A ghoul is a folkloric monster associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh, often classified as undead. The oldest surviving literature that mention ghouls is likely One Thousand and One Nights. The term is first attested in English in 1786, in William Beckford's Orientalist novel Vathek,[1] which describes the ghūl of Arabian folklore.

By extension, the word ghoul is also used derogatorily to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose professions are linked directly to death, such as gravediggers.

Early etymologyEdit

Ghoul is from the Arabic ghul, from ghala 'to seize'.[2] Marc Cramer and others believe the term to be etymologically related to Gallu, a Mesopotamian demon.[3][4]

In Arabian folkloreEdit

In ancient Arabian folklore, the ghūl (Arabic: literally demon)[5] dwells in burial grounds and other uninhabited places. The ghul is a devilish type of jinn believed to be sired by Iblis.[6]

The Arabian ghoul is a desert-dwelling, shape shifting demon that can assume the guise of an animal, especially a hyena. It lures unwary travellers into the desert wastes to slay and devour them. The creature also preys on young children, robs graves, drinks blood, steals coins and eats the dead,[5] taking on the form of the one they previously ate.

In the Arabic language, the female form is given as ghouleh[7] and the plural is ghilan. In colloquial Arabic, the term is sometimes used to describe a greedy and/or gluttonous individual.

Other influencesEdit

The star Algol takes its name from the definite Arabic term "al-ghūl", "the demon".[8]


According to legend, ghouls are perceived to be unintelligent and are primarily driven by their instinct to feed. They are nocturnal because they prefer the night to disguise their cannibal activities. Ghouls are known to be deterred by sun and artificial light, which is why it is thought that by burning a ghoul it can be killed.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. Template:Cite web
  2. Template:Cite web
  3. Marc Cramer. The devil within. W. H. Allen, 1979. ISBN 0491023669, 9780491023665
  4. Template:Cite web
  5. 5.0 5.1 Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. *Muhawi, Ibrahim, and Sharif Kanaana. Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1988
  8. Template:Cite web
ar:غول (كائن خرافي)

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