Beltane: Swan



One of the animals associated with Beltane is the swan. The magical meaning of the swan is love, union and partnership: swans mate for life. Just as the Goddess and God join in union on Beltane, swans reflect this eternal commitment in their own union. Swans also represent loyalty, fidelity and faithfulness, reflecting the joining of Mother Earth and Father Sun, when the sun is released from its bondage of winter, and able to rule over summer and life once again. Swan symbolism includes grace, power, inner beauty, elegance, purity and balance.

Celtic culture regarded swans as harbingers of spring, and linked swans to solar Gods. The swan represents the rising glory of a new day as well as the farewell of an old day with the setting sun. Celtic myth also indicates when inhabitants of the Otherworld required passage to the physical land of life you and I experience every day, they would take the shape of the swan. Furthermore lore states they would travel out of the Otherworld in pairs, thus reinforcing the theme of union, bonds and partnership.

In the Northern Hemisphere as Winter ends and days begin to lengthen, as snows begin to melt and the first buds of Spring appear, swans can be seen returning from their Winter migrations. Flying high in the sky out of the path of the rising Sun, they gently float down to resume their places on lands surrounded by water. To our ancestors, swans were thought not only to accompany Spring, but also to usher it in. Therefore, throughout the ages swans have symbolized aspects of the divine, and were often viewed as Goddesses and Gods. In Greek Mythology the Swan is the symbol of the Muses who provided inspiration for poets and artists. When Zeus fell in love with the mortal Leda, he transformed himself into a swan in his efforts to seduce her. From their union she gave birth to Helen of Troy and the twins Castor and Pollux. When Apollo, a son of Zeus and God of the Sun was born, it is said that his birth was marked by a flight of circling swans, and his twin sister Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, is said to have travelled in a swan-drawn chariot.

In Germanic myths the Valkyries had the power to transform into swans. They were the 12 maiden attendants of Odin, Goddesses who presided over wars allowing victory to one side and defeat to the other. After a war was over they would select the most valiant of warriors to die in battle and escorted them to an afterlife of feasting in the halls of Valhalla. In another myth they would sometimes take off their swan-plumage and appear to men in human form, but if a man then stole their plumage they would be bound to do his bidding until it was returned. They could also react with a man through love. The Valkyrie Kara is said to have accompanied her lover Helgi to war, where flying over the battlefield in her swan’s plumage she sang a song so sweet and soothing that the enemy lost the will to fight.

In Norse mythology, two swans drank from the sacred Well of Urd situated in the realm of Asgard, home of the Gods. According to the Prose Edda, the water of this well was so pure and holy that all things that touch it turn white, including the original pair of swans and all others descended from them.

In a Japanese folk tale about the Ainu, the swan was a divine bird that lived in heaven. When a feudal war broke out amongst differing Ainu tribes, all were killed but for one small boy. A swan descended from heaven and transformed itself into a woman, and reared the small boy to manhood. She later married him to preserve the Ainu race.

In Celtic mythology having mastered life on land, air and water, swans are also associated with healing, growth and fertility. Among the Druids, the swan represents the soul and is thought to aid travelling in the Otherworld. Swans are also sacred to the Bards, and their feathers were used to make the tugen, the ceremonial Bardic Cloak. In Ireland today, there is still the belief that to kill a swan will bring misfortune or death on the perpetrator, and in County Mayo, the souls of virtuous maidens are said to dwell in swans.

In some cultures the swan is a feminine symbol associated with the Moon, and in others a masculine symbol associated with the Sun. In Greek mythology, swans are associated with Apollo, the God of the Sun, and with Zeus who took on the shape of a swan to get close to Leda with whom he had fallen in love. Greek Goddesses associated with swans include Artemis and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love who travelled in a swan-drawn chariot.

Swan feathers are a powerful amulet. The pure white feathers of swans are used to purify and cleanse by attracting new energy. They represent beauty, grace and goodness. Black swan feathers can be used to purify unwanted energy. Always remember that any feather used your magic must be freely given. If you want to get a swan feather (or any other feather from a wild bird) try contacting a bird sanctuary. They will have feathers from their winged charges, and will probably be willing to share one with you. Once you receive a feather, always offer thanks to the bird. This is more important to do on the spiritual level than on the physical one. A simple expression of thanks and gratitude is fine.