Meanings associated to the unicorn are innocence, feminine energy, and magic. It is not uncommon to see unicorn references in fantasy novels, children’s books, and other mythical stories throughout the ages. It’s because the unicorn is a fascinating mythical animal that captivates our imagination. Its symbolic meaning is still wrapped in mystery, even though literally, the word’s etymology can be traced to the Latin “unicornis”, which means “single horn”.
The meanings of the word Unicorn can be traced back to Middle English via Old French and come from the Latin unicornis. Broken down, uni means ‘single’ and cornu means ‘horn’. Simply put, a unicorn is defined as an animal with one horn.
Unicorns are generally considered mythical animals and are typically represented as a white horse with a single straight and often spiraled horn projecting from its forehead. Legend has it that the creature is tireless when pursued, yet falls meekly to the ground when approached by someone with a pure heart. It is reputed to live for a thousand years and to be the noblest of animals.
When Unicorns Mean Innocence
Unicorns are strongly associated with the feminine and as such have traditionally appeared as a symbol of chastity, the divine power that nurtures all living things, and an emblem of the word of divine presence. This is why it is often said that only a virgin can catch a unicorn.
Although some have interpreted this fact differently, stating that any woman may be granted this sweet friendship because age and station are of no account, and she only needs to possess purity of heart. For the unicorn requires not that she has never known the touch of men, but only that an unmoderated desire for that touch has not closed her inner vision, or provoked her into a wordly pursuits.
The Unicorn, Symbol of the Feminine
Unicorns have also long been a representation of the Moon. This is another clear indication of their association to feminine energy. The association to feminine yin energy is also evident in the mysterious, intuitive, and magical characteristics ascribed to the unicorn.
The feminine nature of the unicorn is so common throughout different cultures that it is often considered to be a valid archetype or universal energy pattern.
The Unicorn, Symbol of Magic and Wonder
Often considered the most wondrous of all mythical creatures, the unicorn is also a symbol of magic, miracles, and enchantment. The magical and enchanting unicorn appears to only a rare few and has the ability to bestow magic, miracles and wisdom to those who are pure of heart and virtuous in their deeds.
Nowadays, the unicorn is strongly associated with vibrant imagination and a sense of wonder. Present in numerous children books, it also appeals to adults because of its mysterious and fantastic attributes.
Cultural Symbolism of the Unicorn
The unicorn is one of a very few mythical creatures that is considered to be beneficial in almost all traditions. Through many different cultures the unicorn is universally beautiful, mysterious, and difficult to capture or tame.
Unicorns have a place in Greek mythology, Chinese traditions, in the art of the Indus Valley and India. Greek writers including Pliny the Elder and Aristotle mention the unicorn in their writings. Translators of the Hebrew Bible used “unicorn” for the word “re’em” and give at least eight mentions of the unicorn in the Old Testament.
Traditional Meanings of the Unicorn in Heraldry
In Heraldry, which is the practice of devising, granting, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and heraldic badges, the unicorn has several meanings. It is often represented as having a horse’s body, a stag’s legs, a lion’s tail, and a straight-spiraled horn growing from its forehead, sometimes of red and black.
Another common representation in Heraldry are unicorns shown with a collar and a broken chain. This is said to symbolize that they have freed themselves from bondage and cannot be taken again.
The unicorn is most notable in Heraldry for being employed as a supporter for the Royal Arms of Great Britain or of Scotland.