10 Cultures That Celebrate The Unicorn in Mythology and Symbolism

Unicorns are fascinating creatures that have captured the human imagination for centuries. With their unique features and mystical powers, it's no wonder that they have played a significant role in the folklore and mythology of many cultures throughout history. In this post, we will explore ten cultures with a captivating tradition of unicorns in their folklore.

The Ki-Lin in China

The ki-lin is believed to bring good luck and is often depicted as a gentle and peaceful creature. It is said that the ki-lin appears only in times of great prosperity or when a wise ruler is born, bestowing the Mandate of Heaven on benevolent leadership. It is believed that the ki-lin appeared to Confucius' mother before his birth, and later appeared to Confucius himself shortly before he died. Even more remarkable is the legend of Emperor Fu Shi, who reigned in the early 3rd millennium BCE. It is said that the characters of the Chinese language appeared on the ki-lin, enabling the Emperor's people to be able to communicate with each other and faciliate greater peace and cooperation. 

A photograph of a concrete statue of Confucius, the wise Chinese philosopher

The Unicorn in Scotland

The unicorn is Scotland's national animal and has been a symbol of Scottish heritage for centuries. It is believed to represent purity, innocence, and strength. Legend has it that only a pure-hearted maiden can approach a unicorn, and if she does, the creature will lay its head in her lap and allow her to touch its horn. The unicorn holds a deep place in Scottish heraldry, with its representation an almost-millennia long signifier of Scotland's royalty.

The Monoceros in Greece

In Greek mythology, the Monoceros is a one-horned creature that some mistakenly believed resembled a horse or a rhinoceros. It is said to have the power to heal and purify water, making it a symbol of purity and cleansing. There were many debates between scholars in ancient Greece as to whether the monoceros existed. Truth be told, Aristotle was a believer! 

The Rsya in India

In Indian mythology, the rsya (otherwise known as the eka-shringa) is a giant one-horned creature that is said to be the king of all animals. It is believed to have the power to purify the earth and bring abundance and prosperity. Interestingly, the rsya was depicted on many artifacts from the earliest-known large population center in South Asia: the Indus Valley civilization. It is even connected with Shiva, who was said to have one horn in several of the God's various manifestations.

This is a religious depiction from Hinduism of a Shiva Nataraja figurine encompassed by tealights

The Korseck in Iran

In Persian culture, the korseck is primarily associated with the religion of Zoroastrianism, where it was worshipped as a sacred creature and representative of Ahura Mazda, the creator god. In a fascinating twist, the other major association is with the legend of Iskander, who Westerners might better know as Alexander the Great, who many Persians believed had a korseck named Bucephalus that aided the Macedonian in both historical and supernatural battles against an assortment of foes.

The Ki-rin in Japan

In Japanese mythology, the ki-rin is a one-horned creature that shares many of the same qualities as China's ki-lin. However, there is another type of unicorn within Japanese folklore, the sin-you, which is believed to look like a lion except for its spiraled horn. This sin-you is nowhere near as gentle, and a tradition exists that states that the sin-you would appear in ancient legal proceedings, signifying the guilt of the accused.

The Karkadann in the Middle East

The karkadann has been part of Middle Eastern culture tracing back at least to the days of the ancient civilization of Sumer, widely thought to be one of, if not the earliest, human civilization. It appeared in many legends and works of art in the Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian civilizations. One major difference between the karkadann and Western depictions of unicorns is that its spiraled horn is typically black, rather than white. In a touching display, the karkadann is said to have befriended the gentle ring dove.

The Arweharis in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian arweharis is perhaps most associated with the acclaimed leader Prester John, who was said to have at least 77 (!!!) of them in his court. The common theme of its association with royalty is pronounced, as many objects that royals used in the historical era were said to have been made of the arweharis' horn because of its protective qualities, especially against poison. If you want to spot one for yourself, many arweharis have been spotted in Ethiopia's Mountains of the Moon.

The Poh in Mongolia

If you're one who likes a little ferocity, the poh is the unicorn for you! It is said to have aided Genghis Khan and the Mongol Army in battles. With a white body, black tail, tiger-like claws and teeth, and a howl that resembled them of a drum, we'd run from one too!

A close-up photograph of a Mongolian statue of Genghis Khan, historical ruler of the Mongol Empire

The Ky-Lan in Vietnam

Also known as the ly, the ky-lan has been associated with peace, prosperity, righteousness, and even longevity for over 2700 years. In fact, the ky-lan is typically seen as one of Vietnam's four sacred creatures, along with the phoenix, the tortoise, and the dragon. If you want to celebrate the ky-lan, why not celebrate the Lunar New Year at the Tet Festival in Vietnam! 

If you want to learn more about any of these unicorns (and more!), pick up a copy of The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn

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