When I just came to the Czech Republic, one of the few things I knew about Prague were scary stories about the mysterious creature known as the Golem. Imagining him in the dim light of the magnificent Prague Castle or on the streets of the Jewish Quarter felt like the best way to spend my time while looking through the plane window. But who was the Golem and why do we still talk about him?
Just like in all tales, the Golem was created for the sake of good, not evil. His creator was Rabbi Löw, who was seeking to protect the Jewish population from pogroms back in the 16th century. Rabbi Löw used mud from Vltava-river and a special device, known as a shem (which, allegedly, carried the name of God) to revive the Golem. Once, Rabbi Löw accidentally forgot to remove the shem, which put the Golem to sleep, and he caused severe destruction to the ghetto before getting permanently deactivated by Rabbi Löw. Apparently, similar stories about the creature can be found in Central and Eastern European folklore, forcing more people to believe in them.
However, the truth – or, at least, what many experts believe to be the truth – might be just as interesting, yet a little more trivial. There are several meanings to the name “Golem” in Hebrew – “shapeless mass”, “magical creature”, “body without a soul”, and “imperfect”. Some believe that the last two interpretations reveal the true identity of the creature.
In an interview with Radio Prague International, Ivan Mackerle – Prague’s publicist and specialist in Czech Republic’s paranormal activities, debunks the popular legend surrounding the Golem. According to him, while the Golem might have very much existed, he was most likely just a person. Mackerle spent a lot of time reading into the legends and noticed that the Golem is often described as a human-looking creature – yet slightly bigger than average. That led him into thinking that the Golem was a mute peasant with a psychological disorder, who Rabbi Löw was trying to treat.
Mackerle turned out to be right. When going through the archives, Mackerle found mentioning of Rabbi Löw’s physically strong yet mentally disabled peasant Josille. He suspects that once, Rabbi Löw forgot to give Josille the medicine – as a result, he suffered an epileptic seizure. Terrified, people ran to find Rabbi Löw, interrupting the 92. Psalm (which, to this day, is repeated twice at the Prague Old-New Synagogue.) According to Mackerle, Josille either died from the seizure or eventually overdosed on the medicine despite Rabbi Löw’s attempts to save him.
Although no story about the true origins of the Golem will ever be confirmed, Mackerle’s theory shows how a little bit of imagination, a superstitious society, and a few gossips can create legends which will last for decades, occupying the impressionable minds, like mine, to this day. But hey, at least it gave us a great story, right?