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Unicorn Symbolism in The Witcher Storyworld
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Unicorn Symbolism in The Witcher Storyworld

Abstract: This paper focuses on religious symbolism and medieval unicorn discourses involved in The Witcher storyworld. Ciri’s connection to the unicorns and her virginity in relation to mariology will be analysed. In The Witcher games, however, the unicorn is more of a running gag and is mostly referenced as a sex toy. Reception of medieval discourses pervade Andrzej Sapkowski’s work. A comparative reading how The Witcher games and books handle unicorn motifs in their respective narratives will be conducted.

Dieser Aufsatz untersucht religiöse Symbolik und Wissen über Einhörner im Mittelalter und ihre Rezeption in der Witcher Storyworld, insbesondere Ciris Verbindung zur den Einhörnern, Maria und ihre Jungfräulichkeit. Die Rezeption mittelalterlicher Diskurse in den Werken Andrzej Sapkowskis ist allgegenwärtig. Die Analyse vergleicht Einhornmotive im Spiel ,,The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” und in den Witcher-Büchern.

Introduction

Unicorns play an important role throughout The Witcher storyworld: A unicorn serves as Ciri‘s guide between worlds. Yennefer and Geralt are also connected to unicorns: They like to have sex on a stuffed unicorn’s back. This paper will focus on religious symbolism and medieval unicorn discourses involved in The Witcher storyworld.1cf. Ryan; Thon: Storyworlds across Media. 2014, p. 3. Ciri’s connection to the unicorns and especially her virginity in relation to mariology will be adressed as well. Further biblical symbolism will be discussed in the Falka-desert episode in Time of Contempt2Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013. . Another important unicorn episode occurs at the end of The Lady of the Lake3Sapkowski: Lady of the Lake. 2017. when Yennefer and Geralt, with Ciri’s help, transition to another world.  The paper will explore the abundant unicorn symbolism in the books and compare it to unicorn scenes in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt4CD Projekt Red: The Witcher 3. 2015. and ultimately answer the question why Geralt and Yennefer have sex on a stuffed unicorn.

Unicorns in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: “a place less suitable for having sex”5Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, pp. 102-203.

Unicorns appear three times in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: In the DLC Blood & Wine6CD Projekt Red: Blood & Wine. 2016., during the Hunt of the Hare in the courtly diversions at Touissant in the quest line “The Beast of Toussaint“, Geralt encounters a white horse with a fake horn which he attracts using carrots. The horn contains a clue necessary for the game to continue.

In the quest “Land of a Thousand Fables”, an over the top and highly intertextual fairy tale world entered through a book, Geralt and Syanna ride on two unicorns. Syanna, taking the pink unicorn, exclaims happily that it reminds her of her childhood. Geralt however, in his typical laconic way, mumbles, “Reminds me of something altogether different.” What exactly does the unicorn remind him of?

In The Witcher 3, the unicorn is, first and foremost, a sex toy. After completing the quest “The King is Dead – Long Live the King”, Yennefer and Geralt return home to Skellige to make love on a stuffed unicorn. “So many memories“, Yennefer says when they mount the unicorn, indicating that this is a frequent occurrence. Yennefer admonishes Geralt when he damages the unicorn “Do you have any idea how much they cost?”, insinuating the posession of a stuffed unicorn as rare, expensive and extravagant. In order to understand the allusion in “Land of a Thousand Fables”, one needs their usage of the unicorn as a sex toy for context. Yennefer likes extravagant clothes, perfumes and makeup, as described in Sword of Destiny:

The collection made no impression on Geralt, who had lived with Yennefer in Vengerberg for six months, and Yennefer had a yet more fascinating collection, even including a phallus of exceptional proportions, allegedly that of a mountain troll. She also possessed a very expertly stuffed unicorn, on whose back she liked to make love. Geralt was of the opinion that if there existed a place less suitable for having sex it was probably only the back of a live unicorn. Unlike him, who considered his bed a luxury and valued all the possible uses of that marvellous piece of furniture, Yennefer was capable of being extremely extravagant. Geralt recalled some pleasant moments spent with the sorceress on a sloping roof, in a tree hollow full of rotten wood, on a balcony (someone else’s, to boot), on the railing of a bridge, in a wobbly boat on a rushing river and levitating thirty fathoms above the earth. But the unicorn was the worst. One happy day, however, the dummy broke beneath him, split and fell apart, supplying much amusement.7Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, pp. 102-103.

This scene backs the argument that Yennefer considers making love on a unicorn as extravagant. The text further introduces Geralt’s notion: “[…] if there existed a place less suitable for having sex it was probably only the back of a live unicorn.”8Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, p. 102. This indicates that he considers the unicorn as an unsuitable place for making love and thus taps into the unicorn lore which Sapkowski is very aware of: The unicorn, in medieval symbolism as well as in the Witcher books, is a mythical creature associated with purity, virginity and celibacy. The following analysis of unicorn symbolism in the books will illustrate that Yennefer enjoys this, but the deeper meaning is quite sophisticated when the texts are viewed intertextually from a medievalist’s perspective.

