Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Starman & The Swan People: A Dream

Swanstar - Prismacolor drawing on Bristol Board - 1976, DS
(Currently in the collection of a friend.)
(All images in this post can be clicked-on for original size.)

"I've been dreaming of David Bowie for the past few nights; they're the first dreams I've had of him since his death in January. Unfortunately, they were so vague and elusive I can hardly remember them. The only one which actually stuck is the one I woke up from early this morning, and DB wasn't even present in it. It was a short dream and different from the others in that it had this peculiar realistic quality about it similar to a lucid dream. At the same time, I felt like a sleep-walker throughout the dream; one who has suddenly woken up in a very strange place with no rational reason for being there.

In the beginning, I seemed to be milling about with a number of people in what resembled an airport type of structure. We had all gathered there for a common purpose, although - initially - I had no idea what the purpose was. At some point, we arrived outside of a glass-enclosed room which might've possibly been some variety of control center... or maybe a television news production studio... with rows of seated people gazing at glowing monitors in the semi-darkness. Suddenly, an announcement was made, and I immediately realized that this was the information that I and the others had been waiting for. Although I don't remember any physically audible broadcast, the news was somehow conveyed to all present... and it went something like this:

"It is now official. We have just learned that David Bowie has left with the Swan People."

And, that was it: the end. I woke up with the words "swan people" reverberating in my head and it seemed imperative that I remember those words."

- A dream recollection, DS, February 4, 2016.


It's been well over a year and a half since the Starman left us, and almost as long since I had the Swan People dream (above), so, it probably seems strange to be posting about it now. I intended to post about it last year - as evidenced by my original Music Box series menu - but, after my last Music Box post in May of 2016, the series was stalled by a number of real-time misfortunes, and, as for the "alchemy of love," well, cats and kitties, I just wasn't feelin' it.

But then, in February of this year - almost a year to the day of the Swan People dream - I dreamt about DB again. The Swan People were not in evidence, but, this time the Starman was. And, he said something in the dream that's stuck with me for months - which I'll reveal later on in the post* - but, it wasn't until I throughly researched swans (and Swan People) that I found a link between the two dreams... and some renewed inspiration!

So, in part, this post is about the mysteries of dream symbolism - specifically the swan symbol - but, it's also a tribute to the mysterious Starman himself; a tribute long overdue.

* I (optimistically) assumed I'd be able to finish this post in one part. The second dream will now appear in Part II... Part III.


In Search of the Swan People

The Lid of the Music Box

"As swan people, these dreamers must have been able to envision the bands as groups of swans flying together along a trail of the seasons. From my knowledge of this and the other empowering stories of Dunne-za medicines, the swan people seem to be the only ones given the vision required to direct the communal hunt. If any of the medicines are to empower the communal hunt, it must be that of Swan. People with "swan power" could look ahead and see events beginning to materialize beyond the imagination of others. They saw in the events of one season omens of seasons to come."

- Excerpted from: Changes of Mind: Dunne-za Resistance to Empire (download), Robin Ridington. Inset right: a vase - Swan Maiden - by sculptor A. G. Quinn.

” Naachin or “Dreamers,” according to Ridington, “are people who have experienced the Trail to Heaven in person. They have known the experience of dying and going to heaven. Unlike ordinary people, who die once and do not return to the same body, Dreamers leave their bodies, grab hold of a song that carries them forward, and then return to earth on the trail of that same song.”

- Another reference to the Dane-zaa from The Dane-Zaa Indians and the Vision Quest (.pdf) by David Martinez.

"The vision has this power over individuals and communities because they believe in the relevance of dreams. Unlike the western intellectual tradition that often feels like it knows more the more it debunks or demystifies things, Indigenous cultures are certain that they have a more profound appreciation for the world by presupposing that the world is ultimately mysterious, in the sense of being sacred and thereby beyond the realm of philosophic reason. Yet, dreams are a source of knowledge. More specifically, they constitute an existential encounter with an alternate mode of awareness.This awareness for the developed dreamer enables him to experience the transformation of his lived world into something mythic and superordinate...

