Two books, mercifully slim, have appeared in the last few weeks which are well worth a perusal. Both are from the pen of R J Stewart and entitled, respectively, The Spirit Cord and The Sphere of Art. What I find refreshing and important about them is that they encapsulate the essence of magical practice without most of what traditionally has been thought to be essential associated haberdashery, real estate, group membership and symbolic appurtenances. For the first you need simply a cord and for the second not even that, although paradoxically the whole world and immediate environment becomes your temple.
Stewart and I have interacted in various ways over the past thirty years and more, almost like complementary serpents on the caduceus of Hermes, with my own inspiration deriving ultimately from Dion Fortune and his from the Glastonbury adept Ronald Heaver, both of us, in our time, having passed through an instructive if turbulent magical apprenticeship under the irascible old adept W G Gray. (For an insight into whom, by the way, Alan Richardson’s biography The Old Sod from Ignotus Press is worth more than a passing glance. The somewhat ambivalent title was how William Gray chose to describe himself, and in many respects he certainly lived up to it. Nonetheless he is a key figure in the development of late 20th century occult theory and practice.)
I have recently praised another book for cutting much superfluous detritus out of magical practice, in Catherine MacCoun’s On Becoming an Alchemist but R J Stewart’s books do the necessary in a somewhat different manner. MacCoun’s approach is a chatty style that should appeal to the more general esoteric public, Stewart’s gets down to basics without feeling the need to sugar the pill.
The Spirit Cord reveals practical methods of Cord meditation, empowered vision and spiritual magic using a physical cord in a set of simple and powerful practices that range from mystical ancestral traditions through to a unique set of contemporary methods for transforming consciousness. Cords have been used in spiritual and magical practices for centuries, to bless, to bind, to curse, to liberate, knotted or plain, or strung with beads in religious practice, to say nothing of more intimate cords such as the umbilical cord by which we came into the world, the spinal cord that carries us through it, and the cord of continuity between incarnate lives. Stewart has distilled much of this lore into a handbook, with accompanying CD, on how to procure our own cord and then how to empower it as a device for sacro-magical techniques.
What struck me in particular, as one whose magical training consisted of magical temple work over many years – and training others in the same way – with the concomitant problems of organisation and financing such endeavours, was that in the Spirit Cord we have a device that can produce much the same effects without all the hassle.
Much the same can be said for the techniques described in The Sphere of Art which to my mind encapsulate much of the structures and dynamics of a full blown magical temple that can now be accessed by the lone operative – or the so-called lone operative! It should be apparent that, as Stewart affirms in his concluding remarks, the practices described should not be undertaken lightly – for there are responsibilities to accept and a need to be focussed and disciplined. However, beyond the early training stage of discipline and responsibility, the way becomes simple and clear, opening up into a regenerated state of awareness that perceives the world of nature as at one with the cosmos. This is a radically altered state, not an intellectual concept. Incidentally, the alchemical diagram on the front cover of the book illustrates it all.
It should be said that The Sphere of Art embodies the most advanced work of R J Stewart’s “Inner Temple Traditions Inner Convocation” that he has taught internationally since 1988. A further development is promised in his next book The Purifying Fire. You can find further details of all this on his web site www.rjstewart.org along with his publication of books by a variety of authors, whose numbers I hope shortly to join with my study of early Arthurian tradition The Faery Gates of Avalon but of this – more later!