We decided to introduce a new twist to our blog section that we will call the linguist chat. This will be a bit different from other blogs that we have written in the past. You might not associate this title at first with translation, localization, and other things we usually write about, but “Oh, boy!” it is relevant to what we do, despite the fact it might not be that obvious at first glance.
Let’s start with fantasy, which is absolutely vital for the human mind. Our ability to imagine things fuels our entire existence, and it influences what we think about, what we create from art and video games to scientific innovations and discoveries. It gives us the opportunity to fly in our dreams or explore the bottom of the ocean. A. Einstein once said that:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge” because it is a door to endless possibilities.
Children learn about the world through imagination and fantasy, and to certain age within a child the fantasy world coexists closely with what grownups call reality. Imagination draws us towards beautiful stories, adventure, and a journey towards something new. Stories we tend to express with language and writing.
That brings me to the next point – the story or narrative. My film directing teacher in film school once said the following when one of us asked what the perfect structure would be for a great script for a massively successful film?
He took a pause and said well, one of the greatest scripts of all times is Homer’s Odyssey, if you can structure your script and characters like that, there is no way you can go wrong. The Odyssey is not only about heroes and adventures, but also about spiritual growth through rough times, good times, temptation, and the struggle between good and bad, a kind of story that carries our imagination to a magical world.
French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, who was extremely interested in myths and folk stories around the world, developed a structuralist theory of mythology.
The basic idea of this theory is that myth is a language. He carried out a massive project, a four-volume study called Mythologiques where he followed a single myth from South America to Central America and finally to the Arctic Circle, and by doing that, he traced a single story, a single myth from one end of the Western Hemisphere to the other.
This shows us the power of a good story. After retiring from his academic work, he continued to write now and then about meditation, art, music, philosophy, and poetry.
I have nothing, but admiration for this man; his works opened so many windows for someone like me, who is interested in linguistics, mythology, philosophy, and spiritual practices, to understand more about these subjects and think outside the box and physical and cultural borders we humans tend to draw in our mind.
Mythology and its storylines, characters, and symbols mixed with imagination and fantasy have found a way into the epic movies and video games of today.
Let’s take the characters of the video game God of War, where you have deities from Greek mythology and Norse mythology – Olympian gods and goddesses, Titans and Greek heroes, Æsir and Venir gods and goddesses, and various other spiritual beings from Norse mythology.
Another game series is The Elder Scrolls, a series of action role-playing video games that are packed with various myths and stories, such as creation myths, Norse and Greek myths, and fictional cosmology mixed with different ideas of Gnosticism.
You can even find a slight touch of Steampunk, a science fiction subgenre that incorporates technology and designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machines, within the storylines taking place in Dwemer (Deep-Elves) civilization ruins.
My personal favourites within the game are Germanic, Celtic, and Norse mythology storylines with creatures such as Dökkálfar (Dark Elves) and Ljósálfar (Light Elves). Goblins - the Trasgu, which is a Northern Spanish and Northern Portuguese mythological creature of Celtic and Roman origin.
Draugr an undead creature from Scandinavian sagas and folktales. You have magical races and classes to choose your game character from - humans, elves, orcs, and anthropomorphic animals, necromancers, wardens, sorcerers, and others. This game is absolutely full of fantasy and mythological storylines.
The last two video games that I find fascinating from the point of view of fantasy, myth, and linguistics are the video game series The Witcher and Assassin’s Creed.
The Witcher, a game I really enjoyed playing, has a storyline based on the novel series The Witcher by Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher also put CD Projekt, a Polish video game developer, publisher, and distributer on the map of major players within the gaming industry. Even so, these games are based on fictional fantasy novels that are filled with Slavic mythology and folklore, as well as Norse mythology and cosmology.
The main character Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher – a genetically enhanced human with special powers that allow him to slay different monsters. The game’s system of moral choices is also built in a way that we often see in classical myths; it consists of time-delayed consequences and a lack of black-and-white morality. Geralt’s sword has inscriptions in the Glagolitic script, the oldest known Slavic alphabet. Runestones within the game bear the names of Slavic gods such as Svarog (the god of celestial fire and blacksmithing) and Perun (the god of the sky, thunder, lightning, storms, rain, and oak trees).
A Striga a monster you encounter in the Witcher games, also known as Strzyga in Polish and Shtriga in Albanian mythology. It is a woman transformed into a monster by a curse, basically a vampiric witch that in Albanian folklore sucks the blood of infants while they sleep. They usually live in the forest in hidden places and have supernatural powers, the forest being a very common setting in The Witcher storylines.
Last, but not least, the original Proto-Slavic name of the English word witcher is vedmak (Belarusian: вядзьмак, вядзьмар; Bulgarian: вещер; Croatian: vještac; Macedonian: вештер; Russian: ведьмак; Czech: vědmák; Ukrainian: відьмак; Polish: wiedźmak; Serbian: вештац) and in Slavic mythology, a vedmak is a warlock or male witch, the female equivalent being vedma.
Of the video games in this blog, the final one to mention is Assassin’s Creed. It is a Ubisoft video game series with a large open world that is packed with fantasy, history, and mythology-derived storylines, action, adventure, and stealth.
Currently, with the last release in 2020, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, this video game series consists of 24 games. The games in this series are dedicated to different cultures and mythologies. For example, in the last one, Assasin’s Creed Valhalla, Eivor, the character you play, has the chance to enter Valhalla, meet the gods of the Æsir, and fight alongside them, which in Norse mythology is an honour reserved for great Viking warriors that died on the battlefield.
A number of collectible items in the game also reference the mythical items of the gods of the Æsir. You can go to Jötunheimr, one of the nine realms in Norse cosmology, which is home of the Giants, also known as Jötunn. The final boss, of course, is Fenrir, an enormous wolf that is one of the three children that Loki, the trickster god, and a shapeshifter, had with the giantess Angrboða.
Fenrir is the one who is supposed to kill Odin during the events of Ragnarök. As usual in this game series, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla links back to another game of the series, this time Assassin’s Creed 3. Eivor has the chance to go to Vinland, which is what the Vikings called the territory of modern-day Canada.
Last but not least, in the context of this blog I would like to mention the mobile phone application Headspace. I started to use it more actively during the COVID-19 pandemic as a tool to cope with additional stress.
The fantastic thing about this app is that it has managed to bring meditation as a practice to the general public. The story behind it is also wonderful; one of the founders of the Headspace app, Andy Puddicombe, trained as a Buddhist monk for 10 years, and he really does know a thing or two about meditation.
He has managed to deliver meditation practice using a localized, easy to understand approach for everyone who wants to commit to this on a daily basis. One way to learn about meditation is to start with meditation techniques and early Buddhist texts, for example, the Pali Canon or Chinese Agamas.
But let’s be frank, how many people would end up studying these ancient texts? Therefore, Headspace is a wonderful way to teach day-to-day meditation to laypeople. Another example of how to create message from local to global audience using ancient knowledge and spiritual practices.
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