The European folktale of the Hunter and the Swan Maiden

The Swan Maiden in folklore is a creature that can transform from a swan to a human and back to a swan when needed. There are also male versions of the creature in some folktales. Many other folktales from around the world have the central motif of a swan, or other types of bird or animal, that transforms from a bird or beast into a human and back again.

The male figure is often a hunter and by stealing and with holding her clothing while she bathes wins her for a wife. For some people the stealing and withholding of the clothing represents the stealing of her power and her imprisonment. At the same time the very sight of the Swan Maiden in human form appears to put a spell on the hunter who falls in love with her. He must have her for his wife and when she does find her clothing and her power is returned he must seek her out and bring her back.

Public Domain

Public Domain

In this tale the hunter goes to great lengths and faces great danger to track down and win back his Swan Maiden. This appears to impress the Swan Maiden who readily consents to returning leaving her world to return to his to be his wife again. In other similar folktales the hunter who loses his Swan Maiden and does not fight to find and keep her not only loses her, but his happiness and usually dies a lonely death pining for his loved one.The hunter

In the forest there lived a hunter who made his living by hunting the birds and the animals of the forest. He would often set off in the evening setting traps or stalking deer and not return to his home until dawn the next day.

One evening he went to a lake hidden deep in the forest where he knew there were lots of wild ducks that he could catch. As the sun was going down he heard the air reverberate to the sound of powerful wings. Thinking a flock of ducks was coming he quickly hid in the undergrowth and waited.  Read more

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