HMS Unicorn, Dundee Frigate
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
“But what use is the unicorn to you if your intellect doesn't believe in it?” ~ Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, 1980
The proud and haughty unicorn who would rather die than be captured is one of the best known symbols of Scotland and figures prominently in heraldry. This mythical and magical beast, the powder of whose horn was believed to be able to heal disease and injury, provide energy, purify water, and protect against poison, has been sought and allegedly sighted for centuries. So whether you sight a unicorn in the following attitudes: rampant (standing on two legs), passant (striding), sejant (sitting), couchant (lying down), courant (running), coward (tail between legs), dormant (sleeping), salient (leaping), statant (standing on 4 legs) , pascuant (grazing), or more hopefully dansant (dancing), be on the lookout! And should you want to capture one, be sure to be accompanied by those things which historically calm and tame them - young maidens. Or, if you're a maiden short, try the brute force method of annoying them into charging and then tricking them into crashing into a tree, impaling their horn and getting stuck. Good luck!
The Rampant Unicorn Jig
Unicorns have been mentioned as far back as antiquity.
Ancient Greek writers believed they lived in the faraway and exotic country of India, which was then largely unknown. The unicorn was then thought to be a powerful, fierce animal that was not to be meddled with.
In the Middle Ages, the unicorn’s image was based greatly on Bible passages that were thought to speak of these animals (though this was most likely a mistranslation), and unicorns slowly came to be seen as a symbol of strength, the purest kind of love, and the pets of virgin women. Though sometimes shown collared and chained, to illustrate that it has been tamed or tempered, it is more usually shown collared with a broken chain attached, showing that it has broken free from its bondage.
In heraldry the unicorn is best known as the symbol of Scotland. The unicorn was chosen because it was seen as a proud and haughty beast which would rather die than be captured, just as Scots would fight to remain sovereign and unconquered. Two unicorns supported the royal arms of the King of Scots, and since the 1707 union of England and Scotland, the royal arms of the United Kingdom have been supported by a unicorn along with an English lion. Two versions of the royal arms exist: that used in Scotland gives more emphasis to the Scottish elements, placing the unicorn on the left and giving it a crown, whereas the version used in England and elsewhere gives the English elements more prominence.
Golden coins known as the unicorn and half-unicorn, both with a unicorn on the obverse, were used in Scotland in the 15th and 16th century. And as part of the 2018 series of British collectible coins newly released, titled "The Queen's Beasts," the Scottish unicorn rampant are featured.
In modern works of literature , unicorns figure in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and The Last Battle by S.C. Lewis.
For a cocktail made out of unicorn's tears (or the equivalent), click the lovely print of a unicorn couchant (resting) by Lily Seika Jones for a magical concoction of gin, prosecco, St. Germain, Peach Schnapps, Chambord, and raspberries.