About the Creation of a Golem


The creation of a Golem

Golems, as we know them from myths and legends, are creations of our occidental culture. In general it is thought that the creation of a golem is limited to mystic Judaism. This is not the case.

Different in the way of creation, but nevertheless somehow related to the golems is the Homunculus from the antiquity.

Similar occurences are found as magical practices in nearly every culture, though under a different name. It is found as the principle of enlivening images in sympathetic magic.

What is happening in sympathetic magic? A little part of a person (hair, nails, clothes) is put into a human-like formed figurine – similar to the Shem of the golem. The piece of the person used in sympathetic magic is considered a material part in which a part of the soul resides, or it is seen as a part that is connected to the soul of the person. This corresponds to the magical act of vivification.

From "Lilith", appendix, by Alfred Ballabene: When creating a golem, a figurine is formed of "untouched" clay (clay originating from a place which is, as far as possible, free from human attachments and vibes). This body of clay serves as magical object, into which an egregor (psychogon) is bound. Generally, it is not the case that this body of clay comes to life, as it happens in the myth of the Golem of Prague. Mostly, the clay body is a kind of magical vessel for the fluidally condensed egregor, who leaves this vessel by order of the magician to become manifest at the desired place.

As a pseudo-life, the golem has the tendency to become independent and to get increasingly uncontrollable. If such a pseudo-life does not belong to a group of several persons but only to a single person, it tends to accumulate more and more energy from this person. That was the problem with nearly all successfully created golems. In the narratives of the Golem of Prague and other golems, these had grown in size and power and were threatened to get out of control of their creators (e. g. Rabbi Löw in Prague). Thus, they had to be dissolved again, whereupon it was not that easy anymore to wrest from them the "Shem", the life-giving "word".

The most famous record of the creation of a golem is that of Prague, the golem of Rabbi Löw. This legend has been brought into a novel-like form through Gustav Meyrink in his narrative "The Golem". The narrative is very well-known and easy to find. In the story, which takes place in the 16th century, Rabbi Löw created a golem out of clay so as to help the Jews of Prague against the accusations of ritual murder. With cabbalistic incantations, the golem was given life. After the emperor had promised to drop the accusations, Rabbi Löw ended the life of his golem by turning it into a mound of clay again.

To approach the origin of the creation of golems, we have to take a look into the Old Testament. In the creation story of the Old Testament, God created Adam by forming clay (not dust) into a human figure and breathing life into it. When creating a golem, this process is reproduced: with the help of a magic word – the Shem, the name of God – a soul is bound into the clay figure ("… he took from the bookcase the book Jezirah and searched for the page where the creation of the first human Adam is reported.")

Mostly, the Shem is written on a piece of parchment and laid into the mouth of the golem (hidden, yet seizable), sometimes it is also attached to the forehead. For it was through the mouth that God has given the soul to Adam, and likewise the soul is exhaled through the mouth when a man dies (old folk belief). From the magical viewpoint, the unusual or remarkable thing of the golem legends is the incarnation (turning into flesh) of the clay figure. The special meaning of clay reaches back to ancient times. In the beginnings of pottery (before the baking of clay), the art of pottery probably was something special and the material used for it was something magical. Maybe this can be guessed from the many ancient Egyptian drawings of the god Khnum creating the human body out of clay on a potter’s wheel, and also from the known Sumerian drawing of the god Enki creating Adamu, the first human, out of clay.There are some religions in Africa, in which until most recently clay was considered as the "flesh" of the earth deity, more precisely it was red clay which was given this special meaning. Above, the meaning of clay in the Old Testament has already been stated. The designation "dust" is degradating and does not match the original belief. In the sacrament (sacred communion) we find the transformation of the host into the body of Christ (in former times people believed in a real material transformation).

