Unicorns may not be real animals, but this mythical creature is so popular and beloved that its impact is felt throughout many human cultures. From art to literature to mythology, the unicorn is the ultimate symbol of magic, beauty, and uniqueness. In this article, we’ll examine some of the most popular myths and stories surrounding unicorns as well as the history of this magical horse. Read on to learn all about the unicorn!
Table of contents
- Unicorn Symbolism and meaning
- Unicorn Native American Symbolism
- Unicorn Eastern Symbolism
- Unicorn Christianity Symbolism
- Unicorn Celtic Symbolism
- Unicorn African Symbolism
- Unicorn in Dreams
- Unicorn Encounters and Omens
- Unicorn’ Mythology and Folklore
- Unicorn Spirit Animal
- Unicorn Totem Animal
- Unicorn Power Animal
- Unicorn Tattoo Meaning
Unicorn symbolism and meaning
Unicorns represent magic above all else. Unicorns are staples of fairytales and the idea of “believing in unicorns” is synonymous with a belief in magic and a sense of childlike wonder and joy. On that note, unicorns are also symbolic of childhood, innocence and wonder.
Unicorn stories often associate these beasts with pure-hearted maidens. For this reason, unicorns may represent kindness, purity, or femininity. Unicorns are also associated with fairytales in general. The unicorn symbolizes romance and “happily ever afters.”
Unicorns are often found as heraldic symbols. The heraldic unicorn is associated with courage and royalty. One of the most famous instances of unicorn heraldry is the Scottish unicorn. For this reason, unicorns are closely associated with Scotland. (1)
Like real horses, unicorns may represent freedom. The horse is often used as a symbol of freedom and destiny. Because unicorns are just horses with a bit of extra magic, these elegant equines are similarly connected with freedom.
In many cases, a unicorn represents a rare or unique individual. When searching for something one-of-a-kind, these rare and exceptional things are sometimes referred to metaphorically as “unicorns.” A unicorn represents rarity but it also represents individuality. Unicorn symbolism is often tied to the idea that one must embrace the things which make them stand out from others.
Unicorn Native American symbolism
Native American symbolism does not typically include unicorns. We may not be able to analyze Native American unicorn symbolism, however we can at least examine the relationship between Native American peoples and horses.
It is widely believed that Native American tribes did not have horses until European explorers introduced them to the continent. This is the general consensus of historians who have tracked the movements of domesticated horses throughout history. Despite this, Native American tribes have many legends involving how the horse was created and brought to the people. A growing contingent of Natives historians insist that horses existed on the continent and in the lives of Native Americans before colonization. The fossil record supports this, however some still theorize that horses in the Americas went extinct after the Ice Age and were reintroduced during the Age of Exploration. (2)
While Native American cultures may not have had widespread myths about unicorns, there are a few stories which feature fantastical horses. According to a Tejas myth, all of America’s feral horses came from a giant blue horse which a Spanish explorer brought to them. The horse was huge and fierce and only one Native American man ever dared to ride it. One day, this man saw a Spaniard atop a giant horse. Scared, the man fired an arrow at the Spaniard and he fell from the horse. The horse turned on the man, but the man didn’t know the words that the Spanish used to communicate with horses. The injured Spaniard offered to teach him to speak to the horse in exchange for his life. The young man agreed and with his teacher’s help became the first horseman of the Tejas. Because no other Native Americans could speak the language of the horse, when his rider eventually died they were too scared to ride him and they turned him loose. He roamed the prairies and had many children which became the wild horses of the Americas. (3)
This horse myth, as well as many other fantastical horse myths, treat the horse as a gift to mankind. The unicorn may be regarded similarly. (4)
Unicorn Eastern Symbolism
The Chinese “unicorn” is a beast called “Qilin.” The Qilin is often described as a unicorn, however this beast looks something like a mix between a Chinese dragon and a horse or ox. Often, the Qilin is depicted with a single horn, just like the European unicorn. (5)
The Qilin is associated with kindness. It is said that this beast walks on clouds so as not to harm a single blade of grass upon the earth. Other stories suggest that the Qilin is capable of great ferocity and violence.
In many legends, the Qilin is said to symbolize greatness. This beast is said to be able to foretell when a person is capable of exceptional things. Some legends state that the Qilin appeared before Confucius’s pregnant mother in order to predict the incredible career that the unborn philosopher would have. (6)
Similarly, the unicorn myth of Japan is called “Kirin.” The Kirin is actually a Japanese adaptation of the Chinese Qilin myth. The Kirin is said to be an excellent judge of character which, like the Qilin, can predict a wise leader. The Kirin is thought to be gentle and very rare. The Kirin is sometimes depicted as more deer-like than equine. (7)
Unicorn Christianity symbolism
Unicorns might seem sort of Pagan, but they actually come up surprisingly often in Christian art and iconography. (8)
Christian art concerning unicorns largely focuses on the incarnation of Christ and the Virgin Mary. A great deal of this imagery is likely due to the ancient belief that unicorns are somehow drawn towards virgins. In some versions of this story, unicorns can only be tamed by a virgin and will lash out at or abandon a person once their virginity is lost.
