All you ever needed to know about magical unicorns

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Unicorn Tales
Chinese Folktale

This traditional story from Robert Wyndham's Tales the People Tell in China links the mysterious and wise Ki-Lin with the honored Chinese sage, Confucius. There is the story that the aging philosopher wept when he came upon a Ki-Lin killed by hunters and saw on its horn a ribbon his own mother had tied there.

by Jill JohansenIn ancient times, Ki-Lin, the fabulous unicorn, appeared occasionally before the emperors. They said the creature was as large as a deer but it had hooves like a horse. It had a single horn in the center of its noble head. Its voice was beautiful and as haunting as a monastery bell, and it was so good and gentle that it walked with greatest care, lest it step upon some living creature. The Ki-lin could neither be captured nor injured by any man. And it appeared only to those Emperors who had wisdom and virtue.

When the Middle Kingdom fell into evil, ways and one state warred with another, and kings fought with kings, the Unicorn was seen no more. He was seen by no one until the sixth century B.C.

At that time, there lived a woman in the town of Chufu, in the state of Lu, at the base of the sacred mountain Tai Shan. This woman was good and dutiful and truly exceptional. Her one grief was that she had given her husband no son. To be without a son was a great sorrow. If a family had no son, who would worship before the ancestral tablets? With no one to worship there could be no life after death for ancestors.

This good woman sorrowed and prayed and begged heaven to take pity upon her and give her a son. Yet no son was born to her.

One day, she decided to make a pilgrimage to a distant temple on the sacred Tai Shan. This temple was thought to be especially holy. There, she planned to appeal to the gods one last time. As she trudged up the mountain toward the lonely temple, she unknowingly stepped into the secret footprint of the Ki-lin, the gentle unicorn.

At once, the marvelous creature appeared before her, knelt, and dropped a piece of precious jade at her feet. The woman picked up the jade and found these words carved upon the jewel: "Thy son shall be a ruler without a throne."

When the woman looked up, the Unicorn had vanished. But the jade was still in her hand, and she knew that a miracle had taken place. In time, a son was born to this good woman. He was named Kung Fu Tzu, Confucius. From his earliest days, he showed unusual wisdom, and he became a great teacher. Accompanied by his pupils, he traveled from town to town. All over the land, the people studied and lived by his wise sayings. His influence was as powerful as that of the emperors. Indeed, he ruled without a throne.

From Tales the People Tell in China by Robert Wyndham. New York: Julian Messner, 1971, pp.34-37. Copyright 1971 by Robert Wyndham - Artwork by Jill Johansen

the unicorn in the maze

Copyright 1987, Megan Lindholm
Illustrations By: Tim Hildebrandt

n the city called Grand lived a boy named Willem. The city was fabled for its tall crystal spires, for its shops full of rare merchandise and for its good and beautiful Princess. But Willem was too busy searching the ground for lost coins to notice the spires, he never had money to buy from the fancy shops and the Princess Morena didn't know he existed, much less care. Willem was a street boy.

He was not respectable. He wore dirty rags, and his bare feet were always splashed with mud. He didn't get much to eat, so he was smaller than other boys his age, and thinner. His hair was uncombed, and his face was dirty. He earned his living in nasty ways. He stood outside taverns and sang rude songs, to make the drinking men laugh and throw coins. He stole fruit from the fruit carts, and cooling bread from behind the bakery. He picked coins from people's pockets, and locks came unlocked under his fingers. He was nasty and suspicious, and no one liked him.

Except Agatha. Agatha was a potter who lived in the forest at the city's edge. A bubbling spring fed the stream that flowed past her cottage. She dug clay from the stream banks, softened it with the spring's water and turned it into pots on her wheel. She once told Willem that her spring used to be a unicorn's spring. Once folk came to it from far and near; some to drink of its curing waters, some hoping for a glimpse of the unicorn. The unicorn, she said, was a marvelous beast, shining with honor, wisdom and strength.

