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Unicorns and Unicorn Mythology

Updated on May 13, 2015

Unicorns are Wonderful Creatures

The unicorn is one of my favorite legendary creatures. Basically they are white horses with a single horn, but they also have some special, supernatural abilities.

Unicorn mythology always portrays unicorns as good, unlike most of the mythical creatures of legend and lore. Also, unicorns are featured on the coat of arms of Scotland. So, unicorns are quite close to my heart!

Unicorn Walking Towards Waterfall by Buddy Mays

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Unicorns are Special

Unicorns are mythical creatures found in mythologies, legends, fairy tales, and folkore, and depicted in bestiaries and books of wondrous creatures, especially from the medieval age. Today, they abound in fantasy tales.

Unicorns are generally considered to have supernatural abilities. Their horns have healing powers and are able to neutralize poisons. Unicorns represent purity and innocence, and can be tamed only by a virgin.

Unicorn Dances by Sue Clyne

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Don't Confuse Unicorns with Pegasus!

The unicorn is described as a horse, almost always white, with a single, spiral horn coming out of its forehead. Not to be confused with the pegasus, also a white horse, the unicorn has no wings.

Origins of Unicorns

Unicorns seems to exist in legends around the world. And many believe that unicorns really existed in the past. Or at least, creatures that had one horn if not all the other characteristics of the unicorn. Thus, deformed members of the deer or goat family have been suggested as the origin of unicorns.

Narwhals
Narwhals | Source

It has been suggested that the unicorn horns that have been displayed as historical curiosities are actually from narwhals. These are a kind of whale, found in the Arctic waters, with a single distinctive straight spiral tusk. In fact, the depictions of unicorns in art usually feature a horn that clearly resembles the tusk of the narwhal.

The unicorn appears in the stories and mythology of the ancient Sumerian culture, the Old Testament of the Bible, as well as Ancient Greek natural history. In the orient, Chinese mythology describes the qilin as a chimera - usually depicted as a creature with the head of a dragon, hooves and antlers of a deer, and tail of a lion - that serves as a good omen of prosperity. Some have suggested the giraffe was misinterpreted as this creature, with the modern Japanese word for giraffe being kirin.

The "Real" Unicorn

Deformed goats, strange whales with tusks, and even a giraffe - give me a break! Those who make such suggestions have missed the fundamental characteristics of the unicorn, at least in my opinion.

Unicorns are glorious creatures, gentle and good (at least toward those who are innocent), and filled with grace and splendor. Magical, yes, in their appearance and character, if not in their abilities.

Unicorns are always delicate, elegant, and entrancing to look at, but when pictured with their young they are just the best!

Unicorn Mare and Foal by Corey Ford

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Arms of Scotland
Arms of Scotland | Source

Unicorns in Heraldry

Unicorns are quite popular in heraldry where, like this Scottish unicorn, they are usually shown with a broken chain indicating that although once captured they are now free. The heraldic unicorn is a horse with the cloven hooves and beard of a goat, a lion's tail, and the traditional single spiral horn on its forehead.

The Scottish Royal Arms actually feature two majestic unicorns (although this photo shows only one). Another reason I love unicorns!

Unicorns on Tapestries

There are two very significant tapestries, well actually each is a series of tapestries, that feature unicorns. They were both created around the end of the fifteenth century. The unicorns have the characteristics of the heraldic unicorn - a horse with the cloven hooves and beard of a goat, a lion's tail, and the traditional single spiral horn on its forehead.

Detail from The Lady and the Unicorn: Sight Tapestry
Detail from The Lady and the Unicorn: Sight Tapestry

The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn series has six tapestries. Each tapestry has a noble lady in medieval garb, a unicorn, a lion, as well as various other animals. Five depict the senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. Thus, in the detail from the "sight" tapestry, the unicorn is shown looking at its reflection in a mirror held by the lady. The sixth tapestry is mysterious, bearing the inscription A mon seul desir ("to my only desire") woven into the tent behind the lady. A common understanding is that it represents love.

Detail from The Lady and the Unicorn: Sight Tapestry

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The Unicorn is Found, one of the series of seven tapestries "The Hunt of the Unicorn"
The Unicorn is Found, one of the series of seven tapestries "The Hunt of the Unicorn" | Source

The Hunt of the Unicorn

The series "The Hunt of the Unicorn," also called the "Unicorn Tapestries," contains seven tapestries. These depict a group of noblemen and hunters hunting a unicorn. As the series progresses, they encounter the unicorn and are amazed by its powers as it dips its horn into a poisoned water fountain to protect and heal all the creatures. However, the unicorn is attacked, and despite fiercely defending itself, it is captured and brought back in triumph, mortally wounded. In the final tapestry, though, the unicorn is seen alive again, and apparently tamed.

