Turtle is the common name given to the oldest group of reptiles of the order of Testudines. They live on every continent except for Antartica.
The Testudine order is composed of three types – turtles, who spend most of their lives in water; tortoises, who are land animals; and terrapins, who live on both land and in water.
Herpetologists from the Smithsonian Institute discovered that turtles’ hearts are not stimulated by nerves and thus don’t beat constantly. They also found that in some species of sea turtles, females reach sexual maturity at 40 – 50 years old and then continue producing eggs until they die. These biological realities could contribute to Turtle’s long life. Sea turtles live around 80 years, the giant tortoise, largest of the land turtles, lives at least 100 years and can live for over 200 years. Even the smaller pet turtles can live up to 40 years if well cared for
Over 3,500 year old rock carvings of turtles have been found in China, where in later days turtles were carved onto grave markers or sculpted at the base of stone steles commemorating rulers.
The long-lived turtle reminds us of passing time and the importance of remembering ancient wisdom.
Ancient Wisdom/Creation, Groundedness, Stability
All around the world Turtle has been associated with creation stories. The mythic concept of World Turtle – also called Cosmic Turtle – who supports Earth on its back is found in Hindu, Chinese and Native American cosmologies.
The Hindu God, Vishnu, took the form of Turtle and carried the world on his back. Images abound of the Indian myth wherein Earth is supported on the backs of four elephants who are in turn supported by standing on Turtle’s back.
The Chinese traditional creation myth purports that their creator goddess cut off the legs of the cosmic turtle, Ao, and used them to prop up the heavens that had been damaged by another god. With its rounded shell and square-shaped body, Turtle was symbolic of the Chinese concept of “round heaven and square earth.”
Many Native Americans refer to Earth as “Turtle Island” or “Turtle World.” Some tribes explain the creation of Earth by the spreading of mud over the back of a giant sea turtle that continued to grow until Earth was formed.
The Iroquois tells the story a little differently. They view themselves as having originally been sky people who lived peacefully in the heavens. A woman became pregnant with twins – but they were twin trees who would need some soil in which to grow. Earth was still a water-world so she called out for help from the sea creatures. Turtle heard her call and surfaced to offer aide. She gave birth upon Turtle’s back and with its permission planted her baby trees within Turtle’s shell. Over time many trees spread across Turtle’s back creating Turtle Island – the first land in the original waters of Earth.
To the Maya, Turtle was associated with water, Earth, and thunder. The Mayan creator god Pauahtun carried the world on his own shoulders and is depicted wearing a turtle shell on his head. The maize god is also depicted emerging from a turtle shell.
Turtle gives truth to the saying “All those who wander are not lost.” Having wandered into and successfully survived in many different habitats Turtle remains grounded and sure-footed.
Turtle was credited by the Egyptians with the ability to influence the levels of the Nile river.
Turtle reminds you of your most primal self – of the source from which you come.
Peace, Strength, Persistence
Turtle is peaceful. Turtle’s hard shell is the secret to its strength, protecting it from predators without need for aggression. Made up of 60 different connected bones all covered with plates even the largest predators think twice before attempting a bite of Turtle. That hard exterior shell which protects it so well also allows Turtle to carry the world and all its troubles on its back.
As the years pass Turtle persists, hardly showing signs of aging. Herpetologists have established that the liver, lungs and kidneys of a 100-year-old turtle are almost the same as those of a juvenile.
In Aesop’s Fable, “The Hare and the Tortoise,” the lesson of persistence is well-demonstrated. Hare, taking pleasure in poking fun at slow, cumbersome Tortoise, accepted a challenge to race. Overconfident in his abilities Hare played around and even slept while Tortoise plodded on, slowly and steadily, never taking his focus away from the goal. When Hare finally awoke from his nap he realized that Tortoise was near the finish line. Now he ran his fastest but without success – slow and steady Tortoise won the race.
Turtle calls you to move with purpose through the changing landscape of your life. With patience and determination you too can reach your goal.
Turtles, mainly active during daytime when they forage for food, are self-contained creatures. They tolerate the existence of other turtles close by but they do not interact or socialize.
All species of turtle lay eggs in sand or dirt and then walk away, never nurturing their young.
Turtle reminds you that your power lies not in the hurly-burly, external world of action and reaction but in the unlimited, internal world of spirit. Turtle calls you to go within where peace is found and all true answers reside.
Turtle is a real survivor who can endure, persist and focus. Turtle calls you to stay true to your path, peacefully moving forward with your life choices. When you find yourself in the chaos of quick impulsivity remember Turtle’s gift of groundedness, reconnect with Mother Earth, take a deep breath, and slow down. Know that you have the strength to endure difficulties- yours and the world’s. Go within to rediscover your essential truth, emerging once again when you are ready to manifest your own abundance in the world.
Conservation Status: About half of the 250 existing species of turtle today are listed as endangered or threatened. Here’s a link to an uplifting come-back story.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.