Few creatures of fantasy have so captured the modern imagination as the Unicorn. The appeal of this lovely beast derives from its symbolic attributes of purity, strength, and hope—regrettably rare commodities in our materialistic age.
Unicorns were frequently depicted in the carvings and bas-reliefs of the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Indus valley, more than 4,000 years ago. During the Bronze Age, which was astrologically the Age of Taurus, the Unicorn was commonly represented as a magnificent one-horned bull—a taurine Unicorn.
With the coming of the Iron Age—the astrological Age of Aries—the Unicorn came to be represented as a single-horned ram. Plutarch (45–125 CE) tells of a ram’s head with only one horn that was brought to Pericles as a sign that he would become the single ruler of the Athenian state. The prophecy of this arian Unicorn was fulfilled as the warring city-states of Greece united for the first time, and the reign of Pericles (460–429 BCE) became known as the “Golden Age of Greece,” during which time brilliant philosophers and statesmen laid the foundations of Western civilization.
The Unicorn of the Middle Ages and Renaissance is pure white, with cloven hooves, little beard, and flowing mane. Physiologus, the 9th century medieval bestiary, describes the Unicorn as “a small animal, like a kid, but exceedingly fierce, with one horn in the middle of his head.” This manifestation of the legendary creature is thus identified as a caprine (goatlike) Unicorn.
The Unicorn is an exemplar of any of a number of horned ungulate species, and he embodies the highest potential of that species—larger, more intelligent, and more sensitive than other animals of his ancestral stock. He is a natural herd leader, inevitably rising to dominance. The single perpendicular horn is an invincible weapon, enabling the Unicorn to defend his herd even against lions, with which he is often depicted in combat.
For these reasons Unicorns became symbols of royalty and even divinity. Astrologically, the Unicorn represents the moon, as the lion does the sun. The contest in which they are so often shown engaged implies an eclipse. As the moon is darkened and then lightened during a lunar eclipse, so the Unicorn symbolizes rebirth and the triumph of life over death in many cultures.
As the alchemical symbol for the Element Earth, the Unicorn represents Earth consciousness and natural values. In both European and Oriental traditions, he is identified with a Messiah who appears when the world is in its darkest hour, and heralds the dawning of a new and better age.
The secret of the Unicorn was finally lost during the religious upheavals of the 15th-16th centuries, when the Inquisition destroyed libraries as well as people for anything it considered heresy. The Crusades and the Islamic expansion into North Africa devastated the indigenous people who had perfected various methods of animal husbandry unknown to the West. Thus vanished the secret of the creation of living Unicorns.
In the Age of Enlightenment, belief in Unicorns declined, particularly when it became known that what had been marketed as true Unicorn horns (unicornum verum) were actually narwhal tusks.
My wife Morning Glory and I tracked the Unicorn down through the centuries, sifting myths, legends, travelers’ tales, and anatomical studies to discover the reality behind the fantastic. As we catalogued all those images, it dawned on us that these Unicorns represented not one, but various species, all of which were depicted as ultimate idealizations with only the single horn in common.
Another realization was that there were no female Unicorns; even in scenes of Noah’s Ark, the Unicorns never appears with a mate. When shown with other animals, he is apart, aloof, and acting as a protector or leader.
In contrast to the assumption that if there had ever been living Unicorns, they must have had an evolution and a natural history as other species do, we posited unicornity as a multispecies phenomenon, perhaps produced artificially by some lost technique. Such an animal would, in effect, be fundamentally different from its ancestral stock, elevated so profoundly that it would develop as a different animal.
The final piece fell into place in 1976 when I came upon the forgotten work of Dr. Franklin Dove, a biologist at the University of Maine, who, in the 1930s, was experimenting with horn development in cattle. He discovered that horns do not, in fact, grow directly out of the bones of the forehead, as had been generally assumed. Rather, the os cornu, or bony horn spike, originates in special nodes of tissue called “buds,” which are imbedded in the loose skin of the forehead and later fuse to the frontal bones of the skull.
Within a few hours after birth, these nodes direct a flow of enzymes down into the bone beneath, stimulating it to grow upward into the horn core, which becomes correspondingly covered with a horny sheath of keratin. Dove determined that if the position of these nodes was shifted immediately after birth, they could cause a horn to grow wherever they were positioned.
Dove became convinced that his experiments could replicate the process by which ancient tribes had originally created genuine Unicorns—the real-life basis of the legend.
When Morning Glory and I got hold of Dove’s research notes, we realized that we now knew the secret of the Unicorn, and that it was in our power to resurrect authentic living Unicorns into the modern world. In 1977 we moved to the country to create a Unicorn farm, and embarked upon a truly amazing adventure raising living Unicorns.
Our first Unicorn, Lancelot, was born at the Spring Equinox of 1980. His white coat was iridescent in sunlight, with the texture of satin, and his long mane was like cloud fluff. Decades later, we still hear from people whose lives were transformed by their encounter with “the impossible dream” made manifest, and the epiphany that if a Unicorn can be real, then anything is possible!