The symbolism and meanings of the turtle include longevity, perseverance, steadfastness, protection, retreat, healing, tranquility, Earth, and transformation.
For as long as humans have walked the Earth, there have been turtles. Therefore, humans have been telling stories about turtles for a long time.
In addition, the spirit of the turtle is an important figure for many people who feel a kinship with these animals, whether they are land or sea turtles.
In this post, you will learn about the mythology and meanings of land and sea turtles, the spirit animal of turtles and much more.
Difference between a turtle and a sea turtle
For starters, many turtle species and all sea turtles spend most of their time in the water. In fact, they only come out of the water to lay their eggs on land and occasionally to bask in the sun. This is why many turtle species have webbed feet and their sea turtle cousins have flippers.
In contrast, terrapins and some turtle species spend more time on land. These species live in more brackish and swampy environments. Turtles, on the other hand, differ from their aquatic cousins in that they live entirely on land and do not have webbed feet.
What does the turtle symbolize?
- Perseverance and steadfastness
- Home and retreat
The Turtle in Mythology
Turtles have been roaming the Earth for about 220 million years, which makes them a bit “younger” than sharks, which are about 450 million years old, and dragonflies, which are about 300 million years old. Sea turtles, however, are slightly younger than land turtles, at about 120 million years old.
Biologists surmise that sea turtles evolved from their terrestrial cousins, eventually developing flipper-like “feet” from semi-soft feet, thanks to evolution.
We are young compared to turtles.
Compared to these ancient animals, humans are young. Our first ape-like ancestors that walked on two legs did not appear on Earth until 5 to 7 million years ago. By the time we arrived, the tortoise was already here. It is therefore quite possible that this is when the symbolism and mythology of the tortoise began to take shape in the minds of our distant ancestors.
While hominids have changed a lot over these millions of years, turtles are pretty much the same as they have always been. Apparently, no one saw a reason to break the turtle mold. So it can be said that turtles and tortoises are truly ancient beings that carry in their DNA the wisdom of the ages.
Not only are they ancient, tortoises are everywhere. There are more than 300 of them and they live on every continent except Antarctica. Thus, turtles appear in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. Here are some of those stories:
Meaning of Native American turtles
Each Native American culture is unique, with its own set of traditions and beliefs. However, one thing they all have in common is a deep reverence for animals and nature. For many Native American tribes, the turtle is a powerful being.
A celestial symbol of Mother Earth
For Native Americans, the turtle symbolizes Mother Earth. Most turtles have 13 scales, or scutes, on the back of their shells. To Native Americans, these scales represent the 13 full moons we have each year.
In addition, on the outer edge of the shell of most turtles are 28 smaller scales. To Native Americans, these 28 sections represented the 28 days of a lunar month. Thus, turtles were considered a celestial symbol of Mother Earth.
Mother Earth Turtle
There is a Native American creation myth about a great flood that covered the Earth with water. Mother Earth Turtle swam under the surface of the water and collected mud from the bottom of the ocean. She used this mud to create a land on which people and animals could live.
The Iroquois have a similar creation myth. In their story, the Sky Woman descends to Earth. However, the Earth is covered with water. So the animals that lived in the sea tried to create land for her. They swam to the bottom of the sea and pulled up mud to create land, but they had nowhere to put it. So the muskrat started piling mud on top of the turtle. Soon, the other animals joined in to pile more mud on the turtle’s back. The turtle grew and soon an entire island formed on its back, and that is how the Earth was made.
To the Mohawk People, the Earth was also carried by a giant turtle. And earthquakes were nothing more than the turtle shrugging its shoulders to shift the weight of the world it carried on its back.
Native American cultures have a clan system that is organized around family groups, which are based on the maternal line. Clans serve as a system of community organization and division of labor, and some historians surmise that they helped maintain gene health by preventing close relatives from intermarrying.
Clans also have animals associated with them, such as the bear, crow, fox, or hummingbird, and several tribes have turtle clans. Among these tribes are the Chippewa, Huron-Wyandot, Menominee, Abenaki, Shawnee and Iroquois.
Australian Aboriginal myths about the creation of turtles
The Australian Aborigines also revered turtles, which figured prominently in some of their creation stories.
