#FolkloreThursday, Akkadian mythology, Antoine Galland, Arabian Folklore, Arabian Nights, Brian Keene, Edgar Allan Poe, folklore, folklore creatures, Ghoul, Hans Christian Andersen, Harry Potter, horror, Lord Byron, preview of work, RL Stine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Wattpad
Let’s look at the definition of “ghoul”.
- An evil spirit or phantom, especially one supposed to rob graves and feed on dead bodies.
- A person morbidly interested in death or disaster.
Late 18th century: from Arabic ġūl, a desert demon believed to rob graves and devour corpses.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Alternative Title: ghūl
Ghoul, Arabic ghūl, in popular legend, demonic being believed to inhabit burial grounds and other deserted places. In ancient Arabic folklore, ghūls belonged to a diabolic class of jinn (spirits) and were said to be the offspring of Iblīs, the prince of darkness in Islam. They were capable of constantly changing form, but their presence was always recognizable by their unalterable sign—ass’s hooves.
Ghouls in Folklore
In some folklore they turn into hyenas, scavenging and doing what those giggling beasts do best. Reminds me a bit of Werehyenas, to be honest.
But the truly scary folklore can be traced back to Mesopotamia.
In the paper The Mythical Ghoul in Arabic Culture, Ahmed Al-Rawi shows that the ghoul is a very old, very scary creature.
For a long time, the idea of the ghoul preoccupied the lives of many people from different cultures and religions. Though the ghoul has origins as old as the Mesopotamian civilization, Arabs were largely responsible for popularizing it. Because Islam incorporated this being in its doctrine, the ghoul remained a source of fear and mystery in the Arab culture.
The earliest records of Arabs document their activities in Mesopotamia, providing evidence that the nomads of Arabia were always in direct contact with the more “advanced” people of Mesopotamia, mainly for the purpose of trade. This contact produced cultural exchange between the two peoples, mostly in terms of life style and borrowed words. In ancient Mesopotamia, there was a monster called ‘Gallu’ that could be regarded as one of the origins of the Arabic ghoul.1 Gallu was an Akkadian demon of the underworld ‘responsible for the abduction of the vegetation-god Damuzi (Tammuz) to the realm of death’ (Lindemans). Since Akkad and Sumer were very close to the Arabian deserts, Arab Bedouins in contact with Mesopotamian cultures could have borrowed the belief in the ghoul from the Akkadians.
Abū Asīd al-Sa’dī mentioned the story of Arqam Bin Abū al-Arqam in which a ghoul appeared and kidnapped al-Arqam’s, son who was on a desert journey. The ghoul, disguised in the form of a woman, carried the boy on its back. When they saw al-Arqam’s friend, the woman pretended to be the boy’s attendant (al-Wâqidī 1984, 104). This story emphasizes the well-known deceitful and wicked character of the ghoul. In folktales, motif (G443.2) ‘Ogre abducts woman’s children…’ (El-Shamy 1995, 149) is similar to the account given above. In general, the Pre-Islamic ghoul is known as a devilish female creature that intends to inflict harm on travelers and is able to change its form. In most cases, the ghoul is defeated by striking it with a sword
The Arab encyclopedic writer al-Jâhiẓ wrote about the types of animals and other creatures in al-Ḥaywân. He said the ghoul was believed to attract travelers by setting fire at night; subsequently, the travelers would lose their direction. (Motif G0412.3 ‘Ogre’s (ogress’s) fire lures person) (El-Shamy 2004, 1073). al-Jâhiẓ elaborated by saying that people viewed the ghoul as a type of genie, and the si’lwah was the female genie if she did not change (tataghawal) or become a ghoul by deluding travelers. If a genie changed its shape and harassed travelers, it would become a she-devil or ghoul (1969, 195). In fact, al Jâhiẓ confirmed the continuous belief in the ghoul and added a strange conviction popular among Arabs: the si’lwah would die only by one mighty blow from the sword because if two strikes were directed to it, it would not expire until one thousand blows follow (1969, 233 and 235).
