unicorn, unicorn facts, unicorn history

What Does the Unicorn Symbolise?

 

Unicorns have many meanings in different contexts and their meanings have changed somewhat over time but the key elements of the symbolism of unicorns remains pretty constant through history. By considering those elements that have remained the same and looking at the more recent attributes which have been ascribed to the unicorn we can catch a glimpse of the true nature of the unicorn and what it symbolises.

Innocence and Purity

Unicorns are associated with innocence and being pure of heart. It is often said that only someone who is pure of heart can see a unicorn. Traditionally represented as a fierce beast who could not be defeated in battle it was said that a unicorn in full rage could be rendered harmless by meeting with a virgin. Legend states that the unicorn would fall at the feet of a virgin and become as docile as a lamb in her presence. There are many depictions in Medieval art and earlier art forms stretching back to Roman times which testify to this deep connection between the virgin and the unicorn although whether this is a test of the innocence of the maiden or the credentials of the unicorn remains unclear.Pegasus plushie toy

In recent times the prerequisite of virginity has been somewhat down-played and it is believed that anyone who is pure of heart can meet a unicorn. Children are naturally pure of heart and so unicorns have become associated with childhood or having a child-like sense of wonder for the world. Children also have vivid and pure imaginations so again it becomes natural to associate childhood with unicorns and the realm of the imagination and fairytales.

In the Despicable Me films Agnes, who turns six in the second movie, has a toy unicorn which she takes everywhere with her. The choice of a unicorn toy for Agnes is a genuine reflection of popular culture as unicorn toys are still very high on the best-seller lists. It also reflects our association of children with unicorns. The kids in Despicable Me are sweet and innocent but they also have a very sassy and determined personality. Basically unicorns are pure, innocent and magical, but if you mess with them, they will kick your butt.

Masculinity and Femininity

Originally unicorns were almost always depicted as male. This was due to their reputation for being fearless and undefeatable in battle as well as their complete vulnerability when faced with an innocent maiden. In other words, the big tough guy unicorn would be rendered harmless by meeting a beautiful and chaste female. This very traditional and stereotypical representation of the ideals of masculinity and femininity is generally obsolete now but it was at the core of the concept of chivalry to the Medieval mindset.

Chivalry was a code of conduct which governed the behaviour of Medieval Knights. Chivalry puts a high value on bravery and honour in battle and also requires courtesy, kindness and humility in dealings with women. There are strong parallels therefore between the code of conduct of Medieval Knights and the personality traits, ascribed to unicorns.

At the same time there is a strong association between unicorns and qualities which are viewed as traditionally feminine. At one time it was universally accepted that all unicorns were white, which is the colour associated with female chastity. Unicorns are viewed as mysterious, intuitive and nurturing which are elements traditionally ascribed to femininity. In popular culture these days unicorns are most often depicted as female. This is largely because unicorns have come to symbolise a certain type of woman, one who is playful, open-minded, fun-loving but will take no nonsense. The unicorn woman doesn’t care what people think of her, she has her own style and she retains a childlike wonder for things like rainbows, sunsets and she’s not afraid to laugh at herself. Most of all she has self-belief in the face of adversity and even ridicule so the unicorn has come to symbolise female-empowerment.

Magic and Enchantment

The unicorn is a symbol of magic, enchantment and wonder. Unicorns only appear to very few people and this underlines their special nature and their magical abilities. Universally in different cultures the unicorn is regarded as a creature of wonder and miraculous powers. They grant their gifts only to the truly deserving who are of course also the pure in heart.

Self-Belief

Across all cultures where they appear, unicorns are always a positive symbol which is why they have come to symbolise self-belief. There are no negative depictions of unicorns apart from one exception, the Unicorn in Alice in Wonderland who is frankly a bit of an idiot. Like many of Lewis Carroll’s characters the Unicorn is the opposite of what you would expect him to be. In the story, the Lion and the Unicorn are fighting over the crown of the White King, which is pretty silly of the Unicorn as he is on the White King’s side! It is from this book however that we get one of the most famous unicorn quotes. The Unicorn has never seen a human, he thinks they are a myth and he believes Alice is a monster. Alice responds by telling the Unicorn she had always thought unicorns were fabulous monsters too.

