Back in the 1980s, the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus boasted a “real life” Unicorn on its list of attractions. The “Unicorn” was actually a goat named Lancelot, but fuck it—it only had one horn, or it looked that way at least, so it was close enough for most of the paying public. The guy who… well.. MADE Lancelot, I guess, is a guy named Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (no joke), founder of the Church of All Worlds. He and his wife, Morning Glory, made ten Unicorns in the 1980s in an attempt to save the world. This is all totally for real. Seriously.
Hypocritical Ross: So where did you get the idea to create Lancelot and start the Living Unicorn Project?
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart: Well, it started off around 1975 when [my wife] Morning Glory and I got this idea to write a book on the true stories and foundations behind mythical creatures. In the process of our research over the next few years, we came upon the long-lost secret of the Unicorn—that these were actual living animals that had been produced by closely-guarded secret means that were lost and rediscovered several times throughout history. And we learned how it had been done. At that point, we said, “We could do this!” So we gave up on the book, moved to a hippie homesteading community in the mountains of NorCalifia, and began the several-year project of breeding and raising living Unicorns. Lancelot was the first, born on Spring Equinox of 1980. In all, we produced ten of them over the next six years. We named most of them after Knights of the Round Table. Some we kept as our own pets, and others we boarded out. For several years (1980-’84), we toured every Renaissance Faire in North America, and were interviewed and written up in countless newspapers, magazines, radio & TV shows, and even a few books—including the Encyclopedia Britannica. Four of them we leased to Ringling Bros.Barnum & Bailey Circus for a 4-year exhibition tour, where they were the star attraction of the Greatest Show on Earth (1985-’89). The very last one died just over a year ago, at the age of 17.
HR: Where did you discover that unicorns really existed?
OZR: I discovered significant clues in Odell Shephard’s book, The Lore of the Unicorn, where he gave reference to single-horned cattle that were documented to have been produced by the Kafir tribes in Ethiopia. Shephard also referenced a number of what seemed to be very matter-of-fact descriptions and drawings of actual living Unicorns reported in various places by Renaissance-era explorers, including Portuguese explorer Louis Vartoman, who described a pair he saw in the private menagerie of the Sultan of Mecca. Each subsequent appearance is accompanied by a remarkable and recurrent legend, in which they are believed to re-appear on Earth at the darkest hour, and herald the dawn of a new Golden Age…which, in fact, actually occurred each time, from the Golden Age of Greece, through the birth of Confucius, to the European Renaissance. And, of course, now.
HR: Why did you decide to recreate them yourself? What’s the motivation there?
OZR: Firstly, because we realized that we could. And thus, we realized that we must, as it was time again for them to reappear, and we had been given the assignment…
HR: Can you be a little more specific there?
OZR: Well, it was a magick thing. If you’re into magick, Fate, Destiny, prophecies, etc.—which we certainly were at that time!—then something like this landing in your lap could only be seen as a Sign… an Assignment. It was a dark time in the galaxy; the “Nuclear Holocaust” clock was poised at mere minutes to Midnight. And it had been prophesied over and over through the ages that it was at just such times that the Unicorn would appear and bring Hope to a despairing world. How could we have NOT brought them back, being that we were the only people on Earth who knew how? We definitely felt the world needed a touch of magick—and hope—at that moment. And so we decided that it was up to us to do it.
HR: So with the creation of your unicorns now a good 20 years past, would you say you’ve seen any of the changes on Earth that could be attributed to it?
OZR: Well, there has certainly been a significant rise in all things magickal, and an enormous popular interest in Myth, Magick and Mysterie! Dropping real live Unicorns into the pool of the mundane world has definitely started ripples that have become waves—and hopefully will continue to grow into an enormous tsunami! Think of the Harry Potter phenomenon, the revival of interest in (and movies of) Lord of the Rings and Narnia—to say nothing of fantasy literature and films in general. I believe strongly that our returning Unicorns to the world was a harbinger of all this renaissance of classical fantasy. What we heard time after time when people encountered our Unicorns was: “If a real live Unicorn can exist, then anything is possible!” And I believe that this widespread acceptance and popularity of fantasy literature and film has now laid a solid foundation for the return of real magick and true Wizardry, which is where I continue to direct my primary energies, via my books and the Grey School of Wizardry.
HR: So unicorns appeared before the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and… the Harry Potter series?
OZR: Well, obviously, the Harry Potter series is hardly the ultimate fulfillment of the next Renaissance! It too is but a forerunner and harbinger of things to come. But each wave builds upon those that came before, until eventually the rising tide sweeps across the entire world. Look at all the things that led to the Renaissance, but were not yet it: oceanic exploration; new inventions (telescope, compass) and discoveries in science; re-discovery of the writings of ancient Greece and Rome brought back from the Middle East by the Knights Templars and others… But I submit that there was a reason why Harry Potter had to wait ’til the late 1990s to achieve such an astounding popular reception; and why Lord of the Rings and Narnia had to wait so long to become huge hits on the wide screen. The world had to be made ready to receive them by many other smaller shifts… just as they are making the world ready to receive the next waves. And so it builds…
HR: Why does the world need Unicorns?
