Friday, June 25, 2010

The Ghoul

The Ghoul is an undead creature found in Arabic folklore and legend, most significantly in The One Thousand and One Nights, which makes the earliest known references to these foul creatures. The Ghoul commonly feeds on the flesh of corpses, but it is more than willing to kill in order to make a fresh meal.

Other Names

The Ghoul doesn't have many variant names, but among those few are Ghul, the Hungry Dead, algul, grave-creature, coffin-fiend, giggling zombie. The word ghoul itself is derived from the Arabic ghul, which literally means “demon” or "to seize."


For the most part, the Ghoul tends to haunt cemeteries, where there is an innumerable amount of corpses to feed on. The creature may also haunt the desert, abandoned oases, and the sites of old battlefields, or other remote places, where the creature can attack and eat its victims without being disturbed.


The Ghoul is completely anthropophagous, feasting nightly on the flesh of living or recently-deceased humans. However, the creature prefers to attack the living if it can do so with minimal risk to itself. Although the Ghoul will dig up a corpse to satisfy its hunger, it is a misconception that this is the creature’s preference.


The Ghoul vaguely resembles the person it was in life, in regards to both overall size and shape. The creature tends to be gaunt and leanly muscular in appearance, having long, lanky arms and short, thin legs. The creature’s hands and feet end in razor-sharp talons. The Ghoul has bulging jaundice-yellow eyes and a large mouth filled with rows of sharp, needlelike teeth. The creature’s skin is thick and ranges from sickly yellow to light gray in color. The Ghoul appears either completely naked or wearing the tattered remains of whatever clothing it was wearing when it died.


The Ghoul is a cowardly form of the Undead, although still dangerous nonetheless. For this reason, the Ghoul is not a solitary predator by nature, but tends to hunt in packs of three to twelve at a time. It prefers to hunt under the cover of darkness, due once again to the fact that the creature is cowardly and shy. If hunting alone, it will lure a child or a sickly adult into the darkness with strange noises or some other means. Once it has the intended victim in it’s clutches, it savagely kills them by cutting the victim’s throat with a savage swipe of its talons or by stoning them to death. If it cannot find a living victim, it will settle for digging up and feeding on a newly-interred corpse. According to some legends, if a battle has occurred near its domain, it may use its power to shapeshift to appear as a healer to the wounded, and will then proceed to attack them in that form.

For the most part, the Ghoul isn’t very intelligent, and seems to be incapable of speech (the only exceptions being growls or hissing). It is a predatory, animalistic killer, although the creature seems to have an understanding of simple tools. This revenant is driven entirely by instinct and its never-ending hunger for human flesh. When confronted, the Ghoul will growl and hiss to frighten away intruders or, failing that, will attempt to escape by fleeing into the darkness or burrowing into a grave. However, the Ghoul will fight if cornered, viciously slashing with its talons and tearing with its teeth. The creature’s sheer speed and agility make it very difficult to strike or injure the Ghoul.

As mentioned earlier, it is a misconception that the Ghoul prefers the flesh of recently-dead humans. This comes from the fact that, most of the time, the creature chooses to feed on fresh corpses because it is both an easy source of food for the creature to procure and it can do so without any risk to itself. The Ghoul actually prefers living flesh, and if given an opportunity with little risk to itself, it will certainly take its chances. The creature is intelligent enough to understand simple tactics, knowing when it is outnumbered and when to flee if defeat is imminent. The Ghoul will only attack a healthy, strong individual if the undead are greater in number.


Although the Ghoul is one of the weakest of the Undead, it isn’t wise to underestimate the creature. According to Arabic legend, the Ghoul possesses supernatural strength, while other sources say that the creature possesses the same degree of strength that it had in life. Either way, it is still enough to overpower the Ghoul’s chosen prey. In addition, the Ghoul possesses a supernatural degree of speed and agility. The creature is agile enough to climb sheer walls as quickly as the revenant can run, and the Ghoul is extremely difficult to escape from on foot. It has heightened senses of sight, smell, and hearing. The creature can see clearly in the darkness, and can smell living or dead flesh from up to a mile away. The Ghoul can hear footsteps from several yards away, alerting it to intruders and a potential meal. The Ghoul itself excels in stealth, moving quickly and quietly from one shadow to another in pursuit of its prey. Again, according to Arab folklore, the Ghoul is a shapeshifter, able to take on the form of a hyena at will. Although weak in comparison to other forms of the Undead, the Ghoul is not without its weapons. The creature’s fingers are tipped with razor-sharp black talons, which the revenant finds useful for tearing flesh from the bodies of its victims, digging quickly into burial plots, and for rending the flesh of intruders. The Ghoul’s claws are sharp enough to rend wood, stone, and even soft metals, as well as cloth and thick leather. Inside the creature’s mouth are several rows of needle-sharp teeth, allowing the creature to deliver an extremely painful, disfiguring bite. To make matters worse, the Ghoul’s bite is disease-ridden, causing the unfortunate individual to waste away and die within a few days. At midnight, the victim will rise as one of the undead. In addition to its bite, powerful claws, and pestilential bite, the Ghoul is immune to pain and aging and is unaffected by drugs, toxins, or volatile gases. It is immune to extreme cold, and while the Ghoul can be injured using blades or firearms, these weapons cannot kill the creature. The Ghoul has incredible regenerative capabilities, enabling the creature to withstand large-caliber firearms and even small explosives.

