The Swan in History

For many cultures the white swan is a symbol of light, both as a feminine symbol of the moon and a masculine symbol of the sun. In Greek mythology, the swan has been linked to Apollo, to Zeus who took the shape of a swan to seduce Leda, to Aphrodite and Artemis who were sometimes shown accompanied by swans.

Many cultures have stories incorporating the swan as a symbol of transformation and many of the people transformed in the stories are women.

In the symbolism of Alchemy, the swan was neither male nor female, but the “marriage of opposites”, fire and water. It was associated with Mercury as it was white and winged.

Dreaming of a swan may signify self-transformation, intuition, sensitivity, the soul.

Native American
In Navajo tradition, the Great White Swan can call up the Four Winds. The Great Spirit will use swans to work its will.


The aborigines saw the Black Swans as the wives of their All Father.


In Ainu folk tales, the swan was an angelic bird who lived in heaven. When the Ainu fought amongst themselves killing all but one boy, the Swan descended from heaven, transformed into a woman, and reared the boy to manhood. She then married him to preserve the Ainu race.


It was the swan that lay the Cosmic Egg on the waters, from which Brahma sprang. The In Hindu tradition, swans represent the perfect union, and the spirit of Brahma.The Hindu goddess Saraswati who is the goddess of learning, music and wisdom has a swan as Her companion animal. The word in Sanskrit for swan is “hansa” or “hamsa” so the Divine is also called Parmahansa or Parmahamsa.

Folklore is filled with tales of people and sometimes the gods changing into swans.

-Zeus changed himself into a swan as a means of seduction. (Greek)

-The children of Lir were changed into swans for 900 years until the spell holding them was broken. (Celtic/ Irish)

-The Valkyries, warrior goddesses who chose the warriors to enter Valhalla after death, had the power to transform into swans. If a man stole their plumage, they were forced to obey him. (Germanic)

-Swans took off their plumage in fairy tales, revealing themselves as maidens (Celtic, Siberian and European)

-In Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Princess Odette is changed into a swan.

-The Eleven Swans by Hans Christian Anderson, the story of Even princes, transformed into swans and their sister who must remaining mute, sew eleven shirts in seven years, to change them back again.

-In the Ugly Duckling, also by Hans Christian Anderson, it is the “duckling” itself that transforms into a noble swan, discovering it’s true self.

-In the story of Lohengrin, “a popular medieval Arthurian legend … the theme of the earliest written version of the legend, the epic Parzival (circa 1210), by the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach.”: [Lohengrin] was the son of Parzival … the knight of the Holy Grail. At King Arthur’s command, Lohengrin was taken by a swan-drawn boat to Antwerp, where he fought for a noble lady, Elsa of Brabant. In the city of Kleve in west central Germany near the Rhine there is a castle called the “Schwanenburg” (Swans’ Castle). This is in some manner associated with the Lohengrin legend and the “Knights of the Swan”.


The swan is a totem of beauty and grace. As in the story of the Ugly Duckling, it connotes inner beauty as well. If Swan is your totem animal, you are emotionally sensitive, and empathic towards the feelings of others, and you draw people to you. The pure white swan is a solar symbol, whereas the Australian Black Swan is a nocturnal symbol. The swan, with its long neck, acts as a bridge between the worlds, making it an oracular bird. Being a cool weather bird, its direction is North. Swans are excellent totems for children, those connected to the Fairy Realm, poets, bards, mystics, and dreamers. (Animal Speak, page 196)


The swan is master of the elements Earth, Air and Water, and is and excellent guide to the therapeutic powers of these elements. Many healers use a swan feather in smudging and healing ceremonies. A swan feather tied to an instrument such as a harp would be a powerful adjunct to music therapy.


In the Medicine Cards, pulling the Swan card tells you to “accept your ability to know what lies ahead, pay attention to your hunches, gut knowledge, and female intuitive side.” (Medicine Cards, page 194) Reversed, the Swan card means you are not grounded, not paying attention to your intuition, or the Unseen. The authors suggest that you “notice your surroundings, and touch the Earth; be still and focus on one reality or the other – the Dreamtime or the mundane world; stop the clutter in your mind and listen; or focus on a physical activity that will ground you.” (Medicine Cards, page 195)

In Celtic lore, pulling the swan card can mean poetic inspiration from the Otherworld. It can also mean an enduring love is entering into your life.


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