By, Ted Andrews; Aminal Speak, 1993
Keynote: Motherhood, Longevity, Awakening to Opportunities
As a group, turtles are more ancient than any other vertebrate animal. There are around 250 kinds, 48 of which are found in the United States. Turtles are usually distinguished from tortoises in that tortoises are land bound. Turtles live in and around the water.
A great deal of mythology exists in regard to the turtle. In the Far East, the shell was a symbol of heaven, and the square underside was a symbol of earth. The turtle was an animal whose magic could help you unite heaven and earth within your own life. A symbol of the turtle was an invitation for the blessings of both heaven and earth.
In Japan is a story, "The Tale of Urashima," of a man who stops some boys from picking on a turtle. He chases the boys away and helps the turtle get to the water. Instead of swimming away, the turtle remains close and thanks the man. As a reward for his help, the turtle takes the man on his back deep beneath the ocean to the land of the King of the Ocean. He is honored and rewarded by the king, for the turtle was one of his favorite animals. He gives his daughter, a beautiful water sprite, to him in marriage. He finds true love for the first time.
The turtle is a shore creature, using the land and the water. All shore areas are associated with doorways to the Faerie Realm. The turtle is sometimes known as the keeper to the doors. Turtles thus were often seen as signs of fairy contact and the promise of fairy rewards.
In Nigeria, the turtle was a symbol of the female sex organs and sexuality. To the Native Americans, it 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 energies originated. Turtle is the symbol of the primal mother.
Because of its great age and its slow metabolism, the turtle is also associated with longevity. Long life and groundedness within life is part of what is associated with the turtle. It does not move fast. It is as if, on some level, turtle knows it has all the time in the world. Turtle medicine can teach new perceptions about time and our relationship with it.
Turtles have amazing survival skills and strategies. They hear well. Actually, they sense vibrations in the water through their skin and shell. Turtles are also able to distinguish some colors, and they do have a sense of smell. Turtle totems hold the mystery of awakening the senses - on both physical and spiritual levels. Turtle stimulates hearing and clairaudience. It can help with vision and clairvoyance. It heightens the sense of smell and higher discrimination.
If turtle has shown up, you may need to ask yourself some questions. Are you not seeing what you should? Are you not hearing what you should? Are you or those around you not using discrimination?
If at all possible, try to identify the individual turtle. Although there are many kinds, with a little effort this can be accomplished, often from the shell. Different turtles do have different kinds of shells. Every turtle has at least one characteristic that makes it stand out, and which usually has great symbolic significance. A snapping turtle may indicate the ability to grab and use the mouth and all associated with it (voice, sound, digestion) in new ways. A box turtle has hinge like openings in the front and back that it can retreat into, and it can teach how to protect yourself more solidly. A painted turtle may be able to teach you the power and use of color. A sea turtle is fully aquatic, and the symbolism of water should be studied and reflected upon.
Turtles carry their home on their back. Contrary to depiction in cartoons and such, turtles can not leave their shells. The shell is actually the backbone and ribs of the turtle. It serves as home and shelter for it. Although some believe it impossible, if a turtle is flipped onto its back it can right itself. It uses its strong neck and head to flip itself over. For those with this totem, it is a reminder to use your own head and knowledge to right yourself when your world gets topsy turvy. Sometimes turtles show up as a totem to help us during such times.
Turtles are omnivorous. They eat insects, plants, fish, amphibians, and even small mammals on occasion. They are opportunistic. When turtle shows up in your life it is usually a reminder to pay attention or you will miss opportunities. To the Native Americans, the turtle was a symbol of Mother Earth and a reminder that she provides for all of our needs. Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees, and turtle can slow us down to help us see our opportunities.
Turtles do have a slow metabolism, and this can be a strong reminder. Is our life becoming too hectic? Are we not taking time for ourselves? Are we so busy that we can't really see what is going on? Are we going too slow and need to pick up the pace a little? Turtle can help you to decide.
Turtle is the favorite food of raccoons. Those with a turtle totem should also study the significance of the raccoon. It will help you to understand the interplay of energies manifesting within your life. It is believed that turtles use the sun to make vitamin D. Those with a turtle totem may need to check their own vitamin intake and adjust diet and vitamin supplements so that enough vitamin D is taken into the system.
All turtles must come ashore to lay their eggs, and they are usually buried. When the eggs hatch, the young are on their own. They in turn must make their way to the waters. This link between water and land, especially for the purpose of reproduction has great significance. It should be meditated upon by anyone with a turtle totem. The water is the great creative source that we can draw on and live in, but we also have to come out of it and apply that creativity within the physical world on land. It also hints at needing to think things through carefully before acting upon them.
If turtle has shown up in your life, it is time to get connected to your most primal essence. Go within your shell and come out when your ideas are ready to be expressed. It is time to recognize that there is an abundance out there for you. It doesn't have to be gotten quickly and immediately. Take your time and let the natural flow work for you. Too much, too soon, can upset the balance. Turtle reminds us that all we need for all that we do is available to us, if we approach it in the right manner and time.
Turtles remind us that the way to heaven is through the earth. In Mother Earth is all that we need. She will care for us, protect us, and nurture us, as long as we do the same for her. For that to happen, we must slow down and heighten our sensibilities. We must see the connection to all things. Just as the turtle cannot separate itself from its shell, neither can we separate ourselves from what we do to the Earth.