...Because of the fundamental nature of the visionary experience, one cannot satisfactorily interpret dreams because they contain both the known and the mysterious. The visionary landscape and the lived landscape are enfolded into one another... To enter the dream world means, in this sense, to alter consciousness and enter into an implicit dreaming order—the unfolded, psychic potential of the visionary realm— that has a structural, morphological effect on consciousness.” 

- Excerpted from Stories of the Vision Quest Among Dunne-za Women, 1983, Robin Ridington. The wonderful image (inset left) is one of two featured in this post by alchemical artist Karena Karras. The other can be found in the Alchemical Swan section (Part II).

"Did you know that the beautiful Swan is one of the Native American Totems? Sister Swan gives a message of Grace.  She teaches us to surrender to the grace of the rhythm of the universe and to slip away from our physical bodies to enter the Dreamtime. Swan people have the ability to see the future as they surrender to the power of Great Spirit. They are accepting of the healing and transformation of their lives when that surrender takes place."

- From this Native American Totem page.


As you may have suspected, I take dreaming very seriously, but - and, as I've probably said in the past - dreams are tricksy things. The most we can say for sure about them is that they emerge from the unconscious mind and often utilize a language based on symbols. Sometimes they seem informed by recent conscious experiences. For instance, as it was, immediately previous to the Swan People dream, I had just finished (digitally) creating the Music Box panels, the lid of which (above) - although it consciously escaped me at the time - very much resembles a pair of swans making a heart-shape with their necks, as they often do in reality (inset right).

Then again, the dream was in reference to our (beloved) Starman. As It was, it was his unexpected loss to a large degree that propelled me to begin composing my Music Box series to begin with. And, predictably, not long after his fateful day, journalists often referred to his last album, Blackstar, as his "swan song." So, either occurrence may have filtered into my brain triggering the dream. But, somehow, I never really thought so, and now - after further research and a second dream - I suspect something else might have been at work...

When I awoke from the Swan People dream the first thing that came to mind was a drawing I had executed years ago as a kind of a tarot card: Swanstar (the image which introduces this post). It had always been an important image for me, heralding the mystical, metaphysical direction I would take in the future. The image also had a mysterious element I wouldn't discover till later. That is, despite my not knowing about the existence of the constellations Cygnus or Lyra at the time, nor the fact that they appear together in the sky*, Swanstar might've easily represented the constellation Cygnus (or a portion of it), and eventually I came to identify it as such. Meanwhile, I signed the drawing with the Unit 3 symbol (similar in form to a bird foot or the Greek letter psi, inset left) a symbol I had named Lyra before knowing there was a constellation by the same name.

The second thing I did, of course, was sit down at my computer and google "swan people." Did I honestly expect to find anything? Well, no...

In reference to both the dream and the drawing, I used
the Swanstar image to create the background fabric 
for the finished Music Box.

But, amazingly enough, I found two exact references: a mythical race in a children's fantasy novel, The People of the Swan by Hubert Schuurman and a short animated video entitled Swan People's Journey created by Native American, Garry Oker. In the end, I sort of passed on Schuurman's story, and, as for Oker's video - although intriguing - no further information could be found.

During a more recent search, however, I finally learned about the Native American tribe in British Columbia, Canada - the Dunne-za or Dane-zaa (see Robin Ridington quotes above) who inspired the Native American video found last year. For them, the "Swan People" are both ancestral figures and tribal shamans whom they refer to as "prophets" or "dreamers." From the online Canadian Encyclopedia:

"The Dane-zaa of the Peace River region in the West had prophets called Dreamers - people who had experienced death and flown like swans to a spirit land beyond the sky. They were healers and leaders in religious dances based on songs they brought back from their journeys to heaven."

