"Lah-rees": figures of gods specific to an individual household; minor deities whose purpose is the guardianship of the household and the residents (both human and animal) who dwell within.
This is my collection of Lares, the protectors of my household. I sometimes think I can hear them conversing; it sounds like they're discussing how you go about applying for a transfer. "She's an awful lot of trouble for a little old lady"; "wouldn't it be nice to have just an ordinary little bubbe to look after?" "I mean, she does knit and drink tea and all that old-lady stuff, but she's just not ordinary..."
The "altar" at the back is an antique piece that belonged to the Husband's grandmother; the frosted "candles" actually light up, but the plug needs replacing. It was in his boyhood bedroom and was one of the first things I noticed the first time I visited the Long Island home he'd grown up in.
The dark figure to the left is a maternal figure of clay, replica of a mother (goddess?) from Cahokia, ancient native civilization in what is now Illinois. Next to her is Anubis, then the Bear Mother Goddess (more below) and the small Bastet, ancient Egyptian Cat Goddess. To Bast's right -- is the reason for this entry, again "more below".
This is my best and favorite - Ursa Mater, the Great Mother. This is a tiny figure, and was a gift from the Husband.
The Mother and Her Cub are separate figures, and are as endearing a representation as I've seen. Bears are very good mothers in nature, although it must be noted that they are believers in "tough love", and there are films of mother bears knocking their little ones head-over-heels with a smart clap of the paw when they're doing something that could easily result in the little ones putting themselves in harm's way. As a symbol of protection and wisdom and so on, the Bear is certainly among the finest of representations of the Goddess.
But this little figure is even more delightful. She has the moon and stars on Her chest - and when you set the little Cub off to the side, the essence of Her maternity becomes clear:
In the recessed place where the Cub fits, there are six paps, providers of the nourishment which are the essence of Motherhood, symoblizing the fact that the Mother is the provider of those elements necessary for growth, knowledge and even physical nourishment. This funny primitive little figure represents for me the Feminine aspects of the Creator, if you will, and it gives me real pleasure.
The Lares provided comfort and security to the families under their protection. Oh, the great Gods and Goddesses were present, of course, and their temples were places of mysticism and beauty. The ruins still standing in Rome, in Greece and Egypt still look to be places of awe. But the Lares are like home folks. It might be necessary to prepare grand offerings for the Gods -- Lares would be content to sit around and share a pizza.
So where is all this going? Well, my sentimentality is, among family and friends, legendary. I cry over schmalzy commercials, I'm moved to tears by the quiet in a forest or the sound of the waves splashing at the shore of Lake Superior. And if I'm given a gift by a friend, I cherish it.
There are layers of sentimentality. While I do cherish every single gift, there are some that go beyond that. The little Ursa Mater, as well as being a perfect representation of my idea of the All-Mother, was a gift from my husband. Because of that She is even dearer to me.
I really have felt that my cozy little funny little nest is under protection because of these, my household Lares. But I recently received another figure to add to my "collection", my Lares, one whose story is as ancient as those I could call "my people", and whose protection is equal to - or greater than - any of the others.
He is taller than the Bear Mother - She comes about to his shoulder. Otherwise he is of similar dimensions. He, too, is a figure made of clay and could be described as "primitive". A simple creature, simple face, and his most distinctive feature is the word - in Hebrew characters - on his chest.
He came in the mail, having been sent on from Ohio. He is as precious to me as my Bear Mother, and like Her, is a symbol not only of strength and protection but of sentimental affection. What is he, this funny little guy? He is a Golem.
The definition of a golem is a figure, amorphous, made of clay. The stories about golems are generally frightening, as golems can be likened to zombies, though they never had actual human life. They were made usually to hold off enemies or the like, and Isaac Bashevis Singer describes the golem tales as "the very essence of Jewish folklore".
But THIS Golem, the Golem of Prague, was made (it is said) in the 16th century by a particularly holy Rebbe Judah, the chief rabbi of the city of Prague. Under the rule of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, the Jews were ordered killed or expelled from the city. So Rebbe Judah made his golem, and it was very effective in protecting Jews who came under harm's way. But golems have no soul, and in time it became indiscriminate, killing not only gentiles but some Jews as well, and the Emperor begged the rabbi to stop his golem. He did so, and the empty clay shell was allegedly stored in the attic of an ancient synagogue in Prague, where rumor says it remains to this day.
The word on the Golem's chest is the Hebrew word for TRUTH (emet), and placing those three letters on the chest or forehead of the golem activates it to do your will. The danger, of course, lies in the lack of control of this soul-less creature. In order to stop him, one must erase the right-hand most character, the aleph (Hebrew is read right-to-left, so that is the first letter of "truth"). That changes the word to met which is the Hebrew word for "death" - and the golem becomes just an inanimate lump of clay.
There are many stories, movies, even comic books and "X-Files" episodes about golems. But this one, the Golem of Prague, was actually instrumental in saving the Jews from the anti-Semitic torture in the 16th century.
Now - my little figure of the Golem of Prague, is a strong symbol of protection, to be sure. But here's the rest of the story: he was actually made in Prague! This little clay figure, gift to me from dear young friends, was obtained when they were visiting in Prague recently! They stopped at museums and saw the old Jewish part of city, and they thought of me and brought away this dramatic, beautiful little figure. He returned to London with them and they sent him on to their folks in Ohio who sent him along to me.
The Golem - any golem, makes highly interesting reading, and along with the very comforting protection I find my gift Bohemian Golem stirring around in the inspiration part of my mind. Perhaps I should add to the body of wonderful stories about golems?