Medieval and Renaissance art sometimes depicts Mary alongside of or embracing a unicorn. This is done to reflect the idea that Mary was chosen by God to bear his son because of her exceptional purity and virginity. Thus, the combination of the unicorn imagery and Mary herself reflects Jesus Christ and his birth. (9)
Unicorn Celtic symbolism
Horses in general are very important throughout Celtic mythology. In the Mabinogi, the queen goddess Rhiannon is seen at a distance riding slowly on a horse. The king Pwyll falls in love with her and tries to approach her. No matter how fast he runs, his horse cannot catch up to hers, even though her horse is only walking. When he finally calls out to her, she stops and they marry. When they have their first child, the baby is snatched from the cradle just after being born. Rhiannon is blamed and forced to carry people into court on her back, like a horse, as punishment. The stolen child is found in a stable and raised alongside horses until he is old enough and begins to resemble his mother. When he is returned to her, she is vindicated and her name is cleared. (10)
Queenship, fertility, magic, and dignity are all ideas associated with horses. Unicorns embody these ideas while adding an extra dimension of magic and wonder.
As previously mentioned, the unicorn is one of the prevailing symbols of Scotland. According to Scottish legend, a virgin alone could tame the fierce and mighty unicorn. Once tamed, the maiden could harness the incredible healing powers of the unicorn’s horn. Unicorns were said to be able to detect and heal a range of ailments and poisons. Unicorns continue to be associated with purification and healing. (11)(12)
Unicorn African symbolism
African unicorn symbolism is often tied to the Abada. The Abada is a mythical donkey-like creature which is said to have not one but two magical horns sprouting from its head. What connects the Abada to unicorns most of all is the fact that the horns of the Abada are said to detect and cure poisons. (13)
It used to be believed by some Europeans that unicorns were real beasts living in Africa. It is now believed that early visitors wrote of strange creatures like the giraffe, rhinoceros, and okapi, using terms that were familiar to them. To an outsider, these strange beasts resembled familiar legends. (14)
The African symbolism of the unicorn is similar to the European. This beast is connected to magic, mystery, healing, and purification.
Unicorn in dreams
Unicorn dreams can symbolize one’s inner child. Dreaming of unicorns is a sign to listen to your inner child’s voice. Approach your situation with child-like wonder and optimism and remember to nurture the playful kid within you.
A unicorn dream may also signify romance or desire. Unicorns are often connected with romantic fairytales. A unicorn dream reminds you of the importance of striking a balance between dreaming big and keeping your expectations realistic.
Dreaming of a unicorn may signify faith. As a child, faith is enough to convince many people that magical things like unicorns exist somewhere out there. As we grow older, faith often begins to feel insufficient and experiences and proof become more important. A unicorn dream may be a reminder to return to that trusting state once in a while. Faith can bring comfort and strength during difficult times. (15)
Unicorn encounters and omens
A unicorn encounter is extremely unlikely to occur in a literal physical sense. But maybe you’ve been seeing depictions or symbols of unicorns wherever you go. Maybe you cannot stop picturing the elegant silhouette of the unicorn. In any case, unicorn encounters are thought of as very good omens which signify that a person has a pure heart and the potential to do great things.
A unicorn’s horn is thought to have incredible healing properties. For this reason, an encounter with a unicorn could be a sign of an inner wound that needs healing. Unicorn encounters can represent the importance of cathartic healing processes. (16)
Unicorn mythology and folklore
Of all the world’s mythical animals, the unicorn may be the one that has the greatest hold on our imagination.
Alexander The Great claimed to have ridden one and the British Queen Elizabeth I is said to have used a unicorn horn as her drinking cup. Heroes have always admired the unicorns’ beauty, grace, gentleness, power, and majesty. (17)
Many explorers, adventurers, scientists, and anthropologists have attempted to uncover a real unicorn. While no such beast has been discovered, the pervasive myth of the unicorn has nonetheless found its way into the hearts and imaginations of people around the globe. (18)
Unicorn spirit animal
The unicorn spirit animal is associated with kindness, empathy, and uniqueness. People with the unicorn as their spirit animal are absolute dreamers. The unicorn spirit animal never outgrows their childlike sense of wonder and chooses to bring magic and wonder into even the most mundane and routine activities. (19)
People with the unicorn spirit animal tend to be generous and sweet with almost everyone they meet. Despite this, the unicorn spirit does not allow its kindness to be taken advantage of. The unicorn spirit animal is a surprisingly shrewd judge of character and is happy to uncover injustice or hidden motives for all the world to see.
Unicorn totem animal
The unicorn totem is connected with purification and healing. People with this totem animal love to bring peace to the minds, bodies, and spirits of others. The unicorn totem cannot bear to watch someone suffer.
People with this totem animal are called to heal others due to their own extreme empathy. The unicorn totem is often found in medical professionals, devoted parents, and people who pour their hearts into their careers. (20)
Unicorn power animal
The power of the unicorn is judgement. The unicorn power animal can determine what is in somebody’s heart just by meeting them. While the unicorn is empathetic to people’s individual circumstances, this power animal is happy to see justice served to those who are deceitful or malicious.
Call upon the power of the unicorn when you are having trouble seeing people for who they truly are. This power animal will guide you down the correct path. (21)
Unicorn tattoo meaning
A unicorn tattoo is usually chosen to represent childlike wonder, magic, mystery, or fairytales. A person who chooses a unicorn tattoo may also do so to express their uniqueness and confidence.
Many popular fantasy franchises involve unicorns and certain styles of unicorn tattoos may be chosen to reflect an interest in such a franchise.
A unicorn tattoo in heraldic style may represent Scottish heritage.
It doesn’t get much more magical than the mighty unicorn. This mystical creature is a fan favorite for children and storytellers around the world. While it may look like just a horse with a horn, true unicorn fans know that magic is more than what meets the eye. The unicorn is a powerful symbol of faith, hope, and healing.