I may have decided the mythology of the Dane-zaa (the "real people") was irrelevant to my dream as well, if it were not for one strange thing: for the Dane-zaa, the swan, the symbol of the Dreamer, represented a creature which could venture into the "spirit world" (the land of the dead), and, yet, return to the land of the living. And a similar symbolism is used by other Native American tribes, along with other indigenous groups such as the shamans in distant Siberia. Moreover, many other diverse cultures endow the swan with a similar significance - in both its terrestrial and its cosmic form. And, according to a few scholarly gentlemen, this has been the case since ancient prehistory!

Note: the inset images (above) are photographs of the Peace River in British Columbia, Canada - home of the Dane-zaa - by Julian Napoleon (of Dane-zaa - and Cree descent).

* In reality, not only are the constellations Cygnus and Lyra adjacent in the night sky, but their largest stars, Deneb (in Cygnus) and Vega (in Lyra) - along with Altair (in Aquila) - form one of the most beautiful configurations  (or "asterisms") to be seen in the night sky: the Summer Triangle (above). I first saw it last summer in New Mexico, and I've just recently begun seeing it again. It really is lovely, and, take it from me, if you're a geometer moth, its triangle will haunt you!


Note: While In the process of creating Swanstar, I had Pink Floyd's album, "Wish You Were Here," constantly playing in the background, and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (below) became its official theme song.


The Prehistoric Swan

The Trumpeter Swan by Brian Stevens.

"Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?"

- From ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ by William Butler Yeats, 1917.

"In the British Isles, Samhain is the time when we see the migratory swans returning for their winter break. Their arrival at their winter waters is far from shy. In full voice, the awesome, evocative sound of hundreds of powerful wings beating signals their presence. They have been guided by the stars of Cygnus, the swan constellation, the Northern Cross, that guards the gateway rift in the Milky Way. They represent the winged soul returning.

The swan is the psychopomp. She flies with the souls of the dead from the burial grounds, the charnel grounds, and the necropolis. She takes them, under the guidance of the Cailleach, to the realms of the spirits. It is the whooper Swans who inspire the legends of the Wild Hunt in these Northern lands. Before our wonderful Anglo-Saxon Wodin led the Wild Hunt, it flew under the banner of Hel, the Northern Dark Goddess, counterpart to the maiden Elen. Swans are also beasts of Elen, sister goddess to Bride. Their cries of their night-flights suggest trumpets heralding the hunt. This gives rise to legends of the souls of the dead flying along the spirit paths. Their souls have been collected by the hunt."

- Caroline Wise from The Swan, the Goddess, and Other Samhain Musings.

The constellation of the swan, Cygnus (the Northern Cross).

"Worldwide in many mythologies, Cygnus was seen as the entrance and exit to the sky-world and perhaps the original location of heaven.  The extreme north was where the dead went in the afterlife and they reached it by going to the Pole Star along the north-south meridian line, which splits the heavens in two along its longitudinal zenith. This cosmic axis of the Northern Hemisphere was seen as linked with the axis mundi of the terrestrial world, via a sky-pole, which has featured extensively in shamanic practices across Europe and Asia.

The Tungus reindeer shamans of Siberia constructed sky-poles topped by swans, up which they would climb in order to reach the sky-world. The Sami shamans in the far North of Sweden, Norway and Finland also practiced similar shamanism where they would dry the Amanita muscaria mushrooms on strings over the hearth and they would enter and exit their dwellings via these cosmic birch poles (progenitors of Santa Claus).  The shaman would enter a trance state and rise up the axis mundi, represented by the birch pole and enter the Milky Way via Cygnus a few hours before dawn."

- Dr. Christopher E. Johnsen, via this Germanic Mythology page.  (Note: In 15,000 BC, Deneb - the blue/white supergiant in the constellation Cygnus - occupied the position of the northern Pole Star. It will again in the year 9800. Incidentally, Deneb is currently the northern Pole Star on Mars!)

