At first glance, the Codex Seraphinianus may look like any other collection of natural history illustrations. But a closer look reveals a very, very strange book indeed. The meticulous drawings depict creatures and situations that do not—and, in many cases, could not—exist. And the text is completely indecipherable, written in squiggly characters that look more like Futurama’s Alienese than any real language.

The book has been an object of fascination since its publication in 1981 and has been called “the weirdest book ever written.” Code breakers have struggled to decipher the text. Art lovers have puzzled over the bizarre illustrations, which showcase everything from spooky flowers to people being maimed by enormous pencils.

What are these organisms, and what is this language? And for that matter, what is this book?

As it turns out, even the author isn’t totally sure. “I don’t know how to explain,” artist Luigi Serafini tells Great Big Story in their new video (above).  

Serafini says the Codex is kind of like a supernatural encyclopedia. “It’s an attempt to describe the imaginary world in a systematic way,” he says in the video.

And the writing?

Sorry, cryptologists. The text is pretty much just gibberish. The technical term is asemic writing—writing that has no direct meaning but uses the appearance of writing to suggest ideas and concepts.

"The drawings, they were so strange that I had to create a language to explain," Serafini says in the interview.

Header image courtesy of Great Big Story.