02 Jul Ghillie Dhu: The Scots Who Left
With England voting to leave the EU but Scotland voting to remain, it behooves us to note that not all Scots are so inclined. Case in point: the Ghillie Dhu.
The Ghillie Dhu is native to the dark forests of Scotland. A tree guardian spirit that some call an elf and others a fairy, he is most comparable to the Brownies of England, being three foot high and dressed in forest foliage and moss. (If you think the term ‘Ghillie” is familiar, you’re correct—the shaggy camouflage worn by hunters and snipers is called a Ghillie Suit, and was directly inspired by the disheveled appearance of the Ghillie Dhu.)
Variously known as a Gille Dubh, Gillee Doo, Gillee Yoo, Ghillie Yu, the Ghillie Dhu is invariably a male being with hazel eyes and dark hair ( Gille Dubh means ‘dark haired lad’ in Scots Gaelic) whose skin changes color with the seasons—brown to green to brown again—he looks, in fact, like the trees he guards.
The birch tree, often referred to as ‘the Lady of the Woods’, is the favorite of this lord of the woods, who guards this tree jealously. Typically a Ghillie Dhu will use ‘branchy’ camouflaged arms to ensnare, and then crush, whoever threatens his Birch in any way. Traditionally, Ghillie Dhu would defend an entire forest in this manner, but, since their numbers have decreased this defense has been difficult for them.
Generally, though, Ghillie Dhu are sedate beings, content to be left to their woods, where they eat berries and nuts and take little interest in humans, unless a child should get lost nearby them. Ghillie Dhu are great champions of children and countless wonder tales have been told of the help they give in leading stray children home from the pathless woods. As late as 1928 it was such common knowledge that Ghillie Dhu were great guides to children, that the Girl Guides had Brownie sub-groups that sang: “Ghillie Dhu it is our name. We guard the bairns and lead them hame”.
This inclination to lead lost children to safety led to an inclination to save their own kind. As the forests that once covered of their native land became depleted, the Ghillie Dhu emigrated. They first went to North America, arriving with the earliest trappers and fur traders, and then went on to follow wherever their fellow Scots went, most notably Australia and New Zealand.
With their change of location, came a change of ‘career’ (if you will); no longer the guardians of their indigenous Birch and other trees, many Ghillie Dhu took to activities that offered wood-edged or at least rural-ish settings, such as covertly ‘looking after’ farms, ranches, outback stations and such.
Others have been more interestingly occupied: many Ghillie Dhu live in public parks near the children their kind have always been drawn to protect. But as less and less children get lost in the wild woods, these Ghillie Dhu have switched their main attentions from lost children to children’s lost teeth, becoming ‘tooth fairies’. While the raggy shaggy Ghillie Dhu is quite different from the usual pretty female winged-fairies who are known to trade teeth for coins, the lost teeth the Ghillie Dhu quietly collect are used to create protection spells for the children they belonged to, which is much better than cash…and, quite literally, much more charming.
A most fascinating member of the unseen races, the Ghillie Dhu is one who both accommodates and shuns our modern world; his presence is scary and protective, there and here, changing like his skin, to always meet the challenges of every day without losing a sense of who and what he is.
Watch out for him, wherever you are, he’s probably closer than you think.