The word comes from the Arabian ghul ('to seize') and is used to denote an evil spirit or demon.
The Ghoul is usually portrayed as a nocturnal creature who feeds on the flesh of human beings, especially travelers, children, or corpses stolen out of graves.
The Ghoul of Arab legend is generally depicted as an one-eyed fiend with wings and an animal shape, reputed to haunt graveyards and other sequestered spots, robbing graves and feeding upon corpses. They also kidnap children and devour them.
There are many types of ghouls in Arabic lore. The most feared is a female type that has the ability to appear as a normal, flesh-and-blood woman. Such a creature marries an unsuspecting man, who then becomes her prey.
According to other legends, Ghouls are dead humans who sleep for long periods in secret graves, then awake, rise, and feast on both the living and the dead.
The term has come to refer to a person who deals with the deceased in any obscene, strange or diabolical way. Grave robbers are also known by this name.
Ghouls of various sorts appear in many fairy tales, ghost stories, folklore and legends.
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Sources: (1) Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Harper Collins Publishers; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (4) Bonnerjea, Biren, A Dictionary of Superstitions and Mythology, Singing Tree Press; (5) Guiley, Rosemary Ellen and Zaffis, John, The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, Checkmark Books.
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