The Swan totem

by Jenny Chapman Diary

Imbolc marks Spring or the beginning of the new year. There is an awakening in nature. Changes occur on a cellular level - swollen buds and greening leaves. The combination of light and temperature, in any particular Spring, helps predict plant growth which in turn affects the survival and reproduction of wildlife species dependent on their seeds, nuts and fruits. 

In some of the old calendars, Spring began on 1st February or on Candlemas, 2nd February. This festival and its processing with candles marked the end of the winter. It also ended the period of sexual abstinence, practiced since Advent, to avoid newborns or heavily pregnant women during the harvest.

Tales of love, sexual initiation and sovereignty lie at the heart of Imbolc. Birds are meant to find their mates on Valentine’s Day. There is the mythical swan maiden with her garment of swan feathers who is transformed into a wife. A traditional symbol of beauty and grace people believed the swan sang a sweet and beautiful song when people (or perhaps parts of a person’s psyche) died - the swan song. 

Likewise, the Valkerie (often a Swan) or Odin’s Shield-Maidens, has associations with both service and slaughter. They were said to alternate between a loving aspect (virgins with golden hair and snowy arms who served heroes everlasting mead and meat in the great hall of Valhalla) and bloodthirsty modalities (sinister spirits of slaughter, dark angels of death who soared over the battlefields like birds of prey, meting out fate in the name of Odin).

This is the time of year an alchemy can take place between any of our internal warring tribes!