Birds Of A Feather

By and for Bird-People

Religion of the swan

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Religion of the swan

[Contains discussion of extreme taboos in human society. Might be disturbing.]

“In the end, it is our defiance that redeems us. If wolves had a religion – if there was a religion of the wolf – that it is what it would tell us.”
― Mark Rowlands, The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness

As a therian, I am always looking for ways to explore the mythic land between… I suppose, some people would call it, “human, and non-human animal”. Though, to avoid being speciesist (assuming there are no myths in the cultures of any non-humans), I think of it more like, “the being I am now, and the being I should be”. Whatever you call it, there is something mythic that rises out of that gap, between our bodies and our identities, between what we are and what we almost were.

Maybe, for everyone, not just therians.

But, it means I often am thinking about how to bring one to the other. How to see the experience of now through the eyes of what I might have been. And how to see the being I should have been, through the eyes of now. So, things like this, “if there was a religion of the wolf”, they are interesting to me. They bring those two sides of life close together. And, doing that, helps me to understand them both better.

If there was a religion of the swan, what would it be? There are many ideas in human legend, but mostly I think they are a too romantic ideal, nothing similar to the real life of the swan. The closest human legend I can think of that I would want to follow and believe in, is one that I have seen (called in very general words, “Native American”, and I don’t know how accurate it is), that says that the Swan is a symbol of being willing to surrender to the plans of fate. The swan looks “ugly” when it is born (in some opinions: I think cygnets are among the most beautiful creatures on Earth, and they deeply inspire my “mother instincts” in a way that human babies don’t), but because of trust in the plans of the Great Spirit, it is not afraid of the future, and as time passes it transforms into the beautiful adult swan that we know.

I think there’s a good spiritual message in this, for therians, and in general. As therians, we often have feelings of despair that we are trapped in these bodies, but the message of this story, is that we should trust in time to solve these difficulties, because no pain and suffering is eternal. And, the same for the rest of regular life. It’s something I believe in.

But, this is still a human idea of the swan, using a metaphor about how the swan looks. It’s a good idea that I try to make as part of my life, but, it’s not very “swan-like”. A swan is a wild animal who has to fight to survive. It’s not something a swan can do, to just say, “trust in time to solve your problems”. For a wild animal, sitting around and waiting for an answer is not possible.

So, what would be the religion of the real swan, the living swan, not the swan of myth? I think there is something recently that I come close to finding it, when a friend said to me about swans: “they’re often not as afraid of humans as humans think they ought to be, they’re not afraid to challenge them and they don’t respect human boundaries”. I think there is something very true about swans in this statement, that is also not true of many other animals. Swans are not afraid to challenge human boundaries. Most animals run from humans, and a few wander into their living places and become friends with them in exchange for food. But the swan is not the first, and not exactly the second… there is nothing domestic or pet-like about a swan, as most people know who have tried to feed them.

Instead, the swan is deciding where the boundaries will be. The swan steps into the human’s world, takes what it needs, but also, keeps its wild nature. There is no surrender and no caring for the line between “wild” and “tame”. The swan walks over that line and back again, without a thought, confusing humans who are taught to think of all animals as one or the other. The swan does not have use for the line. The swan is wild when it wants to be, and tame when it is useful.

In some way, this is similar to the “wolf religion” idea: it is defiance that redeems us. But, for a swan, I think it’s more simple. There is no high idea of anything “redeeming”. It is simply this: defiance is useful. If you are willing to break taboos, if you are willing to do the unthinkable, then you can get rewards in life that other beings are too afraid to get.

Maybe a good start for a swan religion would go like this: nothing is taboo, and everything can change. Just because you crossed a line, does not mean you can’t go back again. Just because you are one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t also be the opposite. It even fits in a nice way with the classic idea of the “ugly duckling”: just because you are “ugly”, doesn’t mean you can’t also be beautiful.

And, “everything can change”? That seems to be against the human idea that “swans mate for life”, right? But, like many human ideas about animals, “swans mate for life” is just a romantic fantasy. Actually, many swans are promiscuous.

How does this fit personally, for me as a therian? For a long time, I have been attracted to the idea of opposites in spirituality, or, particularly, beings and religions that embrace both opposites at the same time. One of the gods who I see as most important in the spiritual world is Hermes, who is often thought to be a being of opposites joined together. Recently, my UPG showed me a deity who is all about escaping the binary: She mixes together symbols that are opposite on purpose to present Her self in the world. So, this is a long tradition for me, and it doesn’t surprise me to see it appearing in the swan nature.

I am also someone who has very little care for most taboos. Of course, in the traditional meaning of “taboo”, this is, respecting someone’s religious or personal beliefs that prefer not to see or do a particular thing, absolutely, I respect it. But, in the sense of a taboo that society holds because there is a general fear of it, but does not examine it, I don’t feel afraid of things like that. I honestly think the world would be a better place if, with rational logic and without getting caught in our emotional reactions, we could discuss the morality of topics like bestiality, murder where there is consent on both sides (one person has a desire to be killed, the other person has a desire to kill), eating human flesh, sex work, nudity in public, and similar things. I am not saying these things are right or wrong, but I think that we would benefit from a society where it’s possible to discuss them without people automatically jumping to the idea that it is “sick”. Of course, when there are triggers involved, those triggers should be respected, but for many people, it’s not a situation of triggers, but simply a disgust and feeling that they are “above” the topic. The way it is right now, it’s almost not possible for any person to discuss these things in a rational way, because the biases of society are so heavy. I don’t feel comfortable with that.

The personality character of the swan as an average, is bold, noisy, and uncaring about the things that get in their way. It does not seem like an ideal way to live, and, in many ways, I agree it is not. But I also think in a world where most of the loud people are the wealthy, powerful and privileged, and most minority or underprivileged people are too afraid of attack to say anything, it’s good to have some underdog people who are loud and unscared. It probably puts me at risk, but I don’t think I can live my life any other way. And so, I’m proud to be a swan, with all my noise and courage.

I don’t know yet if it is my religion, but it is something that I do believe in.

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