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Creating a Golem
Mikoláš Aleš, 1899.

Golem, the word has become popular in video games and fantasy fiction. People have a general concept of an artificial creature created by magic, or perhaps mad science like Frankenstein’s monster, to serve its creator. Some may further know that these creations generally turn on their creators but the actual folklore of the golem is more complex.

The general outline of the story is fairly consistent. A rabbi crafts a body out of clay and then performs a religious ritual to bring it to life. The exact manner varies sometimes a scroll with one of the names of God is placed in their mouth in others the Hebrew word Emet (Truth) is carved into the Golem’s fore head. Typically to end the beings animation involves undoing some aspect of its creation. Either the scroll is removed from the golem’s mouth or the first letter in Emet is removed changing Emet to Met (Death). This becomes important because in most stories the golem will grow in power and independence as time goes on.

The story of the creation of golems goes further then simply a theoretical act of Kabbalah. On a few occasions historically, most famously was in 16th century Prague. According to the story Rabbi Loew (himself a well respected scholar of Judaic law and philosophy to this day) crafted the golem to protect the Jewish community of the city from anti Semitism particularly relating to the concept of the blood libel (the fantasy that Jews murdered Christian children to us their blood in Passover and other religious rituals). The story goes on that the golem became uncontrollable and began attacking innocents forcing the rabbi to destroy it by removing the scroll. It should be noted that while Rabbi Loew is a real rabbi there is no evidence of the actual golem in question some modern scholars even question the idea Rabbi Loew would have carried this out and if anything would have opposed such an act.

The concept of the golem at least has had an impact on popular culture legitimacy of the story of the Golem of Prague aside. While it has had an influence on plays and movies of the early 20th century its largest impact is probably one of the most significant works of Gothic Horror and science fiction Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Many scholars believe the Golem of Prague and the alchemical legend of the homunculus (a small humanoid made with a combination of animal blood,, semen and other materials that was supposedly one of the goals of alchemy).


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