Mythology: Ghillie Dhu

The ghillie dhu is a solitary Scottish creature which lives in the forest.  It is particularly fond of birches, and can be found disguised as foliage in the branches of these trees.  They are said to have been spotted in a birch grove at the end of Loch Druing near Gairloch, but probably live in all over Scotland.  The ghillie dhu is about 7 inches tall and has light green skin, black hair and long thin arms.

The ghillie dhu wears leaves and moss for clothes.  Those who are interested in hunting may recognise the origin of the ghillie suit, a set of clothes covered in leaves and twigs, which is used as a disguise in the woods.

Ghillie Dhu it is our name,  We guard the bairns and lead them hame.
Ghillie Dhu it is our name,
We guard the bairns and lead them hame.

There are two schools of thought on the ghillie dhu.  One says that these creatures do not like humans, and if you travel the forest at night you must be wary in case you are grabbed by their long green arms and enslaved forever in fairyland.

The other school of thought says that the ghillie dhu is docile and fond of children.  As the Scottish forests got smaller the ghillie dhu moved into gardens and parks, and now they collect the teeth of children to perform protective magic on them.  They are puzzled that parents feel the need to leave money under children’s pillows after they have taken the teeth, but they have decided not to question the fact that humans are odd!

It is possible that both of these stories are right.  At one time in the past, when the Scottish forests were large, the ghillie dhu was a shy docile creature that hid from humans.  As the forests diminished, it is possible that some of the ghillie dhu moved into the gardens and parks of human towns while others remained in the forest, growing bitter about the loss of so many trees.  The ones that remained are now hostile to humans, while the ones that left gave rise to the legends about the Tooth Fairy.

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One thought on “Mythology: Ghillie Dhu

  1. Ghillie Dhu comes from the Gaelic language. A ghillie is a gamekeeper, who looks after animals/birds. And dhu is the Gaelic word for the colour black. So a Ghillie Dhu is a ‘black’ or mysterious gamekeeper . . .

    It’s interesting because it wasn’t among the original Six emblems which were introduced in c1918 – it didn’t appear until c1926, following a discussion in ‘The Guider’ on introducing another Six emblem – since there were already two Irish and two Welsh Six names, it may be why they chose a second Scottish name (alongside Kelpies) . . .

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