Ghouls are a species of cannibalistic nocturnal creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos. They are first described in the Cthulhu Mythos by Lovecraft's story "Pickman's Model", and detailed in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
"These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree. Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast. The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness.... Occasionally the things were shown leaping through open windows at night, or squatting on the chests of sleepers, worrying at their throats. One canvas showed a ring of them baying about a hanged witch on Gallows Hill, whose dead face held a close kinship to theirs....
"...It was a colossal and nameless blasphemy with glaring red eyes, and it held in bony claws a thing that had been a man, gnawing at the head as a child nibbles at a stick of candy. Its position was a kind of crouch, and as one looked one felt that at any moment it might drop its present prey and seek a juicier morsel. But damn it all, it wasn't even the fiendish subject that made it such an immortal fountain-head of all panic- not that, nor the dog face with its pointed ears, bloodshot eyes, flat nose, and drooling lips. It wasn't the scaly claws nor the mould-caked body nor the half-hooved feet - none of these, though any one of them might well have driven an excitable man to madness...."
— HPL, "Pickman's Model"
From The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, we learn that Ghouls speak in a "meeping"/"glibbering" language of their own and remember little of the language they spoke in life, have no beards, have a rubbery/mouldy texture to their skin, lope "in a slumping way" and squat when resting, tend to prefer not to wear clothes, live in conflict with Ghasts, and might turn greenish in old age. This story also contains many details about the Ghouls' habitat in the Dreamlands and the waking world, as well as something of the feeding habits of Ghouls and their disposal of bones in the Vale of Pnath.
Lovecraftian Ghouls are usually described as white or green-skinned humanoid hairless creatures with long canine muzzles, pointed ears, and clawed feet that have almost become hooves. They inhabit networks of underground tunnels and crypts, and eat the corpses of dead humans. Despite their favored food and reclusive habits, Ghouls are usually not hostile creatures, and in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath the protagonist gains the aid of a group of Ghouls and travels with them for a period of time. Ghouls communicate using a "meeping" or gibbering vocalization called Ghoul Speech or Pnathic.
Ghouls are found through the underworld of the Dreamlands as well, and it seems that they can navigate between the waking world and the Dreamlands through the use of special tunnels. The universal center of ghoul activity seems to be the bone-filled Vale of Pnath in the Dreamland underworld, were the world's ghouls dump cleaned bones. This dumping is done from the Crag of the Ghouls, a cliff jutting off from the Mountains of Thok over the vale.
Ghouls appear to be a separate species from humans, breeding and living as their own society, but it also seems that some humans can slowly become ghouls, though the exact means are unknown, and the Changeling aspect of some of Pickman's paintings suggests that human and ghoul infants are routinely exchanged, and it might be inferred that, similarly to other aspects of Changeling myths, humans and ghouls might be able to interbreed.
Associated Mythos Elements
- deity: Mordiggian the Great Ghoul, a Great Old One worshiped by some Ghouls
- races: Ghasts and Gugs are the enemies of Ghouls
- language: Pnathic, the "meeping", "glibbering", "warbling" language of the Ghouls
- tome: Cultes des Goules, a Mythos Tome which may heavily reference Ghouls
- tome: Ghoul's Manuscript, a Mythos Tome dedicated to the worship of Mordiggian
- location: The Ghoul city of Midian
- cult: the Rakes
- cult: Cult of Mordiggian
- "The Great Ghoul Thread" at Yog-Sothoth.com
- "The Ecology of Ghouls" at Yog-Sothoth.com
- "Sartorial Customs of Ghouls" at Yog-Sothoth.com
- Scott Glancy - "Down in the Delta"
- Robert E. Howard - "The Dwellers Under the Tomb"
- H. P. Lovecraft - The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
- H. P. Lovecraft - "Pickman's Model"
- Clark Ashton Smith - "The Charnal God"
- Edward Lucas White - "Amina"
- Daniel Harms - The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (1998)
- sourcebook: Malleus Monstrorum, H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands