The Swan: Bird of the Soul

To draw close to the birds in spirit, to listen with an open heart to their cascades of song and to attune the soul to their joyous outpourings, is a poignantly beautiful way to embrace the angelic streams of life. Through their association with the angels, birds can teach us of the hidden beauties and mysteries which are secreted within the human soul. They bring us teachings about our own soul and the soul of all creation. They bear messages from the heavenly worlds, and through their flight, their songs and their presence, they open a doorway to the spheres of the spirit and lift us in our light bodies up into airy heights of invigorating sweetness.

The swan

This exquisite bird, said to have a human soul, is the creature of a myriad myths. If there were not swans, we would surely call them forth from the imaginal world, for our spirit would need to envisage their grace, their dignity, the enchantment of their beauty, as we need to envisage the unicorn for its similar qualities. Swans on the water contemplating their reflection can seem to the onlooker as if they are birds of half vision and half dream, and the aura of their legend can often seem almost palpable.

In Scandinavian myth, the swan was the bird of the benign god Freyr and was associated with the white cirrus clouds, the clouds of fair weather, which formed his chariot. It was also the bird of valediction, the term ‘swansong’ being familiar around the world. The Valkyries were swan-maidens who flew before those they favoured in battle, summoning the souls of the slain to Valhalla.
In ancient Greece, Apollo’s chariot was drawn by swans when he rode north to the land of everlasting youth. Apollo himself was fathered by a swan, together with his twin sister Artemis, for Zeus had impregnated their mother Leda, who was courted by the god Jupiter in swan form. Two eggs came forth from this union, one of them producing Castor and Pollux, the Heavenly Twins, whilst from the other sprang the mythical women Helena and Clytemnestra.

One persistent and widespread legend is that of the swan-maiden, which tells how some amorous swain secretly watches whilst a flock of swans leave their garment of feathers by the side of a woodland pool and bathe in the waters in the form of beautiful maidens. The young man, usually of humble origin, falls in love with one of the maidens and, careful to note which is her feathered garment on the next occasion that the swans assemble at the pool, steals it away. The swan is thereby trapped in her woman’s body, and agrees to marry her suitor. She invariably finds her swan-feather garment at some point in the future, usually when she has given birth to several children, and leaves her husband without hesitation, leaving him to remember her, love-struck forever, through the unearthly gifts of music, song, poetry and dance that have been bestowed on her children.
The secret of this undying myth seems to be that the swan’s spirit, or guardian fairy, is of such advanced and beautiful evolution that the bird and the spirit often become one. The guardian spirit is seduced by the lure of human love away from its true destiny, until it is reminded by the earthly manifestation of the swan and returns again to its angelic task, which is concerned with both the bird’s physical and soul evolution.
As the swan is so deeply associated with Zeus and Jupiter, gods of the thunderbolt or of the dynamic spark of life which forges creation itself, its eggs (which in legend produced so many mythical beings) were said to hatch only in thunderstorms, when the transforming kiss of the lightening would shatter the shell and bring forth the wonder within.

The swan is also sacred to Aphrodite, Orpheus and Venus. Its purity is a Christian symbol of Saint Hugh of Lincoln and Saint Cuthbert. Buddha was moved to begin his teachings after rescuing a wounded swan, and the northern constellation Cygnus, the Swan, was placed in the sky by the gods to remind humanity of the northward-lying land of everlasting youth.

In Celtic legend, the beautiful queen Yewberry changes into a swan every other year at the time of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, and Oenghus, the god of love, transforms himself into a swan to woo her. The White Swans of the Wilderness were four children of the Tuatha De Danaan, an ancient magical race linked with the noble fairies. They were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother, and cursed to remain in swan form for 900 years, until Saint Patrick released them after Ireland had become Christianized. Until that time, they roamed the skies and the wild waterways, singing songs of beauty and melancholy with human voices.

Swan song
The swan is said to sing, once, preceding death, although as a bird of the Threshold, she inhabits the inner and outer worlds, ever entering and leaving the spiritual realms through the sacred Gate which is the mystic link between the two and is often associated with mist or twilight, both of which are symbolized by the swan; and so she sings not only on her ‘death’, those times when she enters the Otherworld, but also on her emergence from it. One old story tells that when a great company of swans wearing silver chains and golden coronets alighted on Lough Bel Dragon, they sang with such ethereal sweetness that all who heard them fell into an enchanted dream for three days and nights. Nevertheless, their mellifluous death-song was mentioned by Plato and Aristotle, the latter claiming that it was often heard by sailors along the Libyan coast, who wept to hear its melancholic strains.

When the swan sings at the time of her death, it is said that she does so because her spirit is enraptured by her vision of the heaven-worlds which she is approaching; and when she sings at other times, it is because she is bringing the sublime sweetness of those worlds back to the Earth with her as she once again crosses the threshold between the supernal and the mundane.
The swan comes to you to bring you inspiration, especially if you are composing a song, a piece of music, a poem or a story; the swan’s skin and feathers were used in druidic times to make the cloak that was presented to the bard as a signature of his high office. Sometimes the swan appears in order to beautify and bless a farewell, or to indicate that the time is right to make one. She is also the herald of the benediction of love and beauty preparing to come into life, and as a symbol of the soul she bestows those graceful qualities belonging to it which are to do with love, reflection and depth, dignity and beauty, purity and stillness, solitude and self-discovery.

When the swan glides towards you, you are being asked to make a polished mirror of your soul so that you may reflect the spiritual worlds; for the swan is the great ensouler, and will help us to build the swift magical chariot that the spirit rides in and drives, which is truly the soul-essence.

From Angel Messages: The Oracle of the Birds, ©2010 by Claire Nahmad, published by Watkins.