Uses Of Unicorns

  • The Unicorn's horn, or alicorn, has been its glory and its downfall. From the earliest times and in parts of the world animal horns of all kinds have been accorded medicinal and even magical properties. One has only to look at the horn symbolism in the bible to sense their significance in cultures closer to nature than ours. Even today throughout much of the world powdered horn is sold to remedy a host of illnesses, but none, not even that of the rhinoceros has ever rivaled the healing virtue attached to alicorn. In the sixteenth century the accumulated wisdom of the ages was summed up by Dr.Conrad Gesner of Zurich as follows.
    This horn is useful and beneficial against epilepsy, pestilential fever, rabies, proliferation and infection of other animals and vermin, and against worms within the body from which children faint. Ancient physicians used their Alicorn remedies against such ailments by making drinking mugs from the horn and letting their patients drink from them. Nowadays such drinking vessels are unobtainable and the horn itself must be administered (as a powder) either alone or mixed with some other drug. Genuine Alicorn is good against all poison, especially; so some say, the quality coming from
    the Ocean Isles. Experience proves that anyone having taken poison and becoming distended thereby, recovered good health on immediately taking a little Unicorn horn. In the mere presence of poison a piece of Alicorn is said to sweat and change color. If a piece of horn is dipped into poison. or poison is poured into an Alicorn cup, the Alicorn will effervesce and neutralize the
    poison, or at least reduce its efficacy. The basis for this belief is the old story of how the Unicorn used its horn to purify spring water so that other beasts might drink, a trick known as "water conning." Generally this takes place where there is some venomous snakes in order that other animals might drink of it was reliably recounted by the fourteenth century priest, John of Hesse. Hesse visited the Holy Land and actually observed a unicorn thus cleansing polluted water. After the water had been thus purified, many other animals came down to drink from it, thus water conning" was an important and highly beneficial unicorn activity. The discovery of water conning came
    at a critical time in European history, since typhoid fever was then ravaging Europe's population. Many suspected that the dread disease might be carried by the polluted water they were forced to drink. While the Alicorn was considered by kings, scholars, and popes, a necessity against poisons and disease, for the majority, however, Alicorn was so scarce that for most people it might as well
    have not existed. Alicorns are among the most powerful of magical items. A horn set in the middle of a of magical items. A horn set in the middle of a table would begin to sweat, or form a dew, if any of the foodstuffs had been poisoned. Even a little powder filed from such a horn was an antidote to the most toxic substances. Small wonder that in a place like fourteenth century
    Italy, where poisoning was a common way to deal one's enemies, these horns were considered treasures indeed. As might be expected, an item both so valuable (horns sometimes sold for ten times their weight in gold) and so rare (some legendshave it that there is never more than one unicorn on earth at a time) was a great temptation for frauds. With so many people selling false alicorns, it was necessary to find a way to determine which were real.
    Some of the tests included:
    * Drawing a ring on the floor with the aileron. A spider placed in such a ring would not be able to cross the line, and in fact would starve to death trapped within the circle.
    * Placing the horn in water, which would cause the water to bubble and seem as if it were boiling,
    even though it remained cold.
    * Placing a piece of silk upon a burning coal, and then laying the horn on top of the silk. If the horn was truly an aileron, the silk would not be burned.
    * Bringing the horn near a poisonous plant or animal, which would burst and die in reaction to it.
    the trade in ailerons was very real in the Middle Ages, and many noble houses listed one of the
    mystical horns among its treasures.
