Christian Lore

In the Hebrew scriptures, the swan is mentioned as being unclean, not suitable for human consumption. (Lev. 11:18; Deut. 14:16) In Christian lore, the swan is sacred to the Virgin Mary. Its swan song represents the resignation of the martyrs. The constellation Cygnus was called the Northern Cross at least from the time of Bede, … Read more

Astronomical Lore

The constellation we call Cygnus (the Swan) was identified as a separate constellation from ancient times. It was often identified as a bird, generally a duck or hen. It was probably Urakhga to the Sumerians. Certainly that constellation was a stellar bird of some kind. The Babylonians called it the Bird of the Forest. In … Read more

Swans in Literature

The Ugly Duckling The story of The Ugly Duckling is perhaps the best known story involving swans. It was written by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen in 1843 under the title Den grimme ælling. In short, a duckling hatches. His brothers and sisters are normal, but he is ugly and clumsy. He suffers harassment and is eventually … Read more

Swan Lore

“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), … Read more

Chivalric Lore

Lohengrin

In the culture of European chivalry, the swan is the king of water birds, as the eagle is the king of all birds. The swan was said to be the only bird the eagle thought it worthwhile to fight. In medieval times swans were a delicacy. They were kept in a swannery, and when they … Read more

Norse Lore

In Norse myth, swans were born out of Ginnungagap (”seeming emptiness”) when the fire of Múspellsheimr (”flame-land”) in the south met the cold of Niflheimr (”mist-land”) in the north. Fire and frost were the primary elements of Norse mythology. The frost drops melted and the water poured into the vast chasm of Ginnungagap, out of … Read more

Swan Upping

In England, all mute swans on the Thames belong either to the Queen or to one of two London livery companies, the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company. Originally, all swans belonged to the the monarch, but a 15th century charter gave shares to the two livery companies. In the third week of July, when … Read more

Siberian Lore

The Buriats of Siberia regarded the eagle as their ancestral father and the swan as their ancestral mother. Kartaga In a Tatar poem, the hero Kartaga struggled with a swan-woman. The contest went on for years, but Kartaga could not defeat her because her soul was not in her body. Instead, her soul inhabited the … Read more

Symbolism of Swans

In the ancient world, it was widely believed that swans sing only once in their lifetimes, just before they die. Socrates and Plato both mentioned this belief. Geoffrey Chaucer alluded to it about 1374. Hence, the phrase swan song, meaning a person’s final labor. This belief led to an association between swans and prophecy, because … Read more

Biology

Swans, both genera Cygnus and Olor, belong to the family Anatidae, which includes geese and ducks. They mate for life, although couples sometimes separate following a nesting failure. Young swans are known as cygnets from the Old French cygne, from the Latin cygnus, from the Greek kuknōs (swan). An adult male is a “cob.” An adult female … Read more