A Jungian Approach to the Golem Tradition
According to G. Scholem (1974, p. 351), a golem "is a creature, particularly a human being, made in an artificial way by virtue of a magic act, through the use of holy names." The possibility of making such a creature is connected with the "magical exegesis of the Sefer Yezirah and with the ideas of the creative power of speech and of the letters." It is the purpose of this paper to analyze the golem tradition in terms of modern psychological ideas, in particular, the ideas of C. G. Jung.
A Brief Overview of the Golem Tradition
Until Scholem's pioneering works on the history of the golem motif (e.g., 1965), there was no systematic presentation of the extant golem material. M. Idel (1990) expanded on Scholem's work by "presenting fresh material concerning the nature and history of the Golem" and offered "some other views related to this topic, some of them differing substantially from Scholem's approach" (Idel, pp. xx-xxi). Idel even disagreed with Scholem's definition of golem (appendix B). (For a detailed review of the scholarship regarding the golem literature, including works that analyze golem-making as a proto-scientific intuition of modern genetic engineering or computer technology, see Idel, Introduction and chap. 18).
I think that both Scholem and Idel would agree with the following capsule historical summary: The first use of the word golem is in Psalm 139:16, and the most influential Talmudic discussion of the creation of an artificial man is in TB, Sanhedrin, fol. 65b.
Rava said: If the righteous wished, they could create a world, for it is written, "Your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your God" [Isa. 59:2]. For Rava created a man and sent him to R. Zeira. The Rabbi spoke to him but he did not answer. Then he said: "You are [coming] from the pietists: Return to your dust." (Idel's translation, 1990, p. 27)
The first detailed presentation of golem material in a non-philosophical context appears in the work of the Ashkenazi Hasids in the early part of the thirteenth century and, in particular, in the work of R. Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165-c. 1230), a student of R. Yehudah ha-Hasid (Idel, 1990, p. 54-5). R. Eleazar portrays himself as passing on an esoteric tradition brought to Germany from Italy by his illustrious family, the Kalonymides. In fact, the earliest extant story of a golem as a servant says that R. Shemuel he-Hasid, R. Yehudah's father, "'had created a golem, who could not speak but who accompanied him on his long journeys through Germany and France and waited on him'" (from a sixteenth century manuscript, Scholem, 1965, p. 199).
This story is typical of the popular legends that appeared no later than the seventeenth century in relation to figures like R. Elijah of Chelm (d. 1583). Regarding the best-known legend to the effect that the Great Rabbi Loew of Prague, the Maharal (d. 1609), created a golem who he named Yossel, to protect the Jews of Prague, Scholem says, "This legend has no historical basis in the life of Loew or in the era close to his lifetime. It was transferred from R. Elijah of Chelm to R. Loew only at a very late date" (Scholem, 1974, p. 353).
Since 1909, when Judah Rosenberg published his "Miraculous Deeds of Rabbi Loew with the Golem," which he presented as an early manuscript but which Scholem says "was not written until after the blood libels of the 1890's" (Scholem, 1974, p. 354), the golem has become a popular subject for works in the major and peripheral arts. There are novels, short stories, poems, and even Marvel comic books about the golem. There have been movies and dramas, ballets and operas, as well as paintings, lithographs, photographs, sculptures and even instrumental music in which the golem is the theme. A recent exhibition at the Jewish Museum presented examples and illustrations from all these media. The publication from this exhibit (Bilski, 1988) contains many interesting illustrations as well as a useful checklist of the exhibits (Bilski, pp. 112-121).
Jung on Homunculi and the Creation of an Artificial Antropoid
As far as I am aware, there has been no detailed psychological study of the golem tradition. Jung uses the word golem five times in his collected works but always as part of the title of Meyrink's popular psychological novel, The Golem (1915/1976). Jung quoted and analyzed a midrashic story about the stages of the creation of Adam in which the word golem applies to Adam at an early developmental stage, when he was still a lifeless body (Jung, 1955-1956/1963, p. 409, n. 179). He quoted the passage, but only in the German translation, and did not use the word golem or focus on the concept of Adam as unformed being.
Jung did discuss the homunculus, the alchemical version of the artificial man, that emerged in the alchemical flask during a certain stage of the alchemical work. Scholem believed that the golem of later popular legend was "related to ideas current in non-Jewish circles concerning the creation of an alchemical man (the 'homunculus' of Paracelsus)" (Scholem, 1974, p. 353), and he was aware of Jung's psychological analysis of the homunculus (Scholem, 1965, p. 198, n. 2). Idel, on the other hand, says that "an examination of the pertinent material in Jewish sources evinces that there is no substantial affinity between the basic views of the Golem and the homunculus material" (Idel, 1990, p. 185). I will return to this dispute between the two historians in the next section.
First I will touch on Jung's view of the psychology underlying the homunculus motif, a view which bears, albeit indirectly, on our analysis of the golem. To understand the relevance of what follows to our theme, it is necessary to know that the creation of the golem by a rabbi was thought of, in Jewish sources, as paralleling the creation of Adam from dust by God (Gen. 2:7). The rabbi repeated God's work.
According to Jung, in alchemy, Adam was:
a symbol for the prima materia or transformative substance....[The clay from which he was made] was a piece of the original chaos, of the massa confusa, not yet differentiated but capable of differentiation; something, therefore, like shapeless, embryonic tissue. Everything could be made out of it. [See Idel, 1990, appendix B, for golem as embryo] (1955-1956/1963, p. 385)
The goal of the alchemical work was to bring this chaotic substance, symbolized by the hostility between the four elements, to unity, "to the 'One,' [namely] the lapis [stone], which at the same time was an homunculus" (Jung, p. 385). The homunculus corresponds to "the second Adam who is called the philosophic man" (from Aurora consurgen, quoted in Jung, p. 385, n. 18 and, apparently, influenced by Jewish Kabbalah). Jung says that "in this way the Philosopher [the alchemist] repeated God's work of creation described in Genesis 1" (p. 385). In this respect, the Philosopher would have been like a golem maker.
Jung quotes from the Jewish Midrash, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer to the effect that "God collected the dust from which Adam was made from the four corners of the earth" and that this dust was four colors: red, black, white, and green (1955-1956/1963, p. 386). He also refers to the tradition that God made Adam from dust from all over the world (p. 386).
If we look at the sum of Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and alchemical representations of Adam (Jung, 1955-1956/1963, pp. 384-9), Adam has a quaternary nature. About this Jung says that
all mythological figures who are marked by a quaternity have ultimately to do with the structure of consciousness. We can therefore understand why Isaac Luria attributed every psychic quality to Adam: he is the psyche par excellence. .... Adam stands not only for the psyche but for its totality; he is a symbol of the self, and hence a visualization of the "irrepresentable" Godhead. (p. 390)
Discussing the tradition that Adam was, at first a "lifeless statue," Jung mentions the Christian view that there are two Adams, the second being "our father, unto resurrection" (Ephraem Syrus quoted in Jung, 1955-1956/1963, p. 394, n. 67). Jung goes on to quote the alchemist Mylius and notes that he cannot trace the source of Mylius' ideas. This passage from Mylius is worth quoting, because there may very well be an influence of Jewish golem literature here. As in the following passage, Jewish authors often interpreted golem-making as the creation of souls (see, for example, Idel, 1990, pp. 16 ff. and 102).
There now remains the second part of the philosophical practice, by far the more difficult....For it is more difficult to make a man live again, than to slay him. Here is God's work besought: for it is a great mystery to create souls, and to mould the lifeless body into a living statue. ("Mylius" in Jung, p. 394)
Jung connects this living statue, the end result of the alchemical work, with Adam (who represents the beginning and the end of the work); with the lapis (and perhaps "the Cabalistic interpretation of the stone of Bethel") which was "paraphrased as the risen Christ" (Jung, 1955-1956/1963, pp. 395-7); and, presumably, with the homunculus.
