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Concerning Unicorns

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 28
Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons
August, 1996

In answer to a question, the following about the unicorn, a supposed "New Age" symbol:

The unicorn, or monoceros (one-horn), was known around the ancient world. Some scholars believe it may have been the one-horned goat that is still bred today. Others think it may have originated in tales of the rhinoceros reaching Europe from Africa. Whatever the case, it came eventually to be a horse-like creature with one horn emerging from its forehead.

Like the phoenix (the legendary bird that dies and rises from its ashes every millennium), the unicorn was adopted by Christians as a symbol of Christ. The fact that he had one horn meant that he was one in power (horn = power) with the Father. St. Basil (329-379) wrote, "Christ is the power of God, therefore He is called the Unicorn on the ground that He has one horn, that is, one common power with the Father."

In the Middle Ages, the unicorn was used as a symbol of love as well as a Christ image. In one famous 15th century tapestry, The Hunt of the Unicorn, the _rst panel shows the unicorn healing the waters of a stream by touching it with his horn. Then, the unicorn is hunted down and killed. But in the last panel, the unicorn is alive again and tied to a pomegranate tree, a Biblical symbol of love (as in the Song of Songs).

Nowadays, one sees unicorns as pretty decorations, toys, and occasionally linked with new-age literature. Of course, since the unicorn is a symbol, anyone is free to use it to depict anything he wishes. But Christians should not let the world dictate to us the meaning of symbols.

A few years ago, rainbows were all the rage as decorations, and were used by some new-age types as a symbol of peace. Some Christians reacted against this, saying that there are "hidden dangers in the rainbow." This is poppycock, of course; the rainbow is a Biblical symbol from God’s covenant with Noah and all creation. There is no need for Christians to let pagans de_ne symbols for us.

Today, Noah’s Ark is a symbol found everywhere in toy stores and other places. It has also been adopted by new-age types as an environmentalist symbol. So what? It was a Christian symbol _rst, and its adoption by environmentalists only goes to show how pathetically inadequate new-age thinking is: They have to come to us to get a symbol that portrays man’s responsibility to care for the creation!

The unicorn, the phoenix, the rainbow, the Ark – there is nothing wrong with any of these. They are traditional Christian symbols, and Christians may readily adopt them.