avia: A girl with folded and fluffed mute swan wings in a "busking" pose, seen from behind. (swan maiden self)
[personal profile] avia
This is a longer version of this post, trying to collect all the details on the swan maiden race that I am playing in the Pathfinder RPG that [personal profile] jewelfox is running.

Swan maidens are a shapeshifting species. They are born as swans (cygnets, to be exact), but they also have the ability to turn into humans - or, "gain human form", because most of them still think of their selves as swans, even in human form, due to the fact that they were born that way.

Swan maidens are asexual and aromantic. They don't form partnerships in a romantic way, though they might live with other swan maidens. Often they live alone. If they are in a non-swan society, often, they're not super social, and might become recluse. The old woman who growls at you to "get off her lawn", but you don't see her at any other time, might be a swan maiden.

If they wish to raise a child, they must go to a nesting swan and ask for an egg. Usually, the swan will give the egg, because having a swan maiden child is something for a swan to be proud of, and the child will live a lot longer than an ordinary swan. The swan maiden, in human form, then cuts off all her hair and makes a nest with it. Then, she will sit on the egg in swan form, and when it hatches, it will become a swan maiden. The swan maiden, and the swan who laid the egg, are both thought as "mother", and the swan who gives the other half of the genes for the egg, is "father". So, swan maidens have two mothers and one father. Usually, for the first year of a swan maiden's life, these three will stay together and all raise the child, though, after that, the swan couple will go to raise their own next nest and the swan maiden will raise her child alone.

Most people think all swan maidens "are female", but it's more appropriate to say, they are sexless and can be any gender, but that gender is often female. They reproduce through a magical ritual and they don't have breasts. Their gentle voices and soft hair, that they often grow long, usually leads people to think they are female, and, most swan maidens do identify as female (though not all of them).

Swan maidens in human form have hair and skin that matches the color of their feathers in swan form: they are always leucistic or melanistic. Their eyes will always be dark, but their skin and hair will be very pale (for a white swan), or very dark (for a black swan). Swans that have mixed colors (black-necked swans) often have a patchy mix of skin color, dark in some places and pale in others, though others are born with a medium brown skin. Any swan maiden who does have pale parts on her skin is very vulnerable to burning, because those parts are leucistic, not White, so they react like albino skin.

The color of a swan maiden's skin ignores race. The appearance of human race is passed on through the swan maiden who hatches the egg (so, if the mother swan maiden looks like she is from a land where people often have light brown/tan skin and epicanthic folds, then, the child will have the features of that race), but the color of skin and hair is passed on through the swan who gave the egg (so, if the mother swan maiden received an egg from a black swan, her child, though she has epicanthic folds and has features that would be associated with light brown skin if she was human, will have black skin). This means that a mother and child swan maiden will have similar features but might not have the same skin color - usually they will, because black swans and white swans are found in different parts of the world, but, because keeping ornamental swans of different breeds in ponds is popular with rich people, there is some mixing.

A swan maiden has the ability to turn into a human from birth, though, usually they don't learn to use the ability until late childhood. It's like saying that a child has the ability to learn languages from birth: some children will speak a few words at a very early age, some children will not make sentences until they are two or three years old, or older. It's possible for swan maidens to learn to do it at any time, but, it needs concentration and most children don't have it at a young age. Usually, the mother swan maiden begins to teach her children how to do this at about 7-8 years old. Until then, they stay in swan form, growing very slowly from cygnets to full size swans. This is not always noticed by other people, because ordinary swans can raise cygnets every year, so, if the cygnets look like cygnets for a long time, it won't be noticed except by people who are paying particular attention.

When the swan maiden turns into a human, they appear wrapped in a cloak of feathers. This cloak is the color of their feathers as a swan (whether that's white, black, a mix, or grey or brown if they are a cygnet), and it is extremely precious to them. Swan maidens think of this cloak like a part of their heart and soul. If they lose it, they can sense where it is, and find their way back to it. But as long as they don't have it, they lose their ability to turn into a swan, which is their natural form, as well as a lot of their special gifts: to talk to animals, to read the signs of nature, to heal wounds and purify food, and similar things. As well, usually they will become very depressed, anxious, and in all ways in a bad state, as they have lost the part of their self that gives them most joy. A swan maiden who loses her cloak will often become focused on getting it back and ignore all other things, including her own health, and if this is not possible, often she will die.

A swan maiden's cloak is often stolen even though there is a high chance of being hunted down by an angry swan maiden, because the feathers can be made into healing potions and they will grow back - but it is very difficult to destroy completely. It resists fire, so it can't be burned, and if it is cut in pieces, the pieces will find each other and join together again, as long as they are not placed in a locked box. There are some magical ways to destroy a swan maiden's cloak, but always, these ways will kill the swan maiden, as well.

Swan maidens don't have any organised religion system of their own, though, sometimes they will join the religions of other people. Usually though, they have a pantheist kind of belief that focuses less on gods and more on nature and connection: they can do magic, so it seems obvious that they will believe in something, but often they don't have many strong ideas about what it is, and they don't really care about creating them. Some people say that they know swan maidens who worship a sky god called Laoshi or Laossi, but, the truth is that this is just a poetic name for the sky, in an old language spoken by swan maidens in the past. Some swan maidens do tell stories about Laossi as a being, but, it is meant to be a metaphor.

Many times, if they are asked what they think about religion, they will say, "We can fly, we can touch the place where gods live and feel their divine blessings on our skin. What more religion do we need?" They often use flying in meditation. Another phrase that they often use, when they are asked about religious questions, is, "Ask the gods." Meaning: don't listen to what another mortal person tells you, but, ask the god your self if you want to know so much.

Traditions are not a big thing for them, and they consider UPG to be more valuable than holy books. If someone tries to talk to them about how, many years ago, the ancient god this-and-that said blah blah blah, their usual reaction will be, "And how do you know?" But, they do have respect for people who gain wisdom from prophecy or meditation... as long as that wisdom does not seem suspiciously to always be supporting a particular god, religion, or way of life. A swan maiden who joins a religion with a very strict set of laws and ideas that can never be changed, is usually looked at with some suspicion.

There are not many strong taboos in swan maiden society. Swan maidens don't care about nakedness, about social manners, or anything like that. They will learn these things so that they can go into other societies without being shunned, but, they don't care about them. But, one taboo that they do have, is eating any bird flesh (including eggs, which might have a chick inside). This is because, eating any bird flesh will turn the swan maiden to dust. It is a very simple way to kill them. Another taboo is touching a swan maiden's cloak, though, that is also a practical thing. Swan maidens do not want to risk that their cloaks might be stolen or cursed.
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little swan child

May 2013

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