Inspiration and Relation: Golett and Golurk
It’s time for a Generation 5 favorite. I felt like I had to tackle these guys because disagreement about their basis seems to persist among the fanbase. Notably, there are those who ponder their unique Ground/Ghost typing, claiming that they should instead be of the Steel/Ghost typing. After all, they are robots, aren’t they? Well, not exactly. While I can assure you that the robot assumption is not completely inaccurate, these Pokemon have a history that stretches back a bit farther than science fiction.
Dissecting their names gives us their basic inspiration right off the bat. The Gol- in their names is derived from golem. In the mythologies of various cultures, golems exist as interesting entities. Unlike the dragons and unicorns and qilins of lore, golems aren’t natural, albeit magical, creatures. Golems are usually sculptures, often of mud or rock, that are given life, often through supernatural or magical means. What unifies the concept of these behemoths is that they are almost always made in the image of a man. It is a direct consequence of this fact that stories about golems deal with themes surrounding the implication of man creating life in his own image, and trying to “play God” in a way.
Golems have the most significant presence in Hebrew culture, and means “shapeless mass” in the language. This definition was later extended to mean “unformed” and “imperfect” in the Talmud. Simply put, a golem is something that is incomplete. By definition, the Bible defines Adam, the first human, as a golem, as God creates him from the Earth in His image, and then grants his creation life.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. - Genesis 2:7
As men can be considered golems, they are then also incomplete and imperfect, a fundamental belief that exists throughout religious tradition and teaching. Golem also has its Hebrew roots as a word synonymous with fool and clod; interestingly, clod refers to both a mass of dirt and someone that is considered stupid. Why is this so interesting? Because Golett and Golurk can have the ability Klutz, which is itself a Yiddish word and is a synonym for clod. This ability assumes that the Pokemon is clumsy and unable to operate held items, preventing them from making use of this function in battle. These Pokemon also have low Speed stats, which too suggests that they are clumsy, ponderous beings. Not only are Golett and Golurk golems in the sense that they are artificially animated figures, but they also incorporate the broader meaning behind the term golem.
The most famous and relevant story concerning golems focuses on Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Maharal, a very revered and important figure in history. The chief rabbi of Prague, Rabbi Loew was a brilliant mind, and an influential philosopher, scholar, writer, and theologian. As a result, many Jews, especially those living in modern Czechoslovakia, are rather adverse to the golem story which tends to obscure the man’s more serious history, but the story of Loew and the golem are relevant to this piece, so I will continue.
Various versions of the story exist, so I will just give a simplified summary. In 1580, the Jews of Prague found themselves in need of assistance. Most versions of the tale say that they were at risk of suffering a horrific pogrom by Christians, as a response to their being accused of blood libel, a murder ritual. Though a devoutly religious man, who understood the dangers of his plan, Rabbi Loew saw it fit to take the risk of crafting a golem in order to protect Jewish lives. Through use of the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation, an actual manuscript which details, among many things, the process by which golems can be made, Loew found what he needed to do. It wasn’t until the rabbi used prayer and scholarly research that he found the key “ingredient”: God’s name. It is nearly ubiquitous in golem creation stories that sacred words, such as a specific spelling of God’s true name or a variation on the word “truth”, are to be written and placed on the golem’s head or arm in order to give it life; this is seemingly recognized in Golett and Golurk’s designs, which feature rune-like symbols on their abdomens, arms and shoulders, respectively. While shaping his creation from clay from the nearby river, Rabbi Loew underwent a long and arduous process of purification (as a precautionary form of protection), recitation (including Genesis 2:7), and revolution around the body of the golem. Placing his writing of God’s name on the golem, the simulacrum opened its eyes and came to life in the flesh. Loew then gave his creation orders:
“Know you, clod of clay, that we have fashioned you from the dust of the earth that you may protect the people of Israel against its enemies and shelter it from the misery and suffering to which our nation is subjected. Your name shall be Joseph, and you shall dwell in my courtroom and perform the work of a servant. You shall obey my commands and do all that I may require of you, go through fire, jump into water or throw yourself down from a high tower.”
The golem resembled a man in almost all aspects, however, he could not speak. This inability to speak, ubiquitous among golems in mythology, was its tell of incompleteness. Tradition holds that speech is a key ability of man, and the golem, imperfect as it is, lacks this crucial ability in its lowly attempt at imitating man’s image. Loew sent Joseph out to perform good deeds, but when want of secrecy, required him to wear a special talisman that rendered the golem invisible. Golett and Golurk’s Ghost-type, which presumably grants the ability of invisibility, may have been inspired by this. Additionally, it should be mentioned that the golem was named after Joseph Sheda, a half-man, half-spirit figure in the Talmud, which may be another inspiration for these Pokemon’s half-Ground, half-Ghost typing.
Eventually, Joseph served its purpose, but the story deviates from there. Some versions say that the pogrom was called off after the Jews were found innocent of murder. Others state that the golem became unstable and began wreaking havoc. Whatever the reason, Joseph was subdued and Rabbi Loew removed the sacred writing from his creation, taking from it the life it had been given, and rendering the golem once more as a clod of dirt.