The Ghoul is especially dangerous in large numbers, despite the creature’s cowardice. A pack of four ghouls can devour a full-grown man in less than five minutes, leaving nothing but the bones, which are then taken back to the creatures’ lair to be broken open and the marrow extracted.


The Ghoul, while feral and cunning, does have its share of vulnerabilities. Since the Ghoul is nocturnal by nature, the creature is unable to tolerate strong light sources, most notably sunlight or artificial light. However, neither causes the Ghoul any real harm. Instead, exposure tends to disorientate and confuse the creature. Sunlight has the strongest effect on the Ghoul, drastically reducing its strength and speed, ultimately weakening the creature enough for a killing stroke. This would be advantageous to the cunning Hunter, especially when there are large numbers of the ghouls.

Slaying the Ghoul

The Ghoul, like many members of the undead, is highly vulnerable to fire. This is the best way to destroy this unholy flesh-eater, but the blaze must be hot enough to reduce the creature to ashes, completely beyond the point of any hope of regeneration. There are a few methods available, including electrocution, incendiary devices, and even concentrated acid will work. Decapitation is a highly effective and proven method of destruction for many monsters, and this applies to the Ghoul as well. Once incapacitated (perhaps by exposure to ultraviolet rays), the Ghoul should be decapitated with a single stroke and then burned to ashes, which should be scattered to the winds.

It is highly likely that the Ghoul can be harmed and slain by blessed weapons, silver, holy water, and other such things. This seems likely because the Ghoul is one of the Devil’s own, and cannibalism is a mortal sin in the eyes of God. Therefore, one shouldn’t be surprised if such a weapon proves to be highly efficacious.


The Ghoul is a ravenous, anthropophagous (man-eating) species of the Undead. It is one of the weakest of the living dead next to the Zombie, but like the Zombie, it often attacks in packs. Such a group of these creatures can quickly overwhelm a full-grown man.

How the Ghoul is created is subject to debate among folklorists. Some say that a human must drink the blood of a Vampire, but in turn cannot be drained of blood by the Vampire itself. The human then dies as a result of the tainted blood, which destroys the human body. At midnight, the human rises from his mortal death, not as a Vampire, but as a Ghoul. This produces a loyal, totally obedient servant that must consume human flesh for survival. In order to keep the creature’s body from decomposing, the Ghoul’s vampiric master must allow the creature to feed on its blood every few weeks. Most folklorists dismiss this as a fictional creation.

However, folklorists seem to agree that one of the most common ways to become a Ghoul is to be bitten by one of the creatures and survive. The victim is struck down by a wasting disease that is known to some folklorists as “ghoul fever.” The victim succumbs to total bodily paralysis within twenty-four hours of being attacked. Over the next twenty-four hours to a week (the debate over the amount of time it actually takes to become one of these creatures is vigorously debated by experts), the unfortunate individual wastes away and dies, rising at midnight the next night as one of the Undead, doomed to roam the night forever in search of fresh human flesh.

According to Arabic folklore, there is yet another way to become a Ghoul. In Muslim folklore, a sinner (most often a prostitute, since the Ghoul tends to be predominantly female in that part of the world) who has not lived their lives according to God’s laws is denied paradise when the individual dies, and is forced to roam the earth for eternity, feeding on the flesh of humans unfortunate enough to fall into the revenant’s clawed hands.

The Ghoul is the living dead, embodying the multi-cultural taboo against cannibalism. While weak, the Ghoul is still dangerous when confronted. Do not underestimate this creature!


Bane, Theresa. Actual Factual Dracula: A Compendium of Vampires. Randleman, NC: NeDeo Press. Copyright ©2007 by Theresa Bane.

Maberry, Jonathan. The Vampire Slayers' Field Guide to the Undead. Doylestown, Pennsylvania: Strider Nolan Publishing. Copyright ©2003 by Jonathan Maberry.

Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp. Copyright ©2006 by Jonathan Maberry.

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