Turkey – Abundance, Gratitude and Connection to Mother Earth by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoIn the United States turkeys are equated with Thanksgiving. But there is so much more to Turkey – a gentle creature who forms strong attachments. Reputed to be dumb, Turkey is in fact quite intelligent and curious, with the ability to solve problems. Turkeys have an excellent understanding of the details of their location which makes them so successful at feeding themselves. They also love to play and to cluck along with music.

Turkeys, indigenous to North America, evolved over 20 million years ago and share a commonwild-Turkey-with-fanned-tail ancestor with grouse, pheasants and other fowl. Two species of wild turkey exist today – the wild turkey of eastern and central North America of which there are 5 sub-species and the ocellated wild turkey of the Yucatan.

Yet why is turkey named turkey? Strangely enough it was a mistake. English colonial settlers thought turkeys were a type of guinea fowl which England imported from Turkey – thus the name. The Spanish word for turkey is guajolote which is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec) name huexolotl.


photo by Tony Castro

Abundance, Connection With/Awareness of Mother Earth, Having Enough
Turkeys, domesticated by the native peoples of Mexico perhaps as early as 300 B.C.E., has long been symbolic of abundance. The Maya viewed turkeys as vessels of the gods and venerated the ocellated wild turkey which roams that land. They were valued for their multi-colored feathers and regal bejeweled appearance – sporting a blue head with yellow gem-like nubs, bright fanned tail feathers and a yellow-tipped knob on the crown.

One sub-species, the eastern wild turkey, numbers more than 5 million. Turkey, who prefers a woodland habitat near water is a successful omnivore in finding the seeds, nuts and insects it prefers.

And though a bird who can fly in short bursts of up to 55 mph, Turkey is essentially an Earth creature – pecking the ground, socializing in fields, nesting in thickets – all while clothed in Earth colors with a dash of sky thrown in.

Turkey highlights the connection we all share to Mother Earth and of the blessings of abundance Earth offers her children. Yet Earth’s resources are not limitless. Turkey reminds you to honor what is offered while caring for Earth from which these gifts come. Remember no gift is too small. This approach offers a foundation to our well-being and brings harmony with all your relations – Earth, community, family and self.

Earth’s Blessings, Fertility, Gratitude
Native Americans of North America view Turkey as the giver of agriculture and a symbol of fertility.

A White Mountain Apache tale recounts that long ago when animals could speak Turkey overheard a boy complaining of hunger to his sister. Turkey, with its giving nature took pity. She shook herself all over four times. Each time a different colored corn fell from its feathers – black, blue, yellow and white. Turkey instructed the children to plant the corn and thus agriculture began.

Archaeologist have found burial sites in the Four Corners area of the U.S. – Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico – with ceremonial arrangements of whole turkeys dating back from 3 or 4 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. It appears the turkeys were not eaten at this time but only used for ceremonial purposes. Young turkeys were found interred under ceremonial plazas, suggesting a link to fertility and spring planting.

Turkey bestows the gift of fertility – literal and symbolic – and helps with harvesting the physical and spiritual fruits of your efforts. Turkey calls you to be grateful for what is offered, for blessings of community and for your inner riches. Turkey guides you through the changes of life with this attitude of gratitude.

Sacrifice, Satisfaction
The Maya both venerated and sacrificed turkeys. Domesticated turkeys, imported from Mexico, were sacrificed to insure fertility for the coming year. Considered messengers of the gods, Turkey was viewed as an alter-ego to the ruler. Their use increased the standing of the ruler who was able to provide the sacrificial victim without need for hunting.

Turkey reminds you that at times personal sacrifice is required in order to protect and promote the good of the community, showing you positive and useful ways to give of yourself. Through this sacrifice and subsequent renewal, Turkey promotes satisfaction with your harvest.

Community, Generosity, Nourishment
Turkeys are gentle, inquisitive, social animals who enjoy the company of others, including humans. Turkeys, who love to explore, recognize each other by their unique voices. They show affection, forming strong bonds with each other and with humans. Turkeys love to play and have even been known to cluck along with songs.

Only male turkeys make the gobbling sound we associate with turkeys. Each one has its own distinctive gobble which when combined with strutting their stuff attracts females. Male siblings group together to woo the females but only one gets to breed.  Females use clucks and chirping to communicate.

Wild turkey mothers raise and protect their chicks for five months. The male chicks, called jakes, leave their mother and form a sibling group which generally lasts for life. They are utterly loyal to each other and hostile to outsiders. Older male turkeys have their own group while hens live together in flocks with their female poults.

Turkey uses it excellent eyesight and concern for community for protection. While scavenging the forest floor at least one turkey remains vigilant, constantly scanning the trees for possible predators. But at night they are vulnerable, preferring to sleep in trees which provide safety from predators. Upon waking they call softly to each other before descending, checking that the flock is safe.