Jung defines a motif that existed in alchemy, Christianity, and in Judaism, of Adam as the inventor of all arts, with a knowledge of all things, including the future (as he still lay as a lifeless lump — i.e., a golem) (Jung, 1955-1956/1963, pp. 397-406; 409, n. 179). Also in alchemy, Adam had a dual nature: light (before the fall) and dark (after the fall); physical (connected with Satan) and spiritual (connected to God); earthen but also in the image of God; male and also female (Jung, pp. 406 ff.). In this context Jung quotes various midrashic passages referring to Adam which he summarizes as follows. Adam is
the homo maximus, the Anthropos, from whom the macrocosm arose, or who is the macrocosm [until he was reduced to human size]. He is not only the prima materia but a universal soul which is [or contains] also the soul of all men [and a universal body from whose various parts future humans would come].(p. 409)
It is interesting that these texts are among the very ones that are quoted in both Scholem (1965, pp. 159-65) and Idel (1990, chap. 3) as having influenced the golem theorists.
With respect to the homunculus, per se, in alchemy, it is equivalent, as we saw above, to the lapis and is a "symbol of the self....not a human ego but a collective entity, a collective soul" (Jung, 1968, pp. 245-6).
This lapis "consists of body, soul, and spirit, is a living being, a homunculus or 'homo.' It symbolizes man, or rather, the inner man, and the paradoxical statements about it are really descriptions and definitions of this inner man." (1954/1967, "Visions," p. 102)
The lapis is also a rotundum, an idea which "by reason of its roundness and wholeness refers to the Original Man, the Anthropos" (Jung, 1968, p. 246). In the theosophical Kabbalah that we will discuss below, the golem is described as a sphere by R. Joseph Ashkenazi (Idel, 1990, p. 158, n. 67), and, in the system of Isaac Luria, the golem, as Adam Qadmon, the Primordial Man, is said to emanate from, the tehiru, a spherical space (Idel, p. 158). In the Midrash mentioned above, at an early stage of his growth, Adam is a golem and a macranthropos, presumably Adam Qadmon himself. By extension, at one time, Adam was a sphere.
An homunculus appears in a dream vision of the early alchemist, Zosimos, as one stage in an inner transformation ritual (Jung, 1942/1969, p. 227) in which
a product of the unconscious, an homunculus, is cut up and transformed. By all the rules of dream-interpretation, this is an aspect of the observing subject himself; that is to say, Zosimos sees himself as an homunculus, or rather the unconscious represents him as such, as an incomplete, stunted, dwarfish creature who is made of some heavy material (lead or bronze) and thus signifies the "hylical man" [cf. golem as hyle in Scholem, 1965, p. 161]. Such a one is dark, and sunk in materiality. He is essentially unconscious and therefore in need of transformation and enlightenment.(p. 272)
In Faust, Jung said,
Goethe...was able to describe the psychological problem which arises when the inner man, or greater personality that before had lain hidden in the homunculus, emerges into the light of consciousness and confronts the erstwhile ego, the animal man.(1942/1969, p. 90)
I will conclude this section with one of Jung's comments on the homunculus of Paracelsus. This quote includes a definition of individuation, a term, I will argue, that applies to golem-making as well. Though Paracelsus believed he could make an homunculus (Jung, 1942/1967, p. 123), still the aim of his opus
In Faust, Jung said,
was to raise man to the sphere of the Anthropos. There is no doubt that the goal of the philosophical alchemist was higher self-development, or the production of what Paracelsus calls the homo maior, or what I would call individuation. This goal confronts the alchemist at the start with the loneliness which all of them feared, when one has 'only' oneself for company. The alchemist, on principle, worked alone. He formed no school. This rigorous solitude, together with his preoccupation with the endless obscurities of the work, was sufficient to activate the unconscious and, through the power of imagination, to bring into being things that apparently were not there before.(Jung, p. 179)
Though Jung did no direct work on the golem tradition as such, his researches on the symbols of Adam, the Anthropos, and the homunculus are indirectly also analyses of the golem material. In what follows, I will apply Jung's line of thought to the golem material: Golem-making embodied a psychological process, the individuation process, that is, the search for, and the work on, the complete self.
Before proceeding with the golem myth, it is important, for clarification, to address two technical issues. This will also give me a chance to introduce a few more of Jung's key concepts.
The Idea of a Golem
As is clear from the title of the essay The Idea of the Golem, Scholem believed that there was a consistent idea of the golem throughout the history of the tradition. Idel, on the other hand, argued that "to conceive the Golem as exhausted by one 'idea' or 'image' is a simplistic assumption" (1990, p. 271). This dispute extended also to the question of the relation between the golem and the homunculus. Are the golem and homunculus examples of the same idea or not? As I said in the above discussion, Scholem implied "Yes," whereas Idel answered a clear, "No."
The homunculus was conceived by Paracelsus as a tiny anthropoid generated during the process of putrefaction of human semen and menstrual blood. These two basic components do not appear in any of the devices discussed by Jews, where the Golem is formed solely from clay or dust and water; neither is the central theory of the combination of letters hinted at in the writings of Paracelsus....(Idel, 1990, p. 185)
For our purposes, both Scholem's and Idel's points of view may be considered valid and useful, just as, in a parallel example, though a person's right and left arms are different, they are still both arms. The physician must know the anatomy of arms in general, but he must also be able to apply his general knowledge to specific arms of specific patients he treats.
Similarly, each of the many golem accounts is different from all the others, and so, in a way, there is no single golem idea or image. On the other hand, there is at least a family resemblance between the stories. Similarly, though there are important differences between the golem and the homunculus of alchemy, both are human figures created by men in their magical/mystical work.
Another example will add a new dimension to our discussion of the golem. There is a Tlingit Indian story (Beck, 1989, p. 11) about a man named Natsilane who was said to be the creator of the blackfish (killer whale).
His fine build, agile movements and dignified manner hinted that he was of high caste. He was a highly skilled carver, and all the hunters sought him out to carve their spears.(Beck, p. 3)
Natsilane wanted revenge against his brothers-in-law, and so he carved a blackfish which he tried to animate so that it might act out his feelings. He failed three times, and then tried a fourth.
Inspiration was surging through him as he began to carve the fourth blackfish, this time from yellow cedar. When it was finished, Natsilane sang the songs of his ancestors and also a song to the sea lions.
Inspiration was surging through him as he began to carve the fourth blackfish, this time from yellow cedar. When it was finished, Natsilane sang the songs of his ancestors and also a song to the sea lions.
This time the blackfish became animated and swam away.
It is easy to find differences between the blackfish and the various golem stories. For example, Natsilane sang a song to animate his carving, whereas the rabbis are said to have pronounced Hebrew syllables from the Sefer Yezirah to animate their sculptures. In one sense these two stories are about two different creatures, two different creators, and two different methods of (and perhaps reasons) for creating. Yet, in another sense, they are strikingly similar. In both there is an unusual individual who creates a living creature by vocalizing sounds of his ancestors (see Gruenwald, 1973, p. 475, where the oldest known name of the Sefer Yezirah seems to be The Letters of Abraham the Patriarch [i.e., of Abraham our Father]).
There is a version of the Natsilane story (Swanton, 1909) that gives the sounds he made to animate the carving. "He whistled four times like the spirit, 'Whu, whu, whu, whu'" (Swanton, p. 231). This sound was a syllable (whu) similar to those that would have been pronounced by Jewish masters creating a golem by vocalizing letter combinations. Further, "whu" is said to be a sound made by the spirits. I have not been able to find the Tlingit word for spirit or the nuances of its meaning, but it may very well function like the Hebrew word ruach which means spirit and also wind and breath. In the Sefer Yezirah we are told that the spirit of God (ruach elohim) is what creates the elements of the world, presumably including animal and human life. In vocalizing the syllables, the rabbis were, presumably, imitating the spirit (of God) in a way learned from their ancestors just as Natsilane was imitating the spirit when he pronounced the syllable taught to him by his ancestors. It will also be remembered that Natsilane said "whu" four times which connects his work with the quaternity discussed by Jung and that intimates a numinous experience.
The different versions of the blackfish story (another one can be found in Swanton, 1909, p. 25) parallel the different versions of the golem stories, yet we can still speak of the blackfish story just as we can still speak of the golem story. Further, in certain contexts, it would be correct to say that the golem story and the blackfish story are really different versions of the same motif.
