On May 11, 2018 The Urban Shaman® sat down with Andrew Camargo, founder of The School of Modern Soul Science to discuss archetypal shamanism and it's relevance to contemporary urban shamanism. We are excited that this is likely to be the first of many conversations with Andrew.
Hi, I’m Patrick John Coleman with The Urban Shaman® magazine and I’m going to be asking Andrew Camargo some questions today. He runs The School of Modern Soul Science. Andrew can you tell us just a little bit about the school?
Okay, well The School of Modern Soul Science studies the process of incarnating your higher self basically, but it studies the process through four- we call them pillars. So the first pillar, and the pillar we’re going to be talking about hopefully extensively today is archetypal shamanism. And the other three are Jungian psychology, European alchemy, and finally mythology and visionary art. And so we look at this same process through these four pillars, and they are really four different ways of approaching the same thing, which is initiation into the spiritual realms, initiation into higher realms of consciousness.
Well, and somebody sent me your workbook and I heard your opening seminar when you started the school and I was like, "Oh yes! I wish I would have had....."- this is a great value to anyone being initiated because there wasn’t really anything out there like it before. So I’d like to ask you some questions, but before we get into the workbook let me just see. You know shamans, shamanism, is not well known in our culture. Can you tell me just a little bit about how you came to discover it?
Ya. I discovered the idea of it before I discovered any kind of tradition of it. Uh- I’ll say it. I have no problem saying it. So one day I was tripping on mushrooms and I decided to watch a film, Oliver Stone’s The Doors, about Jim Morrison, and in that film Jim Morrison is depicted as a kind of modern American shaman and it’s kind of a tragic story. He is kind of a dysfunctional shaman who didn’t undergo a proper initiation or he fell into a kind of pathological decadence of his initiation, but that film kind of gave me the word ”shaman.” And I immediately connected it with very puzzling and troubling experiences I had been going through in the prior five years. And so it was incredibly, incredibly important for me to have that term and to understand that actually it’s not, that I wasn’t alone, that it was actually like an archetypal experience. And as soon as I discovered that term I went on the Internet and very quickly discovered a whole subculture of North American people undergoing similar experiences, like a kind of contemporary shamanic initiation crisis, and then all these amazing resources that were 15 or 20 years ago were just kind of starting to explode and now it’s come to much more fruition, and so I’m very happy to see an emerging culture, that is not just a subculture.
Right. Right. Because failed initiations are a problem in this process. So did you have to go through any illness or initiatory kind of crisis that kind of shook you to your core, and where did you kind of go to deal with all this?
Well I was actually, really uh, you know, the Spirits were merciful, let’s say. My own experience was not a kind of life and death crisis. I had a very kind of bourgeois crisis- I had like an existential crisis. I was at Yale University and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t know what my major was going to be, you know (laughing). But it was super intense and I actually had a kind of ego breakdown and an up-swell of archetypal consciousness and it really destabilized me. It wasn’t easy. I was very unstable for a period of time. I was writing on my own walls. I was receiving downloads and I couldn’t contain it. I didn’t have the ego structure to contain this rapid expansion of consciousness, and so I got away with no psychiatric diagnosis, thank God. I was very very fortunate in a number of ways, but as I embraced shamanism in the archetypal sense I did so without a tradition, without guiding elders in the flesh and you know, I was just kind of following the teachings of Carl Jung, and the doctrines of alchemy and uh, but without an actual elder. And so it was when I was well into embracing it and I thought I was over my initiatory illness, but I was actually just getting into the thick of it and I got kind of lost. For a period of time I got rather lost in the darker potentialities of shamanism and sorcery and things like that.
Thankfully I got a big whipping, like the spiritual discipline that brought me back on track and really inspired me with a lot of, a lot more humility and a kind of sobriety. So I really strive in The School of Modern Soul Science to bring that and to share that with others because I kind of rushed ahead thinking I was gonna be an archetypal shaman, thinking I could do so on my own, I could self-initiate, I could go about this radical form of initiation without elders, and yeah I ended up in really not a good place.
And so that, that was actually the hardest part of my initiation was that part. I did a lot of damage to my soul, and you know I kind of brought the wounded healer archetype to myself. My initial initiation was pretty mild, uh, but then I kind of in my recklessness I called a much more, much greater crisis to myself. So I didn’t get away with it without any suffering- I’ve definitely gone through my share of suffering.
