A Ritual for Seeking Swan Spirit Guides

A Ritual for Seeking Swan Spirit Guides May 31, 2018

I was honored to be asked to present my findings on swan spirits at Wellspring Festival this year in the form of both a workshop on my research on the topic as well as a ritual invoking them and asking them to work with the assembled folk. I’ve written about the swan maidens before on here, and probably will again, since they are a large part of my personal practice.

This was the second time I have presented a swan maiden ritual.  The first was some years ago at Convocation and I’ve had a very good response from participants in both the indoor version there as well as the outdoor version at Wellspring.  I was particularly pleased how many people were able to have trance visions of swan spirits there, considering how prevalent the mosquito spirits were at the site.

Classical Painting of nymphs frolicking in the water in the dawn light.
Paul Émile Chabas – Les nymphes de danse Used with Permission from Wikimedia

Mosquitos aside, it is a truly lovely ritual area to work in, with covered seating, a raised fire pit, and lovely statuary.  The sun was setting over the pines as we worked, which was a perfect liminal time for the work.  The swan maiden spirits that I have worked with have been incredibly helpful in my life and I have seen others connect as well.  They are valkyries and sidhe, spirits, ancestors and goddesses. This rite is meant to evoke them in a broad way and then let people experience them.   It is designed for a group, but could easily be adapted for a solitary.

If you do try this ritual, I would love to know how it goes and what happens.

Swan Maiden Ritual

I am adding notes and directions and attributions in italics.  Often rituals that are shared are mostly fancy words, but I find that explaining the details of non verbal ritual actions and why I used the elements of ritual in a certain way can be very useful when someone is trying to recreate a ritual.  Anything that is not otherwise indicated is my own original words.

Processional and Purification:

In this case we had the ritual team, which consisted of seven people, walk into the the site with incense, salt water, and white feathers.  They circled around and purified themselves and the folk while everyone sang.  Often in ADF rites the processional and purification are seperate events, and often the assembled folk walk in.  Because I wanted it to be a little less chaotic as an entry and because I wanted to make sure the ritual was a little less bulky and long I combined the two elements. 

Come we now as a people,
to gather at the sacred well,
Come we now as a people,
to gather in the warmth and the light of the flame.

(Words and music by Rev. Ian Corrigan)

Earth Mother Invocation as River Mother:

Earth mother, blue snake goddess, we call to you as the winding river. As the waters flow from the sky, as the waters flow down the mountain, as the waters gather together we call to you: life bringer, health bringer, fertility maker. Your sparkling speaking waters bring us joy, your flowing, freeing waters bring us together, animal and plant, fungus and lichen, human and other. We are brought together by you. We ask that you turn your attention this way, and bless this rite. Please bring us together today as you bring all beings together. Let us work this rite in wisdom and compassion in power and kindness.

Earth Mother, please accept this offering.

Sing The River Is Flowing (attributed to Flight of the Hawk)

The river she is flowing
Flowing and growing
The river she is flowing
Down to the sea.
Mother carry me
Child I will always be
Mother carry me
Down to the sea.

Outdwellers Offering:

By Jenn Hatter

I call out to the outdwellers, to the other, to those around us who stand at purposes cross to ours and ask that you leave us to our work in peace. I also call to that which is in side each of us, that part that may stand in the way of our work today, and ask that we set it aside.

Offer half of the beer, place the bottle on the edge of the ritual space and say:  

I offer this promise in exchange for your own.

Gate opening

Fire Well and Tree are hallowed and connected to the first fire, the primordial water and the world tree.

Offering to the Fire Priest and Gate Opening:

(Written by Rev. Chelly Couvrette and inspired by Rev. Carrion)

Children of Earth! Once we call in the keeper of gates let our magics truly mingle to allow the gates to open freely. Let us make a clockwise spiral towards the fire, once more towards the well. As our tree becomes a bridge let us envision it growing ever taller and it’s roots ever deeper and show that with our arms as we raise one and drop the other. As we declare the gates to be open, let us throw open our arms as we would throw open a curtain.

Are you ready children of Earth?
(This will need an affirmative response)

Then, let us call through the mists,
Call to the Eldest and Wisest of the Worlds as we seek a Priest of the Sacred fire!
Fire Priest, come and aid us in our work and join your magics with our own!
Fire Priest, Accept our offering!
(Offering Given)

Fire Priest, it is time for us to stand at the center of all worlds once more,
Let these flames (clockwise spiral over the fire) carry our praise and Sacrifices to the Shining Ones,
Let these waters (clockwise spiral over the well) carry our praise and Sacrifices to the Mighty Dead,
Let this tree, extend (hands extend one palm up(top hand) one palm down( bottom hand) as a bridge and connect all the worlds as they become one in this place
By the land before us!
By the seas about us!
By the sky above us!
(typical open-y hands that a lot of people do) Let the Gates Be Open!

