Sunday 5 February 2017

Unicorn Foklore

Searching for unicorn myths is a bit like searching for unicorns themselves.  
The unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a large, pointed, spiralling horn projecting from its forehead. The unicorn was depicted in ancient seals of the Indus Valley Civilization and was mentioned by the ancient Greeks in accounts of natural history by various writers, including Ctesias, Strabo, Pliny the Younger, and Aelian. The Bible also describes an animal, the re'em (auroch), which some versions translate as a unicorn.
In European folklore, the unicorn is often depicted as a white horse-like or goat-like animal with a long horn and cloven hooves (sometimes a goat's beard). In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin. In the encyclopaedias, its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. In medieval and Renaissance times, the tusk of the narwhal was sometimes sold as unicorn horn.
The truth is, unlike almost every single other mythical creature, the unicorn does not appear anywhere in any culture's actual mythology.  That is to say, plenty of Greek scholars believed that unicorns existed, but the unicorn itself does not come from Greek mythology.  There are no tales of gods riding unicorns or legends of unicorns fighting monsters.

To put it simply, as far as ancient myths are concerned, there is no such thing as 'unicorn mythology'.
Greek scholars actually believed that this creature was real, noted in the accounts of natural history and that it made its home in India.  At the time, India was a little known distant land that seemed magical and mysterious to the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Fittingly, the unicorn was seen as a mystical and mysterious creature who commanded great respect and power.

This is not unlike the griffin, who many ancient Greeks also believed came from India.  And like the griffin, very few specific tales can be told about the unicorn, despite its popularity around the world.

The strangest part has to be the fact that ancient scholars believed that unicorns were real.  While this is true of other mythical creatures, unicorns are unique in that they aren't from mythology.  For example, ancient people might believe that a Pegasus, the winged horse of Bellerophon, was real because there was a specific myth that spoke of him.  The unicorn, on the other hand, has no such myth, so where does the belief in unicorns come from?
One scholar pointed out an interesting fact about unicorns - they are possibly the only mythical creature that is not based on human fears.  Unicorns are not monsters.  Anytime they are spoken of in ancient texts they are revered and respected.  They are strong, solitary animals who seek to do good for all around them.  Never does a unicorn pose a threat to humans, or any other creature that does not seek first to harm them.
For a creature that came from nowhere, never really existed, and has no real origin, the unicorn has lasted an unbelievable amount of time in the imaginations of the human race.  There really is no parallel.
Source HERE
The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.
The unicorn, tamable only by a virgin woman, was well established in medieval lore.

One traditional method of hunting unicorns that involved entrapment by a virgin.
In one of his notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci wrote:

The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.
A Maiden with a Unicorn by Leonardo da Vinci.
Interpretations of the unicorn myth focus on the medieval lore of beguiled (charm or enchant (someone), often in a deceptive way) lovers. The unicorn also figured in courtly terms: for some 13th-century French authors such as Thibaut of Champagne and Richard de Fournival, the lover is attracted to his lady as the unicorn is to the virgin.

The Throne Chair of Denmark is made of "unicorn horns" – almost certainly narwhal tusks. It is guarded by three life-size silver lions, based on Biblical references, and was a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Twin Kingdoms. The same material was used for ceremonial cups because the unicorn's horn continued to be believed to neutralise poison.The horn itself and the substance it was made of was called alicorn, and it was believed that the horn holds magical and medicinal properties.
There are famous late Gothic series of seven tapestry hangings The Hunt of the Unicorn.
Another famous set of six tapestries of Dame à la licorne ("Lady with the unicorn") in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, were also woven in the Southern Netherlands before 1500, and show the five senses (the gateways to temptation) and finally Love ("A mon seul desir" the legend reads), with unicorns featured in each piece. Facsimiles of these unicorn tapestries are currently being woven for permanent display in Stirling Castle, Scotland, to take the place of a set recorded in the castle in a 16th-century inventory.
In heraldry, the unicorn is best known as the symbol of Scotland. The unicorn was chosen because it was seen as a proud and haughty beast which would rather die than be captured, just as Scots would fight to remain sovereign and unconquered. Two unicorns supported the royal arms of the King of Scots, and since the 1707 union of England and Scotland, the royal arms of the United Kingdom have been supported by a unicorn along with an English lion. Two versions of the royal arms exist: that used in Scotland gives more emphasis to the Scottish elements, placing the unicorn on the left and giving it a crown, whereas the version used in England and elsewhere gives the English elements more prominence.

My interest has grown in the unicorn and this mystical creature has inspired a new novel called 'The Paper Unicorn'. I'm really excited about this story, it is quite different to my others. However, I must complete book two for publishing this year 'A Carpet of Purple Flowers' series and then I'm free to play with this idea. Can't wait. :o) Meanwhile, in my spare time I'm compiling a mood book so I don't lose track of the tale. I'll share pieces that I create here on the blog.
Love and light,

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