White swan symbolism is related to light, grace, beauty, love, and purity, whereas black swan is found in occult symbolism. The swan is an emblem of feminine beauty and softness and has even had operas and ballets written about it.
In this guide, we will discuss white swan meaning, the meaning of dreaming of swans, and what does a black swan symbolize so that you will be in a better position to understand what the graceful bird is trying to tell you.
Table of contents
Swan symbolism and meaning
A swan personality is mixed–so it is an ambiguous symbol of light, love, romance, death, transformation, poetry, and melancholy passion and is especially highly represented in ballets and operas.
In 1848, the white swan became the hero of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and other tales of the swan knight. Similarly, in 1876, Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake, depicted feminine softness, beauty, and grace.
In Roman mythology, the swan symbol is connected to Aphrodite’s beauty as well as with Apollo – the God of poetry, prophecy, and music. There is a Greek fable which tells us about the swans’ last unearthly song as they die, which tie them up to poetry as well as death.
There is also a legend that connects the swan to the ‘waters of the Underworld’ and, through many cultures, the swan has been linked to the ‘loss of love.’
Swans never plunge beneath the waters. That is why; sailors believed that swan symbolic meaning is a sign ‘against shipwreck.’ The swan’s fresh white plumage is considered as the symbol of purity and grace.
Many romantic writers and musicians have depicted the swan’s grace and beauty as symbolic of the sun and light. When swans mate and make love, they intertwine their necks. This has become a symbol of love and romance in many cultures. (1)
Swan Native American symbolism
Bird symbolism was integral to Native American cultures and tribes. Ceremonial fans made from bird feathers played an important role in Native American medicine, healing, magic, and rituals.
The swan was very sacred to the Natives and they used its feathers to make ceremonial fans, cloaks, and feather jewelry. The elders in the tribes always narrated swan mythology legends of different animals and birds to depict the messages these animals/birds portrayed.
This knowledge was passed on to the younger generations. Accordingly, the swan represented the North Direction and was also the first Power of Creation, which is the Wind.
The whiteness of the swan represented grace, purity, beauty, strength, wisdom, and old age. Feather artwork has been reported in many Native cultures and tribes along the Rhode Island and further down south.
One can find Native American feather artwork of birds like turkeys, cardinal, India duck, guinea, Sheldrake, loon, heron, swan, and flamingo. The swan is an important bird in Shamanism. The elders believed the swan to be the ‘soul’ of a voyaging shaman.
A female shaman is called a swan in some Native American languages. Dreaming of a swan meant glimpsing the highest heaven and the dreamer was said to be acknowledged by the celestial beings. (2)
Swan Christianity symbolism
What is the spiritual meaning of swan? An ambivalent symbol in Judaism, the swan (or the duck or goose), is conspicuous on ceremonial objects, although categorized as a bird of defilement in the Bible.
In the Christian tradition, the swan symbolizes purity and grace and is emblematic of the love of God. According to Deut 14:16 KJV- the swan is an ‘unclean bird.’ In many versions of the Bible, it is translated as a desert owl or white owl or the pelican. It is even referred to as the barn owl.
In the Birds of the Bible, the authors state that the swan has been mentioned twice in the Holy Scriptures. It is referred to, in both instances, as one of the birds the Jews were forbidden to eat.
Swans were not very plentiful, but they did exist at the time and in the land of Moses. They were, no doubt, the fatted fowl served at great feasts in the Bible lands as they were in Greece and Italy.
Ducks, geese, and swans always abounded on the waters of Palestine but never in large numbers as the climate was tropical in most locations to agree with the habits of these birds that belonged to the colder waters.
Swan Celtic symbolism
In many Celtic myths, the swan represents the beneficent and healing power of the sun. There is also a story of children of Lir being turned into swans – which reminds us that Celtic myths always have affinities to fairy tales and shape-shifting.
The name swan comes from an Indo-European word meaning “to sing” or “song.” Also, from Irish mythology comes the legend of the four children of Llyr, who were transformed into swans by their father’s second wife, Aoife.
In many Gaelic and Irish tales, swans appear as messengers. Their message is mainly of love and they speak of the love that already exists within each of us.