Medieval Unicorn Symbolism and Intertextuality

As I have pointed out in a previous talk9van Beek: The Warble of a Smitten Knight. 2020, p. 4. https://issuu.com/theuniversityofwinchester/docs/final_mamg20_threads?fr=sNjMwNjE4NzgwMzQ [27.07.2021], Sapkowski’s fiction is highly intertextual. The focus of this paper is to outline the reception of medieval unicorn lore and to interpret the significance of the unicorn symbolism in regard to the main characters Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri. One such obvious reception is the introductory quote to chapter six in Time of Contempt:

“The behaviour of the unicorn is greatly mystifying. Although exceptionally timid and fearful of people, if it should chance upon a maiden who has not had carnal relations with a man it will at once run to her, kneel before her and, without any fear whatsoever, lay its head in her lap. It is said that in the dim and distant past there were maidens who made a veritable practice of this. They remained unmarried and in abstinence for many years in order to be employed by hunters as a lure for unicorns. It soon transpired, however, that the unicorn only approached youthful maidens, paying absolutely no attention to older ones. Being a wise creature, the unicorn indubitably knows that remaining too long in the state of maidenhood is suspicious and counter to the natural order.”10Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, pp. 254-255.

The entry for the unicorn in a book called “Physiologus” is a direct reception of the medieval Physiologus and bestiary traditions.11Ciri even reads the book when she is bored: “The book bore the title Physiologus and was very old and very tattered. Ciri carefully opened the cover and turned several pages. The book immediately caught her interest, since it concerned mysterious monsters and beasts and was full of illustrations.“ (Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 56.) In the tradition of the Middle Ages, the unicorn manifests itself particularly in its allegorical connection to Mary and Jesus.12Beer: Einhorn. 1972, pp. 194-215.  The Physiologus, a medieval didactic text which interprets animals through the prism of Christian theology, describes the unicorn as follows:

It is a small animal and looks like a young goat. It is very bold and angry and has only one horn on its head, close to the ears. Only those who possess the following cunning are able to catch it: One must select a virgin and lead her to the place where the unicorn eagerly searches for food. The pure virgin is to be left alone there. When the unicorn sees it, it leaps onto her lap and then falls asleep. That is how it is caught. Then you may lead it in the pageant to the palace of the king. Thus did our Lord, the saviour Christ, whom in a spiritual sense the unicorn represents.13Schröder: Der Millstätter Physiologus. 2005, p. 75.

In this allegorical Christian interpretation, Jesus Christ is equated with the unicorn: The Virgin Mary receives him by divine grace. The taming of the unicorn therefore represents the conception of Christ.14Weitbrecht: “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 51.

Associated with this is the motif of the unicorn hunt, which is documented from the 15th century onwards.15Beer: Einhorn. 1972, p. 103. The Virgin Mary sits in an enclosed garden. The hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden in the Song of Songs, also means her lap.16Weitbrecht: “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 52. The Archangel Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus. Gabriel appears as a hunter. He drives the unicorn into the garden or onto the virgin’s lap. The unicorn hunt symbolises the conception and martyrdom of Christ as well as the fall of man.17Weitbrecht: “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 54. The unicorn is also occasionally associated with other holy women in the Middle Ages, especially when their virginity is being emphasised.18Beer: Einhorn. 1972, p. 100. After the Reformation, the unicorn lived on as a symbol of virtue, especially for women.

Sapkowski’s reception in the Physiologus-version in the Witcher storyworld is a humorous take on the motif of virginity being associated with the unicorn and virgins being used to capture them. This passage also pokes fun at the trope: “the unicorn only approached youthful maidens, paying absolutely no attention to older ones. Being a wise creature, the unicorn indubitably knows that remaining too long in the state of maidenhood is suspicious and counter to the natural order.”19Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 255. According to the Witcher-Physiologus and the smart world-wise unicorns, celibacy is not a natural state.

Time of Contempt: I walked through the desert with a horse with no name

The first time Ciri encounters a unicorn in Time of Contempt, she is in a critical moment in her development. After escaping Thanedd Island through an unstable portal and abandoning her prospective training as a sorceress, Ciri wakes up in a desert. She barely manages to survive with the help of an unlikely ally: A unicorn.

