"Amine Discovered with the Goule", from the story of Sidi Nouman in the One Thousand and One Nights
"Amine Discovered with the Goule", from the story of Sidi Nouman in the One Thousand and One Nights

A ghoul (from Arabic: غول, ghūl) is a demon-like being or monstrous humanoid. The concept originated in pre-Islamic Arabian religion,[1] associated with graveyards and the consumption of human flesh. Modern fiction often uses the term to label a certain kind of 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 occupation directly involves death, such as a gravedigger or graverobber.[2]


Ghoul is from the Arabic غُول ghūl, from غَالَ ghāla, "to seize".[3] In Arabic, the term is also sometimes used to describe a greedy or gluttonous individual. See also the etymology of gal and gala: "to cast spells," "scream," "crow," and its association with "warlike ardor," "wrath," and the Akkadian "gallu," which refer to demons of the underworld.

The term was first used in English literature in 1786 in William Beckford's Orientalist novel Vathek,[4] which describes the ghūl of Arabic folklore. This definition of the ghoul has persisted until modern times with ghouls appearing in popular culture.[5]


Ghouls gathering for combat in a Persian poem
Ghouls gathering for combat in a Persian poem

In Arabic folklore, the ghul is said to dwell in cemeteries and other uninhabited places. A male ghoul is referred to as ghul while the female is called ghulah.[6] A source[who?] identified the Arabic ghoul as a female creature who is sometimes called Mother Ghoul (ʾUmm Ghulah) or a relational term such as Aunt Ghoul.[7] She is portrayed in many tales luring hapless characters, who are usually men, into her home where she can eat them.[7]

Some state[who?] that a ghoul is 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,[8] then taking the form of the person most recently eaten. One of the narratives identified a ghoul named Ghul-e Biyaban, a particularly monstrous character believed to be inhabiting the wilderness of Afghanistan and Iran.[9]

It was not until Antoine Galland translated One Thousand and One Nights into French that the Western concept of ghouls was introduced into European society.[citation needed] Galland depicted the ghoul as a monstrous creature that dwelled in cemeteries, feasting upon corpses.

Islamic theology

Ghoul are not mentioned in the Quran, but in hadith. While some consider the ghoul to be a type of jinn, other exegetes of the Quran (tafsir) conjectured that the ghouls are burned devils. Accordingly, the shayatin (devils) once had access to the heavens, where they eavesdropped, and returned to Earth to pass hidden knowledge to the soothsayers. When Jesus was born, three heavenly spheres were forbidden to them. With the arrival of Muhammad, the other four were forbidden. The marid among the shayatin continued to rise to the heavens, but were burned by comets. If these comets didn't burn them to death, they were deformed and driven to insanity. They then fell to the deserts and were doomed to roam the earth as ghouls.[10]

In one[which?] hadith it is said, lonely travelers can escape a ghoul's attack by repeating the adhan (call to prayer).[11] When reciting the Throne Verse, a ghoul might decide to convert to Islam.[12]

The ghoul could appear in male and female shape, but usually appears female to lure on male travelers to devour them.[13] Al-Masudi reports that on his journey to Syria, Umar slew a ghoul with his sword.[13] According to History of the Prophets and Kings, the rebellious (maradatuhum) among the devils and the ghouls have been chased away to the deserts and mountains and valleys a long time ago.[14]

According to the prophet Muhammad, ghouls are demons or enchantresses of genies that hurt humans by eating or spoiling food to frightening travelers when they are in the wilderness.

Other Muslim scholars, like Abī al-Sheikh al-Aşbahânī, describe the ghoul as a kind of female demon that was able to change its shape and appear to travelers in the wilderness to delude and harm.[15]

Ancient Mesopotamia

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In ancient Mesopotamia, there was a monster called 'Gallu' that could be[weasel words] regarded as one of the origins of the arabic ghoul. Gallu was an Akkadian demon of the underworld responsible for the abduction of vegetation god Damuzi to the realm of death.

Modern ghoul

The word ghoul entered the english tradition and was further identified as a grave robbing creature that feeds on dead bodies and children. In the west ghouls have no specific and have been described by Edgar Allen Poe as "neither man nor woman... neither brute nor human."[16]   

Pickman's Model a H.P. Lovecraft short story, a ghoul is a member of a subterranean race. Their adherence to an exclusive diet of dead human flesh mutated them into beastial humanoids able to carry on intelligent conversations with the living. H.P. Lovecraft's Pickman's Model has ghouls set underground with ghoul tunnels that connect ancient human ruins with deep underworlds. H.P Lovecraft hints that the ghouls emerge in subway tunnels to eat on train wreck victims.[17]

See also


  1. ^ El-Zein, Amira (2009). Islam, Arabs, and the intelligent world of the jinn. Contemporary Issues in the Middle East (1st ed.). Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780815650706. JSTOR j.ctt1j5d836. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  2. ^ Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. (2009). "The Arabic Ghoul and its Western Transformation". Folklore. 120 (3): 291–306. doi:10.1080/00155870903219730. ISSN 0015-587X. JSTOR 40646532. S2CID 162261281.
  3. ^ Robert Lebling (30 July 2010). Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar. I.B.Tauris. pp. 96–. ISBN 978-0-85773-063-3.
  4. ^ "Ghoul Facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about Ghoul". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2011-03-23.
  5. ^ Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. (11 November 2009). "The Arabic Ghoul and its Western Transformation". Folklore. 120 (3): 291–306. doi:10.1080/00155870903219730. S2CID 162261281.
  6. ^ Steiger, Brad (2011). The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 121. ISBN 9781578593675.
  7. ^ a b Reynolds, Dwight F. (2015). Reynolds, Dwight F (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Modern Arab Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 260. doi:10.1017/CCO9781139021708. ISBN 9780521898072.
  8. ^ "ghoul". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2006.
  9. ^ Melton, J Gordon (2010). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press. pp. 291. ISBN 9781578592814.
  10. ^ "Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica".
  11. ^ Böttcher & Krawietz 2021, pp. 28.
  12. ^ El-Zein 2009, pp. 140.
  13. ^ a b Böttcher, Annabelle; Krawietz, Birgit, eds. (2021). Islam, Migration and Jinn: Spiritual Medicine in Muslim Health Management. The Modern Muslim World (1st ed.). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 29. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-61247-4. ISBN 978-3-030-61246-7. ISSN 2945-6134. S2CID 243448335. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  14. ^ Abedinifard, Mostafa; Azadibougar, Omid; Vafa, Amirhossein, eds. (2021). Persian literature as world literature. New York, NY: Bloomsbury. p. 38. ISBN 9781501354229. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  15. ^ Al-Rawi, Ahmed. "The Mythical Ghoul in Arabic Culture" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Ghoul". britannica.
  17. ^ Lamb, Robert. "How Ghouls Work".