Wayamba the tortoise
Long ago, Oola the lizard was gathering sweet potatoes for her children to eat. Suddenly, a warrior named Wayamba jumped out of the bushes and grabbed Oola and her children. He told Oola that she would become his wife. Wayamba was armed and with a large shield, so Oola could not overpower him.
When Wayamba entered their camp with Oola and her children, her tribesmen were very angry because they knew he had stolen her. So they told Wayamba that when Oola’s tribesmen came to rescue her, he would be alone to defend himself. They were not going to get into a fight created by him.
Knowing he would be outnumbered, Wayamba surrounded his body with two shields, one in front and one behind. As the Oola tribesmen attacked, throwing spears and boomerangs, Wayamba stuck his head, arms and legs between the two shields. However, knowing he was still outnumbered, Wayamba ran as fast as he could and plunged into a lake.
Wayamba was never seen again. However, those who venture into the water have reported seeing a strange creature with shields on its back in the depths.
Polynesian Turtle Symbolism
The indigenous peoples of the Polynesian islands also have a collection of turtle legends.
The Turtle and the Shark
Once upon a time there was a blind woman named Fonueau who had a daughter named Salofa. One year, a severe famine struck the island and Fonueau and Salofa began to starve. Fonueau assured her daughter that the villagers would surely bring them food because they knew she was blind. However, the food never came.
Becoming increasingly desperate, Fonueau and Salofa decided to leave their fate in the hands of the gods. So they jumped off a cliff into the sea. But when they both returned to the surface, they saw that the other had been transformed: one into a shark and the other into a turtle.
Excited that they could suddenly swim so well, they swam off in search of another island. Finally, they reached the shore of a village called Vaitogi. When they arrived, the local chief, a man named Letuli, and his people took pity on the hungry creatures and fed them.
The turtle and shark then transformed into their human forms of Fonueau and Salofa. In gratitude, the two women danced and sang to entertain Chief Letuli and his people.
Today, Samoans play their special song when they need the power of the turtle and shark spirits, and it is said that when they sing this song, a shark and a turtle appear in the sea.
Turtle symbolism in Japan
In Japan, turtles are symbols of longevity and happiness.
The story of Urashima Tarō
Once upon a time, a fisherman named Urashima Tarō rescued a turtle. To reward him, the turtle told him that he would carry him on his back to the Dragon Palace under the sea. There, as a reward, the beautiful Princess Otohime would entertain him.
Urashima Tarō spent several pleasant days with the princess. However, he knew he had to return to his home on land. When it was time for Urashima Tarō to depart, the tearful Princess Otohime gave him a jeweled chest as a parting gift. However, she told him that he was never to open it.
Urashima Tarō’s turtle friend arrived to take him home. During the long journey, Urashima Tarō became bored. Unable to contain his curiosity, he opened the jewelry box. When Urashima Tarō finally returned to his village, he learned that he had not been away for just a few days. In fact, 100 years had passed, and he was now a very old man
The symbolism of the turtle in China
In China, turtles are sacred animals, symbols of longevity, wisdom and wealth. For Feng Shui practitioners, placing a turtle statue near the front door protects your home from negative energy. Also, placing a turtle on your back in your office will help you be more successful.
Also, placing a turtle in the career section of your home or office, as depicted in the bagua placement, will bring professional rewards. You can also place a turtle in the health section of any room to bring health and vitality to its inhabitants.
Turtles in Taiwan
In Taiwanese culture, turtles represent good luck, longevity and peace. For this reason, the Taiwanese bake small turtle-shaped cakes during the festival season and give them as gifts and offerings at temples.
Turtle symbolism in Vietnam
Turtles are also sacred animals in Vietnamese culture, and are the subject of many Vietnamese stories. One of the most enduring is the story of the Sacred Giant Tortoise.
The Sacred Giant Tortoise
In the 15th century, a wealthy landowner named Lê Lợi received a supernatural sword from his angels. With this sword, he succeeded in expelling the occupying Ming army from his and the surrounding lands. Thus, the people crowned him as their emperor.
One day, Lê Lợi was taking a leisurely boat ride on a lake when a huge golden turtle appeared. Now that the battles were over, Lê Lợi knew he must return his magic sword, so he placed it on the back of the turtle, which swam into the depths of the lake. The return of the sword brought peace to the land, so Lê Lợi renamed the lake, located near present-day Hanoi, “Hồ Hoàn Kiếm”, which translates as “Lake of the returned sword”.
