making the same mistake, do really consider reserving space for that table of contents.
Another tip this book inspired is in addition to a table of contents, have a secondary listing of contents, but this one specifically for spells. First, decide different categories of spells and set space for each category. Then begin filling each category out as you progress with your grimoire, listing the specific names of spells, for instance, under each category, e.g., love spells, money magic, hexes, multi-generational curses, shielding, grounding techniques, meditation mantras, whatevs.
What should the first few pages of your grimoire be? Here, based on the organization of The Professional Chef, I’m inspired to start a grimoire with introductory text about my path. Patron deities, ancestral history relating to your path, spiritual vows you’ve taken or dedication vows per your path, philosophical and ontological stuff that form the core and bedrock of why you do what you do.
It’s a good place to start before you jump into the more practical how-to pages because it compels you to reflect on your spiritual path. It’s a fantastic exercise of rumination on what you’ve dedicated yourself to and why you’ve dedicated yourself to it.
Before you dive into working on your grimoire, plan out these introductory pages. Think about it, type out drafts, and have it all worked out before you start. Then the first thing you do when you work on your grimoire is create these introductory pages.
Next, the basics. No matter what your tradition is, craft can be reduced down to basic elements, or components. What are those components for you and what are the correspondences for each of these basic components?
Let’s talk about the Chinese Taoist traditions, since that’s what I’d be more familiar with. Here would be the space you cover Qi, the Tao, wu wei, yin and yang, the Trinitarian principle of Heaven, Earth, and Man, the Wu Xing five phases or elements, the I Ching Ba Gua and eight trigrams, the Lo Shu magic square, and then just put in all of the correspondences, charts, tables, and verbiage that you know will serve as invaluable reference material not just to you, but to anyone you might foreseeably want to share your path with later on.
I love the organization in this book. It’s got brief entries to explain all the various components of food– proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and how all of these come together in menu planning as a cook. Think of that as a metaphor for how you’d draft your grimoire as applied to your craft.
The next section in your grimoire can cover your code of ethics, grounding and shielding techniques, protection spells, forms of metaphysical safeguarding, what to do in the event of demonic or malefic spirit interactions, mantras to use, and basically all matters relating to magical safety.
A section covering ritual tools would be great, too. Not only would the section list out and illustrate ritual tools, but also include how you consecrate or charge those tools. In my personal book, I don’t just, say, address a ritual dagger. I’ll sketch out my personal ritual dagger and what I do with it. So it’s never just some stock image of a dagger. It’s my dagger, the exact one I have in my sacred space. If I’ve crafted my own wand, for example, I’ll sketch out that exact wand I’ve crafted into my book and explain each part of the anatomy of that wand I made and why I made it that way.
The above page shows a prana pen I carved myself out of plum wood. Below is a page that explains why I carve what I carve into the prana pen.
I’ll also have a page to explain the crafting of each of my tools. Below is a snapshot of a page on using selenite wands and the importance of having a selenite wand in your collection of tools.
The below page shows magically charged jewelry I have. As for my actual pendant, I’m pretty sure that’s not natural– it’s a cerulean-dyed cat eye. Still. Very cool.
And here is a comparison between my actual smoky quartz pendant necklace, spread artistically over a piece of black tourmaline, and a snapshot of the page from my personal grimoire illustrating that specific pendant necklace and why it’s magical to me.
Back to the cookbook, pictured below. Here we see a chapter on “Fruit, Vegetable, and Fresh Herb Identification.” How am I going to draw the analogy to a grimoire? Easy, silly. Stone, crystal, herb, color, incense, oil, and all other correspondences, of course. Craft operations on the foundational principle or law that everything is interconnected, that all natural objects hold Qi energy and that Qi energy produces a specific profile of metaphysical influences that a practitioner could potentially tap into and control for other purposes. It really is just like cooking–working with the innate profiles of natural, individual ingredients and putting them together in ways that transcend what those ingredients were by themselves.
You can’t produce effective craft without knowing correspondences and how one object connects and relates metaphysically to the next. Sure, we may hold differing perspectives on specific correspondences, but it’s important for you to memorialize your correspondences and you can’t do better than to keep them organized and cohesive in one complete section within your grimoire.
If you can, illustrate your grimoire. Don’t forget about material, aesthetic components. Image to text ratio is an important consideration, I think. For me, it’s not just a superficial thing. I retain information better and understand the instructions more clearly when I’m receiving the instructions in a balanced way between illustration and text. If you know that about yourself, too, then be conscientious of image and text ratio in your grimoire.
I mean, damn. Look at the above page spread in The Professional Chef. It could very well be a page out of my grimoire!
I like the charts in the above page spread. The organization is easy to follow, so it’s a format you might consider adopting for putting together your own stone, herb, etc. correspondence charts.
The above shows a page spread for a correspondence chart I have in my book. You’ll see blank space left for future filling in. You never know what else you might learn or experience about each element or component.
This is just another snapshot of pages to show you how you can be inspired to illustrate, organize, and arrange your grimoire per a cookbook.
If you can, also illustrate the critical steps of a spell or energetic working, the same way this cookbook illustrates the critical spells of a recipe. It really helps both with retention of knowledge and also replication of that spell later on. Trust me: you are not above doing a spell wonderfully, thinking you got it so you didn’t pay close enough attention to documentation, and then several years later, needing the same spell again only to realize you forgot a few steps here and there. Then you have to reinvent the wheel. Save yourself the time with clear, cohesive documentation and what better way to do that than with illustrations?
It’s not like all of it needs to be image-heavy. Page after page of spell-crafting or information can simply be text, like the above page spread of recipes.
However, for the “important” ones, do consider going through the added trouble of illustration. Buttermilk fried chicken. Mmm… yeah, that recipe needs a picture for sure.
On the above page, I’ve illustrated some of the components of a particular spell. When I’ve devised a particular energetic working that requires a long laundry list of ingredients or a specific arrangement of things, I’ll illustrate it as best as I can in my grimoire so there’s that added reference to help me make sense of my own text.
Above you see an illustration of arrangements on an ancestor or family altar with notations on what to put where.
Like the page layouts in this cookbook, you can section off a page spread in your grimoire with boxes. I do this all the time.
Boy do I love me some boxes. Above you’ll see at least six different, ahem, recipes, organized into boxes. I’ve even illustrated some of the ingredients needed. Yep, that sketch over there in the top left is of chicken feet. Asians love them some chicken feet.
And there you have it. Tips for creating your personal grimoire, inspired by The Professional Chef, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, by the Culinary Institute of America. Seriously? That book is my kitchen grimoire. It’s never far from the stove.
If you are serious about your path and training in craft, I would insist that you must and should and are required to keep a grimoire or work with some form of personal record-keeping? Why am I using such strong language?
Because if you do it and you really find out you don’t need one, then that’s all there is to it. But if you don’t and later you wish you had, you’ll regret it for a lifetime and so will your progeny.
My maternal grandfather had only a grade school education and my maternal grandmother was illiterate. One practiced traditional Chinese medicine and the other was way into talismans, spirit contacts, ghosts, and woo. Both operated under an oral tradition and wrote nothing down. While they were still here on earth, I didn’t give two shits about their traditions, so never though to follow them around and document their knowledge. Boy do I regret that. My mother, a practitioner, also practiced under an oral tradition. Fortunately I got smart and now try to document as much as I can from that oral tradition. What was lost, though, is now forever lost, because there is no written record. There are no words to express that sense of loss.
So I say to you: yes, you must and you should and you are required, because what you do will hold great value to somebody down the line and you don’t want that future person to experience the sense of loss I feel about my heritage.