On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my Goddess gave to me…
seven swans swimming.
For the seventh day, I am going to divert away a bit from the discussion of goddesses and instead share my thoughts about a book that sits on my shelf amongst my other pagan-oriented publications…
The Twelve Wild Swans by Starhawk and Hilary Valentine.
I have always loved Starhawk. She was one of my earliest teachers when I began my journey down the Path. Her books have played an important role in shaping my views of my spirituality…starting of course with The Spiral Dance and continuing with Dreaming the Dark, The Earth Path, The Empowerment Manual, and the novel she is currently working to develop into a movie - The Fifth Sacred Thing. I’ve done workshops with her, chanted with her, even taught her how to cuss in sign language. I quote her frequently on my Facebook wall, discuss her philosophy with my friends and fellow practitioners.
The Twelve Wild Swans, first published in 2001, is a resource book for Pagans that strives to continue the lessons and deepen the knowledge we were introduced to in Starhawk’s best-seller The Spiral Dance, long considered a classic mandatory text in any witch’s library.
The book takes its title from an ancient fairy tale of the same name. It is the story of a young princess who discovers the curse that had been placed upon her twelve brothers, changing them into twelve wild swans. Embarking upon a journey to resolve this terrible injustice and free her brothers, the princess discovers her true knowledge, her true powers, her true self.
The book uses the structure of this story as its own theme for journeying into the realm of magick, healing, and action. Its chapters address different components of the story – from Leaving the Castle and discovering the Wicked Vow, to facing the Challenge and experiencing the Transformation. And with every step of the way, we learn about the different magickal tools available to us – the spells, rituals, and various exercises that can make the journey not necessarily easier, but richer and more meaningful.
Modeling itself on the structure of the Reclaiming Tradition’s Witchcamps, the book introduces three possible paths that the reader can utilize as a roadmap to journeying through the world of magick, healing, and action:
The Elements Path is a good place to start if you’re new to the Craft, but even for an experienced witch it can be a good review of one’s skill and understanding of the basics. As the book explains, this path “teaches what we need to know to establish the first leg of the cauldron, that of personal spiritual practice and magick.
The second leg of the cauldron is the Inner Path, focusing on inner healing. Within the swan story lies an abundance of material to help us face and transform those wounded places within ourselves that block our joy, power, and ability to love. As Hilary Valentine explains:
Magic gives us tools for self-knowledge and change.
Finally, the Outer Path is the third leg of the cauldron, taking our energies out into the world to find the strength, courage, and faith to challenge the systems of power that dominate and shape our society. Written by Starhawk, here we learn how to work with the magick to answer the multitude of questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis in our roles as teachers, healers, organizers and ritual makers. As Starhawk reminds us:
The practice of magick rests on the power of the word.
In the story of the twelve wild swans, the ending tells of the transformation which occurs – a transformation which has both its positives and its negatives, as the youngest brother is left with one human arm and one swan wing. On one hand, he is unable to fly and also unable to perform some of the human tasks. Yet on the other hand, he now adopts a shamanic task – his so-called “handicap” becomes his source of power; a way of walking between the worlds and bridging them both, bringing each to a greater understanding of the other.
In the same way, I also struggle with those positives and negatives. I’m deaf, and yet not deaf. I am hearing, and yet not hearing. I too can adopt the shamanic task of walking between the worlds; a Pagan in the world of the Deaf, a Deafie in the world of the Pagans. I use my own “disability” as a source of power – the language and the community which it provides becomes my own bridge. Mixing such with my other magickal tools, I work to develop my own personal power, as well as the power within both communities to better understand and appreciate each other.
The Twelve Wild Swans is a resource that has helped me greatly in understanding myself, my spirituality, and my journey through this world – a journey that is not always easy, but definitely rewarding. If you haven’t read this book, I would encourage you to get a copy and give it a good look.
It could teach you how to give flight to your own brand of magick.