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Qilin are a creature of Asian mythology with a proud history of their own, although in the U. S. they are often identified either as a smaller dragon species or an exotic variety of unicorn. If you want to think about hierarchies, most Asian legend ranked them in the top three, along with the dragon and the phoenix.

Qilins do have distinctly dragon-like features. The head, particularly, is that of a dragon, with antlers and mane. The body is scaled, but resembles that of a large animal such as a horse, ox or deer. It always has cloven hooves. Different cultures and times have added other features such as a lion’s tail, carp whiskers, flaming mane, or a single horn rather than two antlers. Like dragons, most Qilin have golden or jeweled scales. However, as nature spirits they can take on any color that matches their dwelling place.

In folklore, Qilin were nature spirits and residents of the celestial domain. Some tales had them as pets/companions of gods and goddesses, and they would come to Earth on divine business. Their nature was peaceful and gentle. It was said they hovered or flew at all times, to avoid crushing even a single blade of grass. Qilin would never eat meat. Their voice was said to sound like bells or chimes, and it was extremely lucky to hear them speak.

Qilin had a supernatural instinct to seek out truth and purity. They were called on as judges in some stories, because they would always know who was telling the truth. Qilin would only visit the domain of a wise and benevolent ruler. Just one thing could provoke their wrath — to see the wicked inflict harm on a righteous person. If this happened, watch out! Qilin would show their dragonish side by breathing flame or summon the elements to punish the offender!

Some scholars have suggested that Qilin were created as an effort to explain giraffes. Indeed, several modern Asian languages use qilin as the name for the giraffe. Historic documents do show that these animals were imported from Africa to China in the past. However, if you look at the artistic depictions of Qilin, they lack the long neck that is a hallmark of giraffe anatomy.

Many cultures throughout Asian have told tales of Qilin by different names. Japanese know them as Kirin, Koreans as Girin, Thais as Gilin, and Vietmanese as Ky Lan. They are associated with both Buddhism and Taoism teachings.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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