In my post about the Jinn, or Genie as we think of them here in the States, I mentioned the Ghul (Ghoul) which we will dive a bit deeper into today. The Ghul is a part of the D’Jinn mythology and comes to us from Arabic folklore, although some say there are connections to the stories linking back to Mesopotamia.
The Jinn were created before humans, and after the Angels, although it is not clear how long before or after that might be. It is written that the Jinn were created by God using a smokeless fire, and there are some that put Angels and Demons in the same category as the Jinn, although for the most part, they are three different spiritual entities. Ghuls are one of the many varieties of Jinn that were created, no different than the wide variety of cultures that we know as humans.
A ghul (ghoul) is a shape-shifter that feeds on the flesh of humans, and according to Middle Eastern mythology, are evil female spirits of the desert. Similar to the Wendigo of Native American folklore, they were once human but brought the curse on themselves by their cannibalistic behaviors. The ladies are known to prey on young children or lure unwary men into a secluded area where they were able to feast on their flesh in peace. In Arabic folklore they can also shape-shift, often taking the form of a hyena or hound. Because ghouls target travelers and lustful men, it explained a man’s sudden disappearance, even if death, or the fact that he had run off with another woman, was more likely.
Besides getting lost in the desert and dying of thirst, a possible reason for the telling of the myth could have been to keep people away from cemeteries and abandoned buildings, since they would be areas that would be rife with disease. These stories could have been used as a tool to prevent disease from spreading in largely populated areas.
As I mentioned earlier, it is thought that ghoul mythology could be rooted in Mesopotamia, since they have traits similar to the gallhu demons in that culture. The gallhu demons were part of the underworld and were known to carry their victims off to the land of the dead to be devoured. Like with many of these stories, the cultures passed them on verbally and as they traveled to other lands, they were most likely adapted to teller’s landscape and societal needs.
When Antoine Galland (a French writer) translated “One Thousand and One Nights” (AKA Arabian Nights), his depiction was relatively loose and it appears that characters were added to his version that wasn’t present in the original work. Amina was one such character, who spent her time with ghouls in the graveyard, instead of her new husband, which fostered the idea that you would be able to find ghouls in cemeteries. It really didn’t say much for the guy she married, but that is a completely different topic since who knows what he had going on.
In early folklore, the ghouls were hairy, with canine features, which makes sense if the earlier versions were thought to be able to shape-shift. They were more comfortable walking around on all fours, even if they were capable of walking on two feet. Newer ghouls have transformed into pale, hairless creatures, and although light can cause them pain, it cannot kill them. Recent literature has suggested that ghouls can take on the shape of the last creature it feasts on, regardless if the victim was dead or alive when they were eaten.
They like their seclusion, so cemeteries make sense in that regard, but they also are known to prefer basements, cellars and abandoned buildings. It is even rumored that they have an underground network of tunnels where they are able to move freely. It is how they are able to access subway tunnels and sewers, which is where they can find their victims. The movie that comes to my mind is Daybreakers, since the starving Vampires turned into ravenous, tunnel-dwelling creatures. It is what I picture when I think of a Ghoul and if you haven’t watched it, it is a really good movie to check out, especially if you like vampire stuff…and Ethan Hawke!
Ghouls are only able to be killed with a single blow, so decapitation is the best method for getting rid of them. Make sure your sword is sharp though; if you don’t take off their head in one swipe, they are able to regenerate and the second swing may just bring you close enough for them to get the upper hand!
Here is a video on the Ghoul, and I’m interested to know if anyone is using one of these nasties in their current work? Be sure to let me know below!
Happy Writing! XO