A golem is a type of monster from Jewish folklore. It is made of clay in the form of a giant man and can carry out the wishes of its creator. In most stories, golems are made by rabbis. The idea is that a holy man, in his closeness to God, attains some God-like powers; however, since the rabbi is not really God, the creatures he makes are inferior to man in form and intelligence, and they lack any kind of free will. A golem is said to be unable to speak, indicating its lack of a soul; if a speaking one could be created, it would be very dangerous.
Many golem stories date from the Middle Ages. At this time, the creature was typically characterized as a defender of the Jewish people. It could be violent and frightening, but it was usually an avenging force. In addition, a rabbi with a golem servant was considered to have reached the highest earthly levels of holiness.
In some legends of the golem, the monster is activated by writing a sacred word on its forehead or on a clay tablet or a piece of paper inserted in its mouth. In the first published story of the monster, from an 1847 collection of Jewish folktales, it is animated by writing Emet or "truth" on its forehead. Erasing the first letter would change the word to Met or "death" and return the creature to inanimate clay.
Later in the 19th century, the golem entered the larger realm of Western European literature and lore. In Christian tellings, it was re-figured as a symbol of the dangers of excessive pride and an injunction against black magic. 19th century stories often had the creature's creator losing control over the it, or the golem turning on its master, similar to the Medieval Christian idea of the homunculus, a small humanoid created through alchemy. Today, references to the golem abound in popular culture, from literature and film to games, comic books, and television.