Unicorns Exist

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The following is an excerpt from the introduction of my recently published book – Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation. This book is a collection of essays, many of which were first published here at Tikkun Daily. Today is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. Our country has experienced two major disasters in the past few weeks – Hurricane Sandy that took children away from their parents and left many people homeless and the horror of the mass killings in Newtown, Connecticut.
I am exhausted from grief.
Yet, this is the season of hope in the midst of the gloom. It is the season when we look into the dark days and know that each day following brings more light. It is the season of the miracles of Hanukkah, of praise and thanksgiving for God’s goodness. It is the season of peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women. It is the season of remembering the Seven Principles of African Community. It is a season that celebrates a New Year and the gifts the wise men brought to the Christ child.
There has also been much discussion about the end of the Mayan calendar. A Mayan spiritual leader explains that this does not portend the end of the world, but it does signal the end of an era. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/dec-21-2012-marks-the-shifting-of-eras-says-mayan-spiritual-leader/2012/12/19/524a068e-4a23-11e2-b6f0-e851e741d196_blog.html) I say let this be the end of the era of violence and war and confusion and fear. I say let this be the beginning of an era of faith, radical love, and peace.
Unicorns are often used to speak about that which does not exist. However, I say that unicorns exist as a symbol of a utopian ideal of a better world that does not require violence. It is a symbol of the moral “ought” that we imagine when the “is” that we see is not moral enough anymore. The unicorn dances upon the horizon of our righteous dreams, and like the future horizon leads us ever on in our moral evolution to be better today than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we are today.
From my book:
Of the Unicorn Tapestries
The unicorn is a fantastical creature. It does not exist in nature. Human beings saw a wild rhinoceros with its single horn and called it a wild ox. Biblical translators translated the wild ox into a unicorn, giving the unicorn eternal life in Holy Scriptures. Later someone saw the spiraled horn of the narwhal, a sea creature, and then placed it onto a white equine animal that is more symbol than substance. The animal became known as an unconquered and unconquerable beast. It could not be defeated by heavenly or earthy powers. It could not be captured by the devil or confined in hell. It was fierce, wild and free. People placed faith in the healing power of the unicorn’s horn. It could dip its horn into poisoned and bitter waters and make them flow fresh and clean. Dead and dangerous waters became living waters. This combination of purity and power became a symbol of love and a symbol for Christ.
Humankind has the capacity for rational thought and the capacity to use symbols to think about symbols of a vision that we can project into the future. Writing about the unicorn and the artistic representations of this fantastical creature helps to make visible an abstract mental image. The unicorn can make visible the hope and the possibility of peace.
In his book The Unicorn Tapestries, Adolfo Salvatore Cavallo writes about the Unicorn Tapestries that hang in the Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Tapestries date back to the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries. They depict allegories of the unicorn. In one story, the unicorn is the lover, hunted by love itself. It is only captured when it surrenders to a maiden. It is captured by purity and love. The bloody wounds of the unicorn are visible, yet it does not die.
In another series of tapestries that hang in Paris at the Musee du Moyen-Age, Cluny, the unicorn is depicted in the company of a woman with other animals and plants. Each tapestry references one of the senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. One references desire.
A powerful series of tapestries depicts the unicorn as Christ. “The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn” recalls the passion of Christ. It is hunted, wounded and killed by humankind. His dead body is thrown over the saddle of a horse and brought back to a castle in much the same way as a stag would have been brought home from the hunt. Again bloodshed is shown as redemptive. Killing is necessary for the sake of a greater purpose. There is no tapestry that explicitly shows the resurrection of the unicorn as a Christ figure although there are intimations of resurrection using pagan symbols of oak and holly (71).
I understand Christ as a title not as a person. It is a designation of an anointing. This, in my opinion, is the anointing of radical love. Christ is the human incarnation of Divine Love. We each ought to strive to become this whether or not we are Christian, whether or not we are even believers. The 21st century unicorn can be a symbol of this vision. It can make visible the human resolve to evolve beyond the notion of blood-shed salvation. Those of us who are Christians believe that Jesus paid it all. There is no more need for blood-shed sacrifice. Murder is never holy. God does not need it or want it. Our work now is to become living sacrifices that will redeem this world through justice and peace. That is the meaning of these essays. Those of other faith traditions can find something in their belief system or in their unbelief system to lead humanity out of the deceptive thinking that a few must die or live with wounded bodies and psyches so that we all may be safe. The 21st century unicorn makes visible the unconquerable human hope for redemption and for the power of radical love to bring healing and peace. I say let the unicorn symbolize the possibility of peace, the possibility of the ethics and the spiritual morality of commensality, of sustenance and joy.