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Unicorns: History, Magic, Myth and Symbolism

By on May 17, 2015 in Awareness

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by Kendra M Gilbert – DailySpiral.com
Contributing Author & Advisor, In5d.com

“…Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

The Legend of the Unicorn, a powerhouse of Historical Significance, Magic, Myth and Symbolism.  Sightings of this elusive creature have been reported throughout history and recorded in ancient folklore, artwork, poems, and songs for centuries.  It gives those of us who have come to admire and love the Unicorn a valid reason to believe in their existence, either as a real physical creature that once walked the earth, or an ethereal being that still exists today.

As a child growing up, the Unicorn was a connection to a realm that existed in another dimension of time and space.  A place where I could go to escape, and my inner child was always there waiting for me to play.  To me, the Unicorn simply represents the dream-state connection with the magic of nature and a secret planet waiting to be discovered…

Unicorns of the East

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Unicorns have been revered in Chinese Mythology for thousands of years.  Culturally it is depicted as a creature with the body of a deer often covered in fish-like scales or feathers, cloven hooves, and a single spiral horn protruding from the center of the forehead, although it has also been depicted having two horns or antlers.  It is known as the Qilin, honored and respected for it’s power and wisdom.  It would appear only in very special times, often in a Glade or at the time of Death or Birth of a Great Leader, and was always a sign of great fortune.

The earliest known recorded appearance of the Unicorn is found in Chinese Folklore.  The Chinese sovereign known as Fu Hsi (c. 2900 BC) was resting on the bank of the Yellow River one day near the end of his life. He was thinking about his mortality and trying to find a way to record his thoughts for following generations. Suddenly a Qilin rose from the waters of the river and came toward him. On its back it carried magical sigils from which Fu Hsi devised the very first written Chinese language. Over time this “magical” script has evolved so naturally that readers of modern day Chinese are able to understand something which was written 2,000 years ago.

Another Qilin, Chinese Unicorn, sighting was recorded in the Bamboo Books, 2697 BC, where it was seen majestically roaming the halls of the Palace of Huang Ti, also known as the Yellow Emperor or the August Sovereign (one of the most revered of all Chinese Rulers) shortly before his death.

During the reigns of what is considered to be China’s Golden Age, the Qilin would often appear as a sign of approval.  However, the most famous appearance of a Qilin is the foretelling of the birth of a great leader which happened over 2,500 years ago.  It appeared to a young woman named Yen Chen-tsai.  She and her Husband had no Son and even though she prayed day and night, her prayers went unanswered.

After a period of time, she decided to travel to a holy shrine up in the mountains. As she was traveling, a Qilin appeared to her.  It knelt down before her and gently dropped a tiny jade tablet from its mouth into her hand. On one side of the tablet was a message which read: “The Son of the Essence of Water shall succeed to the withering Chou and he will become a throneless king.”  Some months later Yen Chen-tsai, which means “the essence of water”, gave birth to a Son called Kung Fu Tse, better known as the great Chinese Philosopher, Confucius.

Confucius never wore a crown or gave command to men. But, through his enlightening teachings, Confucius was greatly responsible for the shaping of China, more-so than any king or warlord could ever possibly have been.

It is said that approximately seventy years later, during the Spring, Confucius was told by one of his disciples that some sort of strange beast had been killed nearby by a group of noblemen. There were multiple claims made about what had happened, some said it was the noblemen who used their spears to kill it, others said the beast was spooked and it ran into a chariot accidentally killing itself…but one thing remained true, the animal was left dead at the crossroads.  Confucius left with his disciple to see the beast and what had happened for himself. Upon arrival he immediately recognized the creature and cried out, “It is a Qilin.  Qilin, the benevolent beast, appears and dies. My Tao is exhausted.”

Confucius allegedly ended his writings after documenting the incident, it is said that he laid down his pen and never wrote another word.

