Myths from Asia are filled with stories of magical beings that are very similar to the western concept of unicorn. Often these creatures are kind and benevolent beings with purest of hearts.
Stories about unicorns can be found from around the world. Magical deer and horse-like creatures with one horn in the middle of the forehead. In many Asian myths story of the unicorn begins with a statement that unicorn was the first creature that was created and it was the most magnificent and purest creature to wonder in this earth. Asian unicorn was told to be a gentle soul who would not even hurt a fly – quite literally. Unicorns were careful not to crush insects while walking. They did not eat fruits because of the life inside them. Their hooves barely touched the grass when they were running. This might have connections to the concept of ahimsa from Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina religions where one of the main principles is to honour life because all life is sacred.
According to Eastern legends the free and wild unicorn who was also the most gentle of all beings would hide itself into the mystical other realms until day would come when mankind would give up on it´s evil ways. Only then would unicorn appear to men and would allow itself to be tamed.
Qilin's statue in Beijing's summer palace
The Chinese Qilin
In Chinese mythology Qilin is a hybrid creature who has the body of a deer or a tiger, hooves of a horse, tail of an ox and a head of a dragon. It´s body is also covered with shiny green scales like a fish. There are descriptions which say that Qilin has wings or at least that it has ability to fly and it has clouds in it´s feet. Qilin has a single horn growing from it´s forehead but it is not a straight spiral shaped horn. Qilin´s horn curves backward. Qilin was believed to be one of the most benevolent animals who offered protection, comfort, prosperity and guidance for those who respected it. Qilin represents goodness and like other Asian unicorns it is a gentle soul who does not wish to harm any living beings. Attributes such as wisdom, harmony, purity, knowledge and gentleness are connected to Qilin. It was also told to have the gift of prophesy.
From Japanese mythology we find two types of unicorns; Kirin and Sin-You. Kirin is a kind and shy creature. Sin-You has tendency to be more judgmental. Legend tells that Sin-You has the power to detect those who lie and it possessed ability to tell the right from wrong. If Sin-You found the wrongdoer guilty it would kill them by impaling it´s horn to the person´s heart.
Unicorns in Vietnam
In Vietnamese folklore unicorns are known as qué ly or lan. First mentions of these creatures in come from 2700 years ago from the time period of Duong Dynasty where they symbolized prosperity. For Vietnamese qué ly was one of the most sacred animals and many of the temples were decorated with images of it. Qué ly or Qué lan it usually was depicted to have a dragon´s head and a horse´s body. There are more detailed imaginative descriptions which say that it also had a mouth of a crocodile, dog´s ears, nose of a lion and a horn of a deer. It also may had scales covering it´s body and mustache of a catfish. Qué ly was able to shape shift it´s appearance so it would have appeared in different forms to people. It was a symbol of good luck, happiness and longevity.
Story of Kiringul is connected to the ancient kingdom of Kogyryo. According to the legend founder of this ancient Kingdom King Tongmyong rode kiringul. In Vietnam and in Korea it was believed that Kirin and Kiringul lived inside caves and high in the mountains. These myths might have links to the past of these two countries where several of the ancient civilisations lived in caves. Some of the caves had a whole Eco-system with lakes and fountains inside them. They were idyllic places for these magical creatures to live.
Ancient Kingdom of Persia also had it´s own stories of the unicorn but unlike it´s other Asian counterparts Persian Kardakann was frightening and ferocious warrior. According to some descriptions it had six eyes and nine mouths and three hove's on each leg. Kardakann was also a shape sifter who could change it´s shape at will. Most impressive was it´s horn which was told to be pure gold. Kardakann was told to be an aggressive beast who intimidated all the other animals accept the ring dove. Stories tell that Karkakann had particular fascination to the bird´s song and that it was the only thing that could tame the wild beast. It is possible that some of the stories of the wild beastly Kardakann were inspired by Rhinos and it´s aggressive nature was simply a reflection of the Persian military power. There are also milder version of the Kardakann describing it to be a deer, stag, horse or an antelope with one-horn. This kind of Kardakann was a gentle soul and like other western unicorns it had ability to purify water simply by immersing it´s horn into a stream, lake or a pond but the consequences of this would be that all the females would immediately become pregnant.
Unicorns in India
There are lots of unicorn-like creatures in Indian folk tales and legends. Most famous of them is rsya. Creature that looks like an antelope or a water buffalo who has one singular horn rising from it´s forehead. Ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata even mentions human-like being called Rsyasrnga who also had a horn in his forehead.
Origins of the Legend
In all of these countries and cultures artists were found of portraying mythical creatures. Most of the time unicorns are inspired by animals who traditionally grow antlers on each side of their forehead but there are oddities in nature and sometimes one-horned deer's, antelopes and bulls are born. Depending on the specie some animals can drop their horns/antlers after mating season, coming of age or loose them in battles. Could they be the original inspirations to the legend of the unicorn? You decide.
