Those of you who like both mystery novels and word puzzles should check out a post at Suzanne E. McCarthy’s Abecedaria:

This novel is set in Thule Bay in northern Greenland. This could only be Qaanaaq, a settlement whose name is a palindrome. Several clues point to the use of the palindrome in deciphering the two ‘keywords’ of the story, the words written on the scroll placed in the golem’s mouth…

The first keyword is the ‘word of creation’ which brings the golem to life; and the second keyword, a reverse of the first, will destroy him…

I particularly enjoyed this tidbit:

Next, I switched to researching the legend of the golem in history. I found out that one of the original ‘words of creation’ was ‘emeth‘ (truth) written on the golem’s forehead. With the erasure of the ‘e’ altering ’emeth’ to read ‘meth’ (death), the golem was destroyed.

Language is powerful stuff!


  1. Can someone shed some light on this “e”? I refuse to believe that you can deactivate a golem simply by removing a vowel point. I suspect that there is some currently-unpronounced guttural consonant involved here. Also, is mem-tav a genuinely biliteral root? I know they exist but are rare.

  2. Ah, it’s an alef that was erased. Obviously. My bad.

  3. Sorry – I’ll have to update my post. Emeth is אמת
    and מת is dead, but probably more commonly written מןת.
    I haven’t really given enough clues from the book to decipher the text but a visit to Greg’s site might help.
    The ‘word of creation’ is a mystery to me. However, it seems to be a well-established traditional story.

  4. Ian Myles Slater says

    In some Jewish traditions, “Emeth” is regarded as one of the Names of God — after all, liturgically, “Adonai [YHWH] Eloheychem Emeth,” “The Lord Your God is Truth.”
    The main discussions of the history of the Golem idea are by Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel. Scholem’s treatments available in English include an essay in “On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism,” and an Encyclopedia Judaica article, also included in the volume “Kabbalah,” and a popular lecture in “The Messianic Idea in Judaism, and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality.” The last is charming; all are somewhat out of date with Scholem’s final views, let alone the current state of research, but invaluable.
    In Scholem’s view, the Golem stories originally concerned a mystic initiation ritual, popularly misunderstand as a magical procedure.
    Moshe Idel’s book “Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid” contends that Scholem was wrong, and that there was a magical element from the very beginning. He brings in a great deal of evidence, including a lot about mystical language theory, and an appendix about “Emeth.”

  5. Terry Pratchett does some wonderful things with Golems, exploring the nature of personal will and slavery, in his satirical novel “Truth”.
    Pratchett is a wonderful satirist, a passable novelist and greatly in need of a copy editor (how can a major publisher allow “would of” for “would have”?), but if you like Golems, I recommend the novel.

  6. Not just verbal formulas, but song, was an essential part of entering, leaving, and controlling shamanic trances, the characteristics of which it is safe to assume are ultimately at the bottom of most tropes of the mystical or the magical. This would seem to be the ultimate historical origin of the concept of the “words of creation”. The concept of the creator being a shaman who sings the world into existence is attested in many literary monuments, for example the Finnish “Kalevala”.
    Shamans of course being defined as specialized experts who could enter trance and have what were effectively lucid dreams in which they could interact with personified sickness or other problems facing the group. Think of the stereotyped Indian medicine man’s monotonous chants, he-ya, he-ya, ho. The presence and activity of such people is, to oversimplify, the basic characteristic of all religious practices in societies at or close to a neolithic level of material culture.
    It’s a very interesting problem on many levels to trace the ways in which this idea could have been affected by the invention of written language. The idea of the mystical properties of the specifically written word is, of course, the province of Kabbalah.

  7. Andrew Dunbar says

    I also thought it was an aleph. There’s a version of the story at the beginning of Harry Mulisch’s The Procedure.

  8. Mulder was almost strangled to death by a golem (Season 4, Episode 12, “Kaddish”).
    And it seems Gollum from LOTR is unrelated.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy says

    Hi Andrew,
    How are you doing? I hope I made it clear – it *is* an aleph that was removed. But I copied the story from a source written in English so the story said ‘e’ and I didn’t bother to transliterate at the time.
    Overall, the golem legend has lots to say about speech and written language. A more fascinating topic than I had expected. And nothing to do with LOTR.

  10. Pratchett only uses “would of” in the mouths of uneducated characters, as far as I’ve seen.
    And the Semitic root is indeed the triliteral *mwt…

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