94 Golember Part 2 - IRL Lore
James: Truth Freeman: Death
· Jewish Folklore!
· Appearing once in the bible, in the Old Testament in the Book of Psalms 139:16.
o The verse is about being under the gaze of God at all times.
o But the translation of the word seems to imply an ‘unfinished’ human.
o The meaning being something like “my light form” or “raw material”.
· Modern Hebrew uses it to mean “dumb” or “helpless”.
o And in the form of a metaphor referring to a “mindless entity” that serves a man under controlled conditions.
o It passed into Yiddish wit the meaning of someone who is “lethargic” or “in a stupor”.
· Golems stories go back to early Judaism.
o Adam himself started as a golem when “his dust was kneaded into a shapeless husk.”
o As with Adam, all Golems are shaped with mud by someone “close to divinity”.
o But no golem formed by a human is ever fully human.
· Early on the main ‘disability’ of a golem was that it was unable to speak.
o Creating or animating one was believed to be done through a ritual.
o One would use various letters of the Hebrew alphabet to form a ‘shem’, or a Name of God (Yahweh, Elohim Shaddai, are some examples).
o Writing them on piece of paper and inserting it in the mouth or upon the forehead to create an “ecstatic experience”.
o “Ecstasy” coming from Greek literature. Basically describing “out of body experiences” to put it simply.
o (No offense Judaism, but it sounds like people were getting high…)
· Adding to this, some tales describe golems as being inscribed with words or a word.
o Such as the worth ‘emet’ (truth) written on the forehead.
o Thus the Golem could be deactivated by removing the first letter to for ‘met’ (death).
· The famous phrase Abracabra comes from the Aramaic avra k’davra which means “I create as I speak”, and in this case is connected Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism), with some belief that Mystics (Kabbalist) did indeed have some power and could connect the tangible with the intangible through an esoteric method of discipline and school of thought. Specifically the physical with the “essential spark of life: the soul.”
Claims of Golem Creations
· A Polish Kabbalistwrote in about 1630-1650 about Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm (1550-1583) who reportedly created a Golem.
o It’s described as follows: "And I have heard, in a certain and explicit way, from several respectable persons that one man [living] close to our time, whose name is R. Eliyahu, the master of the name, who made a creature out of matter and form and it performed hard work for him, for a long period, and the name of emet was hanging upon his neck until he finally removed it for a certain reason, the name from his neck and it turned to dust."
o This story was further elaborated by Rabbi Jacob Emden (1776): “As an aside, I'll mention here what I heard from my father's holy mouth regarding the Golem created by his ancestor, the Gaon R. Eliyahu Ba'al Shem of blessed memory. When the Gaon saw that the Golem was growing larger and larger, he feared that the Golem would destroy the universe. He then removed the Holy Name that was embedded on his forehead, thus causing him to disintegrate and return to dust. Nonetheless, while he was engaged in extracting the Holy Name from him, the Golem injured him, scarring him on the face.”
o The Polish Kabbalist also said: the legend was known to several persons, thus allowing us to speculate that the legend had indeed circulated for some time before it was committed to writing and, consequently, we may assume that its origins are to be traced to the generation immediately following the death of R. Eliyahu, if not earlier.”
Effectively a word-of-mouth tale until they wrote it down.
· The most famous narrative is the Golem of Prague.
o A late 16th-century rabbi called Judah Loew ben Bezalel reportedly created a golem using clay from the banks of the Vltava River (modern day Czech Republic).
o Using rituals and incantations brought it to life and tasked it with defending the Prague ghetto from anti-semetic attacks and pogroms.
o Depending on the version of the story, the Jews were at risk of either being killed or expelled from Prague under the rule of Rudulf II, the Holy Roman Emperor.
o The golem was called Josef, and known as Yossele. It could apparently turn itself invisible and summon spirits of the dead.
o And the rabbi would deactivate it on Friday evenings by removing it’s ‘shem’ so it could rest on Saturday, the Sabbath day of rest.
· A version of the story sees the golem fall in love, get rejected and then turn violent.
o A violent golem is a common account, and some of the version have this one going on a literal murderous rampage.
o The Rabbi was eventually able to stop it by removing the ‘shem’ from it’s mouth whole in front of a synagogue, where it fell into pieces.
o The body was stored in the attic of The Old New Synagogue (which is still Europe’s oldest active synagogue).
o It was stored so that it may be activated again if needed, but the rabbi forbid anyone but his successors from accessing it.
