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Turtle Symbolism and Lore

Updated on June 5, 2013

Ancient Symbolism of The Turtle

The Turtle is an ancient symbol that represents creation, endurance, strength, stability, longevity, fertility, and innocence. The Turtle also provides protection, good fortune , and brings happiness and good omens.

One of the four Chinese sacred animals (among the dragon, the phoenix, and the unicorn), the ever adapting turtle is a creature of both land and sea and can thrive in any environment.

In Asian myth the turtle represents order and was thought to have created the entire universe from it's body parts. The heavens were formed from the shell, the earth was created from it's body and it's undershell was the underworld.

In American Indian culture, the turtle represents the caring wisdom of the ancient ones and is respected for it's protective strength.

The Turtle is considered to be the oldest, most sacred symbol of the Anishinabe and Haudenosaunee people. They believed that North America was created on the back of a turtle.

"Legend says that Father Sky's wife fell through a hole in the sky, and to keep her from drowning, little Muskrat managed to bring up a handful of soil from the bottom of the ocean; she placed it on Turtle's wide back and the land immediately began to grow, forming North America."

To this day most Indigenous peoples refer to North America as Turtle Island.

Sources: Sacred Symbols and Their Meanings,

Cultural World Myths and the Turtle - The Cultural History of The Turtle

A great deal of mythology exists in regards to the Turtle.

1. In the Far East, the Turtle's round shell was a symbol of heaven carried above it's square earth underside. The turtle was considered a magical animal that united both heaven and earth.

2. In the west, early Christians thought that turtles were evil omens sent by their enemies during war.

3. In Greece, turtles were once believed to be born from hell.

4. in the Hindu religion the turtle is considered to be the second incarnation of the powerful god Vishnu.

"Legends say that after a great flood, which occurs every four billion years and dissolves the earth, Vishnu transforms himself into a great Turtle. On his back, the Turtle carries a vessel in which the gods and demons mix the elements necessary to re-create the world. After one thousand years, when the earth has been reborn, the Turtle remains in place, and on his back stands a large elephant, which supports the planet."

Turtles are also symbols of immortality and are considered temporary dwelling places for souls while waiting for the next reincarnation until they reach Nirvana.

5. A Japanese fairy tale tells of a man who protects a turtle from some boys who were bothering it. As a reward, the turtle takes the man to meet the King of the Ocean and is given the King's beautiful water sprite daughter. to marry.

6. In Nigeria, the turtle was a symbol of the female sex organs and sexuality.

7. To Native Americans, the Turtle was associated with the lunar cycle, menstruation, and the power of the female energies.

The markings and sections on some turtles, total thirteen. In the lunar calendar, there are either thirteen full moons or thirteen new moons, alternating each year. Many believe this is where the association with the female energy myth originated. The Turtle, has thus come to symbolize the Primal Mother and Mother Earth.

8. To the modern Chinese, Turtles are viewed in many different ways. They are worshiped in temples and Flour Turtles are used as offerings at temple festivals or big family events.

9.Buddhist beliefs restrain the killing of animals, this evolved into the Buddhist ceremony of releasing the Turtles.

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Talk to the Animals!

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Wise Quotes from the Turtles

"Try to be like the turtle - at ease in your own shell." - Bill Copeland

"Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out." - James Bryant Conant

"Slow and steady wins the race." ~ Aesop

“And the turtles, of course...all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.” - Dr. Seuss

What is your favorite animal?

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    • profile image

      cindy 2 years ago

      I had a turtle walk thru my back door....anyone hqve any thoughts of what that might mean?......

    • profile image

      Demelza 3 years ago

      Holy shtznii, this is so cool thank you.

    • danniblaze profile image

      danniblaze 4 years ago

      Very interesting lens. I love tortoises and turtles.

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 4 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      Many blessings to you and this awesome turtle page :D

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      This page caught my eye in your list of lenses because I love turtles:-) These are great.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      Interesting information. Wasn't aware of most of it.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Lovely. The Maya thought Turtles were the things that held the world on their backs. Sprinkled with stardust.

