What Foreign Languages mean to me

When you pick up a book in a foreign language you’re picking up a magical tome. Its cover is alien and enticing. Just looking at it stirs you, because you know that you hold in your hand something powerful, something transformative, something hidden. Like hints at the location of some buried treasure.

In order to even begin to read it you need to have been initiated. Which means learning the symbols—their significance and pronunciation. Once you’ve gotten past that, you can read the strings of symbols. But that doesn’t make you a mage. Not yet. The symbols form bits of code. That code is bound to formulas and structures. It follows rules. The likes of which you’re unfamiliar with. As you accustom yourself to these structures, and formulas, you begin to see the glimpses. Images, fragments, pieces of power. But the text as a whole is riddled with ciphers. Sometimes even ciphers within ciphers. Some ciphers you can only understand by deepening your knowledge of the rituals and habits connected to the culture or group of mages who wrote this text.

Strangely enough, the deeper you go into the ciphers the more you find universal messages that seem to have been lying there, buried under the code and its alien symbols. The symbols had been a distraction, something to dissuade the uninitiated and those unwilling to put in the effort to attain power.

This power comes in many forms, can be used in many ways and towards many ends. It can be transformative for yourself or it can give you the power to transform others. It can be used for good or evil. Because the messages are eternal they are indifferent to what they cause.  This is the true appeal of the magic tome. The power of freedom or choice. Will you use its contents to benefit others, to do nothing or to do harm? It’s a question for the initiate. Some simply like to touch the power. But where does this power come from?

It all starts with the transmutation of the text into the physical. Once read and understood it moves from a symbolic form bound to a page and a single location and point in time, to a series of electrical impulses in your brain. And so it undergoes transmutation, from a sort of statue to a living, moving, breathing thing.

The symbols and formulas are forgotten, because you read with such speed that the transmutation is instantaneous. The tome begins to wobble as the reality of certainty that surrounded it loses its grip. The images string together into events. The events reveal themselves as moments in a story.

Before long, the story is the only thing that you’re reading, and at that point, the tome disappears. In its place is a portal. Through the portal you see what looks like an ocean. At first you have to move around a lot and hold your head at awkward angles to get a good look. But the more you look through it the bigger it gets. Eventually it’s big enough for you to pass through. And as you do you find yourself swimming in an ocean.

You swim down a bit and you find that you’re not in an ocean at all, but a world much like the one you came from. Except things are different in subtle ways. And the symbols of the book are everywhere. The rituals are happening in the streets. You hear the strange sounds from every person. And in that instant you know that this was the feeling you got when you looked at the cover for the first time. But now it’s so much stronger. Instead of feeling a hint at something hidden you’re in the heart of something hidden, and it’s alive. It’s alive in the movements and the actions and the objects and the sounds and the little gestures and rituals, all of it is alive here.

You close the tome. All of it’s gone. But you look down at the book in your hands. You call call it a book, because everyone around you riding the subway or walking down Amsterdam sees you holding a book. But now you know better. You’ve been initiated.


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