“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.”
“Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond her, if it weren’t for the eagerness of those gulls, those marks, to believe whatever comes easiest. She can’t turn cream into butter, but she can give a lion the semblance of a manticore to eyes that want to see a manticore there—eyes that would take a real manticore for a lion, a dragon for a lizard, and the Midgard Serpent for an earth quake. And a unicorn for a white mare.”
Schmendrick the Magician drew himself up several inches taller than the unicorn would have thought possible. “Fear nothing,” he began grandly. “For all my air of mystery, I have a feeling heart.” But he was interrupted by the approach of Rukh and his followers, grown quieter than the grubby gang who had giggled at the false manticore. The magician fled, calling back softly, “Don’t be afraid, Schmendrick is with you! Do nothing till you hear from me!” His voice drifted to the unicorn, so faint and lonely that she was not sure whether she actually heard it or only felt it brush against her.
It was growing dark. The crowd stood in front of her cage, peering in at her with a strange shyness. Rukh said, “The Unicorn,” and stepped aside.
She heard hearts bounce, tears brewing, and breath going backward, but nobody said a word. By the sorrow and loss and sweetness in their faces she knew that they recognized her, and she accepted their hunger as their homage. She wondered what it must be like to grow old, and to cry.
The show was over. Alone in the moonlight, the old woman Mommy Fortuna glided from cage to cage, resettling locks and prodding her enchantments as a housewife squeezes melons in the market.
Mommy Fortuna turned toward the unicorn’s cage. “Well,” she said in her sweet, smoky voice. “I had you frightened for a little while, didn’t I?” SHe laughed with a sound like snakes hurrying through mud, and strolled closer.
“Whatever your friend the magician may say,” she went on, “I must have some small art after all. Do you really think those gogglers knew you for yourself without any help from me? No, I had to give you an aspect they could understand and a horn they could see. These days it takes a cheap carnival witch to make folk recognize a real unicorn. You’d do much better to stay with me and be false, for in this whole world only your enemy will know you when he sees you.”
Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle
So much of church history is this: to put a false horn on a real Unicorn. That is, to cheapen the majestic with some dimestore garnish.
For all the luster of Rome, our Lord didn’t arrive in a gilded chariot but a squalid feeding trough. Even his mother, for all her humility, was a vessel made glorious by carrying the Lord, but the priestly class decided in their human wisdom that she must be more and for the masses to see her and revere her, the Lord’s presentation wasn’t enough. She was given a crown of her own.
We do much the same in so-called Evangelical circles when we crown the Holy Spirit with fog machines and effects pedals and light shows. We work so hard to make the Word of God relevant to eyes that may never see the real horn, and I’m afraid we may be teaching them instead to fall in love with the false one.
If the time one day comes when we look at the head of Christ and see two crowns – one real and one false – I wonder what we will make of it.
Will we love the false horn more? WIll we commit ourselves to the appearance of Good, like Pharisees worshipping their feeble legalism and immune to the piercing blade of the Law once beneath it?
Our world is full of Mommy Fortunas, spinning their cheap carnival witchery to sell us gospels where there are none, and dunderheaded Rukhs carrying their water.
Do not mistake the false horn on a real Unicorn; the Horn of David does not need to be made beautiful to be true, rather the beauty is in its own absolute truth. And that is more than enough.