Chinese Creation Mythology

Along with the Phoenix, Dragon and Tortoise, the Qilin is known as one of four Sacred Animals of Chinese Mythology…

‘Before the world came into being there existed only the Cosmic Egg that floated unchanging in the Void for untold ages. Yin and Yang was the Egg, opposites perfectly mingled. And it was because they were perfectly mingled that the world could not yet be.

‘Then within the Egg was born P’an Ku, the primordial man who slowly grew and grew until the Egg felt too cramped for him. Impatiently he stretched out his limbs and his hand closed about an axe, coming from whence no one knows. Striking with all his might, P’an Ku split the shell of the Egg and burst free.

‘He then began to fashion the material of Chaos, separating Yin and Yang into sky and earth, in which he was aided by the four most fortunate creatures who had emerged from the Egg with him: the Unicorn, the Dragon, the Phoenix and the Tortoise. They were engaged in this labor for 18,000 years and each day P’an Ku grew ten feet, using his own body as a pillar to force heaven and earth apart.

‘When the separation was complete and they had settled in their places, P’an Ku died. His breath became the wind and clouds, his eyes became the sun and moon. His stomach, head and limbs became the principal mountains of the world, watered by the rivers of his sweat and tears; his flesh became the fertile soil and his hair the plants and trees which took root in it. The fleas on his body became the human race. Then P’an Ku drifted in space for a further 18,000 years before entering a holy virgin as a ray of light and being born into the world by her as Tien-Tsun, the First Cause.’

-The Chinese Creation Story

After the disappearance or extinction of the Qilin, the Tiger was adapted as one of the four Sacred Beasts of Chinese Mythology. Because it has not been seen in centuries, it is believed that we are living in times of evil and turmoil. When goodness is restored back into the world, we will once again see the Qilin return.

In Japanese folklore, the Unicorn is known as Kirin and is a fearful beast that was called upon in times of judgement to detect guilt in the hearts of criminals.  If guilt was detected by the beast, it would fix a deep stare upon the guilty party and pierce their hearts with their sharp pointed single horn.  The Kirin was known to have the body of a bull with a bushy mane, a bit different than the Chinese Qilin who emitted colors from it’s body and was said to have scales like that of a fish.

Unicorns of the West

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One of the earliest documented writings of the Unicorn was by Herodotus, who wrote about the ‘horned ass’ of Africa in 3rd century BC. The Unicorn quickly became very popular in the Western world and was well known by 4th century B.C.  Nearly a century later, in the writings of the Greek Historian and Physician Ctesias, he describes  a creature he called the ‘wild ass of India’  which was equal in size to a horse, with a white body, a red head, bluish eyes and a straight horn on the forehead, a cubit long.  According to his documentation, the beast’s lower portion of horn was white, the middle black, and the tip red.   Because Ctesias was a Physician, he was especially interested in the horn, which he heard was able to offer protection against deadly poisons…  It was believed that drinking cups made from the horn possessed the power of neutralizing poison when it poured into them.  Ctesias further described the unicorn as being extraordinarily swift of foot, untamable and almost impossible to capture…although he himself never laid eyes upon one.

This extreme fascination with the Unicorn’s horn may have very well been the cause of it’s extinction, although I do wonder where all those magical drinking cups may have gone…

Soon after Ctesias’ stories became known, Greek philosopher Aristotle came to the conclusion that the Unicorn was in fact most likely a real animal, but he did not accept the stories of the horns possessing magical powers. Pliny the Elder, a well respected Historian and Naturalist who met his end in the eruption of Pompeii, described the Unicorn in his Cyclopaedia “Historia Naturalis” by concluding that a Unicorn existed in India. Pliny’s Unicorn description is that of a ferocious beast having the body of a horse, head of a deer, feet of an elephant, tail of a wild boar, and a single black horn two cubits long, standing out of its forehead.

German Folklore and The Wise Woman Of Scharzfeld

The German people during the Middle Ages filled their churches and palaces with images of the Unicorn, known to them as Einhorn. In German Marian mysticism, which is a cult known for the adoration of the Virgin, the name is given to the mother of God, Maria Unicornis…Mary of the Unicorn.