The Arabian Nights abounds with references to the ghoul and some of the ideas cited above. For instance, in Richard Burton’s translation of the ‘Story of Prince Sayf Al-Muluk and the Princess Badi’a Al-Jamal’ in The Thousand Nights and a Night, a man and his fellows were taken by a ghoul to its cave, but they managed to blind its eyes with hot rod and smite it with ‘the sword a single stroke across his waist’. The ghoul cried out: ‘O man, an thou desire to slay me, strike me a second stroke’. As this man was about to hit it again, his fellowman said: ‘Smite him not a second time, for then he will not die, but will live and destroy us’ (1886-8, vol. 7, 361). This tale corresponds with al-Jâhiẓ’s account of how to kill a ghoul by striking it once; apparently such a belief had not faded away from Arabic culture despite the fact that many centuries elapsed between al-Jâhiẓ’s time and that of the Arabian Nights composition.
More about this fascinating look at ghouls in folklore can be found in the original paper.
According to Middle Eastern mythology, ghouls are evil female spirits of the desert. Able to assume the shape of an animal, ghouls are grave robbers living off the flesh of the dead. Travelers planning to cross any of the vast deserts or savannahs of North Africa, the Middle East, or Central Asia should be aware that ghouls often entice men off the road and confuse them. Once the men are disoriented, the ghouls proceed to feast on their flesh.
They also hunt for young children, drink blood and steal unattended coins. In Arabic, the term is sometimes used to describe a greedy or gluttonous individual.
Ghouls are a type of demonic spirit found in Arabic mythology and folklore but has also become a word used to describe a number of unrelated undead monsters – the ghoul was believed to haunt graveyards and dig up graves so as to feast on the dead bodies: this trait has remained an important part of the legend of ghouls and in most translations a ghoul is depicted as cannibalistic and degenerated, one of the oldest surviving texts that relates to ghouls in A Thousand and One Arabian Nights but they have appeared in countless other legends and folklore around the world.
As a result of these myths the word “ghoul” has also been used to describe people who have a fascination with the macabre or grotesque – either as a tongue-in-cheek or insulting term.
In Sumerian and Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) mythology, the Gallus (also called gallas) were great demons/devils that roamed the streets hiding in dark corners or deserted places.
According to Morris Jastrow’s Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, the gallu lurked in remote or hidden places like graves, mountain tops and in the shadows of ruins. They would go out at night, enter homes through holes and crevices, and torture their victims.
The Gullu were said to be so frighteningly hideous that they were associated with nightmares. They were also known to drink the blood and devour the flesh and bones of their victims.
Ghouls who are well-fed on human flesh are indistinguishable from normal humans. The longer a ghoul goes without feeding, the less human it looks. A ghoul in the later stages of starvation will be extremely thin and pale, with veins clearly visible through the skin, and will have long, claw-like nails.
Historically, ghouls have been sighted in burial caves and tombs throughout the Middle East. The photos above were taken at the ancient Saudi Arabian burial cave known as Dahl Murubbeh, where ghouls are believed to inhabit.
There are several theories regarding the origin of ghouls. The three most common are that ghouls are a type of demon, the result of demon and human cross-breeding, or normal humans who suffer from an ancestral curse. The fact that ghouls are genetically indistinguishable from humans seems to suggest the latter, but the existence of shape-shifters who can mimic humans down to the cellular level means that it’s impossible to rule out a demonic origin.
Because ghouls are able to take on the form of any human whose flesh they have eaten, those who are careful to conceal their eating habits can operate in human society. Even if they are caught, ghouls are often initially mistaken for human cannibals, with their true nature only revealed when they are deprived of human flesh.
In order to avoid starvation, a ghoul needs consume an enormous amount of human flesh (10-15 pounds per day). Those who do not begin to suffer the effects of starvation, eventually becoming inhuman predators. While most ghoul children are raised on human flesh, they do not seem to suffer the effects of deprivation until they reach puberty.
Although ghouls reproduce normally, some ghoul families believe that it is necessary to breed with humans in order to prevent their bloodlines from becoming inbred to the point of weakness. Families who follow this tradition typically believe that offspring between a human and a ghoul will only be produced if the human has first been buried alive or imprisoned in a crypt for at least 24 hours prior to mating. It is not known whether or not there is any truth to this superstition, or if all children who result from such unions become ghouls. Human women impregnated by male ghouls are typically held captive until the child is born, then killed and eaten. Human men who mate with female ghouls have a considerably shorter expected lifespan.