Swan characteristics include the fact that it is at home within the three realms of existence: the sky, water, and land as well.
Water is symbolic of the depths of our consciousness and the swan always stays on the surface of the water. Thus the swan also appears to speak to the dawn of consciousness.
In Scottish and Gaelic mythologies, the swan is termed as ‘eala,’ which is very similar to Hoela or ‘sun.’ It could mean that the eala is a white angel or a pure spiritual being personified as a white and graceful bird. (3)
Swan in dreams
What does a swan represent in dreams? Dreams about birds are some of the most interesting to interpret.
When interpreting your own dreams about birds, in this case, swans do not limit it to what this guide says but come up with your own special meaning and symbolism. After all, dreams are as unique and individual as the people who dream them.
Generally speaking, all birds represent a spiritual connection or the Higher Realm. They also represent an innate desire to run or fly away from a current situation that you are facing.
However, dreaming of swans means persisting. A swan does not fly, nor does it plunge under the water. It keeps swimming, rather floating gracefully on the surface of the lake or pond.
Thus, the swan is telling you to be graceful and silent. It is asking you to simply relax and let go and surrender to the Higher Power. Be like the swan: beautiful, graceful, and silent.
Dreaming of a pair of swans indicates a strong and loving relationship. It also means fidelity and loyalty. A swan may also be telling you that transformation is on the way. Just like the ugly duckling becomes a graceful swan, so will you!
Swan encounters and omens
A swan, with its elegant beauty and grace, tells you to be silent, graceful, and elegant as well. An encounter with a swan can also be taken as an omen that you will soon be meeting your soul mate and that you will be in a loving, trusting, and loyal relationship.
The swan’s long neck is beautiful and graceful, but in some representations, it is taken as the symbol of the phallus. Thus, encountering a swan suddenly might mean sexual encounter is on the cards.
In Asia and Europe, the white swan stands for grace, beauty, light, purity, as well as the sun. On the other hand, black swan symbolism is used in occult sciences and can have negative connotations.
Where the white swan meaning is feminine, the black swan meaning is masculine. They are yin and yang and together they represent balance.
Among the Slavic and Scandinavian peoples, the white swan symbolism or femininity dominates. And while the black swan is not necessarily evil or negative, it has become the metaphor for a ‘rare event’ or the fact that ‘the world can change in the blink of an eye.’
Black swans were not known to exist to Europeans. And therefore, when a rare species of black swans was suddenly discovered in Australia, the word black swan itself became a theory related to unexpected events that had a large magnitude and impact on the world. (4)
Swan mythology and folklore
Swans are extremely graceful in air and water and their grace and beauty are only a few of the attributes that humans wish to have. That is why; swans have played an important role in mythology and many cultures have tales about these beautiful birds.
The swan maiden is one of the most popular among all swan-related folklores. It is present in Celtic, Irish, and Germanic cultures.
The story talks about a swan maiden who can shape-shift between a woman and swan forms. While bathing, a youth steals her swan cloak and renders her helpless due to which she has no choice but to marry him.
There are many parallels around this tale and Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and other fairy tale writers have also written on a similar theme. Greek playwright Aeschylus mentions swan-maidens as well. Likewise, Masaharu Anesaki discusses the Japanese version of the swan maiden tale.
Yamatotakeru – a guardian deity in the Buddhist Mountains of Reishuzan and Tendaizan, upon his death, becomes a swan. In Chinese swan mythology, it is a “fairy” among the birds who often fly towards the sun and glides back down, bringing blessings to the human world.
For its nobility, the Swan is worshipped by the Common People. In Siberia and Ireland, killing a swan brings misfortune or death. The souls of maidens were said to dwell in swans. In Hindu mythology, swans are sacred too. Lord Vishnu’s vehicle or Vahana is a swan or Hamsa. (5)
Swan spirit animal
Swan spirit animal means sublime knowledge. Seeing a swan on a lake is magical and as the bird moves gracefully on water, it appears almost like a dream.
A baby swan is called a cygnet and the word is very similar to Cygnus (Latin word for swan), which is a constellation. The star constellation is based on Queen Leda, who is ravished by Zeus, who visits her in the form of a swan.
The union gives rise to Pollux and his half-brother Castor, which form the Gemini constellation. To have swan as a spirit animal means you are blessed by the celestial beings.
Swan is so graceful and powerful as it spreads its wings and flies. The French word cygne is pronounced in the same way as signe (“sign” in English), and when Swan crosses our path, it often carries the message that we should be aware of our inner beauty.
The swan is the perfect companion for someone struggling with their outward appearance. When the outer word appears foreboding, the swan guides you back to light.
Swans mate for life, but before you can love someone else, you need to love yourself first. The swan’s lifelong mating tradition will guide you to an inner marriage readying you for a commitment in the real world. (6)
Swan totem animal
The swan is one of the most ancient and powerful totems. This is reflected in its name, as well. The name ‘swan’ is one of the oldest in the English language handed down from the Anglo Saxon Times and it hasn’t been changed since.
The swan is a graceful and sensitive bird, which is why people with this totem are also rather sensitive. They find themselves becoming sensitive to the emotions of others as well.
In swan totem, you become aware of your own inner beauty. You also unfold the ability to bridge to other realms and powers.
The swan medicine helps you see the inner beauty of yourself as well as of others despite outer appearances. And that ability makes you like a ‘magnet’ that draws other people to you.
Swans thrive in cold conditions and they hate the heat and summer warmth. That is why; people with swan totem do well in cold climates. For the same reason, the swan has an affinity to the Northern Direction.
From Greece comes the mystery of the swan song. The swan sings its most beautiful song just before it dies. This swan song has become tied to poetic fantasy. That is why; the swan animal totem also teaches mysteries of song and poetry that touch the child and the beauty within. (7)
Swan power animal
Swan transforms from small, ugly, and clumsy, into large, beautiful, and graceful. This swan power animal is all about transformation. It is also about being your ‘inner mate.’
Only when you form a ‘close loving bond’ with yourself can you bond with others. The swan is regal, refined, loving, and a pure and royal emblem. Water, which is where all swans live, symbolizes emotions. That is why; swans are an emblem of sensitivity and love.
Swans mate for life. They are generated from heart-to-heart contact. When swan power animal arises, it is urging you to get in touch with yourself.
You will find that only when you become whole within yourself, then you can form deeper and more meaningful relationships with others around you. The Swan power animal teaches you how to attract your physical partner and mate.
Meditate on the swan’s loving grace and beauty. Ask for the swan’s help when you are undergoing a phase of turmoil and change. The swan will guide you through the transformation.
It will help you see your inner and outer beauty. Make daily affirmations like ‘I am beautiful,’ ‘I am grateful’ etc. Now go ahead and walk with grace and beauty and let your inner beauty shine as you dazzle the world with your poise.
Swan tattoo meaning
The swan tattoo has taken on different meanings through the centuries, though one thing is common in all these representations – the swan is graceful, full of poise, and beauty.
Its delicate neck and white plumage represent elegance, grace, and stunning beauty as well. Swan tattoos are ideal for lovers of ballet, although it can also mean change, transformation, and even love, trust, fidelity, and loyalty.
A pair of swans tattoos indicate that you are in love and have found your soulmate. You can also get a swan pair tattooed if you want a reminder that your true love is out there waiting for you.
Said to be prophetic, the swan can actually predict its death. This has given rise to the legend of the swan song. Christians also believe that the mournful swan song could be the cries of Jesus as He was crucified upon the cross.
Get a swan tattoo if you are feeling under-confident due to your external looks but know that you are beautiful inside. A swan tattoo is a constant reminder that you are beautiful inside and out.
Get a swan tattoo when you want a reminder to get in touch with your mystical and spiritual side. An experienced tattoo artist can guide you as to what does swan symbolize in the form of a tattoo.
The meaning of a swan is grace, beauty, love, trust, and loyalty. Swan symbolism is also linked to inner beauty and self love. A pair of swans represent soul mates for life. We hope this guide on swan symbolism helps you decipher your own swan meaning so you can get in touch with your powerful inner beauty and love yourself more deeply.