The ‘Green Lady’ of Scotland is either beautiful and protective, or a blood-sucking demon. It all depends upon where you hear the story, and who is telling it.
In the Highlands, as with many faerie and ghost stories, the macabre is ever-present. Many Highland tales speak of a dangerous Green Lady, but the demonic entity is generally considered a Green Woman.
The two are different, but often confused in stories… and that’s what confuses us as researchers, following the trail of the good (or evil) women dressed in green.
I believe that the Green Lady is benevolent spirit who visits her former home by choice, and the darker imagery comes from a something that is not a ghost.
However, if we combine the stories, the Green Lady seems similar to the Irish Banshee, because she is neither human nor ghost.
Many stories describe the Green Lady as a mortal woman who is under an enchantment, or has already entered the faerie world. I believe that’s consistent with the Green Women tales of the Scottish Highlands. (Listen to my podcast, Green Faeries, at FaerieMagick.com)
Whatever her nature, the Green Lady’s appearance is lovely. She is a slender and lovely young woman, with long golden hair. She wears a green gown that reaches the ground.
She is usually associated with water, and there are stories of a beautiful woman arriving at a cottage, dripping wet.
She asks if she can enter the home to warm herself and dry her clothing. If welcomed, she stays for awhile, and then she becomes the home’s own Green Lady.
Each Green Lady protects a particular house, and the family in it. If the family moves, the Green Lady remains in the house and protects the next family to move in.
In this way, the Green Lady differs from the Banshee, which follows and protects a particular family.
The Green Lady can be helpful to farmers. There are many stories of a Green Lady taking care of cattle, herding them into the barn when a storm was coming, or when enemies were nearby.
There is a male counterpart to the Green Lady, but not the “Green Man” of Celtic forest legends. The male version of the Green Lady is a slender, handsome young man who wears red and green. He also protects the house, the family that lives there, and its cattle. However, this male counterpart is rare.
Because she has long hair, the Green Lady is usually called a Gruagach. This is a category of brownie-type spirits of the Scottish Highlands. As soon as you read the word “brownie,” you know that these are generally good spirits, although they sometimes enjoy a practical joke. Any mischief they cause is minor compared with the good that they do.
In Skye, where Gruagachs are usually male, there is a tradition called a “gruagach stone.” This is a stone with a small hole or depression in it. Every night, the family sets out its gruagach stone and leaves a bit of milk in it. This is to thank the home’s own Gruagach for help. A small amount of milk, fresh cream, cake, or bread is acceptable. Anything larger will insult the Gruagach.
However, Green Lady ghosts are seen worldwide. Usually, they have Scottish ancestry. When we hear about the ghost of a woman in a gown, the first question we ask is, “What color was her gown?”
If it’s green, we know that she’s probably a protecting spirit associated with the house.
In our next article, we discuss Scottish ghosts – Where to find a ‘Green Lady‘, with links to places to see one.
Photo credit: Peter van der Hammen