Ghouls have been reported throughout history in every part of the world.
The New Louisiana Swamp Monster is very creepy ghoul/swamp monster that lives in Louisiana.
The monster was allegedly first sighted when a deer hunter at Berwick was hunting at night. A very strange photo appeared on his deer stand camera. It showed a very odd creature with slender limbs, glowing eyes, and a growling mouth. The hunting camera was broken but the memory card was still there. NBC news station said it looks like a cross between an animal and a human.
-Just finished its dinner
WARNING: If you feel as if something is hunting you, don’t look back. These creatures will attack anything with a soul. If they feel as if you’re leading them to more prey, be cautious. They will follow you to the place where you’re headed and pack together to get prey from the area. (Even though they prefer to hunt alone)
A ghoul is a demon-like creature who eats children or corpses. Although it is thought that ghouls are only female this not true. A ghoul has many powers like regeneration, shape-shifting and paralyzing touch. A light can harm a ghoul, they tend to avoid it. To kill it you must use fire, acid, lightning, or decapitation. It is also claimed by bite that a human or person can be turned into a ghoul themselves, including other species of monster or creature. A ghoul is an intelligent type of undead that can trick the victim by its clever schemes.
A ghoul is a monster or evil spirit in Arabic mythology, associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh. The term was first used in English literature in 1786, in William Beckford‘s Orientalist novel Vathek, which describes the ghūl of Arabic folklore. In modern fiction, the term has often been used for a certain kind of undead monster. By extension, the word ghoul is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose profession is linked directly to death, such as a gravedigger or graverobber.
A ghoul is also a desert-dwelling, shapeshifting, demon that can assume the guise of an animal, especially a hyena. It lures unwary people into the desert wastes or abandoned places to slay and devour them. The creature also preys on young children, drinks blood, steals coins, and eats the dead, then taking the form of the person most recently eaten.
It’s obvious that the main features of ghouls are that they are creepy and devour flesh. No wonder they have found their way into modern culture.
Ghouls in Modern Culture
It was not until Antoine Galland translated Arabian Nights into French that the western idea of Ghoul was introduced. Galland depicted the Ghoul as a monstrous creature that dwelled in cemeteries, feasting upon corpses. This definition of the Ghoul has persisted until modern times, with Ghouls appearing in literature, television and film, as well video games.
Lord Byron made a reference to the ghouls in his epic poem “The Giaour” (1813):
“Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave,
Go – and with Gouls and Afrits rave;
Till these in horror shrink away
From spectre more accursed than they!”
In 1987, Brian McNaughton wrote a series of dark fantasy short stories in which these Lovecraftian ghouls are the protagonists. The stories, collectively published as The Throne of Bones, were a critical success and the book went on to receive a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
Much like trolls, ghouls are one of the least consistently portrayed creatures in fiction, partly because the phrases “ghoul” and “ghoulish” are poorly defined terms that can refer to anything or anybody interested in the macabre and morbid, giving writers the ability to name almost any cannibalistic, flesh-eating or just creepy monster after them.
Besides being creatures associated with death, cannibalism, and degeneracy, ghouls (as monsters) can come in a plethora of types and subtypes.
A whole list can be read on TV Tropes.
In Harry Potter, ghouls are relatively harmless.
“…in wizarding families the ghoul often becomes a talking point or even a family pet.”
—Newt Scamander on the roles ghouls play in wizarding homes.
A ghoul is an ugly creature that resembles a slimy, buck-toothed ogre. They tend to live in the attics or barns of wizards and witches. They are relatively harmless creatures and are just seen as nuisances because of the noise they make. They are relatively dimwitted, and live off of bugs and other household pests. At most, they will groan and throw objects.
The first literary reference to a ghoul is from One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights. The often fantastic tales from the Arabian Nights cross all genres of literature to include some well-known favorites – such as Aladdin and Sinbad. Early stories in the collection date back to at least the 8th century. The first English language publication of One Thousand and One Nights was in 1706. The origin of the collection comes from cultures across the Middle East to also include India, Egypt, and Mesopotamian folktales.
Many stories in the Arabian Nights reference ghouls, in particular The History of Gherib and His Brother Agib. In this first written story of ghouls, an outcast prince battles the hungry creatures. He captures them and converts them to Islam. Zombies and ghouls cannot possibly lend themselves well to religious indoctrination and The History of Gherib should be an interesting read just to see how that works out for the prince.
In popular culture, ghouls have become all sorts of freakish creatures. They still tend to prefer graveyards or deserts and they still mostly like the taste of human flesh. In the Harry Potter series, the Weasley family keeps one as a pet. At least one literary character has found a ghoul to be useful such as inThe Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft. In this story the hero finds some friendly ghouls. Against all odds, one happens to be an old friend. The ghouls help him along on his quest.
Ghouls are in general grotesque. In today’s gaming world, they are often warped and mutated humans with large, sharp teeth and eyes. When they aren’t digging up the graveyard, they run in packs like hyenas to find themselves a tasty meal. Ghouls, as such lively guests in the realm of monsters, deserve a special place of respect for their gruesome appearance and frightening behavior.
The only books I could find where ghouls are prominent creatures are:
“June 1984. Timmy Graco is looking forward to summer vacation, taking it easy and hanging out with his buddies. Instead his summer will be filled with terror and a life-and-death battle against a nightmarish creature that few will believe even exists. Timmy has learned that the person who’s been unearthing fresh graves in the cemetery isn’t a person at all. It’s a thing. And it’s after Timmy and his friends. If Timmy hopes to live to see September, he’ll have to escape the . .”
The ghoul here lives in a network of tunnels beneath a cemetery and feeds on the dead.
“The fog shimmered up over the dark grass, over the bent, scraggly trees. Covering the hill, covering the old graveyard.
And then I heard the horrifying moan. Through the windowpane, I heard a long, low moan floating from the hill.
Human and animal at the same time.
So cold. So sad.
Here ghouls are depicted as non-corporeal green mists that were humans at one point of time, and are able to steal bodies.
[There are others, of course. If any come to mind, add them in the comments!]
I first encountered these creepy monsters in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. And despite the other ways they’re represented in literature, movies and folklore, it’s how I’ll always see them.
Ghûls are a pestilent species in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Ghûls are vile creatures, that are often the target of Uruk hunting parties. While individually weak, they often attack in great numbers to overwhelm their enemies.
Ghûls have a weak melee bite or scratch attack, in addition to a spitting attack that can inflict poison. Their large swarming numbers make it difficult to move, and restrict Talion’s ability to dodge the venomous projectiles of other Ghûls.
The Ghûl Matron is a larger, tougher variety of Ghûl.
Ghûls emerge from Ghûl mounds, which will only appear during the nighttime. They can be found attacking patrolling Uruks or Uruk strongholds. Their attacks can be prevented by an Uruk Torchbearer, who will attempt to illuminate a Ghûl mound in order to stop Ghûls from spawning.
With the addition of the Lord of the Hunt downloadable content, Ghûls can be summoned even in the daylight with the use of Ghûl Bait. By shooting Ghûl bait with Elf-shot, a nearby Ghûl mound will erupt and summon a swarm.
Using everything from folklore (and the scary way I first saw them), I created my own version of ghouls for my stories.
Ghouls [Origin of the Fae page]
Demons that eat corpses. Love to eat Vampires.
Red-brown slimy creature with vague humanoid form and glowing yellow orbs for eyes – orange slit for pupil.
Fear of fire and the sun. Live underground like moles.
Hunt vampires and search for human corpses.
Mortal enemies: None known.
[We’ll look at their favourite food – vampires – next week.]
I used these creatures in a story I wrote for a competition.
“Slimy creatures slowly made their way out of the forest. Karen nearly screamed. Only the knowledge that they were no threat to the living kept her from completely freaking out.” – The Tree, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading this terrifying tale. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Where did you hear about ghouls for the first time?