"Although we have no written evidence for the origins of legends they can be traced by archaeological finds with some reasonable speculation on their significance. The swan was a cult bird in the European Bronze age, from the second millennium into the Iron Age. I appears to be connected with solar cults and sacred thermal waters. Several votive models of carriages drawn by swans - or in which the birds sat - have survived. Probably the small chariots were models for real vehicles in which the image of the god, priest-king, or swan knight would have sat. Live birds may have accompanied the procession. In legends they are spoken of as flying overhead. Other important physical evidence consists of bronze swan heads, often with rings for chains under their beaks, in the supernatural metals of gold and silver."

- Excerpt from Swan by Peter Young, 2008. Inset right, is a Qin Dynasty bronze swan (221-206 BC).

"Swans have appeared and played a significant role in the mythology, literature, and art of widely differing cultures spanning many millennia. Archaeological remains and ancient drawings of swan-like birds date back to the Stone Age and perhaps beyond. Cro-Magnon rock carvings in northern Russia dating to c18,000 BC may very likely have related to the Whooper Swans that those early people encountered on their boreal breeding grounds. Beliefs in the association between the soul, the swan, and death were already established during the Stone Age, and left their echoes down the ages."

- Excerpt from Swan Culture (.pdf) by Mark Brazil, 2003.

"Traditions of this sort hark back to an age when magical flight was thought to be attained by the male or female shaman through wearing either a cloak of swan feathers or other swan paraphernalia, evidence of which occurs in these same countries, and also in many parts of Asia and the Indian sub-continent, where swan veneration was prominent in the past. Moreover, in Denmark archaeologists have discovered a unique burial in a cemetery dating to the Mesolithic age, c. 4800 BC.

A young woman was found beneath a small knoll, next to her dead child, who had been laid to rest on a swan's wing. Its striking presence has been seen by some archaeologists as evidence of a link between the swan and the transmigration of the soul. If correct it shows the antiquity of this cult, which preceded even the spread of Europe's megalithic culture, of which both Avebury and Newgrange are prime examples."

- Excerpt from the The Cygnus Mystery by Andrew Collins. Inset left is a photo of the burial described in the quote above and found at the Daily Grail.


It's hard to say which came first, swan mythology or Cygnus mythology, but it seems Cygnus was already a recognized constellation in antiquity, and it may be that the symbolic significance of both the terrestrial and the celestial bird have always been intertwined.

The swan, of course, is a migratory bird, and migratory birds are most often associated with death... or birth, as in the case of the stork, which traditionally delivered newly born infants. Interestingly, in Baltic cultures, it was the swan which fulfilled this role. So, one way or another, the swan had a dual significance. For the Celtic Druids, who believed in reincarnation, the swan, which represented the soul, may have also represented rebirth and/or death as transmigration; that is, the ability of the soul to pass into a new and different body after a period in the Otherworld. Via the Wiki article on transmigration of the soul, we have this quote from a 1st Century BC Greek scholar:

"The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls' teaching that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body."

"Julius Caesar recorded that the druids of Gaul, Britain and Ireland had metempsychosis as one of their core doctrines."

The swan has also been interpreted as a prehistoric solar symbol. But, once again, to our ancient ancestors it may have seemed as if the sun which died every evening at twilight and then rose again like Lazarus at dawn was, in a sense, being born anew every morning.

In the case of the ancient burial site in Vedbæk, Denmark mentioned by Andrew Collins (above), although the meaning of the infant's body laid to rest on a swan's wing has been debated, there are some archaeologists who suspect that it may be attributed to the ancient Norse belief in transmigration. As it was, "grave 8" probably contained the remains of a young woman who died in childbirth along with her premature infant son. Oddly, there was a flint knife placed near the baby's hip, as if to prepare him - not necessarily for a life in the incorporeal Otherworld - but for his next physical life on Earth.

