The Unicorn in Persia
Presented below is the entirety of “The Unicorn in Persia,” a chapter in The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn.
The Unicorn in China
The Unicorn in India
The Unicorn in the Middle East
The Unicorn in Europe
The Unicorn in Africa
The Unicorn in North America
The Unicorn in Astronomy and the Zodiac
The Unicorn and the Third Eye
and The Unicorn in Alchemy and the Mystery Schools
The Unicorn in Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion founded in Persia (present day Iran) around the 2nd millennium BCE. The Zoroastrian faith is currently practiced by approximately 2.6 million people, its followers mostly concentrated in Iran and India. Founded by the prophet Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra), Zoroastrianism places responsibility on the individual to choose their path in life. One of the central questions the Zoroastrian faith asks of its adherents is whether a person will choose to embrace the good of creator Ahura Mazda and his spirit, known as Spenta Mainyu, or the evil of Ahriman and his spirit Angra Mainyu.
The Zoroastrian Bundahishn (holy scripture) was written around the 7th century CE, but the ideas it focused on had been in existence for at least a thousand years. The unicorn, known as the korseck in Iran, has a significant role within the Zoroastrian scriptures. In the Bundahishn, the korseck is worshipped as a sacred beast and said to symbolize both the role of Ahura Mazda and the raw power through which Ahriman is to be conquered. According to journalist Rüdiger Robert Beer in his book Unicorn: Myth and Reality, when the Zoroastrian korseck “urinates into the waters they become purified.” Much like other variations of the global water conning story, the Zoroastrians have a comparable tradition in which the korseck purifies water. Though distinct in culture and faith, these universal legends all point to the unicorn’s desire to be of service to others and its enduring association with purity and regeneration.
Iskandar and His Unicorn
History records few individuals of such magnitude as Alexander the Great of the 4th century BCE. Alexander, known in Persia as Iskandar, set out from his Macedonian home and created an empire that stretched from Greece to the edge of India all before he reached the age of thirty-three. How could a young man have performed such a feat?
When Iskandar was thirteen, his father Philip received a present from a group of noblemen – a magical unicorn. Philip was unable to mount his gift, so he decided to offer the unicorn as a companion to any individual able to ride it. While many tried, all failed, yet Philip’s own son Iskandar sought to take on this daunting challenge. Much to his father’s surprise, Iskandar succeeded. Whereas Iskandar’s father and the others had tried to subdue the unicorn through brute force, Iskandar spoke gentle words, offered it delicious food, and only then attempted to mount it. The unicorn placed its magnificent spiraled horn over Iskandar’s heart and, intuiting that Iskandar’s intentions were pure, offered no resistance to its new friend.
Iskandar’s unicorn, which he named Bucephalus, accompanied him on his adventures. It is said that Bucephalus was the key to Iskandar’s successful battles against a variety of mythical foes, including: the dog-headed men, the giant women with horned helmets, the Cyclops, the wild hairy men, the fire-breathing birds, the wild elephants and wild men of Arbela, and the deceiving divs. In Persia, the divs have traditionally been perceived as false gods, supernatural beings with evil intentions and ostensibly limitless power. Perhaps no battle of Iskandar’s is more celebrated within Persian folklore than the one he fought against the divs.
After having traveled an immense distance for a single day, a group of beautiful women appeared to Iskandar and his army as they were about to set up camp for the night. Iskandar’s men, having been without companionship for a long period while in their leader’s service, became intrigued by this seemingly fortuitous occurrence; however, Iskandar suspected that these women’s appearance was nothing but an illusion. Iskandar refused to match their gaze and called on his men to resist their charms. Enraged by Iskandar’s action, the divs shapeshifted into their hideous true forms. With much help from Bucephalus, Iskandar and his men conquered the divs in battle.
After a lifetime of victorious actions, Iskandar succumbed to the temptation of believing that he was omnipotent. One day, in a bout of audacity, Iskandar announced to his men that he could fly. While unable to openly doubt Iskandar’s claim, his men whispered amongst themselves that Iskandar had gone mad. With the help of Bucephalus, Iskandar enlisted the efforts of two griffins to assist him in this wondrous endeavor. The griffin is an animal that is part lion and part eagle, blessed with the ferocity of the lion and the agility and flying ability of the eagle. The griffins held Iskandar and Bucephalus up, one on each side of the pair. On Iskandar’s command, the griffins began to fly them up to the heavens. At a certain distance, Iskandar heard a commanding voice from above that ordered him to turn back. Despite the efforts of Bucephalus and the griffins, there was no way for Iskandar to pass any further. He had reached a place no mortal man was permitted to traverse.