12 Days of Christmas

Day 7: Wild Swans

Wild Swans. Morris (1855), British Game Birds and Wildfowl.
Wild Swans. Morris (1855), British Game Birds and Wildfowl.

We are on the cusp of a new year, a time of transition – looking forwards and looking back. This morning, before the sun had risen behind the hills of Uist in the east, I looked out on to a silver path over the waves inviting me to journey into the west. A full moon creating an illusion of magic. The islands of the west are home to an ancient and rugged mythology which persists in the oral tradition of story telling and the ceilidh.
Swans feature strongly in Celtic mythology, with gods having the ability to change into swans and mysterious swan maidens bound to the earth when their robe of feathes are stolen and hidden. It is not difficult to understand the mystery and fascination with wild swans – imagine a herd of wild swans flying low over the sea, their strong white wings and long necks silhouetted against a stormy sky. Then they are gone, leaving an echo of a bugling call. Haunting and evocative, perhaps they really are the Children of Lir, condemned to swim between the Scottish and Irish coasts for 900 years.
Each autumn I scan the horizon to the north, looking for the Whooper Swans, flying from Iceland to spend the winter in the Uists. In the spring, I listen for their call of farewell as they leave for their breeding grounds. The arrival and departure of the swans are one of my symbols of the changing seasons, of transistion.
The land of the Gaels is no place for Janus Pater, the door keeper, the Roman guardian of the new year, and custodian of the calendar, from whom January takes its name. I am proposing to offer you a more appropriate symbol of transition to mark the the arrival of a new year. Imbued with romance, myth and magic, seven flying wild swans for the 7th day of Christmas.
Bliadhna Mhath Ùr – Happy New Year



2 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas”

  1. Oh that is such an appropriate symbol, Christine, particularly with the illustration you have used. And it’s always interesting to hear about the local mythology from you

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