Celtic-inspired swans artwork by Lotti Brown.
My Celtic swans artwork was inspired by this graceful symbol of inner beauty and true love.
Swans are a frequent theme in Celtic legend and folklore – we currently have around 200 whooper swans wintering in the wetlands of the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve, close to my home, and often see and hear the swans flying over. In years gone by, up to 300 Bewick’s swans would over-winter in the area – in Celtic times, the numbers of swans both here and in the Celtic strongholds of Wales and Ireland must have been even greater – a real feature in Celtic life and not surprising they feature in so many tales.
We all know the story of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake – a story drawn from Russian and European folktales of a princess enchanted to be a swan...
And European folklore is filled with princesses and maidens who are turned into swans – often as punishment!
'The Dream of Oengus' - swan true love!
The story of The Dream of Oengus is an Irish tale dating from at least the 12th century, if not earlier.
It tells of Oengus, a Celtic god of love, who falls in love with a woman who visits him in his dreams as he sleeps, Caer Ibormeith, a Celtic goddess of dreams.
Oengus searches for Caer and discovers her as a human woman, turned into a swan under enchantment. Oengus travels to Loch bel Draccon where Caer is in swan form along with 150 other swans about her.
Oengus calls to Caer and they both take swan form together. They fly off together as swans and sing so sweetly that the people around sleep for 3 days and 3 nights.
'The Swan Maidens' - a story of lifelong love and partnership
In one European fairy tale, The Swan Maidens, seven sisters wear beautiful swan robes and live as swans, flying in the skies and swimming in lakes. When they remove their swan robes, they are revealed as beautiful human maidens.
A hunter sees the swans on a lake near his home and watches as they remove their robes and turn into maidens. He falls in love with the youngest and hides her swan robes...
In the morning, the sisters all fly away leaving the youngest swan maiden behind. The hunter persuades her to marry him and they live happily together and have a family, but the swan maiden always thinks about and misses her sisters and her life as a swan.
One day, the swan maiden finds her lost (hidden) swan robes and joyfully dresses herself in them and flies away for her home with her sisters. As she leaves, she tells her children that her husband can find her in the mysterious Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
The hunter searches for his wife, enlisting the help of all the animals and birds to find this mythical land...
When he discovers the Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon, he finds his wife with her sisters, all in their swan form. Their father, the king, insists that the hunter must be able to identify his wife from amongst the 7 identical swan maidens dressed in their swan robes...
The hunter takes the hand of his wife and is able to see the callouses on her finger, made by the needle she’s used to sew the clothes of their little children – and he knows it is she.
The king allows the youngest daughter to leave with her husband and they live happily ever after with their family – but the hunter had to allow the swan maiden her swan robes so that she could visit her sisters whenever she wished...
And in return, the swan maiden promises to always return to her husband and family.
I scan all of my drawings into my computer and import them into Adobe Illustrator where I can play-around a bit with composition and colours to create the final artwork...
'The Children of Lir' - a story of a swan song!
All the swan tales are beautiful, but I think that my favourite is The Children of Lir, a swan story from Ireland – perhaps I love it so much because I actually saw four swans flying overhead whilst I was first reading it, which felt truly magical - as you'll see in a moment!
The story tells of a jealous step-mother who transforms the king Lir’s four children (her own step-children) into four swans for 900 years...
The swans are gifted with beautiful, musical voices and live on the Irish seas as the centuries pass.
When they return to their home after the allotted 900 years, their families have all died and gone and their homes are deserted and nothing is as it was.
It is said to be St. Patrick’s bell, bringing Christianity to Ireland, that frees the children from the enchantment and returns them to their human forms. When the children of Lir become human again, they are no longer children but very old and ready to die peacefully.
The Swan as a Symbol of Soul Transformation and Love
In Celtic times, the swan was often seen as a symbol of transformation and represented the soul. The swan was thought to be able to assist with communication with the ‘Otherworld’.
Celtic and Druid poets and bards would wear cloaks made of swan feathers for their performances – so swans also symbolise poetry, music and inspiration.
Swans are very associated with faithfulness and true love – as we’ve just seen in the Celtic and European folk tales.
Swans do mate for life, so symbolise loving partnerships and life-long love – the sort of love where you might have to work for, prove, or fight for your love – a love with real staying power and grit!
Swans are powerful and beautiful with a sense of serenity and grace.
It’s also inner beauty - as we see in the Danish tale of the Ugly Duckling where the scruffy little cygnet grows into a beautiful swan – also in the transformations from swans to beautiful maidens and princesses.
So my Celtic swans artwork is for a powerful lifelong love and strength of partnership – grace, beauty and personal transformation.
I’ve chosen to combine my Celtic swans with a knotwork design from the Ulbster Stone, Caithness and a traditional Pictish-knotwork design – both chosen to complement the graceful curves of the swans’ wings and feathers.
Purchase my Celtic Swans art prints and arty products...
I hope that the romance and beauty of the Celtic swan tales and my Celtic Swans artwork has inspired you...
If you love my Celtic swans artwork, you can buy it as an archival-quality art print on paper or canvas with a variety of mounting and framing options (including unframed so that you can use your own frame) - available in my own online art store powered by Pixels.com with printing centres in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA & Australia and worldwide delivery...
My Celtic Swans are also available printed onto a wide range of high-quality products including cushions, duvet covers, throw blankets, wall tapestries, mugs, bags, T-shirts and tops, silky scarves, phone cases, laptop sleeves and more - available at my online Redbubble store with printing & manufacturing centres in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia (and a promise to pay back any customs charges if you're charged)...
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Author: Lotti Brown
Artist, designer, and online drawing teacher.
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