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Author Topic: Golems  (Read 21210 times)
Jujulinda
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« Topic Start: May 16, 2011, 08:02:18 pm »

This is quite the random question and I think this belongs in this section....

My SO is writing a story and he was talking about Golems and incorporating them. I had never heard of them and found what he said interesting. The only thing I really know is what he told me. That they were made of inanimate matter and that you put a piece of paper, in their mouths, with words on it to animate them.

My question is, what do they do? I know they're a Jewish mystic thing or something to that effect. Are they in the Torah or anywhere in the Bible? Basically does anyone have any sources that I could study them with? Do they appear anywhere else?

Thanks in advance! Smiley
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« Reply #1: May 16, 2011, 10:02:42 pm »

This is quite the random question and I think this belongs in this section....
My question is, what do they do? I know they're a Jewish mystic thing or something to that effect. Are they in the Torah or anywhere in the Bible? Basically does anyone have any sources that I could study them with? Do they appear anywhere else?
Thanks in advance! Smiley

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem

wikipedia is actually a decent source because its concerning history, also gives references at the bottom to check on where things might go more in-depth.

the golem in prague had the hebrew word for Truth inscribed on it to bring it to life. Eventually it went out of control and its master had to kill it by removing the first letter, and making the word for Death.

also interesting is that the word for truth in hebrew is composed of first middle and last characters of their alphabet, meaning the truth is the beginning the middle and the end. Removing the beginning (or the creator) results in death, nothingness.

a lot of old languages have culture in their writing straight down to the letters and how words are formed... kinda fun to find one word that tells a story, or a way of thinking. maybe your friend can create his own "words" to inscribe to make the golems in his story function differently using a similar system.
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« Reply #2: May 17, 2011, 02:00:10 am »

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem

wikipedia is actually a decent source because its concerning history, also gives references at the bottom to check on where things might go more in-depth.

the golem in prague had the hebrew word for Truth inscribed on it to bring it to life. Eventually it went out of control and its master had to kill it by removing the first letter, and making the word for Death.

also interesting is that the word for truth in hebrew is composed of first middle and last characters of their alphabet, meaning the truth is the beginning the middle and the end. Removing the beginning (or the creator) results in death, nothingness.

a lot of old languages have culture in their writing straight down to the letters and how words are formed... kinda fun to find one word that tells a story, or a way of thinking. maybe your friend can create his own "words" to inscribe to make the golems in his story function differently using a similar system.

The beginning, middle and end is a really cool concept.
I skimmed the wiki article but I don't always pay attention to those because of the usual. But I will have to check out the sources. I always forget those are there. Thank you! Even though I could have done that myself. Haha. Smiley
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« Reply #3: May 17, 2011, 02:36:45 am »

The beginning, middle and end is a really cool concept.
I skimmed the wiki article but I don't always pay attention to those because of the usual. But I will have to check out the sources. I always forget those are there. Thank you! Even though I could have done that myself. Haha. Smiley

There's an old  film based (I believe) on the myth/legend of the Golem. Basically a man creates a Golem based on (iirc) Kabbala mysteries to defend his people against a threatened pogrom. Things go terribly wrong and as stated the man enacts the death of the Golem. Again, IIRC the Golem legend was part of the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
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« Reply #4: May 17, 2011, 08:55:02 am »

There's an old  film based (I believe) on the myth/legend of the Golem. Basically a man creates a Golem based on (iirc) Kabbala mysteries to defend his people against a threatened pogrom. Things go terribly wrong and as stated the man enacts the death of the Golem. Again, IIRC the Golem legend was part of the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

That's very interesting. I really like Frankenstein. Smiley
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« Reply #5: June 07, 2011, 08:58:48 pm »

.. My SO is writing a story and he was talking about Golems and incorporating them. I had never heard of them and found what he said interesting. The only thing I really know is what he told me. That they were made of inanimate matter and that you put a piece of paper, in their mouths, with words on it to animate them.

Golems are rather interesting and the more popular of the constructs.  As mentioned the Golem of Prague is perhaps the most well known in a historical content, well behind the Frankenstien monster which is a flesh golem.  Yet personally I find the Iron Golem known as Talos in Greek mythology to be more interesting.  The movie JASON and the ARGONAUTS and the general tale Argonautica speak on that golem being made by the gods.

