Hidden Mystery of the Unicorn Tapestries Revealed!

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The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries

The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries comprise an allegory of the fate of the pure soul in the world. The Unicorn has often been referred to as a Christ figure, but its meaning is much older than Christianity, for the image of a Beast, no matter how mythical, would not be used to symbolize the Son of God unless that God existed at the most primal, pre-conscious level, deep in the Soul of the World. When one meditates on the sequence of images in the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries, it looks more like an ancient Fertility Rite enacting the sexual awakening of the World. This has more to do with the Medieval Courts of Love than the Passion of Christ.

The innocence of the Unicorn is signified, not only by its clean, white coat, but by its single, uncloven, horn. One horn suggests unity,  it  cannot be entered, it wards off intrusion. Dual horns, in this context, suggest that that which was whole is now split. The possessor of two horns lives in the world of opposites, of two sexes, and therefore is concerned with procreation. That which is split then seeks reunion through the birth of the third, mirror image of itself, and so the regenerative cycle goes on.

That is why the Unicorn can only be tamed by a virgin, for the Virgin is undefiled, unitary, and protected. The Men of the World cannot open the Unicorn’s body unless he lies in the lap of the Virgin who comes forward voluntarily with an aura of sacrifice. The symbolism of the single fertilizing horn in a Virgin’s lap is clear. In the case of the Unicorn, there is a divine fertilization. Only when the Soul, (the Virgin) is torn away from her union with the Divine, can she be joined with man. Therefore the men, who seek to re-discover lost innocence, and because they are of the World, cannot value purity as inner possession only, and kill the Virgin’s Divine connection so she will be available for them in the world of duality.

This interpretation suggests that there is an alternate allegory to that of the passion of Christ possible here, something to do with the Virgin as World Soul in union with the Divine, and the Unicorn as the mystic seeking return to the source.It is also a Creation myth that shows the Fall into duality without which earthly life would not be possible.

For me, the quest for the Unicorn, and these beautiful tapestries, evoke great Mystery, so they are part of my Mysterious Domain…which is of course, in my imagination…

A Mystery is Sought

The Hunters represent primal man, crude, blind, and driven by base desires without the light of consciousness. They  enter the forest to hunt, but find themselves on the path of a great Mystery that will  instill a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. Only a powerful encounter with the Otherworld will be shocking enough to awaken them.

They come upon a Unicorn dipping his horn in a fountain.


The  Hunters  break out of the woods and find a garden where all the animals, both hunter and hunted, live in peace and harmony together. It is the Garden of Paradise before the Fall,  before the intrusion of Man.

A beautiful, pure white Unicorn dips his horn into the Waters of Life, both to purify them, and fertilize the Earth with his divine power.

The Waters springing up from the Underworld  let us know we are in the Realm of Faery…

The Unicorn leaps over a stream


The Unicorn sees the Hunters and leaps over the stream that runs from the fountain. In the old traditions, bodies of water, especially rivers and streams, are crossing points between the mortal world and the Otherworld of Faery. It is interesting to note that while the Unicorn was at the fountain, he was safe in Paradise where the Hunters were not able to act against him. By leaping over the stream, is he not, therefore, running toward danger,  straight into the spears and arrows? If that is the case, it would seem his  sacrifice is voluntary, as all true sacrifices must be.
But why?

The Unicorn defends himself

The Unicorn defends himself by attacking the dogs. Is this not a representation of how the most pure, Divine power must seek protection from the defilement of the basest instincts of Man symbolized by the dogs?  In the old fairy stories, animals often stood for the gross sexual appetites, unrefined and undisciplined  by the consciousness of the higher mind. The idea of the tail wagging the dog comes to mind when you think of people who chase after sexual pleasure, or release, irregardless of the consequences.

Rather than defending himself, could the Unicorn be protecting the Virgin? Could he be trying to prevent the primitive Hunters despoiling her with rude weapons and coarse sexuality? For the Unicorn is the Virgin’s lover is he not?

The Ladies know what it means to capture the Unicorn

The Ladies of the Palace know what the mystery is and how it must climax. For they too have been virgins in love with the Unicorn.

A Virgin Tames the Unicorn

This is event is always referred to as the Virgin taming the Unicorn, but it not be seen another way?  It is really an image of the Unicorn laying hos head in the Virgin’s lap. While lying there between her legs, he is killed by the Hunters. Perhaps the Unicorn lays down its life to protect the Virgin from the instinctual, untamed, and unenlightened desires of the Hunters. He is her purity, and her inviolability. Once the unity is cleft, there can be no return to Paradise. Innocence is lost forever.
Interestingly, this piece of the tapestry is damaged and the figure of the virgin torn away. The red gowned  Lady coyly looking on is merely her handmaiden. We see the dog drawing the Unicorn’s blood.