The horse snorted and took a few steps towards her. Now she could see it better. Well enough to notice, in addition to its uncharacteristic coat colour, the strange peculiarities in its build: the small head, the extremely slender neck, the very thin pasterns and the long, thick tail. The horse stood and looked at her, holding its muzzle in profile. Ciri let out a quiet sigh. A horn, at least two spans long, protruded from the horse’s domed forehead. An impossible impossibility, thought Ciri, coming to her senses and gathering her thoughts. There are no unicorns in the world; they’ve died out. There wasn’t even a unicorn in the witcher’s tome in Kaer Morhen! I’ve only read about them in The Book of Myths in the temple… Oh, and there was an illustration of a unicorn in that Physiologus I looked through in Mr Giancardi’s bank . . . But the unicorn in that illustration was more like a goat than a horse. It had shaggy fetlocks and a goat’s beard, and its horn must have been two ells long . . .20Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, pp. 269-270.

When Ciri encounters the unicorn, the universal knowledge mentioned before is accessed. Ciri wants to attract the unicorn and asserts her own virginity, but the unicorn is shy and does not approach her.

Ciri suddenly recalled what the books had said about unicorns. ‘Please come closer…’ she croaked, trying to sit up. “You may, because I am . . .” The unicorn snorted, leapt backwards and galloped away, waving its tail vigorously. But after a moment it stopped, tossed its head, pawed the ground with a hoof and whinnied loudly. “That’s not true!” she whined in despair. “Jarre only kissed me once and that doesn’t count! Come back!”21Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 270.

Ciri and the unicorn help each other to survive, pointing out insects, eggs and liquids to consume: “It was, it turned out, quite an effective collaboration.”22Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 273. She dubs the unicorn ‘Little Horse’ and muses that he might be too young to understand the proper behaviour of unicorns: laying his head in her lap.

Little Horse grew cross and walked away, remaining aloof. He refused to behave in the classical way, as described in the learned books; he clearly did not have the slightest intention of resting his head in her lap. Ciri was full of doubts. She even wondered if the books were lying about unicorns and virgins, but there was also another possibility. The unicorn was clearly a foal and, as a young animal, may not have known anything about virgins. She rejected the possibility of Little Horse being able to sense, or take seriously, those few strange dreams she once had. Who would ever take dreams seriously?23Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 273.

Together, they defeat a dangerous sand creature, but Little Horse is injured during the fight. Being unable to heal him, Ciri resorts to drawing magic from fire, even though she has been warned about it. “Magic is everywhere. It’s in water, in the earth, in the air . . . And in fire.”24Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 280.

Using magic arouses Ciri – magic in the Witcher storyworld is a decidedly female phenomenon. Yennefer, Ciri’s mother figure, sacrificed her ability to bear children for being beautiful in a magic ritual. Ciri experiences arousal and “horrifying pleasure”25Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 280. when she summons the fire magic in the desert. Also, the feminine aspect of Ciri’s transition is further emphasized: when Ciri lands in the desert, she wears a “sterilised tampon made from linen fabric”26Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 259. as sun protection: “She unpacked and unfurled the tampon, making a wide headband from it to protect her injured temple and sunburnt forehead”27Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 259..

While drawing this primal magic to heal Little Horse, Ciri experiences a vision of a dark haired woman who is identified as Falka. Falka is known in the Witcher Storyworld as a famous rebel who went mad and was sentenced to death after killing her family.28n.d.: Falka. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Falka> [27.07.2021]. Riannon, who nursed Falka’s daughter, is Ciri’s forebear (n.d.: Riannon. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Riannon> [27.07.2021]). The vision urges Ciri to avenge her misery and use her power: “Hold them in contempt, for at last the time of contempt is here! Contempt, revenge and death! Death to the entire world! Death, destruction and blood!”29Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, pp. 282- 283.  After Little Horse is healed, Ciri rejects the power that threatens to overtake her.

Little Horse’s unicorn family or herd is being attracted by the burst of magic and can be seen beyond the fire wall surrounding Ciri:

Fire surrounded her, and beyond the wall of flames was a furious neighing. Unicorns were rearing, shaking their heads and dashing their hooves against the ground. Their manes were like tattered battle flags, their horns were as long and sharp as swords. The unicorns were huge, as huge as warhorses, much bigger than her Little Horse.30Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 283.

After Ciri collapses, the following conversation between the unicorns is witnessed:

The being should be divested of its beingness. It cannot be allowed to exist. The being is dangerous. Confirmation?

Negative. The being did not summon the Power for itself. It did it to save Ihuarraquax. The being feels sympathy. Thanks to the being, Ihuarraquax is once more among us.

But the being has the Power. Should it wish to make use of it…

It will not be able to use it. Never. It relinquished it. It relinquished the Power. Utterly. The Power disappeared. It is most curious…

We will never understand these beings.

We do not need to understand them! We will remove existence from the being. Before it is too late. Confirmation?

Negative. Let us leave this place. Let us leave the being. Let us leave it to its fate.31Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 284.

