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Creating Life in a Very Strange Way

Theodore von Kármán was a Hungarian-American engineer and physicist in the fields of aeronautics and astronautics, and responsible for numerous important advances in aerodynamics. Concerned about the rise in fascism and Nazism in Europe, von Kármán accepted in 1930 the directorship of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, emigrated to live in the United States and in 1936 founded Aerojet with Frank Malina and Jack Parsons. Nazi developments in rocketry during the Second World War encouraged the U.S. military to look into the potential use of rockets in warfare, a matter in which von Kármán played a significant role. For example, during the early part of 1943, the Experimental Engineering Division of the United States Army Air Forces Materiel Command worked closely with von Kármán on the status of Germany’s rocket program.

Theodore von Kármán

In 1946, after the hostilities were over and Hitler and his cronies were firmly defeated, von Kármán became the first chairman of the Scientific Advisory Group, which studied aeronautical technologies for the United States Army Air Forces. He also helped found AGARD, the NATO aerodynamics research oversight group, the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences, the International Academy of Astronautics, and the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Brussels. At the age of 81, von Kármán received the first National Medal of Science, bestowed in a White House ceremony by President John F. Kennedy. He was recognized specifically for “…his leadership in the science and engineering basic to aeronautics; for his effective teaching and related contributions in many fields of mechanics, for his distinguished counsel to the Armed Services, and for his promoting international cooperation in science and engineering.” Von Kármán passed away on a trip to Aachen in 1963, and is buried in Pasadena, California.

Perhaps most startling of all, von Kármán claimed until his dying day that an ancestor of his, one Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague, had succeeded in creating a Golem, an artificial human being endowed with life, according to Hebrew folklore. A Golem, essentially, is an animated being created entirely out of inanimate matter; in the pages of the Bible, the word is used to refer to an embryonic or incomplete figure. The earliest stories of Golems date to ancient Judaism. For example, Adam is described in the Talmud as initially being created as a Golem when his dust was “kneaded into a shapeless hunk.” Like Adam, all Golems are said to be modeled out of clay. In many tales the Golem is inscribed with magic, or religious, words that ensure it remains animated. Writing one of the names of God on its forehead, placing a slip of paper in its mouth, or inscribing certain terms on its body, are all ways and means to instill and continue the life of a Golem. Another way of activating the creature is by writing a specific incantation using the owner’s blood on calfskin parchment, and then placing it inside the Golem’s mouth. Conversely, removing the parchment is said to deactivate the creation.

As for the tale of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, it must be noted that many scholars who have studied the Golem controversy are convinced that the story of the 16th century Chief Rabbi of Prague is merely an entertaining piece of Jewish folklore. Nevertheless, it is worthy of examination. According to the legend, under Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled from 1576 to 1612, the Jews in Prague were to be expelled from the city or outright slaughtered. In an effort to try and afford the Jewish community some protection, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay taken from the banks of the Vltava River and subsequently succeeded in bringing it to life via archaic rituals and ancient Hebrew incantations. As the Golem grew, it became increasingly violent.

A Prague reproduction of the Golem.

The Emperor supposedly begged Rabbi Loew to destroy the Golem, promising in return to stop the persecution of the Jews. The rabbi agreed and quickly deactivated his creation by rubbing out the first letter of the word “emet” (“truth” or “reality”) from the creature’s forehead and leaving the Hebrew word “met,” meaning death. The Emperor understood, however, that the Golem’s body, stored in the attic of the Old New Synagogue in Prague, could be quickly restored to life again if it was ever needed. Accordingly, legend says, the body of Rabbi Loew’s Golem still lies in the synagogue’s attic to this very day, awaiting the time when it will once again be summoned to continue the work of its long-dead creator. There are rumors that, on the day he died, rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons attempted to create life in Golem-like fashion.

Filmmaker Renate Druks, who was an acquaintance of Marjorie Elizabeth Cameron, said in Nat Freedland’s The Occult Explosion: “I have every reason to believe that Jack Parsons was working on some very strange experiments, trying to create what the old alchemists call a homunculus, a tiny artificial man with magic powers. I think that’s what he was working on when the accident happened.” Ancient alchemists had several methods of bringing these diminutive humanoids to life; one involved the mandrake. Popular, centuries-old belief holds that the mandrake plant grew on ground where semen ejaculated by hanged men had fallen to earth, and, as a result, its roots vaguely resemble those of a human being. To ensure a successful creation of the homunculus, the root is to be picked before dawn on a Friday morning by a black dog, then washed and nourished with milk and honey and, in some prescriptions, blood, whereupon it develops into a miniature human that will guard and protect its owner.

Another method, cited by Dr. David Christianus at the University of Giessen during the 18th century, was to take an egg laid by a black hen, poke a tiny hole through its shell, replace a bean-sized portion of the egg white with human semen, seal the opening with virgin parchment, and bury the egg in dung on the first day of the March lunar cycle. The ancient teachings suggested that a miniature humanoid would emerge from the egg after thirty days and, in return, help and protect its creator for a steady diet of lavender seeds and earthworms. How curious that both Parsons and von Karman, in roundabout ways, had links to stories of manufactured life-forms – and in Parsons’ case, even to a “tiny artificial man with magic powers.”

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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