This is the creature there has never been.
They never knew it, and yet, none the less,
they loved the way it moved, its suppleness,
its neck, its very gaze, mild and serene.
Not there, because they loved it, it behaved
as though it were. They always left some space.
And in that clear unpeopled space they saved
it lightly reared its head, with scarce a trace
of not being there. They fed it, not with corn,
but only with the possibility
of being. And that was able to confer
such strength, its brow put forth a horn. One horn.
Whitely it stole up to a maid -- to be
within the silver mirror and in her.
~Rainer Marie Rilke
Paleolitchic painting of a unicorn, Lascaux, France - estimated to be up to 20,000 years old.
It has a single horn in the middle of its forehead.
But how can it be caught? One places an elegantly clad
virgin in its path. And then, the beast leaps into the
virgin’s lap and follows her. ~ Physiologus, The
Unicorn, third century AD
Surprisingly, the earliest reported unicorns do not come from mythology, but rather from Greek accounts of natural history. The Greeks believed that unicorns lived in far away India. From 300-100 BC, it was common for hunter to take a virgin with them on the hunt. Because a unicorn will approach a virgin with reverence and lie down beside her, the hunters were afforded a chance to capture the unicorn.
Medieval unicorns stem fom the Greek accounts, from single-horned creatures call "aurochs" seen on the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, and
from biblical references to single horned creatures:
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with 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 (King James version)
The medieval unicorn is a symbol of purity and grace. In magick, it is a white arts creature who can protect those it favors from illness and malwishes.
I have two sets of medieval unicorn tapestry tiles available: The
Lady and the Unicorn and The Hunt for the Unicorn.
Morris himself preferred the richness of tapestries over the the
popular wallpaper. Morris & Co. created several tapestries
along medieval themes.
The Lady and the Unicorn
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, housed at the Musee
National de Moyen Age, shows the five senses: Hearing, Sight,
Touch, Smell, and Taste. A sixth tile, Love (a mon seul desire)
completes the set. The series were discovered in 1841 by Prosper
Mérimée in Boussac castle. The tapestry is complete with its six
pieces. Five of them illustrate each of the five senses.
The Hunt for the Unicorn
The complete Hunt for the Unicorn tapestries, housed at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, consists of seven
scenes, six of which are available as tile: The Start of the Hunt, The
Unicorn at the Fountain, The Hunters Cross Paths with the Unicorn, The Unicorn Defends Itself,
The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle, and The Captive Unicorn. Sadly, the Unicorn Captured by the Maiden
tapestry, shown here, is in fragments, due to mishandling.