The stone and Iron golems are perhaps the best well known in the sense of mythology and historical content yet to my perspective the most utilized is none other than the original purpose of the scare crow.  Designed to both scare off and to protect the fields and holdings of rural farmers.  What one might call a poor mans construction and protector.  However, one might also consider the Spynx of Egypt to be a stone golem based upon some of the stories associated to it in myth.

I really do not think there is a universal way to bring a golem to life.  In Prague it is a religious papayrus that is enscribe with a magic word.  In the Talos myths it is a fiery core that brings it to life and sustains it with its connection to the deep earth.  In Frankenstein its the lightning that is harnessed and represents the primordial spark of life.  Of course the scare crow is more inantimate but uses physical apperance and persception to bring it to life.  In other lore its simply a runic symbol that is enscribed in its creation or some sort of holy symbol enscribed upon a scroll, tablet, etc that is placed in it to activate and command it.

Yet like the golem of Prague and Frankenstein's Monster, misuse or assumption can cause it to go berserk and destroy what it is supposed to protect.  The golem of Prague supposedly either being deactivated as the power word is removed though some stories claim it was lost and still roams.  Hollywood and Hammer House of Horror revealing that the Frankenstein monster is also alive and well until the next movie incarnation.  Many movies make reference to the golem going amuck and becoming unstoppable as the word is swallowed or in some other fashion prevented from being removed from the construct.

Stone or clay golems seem to be the most prolific in stories I have read.  Iron golems seem to be based upon the Talos mold though they are fewer in number.  Flesh golems seem to follow the Frankenstein mold of construction and usage.  Wood and straw constructs also follow the scare crow type stories and usages.

BUt all in all just one small segment of the notion of constructs which include Sigils, dollies (corn especially), poppets, puppets, Voudon dolls, etc.
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« Reply #6: June 08, 2011, 02:00:29 am »

Stone or clay golems seem to be the most prolific in stories I have read.  Iron golems seem to be based upon the Talos mold though they are fewer in number.  Flesh golems seem to follow the Frankenstein mold of construction and usage.  Wood and straw constructs also follow the scare crow type stories and usages.

That reminds me of a Doctor Who episode where these aliens were attacking people with an army of scarecrows. Now that's something I could see myself doing... controlling an army of golems... one more thing to add to my list.
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« Reply #7: June 10, 2011, 12:29:07 am »


Forgive me if I sound totally retarded here, but...you guys actually mean it's possible to bring something inanimate to life? Or are we just talking metaphorical here?
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« Reply #8: June 10, 2011, 12:31:05 am »

Forgive me if I sound totally retarded here, but...you guys actually mean it's possible to bring something inanimate to life? Or are we just talking metaphorical here?

The Golem is a legend/myth. Personally I don't think it's possible.
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« Reply #9: June 10, 2011, 01:07:20 am »

I've actually done sort of a lot of research on the folkloric corpus around golemim and could pull up all of the canonical (Jewish) stories if people want particulars.  (I've been writing a book.)  I know you might have good luck researching Moshe Idel's and Gershom Scholem's studies of the idea.

Frankenstein's monster is a "flesh golem" only in the "Dungeons and Dragons" sense, but not a golem in the traditional sense--though Shelley based her story in part on the tale of the Golem of Prague, which is the most famous golem story, and which probably also helped inspire the play "Rossum's Universal Robots," which coined the word "robot."  Similarly, Talos in most accounts is not a golem--an artificial person ritually vivified by a human via divine invocation--but a leftover of an earlier order of creation, and is traditionally made of bronze, not iron.  (Iron wasn't in enough supply in ancient Hellas to consider making a giant man out of.)  Similar traditions include the ancient Arabian story of magicians drawing down power from the stars to give life to stone statues.

The word "golem" itself is Hebrew and translates to something like "unfinished" or "half-formed," and comes up once in the canonical Bible, referring not to an artificial person but to an embryo, and the use of "golem" to refer to embryos shows up elsewhere.