Kindred Offerings

Ancestors
Nature Spirits
Shining Ones

Swan Maidens Main Offering:

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(repeat by the congregants)

We call to Norse Hervör alvitr and Hlaðguðr svanhvít. Valkyries mighty and sisters true. One named Army-woman All-wise and one named Veiled-valkyrie Swan-white. Both who wedded for seven years to seed the myth of Volund smith, the curse to return to the spirit realm kept at bay for many years.

(Gift of Amber)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(repeat by the congregants)

We call to Baltic Gulbė mergelė the swan maiden. Sweet and kind she helped an old man and woman on their farm, but flew away at the end of day. With stolen wing she was forced to stay, the King to see and Queen was made. Her father as swan flew above, and begged to drop a wing below, she did not go. Her mother as swan flew above, and begged the queen to take the wing, but son she had, so she did not go. Her beloved came, and begged the same, this time her heart did glow. Her son to leave, she took the wing and this time she did go. But sweet and kind this maiden was, she did not forget the son left behind. She sang sweet songs on window ledge, and flew away again. Though time did take her beloved to war and to the land of the dead, and though the king did marry again the song she still did sing. Sweet and kind the swan queen came and sang to her son from window ledge, and so was caught in the end by the king, and lived with him again.

(Gift of Milk)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(repeat by the congregants)

We call to the Slavic Vila: these women untimely dead who haunt the hills and woods. They bring the breath of wind and death, and they too take the form of a swan. Legends tell of those who steal their wings and make them live again. But always they leave, often with blood and strife in their wake, war to make again. Only the brave dare try and take the wing of such as those.

(Gift of Pancake)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(repeat by the congregants)

We call to the Vedic Saraswati, goddess of river and song. She rides on the back of a milk white swan the symbol of discernment and purity. Giver of the power of expression, delighting in inspiration,. Saraswati you are the sister of six rivers. Saraswati you are the seventh river. Speaker of truth and beloved one you bring order and imagination.

(Gift of Butter)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(repeat by the congregants)

We call to Celtic Fionnuala daughter of Lir, sentenced to serve 900 years without returning to human form. Her stepmother’s jealousy wreaked havok with form, so she and her brothers swam unloved, from the land were torn.

We call to Celtic Caer Ibormeith vision walker, music maker, beloved of Angus Og, the god of love. Sidhe from under the mound she walked in swan form chained two by two. Angus did seek her on Samhain day, transformation came, and away they flew.

(Gift of Chain)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(repeat by the congregants)

We call to Leda daughter of Thestius, she who caught divine Zeus in the form of a swan. Mother of heroes and Helen. It is said that Nemesis brought the egg that was laid that became she who was the breaker of Troy. Leda, mother of the most beautiful Helen. Leda, mother of the divine twins Castor and Pollux.

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.
(From this point repeat the refrain with the congregants and raise energy as the final prayer of sacrifice.)

Omen

In this case our Seer took an omen that included the question “Were our offerings Accepted?” this means that if we got a bad omen for that particular question we would have been giving more offerings and singing more songs.  “We are the flow, We are the ebb” is a good swan maiden chant, or we could have gone around and spoken about how we had exemplified the qualities of the swan maidens, to inspire, to help, to love.  We could have simply toned.  It would have depended on the omen and intuition.  We did in fact get a positive omen, and moved forward for the blessings. 

Blessing the Waters of Life in a Trance Hammer Style:

Trance Hammer technique is pulled from Shauna Aura Knight’s work. I have worked to adapt it into an ADF style. It takes a minimum of three people speaking words in the center, plus one priest doing the invocation more loudly and over the top. I often do this invocation in a semi-singing gregorian chant style which helps differentiate it from the words spoken. I got the idea of doing invocations in a song/chant style from Rev. Kirk Thomas. 

First, get everyone to tone, which is just humming.  Once the humming is well established, three members of the ritual team stand around the center altar pointing outward towards the congregants, speaking words about the swan maidens like rivers, sun, healing, inspiration, creativity….

Then the team member blessing the waters holds the waters up.  This was a large ritual, so we had two team members who were going to pass out the waters. They also assisted in holding up the jar with the waters in them because that stuff gets heavy!

This is where the gregorian chant comes in, and it’s not something I can script.   You can’t read off a page because you’re holding a big jar of water and you need to include the blessing offered by the omen which means you don’t know exactly what you’re saying until you say it.  I can say: start the sing-song low, and slowly move to higher notes.  Make sure to ask for the waters of life, ask the swan maidens to bless and transform the waters.  You can talk about these waters being cut off and made sacred.  In this case the omens focused on mystery and transformation which worked really well. It’s always nice when the random chance of pulling runes creates an omen that is perfect. 

The point of the trance hammer is to create audio overstimulation, it’s a very effective technique in ritual groups. I’ve also used it to open the gates in ADF rites, and it’s particularly interesting to do what I’ve called a Rolling Trance Hammer where the blessing of the hallows, the gate opening, and the kindred offerings are all rolled up into one big trance hammer. 

The Sharing of the Waters and Guided Trance to Meet the Swans:

There’s a lot of stage directions and commentary at this point because how you make the words happen is more important than the words themselves at this point.  I’ve found that when we talk about ritual we talk about words a lot. That’s great, but ritual without stage directions, blocking, and gesture is a dry and one dimensional thing. 

We took the waters and divided them into two pitchers that were taken around by two members of the ritual team and poured onto people’s hands. This is a technique that is most effective outdoors, obviously.  While that was happening I began a guided trance. 

Let us begin our vision. Let us behold the inspiration. Hold out your hands and receive the blessings of the waters of the sacred rivers. Breathe deep now, Breathe in, breathe out (repeat, slowing over time until breath is slow and synchronized throughout the space)

We have called to the swan spirits, guides of inspiration and creativity; feel them here with us now, the soft feathers of their wings, the flowing mist rising from the river of blessings. Imagine now the soft colors of the fading light, the blues and dusty purples of the last moments after the sun has set. See now the flock as it comes, flying through the gathering night the moonlight reflecting on ivory wings.
Their long necks stretched out the broad wings beating steadily. They come.

Have swan maidens move in a circular motion around the room, waving shawls to create a subtle breeze until the pouring of the waters is done. I didn’t do this part in the ritual at Wellspring, though we did do it at Convocation to good effect. Getting people to flap around in ritual can be cool, but it can also be ridiculous.  Your milage may vary. 

Take one of your hands and begin to keep time to your heartbeat. Feel that thrumming within you. This is the movement of the spirit, this is the rhythm of existence, this is your order, never stopping until you die. Feel the beating of their wings as the beating of your heart. The rhythm of your heart is the rhythm of the cosmos: the spinning, dancing, never ending upwelling of creation. We call them. They come.

 

This is the gift of the swan, hold it to your heart close your eyes and let inspiration come. What do you see? What do you feel? What is it that you need to do? Where does your inspiration lead you?

Pause for a bit to let people have their own unique vision.  This is a tricky part, because you don’t want to cut people off, but you don’t want to wait too long. I tend take a moment to dive more deeply into trance vision and check to see what the spirits are doing.  In this case I saw a bunch of swan maidens sitting around on the tops of the pavilions watching us like we were a good movie. I also watch the human folk for signs of boredom or coming out of trance: looking around, fidgeting, and coughing are all signs that it’s time to move on.   

Before the ritual I passed out song sheets that included the river mother song, the refrain the folk were supposed to repeat for the main offering and this, the Descent of the Swan Maidens.  It’s based on the idea of the Descent of Brighid and I asked everyone if they were willing to speak it together, and then we did so when they agreed. 

Descent of the Swan Maidens

This is the descent of the Swan Maidens.
Swan spirits fly among us.
Gifts given and blessings passed to us.
Let their magic float down upon us.
White feathers in the dark with us.

The power of the flock flying together.
The power to share, the power to speak,
The power to listen, the power to lead,
The power to heal, the power to protect,
The power to inspire, the power to guide.
Power within, power without, power with.

Strength of the hollow bone of migratory flight,
Swiftness of the flow of rivers might.
Magic to cross the boundaries of land, sea, and sky.
Shape to transform to wings that can fly.

Let us take flight.

That’s the end of the transformative working, and then we’re spiraling back out into the mundane. I chose to say all the thank yous to all the spirits except the Gate Keeper so that the team member who opened the gates could close them. I’ve found that it takes a lot longer for each person to individually thank the spirits as they were invited. The mosquitos told me that would be a bad plan. 

When we came to the end of the rite, I invited people to come up and take a glass bead that had been blessed by the waters. This is something that my grove, Cedarsong, does at almost every high day rite. We find it’s really nice to give people a small remembrance of the ritual.

To Finish it Off

One of the advantages of waiting to  give tokens away until the end is that I get a chance to gage the folk’s reaction to the working.  I also get a chance to be available if people need aftercare.  Anytime you do transformative or magical ritual work you should be prepared and available in case there are those who have had a particularly rough time.

In this case I did have an individual who needed to interact in that way, and I encouraged them to hang out by the fire while I took care of my own bodily needs, including putting my ritual gear away and getting some water. I then spent some time helping the individual work though what they were experiencing in terms of the ritual and the trancework they experienced. It’s all part of this priest gig.

Speaking of my priest gig, it’s not a paid position, but I do it like full time work.  If you’d be interested in supporting my vocation so I can pay for things like gas to festivals, time for writing up stage directions, and supplies for rituals please consider becoming a Patreon. Thank you to everyone who has supported me, and blessings on all those who do the Work. 

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