Regarding the Norse and reincarnation, we have this from the Wiki entry:

"Surviving texts indicate that there was a belief in rebirth in Norse religion. Examples include figures from eddic poetry and sagas, potentially by way of a process of naming and/or through the family line. Scholars have discussed the implications of these attestations and proposed theories regarding belief in reincarnation among the Germanic peoples prior to Christianization and potentially to some extent in folk belief thereafter."

Regarding one "folk belief" there is Kára and Helgi, an interesting tale of a Valkyrie* and a mortal man who celebrate their love over a course of three lifetimes:

"They were successively reborn as Helgi Hjörvarðsson and Sváva, then as Helgi Hundingsbane and Sigrún, then as Helgi Hröngvið’s brother and Kára. She would hover in the air above Helgi and enchant his enemies with her song. In her third incarnation, a battle was being fought on the ice of Lake Vener, between two Swedish kings, supported by Kára’s lover Helgi, on one side, and King Olaf of Norway, supported by Hromund Greipssonduring, the betrothed of the king’s sister, on the other side. Kára floated above the battle in the form of a swan. By her incantations, she blunted the weapons of King Olaf’s men, so that they began to give way before the Swedes. But Helgi, in raising his sword, accidentally struck off the leg of the swan, mortally wounding his mistress. From that moment the tide of battle turned, and the Norwegians were victorious."

Then again, the Nordic countries have a reverence for the swan. It is both the national bird of Denmark and Finland. In fact, the five Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - are represented as five swans as shown on the postage stamp (above, right), and by the logo for the Nordic Council.

So, perhaps, it's time to even the score between our favorite Icelandic songbird, Bjork, and all those who ridiculed that outrageously amazing swan dress (inset right) she wore at the 2001 Academy Awards. (Note: it is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art.)

As it were, the dress was more or less a promotional move on her part for her strangely erotic (and quite beautiful) album Vespertine** which also appeared in 2001. She's actually wearing the swan dress on the cover of the album (inset left), and a line drawing of a swan is superimposed over her photograph. She said of the swan theme at the time that she thought swans embodied Vespertine's music, describing them as "a white, sort of winter bird" and "very romantic." She never really mentions Norse mythology*** but you get the impression by songs like "Pagan Poetry" that she may have had an ulterior motive or two. Then again, you might have noticed that I played a few tunes off of Vespertine during the Music Box series... but this was something I had already decided upon before the Swan People dream. Another unconscious prompt for the dream?  Got me. My actual reason for choosing songs from Vespertine was because a few featured real music box tunes!

B & B (found here).

There is, however, one last tiny coincidence I might mention before we move on to the "Swan Gods" section, and this is something I didn't find until recent research. Apparently Bjork credits David Bowie for her decision to wear the swan dress!**** See: David Bowie inspired Björk to wear the infamous swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards.

* Regarding the Valkyries and the Swan Maidens, the Viking Answer Lady has this to say:

A Swan Maiden by
Caitlin Hackett
"Midway between the third and eleventh centuries, the Valkyries begin assuming a more benign aspect. Small amulets and pictures on memorial stones begin to depict the figure of the beautiful woman welcoming the deceased hero with a horn of mead to the afterlife. By this later time, the Valkyries as demigoddesses of death had their legend conflated with the folklore motif of the swan maiden (young girls who are able to take on the form of a swan, sometimes as the result of a curse). In her role as swan-maiden, the valkyrie can travel rida lopt ok log, "through air and through water." It is known that the swan was popularly associated with the concept of augury. See, for instance, the phrase, es scwant mir, (it swans me, meaning 'I have a premonition or a foreboding')."

A further note (added October 25, 2017): One thing I neglected to mention was that the famous ballet Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was loosely based on a Russian folk tale version of the Swan Maiden myth.

