You're wondering what the symbolism of the Turtle is? This article will reveal all the mysteries and secrets related to this fascinating reptile. From Asia, to America, to Polynesia... We will take you on a journey through history and show you that the Turtle is an important symbol in most cultures! 🤓
In Chinese Feng-shui, the Turtle is one of the 4 sacred animals (next to the phoenix, the tiger and the dragon). As one of the oldest animals on earth, it is considered a symbol of wisdom, endurance, wealth and long life.
In Chinese culture, it is also said that the turtle carries the world on its back and that its shell contains the secrets of heaven, earth and the universe ✨. Their shells were even used in very ancient rites to predict the future during the Chinese Shang Dynasty (-1766 to -1122 BC).
The extraordinary survival of the reptile within the animal kingdom and its great longevity (150 years on average) suggests that these creatures have some sort of "supernatural powers" 🧙♂. This is why we find many representations of turtles in several Chinese temples.
In China, it is also common (even today) to use the turtle as a good luck charm by carrying it as a totem pole or by installing it as a statuette in specific places in the home. This brings protection or prosperity to one's home. 🏡
It is also associated with wealth in popular feng shui. For example, it is customary for the Chinese to install a turtle statue in their office to bring success in business. There are also coins minted with the effigy of the animal and more particularly with the effigy of the Turtle Dragon (mixture of the 2 sacred animals). 💸
In Japan, the word for turtle is 'kame'. For the Japanese, the creature symbolizes wisdom, longevity and luck. It is supposed to bring its owner at least 10,000 years of good fortune. As in Chinese culture, the reptile is believed to have magical powers. The animal's shell represents the sky and its breastplate the earth. 🌏
In Japanese culture, we also find this myth of the four sacred creatures. Their purpose is to protect the city of Heian (Kyoto). The black turtle or Gen-bu, sometimes represented as a combination of a turtle and a snake, protects Kyoto from the north.
The significance of the turtle in Hinduism is important. In several stories, the term "Akupara" is regularly used. This mystical figure is said to be a turtle that supports the earth and the sea on its back. 🐢
In popular Hinduism, the god Vishnu has several avatars who are the reincarnation of the deity on earth. One of them is a giant turtle named Kûrma. Several temples in India are dedicated to the avatar Kurma.
As in other Asian cultures, India is no exception and also associates the turtle's plastron with the terrestrial world and its shell with the celestial world. The Brahmana Shatapatha (ancient religious text) describes the world as the body of Kurmaraja, the "king of turtles".
"The earth is his breastplate, the atmosphere his body, and the vault of heaven his shell." In Hindu culture, the reptile is depicted as raising four elephants, on which the earth rests. Hindus say that the elephant symbolizes man and the turtle symbolizes femininity.
For Africans, the turtle is associated with fertility, it is the embodiment of femininity. In many African children's stories, the creature is considered the most intelligent animal there is 🧐.
In Nigerian Folklore, it is described as a slow but very cunning reptile that always finds a solution to every situation, even the most dangerous.
In Egyptian history, turtles were often present in artistic works. In fact, a large number of fossils have been found in the country, some of which are very similar to the Galapagos tortoises.
📜 In several Egyptian frescoes and writings, the creature is associated with protection. It is said to have mystical powers that are supposed to ward off evil. Several ancient objects such as amulets or vases bearing its effigy have been found during archaeological excavations.
There are few philosophical and symbolic traces of the Turtle in European and Western culture. The most notable are identifiable in the writings of ancient Greece. One can in particular quote the very famous fable of Aesop: The Hare and the Tortoise.
Other important elements have also been identified in Greek history. For example, it is known that the reptile was the main symbol of the city of Aegina. Seals and coins struck with the image of the tortoise were found on the spot.
Another important story is that of Chelonia and Zeus. Chélone was a nymph in Greek mythology, she was turned into a turtle by Zeus after refusing to go to her wedding ⚡. It is moreover Chelone who is at the origin of the word "Chelonien" (scientific name attributed to turtles).
The turtle is a sacred figure in Native American belief. It symbolizes Mother Earth. It is equivalent to good health and eternal life. According to Native Indian legends, it plays an important role in the creation of the world. One story tells that a turtle would have swum to the bottom of the water to come to the surface with the "mud" that would have been used to make the earth 🌎. The reptile's thick and strong shell is protection. It was also used for healing purposes or for spiritual rituals.