The Natural history of Unicorns by Chris Lavers
Unicorns, the myths, legends and lore by Skye Alexander
Magic of the north
Growing up in north-western Finland I´v seen northern lights several times. Living near the sea dancing lights I saw were mostly green but every time when I went up north to visit my grandparents I saw northern lights in all colors of the rainbow. Still today when I see northern lights during dark October nights I see them as true miracle of nature and I understand how they captivated minds of the people in the past same way as they captivate the imagination of a modern human. There are several myths told about the northern lights and I will share some of them with you.
Estonian Celestial Wedding
In Estonia there is interesting myth told about the birth of the northern lights. According to Estonian myths northern lights were created when humpback whales were playing games and their scales are reflected into the night sky.
Another Estonian folk tale tells us that northern lights are born when spectacular horse drawn carriages are carrying heavenly guests into magnificent celestial wedding.
Firefox of the Saami's
In the Lapland of Finland northern lights were believed to be created by a magical giant fox called Tulikettu. Foxes were hunted because of their fur and it was believed that great fox hunter was also a great shaman. Tulikettu was like the Phoenix of all foxes and there could only be one fire fox at time. It was believed that the hunter who catch the fire fox would live in great wealth for the rest of their life. Fire fox however was so fast that no one could ever catch it. When it ran in the snowy hills it´s fur and tail brushes would create sparks that would fly into the skies and turn into northern lights. Finnish word for northern lights revontulet literally means fox´s fires.
Lapland, Scandinavia and Greenland
According to another Saami myth northern lights were spume of water ejected from whales swimming in the arctic sea.
For fishermen in northern Sweden northern lights were a good prophecy. Omen that there was large groups of herrings swimming by.
In Norse myths aurora borealis thought as reflections of the shining spears, armors and helmets of the valkyries. The warrior women who rode on horseback leading fallen soldiers to Valhalla. Sometimes northern lights were believed to be the Bifrost Bridge. Magical arc that lead straight into Valhalla the home of the gods and goddesses.
For the Inuits in Greenland northern lights were spirits of still born babies and even children that had been killed after birth.
Northern Lights in Inuit and Native American Myths
Native American myths about the Aurora Borealis vary great deal same way as the traditions and cultures of different tribes.
Algonquin´s the natives of Ottawa and Ontario in Canada believe that northern lights were created by their creator spirit Nanahbozho. For them it was a sign that he was always watching over them.
For the Menominee´s native American tribe of the Wisconsin area northern lights were torches used by evil giants when they speared fish at night.
Inuit´s living in Point Barrow, the most northern point of Alaska believed strongly that northern lights were evil and suspicious and they could come down from the skies and kill a man. They carried knives with them to protect themselves from them.
Inuits of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea thought that northern lights were created by a walrus spirits who were playing with human skulls.
Makah´s, native american tribe from the Washington state told stories about a tribe of dwarfs who boiled whale blubber. Another myth which connects Aurora to cooking comes from Mandan from north Dakota where people believed that in the northern lights there lived great warriors who cooked their enemies heads in massive pots.
Aurora in Greek Mythology
Aurora Borealis are a rare sight in such southern parts of Europe as Greece but for the ancient Greece there was nothing that could have not be explained without the presence of gods and goddesses. In Greek Aurora means sunrise and boreas means the wind. Aurora was the sister to Helios the sun god and Seline the moon goddess. In Greek myth sun and the day are born when Helios and Seline ride in the skies with their celestial wagons. Sometimes Aurora joins the ride but her wagon is made of vivid dancing colors. She is assisted by god of the northern wind Boreas who gives her chariot a nice blow.
Fight of the dragons, Northern Lights of the East
It is not very common to see Aurora Borealis in the firmament of Japan or China but when they are seen they are considered to be mystical powerful occasions.
In Japan child conceived under northern lights is believed to receive good looks, intelligence and great fortune.
In China Aurora Borealis are connected to the stories and legends about mighty dragons. Lights in the skies are good and evil dragons testing their powers against one another and breathing fire.
Australian Aboriginals do not see northern lights but southern lights, Aurora Australis. For the aboriginals Aurora Australis represents their beloved deities and spirit dancing in the celestial sky.
Central Europe and Britain
Northern Lights are rare phenomena in central and southern Europe. Before people knew the science behind the northern lights people lived in an atmosphere where all supernatural things were frightening and northern lights terrified people. In Italy and France northern lights were thought to predict war, plague and mass deaths.
In north of Scotland where northern lights are more common they are called dancing merry men representing souls of the soldiers who died in a battle.
Be Careful When You Whistle
Some Native American tribes believed that northern lights were trickster spirits who would come down if someone whistled and would kidnap the person. To protect themselves person should clap. This made the lights retreat and people would be safe from them.
In Greenland expecting mothers were told not to whistle otherwise child would be born crossed-eyed.
Saami´s in Lapland also had superstitions about whistling. If they would whistle the lights would come down from the skies, chase them and burn their hair. Because of this still today many saami´s test their powers by whistling to the northern lights.
My other articles and vlogs with stories from the north:
Siberian and Eurasian shamanism
Sun and the moon in Saami mythology and folklore
Reindeer in the saami mythology
How stars got in to the sky
Mythmas Northern Lights
Check out my northern lights collection from my Redbubble store.
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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