OZR: Ultimately, the Unicorn is a symbol of Hope—a light in the darkness to herald the coming Dawn. Hope was the last entity left in Pandora’s box after all the ills spilled out—and it is the antidote to all the rest. Without Hope, we are hopeless—in all meanings of the word. And these times have been so discouraging, so dispiriting, in so many ways! No wonder people commit suicide and acts of terrorism; without hope, why not? So I think the best question to be asking everyone is: “What do you hope—for your life, and for the world?” Me, I hope for The Awakening of Human Consciousness (“Enlightenment,” as the Buddha said), and the planetary consciousness of Gaia Herself. I hope for the utter discrediting and demise of the entire monotheistic religio-cultural paradigm, that says: “My way is the only right and true way; and all others are wrong, false, and should be eradicated.” Thus I hope for the end of millennia of oxymoronically-named “holy wars” fought in the name of Yahweh, Christ, Allah, or any other supreme omnipotent one-and-only ruler of the Universe. I hope for the values of “The Common Good” to finally become the paramount consideration in politics. I hope for sanity to come to bear upon our evaluation of national, social, and political priorities—such as combating global warming, developing non-polluting forms of energy, alternatives to timber and forest destruction, saving endangered species, ending whaling forever, universal health care… And I hope for the diversion of our advanced technologies from war to space exploration and colonization. “And they shall beat their missiles into spaceships…”
HR: What’s your take on Pegasus?
OZR: Can you be a bit more specific with your question, perhaps? Pegasus, according to myth, was a unique creature. He sprang from the severed neck of the Gorgon Medusa after Perseus beheaded her. However, similar winged horses were often depicted in art of the Black Sea region. It is believed that the “wings” were actually wing-shaped embroidered saddle blankets with which the Kurgans and later Scythians of the steppes outfitted their horses.
HR: Who do you think would win in a fight between Pegasus and a unicorn?
OZR: What an odd question! A fight? Why would they fight? Neither is a predator, and they are different species, so it certainly wouldn’t be a male dominance competition for a mate or territory. That’s like saying who would win a fight between a horse and an elk. What fight? They’d just graze peacefully next to each other.
HR: Hypothetically, though. Like if they were both enraged, or it was a cage match of some kind, who would win?
OZR: Nothing in the legends indicates that Pegasus ever fought with anyone or anything. Unicorns, on the order hand, were noted in all the stories as being ferocious fighters—particularly against lions. Ours were stunningly effective against dogs, coyotes, and even a wolf that a friend had. They would just hold their ground until the opponent came within range, and then use their horn exactly like a sword in the hands of an expert fencer.
HR: Yeah, I kinda figured that unicorns have the deadly horn, but Pegasus can fly, you know?
OZR: Well, flying can take him away from danger. Running (or in this case flying) away is always the first choice for a horse! Besides, when a horse fights in self-defense, it instinctively rears up on its hind legs, thus exposing its most vulnerable underbelly to an opponent with a sword! A lot like dragons, actually…
HR: But if it was a cage match there would be no escape! Let’s say hypothetically the top of the cage was low enough that Pegasus could fly, but not quite high enough to escape the very tip of the unicorn’s horn. Would the Pegasus have any method of counterattack, or would he just fly around the top of the cage and slowly bleed to death?
OZR: This is about the weirdest question I have ever heard—why on Earth are you pursuing this? What’s the point? Are you trying to design a game here, or what? Are we gonna next try and determine the battle prowess of Mermaids vs. Faeries? Unicorns and Pegasus are not about battles and conflict—they are about dreams, hopes, and magick. Sweetness and light. I cannot think of any reason why Pegasus would want to fight with a Unicorn, even if they were in the same cage together. They are not natural enemies, or naturally aggressive, but peaceful grazers. Think of life on a farm. Do the horses fight with the cows, sheep or goats? Of course not! Not even if they are penned together.
HR: It’s not a matter of whether they would ever actually fight each other. It’s more just a hypothetical situation… like say, for instance, that somebody organized a Pegasus vs. Unicorn fight, and it was held in cage where neither could escape. Let’s say their owners had bred them to be very aggressive and then provoked them to fight. Now let’s also say – hypothetically – that I were to gamble on this match. Who should I put my money on?
OZR: Compare the respective sizes/weights of the animals. If they are somewhere in the same ballpark, the Unicorn would win every time, even if it’s somewhat smaller, as it has superior weaponry (though obviously, the longer the horn, the more advantage the Unicorn has). But the greater the disparity in size, the more the balance shifts unequivocally in favor of the larger animal. A taurine Unicorn would be more than a match for even a Clydesdale Pegasus! I don’t see that flight would give Pegasus much advantage in a fight–other than to fly away. After all, he would have no talons or sharp beak, like an eagle. All he would have to fight with is slashing hooves, which are of limited use in the air…and his belly would be more exposed. And Unicorns routinely fight rearing up on their hind legs. So size being equal, it’s a bit like pitting a flying kick-boxer against a swordsman.
HR: What if the unicorn was REALLY small but Pegasus was totally huge? Couldn’t Pegasus just smash the unicorn with his hoof?
OZR: Sure. Whatever.