· In fact, a successor did prepare himself to go up the stairs and verify the tradition in the 18th century.
o Rabbi Yechezkel Landau fasted, immersed himself in mikveh (a bath used for ritual purification), wrapped himself in phylacteries (small boxes tha are strapped to body, containing scrolls of parchment with verses from the Torah on them) and a prayer shawl.
o He ascended the steps, got to the top stopped, and then turned around.
o He was reportedly trembling and completely frightened, and the re-enacting the law of Rabbi Loew’s original warnings against using the golem.
· Legend held that the golem remained in the attic, though a renovation in 1883 found no evidence
o Tales try to further explain that the mody was stolen and buried in Prague’s Zizkov district, where a TV tower now stands.
o Further modern observations of the stories see the “origins” of the tale as being purposely obscured in order to exaggerate its age (and as such in some minds, legitimacy).
o It’s apparently obvious that Rabbi Loew himself never actually wrote about a golem at all. And in fact no trusted Hebrew work through the 16th 17th and 18th centuries ever reference Rabbi Loew creating a golem.
o So the origins point toward Jewish locals in Prague, and seem to have been part of Jewish folklore movement that coincided with a German folklore movement. (The tales are basically all written by Jews but in German).
Themes of Hubris
· Stories of golems follow a theme of hubris.
o Even though golems were said to follow tasked directly and literally and with complete obedience, the Golem of Chelm was seen to grow enormous in size and become uncooperative. The rabbi having to resort to trickery to destroy it.
o The stories of Frankstein, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the modern Terminator follow this theme with “constructed” persons at their core.
o The Golem is usually what you would call a Cautionary Tale, with some stories being good and with the golem as a hero sort. But most also include things going awry.
o The theme usually leans into the awesome and terrible power that is Life and the power over it.
Clay Boy – A Variation
· A Yiddish and Slavic folktale tells of Clay Boy, which combines the ideas of a Golem and the Gingerbread Man.
o A lonely couple make a child out of clay with disastrous and comical consequences.
o A common Russian version of this story tells of an older couple whose children have all left home.
o They make a boy out of clay and dry it by the fire. It comes to life and they are delighted and treat it like a real boy.
o But it doesn’t stop growing and eats all their food, then their livestock…and before long…them.
o It then rampages through the village until it is smashed…by…a quick-thinking….goat.
Bonus: Pathfinder 2e Lore
Very similar to 5e lore.
Crafted of base materials of varying values.
Mindlessly obeys its creator’s commands, for years or even centuries, beyond even the creator’s death.
Often the creator is among the most talented spellcasters or artisans that exist.
Golem Manuals also exist as magical texts that aid in the creation of golems.
Details are left up to GM discretion however, and Paizo does not describe what the benefit is exactly.
Magically animated through one of two methods:
The most common: The binding of an elemental soul or essence. Which is consider vile and blasphemous to those who believe in the sanctity of the soul. Evil creators often preferring this method.
The least common: A less disreputable approach is to siphon positive energy into the body, imitating the creation of a soul. It does not create a true soul however, and the method is much more costly and time-consuming.
Neither method makes a difference in how the golem functions, producing the same intentional result.
The magic and ritual imbues the golem with unique magical forces that leave it susceptible to certain kinds of magic, but also with very few weaknesses over all. Namely, they are effectively immune to all magic (with each’s small exception), and nearly impervious to most weaponry.
Golems also contain valuable components that can be harvested after defeat (value at GM’s discretion):
Flesh Golem - Contraptions made of steel and copper, designed to harness electricity. Perhaps sold to tinkerers and such (especially those who don’t ask questions).
Freeman’s recommendation: Put on your butcher’s apron when “searching” this corpse.
Alchemical Golem – Intact alchemical chambers can be extracted and produce a lesser alchemical bomb (e.g. acid flask, frost vial, bottled lightning, or alchemist’s fire).
Freeman’s recommendation: Maybe a hazmat suit for this one. Or at least some oilers.
Clay Golem – Certain parts may be of interest to archaeologists or scholars, as they may be made in the image of the divine, possibly using ancient materials.
Freeman’s recommendation: Bring your seaside bucket and shovel.
Stone Golem – Depending on its condition after defeat and the material used in its creation, parts of it may be worth as much as an immaculately carved marble statue. Check out the local art gallery?
Freeman’s recommendation: Might need the Hefty Hauler feat to carry a bust out or something.
