The Meaning of Unicorns: Greek, Chinese, Christian


Unicron SymbolHistory of the Unicorn Symbol

The unicorn is one of a very few mythological creatures that are considered to be beneficial in almost all traditions. The unicorn is universally beautiful, mysterious and difficult to capture or tame. Although modern unicorns are depicted simply as horses with a single horn, traditional unicorns also possessed a billy goat’s beard, a lion’s tail and cloven hooves.

Unicorns have a place in Greek mythology, Chinese traditions, in the art of the Indus Valley and India. Greek writers including Pliny the Elder and Aristotle mention the unicorn in their writings. Some historians believe they may have been confused by earlier historical references to the rhinoceros, orynx (antelope) or wild asses.

Unicorn MeaningUnicorn Symbolism in the Bible

Translators of the Hebrew Bible used “unicorn” for the word “re’em” and give at least eight mentions of the unicorn in the Old Testament, including "And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with their bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness" (Isaiah 34:7) and “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of the unicorn” (Numbers 23:22).

Other Biblical quotes (courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicorn )include:

  • "God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn."--Numbers 24:8
  • "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."--Deuteronomy 33:17
  • "Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? or wilt thou leave thy labour to him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?"--Job 39:9-12
  • "Save me from the lion's mouth; for thou hast heard me from the horns of unicorns."--Psalm 22:21
  • "He maketh them [the cedars of Lebanon] also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn."--Psalm 29:6
  • "But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of the unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil."--Psalm 92:10

Unicorn Meaning in Art and Heraldry

Unicorn SymbolismThe unicorn became a religious symbol in the art of the Middle Ages. The original tale was that a beautiful maiden representing the Virgin Mary managed to trap a unicorn, whereupon the unicorn became tame and lay its head in her lap.

As the legend grew through reinterpretation, the unicorn was viewed as the Christ or Incarnation and the death of a unicorn as the Passion of Christ. This allowed a pagan symbol to become highly esteemed within the church. In fact, a grouping or herd of unicorns is called a “blessing” of unicorns.

Unicorns are also prominent in heraldic symbolism, usually with a spiral horn, sometimes of red and black. In heraldry, unicorns are often shown with a collar and a broken chain, indicating that they have freed themselves from bondage and cannot be taken again. (Photo courtesy of user:Xfigpower, Wikimedia Commons)  

The Magic of Unicorns

Unicorn SymbolismThe magical powers of unicorns are also legendary. Unicorn horns are said to be harder than diamonds and to be able to neutralize poisons. Unicorn tears can heal both physical wounds and sorrows of the heart.

A person with the ability to see a unicorn may have a wish granted as a reward. Unicorns are often reputed to have the ability to fly. Some unicorns are believed to be able to speak to all kinds of other creatures.

In modern literature, the lure and mystery of unicorns remains. In the recent Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings, powerful wands are made with a core of unicorn hair. The blood of a unicorn is also reputed to keep a person alive even if he is very close to death. The ongoing body of literature associated with unicorns and the powers attributed to them will undoubtedly continue to add to their value as symbols of freedom, healing and beauty. 

More Information on Dragons, Mermaids and Unicorns

For more information on dragons, mermaids and unicorns, see these recommended books:
Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons
How to Draw Fairies and Mermaids
The Wonder of Unicorns

More Information on Mythical Creatures

For more information on mythical creatures, see these recommended books on Amazon:
The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures

Field Guide to Fantastic Creatures
The Mythic Bestiary: The Illustrated Guide to the World's Most Fantastical Creatures

More Information on Fairies

For more information on faires, see these recommended books on Amazon:
Enchantment of the Faerie Realm: Communicate with Nature Spirits & Elementals

In the Land of Fairies
Healing with the Fairies: Messages, Manifestations and Love from the World of the Fairies

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