The Alchemist’s Unicorn

Unicorn – the masculine, penetrating aspect of *Mercurius, the mercurial spirit. The third emblem in The Book of Lambspring shows the unicorn and deer in a forest. The accompanying text identifies the unicorn as the spirit, the deer (*cervus fugitives) as the soul, and the forest (i.e. dark place) as the body of the Stone. It advises the alchemist to ‘snare and capture… tame and master’ the unicorn and the deer ‘by Art,/To couple them together / And to lead them in and out of the forest’ (HM,1:280). Here the author is referring to the *distillation and *sublimation of the matter in the alembic, a process which leads to the second union of soul and spirit in the *chemical wedding.

The unicorn also appears in the an emblem in Johann Mylius’s Philosophia Reformata (316, 365), and in Andreae’s The Chymical Wedding, where Christian, in the company of ‘our Virgin’, witnesses the ‘snow-white Unicorn with a golden coller’ bowing down before a *lion standing on a fountain (73). In this set of images the fountain contains the mercurial waters and the Virgin represents the receptive feminine aspect of Mercurius. Jung argues that the unicorn and the lion on eiter side of the lady in the sixteenth-century tapestry La Dame à la Licorne (Musée de Cluny, Paris) represent the opposing qualities of Mercurius in the chemical wedding (PA, 463-4).


Source: Abraham, L. A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge University Press 1998