Recommended literature:

Eduard Petiska: Der Golem – Jüdische Märchen und Legenden aus dem alten Prag. Lilien Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1972 (German)

Ostjüdische Legenden. Translated from the Jewish by v. A. Eliasberg. Leipzig, Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag, 1983 (German)

Gustav Meyrink: The Golem. Dedalus Limited, new edition, UK, 1995 (English)


The creation of a golem after a Polish legend

From the book "Israel der Gotteskämpfer" by Chajim Bloch, Harz-Verlag, Berlin 1920.

The son of Chacham Zwi, R. Jakob Emden (1696 – 1776), conveys the following in his autobiography ‘Megillat Sefer’: "My father told me about Rabbi Elijahu Baalschem, who was our forefather from Chelm, that he constructed a golem, who could not speak and served him as a menial. Once the Rabbi noticed that his creation had increased significantly in power and size, due to the Shem, which was written onto a piece of paper attached to his forehead. So the Rabbi was scared of the golem to cause doom. Thus, he took him and immediately tore the paper from the golem’s forehead, so that the human shape changed back to a mound of clay."

He ordered his disciple to bring a water bucket and a spade. He also brought men’s clothing. He himself carried under his arm the book Jezirah and a circumcision knife. And now he asked Simche to follow him. Equipped with the mentioned tools, they proceeded toward the hill outside the city. The night was pitch-black. It was nearly possible to grasp the darkness with one’s hands. Rabbi Elijahu would not kindle a light so as not to reveal his deed.

But as they arrived at their destination, the thick clouds dissipated, and the moon illumined the hill. Around them was dead silence, no sound was to hear. Even the trees seemed to stop in their movements. Rabbi Elijahu said to his disciple: "I hope that our intention will meet heaven’s grace." Under a big oak there was a well. Here, master and disciple plunged three times in the well, recited a few psalms and then they went to work …

With their faces turned toward Mizrach, the east, Rabbi Elijahu digged in the ground. With every cut of the spade he recited certain prayers. After a considerable amount of earth had been digged out, Rabbi Elijahu drew breath, wiped the sweat off his face and he and his disciple spoke some psalm sections again. He gathered a bulk of clay in the amount of two cubits and the height of five fists, let his disciple bring water, and then he kneaded out of clay and water a mass, until it seemed possible to him to sculpture a model. Still he did not start to give it a shape, when Simche, with unhappy face, approached him and said, hesitatingly: "Master! The wise men taught me: where the name of God is about to be desecrated, one should not shy at the master’s dignity! Thus, again I urge you to refrain from this precarious venture. I am trembling at the mere thought to speak out the ‘holy name’."

Rabbi Elijahu aswered: " I will speak out the name of God, it is a dangerous act indeed. But I am doing this with good intention; I want to save my brothers and the wise men taught: when someone saves a Jew, then it is just as he has saved a whole world! And isn’t it allowed to speak the name of God to save a man?"

 That way, Rabbi Elijahu talked in ecstasy. He looked up and spoke out the thirteen qualities of the creator of the world, his name be praised. And now he began to sculpture the figure with great rapidity. It was only after a while that it lay before him, finished. He washed his hands and looked at them in awe. He felt that a higher force had once made them skillfully. Again with his eyes to the sky, he spoke out of the depths of his heart: "Lord of the worlds, creator of all beings and souls! It is apparent to you, that not ambition led me to do this work. It was not for selfish motives that I sculptured a creature in your image. Thus I beg you: have mercy and give me the power to speak out the holy name without hesitation and dread, so that I will not falter and not lose my place in the coming world."

And now he was about to do the most dangerous thing of his operation; to speak out the Shem hamforash, the explicit name of God. A holy shiver took him; almost he was about to retreat from the whole operation. But the power of will came over him and an inner voice said to him: "Finish, what you have done in holiness." Thereupon he spoke out the ‘explicit name of God’. But he spoke it as the high priest used to do it at the Day of Atonement in the Sanctuary: he devoured it. As he spoke it out, his eyes were turned to the figure, mostly to its head, the place where the brain was. He stepped to the colossus of clay, fingered every of its limbs, just as the limbs of a sleeping human. Only its genital he did not touch, for he didn’t want to give it potency.

