“Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.” ~ Jackie Windspear
“Self-respect cannot be hunted. It cannot be purchased. It is never for sale. It cannot be fabricated out of public relations. It comes to us when we are alone, in quiet moments, in quiet places, when we suddenly realize that, knowing the good, we have done it; knowing the beautiful, we have served it; knowing the truth we have spoken it. " ~Whitney Griswold
“Nothing he had ever seen before in all his life had made him feel quite the way he felt, on that wild little pond, in the presence of those two enormous swans.” ~ The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White
There are six or seven species of Swans in the world, depending on whether you still include the Coroscoba Swan. Personally, I do not understand the intricacies involved in biological taxonomy, and I prefer to include rather than exclude. Cygnus (Swans) are large waterfowl, one of the largest flighted birds, and the biggest member in the Family Anatidae, which includes both geese and ducks.
Swans are more closely related to geese, but a study of the whole Family, as well as potential balancing energies, is always beneficial. For our purposes, I will be discussing both the Mute and Trumpeter Swan. The Trumpeter Swan is perhaps more common in Northern America, but it is always the Mute Swan I think of first when envisioning this Creature Teacher. The Mute Swan may in fact be the widest spread of all the Teachers found in Cygnus, as it is frequently introduced to areas for their decorative beauty drifting around ornamental ponds and lakes.
Adults are referred to as Cobs (males) and Pens (females). They can reach sizes about 4 or 5 feet tall, 30-50 lbs in weight, with a wingspan up to 8 feet long! Covered in white plumage, they differ in appearance from the Trumpeter in that their bills are orange instead of black, but there is black marking the tip, bill edges, and the feathered base area around the Mute’s orange bill. The black knob at the base of the cobs’ bill will swell noticeably during the mating season. Otherwise, cobs and pens are nearly identical in appearance, really only differing in the males slightly larger size.
“Learn to limit yourself, to content yourself with some definite work, dare to be what you are and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not, and to believe in your own individuality.” ~ Henri Frederic Amiel
Looking at the meaning symbolized by their coloring, the overall white plumage could easily represent making a conscious choice to live in a good way, and committing to a personal code of ethics. White often symbolizes purity and grace, and in color therapy is considered the perfect color for healing. This is the color of Divine light and protection, awakened spirit, perfect balance and harmony… all important to this Teacher.
Their black legs remind us to walk with Wisdom through this life, and to support ourselves always with a healthy elemental connection. Wisdom will help us to navigate the intuitive and emotional waters we move through. Banishing negativity and bad habits are the first steps on a Swan’s road to a harmonious life. The black markings prominent around the golden orange bill is a reminder to think before you speak. Don’t just react, and then speak with only the best intentions.
What we give voice to becomes a possibility in our lives. Orange is another strong healing color, and it’s placement here acts a reminder to express new possibilities, inspirations, and creativity; speaking freely with authority and artistry. In color therapy, orange is used to promote happiness and joy. Swan teaches us that we should be silent unless we too can promote these worthy aspects.
“They who disbelieve in virtue because man has never been found perfect, might as reasonably deny a sun because it is not always day.” ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827
“You know how when you’re listening to music playing from another room? And you’re singing along because it’s a tune that you really love? When a door closes or a train passes so you can’t hear the music anymore, but you sing along anyway… then, no matter how much time passes, when you hear the music again you’re still in exact same time with it. That’s what it’s like.” Danny from the film Music from Another Room on the nature of Love
Mute swans feed upon submerged aquatic plants, waste grains, grasses, various insects, worms, snails and small aquatic creatures like fish, amphibians, and crustaceans. All of which make excellent potential balancing energies along with; raccoon, weasel/mink, snapping turtle, great horned owl, wolf, coyote, snake, eagle, and bear.
Adult swans face very few serious predators, other than humanity. Eggs and young are vunerable, however. The Swan’s early independence and awareness is reflected in the swan’s necessity to become alert and competent quickly in order to survive. Swan people are often highly sensitive and intuitive, and if properly nutured while young can become extraordinary leaders that inspire all around them.
Learning early to navigate emotions, and remaining well grounded throughout spiritual lessons, emotional upheavels, or social pressures is beneficial. It is also important to allow young Swans to express themselves creativily, preferably through more than one artistic outlet. In the stages of their development and in their flight, Swan teaches us to take our time, proceed with awareness, and allow ourselves plenty of time for thought as we move to achieve our goals. Slow, silent and steady is a wonderful pace as we move through life on our spiritual evolution.
The extremes of confidence are often signs of unbalanced Swan energy; arrogance, hubris and vanity on one side, and low self-esteem, depression/melancholy, self-doubt and apathy on the other. From what I have seen, Swan people often experience abuse of some sort in their lives, whether giving, receiving, or witnessing. Learning to maintain healthy boundaries, and how to properly navigate without becoming overwhelmed by their own highly sensitive and intuitive selves also seem to be key lessons for Swan people.
