A long-time reader writes
“Does a gollum need to be made out of clay, or can other materials be used?”
A Gollum is made completely out of the Lord of the Rings, Precious.
But I think you mean “golem,” which is a completely different animal. Er, not animal. And that makes the answer to your question far more complicated. Oh, it sounds easy, but it opens up some translation/spiritual/philosophical issues.
Before I get to that, I’d better explain what a golem is.
In Jewish folklore, a “golem” is a soulless homunculus (say that three times fast) larger than a man, but who can pass for one. A golem is created and animated by a Hebrew scholar, usually based on Talmudic/Kabbalistic magic. General consensus is that golems don’t speak, or speak very seldom. They do understand human language.
Various stories say golems are animated by the holiness of the Jewish scholar; one of the holy names of God, written on a scroll placed in the head; or by writing the Hebrew word for ‘truth/reality’ on the forehead. Erasing the first character of ‘truth/reality’ leaves you with the word ‘dead,’ and is the way to deactivate the golem. There are also intense, specific rituals involved. One of the tales warns that a when a group of students flubbed the ritual, the ground opened up beneath their feet. Bye, bye, students.
The golem is closely associated with the city of Prague, where legend has it that a wise man created a golem to protect the city’s Jewish population from attacks, or ‘pogroms’ in the sixteenth century (also some claim that this ‘legend’ was fabricated in a nineteenth century novel).
Tales of the golem generally tend toward having a moral that is hubris-related. That is, that maybe creating a golem isn’t a great idea. Having no soul, the golem can be a useful tool for protection, but the golem has no moral compass of its own. So the creator must keep control over the golem or it may become violent and have to be deactivated/destroyed.
The Prague legend says that its golem was not destroyed and is stored either in a graveyard in Prague’s Žižkov district or the attic of the Old New Synagogue in that city. The attic is not open for viewing. Rumors say people who have tried to enter died or went insane upon opening the door. The Prague Golem may be called upon again in times of need.
Okay, for the actual answer to our reader’s question “Does a golem need to be made out of clay, or can other materials be used?” come back on Saturday.