Jung's concept of archetype (Jung borrowed the word from Philo), is useful in describing a similar story told by two peoples separated by space and time, where there seems no possibility of one having influenced the other. An archetype is an image that spontaneously appears in the dreams and visions of all people, at all times and places. Archetypes seem to be built into our minds and represent the inner experience of an instinct. This is why an archetypal experience is very emotional and fascinating and often gives the feeling of awe and holiness as well as the belief that one has "met" God and found a prophetic voice. There is an obvious danger of disorientation here, or even of psychosis.
All the archetypes together are called, by Jung, the collective unconscious and are to be distinguished from the personal unconscious with its repressed sexuality and aggression. The collective unconscious along with the ego is called the self, and the process of the ego encountering and actively relating to the archetypal realm, a process that transforms both the ego and the collective unconscious, is referred to by Jung as the process of individuation.
Jung's view was that the creation of the homunculus was a medieval experiment in individuation projected out onto matter. To my understanding, this same psychological process is at work in golem-making, though it appears in a uniquely Jewish form. The Jew is a person like all persons, and any human might confront the collective unconscious. Still, the inner experience of the Jew is also unique. It is important, therefore, to understand one Jewish experiment in individuation, the making of the golem, a creature that, like the self, is described in the most diverse and contradictory ways.
Before proceeding, however, we must squarely face the question of whether a psychological analysis can be applied to golem making.
The Place of a Psychology in the analysis of the Golem tradition
The views of two scholars: Scholem and Idel
At the end of The Idea of the Golem (1965, p. 204), Scholem seems to invite the psychologist to build on his work:
The golem has been interpreted as a symbol of the soul or of the Jewish people, and both theories can give rise, no doubt, to meaningful reflections. But the historian's task ends where the psychologist's begins.
This psychology-friendly attitude is not expressed by Idel, at least in his writings on the golem. At one point he even concludes that, "it seems that the material on the Golem does not fit comfortably on the psychoanalytical sofa" (1990, p. 254).
It seems that this difference stems from a disagreement as to whether the rabbis entered a mystical ("ecstatic") state to attempt the creation of the golem, and whether the purpose of the attempted creation was to attain these mystical experiences. Scholem says, "Yes," Idel says, "No" (Scholem, 1974, p. 352; Idel, 1990, e.g., pp. 272-5). This discussion is connected with a broader discussion of the various schools of Jewish mystical-magical thought (for example, Idel, 1988, introduction).
A practicing psychologist has a different orientation to this problem than the historians. It seems to me that, if the golem-making methods I will discuss below were actually put into practice, the practitioners very likely experienced some sort of "altered state of consciousness" — even if not an ecstatic or mystical one per se — whether or not they admitted it in writing. This would be true, not only in the making of a golem, but in the utilization of any complex magical technique for any purpose.
A further problem for the psychologist is that, though many golem-making formulas are extant, I cannot find one claim of golem-making success. There are many reports about others having created a golem — apparently belief in golem-making was near universal among non-philosophers — but there is no first hand account of a golem creation. More importantly, only one man confesses to having begun to make a golem at all. The Gaon of Vilna (d. 1797)
owned to his student Rabbi Hayim, founder of the famous Talmudic academy of Volozhin, that as a boy, not yet thirteen, he had actually undertaken to make a golem. "But when I was in the middle of my preparations, a form passed over my head, and I stopped making it, for I said to myself: Probably heaven wants to prevent me because of my youth."(Scholem, 1965, pp. 203-4)
Does the apparent fact, that a man of such stature as the Gaon of Vilna tried to create a golem, mean that this work was common, or, on the contrary, does it imply that only a rare individual would have attempted such an enterprize? We have no way of knowing.
There is a very big difference psychologically between someone who actually tries to create a golem and someone who never tries, but who believes that others have tried, and who, therefore experiences the golem work only vicariously. This is similar to the difference within Christianity between a person who believes in Jesus as the Christ and one who tries to imitate the life of Jesus.
For the purposes of this paper I will assume: (1) apparently with Scholem and Idel that some Ashkenazi Hasids practiced various techniques to make a golem though, strictly speaking, there is no direct evidence for this; (2) with Scholem that these proceedings, at least at times, had numinous overtones and that a fascination surrounded them; (3) with Idel and perhaps Scholem that these men at times had an experience of an actual golem, what we moderns would consider to be hallucinatory experiences; (4) with Idel that they did not understand this experience as a work of the imagination, that is, psychologically, but as the creation of a material creature; (5) with Idel that in the school of Abraham Abulafia (1240-after 1291) there was the first real understanding of the whole process as psychological; (6) that this understanding encouraged the use of visualization techniques that did not involve any physical materials; and (7) with Idel that, in theosophical Kabbalah, the golem-making stories were used as symbols for events in the divine world —what Jungian's would call the archetypal realm.
Psychological understanding of Golem-making in early kabbalistic writing
A psychological understanding of golem-making seems to have entered with Abraham Abulafia. A text from Abulafia's circle, signed "Peace, power, Abram," prescribes a complex ritual (to be discussed below) at the end of which it says "an image [demut] will emerge" (Idel, 1990, p. 98). Presumably this means that the golem is a figure in the imagination (for an example from Abulafia of a technique for visualization, that is, creation of the golem, see Idel, pp. 100-1).
Idel hypothesizes that, for R. Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi (early fourteenth century), the conception of golem-making involved "active imagination" or "visualization" similar to techniques R. Joseph recommended for prayer (Idel, 1990, chap. 8). Idel uses the words active imagination which are the very words Jung used to describe his dream work. I am not sure if Idel was aware of this coincidence of terms.
The Christian Kabbalist, Lodovico Lazarelli, who was, according to Idel (1990), possibly indirectly influenced by the writings of Abulafia, saw golem-making as a "new, spiritual birth....as a generation of the intellect...rather than [of] the corporeal activity" (p. 176; see also, Idel, 1988, Hermeticism...).
Finally, we have the view of R. Israel Basu, a nineteenth century Oriental Kabbalist, who thought that the golem was related, in Idel's words, to "the vision of one's own form during a mystical experience" (1990, p. 290).
Earlier writers tended to conceive of the golem as a physical creation. As I have just showed, I am not the first to interpret their endeavor as an inner enterprize, projected out.
Golem: Fact or Fiction?
The question, "Golem: fact or a fiction?" creates an artificial either/or. The following quote expresses Jung's attitude towards homunculi, and, I am sure, his understanding of the golem would have been identical. Creatures like these
are the grossest superstitions for us so-called moderns, for a man of Paracelsus's time they were nothing of the sort. In those days these figures were living and effective forces. They were projections, of course; but of that, too, Paracelsus seems to have had an inkling, since it is clear from numerous passages in his writings that he was aware that homunculi and suchlike beings were creatures of the imagination. His more primitive cast of mind attributed a reality to these projections, and this reality did far greater justice to their psychological effect than does our rationalistic assumption of the absolute unreality of projected contents. Whatever their reality may be, functionally at all events they behave just like realities. We should not let ourselves be so blinded by the modern rationalistic fear of superstition that we lose sight completely of those little-known psychic phenomena which surpass our present scientific understanding.(Jung, 1942/1967, p. 159)
Illusions may serve an important cognitive purpose. A man with a mole on his temple can never see the mole with his own eyes. If he has a mirror he can see it, but, strictly speaking, he is not seeing the mole but a reflection of the mole in the mirror. The reflection is an illusion, but it is only through this illusion that he can see what everyone else can see quite easily. An illusion is not just one way he can see the mole; it is the only way. Paradoxically, it is only through an illusion that he can get knowledge (even useful knowledge).
Similarly with the psyche: The "eye" that sees the self seems also to have its blind spot. It seems impossible to see directly certain facts about oneself (that everyone else can see easily). The self is like the sun; it can only be glimpsed indirectly. The self is very large, containing much good and evil, and there is much that we do not see, do not want to see, and, perhaps, cannot see. Dreams and visions are illusions, but they serve as mirrors for self perception. The moment we turn from the "mirror" to look at ourselves scientifically and rationally, we lose both the mirror and ourselves. The golem (as well as the golem legend) may be an illusion and a superstition, as Maimonides thought, but, if we turn away from it, we will turn away from looking at ourselves also.
