Monster Monday: Golem

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Golem.

Rabbi Loew and Golem by Mikoláš Aleš, 1899
Rabbi Loew and Golem by Mikoláš Aleš, 1899

In Jewish folklore, a Golem is an artificial creature, usually made of clay, brought to life through magic. In most stories, only a rabbi has the knowledge to bring a golem to life and control it. In some stories, the golem has the word emet (“truth” in Hebrew) written across its forehead. In order to deactivate it, a person must erase the first letter so that the word is met, which means “dead” in Hebrew. In other stories, a shem with a magical formula is inserted in the golem’s mouth to activate it and is removed to deactivate it.

A golem is not intelligent and cannot speak. It is completely obedient and will follow all orders given to it literally. In many stories, the older a golem gets, the harder it is to control, and it becomes more and more dangerous and destructive. Its creator may be killed or injured trying to deactivate it.

One of the most famous golems is the Golem of Prague, said to have been created by Rabbi  Judah Loew ben Bezalel in the late sixteenth century in order to protect the Jews of Prague from the Holy Roman Emperor. It could become invisible and summon spirits of the dead. The only requirement was that it could not be active on the Sabbath. In some versions of the legend, the Rabbi forgot to deactivate it once and was unable to control it afterward. In others the golem fell in love and went on a destructive rampage when rejected. In either case, the Rabbi had to permanently deactivate it, but the body of the golem is said to be still hidden, awaiting activation the next time it is needed.



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