More information can be gained by overhearing the unicorn’s telepathic conversation. Little Horse’s real name is ‘Ihuarraquax’. The unicorns are thankful to Ciri for saving him. But they also sense a danger in Ciri: they decide against killing her and leave her to her fate. Ciri’s vision of Falka also introduces Ciri’s true heritage as the last descendant of the Elder Blood through the vision of Falka.32The relationship of Riannon and Falka is complex: “While in prison, Riannon gave birth to a set of twins and then went mad. Around the same time, Falka also gave birth and left her newborn in the hands of the deranged prisoner. Not long after, the rebellion was quelled and Falka was tried and condemned to die by burning on a stake. According to legend, Falka cursed all the people present and promised that they and their progeny would suffer in the hands of a child bearing her blood.” (n.d.: Falka. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Falka> [27.07.2021]. Riannon: “When the rebellion was quelled, Riannon returned to her husband, but with three children in tow. Due to her insanity, Riannon was unable to tell which one of the children was not hers and, when she finally did recover, she couldn’t remember much that’d happened during her imprisonment. Despite this, Goidemar and Riannon eventually raised the three as their own. However, roughly 18 years later, she died at 38 years old, believed to have been overcome with grief after the death of two of her children, Amavet and Adela, within a year’s time.“ (n.d.: Riannon. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Riannon> [27.07.2021])

“The time of contempt and revenge is come! You have the power! You are mighty! Let the whole world cower before thee! Let the whole world cower before the Elder Blood!”  […] “An avenger will be born of my blood,” she cried. “From my tainted Elder Blood will be born the avenger of the nations and of the world! He will avenge my torment! Death, death and vengeance to all of you and your kin!”33Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 283-288.

The desert episode is a pivotal moment in the uncovering of Ciri’s identity as a carrier of the Elder Blood, whose properties will be explained in the next section of the paper. Her encounter in the desert triggers a process of transformation from a sorceress-in-training, rejecting magic and starting a new life after this experience in the desert. Another biblical inspiration comes into play here. I suggest the biblical desert episode of Moses and the burning bush as a parallel (Exodus 3). Ciri is traversing the desert leaving one unsuitable life and entering another and experiences a life-changing vision in the fire.

After this episode in the desert, Ciri subsequently assumes the identity of Falka and joins a gang of robbers, the Rats. Her beginning transformation is accompanied by the unicorns, who, apparently, can move through space and appear in the desert to save one of their own. This foreshadows her exploration of her true identity: Ciri will turn out to be Master of Time and Space later in the books and have another encounter with the unicorns.

‘I’m lost in this tangle of genetics and genealogy.’34Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p. 270. – The Elder Blood

Ciri embodies several mariological parallels which tie into the omnipresent unicorn symbolism. However, this requires a little genealogy upfront and an explanation of the qualities of the Elder Blood. Ciri is descended from Lara Dorren aep Shiadhal, an elf who fell in love with a human mage. Their daughter, Riannon, gave birth to the twins Amavet, Adela and adopted Fiona. Fiona survived and produced offspring which ultimately leads to Ciri being a carrier of “the Lara gene“. The descendants of Lara Dorren, which include Ciri, carry “Hen Ichaer, the Elder Blood. Genetic material determining the carrier’s uncommon abilities.”35Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p. 263. Ciri is magically gifted and will discover this during the course of the narrative. The witches discuss her role in the world in Baptism of Fire:

“A girl with exceptional magical and prophetic abilities, a carrier of the Elder Blood as the prophecies have heralded. A girl who will play her role with great aplomb without direction, prompt, sycophants or grey eminences, because that is what her destiny demands. A girl, whose true abilities are and will be known only to us: Cirilla, daughter of Princess Pavetta of Cintra, the granddaughter of the Queen Calanthe called the Lioness of Cintra. The Elder Blood, the Icy Flame of the North, the Destroyer and Restorer, whose coming was prophesied centuries ago. Ciri of Cintra, the Queen of the North. And her blood, from which will be born the Queen of the World.”36Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p. 257.

Ciri’s child is prophesied to rule the world by Ithlinne.37Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p.239; p. 284.This is a mariological analogy, since the Virgin Mary was also prophesied by the Archangel Gabriel that her child would rule the world.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.38Holy Bible: New International Version. 2011, Luke 1,26-33. <https://www.biblegateway.com> [27.07.2021]

The parallel of Mary and Ciri becoming the mothers of the next messiahs is obvious. It is interesting to note that the witches assume the child’s gender will be female, relating to the magical feminism mentioned earlier. The second analogy relates to virginal conception.

‚Like a virgin‘ – Mariological analogies

Ciri is sexually active and embarks on a long-term lesbian relationship with fellow robber Mistle. They have sex but it remains nonpenetrative.39Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 324. Later, Ciri attempts intercourse with a dying knight, but he dies before they can complete the deed. Ciri is still a virgin when various men try to impregnate her, the Alder King and Vilgefortz being discussed here. The sorcerer Vilgefortz finally manages to capture Ciri in the end. Before Ciri is being rescued by Geralt, Yennefer and others, the wizard explains he is planning to artificially impregnate her.