Now he mentioned the names of those angels who were responsible for blood, nerves, heart and brains, and master and disciple noticed that the body of clay was filled with a glow. With the help of his disciple, Rabbi Elijahu performed the circumcision. They didn’t speak the blessing, but quietly they began singing the common litanies. The golem didn’t move and not a cry of pain was to hear. But the blood ran like that of a real human. Now the golem would be given the Shem, the life. Rabbi Elijahu was actually against the custom of the Cabbalists to write holy names onto paper, but this time he had to act against his principles, "because it was the necessity of hour". He wrote onto a piece of parchment the word "I III I". He wrote this word, which included mainly "J" and "H", the half of the explicit name of God. But the word means also: "he shall live".

And now the moment came where the creator felt elevated by the work that he had done. Now he made a cut on the forehead of the golem and put inside the piece of parchment. When Rabbi Elijahu was done with this, the golem got an expression on its face like a human who is touched with a fiery rod. So life was given to him. Now Rabbi Elijahu approached the creature and with a powerful, shouting voice he said: "Rise, Israel!" He gave it that name, because it also contains a name of God: Isra-El, who fought with God.

A clumsy, inert human figure rose, as if it was waking up from sleep, and looked at the two men before it, half laughing, half inquiring. In the dark east it was already dawning. The wind chased the clouds, and the morning star was appearing in the firmament. Rabbi Elijahu pointed with his finger to the east and said to his disciple: "Look! Thus the night yields to the day. All evil may be wiped out in this land with this golem we created, and our dawn may break through the dark clouds hovering above our people! Amen." Now a great joy overcame Rabbi Elijahu as he saw the ginormous golem before him. For since the moment of his vivification, the golem had become a few fists taller and broader, and even hair was on his head and face.

Rabbi Elijahu turned to the golem and said: "Put on the clothes and follow me!" And the golem did not hesitate to put on the garment and he obeyed the Rabbi so compliantly as if he knew him as his master from former times.

The dreamy hill shone in its springtime beauty. The white, slender birches lowered their slightly shivering branches down to the dark firs, so that they waved above like fragrant veils. The sun sent its rays over the brownish, young birch trunks. Catkins hang heavily from the white buds, and thousand colorful flowers rose from the grass and moss toward the sun; they were like the lightsome hopes of Rabbi Elijahu. In deep quietness, the three men trod the narrow forest path which led from the hill into the city. When they came to the house of the Rabbi, he led the golem into his chamber of isolation. Here he taught him for what purpose he had created him.

He said to the golem: "I discharge you from all orders and prohibitions in all those cases where there is danger for a Jew. Your only command is to obey the orders of your creator, to serve me faithfully."

The advantage of the golem Israel over all other golems created until then was that he also was able to hear and to speak, naturally only when these abilities were needed. Thus he gave the answer: "I will fulfill all your commands faithfully."

Rabbi Elijahu let his wife come in and said to her: "Look, a stranger from our tribe has arrived in our city and sought for accomodation in our house. Give him something to eat, for he has not ingested food for a longer period of time." When this was done, Rabbi Elijahu saw that the golem didn’t achieve to use spoon, fork and knife and to bring the food to his mouth. Lethargically and wordlessly he sat there. The Rabbi’s wife thought that he was tired after his long way and quietly said to her husband, he may let the visitor rest for some time.

