We love books

 
Random Article


 
Don't Miss
 

The Golem – Gustav Meyrink

 

Ratings
 
 
 
 
 


 


0
Posted October 14, 2016 by

The Golem – Gustav Meyrink – 1913

Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 7/3/2003, 11:24:59

Of all the books we have read so far (the ones I have read, at least), this has been the most difficult to categorize or to comment about. First I must say I really liked it, but not like the way I have enjoyed a good tale (The Razor’s Edge), a realistic straightforward story (Mr. Biswas) or a complex and tragic mosaic (tWotEotW). It rather fascinated me. I couldn’t really tell if it is a masterpiece of literature or a piece of pulp fiction, and besides I’m note very interested in that search at this precise moment.

When we have read other books, your comments have been illustrative of a certain point, funny, contrary to my opinions and/or, all in all, have enriched the experience of reading. But in this case I will really need Help to get to understand Tee Golem.

It’s a book I will read again some time, because I feel that the first reading is not enough to understand and appreciate many things. I will try to summarize my initial thoughts on it:

The plot: wow, dark, magical, tortured, like a dream

The setting: insuperable, the Jewish ghetto of Prague Oh my God I NEED to go to Prague. It is most unfortunately that the Ghetto is no longer there, thanks to Mr. Hitler and company. The city will definitely be much different than what I imagined from readiing the book, but anyway I have to go there and wander around very drunk (OK, just wander around).

The characters: some of them fascinating, starting with Athanasius Pernath himself, but also the wickedest villain Aaron Wassertrum, as well as Hillel and his daughter Miriam.

The style: perfectly adequate to the story.

The meaning: I have no idea. I think that…. Athanasius Pernath IS the Golem, coming back every 33 years, but then how come the man that dreamed the whole story (another Pernath?) wakes up with Pernath’s hat, finds old acquaintances at “Loisitschek”, goes the Alchemists’ quarter, finds the house and inside there’s Pernath with Miriam. (At least I’m happy they got married)…

Friends, I need help.

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 7/3/2003, 11:27:25, in reply to “The Golem”

Guillermo,

I swear, upon reading the last word of the book, this was what I said out loud (there was noone else in the room):

“Wow! I love it. What the heck happened?”

Seriously, I haven’t got a clue. I would not be able to tell this story to my grandchildren (oh, stop, I don’t have any, I am not that old, we are talking future/desire here) because I don’t really know what happened. While reading the story, I thought I was understanding it all, and I hoped that, once I read the last word, all of what I understood would be confirmed and everything would fall into place. But that hasn’t happened.The end was a little too vague even for my imagination. (I say this because, yesterday in class, the teacher, M. Girodon, told me “vous imaginez trop!” and he didn’t mean it as a compliment.)

>>> really tell if it is a masterpiece of literature or a piece of pulp fiction, … <<<

If I was given only those two options I would vote for a masterpiece of literature (although I was not very happy with my Translation: E. F. Bleiler who says that he took Madge Pemberton’s rendition and “corrected” it.)

>>> all in all, have enriched the experience of reading. But in this case I will really need Help to get to understand The Golem. <<<

Same here, but now that you, Guillermo, you are out of the picture for me and I am out of the picture for you, I guess we are really counting on the others. Anna?

Oh, and remember Howard, from the Icelandic/Nordic discussion? He has read this book and promised to join in with the discussions so maybe he will be enlightening.

>>> It’s a book I will read again some time, because I feel that the first reading is not enough to understand and appreciate many things. <<<

Same here. I will definitely re-read it again.

>>> The setting: insuperable, the Jewish ghetto of Prague Oh my God I NEED to go to Prague. <<<

Guillermo, I have been to Prague and absolutely *adored* it. It is one of the most enchanting places I have ever seen in my entire life. When I was there, I thought, Kafka would not have been Kafka if he lived anywhere else. And, I also thought, with just a tad of pretentiousness, that I, myself, could write like Kafka had I lived in Prague. That was not meant as a flattery of myself up to the level of Kafka (un dieu) but it was meant as a flattery for Prague, that it can make mere mortals like myself feel as if we can accomplish great originality and achieve unique bizarrerie. Prague is a very weird place. Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem, and Kafka’s The Trial couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. The castle, Vltava, George bridge, they are all a little commanding, not just inspiring but also ordering, pressing, urging dark and mysterious stories to come about.

While reading The Golem, I also wanted to see Prague, I wanted to see it again and I wanted it terribly. If I have the opportunity to go again, I will spend more time in the Jewish Quarter which we have neglected during our first visit.

>>> The meaning: I have no idea. I think that…. Athanasius Pernath IS the Golem, coming back every 33 years, but then how come the man that dreamed the whole story (another Pernath?) wakes up with Pernath’s hat, … <<<

Their hats were mixed up in a public place, right? At a café or something. But since the old Athanasius, Miriam’s husband didn’t see anybody (they didn’t let the narrator into their home) how come he was at a public place having his hat mixed up with a stranger’s?

>>> Friends, I need help. <<<

Guillermo, when a few days ago, you asked us when we should start discussing this book, and I said that I was ready, I wanted to accompany my words with a mischievous “heh heh”, but I didn’t want to give away the “essence” of my actual commentary which is “I didn’t get it.”

So, yes, friends, I need help too.

Loved the book by the way 😉

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 7/3/2003, 11:29:50, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

There was a moment in the book when I suspected Angelina to be the “bad guy”, but that did not materialize. I thought she was the one who set Master Pernath up, framed him, had him thrown into jail so that she wouldn’t have any witnesses of her discretions. But it was not so, she simply (and a little anti-climaxically) got a divorce, married her love and moved away.

By the way, in my book, there is a long introduction by the translator (or rather the editor who took another translation and modified it) which explains the connections of sub-stories in the book to the real life of Gustav Meyrink. According to these explainations, the descriptions from the jail and the authorities are from Meyrink’s own experiences.

~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 7/3/2003, 15:36:58, in reply to “The Golem”

My thoughts about this book are rather muddled, so please don’t count on me for making sense of it 😉 Actually I don’t think it is the kind of book that you can make complete sense of anyway (not necessarily a criticism). Personally, in terms of quality, I found the book somewhat uneven. A lot of it is marvellous: the way Meyrink makes the Jewish quarter come alive, the claustrophobic enigmatic atmosphere he evokes, these strange ghetto characters he creates, some of the weird plot twists he introduces are great and original. I have never read anything like it. The room that has no doors is also wonderful.

BUT: the ending was a letdown. It felt as though old Gustav in the end did not know how to make the supernatural elements credible enough, so he just employed the device of it having been all been a dream (brought on by the wearing of someone else’s hat, which is rather a nice invention). I see no other reason, why the whole thing should have ended this way. He could also have stuck with Athanasius and not unexpectedly inserted this dreamer.

