Poster for the film "Golem", 1915
All kinds of golems, along with many other characters generated by the folklore of this or that people or created by the imagination of mystically-minded writers, can now be safely considered a phenomenon of modern culture. Today, golems are an indispensable attribute of some works of the fantasy genre and computer games. It is difficult to find a person who would not have heard anything about them, although the ideas of many of our contemporaries are sometimes very far from reality. Many consider them to be a kind of "robots" created with the help of black magic. And even the Strugatskys in the story "Monday begins on Saturday", not at all embarrassed, write: "The golem is one of the first cybernetic robots ..."
As we will see later, this is not entirely true: the representations of the present day have been transferred to the ancient legend.
But where is the original source? How did people even know about golems, their properties, ways of creation?
The word "golem" is one of the oldest in the world, it is mentioned in the Old Testament. There it is used to designate some kind of embryonic or inferior substance. In the XVI verse of the 139th Psalm, the word "golem" is used in the meaning of "embryo", "embryo", or "something formless", "untreated": "Your eyes saw me with a golem."
In the Jewish description of the hourly creation of the world, "golem" refers to the stage of creation of a body without a soul.
This term is also used in the Talmud to describe something unformed.
It is believed that the word comes from gelem, meaning "raw material".
In medieval texts, a "golem" is often understood as an inanimate human body. But in some Jewish texts of that time, this term is already used as one of the synonyms for an undeveloped person. In modern Hebrew, the word "golem" literally means "cocoon" but can also mean "fool", "stupid" or "dumb". In Yiddish, the word "golem" is often used as slang, as an insult to someone clumsy or slow. Moreover, the word derived from it has penetrated into the modern Russian language as a jargon. You've probably heard it - it's an offensive adjective "golimy".
But the basic ideas about golems took shape in the Middle Ages, and not immediately, but gradually, until the canonical legend was formed, existing in several slightly different versions. All stages of the appearance and evolution of this legend can be clearly traced. Currently, historians and researchers have been able to come to a certain consensus.
Czech researcher O. Eliash gives the following definition to the concept of "golem":
"The clay figure of the human image, animated by the power of the Word in accordance with the traditions of Jewish cabalism."
Indeed, in a number of religious Jewish texts, primarily kabbalistic, it is said about the fundamental possibility of creating a Golem. The golem here is a living creature created entirely from inanimate matter, it lacks freedom of choice and decision-making.
The Talmud (Treatise Sanhedrin 38b) tells about the same, where it is stated that even Adam was originally created as a golem when the dust was "kneaded into a shapeless piece." It was believed that the holy rabbis, the wisest, morally pure and untainted, at the end of their lives could receive a part of divine knowledge and power. It was they who could create golems, moreover, the presence of such a servant for a rabbi was considered a sign of his special wisdom and holiness.
Shot from the film "The Golem, How He Came Into the World", 1920
But at the same time it was always emphasized that everything created by man, no matter how holy he may be, is only a shadow of what was created by God. And therefore, for example, golems were unable to speak and did not have their own mind. To complete the assignment, they needed detailed instructions, which they followed literally. So it was necessary to draw up such instructions very carefully.
Any non-plant matter could be used to create a golem: clay, water, blood. And to revive them, it was necessary to follow a certain magical ritual, which could be performed only with a special arrangement of the stars. In the creation of a golem, 4 elements and 4 temperaments must participate. One element and one temperament was represented by the clay itself, three more - by the rabbi and two of his assistants.
It was believed that golems were not the only animate creatures that ancient sages could create. In the XII century, a collection of commentaries on the Book of Genesis in Hebrew was published in Worms, from which they learned in Europe that there are five groups of such creatures: the animated dead, "hellish chickens" (creatures from eggs), mandrakes, and homunculi. This work only talks about the fundamental possibility of creating homunculi. But the first documented experiments on its creation were carried out in the XIII century by the Spanish physician Arnoldus de Villanove (author of the "Salerno Code of Health", by the way).
Arnold of Villanova
The next famous scientist who conducted experiments in this direction was Paracelsus. This is already the XNUMXth century.
Homunculus of Paracelsus
Work on the creation of homunculi is also attributed to Michel Nostradamus and Count Saint-Germain.
Golems were the fifth and highest class of such creatures. They were created not for scientific purposes, but as servants. Initially, it was believed that golems were "disposable" creatures: after completing their task, they turned to dust. In the 33th century, a legend appeared that the golem created by the rabbi was reborn to a new life every 33 years. Echoes of this legend are also heard in the legends about the Prague Golem, which supposedly comes to life every XNUMX years, and then terrible events take place in the ghetto.
At the next stage, information about sacred words appeared in many stories, which are capable of supporting the existence of golems for quite a long time. Often the secret name of God appears as such an inscription, which is not named anywhere in the holy Books, but which can be learned after long and complex Kabbalistic calculations. We are talking about shem (shem-ha-m-forash - the Name of the Unspoken, or Tetragrammaton. It was believed that a tablet with a shem placed on the forehead or in the mouth of a golem could breathe life into dead matter.
