Swan – Guide to Love and Spiritual Evolution by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoSwan 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 – Guide to Love and Spiritual Evolution by Judith Shaw, gouache on paper, 10″ x 7.5″

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 mate for life and have thus become emblematic of true love and fidelity. Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of Love, is often depicted riding a swan or riding in a chariot drawn by swans.

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-Goddess-painting-by-Judith-ShawSwan 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.

Sources: Bright Hub, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, Swan Songs, Spirit Animal Totems, Good Luck Symbols, Wild Gratitude, Astronomy Trek

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. 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.

Author: Judith Shaw

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, which of course includes the flora and fauna of our beautiful Earth. Judith has exhibited her paintings in New York, San Francisco, Mytilene Greece, Athens Greece, New Orleans, Santa Fe NM, Taos NM, Albuquerque NM, Houston TX and Providence RI. She has published two oracle decks - Celtic Goddess Oracle and Animal Wisdom Oracle and is hard at work on an illustrated fairytale - Elena and the Reindeer Goddess.

16 thoughts on “Swan – Guide to Love and Spiritual Evolution by Judith Shaw”

  1. Interesting post Judith. Having lived all my life with black swans I have a completely different view of the swan; it’s not that I am unfamiliar with white swans but there is a lot more cultural baggage for white swans. Black swans certainly carry spirit. Their hoot can be heard from a long distance away and their rather comic waddle is apparent when they come after you for scraps of scones in parks. They too are beautiful birds silently moving across lakes and wetlands.


    1. Gongyla,

      I discovered some interesting things about Black Swan in my research. Black swans live in Australia and New Zealand and are often associated with dream interpretation and seen as messengers, often representing the alluring and yet forbidden.

      In an aboriginal folk tale 2 men turn themselves into white swans to trick a group of women and steal their boomerangs, forbidden to men. The women chase them away and the swans end up attacked by an eagle who plucks off every feather. Then a flock of crows flies by and wants to avenge their enemy, Eagle so gives the swans their black feathers. Here swan represents the path to spiritual enlightenment, which is paved with suffering and missteps.

      I’ve been trying to decide if I should include animals of different colors in my deck of Animal Guide Oracle. Many animals have different symbolic associations depending on their color. Have you any thoughts on that?


  2. Wow, Judith, what a wonderful post, and synchronistic for me, having just completed a large image of a swan and a woman… wish there was a way of posting and image in the comments to share it with you…


    1. Majak,
      Amazing how images seem to pop up and flow out of the pens and brushes of artists in a synchronistic way all around the world. It’s interesting that at first glance Swan seems a bit boring to paint – being all white. But once you delve into it you discover all the various shades of white and the little details that make Swan a bird of transcendent beauty. Your painting sounds interesting.


  3. Thanks for this delightful post, Judith. That photo of the swan all by itself up in the sky so lovely. Your painting with the small offspring, so wonderful too. But why does a swan need such a long neck? The answer I found online says: “A long neck allows a swan to forage both on land and underwater.”


    1. Sarah,
      I love that photo of the swan flying by itself also. It really seems to capture the layout of the constellation Cigna and the feeling that constellation evokes.

      I also found this information about their long necks in my research. “In the wild, swans feed on the starchy roots and tubers of aquatic plants. Their scissor- like bills have cutting edges that can tear at the underwater grasses. They can submerge from ten to twenty seconds at a time, and the Bewick Swans for up to thirty seconds. Due to the length of their long, sinewy necks, the birds can dip their heads by curving their necks into the water, and lay their chins flat on the bottom, continuously swallowing. For deeper waters, the swan will up-end itself to reach the bottom.”
      from this website – https://www.druidry.org/library/animals/swan
      Never enough room in my posts for all the wonderful info I find.


  4. Beautiful post, beautiful paintings. Excited about the animal deck. Your post brought back a memory of lying cradled in the nest of a six-trunk oak. Six swans flew just over the crown of the tree. I could hear their wings-beats. I will never forget than moment. Thank you for stirring that memory.


    1. Elizabeth
      What an amazing experience – Cradled by the power of the oak and blessed by the flight of the swans. Your experience illustrates so well how if we just take the time to be with nature and to listen She delivers wonderful gifts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Judith, both this post and swans themselves are lovely! What a relief from the usual stories on the news. The world needs both the beauty and the symbolism of the swan. When I went to England a decade ago, my friend and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, and before it was time to see Macbeth, we wandered outside the theatre and watched the swans swimming on the river. It’s one of my favorite memories of that trip. Thanks for reminding us of the beauty of this magnificent bird.


    1. Barbara,
      I also have a vivid memory of a single swan swimming in the river that runs through Chartres, France when I was there to visit the Black Madonna 6 years ago. I have to put Stratford-upon-Avon on my list of places to visit in my soon to come journey to the land of the Celts.

      I believe that the horrors of the descent into hate and madness occurring all around us now, propels me in an even stronger way into my studio to counter that energy with as much beauty and love as I can muster up. And the ongoing extinction of species make me want to connect with these animals even more.


    1. Sara,
      That is very true. Swans can be very aggressive when protecting their territory. Not only do the bite, their powerful beating wings can break a man’s arms. Apparently they tolerate ducks and small fowl.


  6. Lovely article. Your paintings are so beautiful! Thanks for bringing good spirit and peaceful art to our world – especially considering the current circumstances. Best wishes!


    1. Thanks Pretty Gonzo. I really appreciate you mentioning the energy that art brings to the world. At times I forget that and get down on myself for being an artist instead of an activist in these crazy times. But what can one do – we are who we are, right.


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