Mythical creatures have always been a part of the legends and stories shrouded in mystery and intrigue, tales of unbelievable feats, and fantasies which were a means to connect us with the supernatural and to explain things that could not be readily understood.
These beasts were attributed with power such as healing properties or incredible strength and speed, and so being able to encounter one is a feat in itself. Many have tried to capture them but to no avail.
In the Middle Ages, they were all the rage:
Over time, the unicorn accrued various associations. Its horns were said to have magical powers: they could bring water to the boil, or, if dipped into a drink or added to food, detoxify poison. Unicorn horns were also said to purify water.
This association with purity extended to female sexuality, too. Supposedly, only a virgin maiden could tempt a unicorn into captivity. Consequently, the unicorn – despite the potentially phallic nature of its defining characteristic – became a symbol of chastity and feminine purity.
Nowadays, there has been a resurgence of unicorns in pop culture:
Sparkly unicorns, decorating everything from toys to T-shirts, are wildly popular among pre-teen girls in Europe and the United States. Like the rainbow flag, the unicorn is an important symbol internationally for the LGBT community.
But amidst all the fascination we have for unicorns, there is one thing we know for sure:
As a tongue-in-cheek wall text puts it towards the end of the Cluny Museum’s exhibition, “While the existence of the animal has been debated by scientists since the 16th Century, the risk of extinction is not an immediate concern.”
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)