Excerpted from Beliefnet's new book, "The Beliefnet Guide to Kabbalah."

It's challenging enough just to read and understand the Sefir Yezirah (the kabbalistic "Book of Creation"). Then you have to put the very complicated procedures that it teaches into practice. This requires discipline, patience, wisdom, intelligence, and almost unimaginable spiritual strength. But it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms's commentary on Sefir Yezirah includes detailed instructions for making a golem, an artificial human being. (In Jewish legend, the golem was a creature brought into being at crucial times to help save the Jews from their enemies.)

Before you begin, you'll have to memorize a bewildering number of formulae-and be able to utter tens of thousands of Hebrew phonemes and phrases in the correct order and without making any mistakes. Then you and your partners (you should never create a golem by yourself!) should purify yourselves and dress in clean white vestments. You'll need a sufficient supply of virgin soil, taken from a place that's never been dug, and fresh springwater that has never been poured into a vessel of any sort. After you mix the soil and water and knead it together, it's time to get to work.

Taking care to breathe properly and to make the right head movements, you'll have to combine each Hebrew letter and vowel with each of the consonants of the tetragrammaton (the four-letter name of God, YHWH, that pious Jews are forbidden to pronounce out loud-instead they pronounce them as Adonai, or "Lord"), while meditating on the parts of the body. Depending on how you combine the vowels and which sequences you use (not all rabbis agree about this-Rabbi Abraham Abulafia's instructions, for example, require tens of thousands more combinations than Rabbi Eleazar's), the entire process should take between seven and thirty-five hours.

When you have finished, the golem you have created will only be a mental image. But that doesn't mean that he has to stay in your mind. You can project yourself into this mental construct and use it as a vehicle to ascend to astral realms-or you can transfer it into the clay form that you mixed and bring it to life in the real world. If you don't want to create a whole man, you can create just a single limb or organ-a useful tool in the practice of medicine.

One of the best-known legends about a golem takes place in the late 1500s, when Rabbi Judah Loew created one to protect the Jews of Prague from a pogrom. When the creature went out of control, threatening to slaughter all of the gentiles in the city, the rabbi undid his magic. The story was actually adapted from a popular legend about Loew's contemporary, Rabbi Elijah of Chelm; Loew only became its hero in the late eighteeenth century.

To this day the golem lies in the uppermost part of the synagogue of Prague, covered with cobwebs that have spun from wall to wall to encase the whole arcade so that it should be hidden from all human eyes, especially pregnant wives in the women's section. No one is permitted to touch the cobwebs, for anyone who does so dies. Even the oldest congregants no longer remember the Golem. However, Zvi the Sage, the grandson of the Maharal, still deliberates whether it is proper to include the Golem in a minyan, or in a company for the saying of grace.

The lines quoted above are form Ruth Wisse's translation of the great Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz's short story "The Golem," which appeared in 1893.

The golem has been ubiquitous in popular literature since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published in 1818. He has turned up recently in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator movies, and novels like Frances Sherwood's The Book of Splendor, The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum, Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers, Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay-and even in Steven Spielberg's full-length children's animated feature, An American Tale....

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