By: Otto Nelson
A hulking humanoid created by mystical Kabbalistic ritual, the Golem is a product of ancient Jewish folklore. It’s a being of the earth, constructed of mud, dirt, or most often clay in the shape of a human, and often made animate by a Hebrew word carved upon its forehead; Emet, meaning Truth. It’s sometimes described as a monster or fantastical creature, but, in fact, it is neither.
The Golem is an automation… not truly alive, and often as mindless and soulless as a machine, bound entirely to the commands of its creator. This mindless, unceasing loyalty is precisely where its danger arises… stories of the Golem tell of how it collected firewood until it chopped down a forest – brought water to a synagogue until it flooded – fried latkes until they filled a house! Moreso, many stories describe an inexplicable growth, of the Golem growing ever larger, ever stronger, and ever more unintentionally dangerous as time passes. But these stories have one end… the Golem’s creator, deciding it must be stopped, swipes a letter from the animating word. Emet, Truth, becomes Met, Death. And many tales end there, the Golem crumbling apart, reduced to earth again.
Regardless of their precise origins and details, the stories of the Golem have inspired important works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and continue to make a mark in popular culture today, a strange ancient connection to a modern world shaped increasingly by automation. Essentially, they all hold a few important morals… a warning of the risks of hubris in creation, an assertion that power without a heart and mind is dangerous, and a message that strength must be tempered always with wisdom.