The Golem Myth itself with our Attempt to Understand it Psychologically
The Jewish imagination is similar to a coral reef that has been built up over many centuries. The reef is composed of the contributions of millions of tiny animals. Each coral animal secretes a lime substance onto the collective reef, and, when it hardens, it becomes its home and also the foundation for the home of future animals.
It is similar with the Jewish imagination. Each person who read or heard a sacred story built a little structure on it with his or her own imagination that helped the person live more comfortably. What distinguished the process in Judaism from, say that of the Tlingit Indians, is that, for thousands of years, many Jews wrote down their little additions. Over the centuries and millennia many of the individuals who were the sources of each small addition were forgotten, and their creations hardened into a part of Jewish canon. Once it was written it became almost sacrosanct as a little piece of Hebrew holy literature and, as such, a foundation on which future men, within the orthodox Jewish religion, could create their psychic structures. Each man saw something a little different yet built on what went before.
To understand the golem myth it is necessary to understand pieces of the great reef on which the golem makers built.
The Myth: 1. Background
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," but what was He doing before this? Jewish tradition pictures God, in illo tempore, in His kingdom, sitting on His throne, surrounded by myriads of angels and consorting with Wisdom (personified as a woman) who is connected with or even identical with the Torah.
On God's crown and on His throne are the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Alexander, 1983, pp. 313, 292). On His throne are also "all the sacred names engraved with a pen of flame...[which] fly off like eagles...and encompass and surround the Holy one...on the four sides of the abode of his glorious Shekinah" (Alexander, pp. 290-1). These names form a mandalic quaternity around God and suggest the presence of the archetype of the whole self.
The 22 letters are the letters "by which heaven and earth were created...by which wisdom and understanding [and the Torah]...were created, by which the whole world is sustained" (Alexander, 1983, pp. 265-6).
God also used His divine name (in the form of Iao) after the creation. When "the dragon of chaos moved and rocked the creation...God brought it to rest and made the world stable again by exclaiming: Iao" (quoted from a magical papyrus by Fossum, 1985, pp. 248-9 and see pp. 249-53).
Besides names and letters, there are also books in heaven. For example, there are the tablets of heaven read by Enoch by which he "came to understand everything" (Isaac, 1983, p. 59) and the books of the living and the books of the dead which sit open before the Lord every day when He sits on the throne of judgment (Alexander, 1983, p. 283). The Torah, with words arranged in their original order, is there, and we must not forget the book from Psalm 139, a psalm said to have been written by Adam:
My frame was not concealed from You when I was shaped in a hidden place, knit together in the recesses of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed [Hebrew: galmi] limbs; they were all recorded in Your book; in due time they were formed, to the very last one of them. (JPS translation, Ps 139:15-16)
The Sefer Yezirah was just such a book containing the secret of how God used the ten Sefiroth and combinations of the 22 Hebrew letters (seen as a divine name) to create the whole physical universe, presumably including Adam and all future people. The Sefer Yezirah contained the "essence of the written Torah" (from a manuscript of an anonymous Kabbalist, quoted in Idel, 1990, p. 67). It was through study of this book that Abraham, Jeremiah and his son Ben Sirah, and others following them, learned how to create artificial creatures.
The Myth: 2. Making a Golem
In what follows I have to be succinct. If the reader wishes to learn the rich history of the golem idea he should consult the texts of Scholem and Idel.
The Myth: 2. Making a Golem: a. Preparations
There are two main requirements for the creation of the golem: moral purity and knowledge of the Sefer Yezirah.
R. Eleazar of Worms writes, "Whoever studies Sefer Yezirah has to purify himself [and] don white clothes" and adds that "if he will sin, he [apparently the golem] will return to the dust" (in Idel, 1990, p. 60). Other medieval Ashkenazi texts require a "state of ritual purity" (in Idel, p. 60) or for you to "wash yourself and immerse yourself in water" (in Idel, p. 63). A later anonymous text explains that the ancients "created worlds since [or after] they cleaved to God, i.e., to the [attribute of] Righteousness..." (in Idel, p. 107), while the nineteenth century Hasidic master, R. Gershom Hanokh Leiner, suggests that to create a man, one must be "perfectly righteous" (in Idel, p. 226).
In the Sefer ha-Bahir, we find the idea that, if a person had no iniquity, this person could create a complete, speaking man (unlike Rava in the Sanhedrin story),
but your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your God. Behold, if not for your iniquities, there would be no separation between you and Him....Were it not for our iniquities, [which caused] that the soul is not pure, which is the separation between you and Him.... (in Idel, 1990, p. 128)
As Idel suggests, this passage, in conjunction with a passage from the Talmudic tractate Berakhot (in Idel, p. 128), implies that "man is endowed, ex definitio, with creative forces that are divine powers, and which cease to function only when he defiles his soul" (Idel, p. 129).
To attain the level of perfect righteousness described in the above texts is not, I believe, simply to obey the Jewish law. There is the purity needed to obey the Ten Commandments, and there is the purity of the Patriarchs before Sinai. It is my impression, though I cannot prove it, that the purity required to make a golem is of the latter sort and has a mystical overtone (see Marcus, 1981, chap. 2, for a discussion of the concept of purity in Ashkenazi Hasidism). The words of the nineteenth century Hasidic master, R. Zadoq ha-Kohen, are paraphrased by Idel:
There is a certain personal contact between man and the divine....on the level of the heart; there the divine vitality is found and there man is able to encounter "the divine heart". God contracts Himself in the heart of the mystic, and when such a contact is established, the possibility of influence on the divine requires a mystical encounter between the two hearts.... (p. 249)
It is no wonder that the paradigmatic golem maker was Jeremiah who the Bible quotes as saying,
You, Lord, have noted and observed me;
You have tested my heart, and found it with You.[italics added](Jeremiah 12:3)
Besides purity, knowledge of the Sefer Yezirah is required. This knowledge includes an understanding of the letters and the combinations of letters (see, for example, Idel, 1990, p. 97) as well as "the power of the Ineffable Name [of 72 letters]" (R. Reuven Zarfati, fourteenth century, quoted in Idel, p. 104). This is not rote knowledge like learning the multiplication tables. It is emphasized, for example by R. Yohanan ben Isaac Alemanno (1435/8-c. 1510), that this knowledge is not rational like that of the philosophers but is
the knowledge of essences [which] is the wisdom of prophecy, achieved by the sudden vision [italics added]. And from it the knowledge of the roots of the corruptible things is derived so that [he will] know the intermingling of those roots in the sphere of the intellect, also named the sphere of the letters. (in Idel, p. 168)
It is not ordinary learning but an "influx of wisdom" (in Idel, p. 97, from an anonymous kabbalist in the circle of Abraham Abulafia). R. Nathan (thirteenth century), the Teacher of R. Isaac of Acre, put it this way.
And if she [the soul] will merit to cleave to the Divine Intellect, fortunate is she, for she has returned to her source and root, and she is called, literally, Divine Intellect. And that person is called the "Man of God", that is to say, a Divine Man, who creates worlds. (in Idel, p. 106)
Here, the requirement for golem making is to become a "Man of God" or even more extreme, a "Divine Man." In the words of R. Isaac ben Samuel of Acre (late thirteenth to mid-fourteenth century), the men who created golems, like Jeremiah and Ben Sirah, had "attained a divine perfection" (in Idel, 1990, p. 109).
Though it is hard to know exactly what these phrases mean, there even seem to be hints that a man must become a kind of Christ, a god-man, in order to create a golem. And it is interesting to note in this context that Jesus was said to have made birds of clay that flew off (Scholem, 1965, p. 172).
Three years of intense study were required of Jeremiah and Ben Sirah; how much for a more ordinary man is not made clear. So golem-making is not an easy task. It is hard to picture a man leading an ordinary life and preparing to create a golem at the same time. In his novel, The Golem, I. B. Singer, describes his fictional hero after having finished his creation: "Rabbi Leib's mind was too occupied with the golem to pay much attention to the conversation of his wife and children..." (Singer, 1982, p. 35).
