Google+ Followers

Thursday, October 31, 2013


BECAUSE IT'S HALLOWEEN, I THOUGHT I'D DEVOTE A POST TO MAGIC. If you’re familiar with Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah, you may have recognized one of the scenes I wrote in The Tattooed Witch as golem magic. When my protagonist Miriam Medina attempts to raise Alonso de Santangél from the dead, she is actually using a magical system designed to animate a golem or ‘a body without a soul’. 

It’s funny where your research takes you. There is a belief among many different religions that tattoos create spiritual doorways – everything from warnings about demonic interference (Leviticus 19:28 ‘you shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves’ to opposing beliefs like those of the Polynesians who believe tattoos bring spiritual power). Because Miriam is half Jewish and half gypsy, it made sense for me to look closely at Jewish mysticism and magic. It didn’t take long before I bumped into the Sefer Yezirah or ‘Book of Creation’ which offers instructions on how to make a golem.  One way is to fashion a man out of clay, then to write the letters Aleph, Mem, and Tav (meaning ‘truth’) on his forehead, causing him to come to life. To disable such a creature, Aleph is removed, leaving Mem and Tav to spell Met, or ‘death’. Another way to create a golem is to write the name of God on a piece of parchment and place it in the golem's mouth. 

To create my resurrection spell, I used Hebrew letters. But instead of incising ‘truth’ as the original golem spell did, it served me better for Miriam to carve ‘doorway’ on Alonso’s body and use the idea I mentioned above - tattoos as spiritual doorways. After a number of revisions, I decided not to use the actual Hebrew alphabet out of respect for the language, but the Diaphani letters are similar and the meanings remain the same.

In The Tattooed Witch, Miriam carves the word Delev on Alonso. The original Hebrew word is Delet, formed from the letters Dalet (D), Lamed (L), and Tav (T), with a few ‘e’s’ thrown in. What really excited me were the synchronicities I discovered in each letter’s meaning. Although the majority of readers wouldn't recognize them, I always think it's great when a writer can provide that extra layer of meaning in his prose, like offering a treat to those who do see what is hidden from most. 

Dalet (written ד) means door, creation, and/or 'this world in this time’. Early ideas about Creation saw the world as having four states or worlds – in Hebrew: Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Assiya – or more simply, the elements of fire, air, water, and earth. These elements are also foundational ideas in Pagan and Wiccan ceremonies. The symbolic meaning of Dalet is ‘to enter’ which I thought worked beautifully for the beginning of Miriam's spell. 

Lamed (written ל) literally means ox goad, staff, or prodding stick. After ‘entering’ with Dalet, Miriam ‘goads’ Alonso to approach life’s brink. In Witch, I changed Lamed to Lamet and used a bit of poetic license in describing it as a whip. 

Finally, I altered Tav (written ת) to Vev. I expanded the original meaning, Cross, to Crossroads, which as we all know, is a place of power, destiny, and death. 

In one of the original golem stories, The Golem of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Loew saves his community from an evil priest who has accused the Jews of the ritual murder of Christian children. This was a common racist ploy played in other parts of Europe, including Spain. Rabbi Loew creates the golem to roam the streets at night to stop those who would set false evidence against his people. If you're interested, you can read the story here: 

And if you haven't read it yet, the link below is of the first four chapters (mostly) from The Tattooed Witch. At the end of it, Miriam attempts her golem/resurrection spell. (Spoiler Alert: in the book, the spell goes disastrously wrong.): 

Happy Reading and Happy Halloween. Keep those golems on their leashes.

No comments:

Post a Comment