“And now the most important thing.” Vilgefortz savoured what he was saying. “It may worry you, or it may gratify you, but know that you won’t give birth to the infant. Who knows, perhaps it would also have been a great chosen one with extraordinary abilities, the saviour of the world and the king of nations? No one, however, is able to guarantee that, and I, furthermore, have no intention of waiting that long. I need blood. More precisely, placental blood. As soon as the placenta develops I shall remove it from you. The rest of my plans and intentions, my splendid one, will not, as you now comprehend, concern you, so there’s no point informing you about them, it would only be an unnecessary frustration.”40Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, pp. 347-248.

This way Vilgefortz plans to get the Elder Blood in order to rule himself, transferring that power to him.41Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 364. This intended abortion to get at the power himself is quite a dark turn on immaculate conception, but Ciri would still remain a virgin and thus the mariological parallels uphold.

Ciri escapes many enemies who “struggle to capture her and gain access to the magic which has long been lost to the world”42Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzycka: On Alien Alders.2012, p. 193., but „she achieves it [the escape, AvB] at the price of being moved to a different world”43Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzycka: On Alien Alders.2012, p. 194.. This world is still inhabited by elves (the Alder people) and ruled by Auberon, the Alder King. 44For intertextual relations to Goethe’s Erlkönig see Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzyck: On Alien Alders. 2012. When Ciri enters the realm, Auberon (Lara Dorrens father) fails to impregnate her despite using fisstech as a stimulant to act against age and impotency45Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 89. and dies before they achieve successful intercourse. Ciri manages to escape this forced impregnation: “Unicorns, natural guardians of time and space”46Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzycka: On Alien Alders.2012, p. 194. help her to access her latent power and make a jump to another world.

This scene requires a detailed analysis since it presents a plethora of unicorn motifs. A herd of at least 30 unicorns live in the Alder World. They communicate with Ciri telepathically.47Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, pp. 161-162. The unicorns do not approve of the Alder people, because they committed genocide, which allowed them to settle in this world.48Or, as Avallach puts it: ‘I heard,’ she went on, ‘that elves and unicorns loved one another.’ He turned his head. ‘Then accept,’ he said coldly, ‘that what you saw was a lovers’ tiff.’ (Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p.161). In addition, they disapprove of Ciri being abused for her talents:49“You are a dangerous weapon, a fell weapon. We can’t allow that weapon to fall into the hands of the Alder King, the Fox or the Sparrowhawk” (Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p.195). Cf. also Sapkowski: The Lady of The Lake. 2017, p. 201: “Sparrowhawk. This world was not their world at all. It became their world. After they had conquered it“ When Ciri tries to escape this world on her mare Kelpie but doesn’t know how, the second encounter with the unicorn she saved in the desert ensues.

Suddenly something touched her back. Something sharp, something that penetrated her clothing and pricked painfully. She didn’t have time to turn around. Then a ruddy-coloured unicorn emerged from behind the rocks without the slightest noise and thrust its horn under her arm. Hard. Roughly. She felt a trickle of blood running down her side. Yet another unicorn emerged from the other side. This one was completely white, from the tips of its ears to the end of its tail. Only its nostrils were pink, and its eyes were black. The white unicorn approached. And slowly, very slowly, placed its head in her lap. The excitement was so powerful Ciri moaned. I’ve grown, resounded in her head. I’ve grown, Star-Eye. Back then, in the desert, I didn’t know how to behave. Now I know. “Little Horse?” she moaned, still almost hanging from the two horns piercing her. My name is Ihuarraquax. Do you remember me, Star-Eye? Do you remember treating me? Saving me?50Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194.

Ciri is approached by three unicorns, the number of the Holy Trinity. One Unicorn on each side, she is being pinned in place while a third unicorn (Ihuarraquax / Little Horse) lays his head into her lap. In the desert, Ciri wondered why the unicorn wouldn’t approach her. “I didn’t know how to behave. Now I know,”51Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194. Little Horse voices. Her position resembles the crucifixion of Christ. The penetration of the ruddy unicorn’s horn in her side represents an intersection of mariological symbolism and the crucifixion: “She felt a trickle of blood running down her side.”52Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194. On the one hand, the horn is being thrust into Ciri “Hard. Roughly”53Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194., and the resulting trickle of blood is reminiscent of hymen blood. On the other hand, the thrusting of its horn under her arm evokes the Lance of Longinus penetrating Jesus Christ in the side. A third unicorn – Ihuarraquax – approaches and places his head in her lap. “The excitement was so powerful Ciri moaned.“54Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194. Again, as before in the desert, a sexual element is being introduced. The virginal conception of Christ is associated with this tableau. Virgin Mary and the hortus conclusus, also meaning her lap55Weitbrecht: Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 52., are being evoked. Ciri does not conceive a child, but the unicorns enable her to come into her own heritage and access her power.

