Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “ghoul”

Daily Ghost Post – T is for Types of Ghosts

Here is a short and handy definition guide to help you keep ghosts and ghouls straight…you never know when you will need to be able to distinguish a phantom from a zombie.

This is not meant to be a fancy, formal, encyclopedic presentation of a detailed, research project with footnotes, pages of references, and experimental variables. It represents bits of knowledge gleaned over the course of my preparation for this blog series.

Apparition – this is an image of a ghost – it shows up and then goes away.
Elemental – these guys are nature spirits, like fairies. Technically, elementals are not in the same category of supernatural beings as ghosts are. But because some nature spirits are the spirits of dead people – like the Filipino Engkanto – I included them here.
Ghost – soul of a deceased person that returns from the dead.
Ghoul – demonic sort who eats flesh. Western definitions of the ghoul gave it the penchant for grave-robbing.
Jinni (or djinni)– supernatural spirit that exists in our world and beyond. It is not a the spirit of a departed human and can be evil, neutral, or benevolent. “Djinn beings between angels and man. As powerful as an angel with the free will of a human.” That came from a blogger commenter: http://djinniaandtheenglishlanguage.blogspot.com/
Monster – creature that doesn’t fit neatly into any ghost category (like Nessy, werewolves, or yetis).
Phantom – ghost who lurks on lonely roads or secluded hikes.
Poltergeist – a house ghost that throws things, makes noise and mischief. One might say it is kind of like an invisible estranged spouse.
Revenant – ghostly spirit in the early days of death.
Spectre – synonym for ghost.
Spirit – the inner being of a living or supernatural entity.
Supernatural being – non-human being who dwells anywhere. A dead human being who returns to the living world is also a supernatural critter. Ghosts are but one type of supernatural entity.
Vampire – a dead person who returns to feast on the blood or body parts of the living.
Wraith – a ghostly image of someone, right before or right after they die.
Zombie – a reanimated corpse with a little help from its friends (or enemies). The traditional zombie is of Haitian origins and is under the control or spell of a sorcerer.

Who did I forget? What needs to be added to the definitions? Let’s wiki this one up!

– Jeri
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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

PHOTO CREDIT: By Kunstkai / CC BY 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

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Daily Ghost Post – G is for Ghoul (or The Short History of a Creature with an Overused Name)

Real ghouls don’t raid graves.

This misrepresented creature of fright needs to be redeemed. “Ghoul” is a word that is associated with graveyard robbing, flesh-eating creatures that go bump in the night. It is time to disentangle their evil reputations from this horrible image.

This is their history in as few words as possible.

Ghouls originated with Arabic Bedouins. The bane of travelers, ghouls were renowned for getting people lost in the desert. Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, ghouls could use their voices to lure unsuspecting travelers deep into the desert where they would be lost forever. Or eaten.

They appeared in other ways as well. Sometimes when an individual fought and killed an animal for supper, it suddenly transformed into a cloven featured creature on the way back to camp. Goodbye dinner, hello ghoul.

You see, traditional ghouls are accomplished shape shifters. Often depicted as women, ghouls are not the ghosts of departed souls – they arise from a very different place. Ghouls are the offspring of demons. With bonafide demonic DNA, they have a penchant for human flesh.

Here is Merriam Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word ghoul:

an evil creature in frightening stories that robs graves and eats dead bodies

As the definition suggests, Western culture depicts ghouls as grave opening, corpse eating monsters. A quick browser search will reveal that most definitions of “ghoul” include the graveyard aspect. Perhaps the more sensational version of the ghoul makes a more gripping story image, but it is not a correct one from a folkloric perspective.

The traditional Arabic ghoul is not that disrespectful.

This ghoulish, corpse-eating twist to the lore of “ghouldom” is attributed to Antoine Galland, a Frenchman who translated the Arabian Nights in the early 1700’s. One story, called The Story of Sidi Nouman, tells of a man who is married to a woman with such a small appetite that one grain of rice at a time was all she could manage. Though their marriage was happy as marriages go, he wondered about a couple of things – her appetite quirk and her strange habit of leaving home in the middle of the night. One evening, he quietly followed her when she stole out of the house. As he approached the graveyard where she had gone, he watched in silent horror as his wife dug up graves and devoured corpses. No wonder she ate like a bird all day. That was when he realized that he had married a ghoul who was adept at shape shifting into a beautiful woman.

According to folklorist Ahmed Al-Rawi, grave robbing and corpse gorging were either Galland’s invention or his mistaken representation of other Middle Eastern folklore as Arabic. Galland’s gruesome image was then perpetuated in literature, including popular Victorian writings. The new meaning fell into common language use and western popular culture. Now ghouls the all over the world pig out in cemeteries.

To put the folkloric record straight, that is not how they started their ghoulish business. The world’s first ghouls caused desert travelers to become lost in the sand, which put them inside a ghoul’s sandwich. In short, lost travelers became desert dessert.

Were the first ghouls nasty and hungry? Sure, look at their parentage. But the first ghouls didn’t defile the buried dead for food. That was going a bit too far.

What is a ghoul to you? Do you have favorite ones from literature, folklore, or film?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:

Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. (2009) The Arabic Ghoul and its Western Transformation. Folklore, 120:3, 291-306, DOI: 10.1080/00155870903219730

Encyclopedia Brittanica – Arabian Mythology – ghoul: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/232832/ghoul

Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, Third Edition. Visible Ink, Press.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: ghoul http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ghoul

PHOTO CREDIT: By R. Smirke, Esq., R.A. Digitized by Google Books. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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