Unicorns are magical creatures, variously described as being either beautiful, delicate beasts shaped like exceptionally lovely white horses with a single, often golden, horn growing from their forehead, or as wild, untameable and slightly fierce creatures resembling a mountain goat or other shaggy-haired, unkempt beasts, but again with a single horn.
The first description comes in large part from Medieval art and literature, and has prevailed as the most popular image of the unicorn. In this form the unicorn is associated with purity and chastity. This version of the unicorn is only able to be caught by a virgin, and its horn can purify poisoned water and heal sickness. It is a beautiful image, but somewhat insipid and romantic.
The second description is in many ways more interesting. Here we see a wild creature, something powerful and mysterious; it will not be brought to heel, it is not anyone’s friend, it is not clean and perfect.
It is my feeling that the unicorn and its changing image can be seen as related to views of women, and of Wild Woman. Women by nature are fierce magical beings, with both creative and destructive powers, but over time these have been tamed and controlled by the patriarchy into something pure and almost holy, pristine and gentle. The medieval unicorn is something which is hunted, tricked and ultimately killed or at least maimed and held captive so that it can be used to make things clean and pleasant for men. Personally, I prefer the wilder, shaggier unicorn. She is not so classically beautiful to look at, but she is far more interesting and far more powerful.