Unicorn Week – The Devils Night Mare

Though the Bible gave credibility to the unicorn as a wild and intractable beast, it did not offer much in the way of description, as such it fell to folklore that grew around the various literary fragments. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Cloisters, a complex allegory of a Unicorn Hunt is seen in glorious medieval tapestries, because of its association with virgins, the unicorn became a symbol of Christ. Giving strength to this was the legend of the unicorn dispelling poison and snakes from the drinking pool to make it safe for other creatures, seen as a parallel for Christs’ work of redemption by dispelling the lies of Satan.

But this one is about Satan and indeed the legendary unicorn and its exploits did not earn it favor among all who heard of it, as a result, this led to it sometimes being used in homilies as a figure of Satan.

Here follows a Ukrainian Folk Tale of the Unicorn doing Satan’s bidding, so to speak –

All the beasts obeyed Noah when he invited them into the ark, 
all but the unicorn confident of his strength he boasted: 
'I shall swim!' 
For forty days and forty nights the rains poured and the oceans boiled as in a pot and all the heights were drowned.
The birds of the air clung onto the ark and when the ark pitched they were all engulfed. But the unicorn kept on swimming. However, when the birds emerged again they perched on his horn and he drowned - 
and that is why there are no more unicorns today! 

The Talmud comment re’em suggested a meaning ‘ as large as a mountain’ –

For more reading on re’em refer to these short pieces –

…. which itself was a reference to this kind of folklore suggesting that the unicorn did not survive, while others still, suggest that not only did it survive but some old illustrations show the unicorn leading the other beasts onto the ark. This can be seen as true, or for the sake of being unbiased, the unicorn refusing based on pride to join the other beasts, or another perhaps more innocent version of it simply being too big – re’em -‘As Large As A Mountain‘.

Showing a unicorn alongside Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden became commonplace despite the lack of mention the unicorn has in Genesis, when naming the animals, the unicorns are first in line, and when they are expelled from the Garden, the unicorns would often be shown to accompany them into the world to alleviate their sorrows.

A bestiary long attributed to St. Basil of Caesarea ( 330 – 379 AD ) was one of the first to suggest the devilish connection between unicorn and Satan, with the aid of Psalm 22, in which David prays to be saved from the mouths of lions and the horns of unicorns –

The unicorn is evilly inclined towards man. It pursues him and when it catches him it pierces him with its horn and devours him… so take care, O Man, to protect thyself from the Unicorn, that is to say from the Devil. For he plotteth evil against man and is sklled in doing him harm.

Psalm 22

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