Yeah you know, I know that in any shamanic path it’s going to be painful and it’s going to be suffering. And I know in creating the shamanic archetype workbook, which kinda brings an order to the kind of insanity that an initiate experiences. I mean, I’ve undergone it and there was really nowhere to go. I mean, I would say, "I need a shaman, I need a psychic, I need a medium- somebody help me", and I got turned away, turned away, turned away, and eventually people on the Internet became my elders. You know, they stepped forward and they sort of helped me. If it hadn’t been for that, you know... So in the Shamanic Archetype Workbook, I know what led you to create that, you wanted to do this. Did the Spirits bring you this idea to do this and how to do the curriculum? Did you work in conjunction with them, or how did all that work? How did all this work, the mandala, all of that- Andrew, it’s incredible. I mean, come on! Really?
Thanks man (laughing)! Well, uh this is me coming out of, I come from a background in Jungian psychology, right, so I was attempting to understand my initiatory process through that and ultimately that was not enough. But what I got out of that was this kind of capacity to analyze archetypes, and you know, because I approached shamanism outside of a tradition I was like- it’s archetypal, it’s an archetypal phenomenon. And so I did feel, this is the crux of my call, I felt a real strong call to kind of retrieve the archetype from the underworld so-to-speak. And because I felt like it, the archetype itself, had become dismembered in our culture and it had been put in like fragmented boxes and so you couldn’t be like a shaman anymore, you had to become like an art- go to art school to be an artist, or go to medical school to become a doctor, or go to graduate school and become a psychologist, and so the original totality of the archetype was dismembered, fragmented. And so I went on an actual, I felt a call to go on an actual underworld journey to retrieve the fragments and weave it all together. So I would say, ya, I was, it was under the inspiration of the archetypal spirit of Hermes Mercury, that it wasn’t like a, this was like my arch guide and like the main spiritual inspiration of this workbook.
I felt guided by Hermes Mercury to go into the underworld and Hermes Mercury was really guiding me to the various fragments of the shamanic archetype and dragging me from like one facet to the next, to the next, to the next, and I was just picking up the bloody limbs and stitching them together again. So the workbook is the fruit of about 10 years of a kind of pretty conscious journey to retrieve the archetype in its totality.
Now how important is it for practitioners to identify their archetypes and their strengths? I mean, because you have a constellation and all of that, you know- somebody might be good at psychopomp, storyteller, dream interpretation, artist, musician, scientist, magician, you know healer, all these things, I mean you can be a little bit of all these things when you’re a shaman. Is the goal to bring, you know, you said this but I’m just going to bring it home, to bring all those archetypes together so that you can actually look at this mandala?
This is where my Jungian training really dovetails in with neo-shamanism really nicely. The goal is to stamp the archetype with your individuality, because the danger of approaching shamanism outside of tradition, approaching it as archetypal shamanism, is that you over-identify with an archetype, because a shaman is an archetype, is in archetypal individual. The term we get from one particular culture, but it refers to an archetypal phenomenon found in every culture and that expresses itself in unique ways depending on the individual, depending on the culture.
But we need to incarnate the archetype without getting inflated with it, without getting inflated over-identification with it. So rather than being like just a shaman per-se we can be a particular kind of shaman, because we stamped it with our individuality and it has become manifested in a healthy and unique way.
So the archetype- the workbook gives people a method of actually working their way through the unique way in which this archetype is attempting to merge in them, and that really protects against the main danger of contemporary shamanism, which is over-identifying with this archetypal phenomena. So ya the purpose is the union of the shamanic archetype and your own unique and limited, unique ego.
Ya. Okay. So no one chooses to be a shaman and in some cultures Spirit-led training is considered vastly superior to that which can be learned from a traditional elder. So would you consider your curriculum an example of what an elder training might look like in our culture, since we don’t have anything set up like that? You know, how is this all going to work in the future? Do you consider this curriculum a little bit more future-focused than what is out there?
It’s, I consider it extremely future-focused because one of the main goals of the school is to actually connect Westerners to what is legitimately our own Western shamanic lineage, wisdom lineage- our own ancestral lineage. Because it, it was difficult for me to have this archetypal shamanic experience without having any elders, so I went looking for elders and the closest thing I was able to find to elders were initiates in the Western esoteric tradition. And so I realized, I had this aha moment one day when I realized that Hermeticism and the wisdom lineage of Hermes Mercury is our Western civilization’s ancestral shamanic lineage, and the alchemists were essentially shamans of the Renaissance in the medieval times. These people that were like, they had a secret code language for the initiation process and this alchemical doctrine of the philosopher’s stone is completely analogous to shamanic initiation.
If you look at what takes place in a shamanic initiation it’s the dismemberment of the ego so that the higher bodies can emerge, and then it’s the attuning of the higher bodies to help enforce this in the spiritual world, and it’s the firming of the higher bodies so that you can work consciously out of your higher bodies in the astral realm. And that’s exactly what the alchemists were doing, and the alchemists over hundreds and hundreds of years passing on teachings from mentor to student, mentor to apprentice.
