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Notes from Enchanted England

"I thought unicorns were more...fluffy". Terry Pratchet - Lords & Ladies

Unicorn in summer meadow - detail

Unicorn in summer meadow - detail

No Terry, no!  Unicorns are not small, not pink, not cute - never associated with rainbows, the Unicorn of history and legend has its devilish cloven feet firmly rooted in power. Never, ever fluffy. Personally, I think the only thing that separates us from the unicorn is not myth but time.

It is only recently that we have stopped looking for them in the natural world. Up to the 17th Century books of natural history included the Unicorn as a rare beast found either in China or India. The unicorn was clearly NOT a horse in disguise. Europe considered the Unicorn to be an extremely wild woodland creature that was impossible to capture. In Ethiopia, the animal was known to throw itself over precipices to avoid hunters. It would always land, in a catlike fashion, on its horn and then bound away.

The idea that humans did once live among unicorns is not entirely far fetched. 30,000 years ago the fossil record showed an animal that did have a horn similar to a rhinoceros and a horse- like body. Its not impossible that our Unicorn is an oral tradition based on fact.

The Unicorn could be an extinct rhinocerus species Elasmotherium, a huge Eurasian mammal native to the steppes, south of the range of the woolly rhinoceros of Ice Age Europe. Elasmotherium looked a little like a horse, but it had a large single horn in its forehead. It became extinct about the same time as the rest of the glacial age megafauna. Our time paths crossed and who knows what tales the ancient cavemen told each other and how many of them came down to us- tall tales with a kernel of truth.

At night, sheltering in rocks, picking over charcoal and bones, watching their fire send sparks flying up into the heavens,  the cavemen spoke of a Unicorn that has a beard like a goat, the body of a horse or an ox, cloven hooves like an ox,  possibly an ox tail. On its forehead is a twisted horn that enables it to escape from all traps. It is a creature of immense strength. An animal like this was described in ancient texts. The King James' Bible translated the hebrew word 're-em' as Unicorn. This gives several Old Testament passages a fairy-tale feel - such as this passage from Job.

'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?' King James Bible Job 39:9–1

Clearly ploughing with Unicorns was not going to end happily.

In the 17th Century the countries of Scotland and England were united under the Stuart king James. The new coat of arms reflected the Unicorn of Scotland and the Lion of England supporting a shield between them. Despite the happy image, The Lion and the Unicorn nursery rhyme hints at the disquiet the union caused to many; continuing strife between the two kingdoms and their aristocracies as they jockeyed for power.

'some fed them plum cake and drummed them out of town.'

Time holds up a looking glass to us all. We see through a glass darkly. What is real and what is not? Cavemen may have seen the unicorn and through the smoke and stories handed down a garbled factual account to us. Here is how Lewis Carol put it:

'Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the Unicorn, 'if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?'

Definitely my dear Mr. Unicorn. Definitely.

Unicorn in myth and magic - famous for its healing power.

If he has been with us since the dawn of our history, it is appropriate the unicorn has become a symbol of purity and healing for us. Tradition has given unicorns most power in its horn which - if ground to powder - could heal disease and injury, provide more energy, protect against disease and poison.  Some myths also give the same powers to clothing items made from unicorn hide and drinking vessels from unicorn horn.  

Unicorns at Enchanted England.

To me, the Unicorn is a gentle, creature of summer meadows. One that should be treated with respect. The unicorn is available both as a card and a limited edition fine art print from #EnchantedEngland.

Framed edition of Unicorn Print. In full sunshine and gold frame, the light catches his horn that is finished in gold leaf.

Framed edition of Unicorn Print. In full sunshine and gold frame, the light catches his horn that is finished in gold leaf.