Golems, Flesh: Frankenstein, Undead
Clay golems were created to show mastery over sacred texts, or in rare cases, to serve as useful servants (in stories, anyway. Jewish texts frowned upon using golems as workers). They were intelligent yet had no will, and they could pass for real men, albeit mute. The living dead, on the other hand, are created by sheer pride within the creator, who desires to create life for the power it will give him, or for the love he will supposedly get from this creature that he has given life to. He is not creating life; more he is attempting to reverse death. All he creates are monsters.|
Most people don't realize it, but the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation/monster is a golem story. Mary Shelly had just recently shared stories with Byron before writing Frankenstein, only eight years after Grimm's Journal for Hermits was published, and at a time when golem stories were very popular. In fact, the downfall of Victor and the loss of all he holds dear can be predicted, according to Kabbalistic teachings.
"the creation of a golem can be dangerous to the creator. Therefore, the second theme which is stressed is the purity of purpose with which the task must be approached (The first theme is that two or more practitioners, working together, are necessary to create a golem). A golem cannot be created for the purpose of evil (having no human soul, any sin the golem commits is a sin of the creator, not the creation). With the exception of Rava's solitary achievement, solo attempts at golem creation call into question the practitioner's purity of purpose and, inevitably, bring harm to that person (Honigsberg).
Victor Frankenstein was creating life for the wrong reasons. He looks to the physical and the metaphysical, not the spiritual, and he desires to be the first to know the mysteries of creation in order to share them with the world. He seeks to replace God as the creator and father, desiring the praise that his created race would give to him. His downfall is predicted, because according to the Kabbalistic teachings, he could not understand God's mysteries, and that he is not ready to seek for them anyway. Harm befalls the creator, not the creation. Accordingly, Victor spends the rest of his life attempting to make up for his sin, failing, losing everything, and finally he perishes, cold and miserable.
Upon its creation (by Jeremiah and his son Ben Sirah), the golem had upon its forehead the phrase "YHVH Elohim `Emet" [God is truth]. With a knife he erased the aleph to leave the phrase "YHVH Elohim Met" [God is dead] saying that "God has made you [Jeremiah and Ben Sirah] in His image and in His shape and form. But now that you have created a man. . . people will say: There is no God beside these two!" After following the instructions given by the golem and de-constructing it, Jeremiah proclaims that "we should study these things only in order to know the power and omnipotence of the Creator. . . but not in order really to practice them." (manuscript, Halberstam 44 folio 7b; quoted from Scholem, Kabbalah, 80) (Honigsberg).|
Victor believed that he could gain control over something that men are not supposed to control. It isn't a new idea, however. Sorcerers would dream of raising the dead and controlling them, sending them out to attack enemies. Priests would pray to their gods to heal the sick and dying and raise the recently departed back to life, real life, not undeath. However, the motives for them cause their downfall. Sorcerers would raise the dead and use powers to make these "mindless zombies" do their bidding, but the dead care not about the living, and the creator, and not the creation, will suffer the sin of trying to replace God. Priests, on the other hand, would take away from God the power over death, so that the priest, rather than God, would decree when the person was to die. Both types of men have arrogance and an impure purpose, even if one tries to do evil and the other tries to do good. These men would take death away from God, just as others would take birth away from him.|
In the past, wizards were essentially doctors before people understood medecine, when science was magic. In those times, it was believed that death could be reversed. After all, there is a body, and there is a soul, so it shouldn't be any difficult matter to put them together and resume life. To quote the witch-doctor from The Princess' Bride, "He's not all dead, just mostly dead." Certain charms would be used, certain words would be said, and supposedly, life returned. Death was misunderstood, and misdiagnosed. People were declared dead, and then miraculously rose again, because they had not really been dead. If they stopped breathing, people assumed they were dead, and then, when they resumed breathing and rose, people immediately declared them a vampire or zombie or ghoul or something equally as popular in the realm of "undead." It was no wonder that people thought that somehow, they could learn to control the process by which the dead are returned to life, and necromancy was born.
Necromancy was the realm of magic associated with blurring the lines between life and death, returning the dead to life and hastening the living towards death. Some people believed that it entailed a pact with Satan, or an equivalent "evil" god-figure. Others believed that it required the sacrifice of all those near to you in order to gain this power, others that you merely had to kill in ritual ways, and still others that you had to pass through the gate of death yourself in order to come back and have power over death in others. Nevertheless, raising the dead and creating a flesh golem were very similar. Obviously, when raising the dead, you are using a complete and deceased body. When creating a golem, you must put one together. The Dungeons and Dragons guide requires no less than 6 bodies, one for each extremity, one for the body and head, and one for the brain. I don't think that true practitioners followed that rule, however, using the body parts that seemed best to create the "man" that they had envisioned. In some cases, this merely required the combination of an ideal brain with an ideal body, some sewing, and viola-a brand new person.