The Rabbi Loew story is important in discussing these Pokemon because it’s the most detailed and definitive golem story, displaying most of the traits associated with golems. Additionally, it spawned the city of Prague’s adoption of the golem as a local symbol. Visual interpretations are often very agreeable with one another, and notably, Golurk bears quite a resemblance to them.
Common depictions of the Prague golem portray the entity with a bulky, round, and stout body. Thick legs and arms are attached to the creature’s frame, and it features shackle-like rings around its ankles. These are all traits that Golurk possesses. Also of great interest is how the golem is often portrayed with having what appear to be seals on its body, focused on the chest, appearing to be bolted down. Golurk too features a large seal of the same shape, complete with what appears to be bolts keeping it in place. Comparing the line on the first picture’s chest with the similar one on Golurk’s leads to another point. The line on Golurk’s chest is a crack, and the seal is bolted down to its body to keep the crack in check. In other words, that seal is keeping the spirit inside Golurk from getting out. In Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, the Pokedex tells us this:
Golurk were created to protect people and Pokémon. They run on a mysterious energy.
Like Loew’s golem, Golurk was created to protect its creators. And like all the golems of myth, Golurk is brought to life by supernatural power. Loew’s golem was likely granted life through some sort of divine spirit, and Golurk’s Ghost-type either results from this same idea, or replaces divine life-blessing with possession by some other sort of spirit or ghost. And what would be the reason to keeping the force inside sealed? The Pokemon Black Pokedex tells us that “Removing the seal on its chest makes its internal energy go out of control.” So, like the Hebrew golem of myth, Golurk is animated by a mysterious force that isn’t understood, and has the potential to cause it to run haywire.This is the most straightforward reasoning behind the Ground/Ghost typing. The Ground element results from the Pokemon being a golem fashioned from clay; it’s literally composed of dirt and mud. The darker region on its front may represent an inner layer of clay that’s been exposed from the outer layer chipping away. The Ghost-type reflects the fact that the clay figure has been brought to life through a supernatural force. It’s a classic golem, adapted for Pokemon’s type system.
Other cultures had tales of the golem as well. The ancient Greeks had Talos, a giant, living, iron statue which acted as a guardian for the island of Crete.
Talos is often depicted in a Greco-Roman sculpting style, with key attention to realistic replication of the human form. He is often shown wearing a short skirt called a pteryges (perfect for showing off the muscles of the human leg). The chiseled features of a Greek statue, as well as a skirt-like formation are also present in Golurk, with its crude but visibly brazen legs and tapering waist, which bears resemblance to a pteryges. On a related note, Golurk’s shoulders are similar to the epaulette shoulder guards worn by Roman soldiers.
But Talos, while fitting most of the criteria of a golem, was also made of metal, unlike most of Hebrew legend. As a recreation of the human form with the ability to act independently, Talos just as closely resembles a robot as he does a traditional golem. Robots, when you dissect their implications, aren’t much different from golems. The only real difference is the means by which they operate.
A popular sub-genre of science-fiction is Mecha, which tends to focus on giant fighting robots, known as mechs. Television shows and films such as Transformers, Gundam, and The Iron Giant are a few examples of Mecha media. Golurk especially appears to pay quite a few homages to mechs. This is unsurprising, given the popularity and proliferation of the genre in popular Japanese culture. In mecha media, mechs are often tasked with battling aliens and giant monsters, a trope that Pokemon homages in the anime episode “An Epic Defense Force!”, in which a movie is filmed, starring a Golurk that battles a giant Mecha-Tyranitar and an alien UFO. Like many fighting robots, Golurk specializes in punching with power-boosted fists. It learns a wide variety of punching attacks, which are greatly augmented by another of its abilities, Iron Fist. Many players were puzzled to find that Golurk can learn Fly, which its typing and frame would not normally suggest. This anomaly left many Pokemon fans pondering until the anime revealed the details behind Golurk’s flight.
Like many mechs, Golurk is able to expel some sort of fuel from its feet (and arms), with the common ability to retract its legs and hands while doing so. This fuel thrusts the entity with a flaming exhaust, allowing it to fly. Golurk’s alternate shiny coloration may also reference giant mecha, bestowing it with a metallic gray and digital green color scheme. If the yellow coloration on a normal Golett and Golurk is interpreted as light shining through from within the Pokemon’s body, the neon green coloring on a shiny Golurk can be seen as a parallel, representing a more electronic, rather than supernatural, power source.
And that is why Golett and Golurk have their unique Ground/Ghost typing, and lack the Steel type so many fans clamor for. So are Golett and Golurk robots? No, not really. They take inspiration from robots. Just as Girafarig is not truly a giraffe, these Pokemon are not really golems or robots (though they are almost certainly golems in a technical sense). They are inspired by both, however. These Pokemon have a lot of history behind their designs, which should be appreciated as more than just a simple reference to popular media. Golurk is really one of my favorite Pokemon introduced in Generation V, and these two golems have a great deal of creativity in them. James Turner, their character designer, certainly wasn’t as much of a klutz as his creations are.