In the movie "Black Swan" there is one magic moment when Natalie Portman begins to transform into a swan which is in keeping with the original tales. I've posted it below. The magic moment kind of crumbles when her knees turn inside out, but, well, I guess it's accurate (!).

** The word Vespertine apparently means "things flourishing in the evening." But the album's title was also a nod to the word vespers which is a sunset evening prayer service. That being said, I've uploaded one  of my favorite tunes - Pagan Poetry - below. A clearer, uncut version can be found here.

*** BTW, here's a couple of articles regarding the religious climate in the Nordic countries these days: Iceland Is Officially Worshiping Norse Gods Again and Shamanism Approved as a Religion in Norway! (Gotta love it!)

****This just in: Alas, Bjork was not the first to wear a swan dress! Although more of an actual gown, classic actress, Marlene Dietrich, stole the show in 1935 with the little number shown below. Interestingly, Marlene had her own encounter with David Bowie... in the 1978 film, Just a Gigolo... the movie DB referred to as his "32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one!"

Marlene Dietrich,1935, (found here).


(Note: Sorry, guys, for taking so long with this post and then having the gall to break it up into two parts...

Although I have no time to go into the sordid details, trust me, I COULD NOT HELP IT!)


  1. Great post! I wonder if you will address the story of Jack Steven, Fortress Music executive. If nothing else, I took that story to mean that people did not want to believe that Bowie had gone elsewhere, although I find it fitting that he has joined the swan people. I associate swans with twilight and a liminal, dreamlike reality, after watching them on rivers at sunset in England. Beautiful music box cover, and that bronze Chinese swan is really something, a swan from a different time and place, not interpreted as we interpret it, or perhaps an earlier or different species of the bird itself. It doesn't look like a stereotypical swan.

  2. Thanks, L.
    This post may be weird but it was based on 2 actual dreams, real research and - I'm assuming - real mythology. "The story of Jack Stevens" is internet rubbish.
    I still have no idea who or what the Swan People are or who they might represent.
    Actually, I wondered if the Chinese bronze was really a misidentified duck (!) but I went with it anyway.
    There is a second music box in the works! I may post the lid design in Part II of "Starman" as the dreams inspired it.

  3. That's great about the second music box. I can't wait to see it. Maybe the swan people are the start of a new artistic idea - the journey to find the swan people, and Bowie departed among them. I have seen a lot about David Bowie, coincidentally on different websites this week. Like he's just popped up in the collective unconscious. Lots of strange Youtube videos about him. This may have to do with Twin Peaks 2017 (the finale is tonight), which has revived Bowie's old Twin Peaks character just in the past 2-3 weeks. His character was Philip Jeffries, blue rose cases etc.

    1. Thanks for your input, TB! Re: Philip Jeffries... just weird. How exactly did they "revive" that character? Just curious.

  4. Thank you for this post and expanding my understanding of your beautiful drawing.

    1. Thanks so much, J; it's wonderful to have you stop by! :-)

  5. Fascinating post -- I'd never heard of the Swan People. All so shamanistic, this twilight world of dreamers.

    Excellent post!

    1. Thank you, BG. Yes, I like that: "the twilight world of dreamers."

  6. Glad to read you back!! :)
    Great dream by the way!
    If it was my dream I'd say that the airport is a
    place for swans... they enjoy traveling and mutating ( David Bowie is a great example on that ). Now, death being the greatest travel and mutation, I for one will miss is songs but hey!! Is probably having a blast :)
    Ps: I watched "black swan" for the first time yesterday.. goes with the topic I guess!
    Best wishes, Jorge

    1. Jorge! Happy to hear from you again. Sorry it took me awhile to reply but... well, you know (exactly) how it is. I don't have enough access to my computer these days and I'm desperately trying to finish Part 2 (almost done!). But - & don't hate me - there must needs be a Part 3!


      Yes, I think you may be quite right about the airport symbolism in the dream.

      "Black Swan" was a strange movie... very intriguing...

      Always the best to you. ox D