Meaning of the turtle in Hinduism
Like the Native American creation legend, in Hindu mythology the world rests on a giant turtle. However, Hindus insert four elephants that rest on the turtle’s shell to support the world.
In Hindu mythology, there is a giant tortoise named Kurma who supports the god Vishnu on his back. Kurma even has a temple dedicated to him: the Srikurmam Kurmanathaswamy temple, located in Andhra Pradesh, India.
In Hinduism, Kurma is considered the first living being, its belly symbolizing the Earth and its shell the celestial world or the heavens.
The meaning of the turtle in ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, turtles abounded in the Nile River. Egyptians considered them sacred beings that warded off evil. They wore turtle amulets to protect themselves and keep the wearer healthy. Thus, as in other cultures around the world, turtles in Egypt were symbols of protection, health and longevity.
The Mesopotamians associated Enki, their water god, with the turtle. In one story, when Ninurta, the god of hunting and agriculture, attempted to gain absolute power over the world, Enki released a giant turtle to follow him. The turtle caught Ninurta and bit his ankle. He then dug a large hole and dragged Ninurta with him, thus saving the world
The symbolism of the tortoise in Norse cultures
In Old Norse legends, there were two Earth goddesses associated with turtles. Fjorgyn, the goddess of nature, earth and stone, is usually depicted with three spirit animals: a snapping turtle, a toad and a vole. And Asha, who is the goddess of art and pottery, is often depicted with a painted turtle.
Turtles in Celtic mythology
The Celtic god Lugh, who was the god of the sun, war and prowess, is often depicted with ravens and wolves. However, he is also associated with the tortoise.
Detailed symbols and meanings of turtles and sea turtles
Turtle Symbolism: Longevity
Turtles have been on Earth for 220 million years. They also have a long life span. Land turtles can live up to 40 years, while sea turtles can live up to 80 years.
As long-lived ancestral beings, turtles are symbols of longevity in cultures around the world. In this sense, they are the opposite of butterflies and dragonflies, whose time on Earth usually lasts only a couple of weeks or months, respectively.
When the tortoise is your spirit, you are an old soul with a deep and open perspective on life. You have much to teach others about life and why we are here.
As a symbol of ancient wisdom, the turtle is a useful totem to meditate on when you wish for a long life of health for yourself and others. In addition, the spirit of the turtle is a useful symbol to think about when you are creating something that you want to last over time. This could be a creative project, a relationship or partnership, or a new venture. After all, turtles are built to last.
Perseverance and steadfastness
The steady turtle is also a symbol of perseverance and steadfastness. In the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” despite its slowness, it is the tortoise that prevails because of its steadfastness and concentration. The saying “Slow and steady wins the race” embodies the spirit of the tortoise.
The spirit of the tortoise is a wise teacher who reminds you that, once you are clear about your goal, stay true to your path, even if your progress seems slow and arduous.
Of course, it is essential that you first be very clear about your goals. If you feel you are unsure of your path, it probably means you just need more information. Seek it out. Study, explore, meditate and reflect. This process is also part of your journey.
Resist and persist
The spirit of the tortoise also embodies perseverance. In a world that can sometimes be negative, harsh and cruel, the tortoise reminds you to put on your shell of endurance and keep moving forward.
With their hardened shells, turtles are the ultimate symbol of protection. Native American mothers used turtle medicine to protect their newborn babies, even storing sacred medicines in turtle shells.
Call upon the spirit of the turtle when you find yourself in a situation where you need protection. It may be a negotiation, a confrontation, or simply a new experience where you are pushing your limits. You have a tough shell of willpower and resolve that is stronger than you think.
Home and Retreat
We all need to retreat into our shell from time to time, away from the chaos of the world. When the tortoise is your power animal, it’s important to give yourself the time you need to go into your man cave or lair, to take care of yourself, reflect and recharge. You will then be better prepared to take risks, embrace new experiences and enjoy the sunshine of life.
Being symbols of protection and retreat, turtles are also powerful symbols of healing. As mentioned above, the Navajo used turtle shells to store and dispense their medicines because of the turtle’s special healing qualities.
If you are ill or a loved one is ill, meditate on the longevity, endurance and healing power of the turtle. And, needless to say, always seek the help of your Higher Power and angels.