Myths say that this animal saved humans from the flood . The Amerindians had noticed that certain species of turtles have 13 sections on their plastron. They thought this represented the cycle of the thirteen moons. For the Indians, the moon is a strong celestial symbol that is synonymous with motherhood. 🌓
The Amerindian motifs of the turtle were represented on many objects such as teepees, totems, musical instruments, clothing and war paint.
For the Maya people, this creature symbolizes the alliance of water and earth. Many writings seem to give a strong importance to the shells. They are often associated with thunder and noise. It is known, for example, that the reptile's shell may have been associated with certain spiritual rites and may have served as a musical instrument in certain contexts.
An illustration from the Borgia Codex (Mayan manuscript) depicts a turtle playing a drum. 🥁 Pauahtun is a Mayan deity who carried the world on his shoulders. She is sometimes depicted with a turtle shell on her head. The God of Corn (Ah Mun) is depicted as coming out of a shell. 📚 This information is taken from the book "The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya" by M.Miller and K.Taube.
Known in Polynesia as "Honu", the animal is a symbol of luck, endurance and longevity (yes, yes, again!). The Honu is perceived as a "navigator" supposed to guide men in life as well as in death. The meaning of the turtle in Tahiti is more or less the same. Each island of Polynesia shares a common history, and we find the same stories and legends.
The Hawaiian legend is sprinkled with stories about the reptile, the most famous is that of the "Kauila" turtle. This turtle could change into a little girl to keep an eye on the children playing on the beach at Punalu'u. Other stories tell how the first people who arrived in Hawaii were guided to the islands by the Honu. 🏝️
Green turtles are the most common marine turtles in Hawaii and their numbers are increasing due to conservation efforts.
Polynesian tattoos are very famous, among the most famous are the Maori turtle tattoo or the Tribal Turtle Tattoo. The latter are still very present in modern culture. These tattoos come from a 1000-year-old Polynesian art called "Marquesan" (name coming from the Marquesa Island).
To understand the origin of these tattoos, it is necessary to know that Polynesia was populated by many tribes that did not have a writing system. Tattooing was the only art of expression that allowed people to display their social status and personality. It was following European excursions in the 18th century that Polynesian Tattooing was exported to Europe and enjoyed great popularity (especially among sailors).
How about the Turtle in all this? In Polynesian beliefs, getting a Turtle Tattoo means that you attach great importance to health, fertility and everything that represents the foundations of life.
In the cult of animal totems, the turtle teaches how to move forward in peace and face life's trials serenely. Slow on land, but terribly agile in the water, this reptile encourages people to take a break from life and look for different, "unexplored" solutions. It invites to nourish peace of mind and harmony with the environment. Its symbolism can be summed up in these few points:
Turtle dreams are pretty common. They are subject to many interpretations in the world of "dream world" experts. Beware however, a dream can have many meanings. All these interpretations are therefore to be taken with tweezers and you are free to believe or not.
Dreaming of giant turtles (or a big turtle) often means questioning one's own place in the world. It can characterize how tiny we are in relation to the universe and that we are subject to external events whether positive or negative.
Dreaming about a sea turtle is usually a good sign. It should be noted that the sea turtle has a strong meaning and symbolism (especially in the Polynesian culture as seen above). If in your dream you were playing with a turtle or you were a turtle yourself, it means that you are going to receive the blessing and help of those around you.
Dreaming about a dead turtle is rarely a good omen, especially if you break its shell or eat it. In the first case, it's a sign that something unpleasant is about to happen to you. In the second case, it is the possible loss of one of your protectors.
In Islamic culture, turtle dreams often mean that you are trying to hide something. Often this kind of dream encourages you to open up and show courage. They can also allude to boredom in your daily life (the reptile's slowness being an allegory) or even refer to fertility. To learn more about this subject, you can read this article on turtle dreams in Islam.
After reading this article, you will have understood it well: most ancient civilizations had a great fascination for the Turtle. The animal has long been revered in many parts of the world. The most notable point in common is that the turtle is very often associated with the creation of the World.
It is legitimate to wonder why so many diverse cultures, sometimes thousands of miles apart, have developed such similar beliefs. We are not here to debate about that but we have to admit that history is quite mysterious... Even when it comes to turtles 😉