Swan glides gracefully across the mirror-like surface of the lake, stirring sensibilities of purity, loyalty and love in our hearts. Her long, curved, delicate neck reflects in the water as gentle ripples spread out behind her. Swan evokes feelings of peace and can signify self-transformation, intuition, sensitivity, and the soul.
Swans, long-necked and web-footed, are among the largest aquatic birds in the world. Swan’s neck, the longest of any bird, has 23 – 25 neck vertebrae. Swans dress themselves in as many as 25,000 feathers and can live up to twenty years in the wild – fifty years in captivity. The most common swan, the Mute Swan is all white with a reddish bill that ends in a black knob. Other species of white swans are the Trumpeter and Tundra swans.
Preferring climates with cooler temperatures, Swan is found in wetlands, lakes and rivers. Mostly vegetarian, swans feed on starchy roots and tubers of aquatic plants. Their long necks and scissor-like bills allow them great success at feeding on underwater plants.
Swan is associated with beauty, clairvoyance, intuition, dreams, transformation, spiritual evolution, elegance, grace, purity, loyalty, partnership, inspiration, creativity, traveling to the Otherworld, unity and love.
Swan, who radiates light, teaches us that it takes time and patience to develop a pure heart. In the Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Ugly Duckling, the baby swan starts off grey and homely. Only with time does swan grow into the gorgeous white bird, symbol of purity, we all know and love.
Swans care for their young together. The female does most of the egg incubation while the male is the protector rarely leaving the nest. When threatened he emits a hissing sound which scares away predators. Their young stay with them through a one or sometimes two year nesting cycle. Their loyalty and shared caring illustrates well Swan’s association with partnership and unity.
Swan parents, while in the water, carry their young on their backs to protect them from predatory fish. In this way they protect the new from the fears of the past which incubate below the surface of consciousness, allowing time for spiritual transformation.
Swan, muse for poets and singers, sings a transcendently beautiful song just before she dies – a Swan Song. Swan is connected to Apollo, the God of Music, who was born from the union of Leto, Greek Goddess of Motherhood, and Zeus. On the day Apollo was born seven sacred swans flew round the place of his birth seven times. Zeus was so happy with his son that he gifted him a golden miter, a lyre and a chariot drawn by swans.
The ancient Hindus believed that Swan lay the Cosmic Egg from which their creator god, Brahma was born. The Hindu Goddess Saraswati, consort to Brahma, rode a swan down the Ganges while playing her lute. Swan, symbol of romanticism, love, and devotion is also that which connects the physical and the spiritual worlds.
The northern constellation, Cygnus, was identified in ancient times as a swan gliding through the Milky Way. It’s brightest star, Deneb marks the tail of the swan. High in the sky, Swan reaches out with her gigantic wingspan as if to touch the edges of the sky, while stretching forward into the immensity of the universe with her long, elegant neck, an eternal sign of of our journey toward spiritual evolution.
Some Native Americans believe that Great Spirit uses Swan to work its will.
The Norse Valkyries and the Serbian nymphs, the Vila, were known to shape shift into swans and fly singing through the air.
Swan is an important character in Celtic mythology. Numerous tales exist of a Goddess/ Faery women who transform from woman to swan and back again. One well-know tale is that of Caer, daughter of one of the Tuatha de Danann. Caer was a shapeshifting goddess who spent one year as a beautiful woman and then the next year as a swan. Accompanied by 150 swans, She underwent this transformation every year on Samhain, a liminal time when the veil between the seen and the unseen worlds is thinnest.
Caer chose Aengus, God of Love, as the man for her. She appeared in his dreams and he became smitten with her. After three years of searching he found her, in her swan form surrounded by her 150 companions also in the form of Swan. To win her love he had to pick her out from all the others. He found the most radiant of all the swans and identified Caer correctly. They embraced, he became a swan and they flew away to Brugh na Bóinne, Aengus’ home, singing a song of transcendent beauty. The song of their love cast an enchanted sleep of three days and three nights onto all those nearby. Even today there are those who claim to hear this love song every year on Samhain Eve. At Brugh na Bóinne they became human again and lived together with great love and joy.
The Celts believed that Swan brings inspiration from the Otherworld. Swan guides us to love, transformation and graceful acceptance. When Swan appears to you an enduring love could enter into your life; a mystic soul experience is at hand.
In Celtic tradition the Druids considered Swan to represent the soul. Swan is associated with Samhain, allowing an easier journey to the Otherworld. Sacred to Bards, swan feathers were used to make the Bard’s ceremonial cloak.
All of these tales and legends teach us the deepest meaning of Swan medicine – that we are spirit manifest in the physical world, that body and soul are one whole.
Swan, who lives in water, on Earth and in air, is a bridge between the emotional, the physical and the spiritual. When Swan appears feel the growth of your intuitive abilities. Be open to new ways. Trust your intuition and act accordingly. Honor your partner or the possibility of an enduring love. Remember that you are a being of beauty and grace and allow your beauty to shine out.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.