Peace of mind
If you’ve ever seen turtles basking on a log in a lake, you’ll know that they are peaceful beings. Although they can be territorial, you don’t see turtles fighting like wolves over a piece of meat, or like crows chasing an intruding owl out of its territory. Tortoises don’t have time for that kind of shenanigans. They prefer to be quietly underwater or sunbathing on the shore.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of snorkeling or scuba diving and watching sea turtles in the ocean, you’ll see firsthand how gentle and calm these special creatures are.
Summon the spirit of the turtle when you need peace of mind. Even watching images and videos of turtles can have a calming effect.
In Hindu and Native American cultures, the turtle symbolizes the Earth. In the stories of these two cultures, a large turtle is depicted as carrying the world on its back, as well as being the creator of the world. Thus, turtles are symbols of both the vastness of the world and the Earth as the basis of all life.
The spirit of the turtle asks you to take a holistic view and think in general terms. If you are feeling unwell, focus on your overall health, not just treating the symptoms. If you are unhappy in your life, perhaps a major lifestyle change is needed. And if you’re caught up in immediate problems, heartbroken over a loss or rejection, the turtle reminds you that there’s a big world out there. It’s full of interesting people, natural wonders and countless experiences you haven’t yet discovered. Come out of your shell and explore the world.
As semi-aquatic animals, turtles are symbols of transformation. All life originated in the sea and, over time, some creatures made their way to land, including the turtle.
However, the turtle was never completely disconnected from the water. Sea turtles especially evolved and returned full time to the ocean, although they still make the pilgrimage to land to lay their eggs. Also baby turtles, once hatched, will make the journey across the sand and return to the sea.
Diving into the subconscious
Entering the water symbolizes immersion into the subconscious and superconscious, an altered state of everyday life in the material world. Thus, the spirit of the turtle embodies the ability to transition between these two states.
Expand your consciousness.
The spirit of turtle invites you to expand your consciousness. There is much more than what we experience in our everyday states of consciousness. The spirit of the tortoise reminds you that you have the ability to transform any area of your life, including your thoughts.
The Tortoise as Spirit Animal
When the turtle is your spirit animal, you are blessed with an ancient understanding of the world. According to Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals. Rather, they choose you. Your spirit animal may come to you in a vision quest or through prayer or meditation, or in some other powerful way that impacts your human experience on Earth.
If a turtle or sea turtle makes itself known to you, whether in real life or through art, media or anywhere else, pay attention. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as your guide, bringing you messages from the Universe to help you navigate your life’s path and soul’s journey.
As the name implies, a power animal can bestow its most dynamic traits upon you. For example, you can invoke the turtle power animal when:
- You are starting a new relationship or endeavor and want it to last for the long term.
- You feel the need for greater protection in your life, whether physical, emotional, psychic or financial.
- You need to muster the perseverance necessary to overcome a difficult time in your life or to overcome obstacles.
- You wish to transform an area of your life.
- You need more peace and tranquility in your life.
- You wish for good luck to come your way.
A turtle totem is a symbol that embodies the positive attributes of the animal it represents. Therefore, a turtle totem can be a good luck talisman to attract healing and protection in your life. It can also be a symbol of good luck when you are going through a transformation and expect positive results.
what does it mean to dream of a Turtle?
If a turtle enters your dreams and you wonder what the dream means, consider the emotions you felt in the dream. Dreams are personal to each dreamer, so a dream about a turtle for one person may be interpreted very differently than one that someone else has.
However, delving into the emotions you felt in the dream in the context of your own view of turtles and sea turtles can provide a better understanding of what your subconscious is trying to tell you.
As they are symbols of retreat and transformation, a dream with turtles could be interpreted as a sign for you to take some time of rest and reflection and think about the areas of your life that you would like to transform.
Meaning of turtles in tattoos
A turtle or sea turtle tattoo is a beautiful symbol that shows that you are an ancient soul, as well as a person who is still undergoing your own spiritual evolution and transformation. It also communicates that you are connected to the Earth and that you see life in a holistic, big picture way.
It also shows that you love turtles and sea turtles. Tattoos are personal to each person, but hopefully understanding more about the symbolism and mythology of turtles will bring even deeper meaning to your tattoo.