Golems are not particularly well known fantasy creatures.
When people ask what my novel is about, I say "It's about a golem," and then I pause. When someone nods and says "Oh cool, go on," I know I've got a real die-hard fantasy fan on my hands. More often, people don't know what they are.
I didn't either, before I started writing Mud. I only found out about golems because I was actively looking for lesser-known creatures--something to get me away from the vampires and zombies and werewolves that have dominated the pop culture monster market for the last several years (not that there's anything wrong with those, I love that stuff and consume it constantly).
But the golem captured my imagination as soon as I found it. My take on golems in Mud is about as closely related to the classic golem folklore as Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series is to classic vampire lore, but it's some seriously cool, sometimes dark stuff that is worth knowing all the same.
Here's 14 things to know about golems:
- Golems originate from Jewish folklore.
Traditionally, they're creatures made of inanimate materials like clay, made animate with magic.
- Golems are made to serve their creators.
Most accounts indicate that animated golems follow the commands of their creators.
- Well that's handy.
Yup. Especially since golems are extremely strong. Maybe I should make one to carry my groceries from the car to my apartment.
- The term "golem" is only used once in the Bible.
In Psalms 139: 16. "Thine eyes did see my golem, yet being unformed; and in Thy Sefer (Book) all the yamim (days) ordained for me were written down, when as yet there were none of them." FYI, it's being used here to mean "unformed," so in this case, a fetus. Most modern interpretations don't use this word anymore (see several different interpretation here).
- But the Talmud's a whole different story.
This is a book of Jewish laws and legends. It refers to Adam as "golem" for his first 12 hours of existence, meaning "unformed/imperfect" or in this case, a body without a soul.
- That's only the beginning.
Another legend implies that the prophet Jeremiah made a golem.
- You, too, can make your very own golem!
Just follow the steps laid out in the Sefer Yezirah, the Book of Creation. Unfortunately, some of the details on these steps are a little murky--different rabbis have interpreted the instructions differently.
- Give us the SparkNotes version.
First, create the shape of a person out of clay or mud. Then, you either dance around it chanting specified letters of the Hebrew alphabet, or write "emet" (meaning "truth") on the golem's forehead, or write God's name on parchment and stick it in the golem's mouth. Invoke God's secret name, and voila, you got yourself a mud-slave. Pro tip: When using the parchment-feeding method, don't give your golem teeth.
- Mud slave? Sounds messy.
Right? Still waiting on the followup magic to keep dirt from trailing through the house.
- What's God's secret name?
Sorry, can't tell, it's a secret.
- As a note, golems have a tendency to run amok after a while.
The one Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel made in Prague around 1580, for example, was supposed to protect against a Blood Libel, guard the Jewish town from a group of bad-egg, Jew-hating Christians, and/or help with physical labor (conflicting sources on this). But after a while it started threatening innocent lives.
- Why didn't you tell me that before I made this thing?
More practical, less fun. But I can tell you how to get rid of it, at least.
- Please do.
The way to "kill" your golem depends on how you made it. If you opted for the dance, now dance around it in the opposite direction, while saying the letters in the opposite order. If you opted to write "emet' on it, erase the "e" to change the command to "met," or "death." If you went for the parchment, just stick your hand in that golem's mouth and remove the parchment. I told you, you didn't want teeth on that thing.
- Modern stories have taken more techie takes on the golem.
As in robots. Another creature made of inanimate pieces and brought to life by men to do their bidding. No serious running amok so far, but we've all gotten in a fight with a copy machine before, so you tell me. See also: Frankenstein.
P.S., Mud is still only $.99, but only for a few more days! Grab your copy now before the price goes up.