The Jewish esoteric tradition, very very roughly, is that, Kabbalistically anyway, ha-Shem made the world with math.  And if one could decode this math--the equations and processes by which the world was made, what we might today talk about as programming code--one could either edit that code, or reiterate it and take on divine creative power oneself.  Tradition holds that a book called "Sefer Yetzirah"--the Book of Formation--contains, beneath several (and I do mean several, lifetimes' worth of ciphers including a lot of figurative language and use of the mathematical/numerological word-replacement cipher called gematria) layers of encoding, the basic mathematical equations underlying ha-Shem's creation process. 
Thus, traditionally, a sufficiently learned mystic would be able to decode the relevant part of Sefer Yetzirah and reiterate the creation of Adam, by forming a man out of mud, ritually treating it, reciting certain incantations, and finally breathing life into it, usually capping off by either placing the written name of God on a piece of paper in its mouth (or skull) or by writing the phrase "YHVH Elohim Emeth" ("YHVH the Lord is Truth) on its forehead.  (This is sometimes shortened to just "emeth," "truth."  In most golem stories, the life can be taken from a golem by erasing the initial aleph in "emeth," making it "meth," that is, "death."  This gets especially disturbing in the stories where removing the aleph makes the sentence "YHVH the Lord is dead.")  The golem then awakens, endowed with supernatural strength and resilience, and is asked to perform a task, most often of physical labor or protection.
In almost every story, it is emphasized the imperfect human creators end up making imperfect creations--the golemim lack certain higher functions like speech, and often take the task for which they're made too far, not understanding when to stop, thus wreaking havoc and destruction.  (There is one canonical story about a golem endowed with speech.  It goes very, very badly.  There is also exactly one canonical story about a female golem, which is made with a different process, and also ends in tragedy, and which is the subject of my book.)  Eventually, the golem's maker is forced to intervene and destroy it.  Often the stories are parables about arrogance and usurping what is only for ha-Shem to do, and the consequences--themes carried forward in derivative stories like Shelley's "Frankenstein," as well as many popular Jewish allegories about what happens when we create something too powerful to control, or use strength without wisdom.

Golem stories have certainly become popular in fantasy, and have been broadened out into all sorts of things, but this is the basics in terms of actual folklore.
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« Reply #10: June 10, 2011, 01:18:10 am »

I've actually done sort of a lot of research on the folkloric corpus around golemim and could pull up all of the canonical (Jewish) stories if people want particulars.  (I've been writing a book.)  I know you might have good luck researching Moshe Idel's and Gershom Scholem's studies of the idea.

Frankenstein's monster is a "flesh golem" only in the "Dungeons and Dragons" sense, but not a golem in the traditional sense--though Shelley based her story in part on the tale of the Golem of Prague, which is the most famous golem story, and which probably also helped inspire the play "Rossum's Universal Robots," which coined the word "robot."  Similarly, Talos in most accounts is not a golem--an artificial person ritually vivified by a human via divine invocation--but a leftover of an earlier order of creation, and is traditionally made of bronze, not iron.  (Iron wasn't in enough supply in ancient Hellas to consider making a giant man out of.)  Similar traditions include the ancient Arabian story of magicians drawing down power from the stars to give life to stone statues.

The word "golem" itself is Hebrew and translates to something like "unfinished" or "half-formed," and comes up once in the canonical Bible, referring not to an artificial person but to an embryo, and the use of "golem" to refer to embryos shows up elsewhere.

The Jewish esoteric tradition, very very roughly, is that, Kabbalistically anyway, ha-Shem made the world with math.  And if one could decode this math--the equations and processes by which the world was made, what we might today talk about as programming code--one could either edit that code, or reiterate it and take on divine creative power oneself.  Tradition holds that a book called "Sefer Yetzirah"--the Book of Formation--contains, beneath several (and I do mean several, lifetimes' worth of ciphers including a lot of figurative language and use of the mathematical/numerological word-replacement cipher called gematria) layers of encoding, the basic mathematical equations underlying ha-Shem's creation process. 
Thus, traditionally, a sufficiently learned mystic would be able to decode the relevant part of Sefer Yetzirah and reiterate the creation of Adam, by forming a man out of mud, ritually treating it, reciting certain incantations, and finally breathing life into it, usually capping off by either placing the written name of God on a piece of paper in its mouth (or skull) or by writing the phrase "YHVH Elohim Emeth" ("YHVH the Lord is Truth) on its forehead.  (This is sometimes shortened to just "emeth," "truth."  In most golem stories, the life can be taken from a golem by erasing the initial aleph in "emeth," making it "meth," that is, "death."  This gets especially disturbing in the stories where removing the aleph makes the sentence "YHVH the Lord is dead.")  The golem then awakens, endowed with supernatural strength and resilience, and is asked to perform a task, most often of physical labor or protection.
In almost every story, it is emphasized the imperfect human creators end up making imperfect creations--the golemim lack certain higher functions like speech, and often take the task for which they're made too far, not understanding when to stop, thus wreaking havoc and destruction.  (There is one canonical story about a golem endowed with speech.  It goes very, very badly.  There is also exactly one canonical story about a female golem, which is made with a different process, and also ends in tragedy, and which is the subject of my book.)  Eventually, the golem's maker is forced to intervene and destroy it.  Often the stories are parables about arrogance and usurping what is only for ha-Shem to do, and the consequences--themes carried forward in derivative stories like Shelley's "Frankenstein," as well as many popular Jewish allegories about what happens when we create something too powerful to control, or use strength without wisdom.

