Muses to Inspire You
By Molly Anderson-Childers | Updated 9/6/15
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, the last remaining element, 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.
Let the Muses of Air inspire you to soar with the swans even if you feel like an ugly duckling today. 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, the subject of this article, 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, my article 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:
© 2009 Molly Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.