Another example of this kind is the word "Emet" (truth). The golem could be turned back into a piece of clay by erasing the first letter of the word "Emet" - the result was the word "Met" ("dead"). The XNUMXth century Jewish texts state that the first golem created by humans was the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote the following formula on his clay forehead: JHWH ELOHIM EMETH, i.e. "God is truth." However, the Golem snatched the knife from Jeremiah and wiped one of the letters from his forehead. It turned out - JHWH ELOHIM METH, that is, "God is dead." This legend condemns the very idea of creating golems and claims that by creating a Golem, a person creates evil.
According to other legends, the golem was revived by a spell written in the owner's blood on a calfskin parchment that was placed in the golem's mouth. Removing this parchment would immobilize and deactivate the golem.
There are many legends about golems created in different countries and at different times. In the XNUMXth century, the creation of the golem was attributed to the Polish rabbi from Chelm Elaya ben Jude. At the same time, the Polish Hasid Yudel Rosenberg developed and described in detail the technology for creating golems. In Poznan, which is now part of Poland, Yehuda Lev ben Bezalel was born, which will be described later. And already in our time, the Poles decided to consolidate their priority by placing a modernist sculpture of a golem in Poznan. But the scandalous modern Czech sculptor became the author, who managed to defile the beautiful city of Prague with his works in some places and insult the memory of Soviet soldiers-liberators (for which he was even arrested at one time), I will not name his name:
Golem in Poznan
The most famous golem in stories nevertheless, there was and still is Prague, the creation of which is attributed to Yehuda Lev ben Bezalel, nicknamed Maharal (an abbreviation from the Hebrew words "the most revered teacher and rabbi"). Yehuda Lev ben Bezalel is not a legendary figure, but a completely historical one. He was very famous in medieval Europe. On the one hand, he was known as an outstanding Jewish thinker, on the other, as a serious scientist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and teacher. If in his first hypostasis he was known in the Jewish communities of Europe and beyond, then in the second his fame went beyond the synagogues. He was born, as we remember, in Poznan in 1512 (according to other sources, in 1515, 1520, or 1525), and in 1573 he moved to Prague, where he soon became the chief rabbi. The date of his death is known for sure: August 22, 1609.
The grave of Ben Bezalel in the old Jewish cemetery in Prague is a center of attraction for pilgrims and curious people from all over the world, regardless of faith or language.
Tombstones of the old Jewish cemetery in Prague
There is a belief that if you make a wish and, according to the ancient Jewish custom, put a pebble on the grave of the famous rabbi, it will come true. But nothing in the world is given for free: in Prague you will be told a lot of stories about the too literal fulfillment of desires, or about the dear price that many had to pay for an undeserved reward. Among other horror stories, the story of our young compatriot is told, who in the 80s of the twentieth century allegedly wished to stay in Prague at any cost. As a result, she was assigned to the Prague editorial office of the journal Problems of Peace and Socialism, but after 3 months she died of cancer. However, let's go back to the XNUMXth century.
Yehuda Lev ben Bezalel arrived in Prague at a golden time for the city. Under the mystic emperor Rudolf II, Prague became the capital of the Great Roman Empire of the German nation and one of the largest European centers of science, art and philosophy.
Hans von Aachen. Portrait of Emperor Rudolf II
At the same time, Prague forever acquired the status of the capital of European mysticism. The emperor openly patronized alchemists, astrologers and seers, but did not admit priests and monks to the court: the fact is that one of the astrologers predicted Rudolph's death at the hands of a monk. Among other things, Rudolph II became famous for becoming the only monarch of Europe who did not execute a single alchemist or astrologer. However, during the reign of Rudolf II, not only charlatans worked in Prague, but also such famous scientists as Giordano Bruno, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler. Many legends and traditions were later composed about this time, one of which was the legend of the Prague Golem. It arose relatively late: not only the contemporaries of Yehuda Lev Ben Bezalel knew nothing about the golem, but even his great-grandson Naftali Cohen, who in 1709 published a book about the many miracles of the famous rabbi, did not know. In the biography of our hero, published in 1718, there is also no information about the golem he created. But the very legend of the Prague Golem had already appeared and began to take shape precisely at this time: Jews told it throughout the Czech Republic and Germany. From these oral stories, she later ended up in one of the collections of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.
A close to the canonical text of the history of the Prague Golem appeared in 1847 - in the collection of Jewish stories Galerie der Sippurim, published by the Prague publishing house Wolf Pascheles. This story was further developed in the collection "Prague secrets" (Svatek, 1868), and then in the book by A. Irasek "Old Czech legends" (1894). The most detailed version of the legend is given in the book "Amazing Stories", which was published in 1910-1911. in Lviv. And after that, numerous writers, theater and film directors joined the development of the Golem's image (the first film was shot already in 1915), and then the developers of computer games.
A scene from the film “Emperor's Baker. The Emperor of the Baker ", 1951, Czechoslovakia
Stone Golem from Warcraft III
But we will return to the canon version of the legend of the Golem. According to the earliest sources, the Prague rabbi Yehuda Lev Ben Bezalel created his Golem in 1580. There are three versions of the reasons for the creation of the Prague Golem.