Golem stories have certainly become popular in fantasy, and have been broadened out into all sorts of things, but this is the basics in terms of actual folklore.

Great post! Would love to read your book when you've finished. I love stories with hubris etc as themes.
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« Reply #11: June 10, 2011, 05:45:34 am »

Hi, Psychopomp Valentine,

Just a quick note:  Please remember to quote, even if you're just replying to the first message in the thread.  It makes the discussion easier to follow, and it's required by our rules.

This isn't a formal warning, just a reminder.  No reply is necessary, but if you have questions or need clarification, please feel free to contact a member of staff privately.

Thanks!

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« Reply #12: June 10, 2011, 06:01:48 am »

I've actually done sort of a lot of research on the folkloric corpus around golemim and could pull up all of the canonical (Jewish) stories if people want particulars.  (I've been writing a book.)  I know you might have good luck researching Moshe Idel's and Gershom Scholem's studies of the idea.

Frankenstein's monster is a "flesh golem" only in the "Dungeons and Dragons" sense, but not a golem in the traditional sense--though Shelley based her story in part on the tale of the Golem of Prague, which is the most famous golem story, and which probably also helped inspire the play "Rossum's Universal Robots," which coined the word "robot."  Similarly, Talos in most accounts is not a golem--an artificial person ritually vivified by a human via divine invocation--but a leftover of an earlier order of creation, and is traditionally made of bronze, not iron.  (Iron wasn't in enough supply in ancient Hellas to consider making a giant man out of.)  Similar traditions include the ancient Arabian story of magicians drawing down power from the stars to give life to stone statues.
Ooh, lovely - someone with expertise coming in!  And it touches on something that was bothering me a bit but that I didn't have the knowledge background to phrase very effectively - it seemed to me that to extend the term "golem" to the other examples of artificial humanoid was to stretch its meaning too far beyond its original referents.  Golems as one subclass, and the others as other subclasses, of the larger class "artificial humanoids which have been animated", sure - but using "golem" for the larger class, not so much.

Quote
The Jewish esoteric tradition, very very roughly, is that, Kabbalistically anyway, ha-Shem made the world with math.  And if one could decode this math--the equations and processes by which the world was made, what we might today talk about as programming code--one could either edit that code, or reiterate it and take on divine creative power oneself.
<snip>
Often the stories are parables about arrogance and usurping what is only for ha-Shem to do, and the consequences--themes carried forward in derivative stories like Shelley's "Frankenstein," as well as many popular Jewish allegories about what happens when we create something too powerful to control, or use strength without wisdom.
The analogic framing you chose led me to think inevitably of Script Kiddies who think copying and pasting code makes them coders.

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« Reply #13: June 10, 2011, 06:09:29 am »

Hi, Psychopomp Valentine,
It's been long enough that I won't edit the above quote reminder, so I'll post my addition to it as a separate post:

It occurred to me that you meant this as a reply to the overall thread, and I'd say this is a legitimate instance of that, but I'll note that it's usually a good idea to include something in a general-reply post that explicitly indicates that's what it is.

Thanks again,
Sunflower, TC Forum Staff
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« Reply #14: June 10, 2011, 06:13:16 am »

it seemed to me that to extend the term "golem" to the other examples of artificial humanoid was to stretch its meaning too far beyond its original referents. 

Yeah that seemed iffy to me too but wasn't sure how to comment on it as I literally only know what I know from like a circa 1930s film version of the Golem of Prague I caught on the Sci Fi channel like well over ten years ago (back when it was decent).
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