Society requires morality and knowledge, but mystical purity and prophetic knowledge are feared and ridiculed and denied. In our society, even such a small step as cutting down on ones cholesterol may get jeers at the local deli. Even for a medieval rabbi it must have been unusual to aspire to "attain divine perfection," to become a Divine Man, to speak, act, and think in a godly fashion. There must have been some who tried, however, since R. Isaac of Acre left a book of his own dreams, visions, and revelations called Ozar Hayyim, and, in Me'irat Einayim, he presented a way for a person to attain prophecy (from the Encyclopaedia Judaica).
Divine Man is not a social category like businessman or tailor or even rabbi. A Divine Man would be outside society, thinking and acting outside societal conventions. Many of the rabbis considered golem-making to be an esoteric discipline. We must ask seriously how the "Man of God" looked to his wife, family, and society? As an example, though perhaps an atypical one, Abraham Abulafia had messianic and prophetic pretensions and spent time in jail and, eventually, suffered exile because of his beliefs and actions. I would guess that, in many cases, the higher the golem makers thought they were going, in the eyes of much of society, they looked like they were going lower and lower into a rude, selfish, tiresome, and even dangerous egocentricism.
It may not be an accident that many, even most, of the golem texts remain in manuscript form.
The same can be said about contemporary people who, having stumbled into the archetypal world through dreams or visions (or drugs), believe they have found a prophetic knowledge and saintly purity not taught in family, school, or synagogue. These people often feel alienated from society, and society looks down on them, and, it is at this moment, that they may turn to the psychologist.
R. Isaac of Acre (who, as we just saw, must himself have had prophetic pretensions) cites Deut. 18:15 in relation to the prophet Jeremiah: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people, like myself [italics added]; him you shall heed." The words like myself are critical and imply that a prophet would speak like God. This is consistent with Jeremiah's own words, "The Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: Herewith I put My words into your mouth" (Jeremiah 1:9). When the words (and presumably the letters) of God came out of his mouth, the men of Anathoth told Jeremiah to stop "or you will die by our hand" (11:21). Even his relatives were treacherous towards him: they cried after him "like a mob" (12:6). Later he was arrested, and the officials "beat him and put him into prison, and Jeremiah remained there a long time" (37:11-16), and legend says that he died a martyr, lynched by a Jewish mob. If we were to look for the golem-maker Jeremiah, we would not find him enjoying a good reputation and the other comforts of society.
I have abandoned My House, I have deserted My possession, I have given over My dearly beloved Into the hands of her enemies. My own people acted toward Me Like a lion in the forest....(12:7-8)
The Myth: 2. Making a Golem: b. The Materials
We find the following recipe in the Commentary on Sefer Yezirah by R. Eleazar of Worms:
It is incumbent upon him [the golem maker] to take virgin soil from a place in the mountains where no one has plowed. And he shall knead the dust with living water, and he shall make a body [golem].... (in Idel, 1990, p. 56)
The need for virgin soil is repeated in many of the texts. Examples from Ashkenazi, or Ashkenazi influenced texts are "take virgin soil from underneath virgin earth" (in Idel, p. 60); "bring virgin soil, which was never plowed" (in Idel, p. 63); "out of the elements, [take] dust of a virgin soil" (in Idel, p. 65); and "they took new dust, which was not wrought" (in Idel, p. 69). The following detailed recipe, according to Idel, comes from the manuscript signed Abram I quoted above.
And he shall take pure dust and flour.... Afterwards let him take a cup full of pure water and a small spoon, and fill it with dust. He should be acquainted with the weight of all the dust before he begins to stir it, and also with the size of the spoon which [serves him] to measure. And after he will fill it, he shall pour it in the water, and he will gently blow during his pouring onto the surface of the water. (In Idel, p. 97)
The mountain from which the dust is to be gathered may refer to the Temple mount from which, one Jewish source says, the dust for Adam was taken, but Sinai also comes to mind. In either case, the mountain is where the Lord lives (e.g., Ex. 15:17) and from where he provides revelations to his priests (see Idel, 1990, p. 61). The idea of virgin soil may indicate a Christian influence (according to B. Rosenfeld, quoted in Scholem, 1965, p. 185, n. 3) and would be evidence for equating the golem and Christ, the second Adam.
The mountain is a well-attested archetype. It is a place where the gods live. One goes there to seek ritual purity and prophetic revelations. Zarathustra, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus are all said to have had revelations on mountains. Creation often takes place on mountains, and, in one story, Eden was on Mt. Zion. It is also the land of the ancestors, the land of the dead, and Jesus was crucified on a mountain.
In our texts, pure dust from a mountain and living water parallel the unblemished soul and the Divine Intellect required for the golem work. Venturing to the mountain and taking back virgin soil symbolizes placing oneself into a primordial and pristine wilderness (within the self), a kind of Eden, before temptation, book-knowledge, sin, or work. We may wonder if R. Eleazar worked on the golem before or after the massacre of his wife and children.
The dust or clay is to be molded into a figure which is, in one text, buried (the Pseudo-Sa'adyian commentary on the Sefer Yezirah quoted in Idel, 1990, p. 81), or it is spread on the earth (in Idel, p. 69) or in "your study" (in Idel, p. 63) or "here and there upon your holy Temple" (in Idel, p. 60). Interpreting this as if it were a dream, the matter (our original nature) is brought home and worked on. This is like entering analysis.
This fetching of the material plays an interesting role in Singer's story. The mysterious figure who tells Rabbi Leib to make a golem "from clay" says, "See to it that all this remains a secret" (Singer, 1982, p. 23). On the very next page we are told that
although the holy man had told Rabbi Leib that his appearance and the making of the golem must remain a secret, Rabbi Leib realized that he had to share it with his beadle, Todrus....A strong man, he was totally devoted to the rabbi....Rabbi Leib knocked lightly at his door and whispered, "Todrus." "Rabbi, what is it that you wish?" Todrus asked, awaking immediately. "I need clay."(Singer, p. 24)
In other words, the very first thing the rabbi does is disregard the quite clear instructions of the benefactor, because he cannot or will not do the physical part of the work, the bringing of ten sackfuls of clay from "the clay ditches in the suburbs of Prague" (Singer, 1982, p. 26). This shows that the work required in making a golem is outside the ordinary job requirements of at least this one fictional rabbi and that golem making exercises the sensation function as well as the thinking function. Coming down from the synagogue, to the river (of the collective unconscious), is something the rabbi cannot or will not do. Psychologically, he will not face the unconscious.
In some of the texts, the need for physical dust is dispensed with altogether. An anonymous author says that holy men, like God Himself, can create with breath alone:
Whatever they say appears immediately because the vapour which goes out of their mouth is pure and holy and it is combined with the air of the world and the thing is made and so do they create. (in Idel, 1990, p. 90)
In the anonymous Sefer ha-Hayyim (c. 1200), we are told that the golem can be created from the dust taken from under the feet of the merkavah constellation (Idel, p. 88). It seems possible that the author was conceiving of the dust as being collected in a heavenly journey similar to the trips to the merkavah in the heikhalot literature. The merkavah is the chariot (from Ezekiel) on which God's throne rests. Since the merkavah is in God's kingdom, and, in some texts, God's kingdom is understood as our imagination, this concept comes close to a modern psychological understanding of golem-making as work on the inner material of our inner nature (cf. Idel, 1990, p. 120 regarding the ideas of R. Joseph Ashkenazi).
The Myth: 2. Making the Golem: c. The Infusion
Though there are many variations of the technique for animating the molded form, an apparently seminal statement is found in R. Eleazar's Commentary on the "Sefer Yezirah".
[The golem-maker] shall begin to permutate the alphabets of 221 gates, each limb separately, each limb with the corresponding letter mentioned in Sefer Yezirah,and then the creator shall go on to permutate with the divine name (in Idel, 1990, p. 56). Both stages, according to Idel, were probably pronounced. (The details of the permutations and combinations throughout the golem literature are varied and complex, and the topic demands a separate study).
Vocalization is a clear motif in many later formulations.
Here is an example from an anonymous fragment that Idel (1990, p. 96) says has an affinity with the ideas of Abraham Abulafia.
