All About Unicorns

The Lion and the Unicorn

In Western unicorn lore, the Lion and the Unicorn have traditionally been considered rivals and natural enemies destined to fight. But in all of the tales of this rivalry, there is no suggestion that they represent good and evil. At best they are complimentary, at worst they are incompatible. At times both have been called the lord of all beasts, but their styles of sovereignty are totally different. The extrovert and the introvert, one fiery and one cool, they represent opposite principles which are fine in and of them so long as they are not in competition.

There is a tale common throughout the ancient Middle East which tells how the Lion and the Unicorn chased each other across the heavens at the dawn of time. For fourteen years the Lion chased after the Unicorn through the stars, but it pulled away and circled round. Then for the next fourteen years it was the Unicorn who chased the Lion, slowly but steadily gaining, closing the distance between them with its horn growing ever more sharp and deadly. In despair the Lion came to earth and plunged into a forest with the Unicorn close behind, its horn lowered for the kill. Suddenly an enormous tree stood in their path. The Unicorn, seeing the danger too late, charged straight on and buried its horn to the hilt in the tree's trunk. While the Unicorn was thus pinned, the Lion crept up from behind and devoured him.

Sun Signs: Unicorn Moon And Lion Sun

The Lion is a well established solar symbol in astrology. The Unicorn is not quite as widely accepted as a symbol for the moon. However, the association has been there and was commonly accepted by the time of England's James I.

When James I ascended to the English throne in 1603, he spelled out this association in his written comments about the heraldic Unicorn. He said that in heraldic terms the Lion and Unicorn not only represented the union of two formerly warring nations, but showed that the new order of things was supported by the balanced forces of nature, sun and moon in harmony.

The Lion-sun flies from the rising
Unicorn-moon and hides behind the
Tree or Grove of the Underworld;
the Moon pursues, and, sinking in
her turn, is sun slain.
— Robert Brown, the Unicorn: A Mythological Investigation (1881)

Symbolically, the Lion represents the urge to impose one's idea of order upon the world, while the Unicorn exemplifies the drive to bring harmony through insight and understanding. Their effects are often identical, but their different approaches tend to promote strife. However, when the Lion and the Unicorn work in harmony towards the same goal, no other creature can withstand them because they represent a union of opposites.

The Heavenly Chase

Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queen writes:

Like as a Lion whose imperial power
A proud rebellious Unicorn defies,
T'avoid the rash assault and wrathful stout
Of his fierce foe, him to a tree applies,
And when him running in full course he spies,
He slips aside; the whiles that furious beast
His precious horn, sought of his enemies,
Strikes in the stock, nor thence can be released,
But to the mighty victor yields a bounteous feast.
There are variations of this tale in different cultures all around the world. Some versions reverse the outcome and the Unicorn impales the Lion before he can reach the tree. This reversal may be a clue to the real meaning of the story. It's a drama we witness in the heavens every month: the new moon chases the sun across the sky, falling ever further behind but waxing as it does so, until finally it is charging towards the sun from the opposite direction, its crescent horn growing ever more slender and sharp. Then the sun devours it and for a few days and nights the moon disappears from the sky—to await rebirth. On the occasion of a solar eclipse, the tables are turned and it is the sun that briefly dies in the sky.