Believe it or not, the original unicorns weren’t made of sugar, spice or all things nice. One theory is that they were rather selfish magical creatures that by merely being in the presence of other creatures similarly-created, they would only share one feeling, one of pity; that their counterpart themselves weren’t also born as a unicorn.
There are many theories surrounding what unicorns were, are and indeed their physical appearance. Here I’ll share the most commonly accepted thoughts regarding the creature.
Unicorns are magical beings, who are presented primarily as a horse with a single, spiral-shaped horn located in the centre of its forehead… Alternative versions included those with a bearded goat’s head, the legs and tail of a bull, and a horse’s mane; or even with a deer’s head, elephant’s feet and lion’s tail. They can live hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years if left untouched by evil hands.
There are two conflicting theories relating to the birth of a unicorn…
The first version involves females aged around 30, and males around 40, leaving the heard where they spent their childhood to search for a partner to spend their life with. It can take the pair quite a long time but the average is around four years. The couple will generally spend a year together before mating; the process of which is usually spread over three days, the pair getting together around 60 times during this period. Unicorn pregnancy is long, lasting around two and a half years; however the birth itself is relatively quick, and the newborns can stand within hours. Following this, the pair begin travelling again, they will rarely have other young until their current offspring has matured.
The second theory is that the unicorn, being the animal of a God, cannot be created in a conventional, Earthbound way. Once the female has found herself a male; together they will search for a young unicorn, take it into their care and teach it the ways of the world, effectively raising it as their own. The Gods make sure that the pair will find one on their travels.
One of the oldest unicorns is the Chinese Qilin, which mainly symbolises justice. Legend says he could appear at court hearings to kill the guilty and free the innocent.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, unicorns were frequently defined as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace that could only be captured and tamed by a virgin. It was also widely believed that its horn and tears had the power to purge everything they touch; rendering poisoned water safe, and curing disease. Unicorn liver was considered a cure for leprosy, while shoes created from unicorn skin provided healthy feet, and a belt protected against plague and fever.
Faith in mystical unicorn power remained in England until the 18th century! The value of his horn was huge. A complete Unicorn horn owned by Queen Elizabeth I of England was valued at the time at £10,000; roughly the equivalent of around 3,000 ounces of gold, enough money to buy a large country estate complete with its own castle! It has been said that it was the only animal that had the courage to attack an elephant, its hooves being so sharp that one blow could cut the stomach of an elephant.
Unicorns appear in the holy Bible; although probably only due to a mistake, as a Hebrew word re’em mentioned nine times in the Hebrew Bible was variously translated as a unicorn, or a wild ox. As Christianity stuck close to the text of the Bible, so the unicorn also appears here as a symbol of Christ.
References to unicorns can also be found in heraldry.
In Scotland, Robert III at the end of the 14 century incorporated the unicorn into the royal coat of arms. King James VI added a Scottish unicorn to the coat of arms of Britain as a keeper, in place of the Welsh dragon. The legendary enmity between the unicorn and the lion symbolised the tense Anglo-Scottish relations for a long time. It also refers to the historical battles of both countries, ultimately won by England:
“The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn
All round about the town.”
The Lion and the Unicorn, Through the Looking Glass (1871), Lewis Carroll. Retrieved from http://sabian.org/looking_glass7.php