And the essential thing is to be acquainted with the pronunciation of its [?] recitation, since each and every letter is to be recited loudly in one breath, as the spirit of man goes out the person who recites. (in Idel, p. 97)
Apparently, the rabbi's breath is his own living spirit that goes out of him and into his earth figurine where it becomes the living spirit of the clay. In Genesis 2:7, the Lord "blew into...[man's] nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." In one Jewish source, God created the world by the "vapor of the pronunciation of the letter," and it adds that this is how the rabbi works as well (in Idel, p. 91, n. 3).
Arnold Schoenberg wrote a song-cycle in a modality called Sprechen-stimme where words are broken into syllables and sung as notes. The piece is called Pierre Lunaire or Crazy Pierre. The golem makers engaged in a kind of philosophically based Sprechen-stimme.
Psychologically, breath and sound vocalizations are connected with moods, feelings, and thoughts: They enliven and deaden. George Catlin, the painter of the American West (in an 1861 pamphlet I saw), argued that the breathing of the Indians was more natural and more healthy than that of the Europeans. The "syllablizations" of the rabbis required breathing, perhaps, more like the Indian (e.g., "and when he begins to blow on the first spoonful, he should recite loudly a letter of the divine name with one breath..." quoted in Idel from the Abram manuscript, 1990, p. 97). Perhaps, breathing and sounds transformed the rabbi's consciousness of the lifeless matter in front of him and made it seem alive.
It is hard to get into the frame of mind that saw letters as elements and letter combinations as creative principles, but it will be remembered that, in 3 Enoch, "all the sacred names... fly off [God's throne] like eagles...and encompass and surround the Holy one...on the four sides of the abode of his glorious Shekinah." The psychologist would argue that Jewish mystics projected the numinousity of the self onto the Jewish alphabet. The four sides of God's abode are the heavenly aspects of the four corners of the world from which the dust was taken. When the lower and higher quaternities are brought together in the golem work, a transformation takes place.
The letter combinations were alinguistic (and perhaps pre-linguistic), not words of conventional Hebrew. They were not learned from parents but, from dreams and visions.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, the precise arrangement of the 231 combinations of letters was considered an important kabbalistic achievement, attained in a revelatory experience. (Idel, 1990, p. 244)
In a manuscript treatise entitled The Secret of the Name of 43 Letters we find a comment on Job 28:13.
"Man cannot know its order [literally, value], nor is it found in the land of the living." On this the Sages O B. M. said: If man knew...[the Torah's] order, he could create worlds like the Holy One, Blessed be He. (In Idel, p. 67)
This is a veiled expression of dissatisfaction with the Torah, and it implies that the author wanted to leave "land of the living" and find a new Torah. To leave the "land of the living" would be to enter the mountain wilderness, God's kingdom. or, psychologically, the imagination, and have ones own religious or unifying experience. By the use of the Word learned there, a man could imitate God and create and order a universe.
The Word of God, the means wherewith the cosmos was established, is...[in the Prayer of Manasseh, a Jewish apocryphon] interpreted as the Name of God: through God's Word, the Sea was prisioned; through God's Name, the Abyss [equivalent to Tehom] was closed and sealed. (Fossum, 1985, p. 249, cf. the Sanhedrin passage)
The primordial state of the universe is a psychologism for the primordial self, the collective unconscious, before individual consciousness emerged. Forming the golem and bringing him to life represents the birth of consciousness, the "prisoning of the Sea." Symbolically, it is to raise Adam from his primordial form, where he was as big as the universe, to his place on earth as a man: specific and limited, but more conscious. Speaking holy names over the clay mass made it more distinct, made it come alive.
According to Idel, it was a common feature of Jewish magic, stemming back at least to the Sefer Yezirah, that each limb of the body had specific letters associated with it. In the Jewish mystical-theurgical text, the Shi ur Qomah, God is portrayed as a gigantic anthropomorph, and each of his limbs has a name consisting of a group of Hebrew letters, but unrecognizable as a Hebrew word.
In the context of golem-making, letter combinations were to be pronounced over "each limb separately, each limb with the corresponding letter mentioned in Sefer Yezirah." When the worker entered God's kingdom (that is, the collective Jewish "day dream"); and breathed out the names of God that were flying around His throne; and aimed them at, say, the eye of the figure: for that one moment the eye may have "come to life" and looked back--an illusion reflecting the experimenter back to himself.
The golem ritual (assuming there was such a thing in practice) might have been almost indistinguishable from the rites of any pagan tribe. This may help explain how the golem of later legend gets along with Christians: He is not a Jew; he is animated dust; he is what Jews and Christians have in common.
Myth: 3. The Nature of the Golem
From the golem makers, I will now turn to the golem. I begin by noting a parallel between a thirteenth century golem-making technique and a contemporary dream, presented and analyzed by Jung. The technique from the Pseudo-Sa'adyian commentary is, according to Idel (1990), unique in the golem material. For the infusion process, the golem makers
make a wheel and a circle around the creature and they go around the circle and say the alphabets...231 [times]....and every circumference one alphabet, and so three and four [until he does it] 462 times.(Idel, pp. 81-2)
The psychologist will recognize here a symbol of self discovery: Circumambulation of the center of a circle or square (for example, Mount Kailas in Tibet) is a well-known religious ritual.
Moreover, circumambulation is a theme in contemporary dreams. In Psychology and Alchemy, Jung gives a series of mandala dreams and visions of a young European man "of excellent scientific education" (Jung, 1944/1968, p. 42). In one dream there is
a square space with complicated ceremonies going on in it, the purpose of which is to transform animals into men....The people walk round the square....If they run away all is lost....Two sacrificial priests carry in a huge reptile and with this they touch the forehead of a shapeless animal lump or life-mass. Out of it there instantly rises a human head, transfigured. A voice proclaims: "These are attempts at being."(Jung, p. 143)
This is, in essence, a golem dream, and it makes one wonder whether the medieval French recipe might not have originated in a dream (though, I might add the contemporary dreamer very likely heard some form of the golem legend at some point in his life). It is worth quoting part of Jung's analysis of this dream.
Animals are to be changed into men; a "shapeless life-mass" is to be turned into a transfigured (illuminated) human head....The animal lump or life-mass stands for the mass of the inherited unconscious which is to be united with consciousness....
The "shapeless life-mass" immediately recalls the ideas of the alchemical "chaos," the massa or materia informis or confusa which has contained the divine seeds of life ever since the Creation. According to a midrashic view, Adam was created in much the same way: in the first hour God collected the dust, in the second made a shapeless mass [Hebrew: golem!] out of it, in the third fashioned the limbs, and so on.
But if the life-mass is to be transformed a circumambulatio is necessary, i.e., exclusive concentration on the centre, the place of creative change....(Jung, 1944/1968 pp. 144-5)
Myth: 3. The Nature of the Golem: a. The Golem as Simpleton
Even after the transformation of the "confused" mass of dust at the center into a living human figure, most commentators refused to recognize this creation as human. For one thing, "an examination of the overwhelming majority of the texts...[shows that] the artificial man is considered to be a speechless being" (Idel, 1990, p. 264). As one example, in 1400, R. Shimeon ben Shemuel wrote that the creator "cannot confer upon [the golem] knowledge of divine issues and speech" (in Idel, p. 65).
Connected with this is that the golem is often described as a kind of beast of burden. R. Elijah of Chelm was said to have created a golem that "performed hard work for him, for a long period" (in Idel, 1990, p. 207): The golem was "the servant" and R. Elijah was "his master" (in Idel, pp. 209-10). The Maharal's golem, Yossel, had the duties of an usher (Thieberger, 1954, p. 150). And R. Shelomo ben Gabirol was said to have "created a woman...[who] waited on him" (in Idel, p. 233).
