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For other uses of the term "ghoul", see Ghoul (disambiguation).
"Amine Discovered with the Goule", from the story of Sidi Nouman, of the One Thousand and One Nights.

A ghoul is a monster or evil spirit in Arabian mythology, associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh. The oldest surviving literature that mention ghouls is likely One Thousand and One Nights.[1] The term was first used in English literature in 1786, in William Beckford's Orientalist novel Vathek,[2] which describes the ghūl of Arabian 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.

Early etymology[edit]

Ghoul is from the Arabic غول ghūl, from ghala, "to seize".[3] The term is etymologically related to Gallu, a Mesopotamian demon.[4][5]

In Arabian folklore[edit]

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

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,[7] then taking the form of the person most recently eaten.

In the Arabic language, the female form is given as ghoulah[8] and the plural is ghilan.[citation needed] In colloquial Arabic, the term is sometimes used to describe a greedy or gluttonous individual.

Ghouls in popular culture[edit]

The star Algol and Batman villain Ra's al Ghul take their names from the definite Arabic term Rās al-ghūl, or The Demon's Head.[9] Ghouls are significant characters in the Japanese manga Tokyo Ghoul and its anime adaptation, albeit reimagined with human-like traits. Ghouls also appears as enemies in the Castlevania series of videogames. In one modern theme, ghouls serve as minions of Vampires. Ghouls are sometimes confused with Zombies, causing them to be mistaken as undead monsters rather than demons. In Night of the Living Dead, the undead antagonists are referred by the characters in the film as ghouls, though modern audiences would identify them as zombies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Story of Sidi-Nouman". Retrieved 2012-07-05. 
  2. ^ "Ghoul Facts, information, pictures | articles about Ghoul". Retrieved 2011-03-23. 
  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. ^ Cramer, Marc (1979). The Devil Within. W.H. Allen. ISBN 978-0-491-02366-5. 
  5. ^ "Cultural Analysis, Volume 8, 2009: The Mythical Ghoul in Arabic Culture / Ahmed Al-Rawi". Retrieved 2011-03-23. 
  6. ^ "ghoul". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 22, 2006. 
  7. ^ "ghoul". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 22, 2006. 
  8. ^ *Muhawi, Ibrahim, and Sharif Kanaana (1988). Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  9. ^ Garfinkle, Robert A (1997-04-13). Star-Hopping: Your Visa to Viewing the Universe. p. 215. ISBN 9780521598897.