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West: Swan

It is to this animal that you should look to discover the essential you – that inner self so essential to all of us. Whether we choose to listen to our inner voice or not is often a challenge and test of our own self. This animal will help to keep you focused. If you’ve become disconnected from your own inner voice, studying the habits of your Totem in the West will help you rediscover that your own inner voice is the best advice you’ll ever hear. It is the voice of your heart. It is the voice of the veritable essence of who you are and what you know.


Think of the words that come to mind when someone says Swan. Her symbology is deeply rooted in human culture. From the Ancient Greeks we get her association with romantic feelings and love. Other belief systems held Swan in the same regard. Peace and gracefulness emanate from Swan as she floats upon the waters. Even amongst all the other water birds that gather for the bread, seeds and tid-bits tossed by the visitors to the pond, the Swan’s regality is impossible to miss. She floats undisturbed as the other birds flitter around her. Mallards argue with sqawks and the flapping of wings. Geese honk and waddle up to the shoreline for the snacks. But Swan, serene in her knowledge that she will receive what it is that she desires, floats unaffectedly upon the waters. In Celtic myth, the Swan is associated with Samhuinn. Samhuinn was the ancient fall festival. It is on this one night of the year alone that it is believed that the veil between this world and the next is lowered. In some cultures it was considered bad luck if you did not leave a light burning on your doorstep throughout the night. Others believed that if you were caught outside after dark you would be assaulted by the spirits and spirited away.

Samhuinn has been through several permutations. In truth, it is the root of our “Halloween” holiday on October 31st. The name of the holiday, Halloween, easily reveals its root source: All Hallows Eve. All Hallows is followed directly by All Soul’s Day.

It is interesting to note that the association between Swan and passing between the veils spans the Atlantic. Both the Celtic and some American Indian cultures venerated Swan for her ability to pass between the present existence and the other world. One Amerindian tale talks about how Swan was allowed into the Dreamtime by Dragonfly. While in Dreamtime she was shown her life and its potentials. One of the messages of the story is that one must be willing to accept the will of the Great Spirit before truly going within.

The importance of the Swan in Celtic Culture is obvious to the reverence in which they give Swan’s feathers. In the ancient Celtic world, the bard was a very important person. The bard was the keeper of the histories. The bard was not only a singer and entertainer he could be many other things as well. The traveling bard was a source of information as he traveled from Village to Village. The traveling bard’s tradition in some ways is still kept alive today when the big name entertainers go on tour, or when a hit Broadway musical hits the road. Bard’s could also have patrons, some were members of the clans in which they lived while others wandered what passed for hi-ways and byways (trails and tracks) to bring news, the stories and entertainment to audiences near and far.

The Celts were a very traditional people with symbology and meaningful associations in even the smallest of things. For the northern tribes, the cloak was an important garment. It could not only keep you warm from the elements, but the cloaks style could say much about where you were from, who you were, what you did, and even your stature within the tribal setting. The high esteem in which the bard was held is evidence by the tradition that only a true bard could wear a cloak of swan feathers. As a keeper of the histories and lineages, the bard helped keep the tribe connected with its ancestral roots.

Swan was used to protect the bard because her feathers were some of the most precious and though to help keep the bard’s heart pute.In the Celtic culture the Swan is associated with passing through the veil for such reasons as the dramatic change between signet and adult; the association with Samhuinn, the Celtic New Year; and it was believed that the White Swans of the wilderness were the children of the Tuatha DeDanaan. Along with Raven, Eagle, and Crane, the Swan is one of the four most often named birds in the traditional celtic stories. The Celtic barge of the sun (much like Apollo and his chariot) is drawn by swans. The two swans are linked together with a chain made of precious metal, either silver or gold. Cu-Chulainn, a great warrior hero of Ulster who was raised to the level of demi-god, much like Hercules, is associated with the Swan.

Each time a parent reads a child the fairy tale of Swan Lake, they are passing along the energy of Swan. Both Wagner (Lohengrin) and Tchaikowsky (Swan Lake) thought enough of the power of Swan medicine to dedicate entire works to them. Even the Greek God Zeus (Jupiter) used the strong medicine of Swan’s Totem to achieve his personal ends. He used the beautiful body of Swan as a ruse so that he could ravish the beautiful Leda. Even today Swans are a popular choice as a decoration used in wedding invitations and decorations. In the Finnish traditions, Swan personifies the underworld’s waters and depths in the form of the Swan of Tounela.

The neck of the Swan is traditional the place of it’s spiritual powers. As a symbolic bridge between the self above (the higher self) and the lower self (the body/material self) the neck of Swan is long and gracefully curved. As we travel to our higher self we may find ourselves having to change directions gracefully to complete our course. Swan encourages us to strive to reach our higher self by crossing the bridge from the secular to the spiritual. The length of Swan’s neck is indicative that going within isn’t always a quick trip. Sometimes the journey to acceptance and grace is more difficult than we realize.In Native American legend Swan survives the journey through the underworld because she had the grace to accept what Great Spirit showed her without fighting against it. By accepting all that Great Spirit revealed she was transformed into a creature of exceptional beauty in grace. Follow Swan’s lead. Take the time to go within, push through the darkness that frightens you and accept what you are shown. Swan only achieved grace by acceptance – acceptance of who she was and her place in the realm of existence.

When Swan swoops into your Totem to spread her wings, allow her Totem energy to help you realize the heights of your inner self. Receptive and full of feminine energy studying the calmness of Swan reminds us to find our inner peaceful center. Once we have found that we can accept whatever the Universe sends our way…graceful in our acceptance of the challenges for growth and the gifts of right action.

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