(The Witches Familiar)
and compiled by George Knowles
gradually lengthen and the last vestiges of Winter recede, ice and snow begin to
melt and the first buds of Spring appear. In
many parts of the world the Swan is a symbol of light and considered the
harbinger of Spring, and to me one of the most wonderful sights at this time of
year are swans floating serenely on village ponds, in parks and on rivers.
With their long serpentine necks and pure white plumage, throughout the
ages their grace and beauty have inspired the imaginations of poets, artists and
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.
In Celtic mythology the pagan Goddess Brighid celebrated at Imbolc
(02nd February) is also associated with swans.
Brighid is a triple aspect Goddess (revered as Maiden, Mother and Crone),
who as a Maiden ruled over Poetry, Writing, Inspiration and Music; as a Mother
over Healing, Midwifery and Herbalism; and as a Crone over Fire and the working
arts of the Smithy. So what better
this Inbolc, than to consider the attributes and teachings of the Swan?
The swan is
one of the largest flying birds in the world and belongs to the duck and geese
family Anatidae. There are 7
main species of swans with several subspecies, but not all swans are white.
In the Northern Hemisphere most swans are white, but each species has
minor distinguishing features and differ in size and behaviour depending on the
area they live in. In the Southern
Hemisphere there are both black and white swans.
The main species of swans include: the
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), the Bewick’s Swan (Cygnus bewickii),
the Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus), the Tundra (“Whistling”) swan (Cygnus
columbianus), the Australian Black Swan (Cygnus atratus), the
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) of North American, the Black-necked
Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus) of South America, and the Coscoroba Swan (Coscoroba
coscoroba) also from South America.
Perhaps the most commonly recognised and famous of all the
swans is the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), an all white swan distinguished by
a black knob at the base of an orange bill.
The Mute Swan is found
mainly in the Northern Hemisphere where for centuries it was semi-domesticated
in Britain and Europe. More
recently they have also been established in parts of the United States.
It was the Mute Swan that the Russian composer Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
made famous when he immortalized it in his ballet “Swan Lake” (1876).
In Britain, Mute Swans are owned and protected by the Crown,
however in the late 15th century some ownership rights were granted to the City
of London’s most distinguished Livery Companies, the Dyers and the Vintners, a
privilege confirmed by statute in 1483. Since
then “swan-herders” have been employed by the Crown and the two Companies to
mind and protect them. Today in the
last full week of July an annual ceremony is held on the Thames called “Swan
Upping”. On a journey upriver
from Sunbury Lock to Abingdon Bridge, all new cygnets born during the year are
counted. Those owned by the Livery
Companies are marked on the bill, and those left unmarked remain the property of
male swan is known as a cob, the female as a pen, while young
swans are called cygnets. An
average swan, with slight variations between species, can grow to a size of over
1.5 m (60 inches) in body length, weigh over 15 kg (33 pounds), and have a
wingspan of up to 3 m (10 ft). A
swan’s legs are normally dark grey to black with webbed feet, except for the
two South American species, which have pink legs.
Male and female swans are alike in plumage, but males are generally
bigger and heavier than the female. Bill
colours can vary from black, orange, red and yellow, with some swans having
bills of mixed colours. Swan are
generally long living birds that can survive up to 20 years in the wild, while
in captivity they have been known to live as long as 50 years.
Swans generally mate for life and remain together throughout
the year caring for their young. If one of a pair dies, the survivor will
then take on a new mate. Swans
usually begin to mate from the age of 3-4 years.
Land near water is their preferred habitat, in which the female will
build a large nest out of twigs and leaves. During the breeding season the
female will lay an average of 5-10 eggs, which take roughly 30 days to incubate.
When born, cygnets are
a grey colour before turning brownish to white as they mature.
After hatching, cygnets are encouraged onto the water within a couple of
days and develop to the flying stage after 60-75 days.
In the Northern Hemisphere during winter, flocks of up to 20-30 swans can
be seen migrating as they fly in V-formation high in the sky.
Swans are normally a fairly placid bird, but during the
breeding season females can be very territorial and aggressive to intruders and
won’t hesitate to threaten other animals who venture too close to their nests,
including humans. There are many
accounts of people who have been injured by swans; some have even sustained
broken limbs from a powerful blow of its wing or beak.
Due to their large size however, swans have few natural predators in the
wild. The swan’s main predator
has always been man who hunted the swan for its meat and feathers. A
single adult swan can have up to 25,000 plumage feathers, which includes a
fine insulating coat that provides a much sought after filling material called
“swansdown”, once used to make expensive quilted garments and bedding of the
Swans in Mythology and Folklore
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
Gods in disguise or else pulling the vehicles of Gods and Goddesses.
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
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.
Perhaps one of the most enduring tales about swans is that of
“The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen.
In it he portrays a young cygnet that gets lost from his mother.
While swimming around a lake frantically searching for her, he joins a
group of other young birds and ducks. Sadly
however, because of his grey-brownish colour they consider him ugly and refuse
to play with him. Being rejected
and then seeing his own reflection on the water’s surface, he can’t but help
to agree with them and feel shame for his appearance.
Eventually his mother finds him and reassures him, he is still young and
this is merely a transitional phase, he will later grow into the most beautiful
of all birds - a beautiful snow white swan like herself.
Sure enough as time passes, he does.
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.
There is much to be learned from the attributes,
characteristics and symbolism of the Swan.
As a totem animal, if the swan enters our life it can teach us all about
inner-beauty, grace, purity, fidelity, love, music, poetry and transformation.
As a bird of the air, land and water, they make excellent guides to the
therapeutic powers of the same elements. Swan
teaches us that there is beauty in all things, for as they begin life as “ugly
duckings”; they emerge full-grown into beauty personified.
Its message is quite clear, things are not always as they appear
outwardly, and teaches that we should look inside for our own inner beauty.
Swans are graceful, strong and live long lives, often with the
same partner. Could a swan showing
up in your life indicate that the person you are with, or someone you are about
to meet is a long time soul mate?
The swan totem is all about change and transformation, and if swan enters your life, you will be given the ability to handle such changes with grace and dignity. A white swans entering your dreams is symbolic of the need to cleanse and purify yourself and your life, while a black swan would indicate deep mysteries longing to be set free to express themselves - perhaps as the Goddess Brighid would have us do in poetry or music, for it is the mysteries of song and poetry that touch the child and the beauty within.
Reference Library Copyright (c) 1996 Helicon Publishing and Penguin Books
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Animal-Wise: The Spirit Language and Signs of Nature - by Ted Andrews
Myth and Magic -
Edited by Richard Cavendish
Plus too many websites to mention.
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek
Mythology) / Esbats &
Full Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
Circle Casting and
Sacred Space / Pentagram
- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders and Elders)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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