The purpose of the Angelina episode eludes me. To me it came across as stock romantic story telling, with a beautiful damzel in distress and a hero who is willing to sacrifice himself for her and then ends up with someone else who is of course much more worthy.

Also I found that a lot of the philosophical/mystical bits smacked of New Age kitsch, such as the Egyptian nonsense, the book the golem hands Athanasius and the kabbalatic references. Not my thing. I did not find the Laponder episode convincing either.

Quite interesting, however, are the doppelgänger theme and the idea of the ghetto having a soul, a spirit. The golem of course does not exist but somehow somewhere symbolizes something to do with the ghetto. Yes, I know, I am getting more and more vague. Time to stop and wait for elucidation from our friends in the western hemisphere

By the way: thanatos is Greek for death, so Athanasius must mean something like “immortal” or “undead”.

 ~~

Posted by moana on 7/3/2003, 17:25:08, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

What a book! And by that, I mean I have little idea about what it meant. No elucidations coming from me, I’m sorry. One thing I really liked about this book, however, was the Ghosts chapter (I like the titles of the chapters, as well. Nice to know what the chapter is all about before starting it 😉 ). The part about the Pagad card growing to human form, crouching in the corner and looking back at him, had me sleeping with a nightlight! This book was one of the darkest in tone I’ve ever read. Creepy as The Turn of the Screw. And I’ll leave it that. I’ve got to get to class and do some nice, noncreepy differential equations. But gosh, haven’t you all felt that way:

“… that was the noise I began now to hear – part thought, part fancied, part actually experienced – inside and out…”

And if you think you’re hearing something, you actually start to hear it, lightly whispering at your ear like an insect that you brush off that comes back to haunt you. And even if you kill it, you still feel prickly on your skin, and start brushing at nothing… this is how we go insane…

~Moana

Posted by Lale on 7/3/2003, 17:29:35, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

: it is marvellous: the way Meyrink makes the Jewish

: quarter come alive, the claustrophobic enigmatic

: atmosphere he evokes,

Yes, it was really very impressive. I wanted to be there. Not because he made it a beautiful place but because he made it a real place.

: I did not

: find the Laponder episode convincing either.

This was the weakest spot in the book, I agree. Laponder business could have been acceptable if Laponder had killed Miriam (and Hillel) but that was not the case. Luckily. It would have been awful if Laponder’s victim was Miriam.

: By the way: thanatos is Greek for death, so Athanasius

: must mean something like “immortal” or

: “undead”.

Very interesting. It is really cool that you know that and you were able to establish this connection.

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Rizwan on 7/3/2003, 17:41:29, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

For once, we are all in agreement (so far). I too was totally confounded by this book. For those of you who haven’t read “Ulysses” because you find it daunting, believe me, that is a much easier book to grasp than “The Golem.”

Just about the only thing comprehensible to me was the introduction, which led me to believe, “Hmmm…I think I will like this book.” It isn’t that I didn’t like the book. I just don’t know what to think of the book. What the heck happened?

Now granted, maybe the fact that I read the book piecemeal, over the course of 5 or 6 weeks, affected my comprehension. Maybe I need to re-read it all in a shorter time span to better understand it. But somehow, I don’t think that will change things for me.

To be honest, the only thing that kept me from abandoning the book altogether was the addictively evocative descriptions of Old Prague: this was by far the best thing about this book. Now that is a place, like you Guillermo, that I would love to visit. But I wonder if today’s apparently touristy version of Prague can match the image I now have of it, courtesy of Mr. Meyrink (even more than Kafka, who I think of more for his universality, and less for his being rooted to Prague). Lale’s comments on this are encouraging, though, so I’m holding out hope that the real thing matches the Meyrink-induced image in my mind.

All in all, I would say that Meyrink and his book remind me of an incomprehensible, more gimicky, Edgar Allen Poe. This is not entirely a damning indictment. Actually, like “The Golem” itself, I’m not really sure what it means.

 ~~

Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 7/3/2003, 20:49:16, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

One of the things that I enjoyed most was the oniric, dreamy mood, and the dark, opressive athmosphere in which the action takes place all the time. The touch of the supernatural serves to give it this aura of mystery, of subtle horror. The enigmatic ending makes it even more ethereal.

A few good passages were: the horrible soirée in the bar, Pernath’s travel underground to the room of the Golem, his concersation with Miriam (sounds like an interesting girl), his ride with Angelina, of course, his first meeting with the house in the Alchemists quarter, and jail. I definitely liked it.

 ~~

Posted by Howard on 8/3/2003, 13:54:10, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

I found the Golem a captivating read. Great atmosphere and characters but I must confess that I’m still trying to work it all out. If any of you are planning to re-read the book I think Charousek may be the one to watch. I’ll post some more thoughts on this later.

Howard

 ~~

Posted by Howard on 8/3/2003, 20:32:15, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

In my last message I said I would post some thoughts on Charousek. Lale, you mentioned that you thought Angelina might be the “bad guy.” I suspected Charousek – could he have been working with Wassertrum all along? He was after all his son. And Pernath finding him in Savioli’s appartment – he seemed too convincing to me.

We now know that he was a good guy and there were two indications of a link between him and Pernath. The first in the chapter entitled “Prague” Charousek where he seems to be able to read Pernath’s thoughts about the Ghetto’s inhabitants. Towards the end of the story when the narrator visits Loisitschek’s the forgetful Ferri Athenstadt tells him that Charousek, Pernath and Laponder were the same person. Did anyone else feel there was any significance in this?

Howard

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 9/3/2003, 10:35:47, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

: All in all, I would say that Meyrink and his book

: remind me of an incomprehensible, more gimicky,

: Edgar Allen Poe. This is not entirely a damning

It is definitely very EdgarAllenPoe-esque book. But Poe wraps up his stories better, they always have a proper ending.

With regards to the Charousek/Lapondre/Pernath being one person, I am not able to find that reference in the book and I must have certainly missed it while reading it.

Remember the invisible house (reveals itself only in foggy days and only to certain people), what was the deal with that?

What was Pernath’s childhood like, why has he become “insane” and required hypnotheraphy? What was it that his doctor thought he had to forget? What was his relationship to Angelina and why did he have to leave?

etc. etc.

For the sake of cool descriptions of Prague, Ghetto and fantastic images, and for the sake of the friendship of Pernath, Zwakh, Prokop and Vrieslander, I give this book 3 stars.

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Howard on 9/3/2003, 16:03:38, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Lale, Ferri Athenstadt’s comment is in the last chapter. In the Dedalus Books version I have it it is on page 258:

“Ferri Athenstadt racked his brains once more. “If I’m not mistaken, people thought he was mad. Once he claimed he was called…just a minute…yes, he claimed he was called Laponder. And another time he tried to pass himself off as a certain Charousek.”

Howard

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 9:55:09, in reply to “The Golem”

Hi, gang. I’m sorry I’m late for class. Dog ate my homework, I have a note from the doctor, etc. etc.

Now , the Golem. The reading of this book to me was a deja vu of ‘Invitation to a Beheading’: I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, but then a light bulb went off and things started to make sense.

THE THEME

To me, there are 2 fascinating ideas in the book:

Idea #1. The occult: The story is saturated with this theme. The plot exists in a world where the occult is a concrete reality and not simply an idea. In this world everything is inter-related through space and time, and consciousness can travel between separate but parallel dimensions — hence the anonymous narrator is Pernath, and Charousek, Pernath and Laponder can be the same person. In this world, all possibilities and outcomes are realized via different pathways, in — as Stephen Hawking put it — separate but parallel universes.

“Each noise in this our world of actuality is accompanied by its attendant echoes, just as each object casts its own big shadow together with a multitude of smaller ones.”

However, most people do not hear the echoes of these other dimensions, and see only 1 reality, until something happens to jolt their consciousness.

“Everything the voice had uttered was there within me, had been there all my life, though smothered and forgotten, choked down beneath the weight of my own thoughts, till this, the day of delivery.”

The Golem is one of these echoes for Pernath, just has Pernath is one for the anonymous narrator.

“He (the golem) was like a negative, I recognized, an unseeable hollow form whose lines I cannot comprehend, into which I must slip if I was to become conscious of its form and its impact on my Self.”

nbsp;

To be fully conscious, one must be aware of all the possible dimensions. To reach the state where one can see the Truth of Reality, mental and spiritual insight is required, obtainable through the faith that such dimensions exist. Miriam is the high priestess of this mystical belief.

Idea #2. The Jewish archetypes: It is possible (probable) that I am reading into this what is entirely not intended, but these connections leaped out at me nevertheless, so please forgive certain interpretive indulgences.

“Strange fruits, at times, grow from the tree of Judaism.” [Miriam]

(a) Archetype of the righteous, spiritual, religious, Talmudic, and wise man: Hillel. I see him as the characterization of Rabbi Judah Loew (1525-1609) of the Golem of Prague legend.

Hillel is a man of great wisdom and insight. Zwakh referred to Hillel (albeit jokingly) as Rabbi. Pernath had asked Miriam “Isn’t there something a little terrifying for you in the thought of having for a father a being that has grown beyond the rest of humanity?”

He is the opposite of the Bad Jew. “Hillel’s the only man makes Wassertrum feel not quite sure of himself. He avoids him like the plague. Probably because Hillel represents for him the incomprehensible, the something he’ll never understand.”

(b) Archetype of the Bad Jew: Wassertrum and Wassory. Avaricious, materialistic, lacking in spirituality, they prey remorselessly on their own people, yet remain within Jewish solidarity in struggles against the gentiles. Wassertrum’s enemies are Dr. Savioli and Angelina, not Charousek, even though Charousek is the one who strove hardest for his downfall.

“These varied types loathe one another with an antagonism not even blood relationship can break through; but they know how to preserve this hatred from the eyes of the outer world.”

(c) Archetype of Jewish mysticism (The Kabbalah): Miriam and the Golem. Miriam is clearly the symbol of the Jewish mystic. Still, mysticism is such a fragile thing that even she exhibits doubts, as much as she fears her doubts.

“If only I could learn I was mistaken! That it was no miracle! But, if it were so, I know as surely as I stand here it would be my undoing! To fall from highest heaven to deepest earth — do you think mortal man could be called on to endure it?”

Despite the doubt Meyrink attributed to Miriam, I think that true to his occult beliefs, what Meyrink meant to expound is that: it is this belief in the mystical (the cult of Osiris, and the incantations of the Kabbalah) that is the key to the Truth of our reality, where miracles (the ‘impossible’) are not only possible, but natural and certain.

The Golem is another symbol of Jewish mysticism. He is a creature brought to life by Kabbalah incantations, through God’s ordain (He told Rabbi Loew to create the Golem to protect the Jews of Prague). However, I think that the significance of the Golem is less substantial than the idea of the occult in the book, and the use of it in the title misleadingly gives it more weight than the story warrants.

(d) The Gentile: Angelina. It is clear that Angelina is a gentile. On first meeting Pernath (while running away from Wassertrum), she had said: “hide me — for the love of Christ.”

She is beautiful, frivolous, coquettish, aristocratic, and non-Jewish. For her, the Jew (Pernath) yearns, sacrifices, torments himself. But she abandons him without regard or regret when he is no longer of need. The Jew can chase after her, but where he is truly understood, is among his own (Miriam).

(e) The phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred: Charousek. This hatred ultimately wrecks the hater. Charousek plots ceaselessly to destroy his own father in the name of justice (he has no mercy for his own blood) and outright rejects his heritage (gave away his inheritance). Yet he is not a bad man. He is just a man who hates his own heritage but feels trapped by it.

“Hatred? That’s not the word for it. The word has yet to be invented that would serve to express my feelings against him. It’s not him I hate. It’s his blood.”

“No one can hate anything as deeply as I do unless it is part of himself.”

(f) The ordinary Jew living among the archetypes: Pernath. He admires the rabbi, hates the Bad Jew, is friend with other Jews, lusts after the trappings of the Gentile but can really only connect spiritually with his own kind.

SYMBOLISMS and THE OCCULT:

Thought #1: There are repeating symbols in the book: the hat, the lump of fat, the vision of the upside-down hanging man (on tarot card, later actually happened to Pernath), hermaphroditism, Osiris, re-appearance of the Golem every 33 years. This iterative repetition reinforces the occult theme of a multi-dimensional, re-incarnating, inter-connected reality.

Thought #2: In many occult traditions, typically, there is a physical object which links between the separate but parallel dimensions through which consciousnesses can travel. In seances, an object belonging to the deceased is required. In witchcraft, articles of the hex-ee are used. In the book, the link between the dimensions is Pernath’s hat.

[To Be Continued in ‘Golem, the plot’ post]

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 10:05:51, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

THE PLOT

I love the titles of the chapters: sleep, day, I, Prague, punch, night, awake, snow, ghosts, light, distress, fear, urge, woman, trickery, torment, May, moonlight, free, end.

There are 2 narrators in the book: The anonymous narrator (a Gentile) had an out-of-body experience in a dream and “lived” Pernath (a Jew)’s life as it were 33 years ago.

SLEEP

The out-of-body experience begins.

“I only know that my body lies sleeping in its bed, while my mind, no longer part of it, goes forth on its wanderings.”

What he experiences is more than a dream, it is an occult experience where his consciousness traveled to a different dimension and actually becomes Pernath.

DAY

The anonymous narrator’s emergence into Pernath was gradual at first. Even after he appeared in Pernath’s world and is aware of Rosina and Wassetrum, he wasn’t yet certain he’s actually Pernath. He still had remnants of his own previous consciousness.

“Sleep lies still upon me like a thick wooly mantle, and the name of Pernath is woven into my consciousness in letters of gold. … Where have I read it before, this name — Athanasius Pernath?”

He remembered a hat which he took by mistake belonging to Pernath, the same hat that he later returned to the real Pernath, who declined it, saying that it had been a mistake.

“Once, long, long ago, it is in my mind that somehow or other I took the wrong hat my mistake; at the time I was surprised how well it fitted me, for the shape of my head I always thought peculiar to myself.”

I

I love this chapter title. The “I” has a dual meaning.

Meaning #1. I for Ibbur. In this chapter, he receives the Ibbur book from the Golem.

“I picked up the book from the table… It was as though my sense of touch needs must flow through a long, dark streak of nothingness before it merged into my conscious self, as though betwixt me and inanimate objects yawned a great gulf of time; as though they belong to an age past and gone, of which I had once been part.”

Reading this book is the ‘worm hole’ to the consciousness of Pernath. This book reveals the possibility of this travel. Ibbur means ‘The Fecundation of the Soul’.

Meaning #2. I is for: who is ‘I’? Pernath? or the anonymous narrator? The 2 I’s meet.

From this chapter until the last (FREE), the narrator is fully Pernath and no longer any part the anonymous narrator of the first chapter.

PRAGUE

The reality/world of Prague, where Pernath lives becomes concrete to the narrator’s consciousness. The grit of the Prague ghetto is splendidly painted. Here, Pernath ponders the legend of the Golem of Prague and its connection to men without vision, without belief in the idea of something beyond immediate reality. They are like people without the spark of idea.

“And, as that same Golem stiffened into clay the instant that mysterious phrase was removed from its lips, so must, I thought, these humans dwindle to soulless entities so soon as was extinguished within them some slightest spark of an idea, some species of dumb striving, … from the look of it, into a mere aimless sloth, or a dull waiting for they know not what.”

In this chapter, I particularly like the imagery of Crime being a spirit that wanders the street looking for perpetrators to inhabit.

“Intangible, the spirit of crime walks through these streets day and night in its quest for a human lodgment. It floats on the air, and we see it not. Suddenly it swoops on a human soul; yet still are we impervious to its presence, and no sooner have we sensed it than it has flown away again and the moment has passed.”

That was Pernath’s answer to how an educated man (the ophthalmologist Dr. Wassory) could have committed such a heinous crime — ruin people’s healthy eyes for profit.

PUNCH

While sitting around drinking hot punch, the legend of the Golem is discussed by Pernath by Zwakh, Prokop, while Vrieslander carves a golem puppet. They discussed his sightings every 33 years (theme – everything goes in a circle, inter-connect).

NIGHT

Here 2 characters who appear in the narrator’s real life are introduced: the old man Schaffranek and Prince Ferri Athenstaedt.

Pernath becomes sick and is taken to 2 important persons in this life: Schemajah and Miriam Hillel.

AWAKE

Hillel is a wise man who understands the multi-dimensional character of consciousness. He told Pernath:

“There is only one true state of being awake, and that is the state you are about to experience.”

When Pernath asked who is the creature who gave him the Ibbur book, Hillel answered:

“The man who sought you out, and whom you call the Golem, signifies the awakening of the dead through the innermost life of the spirit. … Nothing that takes shape unto itself but was once a spirit … He who is once waked can no longer die. Sleep and death are one and the same thing. … Two paths there are, running parallel courses — the way of life and the way of death. … Knowledge and recollection are one and the same thing.”

There are other places (dimensions) each person has been, apart from the “succession of mere events in one’s life”. But these recollections are hidden, because that knowledge is not accepted or explored.

Here we see a glimpse that the “real” reality for the anonymous narrator is not this one — he doesn’t remember anything of his past.

“I tried to reach back to the furthest possible point in my life where memory served me. … though within my consciousness the broad path of events stopped short always at a certain archway, yet there were a multitude of smaller lanes running alongside the principal path that I had so far continuously overlooked. ‘Whence’, almost I heard them screaming to me, ‘did you receive this knowledge whereby you gain your daily bread? Who taught you to cut stones? engraving, and all the rest of it? And to read, and write, and speak, and eat, and walk, and breathe, and think and feel?”

He had jumped into the middle of Pernath’s life, and so has no recollection of any previous history.

[Continued in part 2]

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 10:08:19, in reply to “Golem – the plot (part 1)”

SNOW

Pernath receives the letter from Angelina asking for his help.

GHOSTS

This chapter is highly occult, but I guess no more occult than the jump between the consciousness of the anonymous narrator to that of Pernath.

Pernath discovered himself in the room where the Golem is rumored to keep himself when he’s not wandering the streets. His consciousness merges with the Golem entity. Ghetto inhabitants saw and chased him/Golem. This is the night Zottmann was murdered (by Jaromir), which further spins the eeriness of the Golem sighting.

LIGHT

Hillel understands that the Golem is one of Pernath’s doppelgaenger. He talks to Pernath and Zwakh about spiritual quests when Zwakh brought up the subject of the Kabbalah.

“He who seeks after things of the spirit, and does not strive with every atom of his body — like a strangling man gasping for air — can never come to know the secrets of God.”

Transposing this to the theme of the occult, this says: if you only believe in the POSSIBILITY of an alternate reality, but not in its CERTAINTY, then you cannot come to know its truth.

To find truth, the answer — different for each person — must be actively sought, the questions must be posed.

“The whole of life is nothing more than questions that have taken unto themselves shape. … Each questioner receives the answer fitted to his need; how, other wise, could the longings of poor humanity ever be satisfied? Do you suppose that it is only caprice that our Jewish sacred writings are written down in consonants? Every many must find the hidden vowels which determine the meaning destined for him alone. Otherwise the living word would petrify into dogma.”

This is a very Buddhist idea regarding beliefs. The Dalai Lama, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, once said that religion is like medicine: “What heals me I will take; what heals you, you should take.”

FEAR

The headless figure and the gray presence offer Pernath the seeds. He rejects them. He chose the Path of Life. Laponder, later as he told Pernath in jail, accepted seeds, he chose the Path of Death.

“I, too, have experience precisely the same vision! Only, I took the seeds! So I, by the same token, must tread the path of death.”

Laponder is the Pernath who chose the other path.

URGE

“Surely … surely … I stood on the threshold of a new existence? Had I no right to happiness? Must mysticism be synonymous with the suppression of all desire? I stifled within me the voice that answered ‘yes’; only a moment … let me but for one instant minute enjoy the sweetness of a dream!”

WOMAN

I think this chapter illustrates the archetype of the Jewish struggle between the attraction of the gentile world and the Jewish faith.

Pernath is attracted to Angelina for her appearances (not anything more spiritual or deeper than that). He is intoxicated by her looks, her smell.

“Her beauty almost took my breath away, and I stood there transfixed. It was all I could do not to fall down and kiss her little feet, thanking her for allowing me to help her, for choosing me, of all people.”

He is attracted to Miriam for deeper reasons (spiritual, friendship).

“Do you know I’m very concerned about you, Miriam? About — how shall I say it? — your spiritual health”.

TRICKERY

Pernath goes to jail because of Zottmann’s watch in his apartment, given to him by Wassertrum.

MAY

Pernath receives Charousek’s letter in jail. Wassertrum was murdered by Loisa and left everything to Charousek. Charousek gives 1/3 of it to Pernath.

MOONLIGHT

Laponder’s interpretation of Pernath’s dreamy experience with the phantoms who offered him the seeds.

“All those things you have experienced,” explained Laponder, “you must partly interpret in the way of symbol. That circle of blue luminous entities that closed you around was the chain of the diverse inherited personalities each mother’s son is born into the world with. The soul is not ‘one and indivisible’; it will ultimately becomes so, and thereby attain what is called immortality; your soul consists of infinite component parts — egos innumerable. You bear within yourself the spiritual vestiges of thousands of your forebears, the original progenitors of the race from which you sprang.”

This is the idea of re-incarnation, where the soul keep revolving through different lives until its final release upon reaching enlightenment (immortality).

How do we know that the idea of re-incarnation is real?

“The presence of ‘instinct’ reveals in both one’s body and one’s soul the undeniable fact of our own ancestors.”

In addition to being re-incarnated, the occult idea of out-of-body travels and consciousness-merging is also high-lighted in the character of Laponder. In a world of parallel universes, where all possibilities are played out in different dimensions, Laponder is Pernath: Laponder is the Pernath who took the seeds from the headless phantom and chose the path of death; Pernath is the Laponder who rejected the seeds and chose the path of life.

FREE

Pernath leaves prison. He tries to find Miriam and Hillel. A fire breaks out in his attic room, causing an emergency which propels him back to the consciousness of the anonymous narrator.

Here the symbols collide: the hanging man, the stone like a lump of fat — visions before, now became real. The anonymous narrator travels back to his previous consciousness, and finds that he had only been asleep for 30 minutes.

END

The out-of-body experience ends. The anonymous narrator is back in his own reality, but continues to have recollections of his life as Pernath. This is reminiscent of the occult stories where people remember their past lives, or go into seance trances and speak a foreign language (their native tongue in a past life/other consciousness).

On waking up, the anonymous narrator see Pernath’s hat on the peg, which he took to Mass earlier to the Cathedral (evidence he is not Jewish). He rushes to confirm that what he experienced was not a dream, but actually occurred. At Pernath and Miriam’s place, what he found plays out of the words of Laponder, who had seem in his dreams that Hillel and Miriam were going to Palestine.

“Beneath me is spread the town, in the early morning light, like a vision of the Promised Land.”

He realizes that his thread of his soul/consciousness is connected to Pernath, in multi-dimensional reality across time.

“So like is he to myself, it is as though beholding my own face and figure in the glass!”

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 10:31:59, in reply to “Re: Golem – the plot (part 2)”

Having said all that, I must give this book only a 3 stars since:

1. I’m not into the occult. It’s interesting as a mental exercise, but to really get this book, I think you have to be a little like Shirley McClain.

2. There are sections which are quite poetic, but they are gapped by some pretty bland narrations. Too many ups and down, great text, bad text, like a roller-coaster, makes me queasy. Granted, maybe something was lost in the translation, so I’ll have to caveat this by saying the rating is for the English version.

It is, of course, entirely possible that my interpretations of this occult book is even MORE occult than the book itself. In which case, I may just give Shirley a call.

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 9/3/2003, 13:37:41, in reply to “Re: Golem – the plot (part 2)”

–Previous Message–

: Having said all that, I must give this book only a 3

: stars since:

: 1. I’m not into the occult. It’s interesting as a

: mental exercise, but to really get this book, I

: think you have to be a little like Shirley McClain.

: 2. There are sections which are quite poetic, but they

: are gapped by some pretty bland narrations. Too

: many ups and down, great text, bad text, like a

: roller-coaster, makes me queasy.

Exactly what I think of the book.

We’ve got our own Shirley MacLain, by the way, in the person of the queen’s sister, princess Irene. She talks to trees and claims they answer her. So you see, these things run in the best families (only mine is not one of them).

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 9/3/2003, 10:59:39, in reply to “Golem – the plot (part 1)”

: He remembered a hat which he took by mistake belonging

: to Pernath, the same hat that he later returned to

: the real Pernath, who declined it, saying that it

: had been a mistake.

No no no no no (to be read in short syllables, fast and almost connected to one another) !

The real Pernath took the hat, did not decline it. He returned the dreamer guy’s own hat. Their hats were mixed up. The real Pernath never wore the dreamer guy’s hat, he realized there was a mistake, and out of respect, did not use another man’s hat.

HERR ATHANASIUS PERNATH’S COMPLIMENTS AND THANKS, …

HE ALSO WISHES ME TO SAY HE HAS NOT WORN YOUR HAT, HAVING IMMEDIATELY DISCOVERED A MISTAKE HAD BEEN MADE.

HE ONLY HOPES *HIS* HAT MAY NOT HAVE GIVEN YOU A HEADACHE.

So the hats were indeed switched and Pernath’s had his name written in it. So this fact is not negotiable.

Still, I am continuing to tremendously enjoy your explaination of the plot. (You are totally forgiven for being late for class by the way.)

Lale

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 18:17:10, in reply to “Re: Golem – the plot (part 1)”

Excellent, Lale! I had entirely mis-read that passage! Two heads are definitely better than one (no pun intended). 🙂

 ~~

Posted by Lale on 9/3/2003, 10:48:38, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

: (d) The Gentile: Angelina. It is clear that Angelina

: is a gentile. On first meeting Pernath (while

: running away from Wassertrum), she had said:

: “hide me — for the love of Christ.”

: She is beautiful, frivolous, coquettish, aristocratic,

: and non-Jewish. For her, the Jew (Pernath) yearns,

: sacrifices, torments himself. But she abandons him

Pernath is also gentile. Non? My understanding is that Pernath is not Jewish. He lives in the Ghetto because his doctor has asked Zwakh to find a place for him where he could live in peace, undisturbed, unencumbered by the previous life, un recognised.

Pernath, after being released from prison and after finding himself a room in an attic, buys a christmas tree at christmas time.

He also does not speak or understand Hebrew. He can only speak German.

However, Hanh, any of this does not damage much your wonderful analysis.

Lale

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 10:52:53, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

That is a very interesting insight, Lale. I’ve always thought Pernath was Jewish, but that’s possibly an imposed assumption that I did not look for evidence to disapprove (as it fits so nicely into my theories). 😉

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 9/3/2003, 13:12:33, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Hanh, you have no idea how impressed I am by your work. I feel dimwitted and lazy in comparison. I am now going to mull over all that you have written and try to come up with some replies (this is probably going to take several days, as I find it hard to express well myself in English, which is not even my second language but only my third – on top of that I am also a slow thinker).

 ~~

Posted by Howard on 9/3/2003, 17:00:21, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Hanh, like Lale and Anna I too am impressed by your analysis of the Golem.

One thing which intrigued me about this story is what relevance, if any, the game of Chess has to the plot. You may recall in “Prague” the way Charousek’s uses Chess moves in his description of Dr Wassory’s downfall and his remark to Pernath:

“Everything in the world is a game of chess, Pernath, everything.”

The introduction to the Dedalus Books edition mentions that Meyrink was a Chess player. During his lifetime, there was a Chess Master called Rudolf Charousek (1873-1900) who, like the character in the Golem, died young from tuberculosis.

Howard

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 18:33:46, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

: “Everything in the world is a game of chess, Pernath, everything.”

Howard, my read of this is that it plays to the theme of multiple possibilities existing simultaneously in separate dimensions, but is realized in a person’s consciousness only when he comes upon it. Hillel explains this as:

“There is only one true state of being awake, and that is the state you are about to experience.”

In chess, all the permutations of the different plays from any single board position exist, have always existed. But only when the chess player actually move the piece, does any particular outcome become real for him.

 ~~

Posted by len on 10/3/2003, 16:21:36, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Hanh observes:

>In chess, all the permutations of the different plays from any single board position exist, have always existed. But only when the chess player actually move the piece, does any particular outcome become real for him.

There is an interesting parallel between this observation and some aspects of quantum mechanics.

len.

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 10/3/2003, 16:27:34, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Yes! It also reminds me of Stephen Hawking’s idea of separate but parallel universes, and chaos theory. I guess in essence, it’s about probability of outcome being “real”, and instantiated only upon a subjective choosing. I also reminds me of programming, where you have to think of all the possibilities of runtime outcome and plan for it, even though during runtime, only one outcome would be realized, depending on the input values.

 ~~

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 18:25:35, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Anna, I’m glad that it is even possible for me to tip the scale in my direction. I am in AWE of your marathons and mountain climing trek! and the fact that you speak THREE languages fluently (I dabbled here and there, enough to make me dangerous, but am fluent really only in English).

Also, if a person like you can possibly be considered lazy or slow thinking, HEAVENS HELP US ALL!! The difference is that while I’m at the computer typing up things and surfing the web, you’re out climbing Kilimanjaro.

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 20:15:12, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

I had previously written:

: (d) The Gentile: Angelina. It is clear that Angelina

: is a gentile. On first meeting Pernath (while

: running away from Wassertrum), she had said:

: “hide me — for the love of Christ.”

: She is beautiful, frivolous, coquettish, aristocratic,

: and non-Jewish. For her, the Jew (Pernath) yearns,

: sacrifices, torments himself. But she abandons him

: without regard or regret when he is no longer of

: need. The Jew can chase after her, but where he is

: truly understood, is among his own (Miriam).

However, Lale pointed out an obvious error I made. Pernath also a gentile, not a Jew. In this light, I’d like to revise my above interpretation. Pernath’s relationship with Angelina, rather than a symbol of Jewish attraction to non-Jewish ideas, appears to me now instead to be his struggle between carnal pleasure and spiritual fulfillment. If he had chosen Angelina, his spiritual life would be empty, although physically he may be satisfied.

“Surely … surely … I stood on the threshold of a new existence? Had I no right to happiness? Must mysticism be synonymous with the suppression of all desire? I stifled within me the voice that answered ‘yes’; only a moment … let me but for one instant minute enjoy the sweetness of a dream!”

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 10/3/2003, 17:03:45, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

–Hanh wrote–

: “Each noise in this our world of actuality is

: accompanied by its attendant echoes, just as each

: object casts its own big shadow together with a

: multitude of smaller ones.”

: However, most people do not hear the echoes of these

: other dimensions, and see only 1 reality, until

: something happens to jolt their consciousness.

: “Everything the voice had uttered was there within

: me, had been there all my life, though smothered and

: forgotten, choked down beneath the weight of my own

: thoughts, till this, the day of delivery.”

: The Golem is one of these echoes for Pernath, just has

: Pernath is one for the anonymous narrator.

: “He (the golem) was like a negative, I recognized,

: an unseeable hollow form whose lines I cannot

: comprehend, into which I must slip if I was to

: become conscious of its form and its impact on my

: Self.”

: To be fully conscious, one must be aware of all the

: possible dimensions. To reach the state where one

: can see the Truth of Reality, mental and spiritual

: insight is required, obtainable through the faith

: that such dimensions exist. Miriam is the high

: priestess of this mystical belief.

From what I gather Meyrink seems to posit that behind everyday material reality there is an absolute spiritual truth, rather like a somewhat jumbled version of Plato’s ideas*). This truth can only be known to a few elect, who must strive very hard to attain it. First of all they have to become aware that there actually IS another “dimension” and this seems to be one of the messages behind the Golem. He is instrumental in “waking” Pernath to another reality and ultimately, after going through severe trials, Pernath is rewarded by being united with Miriam. It is obvious from the ending that they have found what they were striving for ? fittingly living in a house that is inbetween the realm of the material world and the spiritual world beyond it.

While using the occult as a means to set forth ideas makes for a highly imaginative novel, it does nothing to convince me of the truth of the ideas, especially since they do not seem to be really chrytallized. I simply don’t buy any of it. I am carried along by the story, by the atmosphere, but I do not gain any new insight. But maybe I am simply too thickheaded.

*) For Plato’s ideas see my next post.

 ~~

Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 10/3/2003, 17:07:11, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

From: “The Republic of Plato” translated with notes and an interpretive essay by Allan Bloom. Published by Basic Books Inc., New York, London in 1968.

“See human beings as though they were in an underground cave-like dwelling with its entrance, a long one, open to the light across the whole width of the cave. They are in it from childhood with their legs and necks in bonds so that they are fixed, seeing only in front of them, unable because of the bond to turn their heads all the way around. Their light is from a fire burning far above and behind them. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a road above, along which we see a wall. built like the partitions puppet-handlers set in front of the human beings and over which they show the puppets”.

“I see,” he said.

“Then also see along this wall human beings carrying all sorts of artifacts, which project above the wall, and statues of men and other animals wrought from stone, wood, and every kind of material; as is to be expected, some of the carriers utter sound while others are silent.”

“It’s a strange image,” he said, “and strange prisoners you’re telling of.”

“They’re like us,” I said. “For in the first place, do you suppose such men would have seen anything of themselves and one another other than the shadows cast by the fire on the side of the cave facing them?”

“How could they,” he said, “if they had been compelled to keep their heads motionless throughout life?”

“And what about the things that are carried by? Isn’t it the same with them?”

“Of course.”

“If they were able to discuss things with one another don’t you believe they would hold that they are naming these things going by before them that they see?”

“Necessarily.”

“And what if the prison also had an echo from the side facing them? Whenever one of the men passing by happens to utter a sound, do you suppose they would believe that anything other than the passing shadow was uttering the sound?”

“No, by Zeus,” he said. “I don’t.”

“Then most certainly,” I said, “such men would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things.”

“Most necessarily,” he said.

“Now consider,” I said, “what their release and healing from bonds and folly would be like if something of this sort were by nature to happen to them. Take a man who is released and suddenly compelled to stand up, to turn his neck around, to walk and look up toward the light; and who, moreover, in doing all this is in pain and, because he is dazzled, is unable to make out those things whose shadows he was before. What do you suppose he’d say if someone were to tell him that before he saw silly nothings, while now, because he is somewhat nearer to what IS and more turned toward beings, he sees more correctly; and, in particular, showing him each of the things that pass by, were to compel the man to answer his questions about what they are? Don’t you suppose he’d be at a loss and believe that what was seen before is truer than what is now shown?”

“Yes,” he said, “by far.”

“And if he compelled him to look at the light itself, would his eyes hurt and would he flee, turning away to those things that he is able to make out and hold them to be really clearer than what is being shown?”

“So he would,” he said.

“And if,” I said, “some one dragged him away from there by force along the rough, steep, upward way and didn’t let him go before he had dragged him out into the light of the sun, wouldn’t he be distressed and annoyed at being so dragged? And when he came to the light, wouldn’t he have his eyes full of its beam and be unable to see even one of the things now said to be true?”

“No, he wouldn’t,” he said, “at least not right away.”

“Then I supposed he’d have to get accustomed, if he were going to see what’s up above. At first he’d most easily make out the shadows; and after that the phantoms of the human beings and the other things in water; and, later, the things themselves. And from there he could turn to beholding the things in heaven and heaven itself, more easily at night, looking at the light of the stars and the moon, than by day, looking at the sun and sunlight.”

“Of course.” …

… “Now reflect on this too,” I said. “If such a man were to come down again and sit in the same seat, on coming suddenly from the sun would his eyes get infected with darkness?”

“Very much so,” he said.

“And if he once more had to compete with those perpetual prisoners in forming judgments about those shadows while his vision was still dim, before his eyes had recovered, and if the time needed for getting accustomed were not at all short, wouldn’t he be the source of laughter, and wouldn’t it be said of him that he went up and came back with his eyes corrupted, and that it’s not even worth trying to go up? And if they were somehow able to get their hands on and kill the man who attempts to release and lead up, wouldn’t they kill him?”

Posted by Hanh on 10/3/2003, 18:41:13, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

: While using the occult as a means to set forth ideas

: makes for a highly imaginative novel, it does

: nothing to convince me of the truth of the ideas,

: especially since they do not seem to be really

: chrytallized. I simply don’t buy any of it. I am

: carried along by the story, by the atmosphere, but I

: do not gain any new insight.

I feel the same way. I think the occult as a work of fiction has entertainment value, but I read it with the same suspension of disbelief that I would an Anne Rice vampire novel. Meyrink believed in the occult, but I (must) read this book of his from a different take because I’m definitely not in his shoes.

Still, I think some of his ideas are interesting to comtemplate, if for nothing other than pure mental and creative exercises, and for the glimpse into the world the occult.

When my grandfather died in 1973, my mother (ordinarily a very logic-oriented person) was stricken with grief (she still mourns him even now and never goes anywhere without his watch). After his death, she started going to seances to try to talk to him, to be with him again. Everyone thought her silly but knew it was her way of coping. At the same time she also started going to Mass to pray for him, although she was never a religious person (I’m not even sure if she believed/believes in the existence of God). Eventually, both faded away as time scabs over the wound.

When you think about it though, some of the ideas of the occult is no more far-fetched than those of established religions. What they both do, is fill the spiritual void.

“Every man follows his own path in search of grace, whatever that grace may be.” — Jose Saramago, Balthasar & Blimunda.

 ~~

Posted by Dave on 11/3/2003, 6:17:19

Hi everyone: I’m just going to jump in here like some sort elusive creature from the Ghetto… realizing that I have nothing of remarkable insight to add to this great thread.

At first, as I read the introduction (about Gustav Meyrink himself) I thought… “Oh man. I am NOT going to relate to this book”…. could I be any possibly farther from this author’s philosophical conclusions about life in general?

No.

But, amazingly (after the first two chapters) I was increasingly drawn in, as in the vortex of a whirlpool.

What a weird book!

I must say, the narrative style did not lose me.

That is, until the end (as you all comment upon)… this is a difficult book.

Yes, at the end, I felt EXACTLY the same as Lale comments way up above…

“Wow, I love it. What the heck happened?”

“Who turned the lights out?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Where’s my hat?”

“Where’s Waldo?” etc.

Seriously, I have not contributed to this discussion up till now… because I don’t know what the **** to say! Strange book, yet for four-fifths of it, I was right in there. I was most caught up in Pernath’s interest in Hillel and Miriam. The metaphysician in me loved these discussions they all had, and I made many notes of what (I consider) some good wisdom speeches. I loved the eeriness of Hillel’s seeming omniscience.

And I too, was thinking throughout the book… EDGAR ALLEN POE!!

Two things I will mention, both entirely co-incidental, and when taken together, the resulting mound not amounting to a hill of beans!

1) The very next day after I finished reading the book, a guy at work said to me that he had been reading about the Kaballah on the weekend. Then he asked me if I had ever heard of the Golem? (as in, the actual legend). My first thought was… “have you been browsing through my backpack in the lunchroom Mike?” But really, we had quite the discussion then, and I realized that more people than we may ever suspect, have heard of the Golem.

(Actually, I am still spooked about this co-incidnece, and find it highly suspect).

2) I know there is no actual connection, but I kept thinking of Pernath’s feelings for Miriam as Levin’s feelings for Kitty in Anna Karenina, and the whole Dr. Savioli/Angelina “menage a deux” situation as similar to Vronsky and Anna.

I know what you are thinking… have you ever even heard of more profound comments on a book?

The ending had/has me baffled, as did the opening chapter or two. The stuff in between though, I really liked, and it had me saying… “hey whoa, at least this is making more sense than An Invitation To A Beheading”!!

Now, when someone asks me to suggest a spooky book to read I will not only think of “Tales Of Mystery And Imagination” but I will also say “The Golem”. Even so, I would give the former book a bit more than the 3.5 hearts I would give the latter.

 ~~

Posted by Howard on 11/3/2003, 21:29:32, in reply to “Re: The Golem”

Dave, “weird” is the word. I noticed that there is a top 10 of “Weird fiction” on the UK Guardian newspaper site chosen by the writer China Mieville. His definition of “weird” is interesting:

“I don’t think you can distinguish science fiction, fantasy and horror with any rigour as the writers around the Magazine Weird Tales early in the last century (Lovecraft in particular) illustrated most sharply. So I use the term ‘weird fiction’ for all fantastic literature – fantasy, SF, horror and all the stuff that won’t fit neatly into slots.”

The Golem wasn’t on his list but might have been – it’s the sort of book that falls into this category.

I too felt similarities with 19th century Russian literature in the early chapters of the Golem but in my case it was more with Dostoyevsky’s characters than Tolstoy’s. Were Charousek and Rosina a Raskolnikov and Sonia, Pernath a kind of Prince Myshkin suffering paralysis instead of fits?

I liked this book for its location (like Guillermo and Rizwan it has encouraged me to visit Prague), atmosphere and the unpredictability of its plot. I would give it four hearts.

Legend of the Golem of Prague

Posted by Hanh on 9/3/2003, 10:13:51, in reply to “The Golem”

I nabbed this from the ‘Israel Today’ site. Interesting details about the Golem legend. There are various versions, from benign (the Golem was created to do menial work) to the more serious like this one.

[Source: http://www.israeltoday.co.il/article/Default.asp?CatID=6&ArticleID=47]

The Chief Rabbi of Prague, Yehuda Loew Ben Bezalel, lived from 1525 to 1609. During this period, the Jews were persecuted repeatedly by Christians, who spread terror through the ghetto. The attacks intensified during Passover, when the Jews were often accused of using the blood of Christian children to bake matza, unleavened bread. This malicious slander inevitably stirred up Christian mobs to attack the ghetto, and the vastly outnumbered Jews were too weak to defend themselves. It was a hopeless situation, until, as legend has it, Rabbi Loew received a plan of deliverance in a dream. The instructions were simple: create a being to frighten the Jew-haters away.

Rabbi Loew immediately went to work, summoning his wife Edam and his oldest student to help him make the Golem. The creature was to be composed of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. They prepared themselves spiritually for this task for seven days. And on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Adar in the Jewish year 5340, at the fourth hour after midnight, they went to the bank of the Moldau River and made the figure out of the clay soil. It was 10 feet tall and had basic human features.

The Rabbi told his wife to circle the prostrate figure seven times and say a certain mystical phrase. Suddenly the clay sculpture became red hot. Then, the Rabbi ordered his student to circle the figure seven times and say another mystical phrase. It cooled down and became damp, and suddenly, an unbelievable thing happened: fingernails started growing and hair covered his body. Now it was the rabbi’s turn to circle the creature seven times. The three of them then recited Genesis 2:7: “And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” The Golem opened his eyes immediately and stood up.

Finally, the day of reckoning arrived. A small child was found dead in Prague and was thrown on the road to the ghetto. The Jews were accused of cold-blooded ritual murder, and soon, an angry mob carrying torches took to the streets looking for revenge. But the Golem rose to the occasion, pushing through the crowd and finding the very woman who killed the child. The terrified woman quickly confessed to the murder.

From then on, the Golem searched all carriages and wagons entering the Ghetto, to make sure that no dead child was hidden away. Residents of Prague were frightened because of the Golem’s eerie presence, and soon the blood accusations stopped. In fact, the Prague town council issued a decree which declared the accusations baseless and prohibited any repeat of them in the future.

With this decree, Rabbi Loew had achieved his goal, so he decided to take the breath of life away from the Golem. The rabbi did not want the Golem to fall into the hands of the wrong people, who might use the creature for evil. So the rabbi, his wife and student took the Golem up to the small attic of the synagogue, circled around him again, and simultaneously uttered the mystical phrase that had brought the Golem to life — but all in reverse order. Then, they wrapped the now lifeless Golem in a tallit (prayer shawl) and left him lying there to this day.

 ~~

Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 10/3/2003, 19:45:36, in reply to “Legend of the Golem of Prague”

Well, after reading all your comments, I have concluded that I will need to read this thing over again, thanks to Hahn’s enlightened and astute reviews. So it turns out that someone took the wrong hat, wore it, fell asleep and became Pernath in a parallel universe! It all makes sense now.

As to the “hearts” deserved by this book, I don’t really like the ratings. Five hearts for certain things and less for others, I still enjoyed the book and your comments. I will likely read more things related to “parallel universes” and the like.

By the way, this was one of the favorite books of the great Jorge Luis Borges, who some of you might have read (if you haven’t, read him!), he’s a giant of Latin American literature, very different from García Márquez and the magicial realists. Borges wrote his own short story called “The Golem”. I read it long ago, but I will look for it and read it again, to see what his interpretation is of the legend.

Lastly: I was also impressed by Hahn’s clearness of thought, she shows she’s a real reader.

 ~~

Looking for Golem

Posted by Stephen Hill on 12/3/2003, 8:15:19, in reply to “Re: Legend of the Golem of Prague”

I didn’t buy `The Golem’, as I saw it on the library catalogue, early in the year. I borrowed it last week, quickly before racing to a glass. Unfortunately, I just opened it and discovered it is in German, the library has two `The Golems’ by Meryrink, both in German.

Had a look to see if there were any more titles in English, without success, however there were a few interesting results. The fact that Bashevis Singer and sci-fi master Lem have done adaptations of the Golem myth is interesting enough, if I enjoy the book I may have to visit on of these two books.

Golem : Jewish magical and mystical traditions on the artificial anthropoid / Moshe Idel.

Golem of old Prague / Michael Rosen ; illustrated by Val Biro.

Golem / Isaac Bashevis Singer ; illustrations by Uri Shulevitz.

GOLEM XIV / Stanislaw Lem ; [foreword by Irving T. Creve ; afterword by Richard Popp].

The Golem (Dedalus European Classics)
List Price: $11.99
Price Disclaimer

ReadLit Team

 


Want to contribute?