The Unicorn

by Caterina Tadlock

For many years the unicorn has captured the hearts of people all over the world. Even today we are fascinated by this enchanting mythological creature. But where did this mysterious being come from? Is it or was it ever real? And how have stories about the unicorn changed over the years?

Stories of unicorns have been told for many years in many places.

It is not known for certain where the story of the unicorn first began, but it has been told all over China, Japan, Arabia, India, and Europe. One of the oldest unicorn appearances occurred in China some 5,000 years ago. A unicorn, in china called the Ki' Lin, is said to have showed emperor Fu Hsi the key written language. The unicorn's body was covered in symbols. Fu Hsi traced them into the dirt and they were the beginning of the Chinese written language. (Hathaway p 44)

About 4700 years ago another the Ki' Lin is said to have appeared in the garden of in the garden Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor. He interpreted the appearance of this magical creature as a good omen foretelling a long and peaceful reign for the emperor. The Chinese also believed that the Ki' Lin could predict the birth of a great man. We see an example of this with the story of the great philosopher Confucius. ( unicorncollector.com) His mother, Ching Tsae, had five old men, calling themselves the colors, the elements and the planets, appear before her. They had with them the Ki' Lin. The Ki'lin placed in Ching Tsae's hand a small piece of jade. On it was and inscription that said "the son of the essence of water shall succeed to the withering chou and be a throne less king." Ching Tsae tied a white ribbon around the Ki' Lin's horn and returned home to tell her husband Heih. In the middle of winter, Ching Tsae gave birth to her son, Confucius who became a great teacher and philosopher founding the philosophy today known as Confucianism. When Confucius was an old man the Ki' Lin appeared before him to anounce his death. When Confucius saw the Ki'Lin it was still wearing the white ribbon that his mother had tied to it horn. (Hathaway p 45)

In Japan there are two types of unicorns. The Kirin and the sin-you. The Kirin is much like the Chinese Ki'lin but the sin-you resembles a lion with a single horn, and the ability to distinguish right from wrong. The sin-you would stare into the eyes of a person, and if found guilty would pierce him through the heart with its horn.

In Arabia the unicorn is called the Karkadann and it is a ferocious war like creature. It can appear in many forms, but the most remarkable one has three legs, six eyes, nine mouths and a golden horn.

One story tells of a battle between the Karkadann and the elephant, in which both end up killed and eaten by rocs. The elephant and Karkadann had an immediate haltered for each other from the moment they first saw each other. The Karkadann emailed the elephant on its horn, when the elephant reared upon its hind legs. The Karkadann killed the elephant, however, because of the elephant's massive weight. Another story tells of two twin brothers who kill the Karkadann to use its fat to help cure their father's arthritis and to get rid of the demons who haunted their sister in her sleep.

One of the earliest accounts that we have the unicorn occurred in India. It was made by the Greek physician Ctesias. It appears that he saw a unicorn while in India in 416 B.C. This is what he wrote:

"There are in India certain wild asses which are as large as horses, and larger. Their bodies are white, their heads dark red, and their eyes dark blue. They have a horn on the forehead which is about a foot and a half in length. The dust filed from this horn is administered in a potion as a protection against deadly drugs. The base of this horn, for some two hands'-breadth above the brow, is pure white; the upper part is sharp and of a vivid crimson; and the remainder, or middle portion, is black. Those who drink out of these horns, made into drinking vessels, are not subject, they say, to convulsions or to the holy disease [epilepsy]. Indeed, they are immune even to poisons if, either before or after swallowing such, they drink wine, water, or anything else from these beakers . . . The animal is exceedingly swift and powerful, so that no creature, neither the horse nor any other, can overtake it." ( sacred-texts.com)

There is another story in India, of a man named Vibhandaka who marries a unicorn. As a young boy Vibhandaka leaves his family to follow a holy man. For yeas this man was the boy's mentor, but one day, when Vibhandaka is a young adult, he goes out to fetch water and returns to the cave where he lived with his mentor, only to find the old man has died. Vibhandaka is then, for the first time in his life alone. One day, while sitting alone in his cave meditating, an unusual creature arrived. It was a gazelle like creature with a single curved horn in the middle of it's for head. The unicorn was a great comfort to him in his loneliness and have a short time the two were married. The unicorn then gave birth to a child, who as in all respects human, except for a horn in the middle of his for head. The child was named Rishyashringa. Shortly after his mother died, and with her so did his father. Rishyashringa, then married Shanta the daughter of and evil king, who died shortly after their marriage. (Hathaway p 66)

I think this is the most unusual unicorn stories I have ever heard. It is very different from the ideas that we have about the unicorn today.

The way we think of the unicorn today, is usually as a white horse with a white horn. More recently however we have also given the unicorn wings in some cases, and given it different colors. The ideas we have about the unicorn today are closer to those of Europe.

The European unicorn is like much like horse, but smaller. It typically stands a little over 3 feet tall and weighs around 100 pounds. In southern Europe the unicorns range from nearly black, to a tawny gold color. In northern Europe however, they are much lighter, usually cream, ivory, or completely white. They are swift, and have good sight. Their eyes are usually dark blue or brown and their horns have a magical healing ability. It is said that the unicorn can purify water simply by dipping the tip of it horn. (Unicorn Dreams)

There is also a myth that the unicorn was the first creature to be named by Adam. It is believed that the unicorn was the second most important creature next to Adam and eve. After Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they were banished by God. The unicorn however, was given the option to stay and live a life of paradise in Eden, or to follow Adam and eve out into the harsh world. The unicorn, out of its love for them chose to take the hard path and follow them out into the world. It is possible that this story is part of why the unicorn is sometimes considered a symbol for Christ.

Today, in America, the modern unicorn is much like that of the European unicorn, only bigger, and more horse like. The Modern American unicorn looks exactly like horse, with a horn in the middle of its head. Sometimes, however it can have a beard, or cloven hooves, and occasionally a lions tale. Usually however, it is just a snow white horse, with a magical horn. The unicorn can however come in a variety of other colors, even un natural colors such as pink, blue, purple green etc. The unicorn has also recently been mixed with the Pegasus, to create what some people call a "pegacorn" or a "unipeg" Though purely mythical, the American unicorn is still a popular creature in fantasy novels and movies, especially amongst young children. While it is likely that some form of the unicorn may have once existed, it is agreed upon by most that it no longer does. There are however still people out there who are so captured by they idea of this magical creature that they continue to believe in, and even search for proof of the creatures existence.

Works Cited


Hathaway Nancy. The Unicorn. New York, Viking Press, 1980. 20 may 2007.

The Unicorn Collector. "The Mystery Of the Unicorn." unicorncollector.com. 14 December 2004. 20 May 2007. < http://www.unicorncollector.com/legend.htm >

Unicorn Dreams. "European Unicorns." Unicorn Dreams. 20 May 2007

<http://www.lair2000.net/Unicorn_Dreams/Types_of_Unicorns/European/ European_Unicorn.html>

Sacred Texts. "The Lore of the Unicorn." Sacred-texts.com. 20 May 2007
<http://www.sacred-texts.com/etc/lou/lou03.htm>

 

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