There is a German folklore derived from the Harz Mountains region of central Germany, a well known haunt of the Einhorn. There is a cave in this area still known today as the Einhornhohle. It’s name was acquired from a story which took place in the days when Germany was covered with dark unmapped forests that were ruled by the Ancient Gods. In this forestland there lived an old wise woman in the Steingrotte Cave near Scharzfeld. People would come to her from all over the Harz region for healing and counsel. This angered the Christian missionaries in the area and they denounced her as a Witch. The missionaries used their influence with a Frankish king, whom they had converted, to send soldiers and a monk to arrest her. As the soldiers were making their way up the steep hill to her cave, the old woman came out and looked down upon them with total disdain and lack of fear. At first the soldiers hesitated, but realizing she was only one old woman, they continued climbing up to the cave. Then a pale Unicorn stepped out of the forest, its horn shining against the gloom cast by the trees. It went up to the woman and knelt before her, she got up on its back and rode away.

The monk and soldiers ran after her, but soon fell behind because of their heavy armor and weapons. The monk was finally able to catch up with the woman, but as he tried to grab her, she raised her arms and made signs in the air—and the monk disappeared. By the time the soldiers reached the spot, all they found was a hole in the ground with the monk lying shattered and lifeless at the bottom. The soldiers buried the monk and named the cave Einhornhohle, a name by which it has been known ever since.

Moral of the story, don’t mess with Unicorns and their peeps ;-)

Unicorn Sightings, and the Warrior Connection

There have been multiple Unicorn sightings by very notable men throughout history, yet there seems to be a connection with Warriors and men of power.  Julius Cesar wrote about seeing strange creatures inhabiting the Hercynian Forest located in Germany during his conquest of Gaul. He documented his account saying that among these creatures were “ox shaped like stags from the middle of whose forehead, between the ears, stands forth a single horn, taller and straighter than the horns we know.”   Sounds like a Unicorn to me!

Next, we have Alexander the Great.  It was said that he rode upon the Karkadann, the famous Bucephalus, which was described as having the body of a horse and the head of a lion. It is said that he first encountered this creature when he was about 13 years of age. It had been presented for sale to his father, King Philip of Macedonia. However, it furiously lashed out at all attempts to mount it and Philip’s champion riders soon gave up. The animal was about to be led away as being totally useless, but Alexander protested, claiming he could ride it. His Father thought he’d teach his Son a lesson in humility and allowed Alexander to try, only with the condition that if he failed he would have to pay the entire cost of the beast which was 13 talents. He went on to tell Alexander that if he did succeed in taming the beast, he would then give it to him as a gift. Alexander was able to tame the Unicorn by approaching it as an animal who could only be ridden with its own consent, not a horse whose will needed to be broken. It is said that after Alexander successfully rode the Unicorn, the king shed tears of joy and pride and said to Alexander: “Oh my Son, look out for a kingdom equal and worthy of you, for Macedonia is too small to contain you.”

This story reminds me of Buckbeak the Hippogriff from the Harry Potter trilogy, although of course Buckbeak was certainly not a Unicorn.

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It is a common thought Bucephalus was only a horse while others claim he was actually a Karkadann or Unicorn. Alexander spoke softly to him and treated him with great love and respect. The Karkadann was fearless and often went up against demons and gave Alexander the ability to tame Griffins. Bucephalus remained with Alexander almost to the end of their lives and he rode him into every major battle during his conquest of Egypt and the Persian Empire. Legend say that Bucephalus died during Alexander’s last great battle with King Porus of India with only the cause of his death in dispute. It is still a mystery as to whether he died from from battle wounds, old age or exhaustion. His death marked a rapid change in Alexander’s life and things took a sudden major turn for the worse. He went on to win the battle against King Porus, but just barely. When his army refused to go any further, Alexander was forced to turn back. He decided to explore the coast along the way, leading to thousands of his troops perishing as they crossed the Makran Desert in what is now southern Pakistan. The number of soldiers who died during this trek has been estimated at 80,000. While Alexander faced all hardships on equal terms with his men, the high death toll diminished his support. He later died at the early age of 32.  The Royal Diaries state that following a celebratory banquet, Alexander became very ill with a type of fever.  The true cause of his death is still a mystery.