“I can’t leave here. They’ve put a spell on me. A barrier. Geas Garadh . . .” You cannot be imprisoned. You are now Master of the Worlds. “Like hell. I don’t have any natural talent, I can’t control anything. And I relinquished the Power in the desert, a year ago. Little Horse was a witness.” “In the desert you relinquished conjuring. The Power you have in your blood cannot be relinquished. You still have it. We shall teach you how to use it.” 56Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 196.

Leap, Star-Eye. You must leap. Into another place, into another time.57Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 203.

The intersection of mariological and crucifixion symbolism is potent and can be assumed as a pretext of the well-read author.58See Abercrombie; Sapkowski: Conversations. 2020: „I had some education and life experience and I’d read plenty of books, many about medieval history.“ By becoming Master of Time and Space, Ciri assumes her position as the savior herself. Unicorns travel between worlds and teach her how to use her latent power, the heritage of the Elder Blood manifesting in the magical talent, hitting many unicorn tropes and being highly intertextual to other story worlds such as the Erlkönig or the Arthurian cycles.

“Go then, there are other worlds than these.”  – Stuffed Unicorns and Death

Finally, the paper’s original question can be answered: Why do Yennefer and Geralt fornicate on a stuffed unicorn? It is not just the juxtaposition of virginity purity vs. sexual defilement, as Geralt‘s remarks initially “[…] if there existed a place less suitable for having sex it was probably only the back of a live unicorn.”59Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, p. 102. , and not just the extravagance mentioned in connection to Yennefer liking expensive things. After examining the way Ciri’s fate and identity are intertwined with unicorns as her guides and how they symbolically connected to her, I offer the following thesis: the unicorn is a symbol for Ciri. Yennefer and Geralt are both infertile. They sacrificed their abilities to procreate to gain their respective powers: Geralt underwent the ‘Trial of the Grasses’ and Yennefer modified her appearance with a magical procedure. In the Witcher storyworld, they assume the role of foster parents for Ciri. She regards them both as her parents of choice and of fate: She is Geralt’s Child of Surprise. Sex on the stuffed unicorn is not just Yennefer’s extravagant fetish, but a symbol for Ciri herself, having a plethora of unicorn symbolism attached to her and her character development. Their inability to conceive is being represented by the stuffed (and so quite dead) unicorn. Ultimately, this also foreshadows the characters’ deaths. After the riot in Rivia at the end of The Lady of the Lake, it becomes apparent that Geralt will die from his injuries and neither Ciri, Triss nor Yennefer can help him. Ciri regrets renouncing her powers in the desert.60Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 514.

A white unicorn emerged from the fog, running very lightly, ethereally and noiselessly, gracefully raising its shapely head. There actually wasn’t anything unusual in that – everybody knew the legends, and they were unanimous about unicorns running very lightly, ethereally and noiselessly and raising their heads with characteristic grace. If anything was strange it was that the unicorn was running over the surface of the water and the water wasn’t even rippling. […] „Ihuarraquax,“ said Ciri. “I’d hoped you’d come.“61Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 525.

In her moment of need, her unicorn companion appears to come to her aid. The walking over water without disturbing also has a religious note, as it evokes Jesus walking on water in the New Testament.

The unicorn came closer, neighed again, tapped with a hoof and then struck the cobbles hard. He bent his head. The horn sticking out of his domed forehead suddenly lit up with a bright glare, a brilliance that dispersed the fog for a moment. Ciri touched the horn. Triss cried out softly, seeing the girl’s eyes suddenly lighting up with a milky glow, saw her surrounded by a fiery halo. Ciri couldn’t hear her, couldn’t hear anyone. She was still holding the unicorn’s horn in one hand, and pointed the other towards the motionless Witcher. A ribbon of flickering brightness that glowed like lava flowed from her fingers. No one could tell how long it lasted. Because it was unreal. Like a dream.62Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, pp. 525-526.

Ihuarraquax lends Ciri magical power to heal the Witcher. She is holding the unicorn’s horn in her hand, which acts as a kind of rod to transfer power. This evokes iconographical depictions of the Virgin Mary holding the unicorn’s horn e.g. in the medieval hortus conclusus motif mentioned above. Ciri wants to save her foster father. But Unicorns are Masters of Time and Space, as is Ciri: When Ihuarraquax indicates that the attempt to heal Geralt is fruitless, Ciri transports her foster parents to another world.

“Where are we, Yen?” “Is it important? We’re together. You and me.” Birds – either greenfinches or thrushes – were singing. It smelled of grass, herbs and flowers. And apples. “Where’s Ciri?” “She’s gone away.”63Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 528.

It remains unclear whether they enter some sort of afterlife or go to live on in another plane of existence. Ciri takes leave and enters the Arthurian world as at the beginning of the novel. The transfer across a lake with a barge to transition into the other-worlds opens several interpretations: Avalon and the misty lake (such as the title of the book, The Lady of the Lake) or Ciri acting as a psychopomp possibly inspired by Greek mythology come to mind.

She boarded the boat, which rocked and immediately began to sail away. To fade into the fog. Those that were standing on the bank didn’t hear even the merest splash, didn’t see any ripples or movements of the water. As though it wasn’t a boat but an apparition.64Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 527.

“Something has ended. Something is beginning”65Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 528.. As this paper also ends, it must also be pointed out that this analysis is just a beginning. The rich intertextuality and symbolism of the Witcher storyworld offers much to analyse and speculate. Reading the unicorn symbolism from a medievalist’s perspective does not seem out of place for the well-read author of the series, although the text stands for itself.

Conclusion

In the Witcher Saga, unicorns as the guardians of time and space and play an important role, especially in the books the symbolism is quite sophisticated as the above analysis shows. A direct reception of Physiologus and iconographical tradition related to the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ was closely investigated. Religious symbolism and medieval unicorn discourses pervade Sapkowski’s work in relation to Ciri. Yennefer and Geralt, Ciri‘s parents by choice, are both infertile, but have sex on a unicorn’s back, a Christian symbol of chastity and immaculate conception. Ciri’s forced impregnation attempted by Vilgefortz to produce the next ‘messiah’ of the Elder Blood is also heavily influenced by mariological symbolism, as the unicorn as Christ has a long medieval and early modern tradition. In The Witcher games, however, the unicorn is more of a running gag and is mostly referenced as a sex toy.

Media index

Games

CD Projekt Red: The Witcher 3. Wild Hunt (PC). Poland: 2015.

CD Projekt Red: The Witcher 3. Wild Hunt. Blood and Wine (PC). Poland: 2016.

Texts

Abercrombie, Joe; Sapkowski, Andrzej: Conversations with: Andrzej Sapkowski and Joe Abercrombie Part Two. In: SciFiNow: 2020. <https://www.scifinow.co.uk/books/conversations-with-andrzej-sapkowski-and-joe-abercrombie-part-two/> [27.07.2021]

Beer, Rüdiger Robert: Einhorn. Fabelwelt und Wirklichkeit. München: 1972.

Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Justyna; Zarzycka, Agata: On Alien Alders. In: Schmeink, Lars;  Böger, Astrid (Ed.), Collision of Realities. Berlin; Boston, 2012, pp. 187-204. <https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110276718.187> [27.07.2021]

N.d.: Elder Blood. In The Official Witcher Wiki. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Elder_Blood> [27.07.2021]

N.d.: Falka In The Official Witcher Wiki. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Falka> [27.07.2021]

Holy Bible. New International Version. 2011. <https://www.biblegateway.com> [27.07.2021]

N.d: Riannon. In The Official Witcher Wiki. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Riannon> [27.07.2021]

Ryan, Marie-Laure; Thon, Jan-Noël: Storyworlds across Media. Introduction. In: Ryan, Marie-Laur; Thon, Jan-Noël: Storyworlds across Media. Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology. Lincoln: 2014, pp. 1-21.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: Time of Contempt. The Witcher 2. 2013.  Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: Baptism of Fire. The Witcher 3. 2014.  Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: Sword of Destiny. Tales of The Witcher. 2015. Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: Time of Contempt. The Witcher 2. 2013. Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: Baptism of Fire. The Witcher 3. 2014. Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: Sword of Destiny. Tales of The Witcher. 2015.  Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de.

Sapkowski, Andrzej: The Lady of the Lake. The Witcher 5. 2017.  Orion. Kindle-Version. Retrieved from Amazon.de

Schröder, Christian: Der Millstätter Physiologus. Text, Übersetzung, Kommentar. Würzburg: 2005.

van Beek, Alan Lena: The Warble of a Smitten Knight: Tournament Game Mechanics and Courtly Culture in ‚The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine‘. In: Middle Ages in Modern Games Twitter Conference. (2020). <https://issuu.com/theuniversityofwinchester/docs/final_mamg20_threads?fr=sNjMwNjE4NzgwMzQ> [27.07.2021]

Weitbrecht, Julia: (2018). “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns:” The Biblical Unicorn in Late Medieval Religious Interpretation. In: Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, Jg. 2018, H. 5, (2018), pp. 49-64. <https://doi.org/10.13130/interfaces-05-05. https://riviste.unimi.it/interfaces/article/view/9631> [27.07.2021]

Pictures

CD Projekt Red: The Witcher 3. Wild Hunt (PC). Poland: 2015.

