Magic, Mystery, a little Whisky, and a Cat

U is for Unicorn

The word unicorn is from Latin uni meaning one and corn meaning horn. It’s been in our language with its present meaning since at least the 12th century. The mythical beast is depicted in European folklore as a goat or horse-like animal with one spiraled horn in the middle of its forehead. Before that, unicorns were described, not in mythology, but in natural science collections.

They live at the edge of the wild and are difficult to catch. You have to first capture a virgin and then convince her sit down in the forest. Unicorns will gallop for miles to rest their heads in her lap and go to sleep. Alive, it could dip its horn into poisoned water to purify it. Dead, the horn was ground to make healing potions. Hopefully, with the scarcity of virgins, unicorns are safer now than they were back in the day.

Unicorns are symbolic of the wild, untamed spirit and of purity, healing, and joy. For these reasons, the unicorn makes a splendid national animal for Scotland. It’s appeared on the Scottish coat of arms since the 12th century. Often the unicorn wears a broken chain to show both it can be a dangerous animal that many have tried to tame by force and that it has broken free from any oppressors.

Today the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom contains a lion and a unicorn—with the lion wearing the crown and on the right. The UK Royal coat of arms displayed in Scotland reverses this putting the unicorn on the right with both the lion and the unicorn wearing crowns. The Scottish coat of arms leaves out the lion all together and displays two unicorns. This is a very brief description of the coat of arms and other versions abound. Heraldry is a sticky wicket with intricacies I can’t even begin to understand. I suspect my brief description has left out or unintentionally misrepresented something sufficient to start a war. But I can learn. Any heraldry experts, feel free to correct me.

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