Swans and a Salamandra (detail of a tapestry), c. 1550s
This story comes from the legends of the Mongol people. The notion of a beautiful young woman being able to transform into an animal is a theme that is common in many different mythologies; this specific tale is about a woman being able to change into a swan.
One day in southern Siberia, a man saw nine swans flying across a lake. The man watched as the swans began to land near the lake’s waters. To his amazement, the swans began to remove their feathers and reveal their human bodies. When all the feathers had been shed, the nine swans had been replaced with nine beautiful women, who then entered the lake to bathe.
The man, still watching, came up with a plan to catch one of the swan women. While they bathed, he crept to the shore and hid one of the feather dresses that they had been wearing. When the nine women emerged from the lake, eight of them put on their feather dresses and flew away. One woman, however, could not find hers, and was forced to remain onshore in her human form.
Seeing that his plan had worked, the man approached the swan woman. In time, he was able to make her fall in love with him, and they married. The swan woman lived with the man in his tent (known as a yurt) and bore him eleven sons. However, she was never truly happy.
The swan woman could take it no more. She began to beg her husband to let her wear her feathered dress again. He obliged her wish, but as soon as she donned her feathers, the woman transformed back into a swan and tried to escape the tent through the skylight in their yurt. But her husband was faster than her, and grabbed onto her feet as she flew away.
The man had successfully stopped his wife from escaping, but as he watched her struggle, he had a change of heart. He realized that his wife desperately wanted to return to her former way of living. So, after all their sons had been named, the man let his wife go. The swan woman said her goodbyes to her family, blessed their yurt, and flew back to the lake.
Sources: “Myths and Legends”, Philip Wilkinson
Image: Wikimedia Commons