Mythical Creatures Series
Golems are giant, clay-like creatures animated by a single word written on paper and stuffed into their mouths. Knowing the right magic to bring such a being to life, means he’ll do whatever you ask of him.
What is it?
From Jewish mythology, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being who is created entirely from inanimate matter (clay, though it’s been known to also be made of wood or mud). Golem is often made to serve its creator and has no thought of its own, meaning it’s not a very bright creature.
The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century chief rabbi of Prague. The idea that a person who is close enough to God (usually a rabbi), bestowed with some of his powers, can create a person out of clay, means they were initially seen as fighters for good guys.
To animate a golem, magic words are inscribed on its head. It is said by writing God’s name on a paper and attaching it to the Golem into the clay, it will bring it to life. By erasing the name or letters out of the paper, the golem will become inactive. It is also believed if the word ’emeth’ was etched on the golem’s head, it can also bring it to life. Those who create and animate a golem used them as slaves to do their chores.
Though some problems can arise here. Because golem can’t speak, trying to deactivate this creature can sometimes result in the golem turning on his creator and killing him / her. The golem then takes instructions entirely literally – can be a big problem at this stage.
According to the Maharal story, golems have some magical abilities, such as invisibility, summoning the dead, and can also deliver a heated touch. In the late 16th century, the chief rabbi of Prague, Maharal, reportedly created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from antisemitic attacks and pogroms. Depending on the version of the legend, the Jews in Prague were to be either expelled or killed under the rule of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltavariver, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. As this golem grew, it became increasingly violent, killing gentiles and spreading fear. A different story tells of a golem that fell in love, and when rejected, became the violent monster seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually turning on its creator or attacking other Jews.
Golems are humungous in size, made of clay, and can be brought to life by a single word.
Appearances In Culture
- The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud – A Golem is loose in London.
- Kiln People by David Brin – featured duplicates of people made out of mud.
- Going Postal by Terry Pratchett – Golems are used as mailmen. The novel Feet of Clay revolves around the attempts of golems to free themselves, and Making Money describes the effect of free golems on the city of Ankh-Morpork’s economy.
- Pete Hamill’s 1998 novel Snow In August includes a retelling of the story of Rabbi Loew and the Prague Golem.
- Golems often appear in the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, where they may be constructed of nearly any material from wood to spider silk.
- In 1974, Marvel Comics introduced “The Golem” as a recurring character in its Strange Tales comic book series.
- Michael Chabon’s 2001 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay features one of the protagonists, Josef Kavalier, an amateur Jewish magician smuggling himself out of Nazi Europe along with the Prague Golem.
- The DC comic Swamp Thing #153, “Twilight of the Gods” by Mark Millar and Chris Weston is set in an alternate history where Germany won World War II and the US President attempts to evoke a golem in order to destroy the world.
- The Simpsons episode “Treehouse of Horror XVII” features Bart discovering the Golem of Prague in Krusty’s storeroom.
- The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges famously wrote a poem named “The Golem”.
- The X-Files episode “Kaddish” features a golem-like creature.
- China Miéville’s novel Iron Council centers around a golemist named Judah Low, a direct reference to Judah Loew ben Bezalel.
Did you know? The word “golem” appears only once in the Bible (Psalms139:16). InHebrew, “golem” stands for “shapeless mass.”
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