When she had moved away, Rabbi Elijahu said to the golem: "You will bed down in this chamber of isolation, so that I will have you near me when I have to give orders to you at night. But for the other people you will be my personal servant." Now Rabbi Elijahu ordered him to rest and to sleep until he would wake him. When the golem had dozed off, Rabbi Elijahu approached him and whispered some sacred names into his ear, so as to bring to perfection his golem nature. One of the formulae would make him invisible, but only in those cases where his invisibility would be needed. (pages 31 to 40 of the above mentioned book)


Comments to Chajim Bloch – from a letter from David (USA)

The books of Chajim Bloch don’t seem to be available. I for my part have made copies of two of his books. The copies are made of originals of the national library in Vienna or the library of the university (there are no stamps in, therefore I do not know it exactly). Further information are inserted into your text:

David wrote: I was wondering if you knew any biographical details about Chaim Bloch. I assume that he is also the author of "The Golem". Do you know if he is the same Chaim Bloch (full name Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim Bloch) from Delatyn, Vienna, and finally New York? This Chaim Bloch was the son of R' Avraham Abba Bloch of Delatyn, and is buried in Staten Island, New York. He is also mentioned in Rabbi Meir Wunder's book Meorei Galicia (in Hebrew). It is an encyclopedia of Galician rabbis and scholars.

The story about the golem Chaim Bloch wrote in this book deals from: Rabbi Elijahu Baalschem of Chelm (70 km at the east of Lublin), born 1514. In the introduction was a remark:

"The appreciation my book ‘Der Prager Golem’ has found, encourages me now to publish as well the available collection of new Golem legends, the stories of the ‘Chelmer Golem’."

1) Small remark: "Der Prager Golem von seiner Geburt bis zu seinem Tod" after an old handwriting, edited by Chajim Bloch (Vienna 1919, "Dr. Blochs Wochenschrift", Wien II) The second book I know from Chajim Bloch is called "Lebenserinnerungen des Kabbalisten Vital" 1927, Vernay-Verlag, Vienna

Recommended literature:

Chaim Bloch: Israel der Gotteskämpfer. Harz-Verlag, Berlin 1920 (available online copyright-free on Sammlungen-Uni-Frankfurt)


About the golem after the book "Marion"

(Günther Kretzschmer: Marion – Die Lebensbeichte einer Toten. Turm Verlag, Bietigheim, 1970; no English version available)

The book tells about the struggle to dissolve a golem. The spiritual energy used for vivifying the golem came from two magicians and thus they were bound to it throughout all lives to come.

During the reports in the book "Marion", more and more the reader learns about the backgrounds which led to the creation of a golem, up to details about the magical aspects of its creation. But what makes this book different from other golem stories is that it tells about the karmical and magical feedbacks on the magician as the originator of the golem. While in the golem legends of Prag and of others the Rabbis were glorified and were able to prevent the approaching disaster through dissolving the golem at the right time (e. g. the golem became ever bigger or got increasingly unmanageable), the story of the book "Marion" didn’t went so well.

The story in "Marion" is a mediumisticly received message which describes the situation of the magicians centuries after the incident. It tells about the consequences and the struggle to dissolve the golem. Because the spiritual energies which were needed to vivify the golem came from the two magicians, and those energies were bound to the golem for all following lives – as a tool of destructive powers. Not only that the magicians lacked this spiritual energy for their advancement, but they also were karmically responsible for all actions of the golem, because those were caused through the incorporated soul parts of the magicians.

This book is not only fascinating to read, it is a source of knowledge for everyone who is interested in this special knowledge.


The Homunculus in Alchemy

Homunculus (Latin "little human") means an artificially created human, a term which was used mainly in alchemy. The conception of the alchemical creation of a Homunculus developed in the Late Middle Ages.

The first person to describe a homunculus by this term was Paracelsus (1493-1541). In his work De natura rerum, he explains how to create a homunculus out of human sperm putrefied in a horse’s womb. According to him, the creature will firstly look transparent, but if nourished and kept in a special way, a very small human child will grow from it.

Similar ideas like those of Paracelsus occur in the writings of alchemists of earlier times, although never under the term "homunculus" (cf. wikipedia.org: Homunculus).


© Alfred Ballabene (Vienna) translated by Corra