Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swanning About Swan Maidens

Hi! Denise Golinowski here with this month's edition of Myth Perceptions.

Continuing with the Shapeshifters World Tour, I've crossed the channel from Scotland to Eastern Europe to explore the myth of the Swan Maidens.

As with most myths we've explored before, there are a variety of swan maiden myths spread across various cultures from Scandanavia to Germany to Japan. However, the majority of myths about Swan Maidens appear to be European in origin.

The Swam Maiden myth usually involves lovely magical women wearing swan skins or robes who regularly descend to quiet, isolated pools to shed their feathers and splash about in the waters. They are discovered by a human intruder, and one is captured when the intruder takes possession of her feather skin/robe. As long as the human male holds the robe, the swan maiden must remain with him in human form. Eventually, someone spills the beans about the whereabouts of the robe or the swan maiden finds it. Once she regains possession of her robe, she flies away abandoning the man as well as any offspring they may have engendered.  Click the link beneath this image to read what I found to be one of the most popular versions of the Swan Maiden myth.

From Europa's Fairy Book
The myth is most popularly portrayed by the ballet, Swan Lake with one crucial difference. The  man and maiden in this ballet are truly in love and sacrifice themselves in order to stay together.

I especially enjoyed the variety of swan maiden stories contained on this website -

What I find intriguing about this and some of the other shapeshifting myths is how a magical creature could make themselves so vulnerable as to shed the key to their freedom and then leave it lying around where a covetous human can steal it away from them. I guess when you're a magical creature, you can be as careless as any human, but it seems odd.

If you remove the stupidity factor (sorry, shapeshifters, but I'm calling a spade a spade here), the other fact that captures my imagination is that many of these shapeshifter myths seem to feature beautiful females being captured by human males and forced into marriage/motherhood. Consider selkies, kitsunes, and now swan maidens.

In light of this forced slavery, I am hard-pressed to be upset by the fact that when these females regain possession of their stolen skins, they leave the male without a backward glance. (Okay, there is the issue of their abandonment of their children, but since they are usually magical creatures only temporarily human, the concept of human attachment cannot apply). Heck, I'm surprised the females don't turn on the males in retribution, but perhaps the small, gentle or defenseless animal personas are not pure happenstance, eh? Seals? Swans? Foxes?

What do you think? Heartless Hussies or Escaping Victims?

Well, that's all for this month. Next month will be the final stop on our Shapeshifter World Tour and will bring us back to the Americas with an exploration of Skinwalkers.

Please feel free to leave me your thoughts about some of the questions I've raised or about the Shapeshifter World Tour in general. Or just say hello.

Denise Golinowski is a reader and writer of fantasy and romance. Collector's Item has been released by The Wild Rose Press exclusively on the Kindle and will be available in all electronic formats on May 17th, 2013!

Her first enovella, The Festival of the Flowers: The Courtesan and the Scholar is also available  through the Wild Rose Press. You can visit her blog at Golinowski's Gambol.


  1. What a lovely post, Denise. I recall tales such as this from my childhood. I was as fascinated by their mystical allure then as I am now. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Vonnie! Wonderful to see a Fellow Rose drop in and say hello! I'm glad you enjoyed the post and if you enjoy shapeshifter myths dig back over the past few months to meet Kitsune, Kelpies, and more. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  2. I agree, Denise. The one thing I thought of was how all of these tales seemed to involve a woman who is bound to a human male during a vulnerable moment. Interesting. I don't think of them as heartless; they shouldn't be forever enslaved because they gave birth to children they may never have wanted.

    Great post! :-)

    1. Hi, Tracey! Thank you for dropping in and sharing a comment. We're lead to believe that fairy tales are just sweetness and light, but there are definitely some darker themes at play in all of them. The capturing of inattentive shapeshifters is cruel and says something less than humane about the ones who take their skins. Thanks again for stopping in and giving me some feedback!

  3. I'm just cracking up over your reference to the "stupidity factor"! :-) When you're right, you're right! I'm enjoying the Shapeshifters World Tour!

    1. LOL, Leah! I mean, honestly, a supernatural being with such an "easy" vulnerability just tossing the key to their freedom on the ground while they go play can't just be called foolish. Okay, perhaps there's a level of arrogance to consider. OR, and probably more to the point, the original storytellers wanted to try and make the fantastic terrifying but not invincible since there were so many natural dangers that could not be overcome. But that's another topic to investigate later in Myth Perceptions, eh?

  4. I used to scare the crap out of myself as a child, reading The Red Book of Fairy Tales, then there was a blue book too, I think. Nightmares would always accompany these reads, which were more like scary sci-fi than what I'd believed fairy tales to be. At the time, I couldn't figure out why I was pulled to them time and time again, but now I think it was my way of trying to face the fears in my own life, by facing them on the page. Fairy tales will always have a fond place in my heart and I'm enjoying your blogs about them.