Native American tales of turkeys reflect the affairs and activities of humans. Some tribes  have turkey as a clan animal. Turkey feathers were used in the ceremonial clothing of many tribes and to stabilize arrows. 

Various eastern and southern tribes – the Caddo, Lenape, Shawnee and Seminoles – dance the Turkey Dance which commemorates a tribe’s successful endeavor.

Turkey teaches you how to find nourishment and calls you to honor Mother Earth and all sources of nourishment. Turkey opens your eyes to the importance of working together with your community and the value of generous sharing.

Photo © Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons

When Turkey – symbol of abundance – appears you are reminded to honor yourself, Earth’s natural world and the nourishment she provides – physical, emotional and spiritual. Turkey encourages you to maintain a caring harmony with the land and promotes the understanding that therein lies the foundation of our abundance. Turkey guides you to feelings of well-being, contentment and gratitude for what you have, alleviating the need to accumulate possessions. Turkey teaches that personal sacrifice – useful means of giving of yourself – benefit your community. In these ways you can receive the blessings of community, connection, abundance and the openness of heart to share these blessings with the world.

Sources: History, Native American Mythology, Southwest Crossroads, Ask-Angels.com. Science, Wikipedia, Smithsonian Magazine, Live Science, Britannica, Four Paws, Scientific American, Spirit Animal Totems, Trusted Psychic Mediums

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou 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, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith began studying 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.


Categories: animals, archetype, Earth-based spirituality, General, Gratitude, Myth, Paganism

Tags: , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Thank you for your beautiful artwork and all this amazing information that helps us truly see this wonderful creature through new eyes! Wild turkeys have recently been reintroduced where I live and they are now quite abundant. Recently I had the joy of watching a turkey family – a mom and several babies – cross a road and the love of the mother for her chicks was clear in the care she took in making sure the cars had stopped and that all her babies got across safely before moving on. Your lovely portrait captures that intelligence, beauty, and love!


  2. I love this post! I have wild turkeys that live in my woods an display around the house in the spring…I know how bright they are…I would love to know more specifics about this….”Archaeologist have found burial sites in the Four Corners area of the U.S. – Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico – with ceremonial arrangements of whole turkeys dating back from 3 or 4 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. It appears the turkeys were not eaten at this time but only used for ceremonial purposes. Young turkeys were found interred under ceremonial plazas” –
    I know nothing about this –

    But in New Mexico Turkey was pecked into the stone in an old ruin I used to visit until it was defaced – the Spirit fled and I never went back.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brava! I guess it’s good to know all these good things about the turkey on the platter in the middle of our table. Perhaps as we eat the turkey we can ingest the positive qualities you describe: “feelings of well-being, contentment and gratitude for what you have, alleviating the need to accumulate possessions. Turkey teaches that personal sacrifice – useful means of giving of yourself – benefit your community.”

    In the musical 1776, there’s a scene in which while the delegates are debating paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence in the hall in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and John Adams are sitting on a staircase in the hall debating what shall be the new republic’s national bird. Jefferson proposes the dove. Franklin proposes the turkey. Adams proposes the eagle. He’s got the loudest voice. They sing a song titled “The Egg.” ” We’re waiting for the chirp, chirp, chip of an eaglet being born….” Watch and listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM09UBbQA9I Having lived through 2020, I’m wondering if the turkey would be a better national bird.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barbara,
      I read about Franklin and Adams’ disagreement about the national bird but didn’t know that Jefferson had suggested the dove. I wish Franklin had prevailed as a bird that promotes gratitude and satisfaction with what one has together with the importance of giving of ourselves for the greater good is definitely needed at this time.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I see turkey that way also Sara. That is what really drew me to them at this time as it seems the world is in such a place that in order to have abundance we must all sacrifice some things we held dear.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you as always for visual and verbal inspiration, Judith. I love knowing more about the turkeys who are my neighbors. Now I will listen and look more attentively. I will not be eating any kind of turkey tomorrow. Our tradition is pesto made with basil from the garden, as will as other garden gifts. I appreciate turkeys with abundance and blessing. I looking forward to singing with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elizabeth,
      I loved learning so much about turkeys as I researched for this post. Learning about turkey’s importance to the Maya really revealed my own American hubris to me. I spent a couple of months in Merida in the Yucatan a few years back and was so surprised to find turkey on the menu in all the restaurants every day and prepared in homes frequently. I kept wondering “Why turkey – isn’t it a bird of the U.S.” Now I know what an ignoramus I was at that time….

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Judith, thank you for your great article about turkeys, it’s very educating, facts I didn’t know about,
    although I am vegetarian. Having said that, in that sense, Thanksgiving is a sad day to me, knowing that so many turkeys are being killed. I do celebrate the day with an abundance of being grateful for Mother Earth.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This information is really delightful and fascinating. Have you read the book All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss? She has a fantastic section about turkeys.

    Liked by 1 person

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: