Thursday, September 4, 2008

G is for Golem

Image is a photo of a statue depicting the Prague golem. Taken from

The golem is a creature of Jewish folklore. According to The Golem by Alden Oreck, the term golem means "shapeless mass" in Hebrew. It is made of clay but animated to life. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythical Creatures states that golems can also be made out of wood or mud. However, it is of limited intelligence, and will only follow the directions of its creator. To possess a golem was thought to attribute wisdom and holiness to the owner. In order to be able to create a golem, its creator is closer to God, who is the Creator, than other humans. One of the most famous golems was said to be created to protect the Jewish residents of the Prague ghetto from persecution, created by Rabbi Judah Loew the Maharal. As it gains strength, it goes on a Gentile killing spree.

In many tales, the golem has magic words inscribed on its head to bring it to life. It is said that the one of the names of God is written on a scrap of paper and attached to the golem's head or directly into the clay, will animate it, and when the creator wants to inactivate it, the name is erased. Emet, which means "truth of God" can be written to animate the golem. When it is time to stop its life, the e can be erased to form the word met, which means "death." Another method is to write the name of the creator of the golem in blood on a sheet of calfskin, and to put it in its mouth. Deactivation can be accomplished by removing the paper from its mouth.

It is said that golems must rest on the Sabbath or they will go beserk. And the creator/controller of the golem must take care in the instructions given to the golem, for they will be taken perfectly literately. According to the Maharal story, the golem has magical powers such as invisibility, summoning the dead, and a heated touch.

According to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythical Creatures, the rabbi who created a golem would often be punished for attempting to "play God." Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a more modern retelling of this cautionary tale.

Golems in Books and Other Media:

  • Gustav Meyrink's The Golem, based on the story of Rabbi Judah Loew the Maharal

  • Isaac Bashevis Singer also wrote a version of the golem myth

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

  • The Barmtimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

  • Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

  • Snow in August by Pete Hamill

  • The Puttermesser Papers by Cythia Ozick

  • Iron Council by China Mieville

  • Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz features a villian with the supernatural ability to create golems out of dirt

  • Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

  • A Calculus of Angels by Gregory Keyes

  • The Tortuous Serpent by Donald Tyson

  • The Image Comics title Proof features a golem named Joe

  • A series of German silent expressionism movies were made based on the golem myth

  • Episodes of Gargoyles, X-Files, and Charmed have been built around the golem myth

The mythical golem is viewed as a sign of wisdom and holiness, revered as a savior for the persecuted Jews, and also can be seen as a sign of reaching beyond one's natural limits. It serves as a powerful metaphor for creation, but can also be used for destruction. The golem is deeply entrenched in Jewish folklore, but it has crossed over into the collective imagination, finding its way into tales enjoyed by many outside of the Jewish consciousness.


Golem-Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 September 2008. Last Modified 26 September 2008.

Dempsey, Colin. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythical Creatures. Published by Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2006. p. 87-88.

The Golem by Alden Oreck. Published by Jewish Virtual Library, A Division of the Israeli-American Cooperative. Accessed 28 September 2008. Last modified 2008.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

D for Djinn

This image was taken from, This is the cover for the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud.

The Djinn, aka jinn, is a supernatural being, an elemental that is said to possess free will. Most of us are most familiar with the term genie, which was first used in English in 1665, with the translation of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights by French translators. The root of the original root of jinn is said to come from the Semitic root "JNN" which refers to hidden or concealed.

Djinn were worshipped as tributary spirits by pre-Islamic Middle Eastern Cultures. They were associated with succubi (demons who take the form of beautiful women). A female djinn is called a "Jinniyah" or "Jinneyeh."

The djinn are mentioned in the Koran, and form an important of some Islamic practitioners' beliefs. They are said to be made from "smokeless fire" by Allah, as humans were made from earth. According to Spirits, Fairies,Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia, by Carol Rose, the djinn were made from the Sharan wind (Simoon). Because of their substance of smokeless fire, they are invisible to humans, and also they possess the ability to fly. Because they have free will, they can follow any religion they choose to follow. Like humans, the djinn will be judged on the Day of Judgment, being sent either to Hell or Heaven, according to their deeds in life. In Islam, the Devil or Satan is a djinn called "Shaitan" or "Iblees."

The djinn also crop up in the Old Arabic and Old Persian Bibles in the following books, Leviticus, 1st Samuel, 1st Corinthians, and the gospels Matthew, Luke, and John, as Jinn or Jaann.

Outside of religious history, they also have a long and powerful history in popular media. How many us watched "I Dream of Jeannie" growing up? Enough said.

Because of their free will, not all djinn are good, and not all are evil. As some djinn possess almost limitless power, I would not like to run into an evil djinn!

Rose states that Djinns may take any shape, even large ones, and can be hideous in form or beautiful. One can tell that he or she is encountering a djinn in human form by the shape of its eye pupils (vertical like goats). But this is probably too late for you to get away at this point!
Benevolent djinn have been known to fall in love with and mate with humans, producing offspring that can walk through walls, fly, and age slowly.
In Morocco, it is believed that every human has their own djinn. Those Earth djinn who are independent live in dark and isolated environments, such as lavatories, drains, and cemeteries. Because they are easily offended, if one disturbs their home, it will cause them to exact a "terrible retribution." Water djinn love to entice people to their watery deaths. In contrast, tree djinns are very benevolent towards humans, with exception of the fig tree djinns, which incite quarrel.

The major types of djinn:

  • Marid : The strongest type of djinn, associated with seas or oceans, where it is typically found. Arrogant in nature, it is susceptible to flattery, and can be coaxed to do chores either through summoning via rituals by powerful magicians, via flattery, through imprisonment, or by engaging in battle with it.

  • Ifrit: in popular culture, it is represented to embody fire.

  • Ghul or Ghoul: probably the most frightening type of djinn. Capable of shapeshifting, it lives in the desert, assuming the form of an animal, and lures unwary travellers into the desert to slay and eat them. It also robs the grave and eats the dead. As such, the term is often used for undead creatures who feed on the dead. They have a life of their own in the fictional words of horror, outside of their djinn origins.

When most of us in the Western world think of djinn or genies, we think of them as wish-giving creatures. This is due in large part to the portrayal of djinn in the story of Aladdin, from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (the genie in the lamp). Another djinn is found in the story of The Fisherman and the Jinni.

When it comes to djinn, it is very important to remember to be careful what you wish. A djinn, much like a faery, will use one's words against that person. Typically your wish will come back to haunt you, or you will use the last precious third wish trying to reverse the prior wishes. If you don't believe me, read "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs.

If I have sparked your interest in the djinn, then you may want to read the following fiction books:

  • The Arabian Nights (otherwise known as One Thousand and One Nights. I humbly suggest Tales from the Arabian Nights by Andrew Lang. It's pretty cool in that it uses a story in a story format. Very few of the stories just end cold.

  • Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

  • Dog Days by John Levitt features ifrit djinn

  • Jadis from the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis thought to be half-djinn.

  • Declare by Tim Powers is an intriguing mix of spy story and djinn.

  • The Sandman collection: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman has several referrences to djinn.

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman features an ifrit taxi driver

  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

  • The Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine features djinn as the source of power to the Wardens.

  • Dragon Rider by Corneila Funke

  • Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr

  • Jinn by Matthew Delaney is been described as "Saving Private Ryan meets Alien."

  • The Forbidden Game trilogy by L.J. Smith

  • Castle in the Air by Dianna Wynne Jones

  • The Doctor Who novel The Stone Rose puts a new spin on the idea of a genie, Doctor Who-style.

  • Proven Guilty, Book 8 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher features a jann.

Movies and TV featuring Djinn

  • The aforementioned I Dream of Jeannie

  • The Arabian Nights miniseries (fantastic)

  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

  • Two episodes of The Twilight Zone: "The Man in the Bottle," and "I Dream of Genie"

  • Wishmaster (for the horror movie fans)

  • Kazaam

  • Special Unit 2 had an episode called "The Wish" with an evil genie who had to carry out wishes physically with disastrous consequences for the wish-maker.

  • The Brass Bottle

  • The "Je Souhaite" episode of X-Files features a very bored, but impish genie who brings nothing good to the person who acquires her.

  • Long Time Dead (An ancient, evil djinn is featured in this horror film)

  • The Thief of Baghdad

  • A Thousand and One Nights

  • Disney's Aladdin

  • The "What is and What Should Never Be" episode of Supernatural the TV show has a djinn that does not grant wishes, but merely makes the victim dream his/her wish was granted, and feeds off the person's lifeforce. This djinn is truly horrifying in appearance.

..And djinn also make their appearance in comic books, manga, and the gaming world.

Well I hope that you know a little more about djinn. Remember, if a mysterious being appears after you acquire a certain object and asks you what you desire, remember to think twice what you wish for!


Genie- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 29 August 2008. Accessed 2 September 2008.

Ifrit-Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 1 September 2008. Accessed 2 September 2008.

Marid-Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 9 August 2008. Accessed 2 September 2008.

Ghoul-Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 25 August 2008. Accessed 2 September 2008.

Rose, Carol. Spirits, Fairies, Leprechaun, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia. W.W. Norton Publisher. p. 87-88.