The Maiden And The Unicorn, fresco by Dominico Zampieri
The unicorn is perhaps one of the most well known, easily recognized, and perhaps most beloved figures of mythology. Almost every young girl has had unicorn obsessions and fantasies. Part of this stems from how closely linked unicorns are to horses as by some unknown phenomena young girls seem to be particularly attracted and enamored with the horse.
But this attraction girls have to unicorns is seen as being particularly innocent as the unicorn is a creature which has a long history of being linked to ideas of purity, innocence, truth, goodness. Of corse this too can stem from their close kinship to the horse, animals known for their strong ties to humans and their loyalty to man. But it also goes back to the lore surrounding the unicorn.
Virginal maidens have been strongly tied to unicorns in myth, and it is this idea that lends to the idea of the purity of the unicorn. In some legends it is thought that a unicorn can only be seen by a virgin, or someone who is pure of heart. In medieval mythology it was believed that upon seeing a virgin maid a unicorn would forget its wildness and fear of men and come up to the maiden to fall asleep within her lap. Virgin maids were used by hunters to try and bait unicorns. In some lore it was thought a unicorn would allow only a virgin to ride upon its back.
This may sound to be innocent and wholesome enough, but is there an underlining sexuality between unicorn myth, and the unicorns connection to virginal maidens?
It goes without saying that the sole feature of the unicorn, which makes it so unique, and the very thing for which it is named after, is its solitary horn. It does not take a great deal of imagination to perceive the horn as a phallic symbol, and indeed horns and horned animals have a long history of being connected to fertility and associated with various fertility gods. Horns or pieces of horns were often believed (and still are in some cultures) to have special properties which can cure impotence, or increase the chances of pregnancy, and all around improve the sex drive and ones ability to sexually perform.
In addition since the earliest of civilization, man has held a great anxiety and fear regarding his bestial nature (a complex still seen in todays soceity). This has been talked of several times before in many of the myths mentioned here. It is a reoccurring theme in lore. Man is all too aware of his carnality in spite of all his efforts to deny it, the fear of what would happen if man should forget his reason, or give into his baser instincts.
What is the unicorn? A wild creature that bares a strong resemblance to an animal which has been one of mans closest allies and useful instruments, just as crucial to man as the dog, for the horse is just as worthy as being dubbed as “mans best friend”
A unicorn is untamed, uncontrolled, and beyond mans reach.
Is it a coincidence than that a beast that so strongly resembles the horse and has been graced with such an ancient fertility as the horn, and is associated with the canrality of the wilderness would be so closely counterparted with one of the most valued treasures of that time, a womans virginity, her purity, the thing which women were most prized for.
It can than be seen as no coincidence and no act of naive innocence that the symbol of purity should be so closely linked to such a strong and pervasive symbol of fertility. The carnality of the horned beast rendered into submission before the virgin maid. The idea of the naive, young, innocent maid meeting with the wild creature alone, unescorted in the middle of the woods. There is much that can be read between the lines within this lore when contemplating over the medieval mindset.
Myth and stories and lore were told for a variety of different reasons, many of them were ways of explaining events of nature that were not understood by the people of the day, they helped explain the way the world worked and put some order to things which were happening, they gave people meaning and perhaps a greater sense of power over the things of which they had no control over. But in the oral culture the passing of stories were a crucial form of entertainment for the people, and within many of these stories there was often a lot of coded sexuality, some of which could have been intentional innuendo to enhance the entertainment of the stories, and some of which subconsciously interjected.
Many of the stories were also told to give warnings and teach lessons to man, and quite often the focus of these lessons revolved around that lurking danger of that lurking beast within, and were to serve as constant reminders to man to never forget his rational mind and to always put that above all else.
What really lies behind the unicorn myth? Perhaps it was a jovial story of raunchy jest, a story to be told in taverns and laughed about over drink, perhaps they were intended as precautionary tales to men about the bewitching power of women over men, and the danger that can be seen even today in modern sitcoms, commercials, and comedy acts, that if a man is not careful, he shall find himself at the beck and call of some clever maiden and his days of freedom as a young buck come crashing down to an end. Or maybe a tale of warning aimed toward women to take caution of the carnality of man so they might preserve their sacred virginity.
Whatever the true secrets which lie behind the unicorn myth might be, it can be assured that there is more to it than what at first might meet the eye, and it is not as naive nor pure as school girls in pig tales make it out to be today, somewhere between now and than the meaning was lost, but the clues are there for the perceptive eye to see.