The Unicorn in the Stars: this week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Feb 3, 2019

Unicorn statue, Linlithgow Palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots was born, 1542, two centuries before the unicorn constellation was created

We're halfway through the Winter now, but if the cold of the season has you down, then it's time to lift your spirits with a hunt for the unicorn ~ in the stars!

The constellation of the unicorn is known as Monoceros, and though it is made up of faint stars, you can still find it mounting to its highest place right now, straddling the Milky Way while it frolics in the company of some of our brightest stars. This is in keeping with its legendary status as a symbol of undivivded sovereign power and its role as guardian of the Tree of Life.

Looking south toward Orion, use his tell-tale belt of three stars as pointers to the brightest star, Sirius. Just above Sirius is the bright star Procyon; and to the right of Procyon, you'll see the star Betelgeuse, a red super giant, and one of the largest-known stars in our sky.

These three stars form an equilateral triangle around the constellation region of the mythic unicorn, Monoceros.

Monoceros was not a member of the original 48 constellations noted by ancient astronomy Cladius Ptolemy, though there are records of unicorns in Mesopotamian art, and in the annals of ancient Indian and Chinese lore. The starry unicorn was only created in the 17th century by Pterus Plancius, based on observations by Dutch navigators.

Belief in unicorns soared in the mid-1700s, but a few centuries earlier, the unicorn was used as a heraldic device by Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed this week on February 8 in 1587, as the stars that would later become known as the unicorn were mounting to their highest place in the sky.

Here's a poem from Anne Morrow Lindburgh, as an antidote for the mid-winter blues: Everything today is heavy and brown, bring me a unicorn to ride about the town.