“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” ~Carl Schurz
Trumpeter Swans are slightly larger than Mutes, and are more likely to form a life bond with their mate than Mutes. “Divorce” is common enough among Mute swans, who have been known to have as many as four mates. Although, they are typically monogmous for the duration of a breeding season, and a good breeding pair can form a life bond. It’s interesting to note that if a male’s mate dies and he takes a younger mate, she will join him on his territory, but if he takes an older mate, he will join her on her territory. Swans in general are such excellent parents that the male and female will always molt at separate times so that one or the other is always capable of flight during the raising and protecting of their cygnets.
“Be an angel to someone else whenever you can, as a way of thanking God for the help your angel has given you. " ~Quoted in The Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman, 1994
Swan speaks gently on the importance of forming a committed relationship and united front when raising children. Perhaps the deeper and more important message that extends well beyond parental duties, is that by honoring all of the commitments we accept, we increase our personal integrity and come closer to achieving the goal of becoming a vessel for Divine will.
Mute swans are known to be aggressively territorial, especially during breeding. Which has made them problematic in areas where they have been introduced, and are dominating native species. Graceful neck curved back in an “S”, wings half raised is a threat display that hikers should be aware of as these large waterfowl seldom fear humans and are quite capable of breaking someone’s arm in defense of their territory.
Dubbed Mute swans because they are more silent than their other family members, their sounds are quieter; consisting of barking, hissing and high-pitched whistles. The sounds of their flight carry further, and it is the Mute swan from which springs the legend of the “swan song”. According to this once popular belief, the swan was silent save for the most beatific song sung right before it’s death.
The Northern Cross, also known as Cygnus, the Swan is a constellation closely connected to this feathered Teacher, which links the Swan with the Star Nation and the lessons they hold for us. Many tales surround this constellation that has helped to guide humans around the globe. One fashions this swan as what became of the infamous bard, Orpheus, after his death. Others refer to Jupiter taking this disguise to woo Leda, Queen of Sparta. Ovid claims that Cygnus was a relative or friend of Phaeton, who obsessively searched the rivers for Phaeton’s body after his disasterous ride in Apollo’s chariot. Cygnus was transformed into a swan by Zeus in an attempt to aid the youth’s quest.
“Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” ~Novalis
“The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” ~Jean Cocteau
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Dead Poet’s Society
Swans are sacred to Apollo and, like the Bull, connected with solar energy. In Celtic lore, it was swans who pulled the Sun’s bark across the underworld sea each night, and their feathers were fashioned into cloaks worn only by Bards. Swans feature in the tale of how Cuculain’s mother was lured away by Lugh Lamfada, the sun god. Sacred to Saraswati, the consort of Brahma and one face of the Vedic triple goddess aspect, the swan was her steed. Saraswati was a goddess of knowledge, music and art.
The swan is also associated with Brighid, the Celtic goddess of healing, poetry, and crafting. It was often considered to be indicative of inspiration from the Celtic underworld, or faeries, especially of the Seelie court. The swan has also been an emblem of the Greek Muses, and the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite. In Navajo tradition, the Great White Swan can call the Four Winds, and swans will act as a vessel for Creator’s will. In Serbia, the Vila take the shapes of swans and serpents. The Valkyries of Norse lore were infamous for taking swan form.
Angus Og, son of Dagda, fell in love with Caer, a beautiful swan maiden, and in some tales became a swan to join her. The four children of Lir were transformed into swans by their evil stepmother, Aoife. In fact, there are so many tales of humans or faery transformed or disguised as swans that it was once a terrible crime to kill or harm a swan across Europe, the British Isles, and many other areas where swans have lived. To do so would bring terrible harm down on the individual or their families.
“Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen
The Swan has a long association with scholarly pursuits, poetry, music, and Bardic traditions. The swan is also linked with philosophy because of a dream Socrates had the night before Plato became his student, in which a swan flew into his chest.(Pausanius, Description of Greece 1.30.1). Many famous poets have been called swans, including the Swan of Avon, William Shakespeare. Many of those transformed into swans were identified as something other than ordinary by a gold or silver chain worn about the neck, which was quite likely the inspiration for the chains worn by Bards as a symbol of their office.
Around the world, this Teacher teaches powerful lessons centered around the acceptance of Grace and surrendering our will to Creator that we may become a vessel of Divine intention. Beauty, Love, Truth, Dedication, Nobility, Sacrifice, and Confidence are keywords for this Teacher. In the tale of the Ugly Duckling, the swan teaches us valuable lessons on self-worth, confidence, and perception. Excellence, grace, nobility, purity, receptive intuition, poetic or artistic expression/inspiration, and spiritual evolution are all Swan lessons. When we realize our inner Beauty and let it out, we inspire others to follow our lead.
“The Silver Swan who, living, had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last,
And sung no more:
Farewell all joys, O death come close mine eyes.
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.” ~Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), The Silver Swan
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." ~Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation 1768-1813
A curious note of tragedy lingers around the edges of the Swan, a reminder that while spiritual evolution, the gaining of wisdom and knowledge, and expression through music and art are desirable goals, nothing good comes without a price. Sometimes, gaining wisdom or inspiration must come with a healthy dose of sorrow, loss, pain, or tragedy. Sorrow and confidence, whether too much or too little, are challenges that those called by this Teacher will face along their path. The play Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand spotlights a marvelous character who perfectly illustrates the highs and lows of a Swan individual. Cyrano who was born with a ridiculously large nose believes that he is not worthy of the object of his desire, but he carries his love, honor and poetry with him til the end of his days.
“I carry my adornments on my soul.
I do not dress up like a popinjay;
But inwardly, I keep my daintiness.
I do not bear with me, by any chance,
An insult not yet washed away & conscience
Yellow with unpurged bile an honor frayed
To rags, a set of scruples badly worn.
I go caparisoned in gems unseen,
Trailing" white plumes of freedom, garlanded
With my good name no figure of a man,
But a soul clothed in shining armor, hung
With deeds for decorations, twirling thus
A bristling wit, and swinging at my side
Courage, and on the stones of this old town
Making the sharp truth ring, like golden spurs."
~ Cyrano by Edmond Rostand
Like the Giraffe, the Swan’s long neck represents a graceful bridge between head and heart, which must exist to maintain a properly balanced outlook in life. Swan reminds us too that it is up to us to create a bridge from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Swans have a special gland which allows them to drink salt water or shed excess salt from their systems by excreting the concentrated solution through their nostrils. To me, this is a reminder to be aware of and express our emotions without being ruled by them. A great deal can be healed by simply allowing ourselves to shed tears and giving expression to our trials.
Swan teaches us to open our eyes to the realities of the choices we make, and to commit fully to honoring our commitments and obligations. When we choose to live a good life, to walk through each day looking for ways to promote the best in every situation, we become receptive to the World around us, intuitively aware and connected to everything around us, and we begin to reflect the best of Creator’s hopes for us upon the World around us.
In the form of the constellation Cygnus, this Teacher speaks to us of our innate connection to All Our Relations. The dust of stars is bound within us, and a little of us resides within each of them, completing the circle. The Native American concept to “Walk in Beauty” is the motto of this graceful Teacher, which we cannot really do if we are constantly dividing ourselves from other people, the World, and All Our Relations.
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” ~Victor Hugo
“Pay attention to your dreams – God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep.” ~Quoted in The Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman
“Hear the voice of the Bard! Who present, past, and future sees; Whose ears have heard the Holy Word that walked among the ancient trees.” ~ William Blake
Patron of healers, empaths, clairvoyants, seers, dreamers, mystics, artists, poets, musicians, and singers, the Swan is one of the oldest of the animal spirit guides. One of the four sacred Guardians of Dreamtime, Swan teaches us how to properly surrender to our unfolding destiny. It is often hard for us to accept the more painful lessons as a good thing. Swan reminds us that even in the greatest tragedy, there is purpose. Sometimes, we must “let go and let God” and allow that the worst that happens in our lives happens for a good reason. We should carry the best of every experience forward with us.
The Swan is also associated with Jesus, the constellation Cygnus becoming the Cross of Cavalry with the advent of Christianity. Jesus knew of his impending death, and while it was a difficult struggle, he accepted that this was what must be to serve Creator’s purposes even if he did not understand the whys and wherefores of bearing such a terrible ordeal. This is the level of surrender and commitment that Swan teaches.
When we put aside our desires for the needs of others, when we give voice to joy amidst the darkest moments, when we commit fully to our responsibilities with a glad and loving heart, we are accepting Swan lessons. Beware aggression, acts of possessiveness, arrogance, unbalanced emotional responses, and the desire to provoke others through your words or actions. Balanced Swans exemplify all our best possibilities; grace-filled, serenely confident, creative, innocent, intuitive, a living inspiration to others, an empathic citizen of the World who works with the natural magics and energies around us. How does this Teacher appear in your life?
“Swan tells Dragonfly in legend, “I learned to surrender my body to the power of Spirit and was taken to where the future lives. I saw many wonders high on Sacred Mountains and because of my faith and my acceptance I have been changed. I have learned to accept the state of grace.” Swan is the bird who may enter the Dreamtime and bring back knowledge and healing to the tribe. Swan medicine “teaches us to be at one with all planes of consciousness, and to trust in Great Spirit’s protection.” " (Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson, pages 192-195)
“Gracefulness has been defined to be the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.” ~ William Hazlitt
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson