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Monday, June 03, 2013

Unicorn Myth and Lore

Unicorns are among those rare and recalcitrant beings that refuse to be tamed or exploited. They insist on living out their own lives in those special places that must remain wild, and they can only be brought into the dominion of man through deception.

—  Paul and Karin Johnsgard, Dragons and Unicorns: A Natural History

The Unicorn, a mythic animal with the body of a white horse, the legs of an antelope and the tail of a lion which sported a single horn upon its forehead, the Unicorn was a symbol of purity, strength and supreme magickal power. It taught that every action is creation. Thus, every day should be made to count. It also aided in understanding the relationship between physical and spiritual realities.

In Celtic lore, the Unicorn represented a Horse sporting a horn that resembled a Flaming Spear - another of the symbols associated with the Holly. The symbol of the Flaming Spear was connected to the month of Tanist because the Celtic "T" was shaped like a barbed spear. Both the Holly and the Oak were symbolic of the Summer Solstice when the White Horse of the Oak became the Unicorn of the Holly in transformation.

In Chinese tradition, the unicorn was one of four magical or spiritual creatures—along with the phoenix, tortoise, and dragon—that were regarded as signs of good fortune. The appearance of a unicorn signaled the birth or death of a great person; one was said to have appeared when Confucius, a famous wise man, was born.

According to European folklore, the unicorn is a legendary animal from that resembles a white horse with a large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead, and sometimes a goat's beard and cloven hooves. First mentioned by the ancient Greeks, it became the most important imaginary animal of the Middle Ages and Renaissance when it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin.

Although unicorns were thought to be fierce fighters, they were also symbols of purity. Perhaps this was because the ancient Greeks and Romans had associated them with virgin goddesses such as Artemis, whose chariot was said to be drawn by eight unicorns. According to tradition, one way to capture a unicorn was to send a very young virgin into the forest. The unicorn would be attracted to her and would rest its head in her lap, at which point a hunter could catch the animal.

The horn itself has been described as white at the base, black in the middle and with a sharp, red tip. It was believed to possess healing abilities. Dust filed from the horn was thought to protect against poison, and many diseases and could even resurrect the dead. Amongst royalty and nobility in the Middle Ages, it became quite fashionable to own a drinking cup made of the horn of a unicorn because it was supposed to detect poison. In the encyclopedias its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness.

A unicorn or alicon was very valuable during medieval times. The horn was believed to be able to cure many illnesses and neutralize poison. Unicorn horns were sold in druggist shops, in powdered form, and whole horns were kept in the vaults of royalty.  There was much concern over alicons (unicorns horns). Many could not afford real alicons, and rumours circulated that many were fakes. Since people were so concerned over the authenticity of their alicons, scientists came up with some tests.
  • The true horn, when thrown into water sends up little bubbles. The water seems to boil though cold, and one can hear the boiling.
  • The true horn gives out a sweet odour when burnt.
  • The true horn sweats in the presence of poison.
  • Enclose a spider in a circle drawn on the floor with an alicon. If the horn is true the spider will not be able to cross outside the circle, and it will starve to death.
Note: This post was written for Gypsy Magic by shirleytwofeathers with material collected from various sources. You may share it only if credit and a link back is given.

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