PBP: U is for Unicorn

This pagan blog project post is a bit atypical when compared to the rest of my posts for this series as it is not Hellenic. The unicorn, as we are familiar with it, is largely a medieval symbolic creature. In early Christianity he supposedly represented the christ, and the hunt for the unicorn was seen as a metaphor for the spiritual hunt for christ. The story of the unicorn becomes a fanciful tell in which feminine purity, likely representing Mary, is the only source to which he will come and lay upon her lap. The unicorn tapestries from the medieval period are full of scenes in regards to this spiritual hunt.

Yet, despite the unicorn not being particularly Hellenic, I do see it as hellenic symbol…or rather that the idea of the unicorn probably sprung in the imagination based largely on ancient pre-existing symbolism. For which purpose I have a ceramic unicorn pot-pouri figure that is made in replication from a unicorn on the afore-mentioned tapestries, that I have placed on the altar of Artemis and occassionally on that of Apollon.

In many respects the unicorn is almost a double for the golden hind that is hunted by Herakles. There are of course iconic differences. The hind is female, whereas the unicorn appears to have been typically imagined as male as a symbol of christ, and where the female hind is set apart from other does by her golden hooves and antlers, the unicorn, bearing a close resemblance to something in between horse, deer and goat, bears one startling horn that raises from between his brows. The horn as an extension of the mind towards the heavens is often a symbol of divinity for which the deer are associated with Artemis, goats and rams with several gods as also bulls and cows. Therefore the unicorn, viewed through the hellenic lense, is a creature that iconically represents the divine by its singular brow.

The hunt scene is of course also largely spiritually metaphorical as an important quest that is undergone by many heroes. Herakles hunts the hind, Jason (along with many other great heroes) searches for the golden fleece (of a golden ram), The Calydonian Boar is hunted by many heroes of great repute and so on. Of such great significance this imagery is that Euripides in his Ion describes a scene which is depicted on a tapestry that depicts the ongoing of a hunt, which to me ascribes a sacred hunt given that this was a temple tapestry, and probably related to Apollon and Artemis as hunting twins.

The attraction of the unicorn towards the pure maiden likewise reminds me a great deal of the attraction of gods to maidens in myth. Perhaps one of the most memorable in people’s minds would be that of Eros and Psykhe. The beauty and purity (born of the harmonic state of the soul) becomes that which attracts the god and thus she recieves him which in myth is protrayed in sexual procreative terms, whereas in the unicorn hunt it is the chaste resting of the unicorn’s head in her lap that allows him to be captured.

Therefore, whereas strictly speaking the unicorn is not hellenic, in many other ways it is a hellenic as it is derived from hellenic thought in my opinion. The unicorn could logically placed with any gods esteemed by the worshiper, but in my case I put it with the twin hunters, who just happen to be the most beloved of gods in my household.


4 thoughts on “PBP: U is for Unicorn

  1. Interestingly, the unicorn or a creature resembling a unicorn did pre-date the Medieval period. Even in cave paintings, images of unicorns have been found among the other animals.

    The re’em is the common name for this creature in the Near East, and Greek writers did write about such a creature living in India- even if it isn’t in Greek mythology. Personally, I think the animal it is based upon is probably the rhinoceros. It is amazing that such a creature has remained a popular part of cultures since the beginning of the human race, and still continues to be.

    • yeah I have heard before of some of these, but the reason I didn’t address them was because I was speaking more of the unicorn as we know it today and its legendary characteristics. That said, I hadn’t known that there was a creature resembling a unicorn that was known to the Greeks, so thanks for that 🙂

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