Myth & Folklore
“Down through the millenia, what animal has been a symbol of mystery and wonder, a mythic, magical animal of power, beauty and grace, elusive and grand?”
“You talk in riddles a lot,” says Stoney, puzzled but now growing interested.
“The Unicorn,” says the Cosmic Storyteller himself, formally introducing the subject. “The Unicorn is found in the earliest of Mesopotamian pictorial arts. He sprang from the cradle of civilization, the fertile crescent. It was the Garden of Eden, you know. He was a glorious white horse with a single, spiraled, pointed horn springing from his forehead.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen the pictures,” says Stoney.
“In the primitive, agrarian society at the dawn of the domestication of animals, perhaps he was just a misunderstood wild horse, or an antelope glimpsed by some unsophisticated would-be animal husbander.
“Or might he might have been a hallucination, caused by the ingestion of a mushroom, a morning glory seed, or the fruit of the vine? Or an opium dream, he galloping through visions of dragons.
“The unicorn was part of a world that believed in a god for every purpose, gods that were half-man, half-animal, and that men that could be gods. Maybe he was a vision, a revelation in a trance, in that way a gift from the gods to a willing proto-priest.
“Or perhaps the unicorn was created in the garden of Eden by the very hand of God, named by Adam, and rescued by Noah to prosper in Mesopotamia, then be known abroad after the fall of Babel when wicked mankind was dispersed throughout the world.
“Then again, he may be our tribal memory of some prehistoric creature, an ancient phantasm in the superego rematerialized. If so, it was a strange equine creature that evolved out of the primeval slime never to leave a fossil or a skeleton.
“Who could say what some Sumerian saw 8,000 years ago that led him to draw it? It’s been a while since I’ve laid eyes on one, but the description is largely true.
“The unicorn appeared throughout the ancient world. He is found in the ancient myths of India, Southeast Asia and China, where he was delicately memorialized in paintings on wood and fabric which have long since disintegrated into the dust of time.
“He was just as enchanting to the western mind, which enthroned him in orally transmitted legends passed generation upon generation, from the shadowy well of the cultural memory of the Celts who settled across Europe; and in the religious myths of the Greeks who owned a cosmology that included many strange creatures and demigods.
“Interesting that he should be so universally renowned if he was merely a fable.
“That a horn was in itself a symbol of power in the ancient world only added to the mystery of it all. Power for what? Magic power, of course. Was the unicorn in some way related to the Greek legend of the flying horse, upon which one could be liberated from the bonds of gravity and confines of time and space, ultimate power?
“Described by the Greek Ctesias around 400 B.C. as the wild ass of India, the unicorn was white of coat with a purple head and a long horn of a cubit’s length, white at its base, black in the middle and with a red tip. He was fleet of foot and difficult to capture.
“And well he might flee from mankind, since those who drank from his horn were said to be protected from stomach trouble, epilepsy and poisons. The horn of the unicorn was also reported to be the ultimate aprodisiac, making his elusiveness symbolic of the conflict of the spiritual realm with the lusts of the flesh.
“As sure as men lusted, the unicorns would die. He may have been hunted to extinction by selfish ancient potentates, maharajahs bedecked with emeralds and rubies, able to buy anything but health and happiness, seeking the temporary benefit of the unicorn’s magic in callous disregard of the marvelous animal’s transcendent majesty and glory.
“Unicorns are found everywhere…always on the fringes of civilization, just out of reach…hunted and desired, but never captured or domesticated…symbolic of man’s quest of the unknown.
“To those who seek to expand their minds and attain some understanding of the vast unknown, whatever or whoever the unicorn was, he remains a common heritage of the human race, an ideal just out of reach, a romantic icon rich with meaning the world over, inspiring the imaginations of mankind, an ancient symbol of things of wonder that were and are, and yet perhaps never were.
“Perhaps the unicorn has judged us, and found us lacking, considering us unworthy of his friendship and beauty. Maybe the unicorn has merely gone into exile until a generation of philosopher kings reestablishes a reign of justice and truth that justifies his return.”
Stoney was never sure when the idea first occured to him. No matter. As he remembers it, he had always wanted to call the band Unicorn. And so it came to pass.
—from The Cosmic Storyteller, a novel