Our next warrior of note is none other than Genghis Khan, one of the most powerful rulers of China.

Genghis Khan was one of the most powerful rulers of China. Kahn’s quest for seeking power grew immensely after his Father’s death. It is said that before each battle, he would ask for his Father’s guidance. In 1224, Kahn and his army marched strongly toward India. He was unstoppable, conquering town after town and marching over mountains, each step bringing him closer to his great victory. They had reached the last mountain before India. Kahn arose before sunrise and climbed to the top of the mountain to plan his battle strategy. When he reached the top, he was stopped in absolute amazement. There was not a single armed person in sight, no soldiers, no army at all. Then from behind a large boulder stepped forth a strange beast. It was documented as being small, about the size of a young deer and of the color green. It had a single horn of red and black protruding from its forehead. Kahn remained silent and motionless. He recognized the beast, it was the Ch’i lin or Qilin, the Unicorn of whom he had heard many legends and tales. The Ch’i lin walked slowly and silently toward him and stopped in front of him, and their locked together. The Unicorn then knelt down three times at Khan’s feet in a sign of reverence. The air reportedly began to shimmer and a strange fragrance enveloped Khan, a scent he had not experienced in a very long time.  Khan filled with fear, as he looked into the unicorn’s eyes, they began to change and he began to sense a familiar presence.  As he continued to gaze upon the eyes of the Unicorn, he realized the eyes were of his Father. He then heard his Father’s voice clearly speak to him within is mind. Despite the distant sound of his army growing restless waiting for his signal to attack, he did not move.  Slowly his Father’s eyes faded back to the Unicorn’s and the moment had passed. He slowly turned to his army and said “Turn back!, my Father has warned me not to go on.” He then turned away from his army and looked once more upon the strange creature before him and was overcome with tears. The Unicorn lifted its head and vanished. India has been saved.

Unicorns in the King James Version of the Bible

Silesia_Annunciation_with_the_Unicorn_Polyptych_02Numbers 23:22    “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”

Numbers 24:8     “God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.”

Job 39:9   “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?”

Job 39:10    “Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?”

Psalms 29:6     “He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.”

Psalms 92:10    “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.”

Deuteronomy 33:17    “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.”

Psalms 22:21    “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”

Isaiah 34:7     “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”

Many people have adapted to the idea that the Bible is merely an elaborate metaphorical reference to celestial events or a collection of allegorical and hermetic writings. I find it odd that modern translations of the Bible have eliminated the word “UNICORN” and replaced it with Ox and similar variations. Was this an attempt to lessen the idea that the Bible could possibly be a Fairytale due to the modern association we have with the Unicorn and Fantasy?

Unicorns in Stars

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The Search for the Unicorn…

The horn of the Unicorn, also known as Alicorn, became an extremely popular ingredient used in medieval medicines.  Just being in the presence of Alicorn, One would be protected against poisons and when adorned on the body, protect the wearer from the most powerful of all evils.  Alicorn was highly sought after, considered extremely valuable and worth it’s weight in gold.  Only those of highest status such as Kings, Emperors and Popes could afford such a powerful item.  It was believed that possessing Alicon would almost ensure a long and healthy life.  Because of Alicorn being such a lucrative item, many fake replications where made out of ordinary goat and bull horns, bones and other material that could easily fool the untrained eye.

To find a complete intact Unicorn horn was a very rare occurrence. It is said that a Unicorn horn once owned by Queen Elizabeth I of England was valued at the time at £10,000 which was the equivalent of about 3,000 ounces of gold and enough money to buy a large country estate complete with a castle at that time. Rather than coming from Unicorns, these complete horns often turned out to be the long spirally twisted tusks of the male narwhal, a large marine animal.

Because of Alicorns extremely powerful anti-poison properties, Kings often placed it on the table to protect themselves against food poisoning. Up to the year 1789, it was used in the creation of eating utensils for it’s same anti-poison properties.

Due to the Medieval pharmacists having such strong belief in the power of the Unicorn Horn as a medicine, it even became the apothecaries’ symbol.  Ground Alicorn was said to cure fever, plague, epilepsy, rabies, gout, and multiple other ailments. Unicorn liver was a cure for leprosy. Shoes made of Unicorn leather assured healthy feet and legs, and a belt of Unicorn leather worn around the body warded off plague and fever. Belief in the power of the Unicorn was widely held in England until the mid- I 700s.  There were even actual steps to determine whether someone actually had real Alicorn.  These tests were elaborate, but necessary to ensure that the Alicorn was real.

Among these tests were the following:

  • Place scorpions under a dish with a piece of horn. If the scorpions die in a matter of hours, the horn is real.
  • Feed arsenic to pigeons, followed by a dose of Unicorn horn. If the pigeons live, the horn is genuine.
  • Draw a ring on the floor with the horn. If the horn is real, a spider will not be able to cross the ring.
  • Place the horn in cold water. If the water bubbles but remains cold, the horn came from a Unicorn.

Even today we have seen species of animals wiped off the planet due to the greed and selfishness of mankind.  It is a true travesty, that if we once had a creature this magnificent on Earth, that it was lost because of us.

Unicorns in Dreams

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According to Dreamtation.com online dream database, the Unicorn is associated with Cleanness, Magic consciousness and the union of divine and animal nature.  Although dream meanings can vary greatly depending on the details and complete context of the dream, to be visited by a Unicorn in your dreams ultimately means a good omen.  Throughout history, Unicorns have been known for their divine nature, protection and wisdom.  However, if your dream also includes the presence of Lions…well, that might prove to be quite interesting.  The Royal Coat of Arms is depicted as having both a Lion and Unicorn with a shield between them.  I’ve come to personally believe this to be a direct reference to the mind.  The left side, where the Lion is most predominately located, represents the “Left Brain” or the more carnal mind.  The right side, where the Unicorn is placed, represents the creative and free thinking Right Brain..no wonder it is sometimes depicted as being chained up…  If a dream includes this powerful duo, I would conclude that perhaps One is struggling with maintaining balance.  Perhaps a vacation is in order, meditation, more sleep or it could be a higher calling to do something that fulfills other parts in your life such as a hobby or craft.  Maybe it is a warning that you have become to aggressive or reminding you to keep yourself in check.

Unicorns in Fantasy

It is quite interesting that in multiple different cultures, the Unicorn is depicted as having the “Body of a Deer”.  Perhaps this is a connection with so many other Folklore and Fantasy stories such as Harry Potter and Snow White?  In each depiction, the Deer or Stag represents great power and shows itself in times of great need.

In any and all cases, the Unicorn has proven to not only be a very viable part of Human History but also a fantastical dream that one day could become reality once more.

Sources: www.allaboutunicorns.com | http://www.unicorncollector.com/legends.htm | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicorn | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qilin | http://www.unicorngarden.com/creation.htm | http://www.thejunglestore.com/Unicorns | http://www.constellation-guide.com/constellation-list/monoceros-constellation/ | http://www.dreamtation.com/docs/9552.htm

About the author:
Kendra Gilbert is a webmaster, independent journalist and artist. She is a continuing education student in the field of Nursing, Alternative and Integrative Medicine. Kendra has a diverse history with multiple roles in the metaphysical and spiritual community. She is the former owner/operator of Bodhisattva Inc, Ancient Journey Metaphysical Center in Largo Florida, she has also practiced locally as a Spiritual Adviser and Paranormal Researcher/Investigator. She is actively a supporting member of the In5D.com family and is forever evolving in her personal journey, growth and understanding of the world around us and in between.

 

 

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