When the film Blueberry (also titled Renegade in the U.S.) was released in 2004, many praised its authentic depiction of the ‘inner’ scenes the protagonist experienced during a shamanic, otherworldly journey, including kaleidoscopic, fractal landscapes and archetypal elements (the FX stand up remarkably well today, given they were created almost two decades ago now).
No doubt part of the reason these scenes were done so well was that film-maker Jan Kounen had himself gone on a journey of discovery during the creation of the film, tracking down shamans of Central and South America to assist him in his quest for understanding shamanic visions, during which he participated in ayahuasca ceremonies.
Kounen documented this story in a companion piece to Blueberry, the documentary Other Worlds, which is well worth checking out (in which he also talks to many Western experts and researchers in the field, including DMT researcher Rick Strassman, psychedelics researcher Charles Grob, and numerous others including Stan Grof, Jeremy Narby, Alex Grey, Moebius and Pablo Amaringo).
But 15 years later, Kounen has now embraced a new technology for taking people inside the shamanic journey: virtual reality (VR). “Only VR can give the possibility to share a mind-altering, therapeutical experience like the Ayahuasca medicine because we’re using immersive technology, as well as sensory techniques to bring you in, in a way that no film can do,” says Kounen.
The film, Ayahuasca: Kosmik Journey is available now through the Steam and Vive stores, but you can get a sense of some of the visuals from this short sample video (though the immersion within these worlds through VR would be something else entirely):
Obviously, the VR experience cannot replace the actual shamanic trip, given the personal, psychological journey of self-discovery that the latter takes you on, and the altered state one is immersed in. However, it’s certainly a fantastic use of the technology to take people within a simulation of the experience, and to perhaps in some ways induce the reality shift that comes from undergoing such a sudden ‘change of location’ from physical to spiritual, to help people better understand the mystical experiences that others have had. That’s certainly something that Alan Moore has suggested as a use of VR:
What about spiritual experiences? What about these difficult to reach, transcendent spaces that we hear about from the world’s various religions and mystical systems? Why don’t you do that with virtual reality? Why don’t you see what happens? Because, what is the difference between a ‘real’ mystical experience, and a virtual mystical experience?
For those interested, you can also watch this short 7 minute video about the making of the VR experience: