Swan Symbolism

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Swan Symbolism – Swans in Myths and Legends

swan symbolismSwan symbolism has a long history of representing beauty, grace, love, passion and protection.  

This bird is also a symbol of gracefulness, song, music, poetry and creativity.

These beautiful birds are connected to the sun. They symbolize light and all that is good.

Swans are a symbol of pure love. Anyone who desires a constant reminder to cherish love may want to display swan sculptures.

Swans are known to mate for life making them a symbol of fidelity and longevity.

In Hinduism swans represent the connection between the material world and the spiritual world in perfect harmony. They symbolize the ability to reside in both worlds because they are connected to air and water.

Zeus and Leda – Greek Mythology

Leda and the swan by MichelangeloLeda was a very attractive woman who was married to King Tyndareos of Sparta in Greece.

 Zeus was the principle god in Ancient Greece. He was known to have quite many affaires with beautiful women despite being married to the goddess Hera. He was an unfaithful husband to say the least.

Zeus longed to have an affair with Leda, but she resisted. As the fabulous story goes Zeus transformed himself to a swan and approached Leda. In some versions Leda was already transformed into a goose with the intention of avoiding Zeus. 

Leda and the swan
Leda and the Swan, copy by Cesare da Sesto after a lost original by Leonardo, 1515–1520

As a swan Zeus made love to Leda. She laid two eggs. When the eggs hatched the twins Castor and Polydeuces were born from one of the eggs and Helen and Clytemnestra from the other.

In others versions of the myth only Polydeuces and Helen were fathered by Zeus. Yet in one version only Helen was hatched from an egg.

Helen turned out to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She married King Menelaus of Sparta. Helen (along with a huge treasure) was later “abducted” by the Trojan prince named Paris. There are many claims she went by her own free will. This was the cause of the famous Trojan War.

After the war Helen returned to her husband in Sparta.



Apollo and the Swans – Greek Mythology

In one tale Zeus, the supreme god of Ancient Greece had a love affair with Leto. Leto became pregnant. Hera, who was the wife of Zeus found out what had happened and went into a jealous rage.

Leto had a hard time getting away from the furious wife. Eventually she found refuge on the island of Delos. She had a difficult delivery. Leto gave birth to the twins named Artemis and Apollo.

On the day Apollo was born seven sacred swans flew seven times around the island.

Swans are associated with the sun as well as music. Apollo became a major god. He was god of the sun, arts and especially music, and fortune-telling. The swan was sacred to Apollo.

The nine Muses who promoted creativity were followers of Apollo. The swan is also associated with the nine sisters.

Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis became the goddess of the hunt.

Star Constellation – Cygnus – The Swan

Cygnus Star ConstellationCygnus is the Latin word for swan. The star constellation of Cygnus can be best seen in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer months and early fall.

There are different legends as to how this star constellation received the name “Cygnus”.

In many myths it is claimed that this is the almighty Zeus disguised as a swan. This relates back to the story of how Zeus transformed himself into a swan in order to win Leda’s love.

Another legend tells the story of Phaethon and his dear friend Cycnus. Phaethon was the mortal son of the sun god Helios.

Phaethon had for the longest time wanted to drive the Sun Chariot. He was finally granted his wish and was given permission to drive the chariot for one day.

This turned out to be a total disaster. Phaethon was unable to control the Sun Chariot. He flew way to close to the earth. His wild ride caused rivers to dry up; deserts to form and fierce fires to break out.

Gaia, mother earth cried out in agony. Zeus realized he had to come to the rescue. Using his lightning bolt he shot the young incompetent charioteer. Phaethon fell dead to the ground and landed in the River Eridanus (now called Po).

His friend Cycnus was heartbroken. He dived into the river to collect the remains of his friend in order that he may have a proper burial.

Zeus listened to the sad songs Cycnus sang and was moved by his deep sorrow and devotion. He let Cycnus be transformed into a swan and placed him in the sky as the Star Constellation known as Cygnus.

Khori Tumed and the Swan Woman – Mongolian Myth

swan legendIn Mongolia there is an old legend about a hero named Khori Tumed.

On one of his walks by Lake Baikal he witnessed an extraordinary sight.

He saw nine swans land on the island of Oikhon. (In some versions of the story there were only three swans.)

There is nothing special about that. It is what happened next that took his breath away.

The nine swans took off there feather coats and revealed that they were gorgeous women in disguise.

Next the nine beautiful women went to take a bath in the lake. They were naked. Khori Tumed could not help himself. He sneaked up to the feather coats and stole one of them. The women busy enjoying their baths had not been aware of what was happening.

After their bath the women went to put their feathers back on. One feather coat was missing. Without the feathers they could not fly away as swans. Eight of them flew away and one woman was left behind.

Khori Tumed was overjoyed. He proposed to the woman. Surprisingly she accepted and they were married. Their marriage was a happy on for quite some time. They had eleven children.

Even though her husband had been good to her, the swan woman longed for her true calling of flying free as a swan. She begged her husband to give back her feathers.

Her husband refused fearing she might fly away and leave him forever. The swan woman became desperate and promised her husband she would not fly away. She only wanted to hold her feathers again. He finally agreed.

Immediately after he had given his wife her feather coat, she put it on and flew towards the window. Khori Tumed knew then he could no longer keep her captive.

Before she left Khori Tumed asked his swan bride to bless their eleven sons. She not only named and blessed her sons; she flew over the tents and showered blessing and good fortune on all of the tribe.

Then she was gone. She was free again.

The tribe knew they were very fortunate to have received the blessings and protection of the swan woman.  



Lir and His Children – Irish Legend

King Lir and his wife Aoibh had four beautiful children; one girl named Fionnuala, a son named Aodh and twin booys named Fiachra and Conn. They were very happy until sadly one day the queen died.

King Lir and his children were grief stricken. They missed the queen immensely. One day the queen’s sister Aoife showed up. The king fell in love with her and they were married.

Aoife turned out to be the evil step-mother. She was extremely jealous and hated all the love and attention the children received from the king.

Children Lir SculptureThe four children loved to play by a lake close to the castle. One day Aoife followed them to the lake. Using some evil magic she transformed the children into swans.

She then put a spell on them that they must remain swans for four hundred years.

The spell could not be broken before church bells rang and a monk blessed them.

When king Lir learned what had happened he begged Aoife to break the spell. She refused. Aoife was then transformed to an evil air demon for all eternity.

The four swans spent three hundred years on Lake Lough Derravaragh. The next three hundred years were spent on Irrus Domnann and the last three hundred years on Erris near Inishglora Island.

Finally the four children heard the ringing of the church bells and their bodies were transformed back to humans. A monk took pity on them and he blessed and baptized the four siblings.

The four siblings were extremely old (900 years) and died shortly after in each other’s arms.

The monk buried the four. That night the monk dreamt about four beautiful swans flying in the sky. He knew then that the four siblings had been reunited with their parents in heaven.

Saint Hugh of Lincoln – Patron Saint of Swans

Saint Hugh of Lincoln is the patron saint of swans. His feast day is November 17th.  Saint Hugh of Lincoln is also patron saint of sick children.

Hugh of Lincoln was born in 1135 in Avalon, France. He died in London, England in the year 1200.

Hugh’s mother died when he was only eight years old. His father was Lord William of Avalon. Hugh got his education at the convent of Villardbenoit. He became deacon at the age of 19 and was appointed prior of the monastery at Saint-Maxim.

In 1160 Hugh joined the strict order of Carthusians in the Grande Chartreuse. The Carthusians spent most of their time in solitude and prayer. Hugh became procurator in 1175.

Hugh was highly respected. He was a people-person. His good reputation was rumored far and wide.

King Henry II of England heard about this extraordinary man and requested he come to England and to be the prior at the newly founded Charterhouse at Witham in Somerset.  Henry II had founded Charterhouse to make penance for murdering Saint Thomas Becket.

In England Hugh often used his wit, charm and strong sense of humor to calm the king when the king had his angry fits. Hugh was deeply loved by so many. He made people feel calm and at ease, especially children. In 1186 he was appointed bishop of Lincoln.

He was known to be unafraid and defend those who were discriminated. There are stories about how he unarmed challenged an angry mob that were prosecuting innocent Jews. He defended the Jews and thanks to him the rioting mob set the captured Jews free.

Saint Hugh of Lincoln was widely known for his unusual friendship with a swan. Hugh and his swan were best friends. The swan followed him about everywhere he went on his estate. The swan ate from his hand and slept in his bedroom.

The swan stayed loyally by Hugh’s side until Hugh died in 1200. Reports say that the swan was by Hugh’s bedside when he died.

Naturally Hugh’s emblem is his beloved swan.