The next episode of the Legends Myths and Whiskey Podcast will feature two stories (as always), and one will be from Celtic lore. In preparation for that story, let's bring you up to speed on one of the best known characters of Celtic Folklore and Mythology.
Perhaps you've wondered where they came up with the name Ghillie for the military garment known as the Ghillie Suit. If you haven't, you're certainly wondering now. Well like so many words in the languages of modernity, "ghillie" takes its unique sound and arrangement of letters from the annals of mythology. It's true. Read on to learn more.
A Ghillie suit, also called a Yowie suit in Australia (and we'll talk about that at the end), is a piece of 19th century (1890s) camouflage first developed by Scottish hunters and gamekeepers as a sort of portable hunting blind. The first use of this clever camo can be dated no further back than the Second Boer War, during which a regiment of Highland Scots donned the sneaky bush suit for the first time. It's most commonly thought of as a tool of military sniper and reconnaissance teams.
But why such a funny name? Who or what is a "ghillie"? Is it an animal? A place? The Gaelic word for a turkey baster? Nope. It's none of those things. Ghillie is the Gaelic word for "servant" or "lad" and if that's a bit anticlimactic, don't worry, I'm not done yet.
Fans of Celtic mythology will already be well-versed with the notion of the "Fair Folk"; that is to say: Faeries. The origins of the word "ghillie" take us deep into the mythical realm of these Fair Folk. Before I continue though, I think it's necessary that I pause for a moment to point out a somewhat common misconception: The Fair Folk - Faeries - are not like the fairies you're thinking of.
I could spend a great deal of time discussing how poorly conceived modernity's understanding of fairies is, but I won't. Instead I will link you this wiki article, which does a good enough job of clearing things up.
The fair folk, also the wee folk, generally speaking, are all the members of fairydom (a word I believe I just made up). They live in The Realm of the Fae, a place mortals cannot tread without formal invitation. One of the members of the Fae family is a chap named Ghillie Dhu; a somewhat solitary character and - from what I can gather - a dryad (tree spirit).
Solitary and tree-dwelling as he may be, Ghillie Dhu is a kind-hearted soul with a soft-spot for children. He lives among the birch trees near Loch a Druing, in the northwest highland area of Gairloch, Scotland. He's described as a disheveled man, with fair skin and black hair. He clothes himself with moss, leaves, and various bits of foliage. This solitary creature is seen and helped by many but, according to lore, has only ever spoken to one human: Jessie Macrae.
Jessie Macrae was a young girl who had gotten lost in the woods; Ghillie Dhu found her and gave her protection - and a warm place to stay the night; with good conversation. The next morning he took her home. Legend then tells Ghillie Dhu's attempted murder at the hands of Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch. You see, a few months after Ghillie was spotted returning Jessie to her home, Hector decided to get a team of his dignitaries together to hunt and capture the bushy faerie. Fortunately Hector had no such luck and from that day to this, Ghillie Dhu has yet to be seen again.
Science has an opinion on the origins of Ghillie Dhu, and I must say I rather like the idea. In 1988 Susan Schoon Eberly put out a paper entitled Fairies and the Folklore of Disability: Changelings, Hybrids and the Solitary Fairy. in which she argues that Ghillie Dhu, and other members of the Fair Folk family, were simply the result of wild imaginations coupled with the limited understanding of the world at that time in history.
What do you think of the Ghillie Dhu? What about Eberly's notion that he may have just been a disabled homeless Scot? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!
(oh and about that Yowie mention at the beginning. Coincidentally the Yowie suit is named after the Yowie, Australia's version of Big Foot. Folklore everywhere, SON!)