In Jewish folklore, a golem (גולם, sometimes, as in Yiddish, pronounced goilem) is an animated being created entirely from inanimate matter. In modern Hebrew the word golem literally means 'cocoon', but can also mean "fool", "silly", or even "stupid". The name appears to derive from the word gelem ( גלם), which means "raw material".
The earliest stories of golems date to early Judaism. Adam is described in the Talmud as initially created as a golem when his dust was "kneaded into a shapeless hunk". Like Adam (whose name literally means "earth,") all golems are created from mud. They were a creation of those who were very holy and close to God. A very holy person was one who strove to approach God, and in that pursuit would gain some of God's wisdom and power. One of these powers was the creation of life. No matter how holy a person became, however, the being they created would be but a shadow of one created by God.
The story of the Golem first appeared in print in 1847 in a collection of Jewish tales entitled Galerie der Sippurim, published by Wolf Pascheles of Prague. According to the legend, Golem could be made of clay from the banks of the Vltava river in Prague. Following the prescribed rituals, the Rabbi built the Golem and made him come to life by reciting special incantations in Hebrew. As Rabbi Loew's Golem grew bigger, he also became more violent and started killing people and spreading fear.
In some incarnations of the legend of the Maharal's golem, the golem has powers that can aid it in its tasks. These include invisibility, a heated touch, and the ability to use the Maharal's walking stick to summon spirits from the dead. This last power was often crucial, as the golem could summon dead witnesses, which the medieval Prague courts would allow to testify.
In the late nineteenth century the golem was adopted by mainstream European society. Most notably Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel Der Golem based on the tales of the golem created by Judah Low ben Bezalel. This book inspired a classic set of expressionistic silent movies, Paul Wegener's Golem series, of which especially The Golem: How He Came Into the World is famous.. Also notable is Julien Duvivier's "Le Golem" (1936), a sequel to the Wegener film.
These tales saw a dramatic change, and some would argue a Christianization, of the golem. The golem became a creation of overambitious and overreaching mystics, who would inevitably be punished for their blasphemy, very similar to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the alchemical homunculus. In Norse mythology, Mökkurkálfi (or Mistcalfa) was a clay giant, built to help the troll Hrungnir in a battle with Thor.
In America, the opera 'The Golem' by Abraham Ellstein retells in 20th-century harmonic language the centuries-old tale of a creature fashioned from clay and brought to life by kabbalistic spells who ultimately threatens the very people he was intended to serve."
Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote a retelling of the legend of the Golem in 1969. The famous Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, an admirer of Meyrink's novel, wrote a poem entitled El Golem in 1958.
The Golem is a popular figure in the Czech Republic. There are several restaurants and other businesses named after him. Strongman René Richter goes by the nickname "Golem," and a Czech monster truck outfit calls itself the "Golem Team."
It is said that the body of Rabbi Leib's golem lies in the attic where the genizah of the Old-New Synagogue in Prague is kept. A rabbi visited the attic in the late 20th century, and came down "white and shaking". A legend is told of a Nazi agent during WWII ascending the attic and trying to stab the golem, but perishing instead. The attic is not open to the general public.
Probably as a result of the popularity of Meyrink's work, the golem concept has found its way into a vide variety of books, comic books, films, TV, and games. This use covers a wide range, from "golem" used as an umbrella term to refer to automata and simulacra made of anything from steel to flesh, via clay monsters called golems, to full adoptions of the golem mythos.
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