Just to see him strengthened the soul. But others came also, hunters who wished to kill the unicorn for his magical horn. Yet he always managed to escape them and return to his spring.


the twins and the karkadann 

Anthony Shepherd - The Right of the Unicorns

ne morning very early, a young man left his home in the desert of northern Arabia. He took with him a camel, a bow and arrow, and a small sack of provisions. Only his twin brother knew his intentions, and he was sworn to secrecy, for the young hunter was planning to kill a karkadann, a vicious brute with one black horn protruding from its forehead. The karkadann's voice was said to be so terrible that when it bellowed, the birds flew away.

No wonder this one - horned beast was feared by all living creatures and left thoroughly alone unless one had very good reasons for tracking it down. If the young man's family knew of his plans to seek the creature, they would surely have stopped him from going on such a journey to seek the creature, they would surely have stopped him from going on such a dangerous mission.


THE BOOK OF THE UNICORN 1996 & 2001. Illustrated by Linda and Roger Garland Written by Nigel Suckling ...

Therese and the Unicorn

ong ago, on the edge of the forest of Broceliande, there lived a King called Boron who was hated by his people. He was also hated by the people of all the neighbouring kingdoms because he was constantly at war with them.

He was a sour man who trusted no one and always suspected plots against his life. This wasn't an unfounded fear because the more bellicose he became, the more his people longed to be rid of him.

Boron had not always been a bad man, but disappointment and grief had poisoned his soul. In his youth he had been known as Boron the Blessed but now he had come to be called Boron the Bitter.

The only soft spot remaining in his heart, it seemed, was for his daughter Therese. This was not just the special bond between father and daughter; she inspired love in everyone. She was one of those people who can only see the good in others and, in fact, many of her father's excesses were forgiven for her sake.

It happened one day that a Unicorn was seen in the forest near Boron's kingdom. As news of this spread from huntsman and forester to peasant and burgher many people recalled the circumstances when a Unicorn last appeared.

King Arthur and the Unicorn

aken from the fourteenth century romance Le Chevalier Papegau

In his youth King Arthur once went sailing alone in search of adventure. He was overtaken by a storm that blew him far off course and ended up stranded on a lonely shore with his ship stuck fast on a sandbank.

Gazing along the rugged coast, the only sign of habitation was a single square, red tower at the edge of a forest. So Arthur made his way there to seek help.

It was a strange tower with no doors or windows. At first there was no reply to his calls.

Then a man's head appeared over the battlements. 'What do you want?' he called down gruffly. Arthur explained that he needed help to free his ship from the sands.

The stranger seemed to soften a bit. 'That’s a reasonable enough request' he replied, 'but nothing can be done till my son returns from hunting. If you’re prepared to wait, we’ll help set you on your way.'



ur knowledge of very early Chinese myth is fragmentary, thanks to a cultural revolution in about 213 BC when the Emperor Shi Huang Di, after unifying the country, ordered the burning of all but purely technical books to try and make a break with the past.

Considering that the penalty for disobedience was death, a surprising number of scholars defied the ban and some 460 are known to have paid the price. The purge was ruthless but some of the proscribed literature survived. Among the remains was this account of the Creation, preserved and disseminated by the Taoists.
Chinese Creation scene

'Before the world came into being there existed only the Cosmic Egg that floated unchanging in the Void for untold ages. Yin and Yang was the Egg, opposites perfectly mingled. And it was because they were perfectly mingled that the world could not yet be.

'Then within the Egg was born P'an Ku, the primordial man who slowly grew and grew until the Egg felt too cramped for him. Impatiently he stretched out his limbs and his hand closed about an axe, coming from whence no one knows. Striking with all his might, P'an Ku split the shell of the Egg and burst free.


The Unicorn Hermit of India
a tale from the Ramayana

Breaking the Storm

ong ago, deep in the Indian jungle, there lived a hermit called Vibhandaka, whose name means Unicorn. He lived all alone and his only visitors were people from the nearest village who occasionally came with offerings of food for their holy man.

His real disciples were the birds and beasts who came to bathe in the glow of his serenity as he sat cross-legged in the mouth of his cave, meditating on the mysteries of the universe.

One animal in particular, a female gazelle, became his constant companion. She grew so enamoured of him that, in time, she miraculously conceived and gave birth to a child.

The boy was human in every way, apart for the single horn that grew from the centre of his forehead. He was named Rishyashringa, which means Gazelle's Horn.


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