    • profile image

      AnimalWhisperer 5 years ago

      There was a large snapping turtle on the edge of a busy 2 lane road. He seemed determined to try to cross the road. So we turned back around, pulled off the road, and tried to make sure he got across okay. Just as I was about to pick him up from behind, he threw his head back and snapped my middle finger off. (Don't try this at home.) I love turtles!

    • profile image

      kentwpal 5 years ago

      i love turtles too, but i hate to burst everyones bubble.....the quote from the Old Testament is referring to a Turtledove, not a Turtle.

      Otherwise........checking out Stephen King's Dark Tower Series.......there is a Turtle in there and in IT. major stuff and great books.

    • MargaritasWorld profile image

      Margarita Boettcher 5 years ago from Morrison, Colorado

      I love turtles very much. They are very special to me. I collect them. Great lens I didn't know a lot of this stuff!

    • profile image

      RykiBergstrand 5 years ago

      Being Native American, we worship turtles. Not obsessively of course, but they are our friends so to speak. We sound nuts, eh? :P

    • MsModernMary profile image

      MsModernMary 5 years ago

      This is incredibly fascinating. Turtles are one of my favorite animals and I loved reading this lens. ^_^

    • profile image

      brynimagire 5 years ago

      Nice turtle information ! Wonderful lens !

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      You are right up my alley. I could spend a long time on your lenses - I love animals and symbolism!

    • profile image

      Edutopia 6 years ago

      I like the turtles sitting on the back of A'tun.balancing he disc shaped world n their back.

    • mulkurnia lm profile image

      mulkurnia lm 6 years ago

      it is interesting that different cultures interpret the symbolisms that turtle represent differently.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      I have always appreciated turtles. I especially like the Native American symbolism. As I have become more involved in protecting endangered sea turtles, I have gained an even greater appreciation for these ancient creatures.

    • profile image

      mockingbird999 6 years ago

      I like most all of them. Nice lens.

    • linhah lm profile image

      Linda Hahn 6 years ago from California

      Hard to say, I love animals.

    • Dawn Michael PhD profile image

      Dawn Michael 7 years ago from Thousand Oaks

      Mine is a dog, we have a pug. I likee your lens!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      I really had know idea about all the symbolism attached to the turtle ... slow and steady!

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 7 years ago from California

      I enjoyed reading what different cultures thought of the Turtle, and love your graphics. A friend in Hawaii sent me a small turtle that is supposed to bring good luck, I carry it with me all the time. Blessed by an Angel

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Great lens, and welcome to the group "Down by the Seaside!"

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 9 years ago from Royalton

      I love to see turtles as I walk around the pond. Sometimes they are sunning themselves on a rock and other times I just see their heads sticking out of the water. Turtles are beautiful creatures. Thank you for sharing the tales of turtles from other cultures.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 9 years ago from Covington, LA

      Beautiful lens. Welcome to the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens link to the appropriate plexo and vote for it.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 9 years ago

      Great Lens. I am lensrolling it over to my Animal Spirit Totems lens. Thank you for adding it to the Pagan Path Group.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      It's amazing how the Turtle is regarded around the world. Another 5* lens from you and thanks for adding it to All Legends and Lore. (P.S. I love the concept of turtles standing on more turtles, an "endless pile")

    • kerbev profile image

      kab 9 years ago from Upstate, NY

      Before I leave the beach, I always make a large turtle sand sculpture. I don't know why, I have just always done that.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      The myths and legends here are so much a part of what makes us human. Thanks

    • profile image

      Zarea 9 years ago

      I share your love of turtles. I'm lensrolling your page on my Amazing Turtles lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I love your lens! I see coopd was here, she's a good photographer.

      Anyway, I've given you 5* for a job well done!

    • profile image

      coopd 9 years ago

      Great lens! I learned some new things. Thank you for sharing and for joining my Nature Lovers group :)