The Unicorn: Scotland’s National Animal

Ancient Mythology and a Modern-Day Website

Many people noticed the logo I chose for my Naughton Translations website, namely the unicorn, and it became a bit of a talking point among fellow translators and others when I first unveiled it. Some people just liked it; others were curious as to whether there was a particular symbolism attached to it; others wondered, why on a professional website, would I choose as a logo something many associate with young children’s toys? Indeed, to believe in unicorns is often disparagingly equated with “believing in the tooth fairy.” The fact that it got noticed and talked about was in many respects a success in itself. As the old adage goes, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about!” However, joking aside, there is indeed great symbolism attached to the unicorn. But first of all, a little context to the website is required.

This is an unapologetically Scottish website. While elsewhere in the UK celebrated leaving the EU, there was a widespread sense of loss in Scotland. There were no celebrations. On the contrary, across the country candle-lit vigils took place; the hashtag #LeaveALightOnForScotland started trending in Twittersphere and countries across the EU are taking notice. It should be remembered as well, that the blue flag with the twelve gold stars is not just the flag of the EU, it is also the flag of the Council of Europe, set up by – amongst others – the UK, after the end of the Second World War, to promote peace and harmony across the continent. This website celebrates the pro-European stance so prevalent in Scotland, hence for example the prominence of the European flag, but also the unapologetically Scottish design, including the unicorn, the national animal in Scottish mythology.

Its roots go back a long way – some say 3000 years or more. They were considered real by the Ancient Greeks, and there are references to it in Persian, Roman and Jewish writing. The existence of creatures such as the rhino did nothing to dispel the imagination and keep the belief in this mythical horse alive. In the first Century AD there are references associating it with a Christ-like purity and exceptional virility. The tail of a lion and its long horn at the centre of its head make it the perfect creature of legends. In Scottish mythology, the unicorn represents a whole plethora of positive traits, notably:

  • Innocence
  • Purity
  • Boldness
  • Pride
  • Healing Powers
  • Joy
  • Intelligence
  • Virility
  • Nurturing Powers

It was believed to be wild and untameable, except by a virgin, whose purity matched its own, or by a king, who had the strength and power to do so. Not even the elephant, believed to be the strongest animal, was said to be a match for the unicorn. It was first adopted by William I in the twelfth century as a symbol of power and incorporated into the royal coat of arms. The unicorn is to be seen everywhere in Scotland, from the gates of the Palace of Holyrood, to the mercat crosses[1] in every town and village, even to the head of the HM Frigate Unicorn, the historical naval ship berthed at Dundee. What better national animal?

1. Market Cross, (in the singular) and the place officially designated to hold weekly street markets.

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