The legal status of the golem became an issue in halachic debate. In the above legend, R. Elijah was said to have destroyed his golem when it "grew stronger and greater," and the rabbi became "afraid that he would be harmful and destructive" (in Idel, 1990, p. 209). R. Elijah's grandson, R. Zevi Hirsch ben Ya'aqov Ashkenazi (known as he-Hakham Zevi, 1660-1718), argued that a golem can be destroyed legally, because, though it has blood, it was not "formed within his mother's womb," and so "it cannot be counted among the ten for a holy performance" (in Idel, p. 217). He-Hakham Zevi's son, R. Jacob Emden argued that the golem was less than a deaf man, that "its vitality is like the vitality of the animal, and hence there is no transgression in its being killed. Thus it is obvious that it is just like an animal in the form of man" (in Idel, p. 219). And, in the late nineteenth century, R. Yehudah Asud argued that the golem can be put in the category of a sleeping man whose soul has left his body and so cannot be part of the quorum (Idel, p. 219).
On the other hand, R. Zadoq ha-Kohen of Lublin argued that the golem "is similar to the idolater and not to an animal" (in Idel, 1990, p. 222) and that if the golem "can eat it may [possibly] be added [to a quorum] just as a small child may be counted; and it is possible that it is even aware who is blessed" (p. 223). This suggests the possibility for the author that it is not permitted to kill a golem (p. 222). The impulse to treat the golem as a creature with rights (we may add that R. Zadoq dreamt his view) parallels a more sympathetic portrayal of the golem in later legends where, even if he is a simpleton, he has a name.
It is important to remember that none of the above theorists ever claimed to have made or even to have tried to make a golem himself.
Idel (1990) sums up:
In the classical versions of the Golem, as they were preserved up to the nineteenth century, there are no detailed descriptions of this creature, nor was his inner spiritual universe addressed. No elaborate aesthetic or psychology of this bizarre creature emerges, even from the latest traditional versions of the Golem. It still remains an abstract idea, which serves to put in relief some other topics rather than structuring a Golemic universe in itself.(p. 261)
He goes on to speak of
the absence of any personal data of the Golem in the mystical literature. This being is not a person having any importance in itself, to be described in its idiosyncracy. It has no particular name, its disappearance does not matter even to its human creator....It is merely the result of an experiment without any intrinsic value.(p. 265)
We must also remember that, at the same time, the theorists believed without question in the reality of the golem, a creature in many ways like a man: The golem looked like a man; presumably had the anatomy and physiology and histology of a man; and, presumably, coughed, choked, yawned, sneezed, cried, ached, ate and drank, slept and woke, obeyed instructions, worked and played, saw, smelled, heard, felt, and understood like a man (see, for example, Thieberger, 1954, p. 149). However he was not a man because he could not speak and did not have "knowledge of divine issues." Also, it was the unanimous opinion, since the thirteenth century, that the golem could not procreate (Idel, 1990, p. 234). He was not a man, and, therefore, he was not a Jew.
The above evaluations (whether sympathetic or unsympathetic) are based on a particular point of view: that of the philosopher-rabbi who values rational speech and thought as the essence of a man. A dancer (or a prophet) might evaluate the golem differently. That literary authors saw the more human side in the golem need not reflect, as Scholem (1974, p. 354) suggested, a contamination of the popular legend, as much as an expression of it from the angle of the poetic mind.
The psychologist, too, has a right to wonder about the golem's point of view, and the fact that the golem's inner life was not described in rabbinic literature is not surprising, since he was not valued except for his physical work.
We may speculate: The golem is like a man who has become separated from his wife and children and who then realizes he cannot find his car or his wallet either. He roams the streets, lost, and realizes he is like the homeless laughing together on the corner. (Golem, in popular speech, means a loner or a fool or a simpleton). He comes to understand the view of dust on the ground looking up. He is stepped on and spit on; used if possible; destroyed when necessary.
All the texts agree that the golem has "vitality" (nefesh hayya), but vitality is treated with a contempt that also reflects a bias. People confined in a social role day after day, long for just this pure animal vitality associated with instinct and youth and new life. If a doctor could create the life force of a young calf (one form of the golem) in his patients, this would not only be a sort of miracle, but would also be financially lucrative for him. In the Sefer Hayyim, we read that "Mikhah made the golden calf that could dance [italics added]" (in Idel, 1990, p. 88).
Even more, my reading of one text from the circle of Abraham Abulafia (in Idel, 1990, p. 105) is that the golem is immortal: "If a man creates many souls, lasting for ever [italics added], it [this spiritual creation] is more elevated than the creation of bodies, generated for an hour and corrupted immediately." If I am right, the author thinks it is possible to create an eternal golem, albeit not an eternal physical golem (cf. the golem as the "celestial body," Idel, p. 290 and the golem as the "astral body," Idel, appendix A). Finally, in this context, I will cite R. Zadoq's view, as formulated by Idel (p. 249), that "the act of creation is basically the structuring of the divine vitality, as found in man, by the recitation of the combination of letters."
The prejudice against the golem is based on the fear of the collective unconscious and of what the individuation process does to a person.
Much of what can be said about the golem can be said about the East Indian mystic who has moved outside society, to sit alone on a mountain, without women, and without speech or thought. This mystic, when judged by society, would look rather like a golem.
And what can be said of the golem can be said of the man who made the golem. The master steps out of his role in society in order to create. To create a golem, he must become a golem. At the exact moment he becomes the highest (the Divine Man), he has created the lowest (the Simpleton). He does not use natural magic or science or rational philosophy but cleaves to the Divine Intellect and the Righteousness of God (an act of no intrinsic value from the point of view of society). This may be, as R. Isaac says of Jeremiah, to attain to the degree of the angels Metatron or Sandalfon (in Idel, 1990, p. 109), but, from another angle, it is to become a speechless simpleton; a lonely one away from family and sex and lucrative work; a man asleep; a dangerous one who can be destroyed by the mob: in short, a golem. At the exact moment the master becomes like God Himself, in that exact moment a golem comes to life, and it is he himself he is seeing when he looks at this other "man"; it is he himself reflected back as from a mirror--his unconscious and shadowy aspect, visible to all but himself, projected out on matter for him to see. The master steps out of society and becomes God and golem in the exact same moment and by virtue of the exact same act. The golem is the new man (homo nouus, from the Christian Kabbalist, Johannes Reuchlin, in Idel, 1990, p. 178). He is the new man the golem maker has become in order to create the golem. The golem is the transformed golem maker, projected out as the simpleton shadow of the Divine Man.
Abraham Abulafia suggested that, because of the revelation at Sinai, all Jews have the secret of the divine name and, therefore, the power to create a golem. The other way of looking at this ability, from the Christian point of view, would be that all Jews are potentially simpleton golems whose destruction is of no moral consequence.
The Myth: 3. The Nature of the Golem: b. The Golem as a Divine Being
As the transformed golem-maker may be a Man of God and a dangerous fool at the same time, there are also two aspects of the golem. Not all writers stressed his simpleton aspect. According to Idel, R. Isaac expressed the most radical view which implies "that the magically created man has the highest spiritual capacity, which is not to be found, automatically, even in a normally created man." Idel continues, "Moreover, the artificially created anthropoid comprises [for R. Isaac] the whole range of creation, and therefore it is parallel to the divine creation of the world" (1990, p. 110). This corresponds to the midrashic tradition where the whole universe is included in Adam (p. 110) and to Lurianic Kabbalah, where "'Adam Qadmon, the Primeval Man, includes the whole range of worlds, and is connected...to the creation of an anthropoid" (p. 111). Here, the golem is on the level of Adam and of Adam Qadmon.
In Samaritan literature we find the idea that, in the burning bush, God announced to Moses that he is to be vested with prophethood and with the divine name, and later God says explicitly to Moses, "I have vested you with My Name" (from Memar Marqa 1.1, quoted in Fossum, 1985, p. 87; for other examples from this interesting text, p. 87 f.). Fossum quotes the following passage in arguing that this divine name is the Tetragrammaton:
On the day when Adam vested himself with the image..., Moses vested himself...with the splendour of the first light and the crown...on the four sides of which is written [I am that I am, i.e., YHVH].(in Fossum, p. 90)
Fossum says that this coronation and investiture imply that Moses "was in some sense a divine being" (p. 93) (note the two quaternities in this quote). Marqa, Fossum continues, expressed "the well-known idea that Adam had a luminous body (before the fall)" and that "Moses was endowed with the identical glorious body as Adam" (pp. 93-4). This could be seen as Moses descended from Sinai (Ex. 34:29 ff.).