Despite the fact that bringing the dead back to life is probably more likely than creating a golem of clay or wood and transubstantiating it, you will be more skeptical of the biology of flesh golems than the others. After all, this is closer to science, and further from God, than previously described, so you can't pass it off as mere nonsense. We know that there are neurons in the body, and that these neurons form connections throughout the body, and form a massive central processing unit in the brain. We know that these neurons send signals by changing the chemical balance and changing the electrostatic pressure between the inside and the outside of the neuron. We know that these neurons, when severed, attempt to regain contact with the neuron that they used to form a synapse with, and that cells in the body help this process, while cells in the brain hinder this process. Meaning, if neurons in the brain get disconnected, they probably won't reform the connection, while neurons in the body, if disconnected, have a chance over time of regaining function. However, if they are disconnected for long enough, they might die off, and the circuit will be permanently lost.
In terms of creating a flesh golem or resurrecting the dead, electricity is the key. Do you ever know of a wizard raising the dead when it wasn't a dark and stormy night? Of course not. And we know that Victor Frankenstein used electricity to bring his creature to life. In fact, Shelley wrote the novel shortly after science had just discovered that a burst of electricity into a dead frog would make the muscles contract, linking electricity and muscle movement (and hence neuronal activity). We now know that there is an electrical balance across the membrane of a neuron, created by the positively and negatively charged ions both inside and outside the cell. A slight change in this electrical balance causes channels to open, a rapid reversal of local polarity, and a signal sent down the neuron to all the others it synapses onto, before the polarity regains its original balance. It was believed that running electricity through the body would "jump-start" the dead engine, making it work again. Like a car, it might not work for too long unless something was fixed, but it would work. After all, isn't neuronal activity in the brain and to the body the definition of thinking and acting? But needless to say, in a dead body, most of the cells are already dead, the connections are broken, the chemical balances permanently changed, and the body no longer able to function. However, the more we learn about the body, the less we know about death. People have stopped breathing, their heart has stopped beating, their brain has stopped almost all of its activity for long periods of time, and the person has lived, revived, awoken and returned to life. And it's still difficult to tell, because the heart has its own pacemaker and can keep beating without any signals from the brain at all, so combining an artificial respirator machine, the hearts natural pacemaker, and an iv tube to put nutrients into the blood, the body can live indefinitely without the brain at all. It might be possible to use electricity some day to "jump-start" a dead or dying "engine," when we know more about it.
But once we accept that a golem could be raised from the dead, we still have to understand the craftsmanship that would have to go into combining different bodies. Surgery today is very intricate, and often the body parts won't go together, the body rejects the outside graft. And when building a golem, as in modern medecine, there isn't much room for trial-and-error matching. And, these cells have been undernourished, perhaps killed, in the time it has taken to rebuild the person. Neurons from different parts of the body will have to form connections with their original sites, blood vessels, bone-tendon-muscle structure, bone-ligament structure, everything within the body that forms intricate connections would have to be guided into place and delicately but firmly attached in place so that the parts can attach naturally. And once the complex (perhaps impossible) body is complete, there is still the matter of getting the soul into (or back into) the body. In some cases, the soul from the original body would be called back. This is probably the reason why so many different body parts are necessitated in building a golem, so that a new soul would be created for this body, rather than one of the previous souls returned to the now mix-matched body. In this case, as we know of all new souls, growing and learning are the two main functions. The connections of tissue in the body would regenerate, and the creature would begin to learn. Three things could happen: it could become an individual with its own sentient consciousness, it could became an automaton like other golems, or it could become a mindless "undead" creature that would do nothing but feed off the living as if it were alive.
The undead must be given special attention as well. There are different categories. There are the disembodied spirits, namely ghosts, wraiths and poltergeists (ghosts are intangible, poltergeists are invisible, and wraiths have the ability to drain heat and life from the living). There are the basic undead, such as zombies, ghouls, and revenants (zombies eat the living, ghouls eat the dead, and revenants want revenge for whoever killed them). Lastly, there are the living dead, meaning vampires and lichs (vampires drink the blood of the living, and can pass for a live person in most cases, and lichs are wizards who killed themselves in a ritual designed to give them immortality as a living dead creature, with all the intelligence and even more power than in life). Spirits aren't really something that I can address when talking about biology, since they have no bodies to speak of. The undead could be one of several things. First, the amount of time for which a person was "dead" might have caused damage from blood loss to certain parts of the brain, leaving nothing but the emotional centers (in revenants), the motor functions, the instincts, the reflexes, and possibly memories. To create a "zombie," not much of the brain would need to go, since you can still have the memory and perception parts of your brain but be unable to express or consciously know them. Motor centers might be there, but the spinal cord stopped working. The person might have lost the ability to form memories, or just the ability to express those memories, etc. Another possibility is disease. Both the living dead and the undead might have a disease, which would cause people to think they were dead. For example, lupus causes the skin to become very pale, and a sunburn could be fatal, heatstroke occurs easily, and the prescribed cure was to drink blood, because it was believed to be due to a lack of blood in the skin. Remind anyone of vampirism? Leprosy, which if not treated, could cause body parts to fall off, could easily account for zombies and mummies, especially since mummy stories came from Egypt, south-east of Europe, and the East was the source of leprosy. Patients would dress head to foot in bandages to both prevent body parts from falling off and to warn people not to touch them, though it was later discovered that leprosy isn't contagious. One could easily think that the person was dead. Lastly, the dead might actually rise out of their tombs. After all, just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen.
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