    In the Middle Ages the supply of Aileron suddenly increased and every report of a sighting
    of a Unicorn was eagerly pursued by hunters after the treasure on its brow. After the Crusades, Eastern knowledge of unicorns gradually permeated most of Western Europe, especially among the wealthier and more
    privileged classes. At least a small part of a unicorn's horn became necessary equipment for castles or churches to have on hand in order to deal with sickness and the bites of mad dogs, spiders, and scorpions, and for protection against poisoning by other people. Poisoning enemies was certainly one of the most popular methods of murder in the Middle Ages, and noblemen, especially in Italy, lived in continuous dread of having their foods or drinks tainted by poison. Even having a "taster" did not guarantee
    ne's safety, for many of the better poisons were concocted in such a way that they might not take effect for several hours, if not days, after the poisons had been consumed. The market for unicorn horns was therefore at least as good as the market for tasteless, odorless, and absolutely fatal poisons. Such was the deadly "Acquette di Napoli," a prestige brand of poison manufactured
    by a Milanese woman named Aqua Toffana, who reportedly was responsible for abruptly terminating the careers of more than six hundred persons before she herself was publicly strangled. Similarly, during the mid-1600s in Rome there was a secret society of women whose sole aim was to poison all of their husbands! Certainly under these conditions it was in the interest of all persons of wealth and position to have a piece of genuine unicorn horn close at hand. Unicorn horn was not the only substance known to be useful for detecting poisons during this period. Other objects, such as snake tongues, the claws of griffins, and the accretions sometimes found in the intestines of various animals, were also acclaimed as poison detectors and purifiers.
    Yet of all these, the unicorn horn was considered paramount. Even after some of the more enlightened persons began to doubt its effectiveness, the horn was still in great demand. Since the public at large continued to believe in the power of the unicorn horn, servants and peasants were disinclined to try to poison their lords or masters and put the question to the ultimate test. Like the modern use of elks' teeth and rabbits' feet, the horns continued to serve a purpose long after people began to doubt their power or understand their original purpose. As the market for unicorn horns grew, the difficulty of obtaining them increased, and the value of true unicorn horn soared until it was worth its weight in gold. No less a personage than Pope Paul Ill paid twelve thousand pieces of gold for a genuine unicorn horn, and in England James I likewise paid ten thousand pounds sterling for a horn. Anxious to try out its effectiveness, the good king ground up a bit of it and placed the powder in a draft of poison, which he then generously asked a servant to drink. When the man promptly died, James was extremely annoyed, as he obviously had not received high quality goods in spite of the price he had paid. Correspondingly, unicorns grew ever rarer. People began to doubt that any survived. Some suggested that perhaps the unicorns had been unable to find adequate areas of habitation. Unicorns are wisdom personified and their knowledge of nature enables them to remain hidden from man. Unicorns usually have to be tricked or enticed to be captured.
    Rarer still than true Unicorns horn is the mystic ruby, also called a carbuncle, rumored to be found at the horn's base. Some authorities have held the jewel to be the source of the horn's powers. However, as it has not been found consistently in all
    Unicorns, it is possible that the ruby' is some kind of distillation of the concentrated essence of the horn. It may, perhaps, only occur in very old or wise Unicorns and be caused by a crystallization of blood. Albertus Magnus, alchemist and one of the most and one of the most influential
    thinkers of the Middle Ages, believed the male carbuncle' to be the king of gems, able to dispel poison, guard from plague and banish sadness, evil thoughts and nightmares. It could be employed as either an amulet or a powder and a good stone would shine so brightly of its own accord as to be visible through clothing. The stone is mentioned in several of the romances about Alexander the Great. In the Song of Alexander by Pfaffen Lamp written in the twelfth century we hear of a gift from Queen Candace to the conqueror: (see Carbuncle, The Ruby Stone. In Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzfal, it is said of one of the remedies applied to the Grail King's wounds (in vain as it happens, since nothing but the attainment of the Grail can do that). In Parzfal it is mentioned that the Unicorn's heart was also used as a medicine. The twelfth century Abbess Hildegard of Bingen went even further. Drawing largely on Arabic lore, she found medicinal value in almost every part of the poor creature's body, and provided recipes accordingly:
    'Take some Unicorn liver, grind it up and mash with egg yolk to make an ointment. Every type of leprosy is healed if treated frequently with this ointment. 'Take some Unicorn pelt, from it cut a belt and gird it round the body thus averting attack by plague or fever. 'Make also some shoes from Unicorn leather and wear them, thus assuring ever healthy feet, thighs and joints; nor will the plague ever attack those limbs. Anyone who fears being poisoned should place a Unicorn hoof beneath the plate containing his food, or the mug holding his liquor. If warm food and drink are poisoned, the hoof will make them effervesce; if they are cold it will make them steam. Thus one can detect whether they are poisoned or not. Unicorns have many strange abilities, but of all the things they can do, it seems we are most fascinated by their power to heal. For the touch of a unicorn's horn can pull us away from death, toward immortality.