Thus, we can conclude that Moses' investiture and coronation, which usually were connected with his ascension of Mt. Sinai, were seen "not only as a heavenly enthronement, but also as a restoration of the glory lost by Adam." The possession of this glory was conceived of as a sharing of God's own Name, i.e., the divine name.(quote from Meeks, in Fossum, p. 94)
It seems that, in the gnostic Gospel of Philip, Jesus was also invested with the name of God (Fossum, 1985, p. 95). Further, the Gnostic elect obtained the divine name in an initiation, and "it appears that the possession of this Name was symbolized by some sort of mark on the body" (p. 98). Similarly for the group behind the Odes of Solomon who seem "to have bestowed some 'sign' or 'seal' of the Name on the initiand" (p. 99). The divine name was also used as a seal on the forehead of the initiand during baptism in the Mandean sect (pp. 99-100). Fossum adds that,
the practice of setting a seal or sign of the Name upon the forehead of the elect is witnessed already in the Bible. In Ez. ix.4, we read that God caused a mark to be set upon the forehead of the righteous; this sign was the Tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet originally written in the form of a cross (+ or x) [a form that goes back at least to the Late Bronze Age], which marked its bearer as YHWH's property and protegee. This sign was used at a later time by those who conceived of themselves as belonging to the eschatological community.(Fossum, p. 100)
In the Christian Revelation, God marks or "brands" (seals) the believers with His name on their foreheads. Fossum says that this mark is "either the Tetragrammaton or its symbol in the form of a cross" (p. 101). In the Syriac-speaking Church "whose roots are to be sought in Palestinian Jewish Christianity, the seal or sign of the cross...had retained its significance as an emblem of the Divine Name" (p. 101). I conclude this summary by mentioning that the phrase "vested with a Name" is "thoroughly Semitic," according to Fossum (p. 105), and so I assume it may, in some way, be connected historically with the golem stories.
In many of our stories the golem has the word 'emet (truth) written on its forehead or somehow attached to it. The Sefer ha-Gematri'ot, which, according to Idel (1990, p. 64), was extant in Ashkenazi circles in the thirteenth century, says that Jeremiah and Ben Sirah created a golem "upon whose forehead it was written 'Emet, as on the forehead of Adam." In The Secret of the Name of 42 Letters we are given a different version of this story. Here, "on his [the golem's] forhead [sic] it was written, YHVH 'Elohim 'Emet [Yahweh, God is Truth]" (cf. the place of 'emet in the stories of R. Elijah, Idel, pp. 208-9). In both these stories, the golem not only speaks, but he also teaches the prophet Jeremiah! I will assume that the version with the divine name (plus 'emet) on the forehead represents a conjoining of the divine name investiture tradition that I just presented with another, unrecorded, 'emet tradition. It is also possible that the 'emet came when someone thought of adding the aleph and mem to the tau of the investiture.
Accordingly, the golem is an initiate, branded with his new and secret name (YHVH). He is God's property. He, like Moses, has been "vested with prophethood and with the divine name." He is "in some sense a divine being," restored to "the glory lost by Adam," and he shares in God's own name and has "the [same] identical glorious body as Adam." He is the Adam of the midrashim who, as golem, can see the future and who contains the four worlds inside him. Psychologically, the four worlds represent the full self, all four psychological functions.
The pre-fall Adam is reminiscent of Isaac Luria's Adam Qadmon which, according to Scholem (1961),
is nothing but a first configuration of the divine light which flows from the essence of En-Sof [the hidden God, the innermost Being of Divinity, the Infinite]....He therefore is the first and highest form in which the divinity begins to manifest itself.(p. 265, pp. 207-8)
Emanations from the En-Sof create the ten Sefiroth mentioned in the Sefer Yezirah. Man and Adam Qadmon both contain the ten Sefiroth and both contain the four worlds: Man, at least in his original form (that is the full self), and Adam Qadmon are mirror images of each other.
From the point of view of this theosophical Kabbalah, the golem makers did not create physical golems, but their experiments culminated in visions of the divine world of the Adam Qadmon (Idel, 1990, chap. 7). In other words, for the theosophical Kabbalists, the golem of the early masters was Adam Qadmon, projected onto matter.
Paradoxically, it is in virtue of the fact that the golem is a simpleton of dust, that he is of Adam's original body and prophetic vision. And the two sides of the golem reflect the two sides of the rabbi.
The Myth: 4. 'Emet
The idea of 'emet being written on the forehead of the golem is one of the most interesting motifs in the golem tradition, appearing in all the modern versions I have seen including the one in the Marvel comic books (see Scholem, 1965, pp. 182-3 for the history of this motif).
There is a Hollywood film called "Crazy People" about an advertiser who decides to write only the truth. His colleagues think he is crazy, and he is eventually interred in a psychiatric facility. Before he is taken away he argues that advertisers should level with the public, but his friend at the agency says something like, "This is advertising. There's no leveling here, you idiot!" The identification here, of telling the truth and being an idiot, is reminiscent of the practice where the king's fool was the only one allowed to tell the truth about the king.
The psychologist knows the healing power of knowledge and self-knowledge, but telling what one sees (except in the consulting room) may be a sign of neurosis, psychosis (of a paranoid type), or even brain-damage (e.g., I treated a compulsive truth teller who suffered from Korsakoff's Syndrome). Dreams and fantasies often reveal a patient to himself or herself in the most startling way. The skill of the analyst and the courage of the patient combine to make a very exciting adventure, but one that often separates the patient from his or her past relations.
The Myth: 5. The Danger of the Golem
Jeremiah's golem warns Jeremiah that he (the golem) must be destroyed "so that people shall not err concerning him [i.e., Jeremiah, and think he is God], as it happened in the generation of Enosh" (in Idel, 1990, p. 64 and see pp. 32-3 for the Enosh story). We may guess that Jeremiah, like today's psychologists, would have been tempted to enjoy such a worship, and his golem (like a wise dream figure) warned him of the danger. There are many other stories about the dangers to oneself and to others in making a golem (see, for example, Idel 1990, pp. 82, 100, 209-10).
If I am right that golem-making, if undertaken at all, would have been an inner work, then the danger is not exaggerated. The danger is of valuing the intriguing and numinous world of the archetypes over the mundane world of people. It is typified by Nietzsche's character, Zarathustra, who does not like leaving the mountain and returning to the market place.
The animation of objects is a well-known phenomenon in paranoid psychoses where walls can have embedded tape recorders and sleeping men can be spying. The apotropaic warning in most of the golem texts to experiment only with one or two others seems a response to the fear of falling into the fantasy world forever and of losing ones objectivity completely and becoming a real danger.
In most of the stories, to destroy a golem, the master must erase the initial letter aleph from 'emet which leaves the word met which, in Hebrew, means death. Psychologically, erasing the aleph reverses the processes described in earlier sections: The golem loses his elect status and becomes an ordinary person with his old name, his mundane body-image, his native language, his lip-service to morality, his superficial wisdom, his delight in pleasures, and his need for lies and self-deception. The divine-simpleton becomes like a strange figure from last-night's dream, reflecting a past reality and a present and future potential of the self.
The transformation process described in this essay, including its exaltations and its dangers, is found in the inner lives of certain contemporary people, though it is conceptualized differently. When a patient like this enters analysis, the goal is neither to make the person feel like a simpleton nor one of the elect. This would be to encourage consciousness of one side of the self and repression, and hence, projection of the other. If the Divine Person can realize that the investiture with the divine name is not an immunization from petty, even lunatic, tyrannical, and criminal reactions, (for example, when displeased or disobeyed or misunderstood; cf. the reactions of God Himself in Gen. 6:17; 11; 19:13; 20:17-18; 38:7, etc.); and, if the irrational and uncontrollable Simpleton (in psychological terms: the Neurotic) can realize that his or her fear of persecution and destruction is the fear of returning to the dust from the four corners of the earth(to the massa confusa, to the original luminous and immortal body of light, to the group of the elect) and, hence, that he or she can relax and need not continue in a downward spiral of self-centered, paranoid emotions; then there is enough self-understanding to allow a love to emerge that can be recognized as love by external, objective society and by the innermost soul.
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