It’s that time again where a large portion of my life revolves around preparing for Convocation. This year I got a great ritual slot, and I think I’ve got a great ritual to present. It’s called Summoning the Swan Maidens: an Exploration of Inspiration and Sensuality. I’ve been studying this group of spirits for some time, since one Samhain I got a big old clue-by-four to the head.
The swan woman is a motif we see all over the Eurasian continent. The swan itself has been used in religious iconography through the ages. From the Gaulish Celtic Sequana to the Vedic and Hindu Saraswati, we see goddesses and spirits associated with swans, flowing rivers, healing, creativity, and inspiration. In Northern Europe we have fairy stories of the swan maidens as well as valkyries with names like Swanwhite and Allwise. There are celtic tales of love and longing that take the shape of humans transformed as swans. In Eastern Europe we hear tales of the winged Vila roaming the mountains naked, recognizable from their alluring descendant Fleur Delacour of the Harry Potter world. Then there are the Dakini: winged and beautiful Tibetan Buddhist spirits of enlightment and sensuality. Greek vase iconography abounds with winged women. Men too, for that matter. But the swan comes up in the story of Leda seduced by Zeus in a swan guise, leading to the birth Helen of Troy, arguably one of the most potent focuses of Love in all of Western literature.
I never planned to work with swan spirits. It seemed a bit pretentious. Swans? What do I think I am? It seemed weirdly angelic and preposterous to me. I am a druid and a witch. I collect bones and herbs. I took the name Dandelionlady partially because it was humble and earthy. Swans? Do I have to wear a tutu?
But I wasn’t really given a choice.
It was Samhain when I first encountered them. We were doing our ritual at Rose Lake: state land reserved for recreation and research. I had suggested that we do water scrying and then go to visit a large square stone that we had dubbed the Oath Stone. For the scrying I held the bowl for everyone, trying to get angle so that the moon was reflected in the dark waters. I wasn’t sure if it was working at all. It seemed to me that my grove members were humoring my tendency for the mystical and dramatic. When it was my turn to look into the bowl my friend held it as I looked downward into the rippling darkness. I felt foolish staring into the water, trying to find some meaning hidden within. The waters remained stubbornly dark and water like. No hidden imagery at all. So it was with some disappointment that I led people toward the Oath Rock along the tree lined dirt path.
bravely foolishly wandered off the trail. Like the Fool card I lept, but instead of rainbows and puppies I found myself embroiled in a wild rose thicket. At first I carefully moved the branches away from myself as best as I could, but eventually as the clock in my head ticked onward and the people I was leading continued to wait on the trail I pushed ahead harder. I had found the hill that was directly to the west of the spot I wanted to be, so if I just kept pushing east and downhill I knew I would find the hollow spot where a giant tree had fallen and a smaller three boled tree had grown next to the knee high cube of granite.
It was at this point that I began to have the visions. Superimposed over the dark chaos of branch and thorn before me was something else. I had glimpses of flying birds and the feel of softness against my cheek even as my legs and arms were torn by the bite of the rose. My sight would flicker back and forth between the internal world high above the woods and my external world struggling through the undergrowth. Finally I broke free of the thicket and into high grasses that quickly led to the downward sweep of the hollow I had been looking for. I called to my grovemates, who were only a short way away. As they poured beer and spoke of oaths fulfilled and promises they made that day I was elsewhere. Once the pressure of finding the place had eased, the inward pressure of vision increased and I sank downward into it. I saw the birds land and there was a rustic cabin in the woods. The birds became women and went inside. I saw a glow radiating from the edges of the logs and from the windows as if the whole thing was filled with nothing but light. I could not go inside. The light seemed to peak and then instantly I was within. There was a room full of winged women, some young, some old. I was among them, youngest of all, and I had wings on my back as well. It was a shocking vision for me and while my feet were rooted firmly on the frozen ground my wings were soaring far above in a starlit sky.
That was merely the beginning of ongoing dreams and visions of these spirits. Fast forward a few years and a lot of books later, I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned at Convocation, but the funny thing is how it all ends up revolving around such material questions as how many LED lights do I need and how do I make a fake fire look good in a hotel? Remembering to bring containers to put the offerings in is important. Coordinating people coming from many cities to take parts, and getting everyone and everything organized while there’s a dozen other competing events is intense. Wish me luck as I prepare, dear reader. Getting ready for a big ritual is always a scary thing. May the swan spirits wing their way to inspire and guide me so that I may in turn inspire those who attend. It’s a funny thing, where a daydream in a rose thicket can lead a person.