In modern times a ghoul can be either an undead monster or a spirit that feasts on human flesh and typically lurks around graveyards. It has its roots in Arabian lore, and it’s thought that the first mention of a ghoul was probably in One Thousand and One Nights.
However, it wasn’t always a graveyard lurking, corpse eating fiend. In Arabic lore, a ghoul was a jinni that was sired by the devil and lurked in many places that were uninhabited. Most often they were found in graveyards because they didn’t care about any freshness dates on their meat. They were often thought to be desert dwelling, and they could shape-shift (normally into a hyena). They would lure unsuspecting travelers to their doom and they loved to prey on children, drink blood, and eat the flesh of the dead. Being a shape-shifter, the ghoul could turn themselves into the appearance of the most recent person they’d eaten.
As we can see the ghoul has been split into several different creatures, more specifically the revenant which is a ghost or corpse that’s returned from the dead to torment the living; vampires, and zombies.
In ancient times, however, the ghoul was a female. She was a witch-like version of jinni that had returned from the dead. She would hunt and haunt travelers, tracking them down until she finally had them in her grasp. While we might like to think that the ghoul was repulsive, we have to remember that they are masters of changing form, and often she would appear as a beautiful maiden to confuse her travelers. Once they were unsuspecting, she would pounce on them and eat them. The only way to stop her was to kill her with a single blow to the head. Don’t hit her more than once though, because a second blow would bring the creature right back to life.
It wasn’t until more modern times, and when the ghoul came to the western world that the creature has changed to a graveyard lurking, grave-robbing eater of dead bodies and children. Now we see them as not having any specific shape or form, which could work well with them being shape-shifters, since they are able to take any shape they truly want.
When I think of ghouls, I can’t help but think of some annoying, less malignant form of undead. When I was younger, and honestly until I wrote this post, I thought the ghoul was relatively harmless to the living because I felt they were scavengers, only feeding on what was already dead. Now I can see that they are just as dangerous as their brethren, though I don’t think we will have to worry about a ghoul apocalypse. . . hmmmm.