According to the first, the most mundane, it was created to help with the household (as A. Irasek writes). This version gives reason to believe that the Prague Golem was a mentally ill man with great physical strength, Bezalel could take him to his house out of pity or simply to save money and not pay him the usual fee.
The second version, the most "magical", claims that the Golem was created by Bezalel to test his magical knowledge and skills (I. Karasek from Lvovitsa). According to this version, the Golem himself possessed serious supernatural abilities, for example, he could become invisible. Moreover, with the help of his master's cane, he could summon the spirits of the dead. And the spirits were summoned not for some self-indulgence, but to testify in court. Yes, medieval Prague courts allowed dead witnesses to testify.
The third version, "heroic", says that the Golem was created to protect the ghetto from anti-Semitic pogroms (H. Bloch), and even mentions the name of their organizer - a certain Catholic priest Tadeusz. Based on this version and taking into account that in order to observe the magic ritual it was necessary to wait for a certain position of the stars, and then wait 7 days, the Czech researcher Eliash even calculated the exact time of the Golem creation. He believed that the Golem was created in March 1580: at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on the 20th day of the month of Adar 5340 according to the Hebrew calendar. It was at this time and up to 1590-91. the situation in the Jewish quarter of Prague was really troubled, and only after the meeting between Bezalel and Emperor Rudolf II at the Castle in 1592, the Jewish population received protection and patronage from the emperor.
Jewish Quarter (Jzefov Town), Prague
All these sources agree that the Prague Golem Bezalel was created on the banks of the Vltava from clay and looked like an ugly, heavy-bodied man with brown skin, physically very strong, but awkward and clumsy. He looked about 30 years old. At first, its height was about 150 cm, but then the golem began to grow and reached gigantic proportions. The golem was named Josef or Yosile. In the house of the rabbi, he was engaged in household work in the house and helped in the services.
The first two sources report that before nightfall, Yehuda Leo ben Bezalel took out the shem, and the golem froze until morning, waiting for its activation. The third source, setting up a "heroic" version, on the contrary, claims that at night the Golem was a guard, guarding the ghetto gates.
How did the story of the Golem end? There are two versions of the legend.
According to the first of them, the Golem rebelled against its creator and began to destroy the Jewish quarter, killing its inhabitants. It is this tragic variant that is present in most of the artistic adaptations of the legend. There are also several versions of the reasons for the Golem riot. Most often it is said that Lev Ben Bezalel one evening simply forgot to pull the shem plate out of the Golem's mouth. According to another version of the same version of the legend, the rabbi forgot to give the Golem a task for the day. In both cases, the Golem began to act according to its own program, which turned out to be fatal for all living things, including for the inhabitants of the ghetto.
There is a romantic version of the legend, according to which the reason for the Golem's riot was an unrequited feeling for the rabbi's daughter. But such an interpretation appeared only in works of art of the early twentieth century and has nothing to do with medieval legends proper.
The heroic version of the legend claims that there was no Golem riot: Yehuda Lev Ben Bezalel stopped using it after Emperor Rudolph II guaranteed the safety of the ghetto and its inhabitants. The rabbi took the shem out of his mouth, after which, with the help of his disciples, he transferred the clay body to the attic of the Old-New synagogue. Here the same rite was performed as during the creation, only in the reverse order, the words of the spells were also read the other way around - and the Golem again turned into a lifeless stone block. Lev ben Bezalel did not destroy it, perhaps, he hoped to use it again. To hide the Golem from strangers, they covered it with old books and liturgical robes.
Since the middle of the XNUMXth century, repeated attempts have been made to find the body of the Golem in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, but these searches, of course, were unsuccessful.
Old Nova Synagogue in Prague, 1836
But by that time, the stories about the Golem had already become so firmly embedded in the "Prague mythology" that the legend was continued. One of the legends claims that the Golem was found and revived by a certain mason, into whose hands a shem accidentally fell. A simple bricklayer, of course, could not cope with the creation of the scientist Yehuda Lev Ben Bezalel, the Golem got out of control, killed 7 people, but was carried away by a white dove that descended from the sky.
Another legend says that the Golem was revived by a certain Kabbalist Abraham Chaim, after which a plague broke out in the Jewish ghetto of Prague. When the children of Chaim himself fell ill, he realized that he had angered God. He buried Golem in a plague grave on the Hanging Top (now the Prague district of Grldorzeza, east of Жižkov), and the plague receded.
The staircase leading to the attic of the Old-New Synagogue from the outside has long been removed, the attic is closed to the general public, and this circumstance intrigues and excites many tourists visiting the old Jewish quarter of Prague.
Nowadays, golem figurines made of different materials are a popular souvenir and are sold literally on every corner of the Old Town of Prague.
Souvenir figurines of Golem, Prague
Traveling Golem sculpture in Prague
There is also Golem biscuits, which are mostly bought by tourists as a souvenir.