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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

unicorn A mythical animal resembling a small horse with a beardlike appendage and a long, spiral, tapering horn (known as an alicorn) projecting from the forehead. The only person who can tame a unicorn, it is said, is a virgin. A virgin is recommended as necessary for capturing the beast. None of the beasts has been captured.
      The Chinese have long recognized this beast in their mythology. They refer to it as ch'i-lin, which translates as “male-female.” The earliest Greek reference to a unicorn (by Ctesias) is in 400 B.C. and may have actually referred to the Indian rhinoceros. It is described there as having the legs of a buck deer, the head and body of a horse, and the tail of a lion. The horn is said to be white at the base, black in the middle, and red at the tip. Its body is white, the head red, and the eyes blue. This description was largely ignored and an all-white beast became accepted as typical.
      In early Greek writings on animal husbandry there is a description of the process whereby horn buds of a goat kid are extracted and one of them is implanted at the center of the forehead. This produces in the mature goat the appearance of a small unicorn. The simple operation has also been done, first in 1933, with an Ayrshire calf. Since then, angora goats thus modified have been offered for sale as novelties.
      Powdered unicorn horn was said to neutralize poisons and cure dropsy, epilepsy, gout and many other ailments, and it was sold for those purposes by early apothecaries. The substance thus offered was probably narwhal horn, actually a form of specialized tooth growing from the mouth of the male narwhal, a small whale that is found in Arctic waters. (Incredibly, a powdered horn substance is still available in oriental pharmacies in the form of rhinoceros horn, which is extolled as an aphrodisiac. This is yet another fallacy that shows clearly the manner in which ignorance and greed by humans are destroying the assets of our planet, in this case leading inexorably to the extinction of the white rhinoceros.)
      The demon Amduscias, Grand Duke of Hades, is said to have the form of a unicorn.

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