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”

This message of self-belief is reflected in many popular unicorn memes and repeated on wall plagues, T-shirts, mugs and other artefacts popular with unicorn fans. Because most people don’t believe unicorns are real, unicorns have to believe in themselves to survive. This is how the unicorn has become a symbol of self-belief and in particular female self-empowerment. The unicorn has in recent years become associated with the LGBTQ community for the same kinds of reasons.

Symbolic Meanings in Heraldry

The unicorn is a popular symbol in heraldry and can be found on the coats of arms of countries, towns and cities in various locations across the globe and especially in European cultures. A coat of arms is a design in the form of a shield which symbolises a group of people and how they wish to represent themselves to outsiders. The unicorn is the national animal of Scotland and appears on the coat of arms of the UK alongside the Lion, which is the symbol of England so together they represent the unification of Scotland and England.

What is a Unicorn Company?

In financial circles these days people sometimes refer to certain companies as unicorns. A unicorn company is a privately held start-up business with a value of over $1 billion. In other words it is a very rare thing, so rare in fact that it almost doesn’t exist which is why the term was coined as a way of emphasising how statistically low it is for a business to achieve this status. Although more and more companies now are fulfilling the requirement to be regarded as a unicorn, the term is still used to mean a highly desirable and profitable business idea.

The Symbolism of the Unicorn – a Summary

The unicorn symbolises purity, rarity, beauty, magic and power. It is a thing which may or may not exist but which people are driven to strive for. This may be in terms of striving for the business which is going to propel you to unbelievable heights financially, or finding the perfect partner or spouse who will be a soul mate like no other. The unicorn symbolises the desire for something better and totally unique whether that is for yourself or for someone else. More than anything the unicorn symbolises our most heart-felt and purest desires and a deep sense of self-belief and empowerment.

What does the unicorn mean for you?

Do you agree with our interpretation of the symbolism of the unicorn? Do you know any other meanings which we haven’t included here? Do unicorns inspire you? If so we’d love to hear what unicorns symbolise for you and how they inspire you. Share your thoughts in the comments box below, we’d love to hear from you.

20 thoughts on “What Does the Unicorn Symbolise?

  1. All this time I had always thought Unicorns were more female figures, I guess we all learn something new everyday! After looking it up it’s interesting how many countries use the symbol of the unicorn. 

    I particularly like in your second from last paragraph “The unicorn symbolises the desire for something better and totally unique for yourself” which really applies to all of us, we’re all putting are time and efforts into investing in our time and effort in the hopes of getting that unique dream life we desire. 

    Do you know any of the reason behind why so many countries choose to have unicorns in their emblems?

    1. Hi Jack, I think a lot of people assume unicorns to be female, but like every creature, there are males and females!  Yes, the unicorn encourages us to go after our dreams and to believe in ourselves when others may doubt or mock our efforts.  I think the reason the unicorn is a symbol for so many countries is because of its historic association with strength, power and beauty, but I think the element of self-belief comes into it too.  Most countries would want to represent themselves as special and unique, it is the empowering nature of the unicorn that inspires these nations I think.

  2. Thank you so much to the author who has written down this kind of such a beneficial article.  This article opened my mind to the beauty of unicorn and its functions. I am just getting to known about its history and symbolic meaning, I can attest to the fact that i learnt alot, infact i had to bookmark for further information. Thanks for the eye opener

  3. Thanks for writing this article on what unicorn symbolise.Unicorn has appeared in legends and stories from long long ago. However, for some reasons, they disappear and people nowadays don’t see any unicorn anymore.

    unicorn offers us unique source of inspiration in life in and some of the  reasons why human should keep believing in unicorns is because it is been mentioned in the Bible nine times, Unicorns nurture our child-like nature and love for the world

    1. Afolabi, thank you for your wise words.  Only the pure in spirit can see a unicorn and maybe that is why so few are seen these days.  If we can all nurture our child-like nature then the world will truly be a better place.  Thank you 🙂

  4. Wow! I find this post very educating and engaging. Over the years in history, unicorn have symbolized different things but they all have one thing in common which is greatness and strength. There is greatness in purity, knowing your self worth and being just who you want to be.
    Thank you for this wonderful article.