Interpretations of this series of tapestries include the mythological account that a unicorn can only be tamed by a virgin maiden (only fragments of the tapestry apparently depicting this scene remain), and Christian symbolism of the resurrection of Christ.

The Last Unicorns

Since unicorns have not been seen on the earth in recent years at least, many have imagined how it must have been for the last unicorns.

In this animated movie a unicorn appears to be the last of her kind, and sets off on a quest to search for any others who may have survived. Based on the book by Peter S. Beagle "The Last Unicorn" is my favorite unicorn movie. It has simple animation but the voices from an all star cast and the haunting soundtrack make it wonderful. This is just a lovely movie with such sympathy toward the unicorn, and with a host of other mythical creatures as well as humans, even a magician!

The Last Unicorn Movie

"The Last Unicorn" Book

Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn" is a classic of fantasy, well worth reading by children and adults alike.

The Last Unicorn song by America

This amazing song is the title song in the movie "The Last Unicorn."

Unicorns Inspire Fantastic Art!

Real or imaginary, artists don't care. They just love unicorns, and these magnificent creatures grace their work in many wonderful ways. Here are just a few examples.

 Serigraphy "The unicorn" by Adi Holzer. It is a part of the "Noah Zyklus" from the year 1975.
Serigraphy "The unicorn" by Adi Holzer. It is a part of the "Noah Zyklus" from the year 1975. | Source

Enchanted Forest

by Lydian at zazzle.com

Unicorn Waves
by Rachael Tallamy at zazzle.com

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

Love Unicorns?

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    • profile image

      Tari Chabot 18 months ago

      So very pretty.

    • profile image

      stevbonhage 2 years ago

      A very nice read. I just wrote an article about the Unicorn Café in Bangkok http://stevbonhage.hubpages.com/hub/The-Unicorn-Ca... & your hub was featured in "related hubs".

    • raffael lm profile image

      raffael lm 3 years ago

      You took me fascinated with the charming of unicorn portrayal.

    • profile image

      Bartukas 4 years ago

      Great lens thanks

    • profile image

      gradientcat 4 years ago

      I love the Last Unicorn movie. We also just read the story to our kids.

    • Mamabyrd profile image

      Mamabyrd 4 years ago

      Beautiful lens! I have love unicorns since I was a little girl. Thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      MuffinPuffART 4 years ago

      Lovely lens, I adore Unicorns and its nice to see them so well represented on Squidoo!

    • attraction 42 profile image

      attraction 42 4 years ago

      I love unicorns.

    • profile image

      UnicornPrincess9 4 years ago

      What beauty lies within their mystery! What goodness is found in their hearts! Oh, My sweet Unicorn, the most beautiful creature who has ever awakened to existence, has progressively galloped his way into my heart. The magic in his majestic horn will always keep me wondering. The enchantment of his fairytale will eternally be reality in my eyes. I love you, dearest Unicorns. :).

      And, your lens was absolutely wonderful. The images were capturing and the information fascinating. You can see the soul in what you speak of.

    • profile image

      1tadej1 4 years ago

      Nice lens. I love unicorns

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      Cool Lens!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Lovely lens, really fun and instructive. I enjoyed learning about The Lady and the Unicorn, I had never noticed that there were several tapestries. Going to see the original tapestries would be a wonderful quest. Pinned - one on the board" "Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales for Kids and Grown-ups" and also on "Squidoo lenses worth Blessing."

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I used to have an entire collection of assorted unicorns. Somehow I lost interest in collecting them but you've definitely inspired me again :)

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 5 years ago

      I love unicorns too. Their magical abilities, and how gorgeous they are. Great lens.

    • Elric22 profile image

      Elric22 5 years ago

      I need to add The Last Unicorn to my son's (four) reading and movie list. Thanks for the great thread!

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 5 years ago

      Magical lens! Great job on a beautiful mythical creature. Blessed!

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Beautiful lens! I really enjoyed the images!

    • profile image

      antoniow 5 years ago

      Very interesting rading thumbs up!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I love unicorns. What a beautiful lens.

    • yayas profile image

      yayas 5 years ago

      Unicorns definitely inspire beautiful thoughts of magical possibilities, don't they?

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