Iron Golem – Can be melted down for scrap or even traded to Fire Giants for repurposing them as armor for a Large creature.
Freeman’s recommendation: Floating disk spell should probably be prepped?
Adamantine Golem – The amount of adamantine required to make this golem is worth more than most nations’ treasuries. And the heart within can be turned into a legendary blacksmithing forge.
Freeman’s recommendation: probably lure it into a forging area first. Not gonna be able drag this one around.
Carrion Golem – The power used to create and preserver these are riddled with disease that can still be harness by necromancers and other e
Freeman’s recommendation: Maybe put on your apothecary mask to deal with the smell.
Ice Golem – Unless in a freezing environment, this golem will quickly melt as the magic dissappates. But captured water could be sold to scholars looking to investigate the arcane power within. And sometimes shards of ice that resist melting form upon description, and can be sold for a high value to wealthy people looking to preserve food or chill drinks (and impress friends and rivals no doubt).
Freeman’s recommendation: Wear gloves to avoid frostbite.
Wood Golem – Often made of rare wood, most of which should remain intact so long as the golem is not badly damaged by magical fire. Carpenters and sculptors may be interested in purchasing, however finding a buyer becomes more difficult if the golem is carved in the likeness of a wealthy person. Especially if they are recognizably famous.
Freeman’s recommendation: Wear gloves to avoid splinters.
Glass Golem – Upon destruction this golem shatters into tiny shards. But if any large shards to remain intact, they can be sold to glass merchants or skilled crafters to create glittering artwork.
Freeman’s recommendation: Seriously, wear gloves. Glass is sharp.
Fossil Golem – Collection of properly fossilized bones can be valuable, and this golem has them. Some people fake fossilization by hunting living dinosaurs and turning the bones to stone with magic. But the genuine thing will get a higher price under the right discerning eye.
Freeman’s recommendation: Bring your bag of holding!
Mithral Golem – Same size and same value as the Adamantine Golem. Just doesn’t have the ‘heart’.
Freeman’s recommendation: This golem can actually shift between solid and liquid forms. So bring a….flask of holding?
Sourcebooks & Adventures
These golems are from more spoiler-y sources, of which we lack the content to actually check out this information (does not appear to be available on AoN).
Quantium Golem – Only two exist, in the port of Quantium (capital of Nex), created by the wizard-king Nex himself. Made from a “supernaturally smooth material”, one is crimson and the other is emerald in color.
Freeman’s recommendation: [Redacted]…so don’t….just…don’t.
Guillotine Golem – All I know is its stat block is a variant of the Iron Golem, but also made of wood.
Freeman’s recommendation: [Redacted]…and don’t lose your head about it!
Obsidian Golem – Obsidian is found the Darklands, especially the deepest level known the Black Desert. It’s commonplace as a crafting material there, but Pathfinder yet to detail its value or use.
Freeman’s recommendation: [Redacted]…and keep your fingers crossed for a Darklands sourcebook!
Solar Glass Golem – No idea what this is, appears in an Adventure. No info on the material itself outside of that.
Freeman’s recommendation: [Redacted]…wear your goggles of night maybe?
Der Golem (1920) – German silent film by Paul Wegener & Henrik Galeen (Nosferatu 1922) based on Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 novel of the same name
Wheel of Time – Gholam, 6 were made by Aginor during the War of Power to assassinate the Aes Sedai, Immune to the One Power (art by Brom WoT RPG)
Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay (Dorfl) and the Industrial Revolution series (Detritus)
Frankenstein’s monster – Frankenstein
X-Files S4E12 Kaddish – Flesh Golem from a boy called Issac who was shot to death by neo-Nazis
Golem – Gen1 Pokemon evolved from geodude & graveller through trade via link cable
AoS Warcry Faction Iron Golems
Myraid of games from Minecraft to magic the gathering , as well as a self titled board game from 2021 where players play as rabbis who create and grow golems
Captain America – Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (both Jewish) in 1941 as a response to Hitler invading Europe
Pathfinder Bestiary – Paizo, Inc.
Pathfinder Bestiary 2 – Paizo, Inc.
Pathfinder Bestiary 3 – Paizo, Inc.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #155: Lord of the Black Sands – Paizo, Inc.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #184: The Ghouls Hunger – Paizo, Inc.
Pathfinder Adventure: Night of Gray Death – Paizo, Inc.
Pathfinder Lost Omens: Impossible Lands – Paizo, Inc.