By Rachael Funk
Scotland: a land of breathtaking beauty, powerful lineage, and delicious shortbread. This mighty country is a treasure trove of proud history and trip-worthy adventure. Many people who are not familiar with the country’s antiquity may be surprised to find out that the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. Though it may seem like an odd choice at face value, here are some reasons why choosing a unicorn was actually a bold and rebellious choice.
In Celtic mythology, unicorns symbolize unity, purity, courage, and strength. They are celebrated as healers, are thought to possess magical properties in their horns, and are considered one of the only animals powerful enough to defeat formidable opponents, such as elephants, in battle.
Legend claims only virgins could capture and tame a unicorn, and those who are lucky enough to touch one will know happiness and joy for the rest of their lives. Though in the stories, unicorns are powerful in their own right, some people believe the selection was made based on symbolism even older than the Celtic mythology.
Lore dating back to the ancient Babylonians said that unicorns were the natural enemy of lions - a symbol English royals had taken up centuries prior.
For hundreds of years, the Scottish royal coat of arms featured two unicorns protecting the shield. When England and Scotland united in 1707, one of the unicorns was replaced with a lion. Today, the United Kingdom’s coat of arms features a lion on the left side of the shield and a unicorn on the right side.
Conversely, Scotland’s royal coat of arms showcases a unicorn on the left and a lion on the right. If you look closely at the unicorn, you will notice a crown around the unicorn’s neck as well as golden chains draped around the unicorn’s body, connected to the crown.
Some say the chains are representative of the unicorn’s strength, temperament, and determination, while others refer to mythology that says free unicorns are dangerous animals.
Despite modern American depictions of unicorns as rainbow casting, cloud hopping pacifists, Scotland knows better. Still holding their centuries-old symbolism close to heart, the choice of the national animal makes much more sense once given some context. Though Scotland’s royal coat of arms may have seen some changes, their identification with this mythical creature remains steadfast, with messages of virtue and strength holding strong centuries after its selection.