    1. Wow! ODavid, I think you summed it up perfectly in what you said there about there being greatness in purity, knowing your self worth and being just who you want to be.  That could be the motto of the unicorns.  Thank you most sincerely for your comments 🙂

  5. Its all about Unicorn these days in my home, my little girl never tires of talking about it.lol

    I cant count how many of her toys and clothing that has a symbol of unicorn, and yet each time she sets her eyes on anything unicorn she wants to have it, Such a nightmare!

    I also love Unicorn and what it symbolises, which I agree with your definitions. I believe in it being a symbol of Purity and fearlessness but also believe its existence is just a myth.

    Makes me wonder why it has such magical or powerful effect on people, especially with the way its been trending lately.

    1. Hi Queen, I love your name!  I wrote about this enduring quality of unicorns in my article, Is The Unicorn Trend Over?  ‘Trends’ come and go, but the Unicorn has inspired something deeper that really gets to the heart of how many people are feeling right now and what their needs are.  My house too is full of unicorn artefacts, books, toys etc.  My own little unicorn is older now but we have an extra layer of understanding that comes from the wisdom of unicorns.  I talk about this in the ‘About Us’ section, how coming to understand that she was the ‘School Unicorn’ helped her growing up.  Thank you for your insightful comments.

  6. I must confess that I have never read any articles about unicorns in the past, this article has provided me with more details about unicorns and what they represent.. From my little research I found out When many people hear that unicorns are mentioned in the Bible, they imagine the mythical unicorn with a flowing mane and a sparkling horn. But, that image of the unicorn is only fantasy.

    1. Hi Ibrahim, thank you for your thoughtful comments.  Yes unicorns are mentioned in the Bible and several other ancient books and oral traditions too.  As for what these ancient people actually saw, we can never be certain.  For more information on this, check out the article Unicorn Facts and Fiction 🙂

  7. Wonderful and helpful! This site is adorable, and very helpful to Unicorns everywhere. I am a Unicorn type. And I will also let  people know that would love this, and I plan on recommending your Unicorn site to them. The Unicorn is so special in nature. It comes with different meaning to different people. The unicorn has an element factor that determined it’s uniqueness. By considering those elements that have remained the same and looking at the more recent attributes which have been ascribed to the unicorn we can catch a glimpse of the true nature of the unicorn and what it symbolises. Best wishes

    1. Hi Sajua, thank you for your kind comments, I am glad you are enjoying the site!  Us unicorn types tend to gravitate toward each other I find, do you agree?

  8. Heey, 

    Very interesting article and well researched. I had no idea the Unicorn was Scotland’s national animal, nor have I ever heard the term “Unicorn Company”. I would definitely love a Unicorn Company for myself.

    I have 2 questions though. How come you didn’t mention the bronies? They are quite a lot of them nowadays. Is it because they don’t really fit with the classical meaning and symbolism of the unicorn?

    Also, do you believe in unicorns? Do you believe they are real?

    Thanks for the lovely article, it was quite entertaining.

    1. Hi Sllky, thank you for your comments,  I am delighted that you found the article entertaining!  Bronies, hmm… I’m not sure this is the right article to touch on that subject matter but I get your point, it is definitely a phenomena!  Do I believe in unicorns?  I believe they live in the same realm as Santa, they are most definitely real in spirit.  Yes the National animal of Scotland, in fact the Scots are the biggest advocates of International Unicorn Day because of this. There is more information about this here, ‘International Unicorn Day – How to Celebrate’

  9. I don’t agree with your interpretation of the symbolism of the unicorn because most of all she has self-belief in the face of adversity and even ridicule so the unicorn has come to symbolise female-empowerment. Anyone May be believers but It is very difficult to protect . That’s why I am very inspired. Thank you so much for sharing the information.

    1. Hi Wadud, I think you mean you do agree because we are both saying the unicorn is a strong symbol of female empowerment.  I’m glad you enjoyed the article and I am happy it has made you feel inspired 🙂

  10. Really great article. I’m a fantasy writer, so it was so useful to find this background stuff! What really interests me about unicorns, though, is that they are one of the few mythical creatures that could actually have been real at some point. Large beasties with wings, like dragons and griffins, are always a bit problematic, but I wouldn’t be suprised if someone found evidence at some point that unicorns once existed!

    1. Thanks Sarah, I’m delighted you found this information useful to your writing. Given that both unicorns and dragons appear in so much mythology and legend all across the globe and in so many diverse cultures I really think there must be some seed of truth to them both. I really hope so too!

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