Scottish author and composer R.J. Stewart has written more than twenty-five books, published in many languages around the world. He uses the raw materials of myth, music, and the magic of inner change to express his unique vision, developed from his decades of work as a musician, and in the fields of television, film, recording, and theater. Stewart's work in the last fifteen years has focused on the regeneration of ancient traditions of inner transformation for use today. He has worked mainly with small groups of students both in Europe and America. Known for his books and workshops on the Faery tradition, he has also published books on the male mysteries, folklore, Celtic legends, and the real magic of Merlin.
By the way, no, he is not connected with the television production, Xena, Warrior Princess (although he wouldn't mind the income), and yes, he was the minstrel in the Arts and Entertainment Network's presentation on the Crusades.
Obsidian interviewed Stewart, with his wife, Josephine, on a hot July afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over a meal of Chinese food, the Stewarts talked with Joann Keesey, and M.J. and Myrriah Lavin. Despite the time constraints of the Stewarts' busy schedule, we found R.J. Stewart to be a graceful, articulate, and passionate speaker.
How did you initially become involved in the Western mystery traditions?
I got started in this kind of stuff when I was a teenager through being interested in traditional ballads and folk tales. Round about the same time as I got involved in traditional ballads and folk tales and traditional folk music, I also started doing meditation and met with W.G. Gray, who was my teacher for about four or five years -- not an everyday, intense teacher. I corresponded with Bill Gray and I would meet up with him and some other people maybe four times a year. But it wasn't weekly or monthly or anything regular. It was more organic than that. He would get people together for the four seasonal festivals of the year, and I would occasionally go to Cheltenham to visit him and his wife. So it was ongoing, but it wasn't any regular graded training. Even though he was old-fashioned, he didn't have that attitude where people go into a lodge and they have grades. But it's interesting that even though he did work to free up from a lot of that, he was still quite dictatorial and hierarchical. Then we eventually fell out, as he used to fall out with all his students. I stopped working with him about 1974 or 1975.
What forms of meditation did you study? Did you study Eastern mysticism first and then switch over?
Eastern mysticism... When I first started meditating, for about the first year, I used something called the Manual of Concentration and Meditation written by Christmas Humphreys. It's a very famous book. There are still editions of it around now. He was an English judge. He used to hang people (he was a hanging judge), and he wrote this book on Buddhist meditation, which I always thought was rather bizarre. But it was a very good book on techniques regardless of the individual author and what he did. And regardless of the idea that it was supposed to be Buddhism, it has some very good techniques in it. But I only used it for the first year because that was the first thing I found. After that, I found stuff by Bill Gray and got a lot of native stuff, and I realized that that was what I was supposed to be doing. But the techniques in that old book by Christmas Humphreys are still very, very valid.
Why do you think there is such renewed interest in folklore and magic?
I think there's always a kind of interest. You get a wave of interest every so many years, but it takes different forms. In the last twenty years, it's taken a very wide form where people are interested in all sorts of things. Some of this is because our communications -- particularly in the northern hemisphere and, indeed, in the planetary sense -- have become a lot more efficient. Therefore, ideas and things that people are enthusiastic about can be communicated to a much larger number of people. So a lot of it, I think, is down to highly efficient, highly increased communication. However, there is also a subtle side to it because there is a shift of consciousness that's come in in the last twenty years. I think that the interest in folklore and magic is connected to that as well, and that's a kind of collective shift.
It's hard to tell from a contemporary viewpoint whether the resurgence of interest in folklore really is more widespread than in the past or whether it just seems that way because you're in the middle of it.
I think the big difference is that when people were researching folklore, they regarded it as something quaint and obscure, and it became a scholarly study of the curious mentality of peasant people. And that's the attitude that runs through everything. The difference now is that people are coming back and saying, aha, there is something intrinsically valuable in this that we can use as modern people, and we can use it in a spiritual sense. Now that is a new idea, because that idea was never embodied in folk tradition. In the old family cultural traditions, say, in Scotland where I come from, or Wales where my mother came from, or Josephine's family traditions which are Gypsy traditions, nobody ever said, oh, we're working magic. They never said that. What you did was just part of everyday life. So the fact that we can look at old traditions now and say there's something powerful and magical in them that we can restate for ourselves as modern people, that's a totally new idea, and that I think is a very important new idea.
This is a portion of R.J. Stewart's interview from
Obsidian's Issue No. 2.
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