Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Golem

The golem is an animated human-like creature of Jewish folklore, made from mud, clay, or other similar materials. Typically there is an inscription in the forehead, or written on paper and folded into the arms or mouth, with the Name of God or the Hebrew word for "truth," emet.

The golem is actually very easy to make! But to make a working golem is far more difficult. First, it requires one to be holy, literally and figuratively. One has to understand all the major aspects of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), such as the sephirot the Hebrew alphabet.

The golem is essentially a servant, able to carry out menial tasks, perform minor magic, and, of course, kill people. It's main claim to fame came in Prague, where the Maharal rabbi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel. The Maharal's golem protected the ghetto-living Jews of Prague from antisemitic pogroms and persecution.

The problem with a golem is that the longer it is "activated" the more violent and uncontrollable it becomes. The Maharal scratched out a letter from emet to make met, meaning "death." And the golem became lifeless again. Afterwards, it was hidden in the atic of the Old New Synagogue, waiting to be used again.

The Nazis, reportedly tried to find it, but couldn't. Many have tried to find the golem since it was hidden, most recently a film crew in 1985. None found it. However, legend says that it still exists. Many Orthodox Jews truly believe the golem exists, and high ranking members of the community report that their ancestors stated that they saw it.

While other golems have been existed, the Maharal's golem is the most infamous. Additionally, the golem is a direct inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, specifically Frankenstein's monster -- an inanimate body brought back to life by a form of science so advanced it must be magic. Since then the golem has been featured in works of fiction as disparate as Jorge Luis Borges's poetry to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

Jewish mystics saw it as an attempt to honor God's gift of creation. Personally, I see the golem as the embodiment of man's attempt to gain power over life and death. Either way, the create itself continues to captivate our collective imagination.

2 footnotes:

Franklin said...

Never knew Golems were from Jewish folklore. Looking at how much they are used in fantasy settings, I always assumed they were a Scandinavian or Anglo creation.

Zek J. Evets said...

Really? Huh. Go figure. Yeah, they're originally Eastern-European Jewish. Although, I suppose they're ultimately inspired by The Bible, which the legends frequently reference. Specifically when God shaped man from mud and clay and dirt.