It develops an unbroken chain of initiatory wisdom, and so the school is drawing on archetypal shamanism which is not based on elderhood, but it’s connecting it with the hermetic lineage of the West, and so it’s actually tapping people in who are having this archetypal, initiatory, spontaneous experience. It’s tapping them into the wisdom lineage that exists within our own civilization, and it creates a continuous thread from the past to the present, going forward into the future. So it is very future-minded. Because the alchemists had anticipated already the dangers of the initiatory process and the necessary precautions are built into their teachings.
Well, you know, other shamanic schools and foundations in America have kinda failed to create a sustainable, supportive framework that would serve a modern, American shamanic culture. Do you think The School of Modern Soul Science can probably have a hand in finally achieving this, because as you know, before the publication of "The Way of the Shaman" [Michael Harner] shamanism almost went extinct had it not been for Michael Harner’s work in drawing attention to other shamanic cultures, and [he] said, "Wait a minute! We maybe should not stamp all this out just yet." So through those failures, and I’m not saying that they have failed completely, but we don’t have a supportive framework for initiates and elders. The people who are being initiated, they kinda don’t know what’s going on with them. So, and it’s very upsetting to have experienced something like that, but also see other people kind of experience too and not know where to turn. So do you see America coming into a sort of supportive framework for people to be shamans, you know like we have priests, and we have ministers, and then we can have shamans- do you see anything like that, and maybe your school having a hand in that?
That’s part of the inspiring vision of it, but this gets into like the issue of, you know we need elders from our own civilization because when people, there is no elderhood in North America and so we ditch North America and go study under indigenous elders and then we try to import indigenous traditions into our culture, and there’s a problem with that as well.
And see- that’s the question! This is something that confuses me in the shamanic community, and I can’t get a really good answer on it. So it’s considered taboo to co-opt another culture, so how is it that practitioners can use rituals and ceremonies from other cultures here in America? I mean, because the way I saw it, somebody said to me you can’t excize a shaman from the culture they were born into. But me getting criticized for kind of creating my own rituals and I’m like, "I’m not going to use something from Mongolia"- so where does that come from that they can do that, but it’s just a very strange thing, where did that come from, do you think?
Well out of necessity. I mean it’s a real paradox. It’s well understood that shamanism requires elderhood. It requires ancestral knowledge to be passed on.
Well I’m gonna tell you though, in some cultures they consider Spirit-led training superior to that which you can learn from an elder. They call it 'learning from the trees.' So you may not, I mean I’m just exploring it here, you may not need an elder. Now that doesn’t mean that you go off hogwild or whatever, but I mean who’s going to be the first elders in America if nobody steps up to the plate and says 'you know what- I’m taking responsibility, I am going to shoulder that responsibility to be'- you know somebody has to do it, where’s it going to start?
Well, that’s a serious dilemma you know, because you have a really good point. People need to really, we’re in a time of self-initiation is almost necessary, especially if you want to be an American shaman. You know, who do you go to as an elder- there are no American shamans, so you have to get a direct connection from the Spirit world. That leads to problems though. I explore these problems in the school. One of the things that elders give us is very, very high levels of discernment about whether we're like ultimately being misled by Spirit, because it’s a real problem. Spirits can be very good liars and deceivers and sometimes it’s much smarter than we are, much more evolved than we are, and it’s hard to really know for sure whether we’re being misled or whether the Spirit is telling us like 98% truth, 2% distortion, and this is really the problem- it’s not the obvious deception, because we know if a Spirit is like obviously lying, but like it’s this thing that happens where Spirits tell us like 98% truth, 2% eh, and that 2% eh has this insidious way of leading us astray in the long run. And this puts into jeopardy the long-term development of reliable shamanism.
The remainder of the interview (and a surprise guest) can be seen on our exclusive channel:
- This concept of archetypal shamanism opens up the conceptualization of shamanism to be much more inclusive than the archaic/indigenous definition of shamanism. What do you think about this? Is this a positive thing, or does it evoke negative thoughts and feelings for you?
- Soul retrieval is a common practice among many indigenous shamanic practices, as well as among Core Shamanic practitioners. But this idea of actually retrieving the 'parts' of the shamanic archetype is incredible. What do you think about this?
- Andrew candidly discusses his own initiation and hints at some mistakes he made in the process. Can you connect with this? And what suggestions would you give to others who are early in their initiation process?
- Andrew also talks about 'sorcery', decadence, and hints at other traps shamanic initiates can be led astray by. What practices might help a shamanic initiate avoid or protect against these tests and temptations?
- There is a caution about over-identification with the shamanic archetype. Do you think this caution is warranted? Why, or why not?
- Andrew alludes to the need for the Ego to develop and seat a strong shamanic presence. This goes against the grain of many religious, spiritual, and mystic traditions which promote the subversion of the Ego. What do you think about this?