Multicultural Muses



Elemental Muses to Inspire Creativity

Air: An Ugly Duckling Soaring with Swans

The air we breathe is like creativity itself.

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated April 15, 2018


My exploration of the elements as muses has inspired me to look more closely at the world around me, and create art that reflects my connection to the elements of fire, water, and earth. Air is perhaps the most mysterious of the four; it sustains us, fills us with every breath, and yet we cannot see it, touch it, nor smell it. In this way, I feel, the air we breathe is like creativity itself — intangible, invisible, and essential to our very survival.


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Let the muses of air inspire you. Pick your favorite fairy, sprite, air goddess or deity, and dedicate a poem, story, or work of art in her honor. Create a portrait of a swan maiden, make fairy wings and wear them to the grocery store, write a poem about a fairy, or just lie back and watch the summer clouds roll by.

Let the Muses of Air inspire you to soar with the swans, even if you feel like an ugly duckling. When I researched muses and goddesses; deities from all over the world, I found that there were air goddesses or air muses in nearly every culture, in every region of the globe from the icy reaches of the Arctic wastelands to right here in the American Southwest.

Many of them are associated with storms and severe weather, like the weather goddess Undutar of Finland, who strains the fog and mist with a silver sieve before sending them down to earth. Faeries are some of my favorite air-muses. They spread ideas and pixie dust all over my studio!

Other air goddesses or air muses are shape-shifters similar to Sigrun, a Scandinavian swan maiden said to be the personification of the wind. Swan maidens are women who are able to transform into swans, often with the aid of some magical object such as a feather cloak, a ring or golden necklace, a crown, or a pair of wings. When I discovered these airy muses, I was instantly inspired to begin a story about seven swan maidens of my own.

In the meantime, this piece was not getting written! So, using a little of that earthy bedrock discipline I discussed in Standing on Solid Ground, I forced myself to leave the airy heights of the Swan Maidens, and sit down to write with all that juicy inspiration fresh on my lips.

You may be familiar with the story "The Twelve Wild Swans," in which Rose, a brave and resourceful girl, must weave shirts of nettles and take a vow of silence in order to save her brothers from an enchantment that has turned them into swans. That's the way most of us were introduced to the rich swan mythology that inspired this article — through fairy tales like "The Twelve Wild Swans."

As it turns out, these old stories have a lot of basis in world mythology and religion. I found examples of shape shifting bird goddesses, muses, and deities all over the world. Tibetans, whose names of deities, when translated, are poems of their own, worshipped the Red Crow-headed Thunderbolt Goddess and the Dark Brown Yak-Headed Rakshasa Goddess, who was often pictured with a thunderbolt in hand.

I always felt sorry for heroines like Rose; forced to do impossible tasks, for little or no real reward. As a child, I wanted to get rid of my brothers, and did not sympathize with her cause. If some witch had offered to turn my younger brothers into swans or toucans or parakeets, I would have been delighted!

And I was secretly jealous of the swan-brothers, although they proclaimed that they wished to be human again. They, at least, got to fly. Typical, I thought, disgusted. Boys get to have all the fun, girls get to shut up and do all the hard work. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered the swan maidens! In these stories, the girls had more fun. Many men, lured by their beauty, tried to entrap them by stealing their feathered cloaks and magic rings and necklaces, but these marriages always ended badly. The swan maidens inevitably returned to their true home in the sky.

Scandinavia and Germany are especially rich with this lore, with stories about swan maidens like Kara, Groa, Allwise, and The Wunschelwybere. The Wunschelwybere are German swan maidens, said to be the shape-changers that use a golden necklace to become swans. According to my well-thumbed copy of Goddesses in World Mythology, by Ann and Imel, these mythological women are personifications of the air or clouds, whose necklaces symbolize the glow of sunrise and sunset.

This gorgeous image inspired the beginnings of a short story. Here's a little taste, to tempt you:

The Swan Maidens

I fly with my sisters to a lonely lake, deep in the forest. We go there to bathe at sunrise and sunset, where the golden light reveals that we are not merely swans, not entirely swans. We are also women — women with a secret. When we remove our golden necklaces and feather cloaks and hang them from the branches of the oak-trees that crouch low beside the little lake, dipping their toes in the water, it is clear that we are not merely swans, but lovely golden-haired maidens under an enchantment.

Next: A Treatise on the Light: A Return to Joy After Walking the Dark Road Alone

©2009 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.