A ghoul is a demon or monster originating in pre-Islamic Arabian religion associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh. It also appears in Islamic mythology. 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.
Some state that a ghoule 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, then taking the form of the person most recently eaten.
In Arabic, the term is sometimes used to describe a greedy or gluttonous individual.
It was not until Antoine Galland translated One Thousand and One Nights into French that the western idea of ghoul was introduced into European society. Galland depicted the ghoule as a monstrous creature that dwelled in cemeteries, feasting upon corpses. The term was first used in English literature in 1786, in William Beckford's Orientalist novel Vathek, which describes the ghūl of Arabic folklore. This definition of the ghoule has persisted until modern times, with ghouls appearing in popular culture.
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