So much for the pure, innocent Soul of the World in our times…

The Hunters slay the Unicorn

The Unicorn is pierced through the heart , both his spiritual heart located below the throat and his physical heart in his breast. The Palace of civilization stands on the other side of a lake. The refined Lords and Ladies stream down from the palace to receive the Hunters who seem changed by their encounter with the Unicorn.They approach the Ladies who appear to instruct them, perhaps on the proper attitude of respect to maintain regarding the Procreative Mysteries.

Indeed, the Lord and Ladies seem to ignore the Unicorn as he is impaled  above them, at the edge of the palace garden.  They seem much more intent on sharing the gifts of civilization with the Hunters. The palace is thus the realm between the higher and lower levels of being.

The Unicorn is restored to life

Often called ‘The Unicorn in Captivity’.
This is an apt title, although it leaves out the impression that the Unicorn has come back to life. Perhaps this is because he never was a mortal creature, but a symbol all along, a representation of innocence and purity too good for the World. Now he is captured, fenced in, and controlled by the forces of civilization that would use him as an example of perfection. Yet he is set apart, no longer part of the whole, rendered, in a sense, useless. He is emptied of the numinous wholeness he once wielded in the lost Paradise. In the  World, duality is all, for without duality, the cloven horn and hoof, the Creation as we know it, would cease to exist.
The Unicorn knows this. That is the nature of his sacrifice. He is at peace.
Go to my Videos for a beautiful Medieval song that goes well with these tapestries
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15 thoughts on “Hidden Mystery of the Unicorn Tapestries Revealed!

  1. Like your commentary, like your attraction to the subject matter, love the art. I think this shares in many branches of similar stuff, it reminds me also of the realm of Tarot and various woodcuts, engravings and alchemical art. Perhaps this is a western tantric understanding too, from innocense, to sexuality, and back again. the whole Biblical story, paradise, exile and return, how lusts and desires can take a life of their own and consume and hunt down the pure desires of the heart, and even when this happens, one is destined to become fenced in and tied to the tree (knowledge or life though?) and in a way protected too from further hunts? But perhaps the unicorn is not tied to the tree, perhaps he’s awarded with a scarve and lies peacefully, surrounded by the fence of twelve segments, which could represent the zodiac?
    What could this be telling us? That we all must pass through innocense, abosrb into matter and then return, or perhaps that this whole thing is taking place in the twelve fence segment compound where we as unicorns lie asleep, hunted by the zodiac, hunted by desires for everything under the zodiac, without learning that which is above, the single spiralling horn pointing upwards? I need to study this in a little more detail. Thanks for bringing my attention to the unicorn! May these subjects bring you great joy. : D

  2. Ive also noticed three sets of twelve in these tapestries besides the twelve fence sections. In the one where he is dipping his horn in the fountain, there are twelve folk that surround him. In the one where the dogs are primarily the hunters, where the unicorn defends himself there are twelve dogs, and in the one wherein the hunters pair with various maidens of the castle, there are six pairs, ie twelve (as far as i can see in picture, unless original has more than in picture).
    It could be a gnostic like allegory of the liberation from the twelve zodiac spheres, or perhaps of Lady Wisdom in Revelations who has the sun, moon and stars under her feet and is destined for the conjugal ‘marriage of the lamb’ too?

  3. I love your additions to the Unicorn tapestries. I have always been bothered by the standard Christ figure interpretation of these images.
    And on closer analyses, it was shown to be full of holes.

  4. Thanks. A question, what is the standard Christ interpretations of these tapestries and how are they full of holes? I personally think whether ‘pagan’ or ‘christian’ all facets of understanding may be true to various degrees, some closer to the mark than others. I mean is there a correct interpretation? Are not symbols and images multi dimensional in their interpretation?

  5. My Interpretation is the Unicorn represents the purified and unified masculine and feminine instincts. The Alchemist wishes to bring these archetypal forces under his control without sacrificing the Unicorn’s primordial power(balance of unified inner masculine and feminine)so the final frame: the Unicorn corralled and tethered to the Tree is just such an image of keeping these wild archetypal energies present to serve Life and it’s Transformation.

  6. Interesting. I would love yo know more about that. I knew there was deeper interpretation than the usual Christ as unicorn metaphor–not that that doesn’t fit but I like to find other understanding besides the “given” ones. My intuition found this Courtly Love angle but who knows is Alchemy doesn’t underlie that. Thanks.

  7. It’s like the moral question becomes: How do I tame the Unicorn without it losing it’s magic? We need the Unicorn’s magic but we can’t capture it by any but the most sublime method: You become the Unicorn yourself and in so doing also become much more. The Unicorn is a kind of guardian to another reality available to one who has made this transformation within themselves.

  8. I adore unicorns and have always been fascinated in them, since I was a little girl. You have some wonderful images! I enjoyed reading it, some of the information I hadn’t read before. I learn something new everyday! ~ Lyss

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