Fußnoten   [ + ]

1. cf. Ryan; Thon: Storyworlds across Media. 2014, p. 3.
2. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013.
3. Sapkowski: Lady of the Lake. 2017.
4. CD Projekt Red: The Witcher 3. 2015.
5. Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, pp. 102-203.
6. CD Projekt Red: Blood & Wine. 2016.
7. Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, pp. 102-103.
8. Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, p. 102.
9. van Beek: The Warble of a Smitten Knight. 2020, p. 4. https://issuu.com/theuniversityofwinchester/docs/final_mamg20_threads?fr=sNjMwNjE4NzgwMzQ [27.07.2021]
10. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, pp. 254-255.
11. Ciri even reads the book when she is bored: “The book bore the title Physiologus and was very old and very tattered. Ciri carefully opened the cover and turned several pages. The book immediately caught her interest, since it concerned mysterious monsters and beasts and was full of illustrations.“ (Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 56.)
12. Beer: Einhorn. 1972, pp. 194-215.
13. Schröder: Der Millstätter Physiologus. 2005, p. 75.
14. Weitbrecht: “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 51.
15. Beer: Einhorn. 1972, p. 103.
16. Weitbrecht: “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 52.
17. Weitbrecht: “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 54.
18. Beer: Einhorn. 1972, p. 100.
19. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 255.
20. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, pp. 269-270.
21. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 270.
22. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 273.
23. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 273.
24. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 280.
25. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 280.
26. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 259.
27. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 259.
28. n.d.: Falka. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Falka> [27.07.2021]. Riannon, who nursed Falka’s daughter, is Ciri’s forebear (n.d.: Riannon. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Riannon> [27.07.2021]).
29. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, pp. 282- 283. 
30. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 283.
31. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 284.
32. The relationship of Riannon and Falka is complex: “While in prison, Riannon gave birth to a set of twins and then went mad. Around the same time, Falka also gave birth and left her newborn in the hands of the deranged prisoner. Not long after, the rebellion was quelled and Falka was tried and condemned to die by burning on a stake. According to legend, Falka cursed all the people present and promised that they and their progeny would suffer in the hands of a child bearing her blood.” (n.d.: Falka. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Falka> [27.07.2021]. Riannon: “When the rebellion was quelled, Riannon returned to her husband, but with three children in tow. Due to her insanity, Riannon was unable to tell which one of the children was not hers and, when she finally did recover, she couldn’t remember much that’d happened during her imprisonment. Despite this, Goidemar and Riannon eventually raised the three as their own. However, roughly 18 years later, she died at 38 years old, believed to have been overcome with grief after the death of two of her children, Amavet and Adela, within a year’s time.“ (n.d.: Riannon. <https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Riannon> [27.07.2021])
33. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 283-288.
34. Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p. 270.
35. Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p. 263.
36. Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p. 257.
37. Sapkowski: Baptism of Fire. 2014, p.239; p. 284.
38. Holy Bible: New International Version. 2011, Luke 1,26-33. <https://www.biblegateway.com> [27.07.2021]
39. Sapkowski: Time of Contempt. 2013, p. 324.
40. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, pp. 347-248.
41. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 364.
42. Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzycka: On Alien Alders.2012, p. 193.
43. Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzycka: On Alien Alders.2012, p. 194.
44. For intertextual relations to Goethe’s Erlkönig see Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzyck: On Alien Alders. 2012.
45. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 89.
46. Deszcz-Tryhubczak; Zarzycka: On Alien Alders.2012, p. 194.
47. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, pp. 161-162.
48. Or, as Avallach puts it: ‘I heard,’ she went on, ‘that elves and unicorns loved one another.’ He turned his head. ‘Then accept,’ he said coldly, ‘that what you saw was a lovers’ tiff.’ (Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p.161).
49. “You are a dangerous weapon, a fell weapon. We can’t allow that weapon to fall into the hands of the Alder King, the Fox or the Sparrowhawk” (Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p.195). Cf. also Sapkowski: The Lady of The Lake. 2017, p. 201: “Sparrowhawk. This world was not their world at all. It became their world. After they had conquered it“
50. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194.
51. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194.
52. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194.
53. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194.
54. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 194.
55. Weitbrecht: Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”. 2018, p. 52.
56. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 196.
57. Sapkowski: The Lady of the Lake. 2017, p. 203.
58. See Abercrombie; Sapkowski: Conversations. 2020: „I had some education and life experience and I’d read plenty of books, many about medieval history.“
59. Sapkowski: Sword of Destiny. 2015, p. 102.
60. Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 514.
61. Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 525.
62. Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, pp. 525-526.
63. Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 528.
64. Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 527.
65. Sapkowski: The Lady oft he Lake. 2017, p. 528.

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: Unicorn Symbolism in The Witcher Storyworld. 24.09.2021. Zugriff: 28.10.2021 - 20:55.

Alan Lena van Beek

Alan Lena van Beek is a PostDoc researcher in German Medieval Literature and a vagrant scholar at CAU Kiel and TU Braunschweig, Germany. Their research interests include germanic heroic poetry, Arthurian romance, monstrosity, gaming, trans studies and queer theory.