I was a Ghillie Dhu

Ghillie Dhu

Artsist unknown. This  illustration was created for a book called "A Fantasy Artist's Pocket Reference: Faeries" from David & Charles Publishing.

Mention the name ‘Ghillie Dhu’ and it takes me back to being child dancing round a giant toadstool singing the Ghillie Dhu song, while under the watchful eye of great owl. This might sounds like a wondrous pagan event but it was actually my Tuesday night Brownie meeting (yes Brownie as in Scouts, now called Rainbows). In later years I learned all about the Ghillie Dhu and always felt under his protection as I left great owl behind (The Brownie pack leader). 

I’ve always loved the description of the Ghillie Dhu, living in the woods, protector of the trees, especially birches.  Ever silent, dressed in a cloak of the seasons colors, from the rich green spring leaves eventually changing over to the rich earthy hues of autumn. If you were ever to get close you might notice his eyes also change according to the season. 


The name means dark hared lad and I imagine the ancient Caledonian Forest where the Ghillie Dhu’s must have felt most at home, weaving large nests from leaves and branches, lined with moss. Walking for hundreds of miles and not encroaching into anothers territory. Maybe they came together at the great festivals, gathering under the full moon. Singing ancient songs that only the most ancient of trees can remember.

For the lone woodsman out to cut down a tree or two would have to be careful, keeping away from the most enchanted woods of the Ghillie Dhu. You know full well when you enter an inhabited wood, and the hair standing up on the back of your neck is a good indicator translating that you are not welcome. To those maybe not so well versed in gut feelings the long green arms of the Ghillie might approach stealthily,  snaking and winding around tree trunks to finally dragging a body deep into the leaf litter where the trees would feed off the body. And yet for the child who had run away, or set out to explore the forest, the Ghillie was there somewhere near offering his protection.

green man


I find it ironic that the US Army use ‘Ghilli suits” (pictured below) dressing in green foliage forest camouflage, although the only similarity here is in name as they are not protecting the forests.

Ghillie suit
I once heard a tale that as the great Scottish forest declined (although in reality this was way before the Romans even reaches these shores) some Ghillie’s followed Scottish fur trappers and voyageurs to French Canada in the late 1700’s. While some lived together in these new lands others headed off into the wilds (perhaps to visit their  sasquatch cousins?).  It is said that those left in Scotland died out or intermarried with different forms of faery and that they died out within a few generations. But I know there is still the odd Ghillie Dhu around, unknown to my Brownie sisters that dance around the giant toadstool singing their song, its melody travelled through the evening to the few Ghillie ears that were left, and this is one of the reasons they like children so much. 


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