As a theologian, I constantly educate myself on all matters of religion and read books and journals on different subjects. I recently came across a book by Donovan O. Schaefer on animals and religion that focused on the interdisciplinary perspectives on religion and the embodiment of animals.
This book piqued my interest in knowing about different animals and their spiritual meanings. Upon further readings on the mythology of various spirit animals, I decided to share my knowledge with my students on what cultures believed about turtles.
I organized a roundtable forum with my students and discussed the topic of turtles and spirituality. Many of my students wanted to know the different meanings and symbolism turtles represented. Equipped with sufficient knowledge on this subject matter, I was glad to educate them on the spiritual meaning of turtles.
The Bible does not mention the spiritual meaning of turtles. However, according to cultural beliefs, one of the most outstanding symbols of turtles is longevity. Turtles are one of the few animals on earth with long life expectancies. They have also been in existence for over 250 million years. As such, many people believe that they are linked with immortality and longevity. To survive, turtles shed their shells and bring forth a new layer. Many believe that this is an aspect related to vitality and heroism.
In this article, I will explore turtles and what they symbolize according to different cultures. I will discuss beliefs on their spiritual meanings, legends, myths, and superstitions surrounding them.
Read on and find out all there is to know.
Cultures like Hindu and Native Americans believe that turtles symbolize Mother Earth, as they carry their homes on their backs. Furthermore, these cultures believe in different mythology where the turtle carries the world on its back. Within these mythologies, they believe turtles are symbols of the world’s vastness and the foundation for all life.
Many cultures believe that in the face of danger, turtles retreat into their shells. They suppose that when one experiences adversity, the turtle spirit may reveal itself to represent the need to retreat into one’s home when the world is chaotic and cruel.
Many believe that turtles represent retrospection and reflection. According to some societies, the turtle spirit emerges to urge one to retreat to their home to find the inner self.
On the other end of the spectrum, some cultures believe that turtles represent the need to embrace new challenges and go out into the world more. According to these cultural beliefs, a turtle’s shell represents introversion from new experiences and encourages one to think big and see what the world has to offer.
Though the Bible does not specify a direct correlation between turtles and spirituality, there are some beliefs of two representations of the turtle with fertility and virtues.
The turtle lays several eggs at once on the shores of water bodies. Many believe water symbolizes fertility as water helps plants grow and sustains life.
Some cultures assume that the turtle laying its eggs on the shore and the hatched babies swimming away into the water further claim this sustenance.
Many people believe that the turtle also represents virtue – in the form of patience, wisdom, and resilience. According to beliefs, since turtles are slow but sure animals, they calculate all their steps and practice incredible patience.
People believe that turtles signify patience and perception as crucial virtues in life. In this regard, people claim that instead of making hasty decisions, one should make well-thought-out choices to realize absolute success.
Here are five additional spiritual meanings people believe of turtles other than the ones I have already mentioned.
According to an Ancient Greek fable about the ‘The Hare and the Tortoise,’ the story explains how the tortoise wins a race against the hare – one of the fastest animals on land. From this story, people believe slow and steady wins the race and that the turtle spirit embodies this.
Many believe that one must set goals and be steadfast in achieving them, no matter how arduous the progress may seem. Some societies maintain that turtles are often mocked for their slow nature.
They believe that the turtle spirit implores resistance and persistence during harsh times.
According to traditional cultures, the turtle’s hard shells are the absolute symbol of protection. Many believe they can independently ward off predators and protect themselves from harsh weather conditions.
According to Native American culture, mothers used turtle medicine to shield their newborn babies from harm and held sacred medicines in turtle shells. Many cultures believe in summoning the turtle spirit in dire situations where one needs protection, such as confrontation or engaging in new experiences.
Many cultural communities believe that turtles are symbols of healing. Mothers in Native America are believed to have held their children’s medicine in turtle shells for protection and for the healing qualities turtles possess.
Many people also assumed that those who were ill or knew a sick person should meditate upon a turtle’s healing power and longevity.
Cultures around the world believe that turtles are tranquil animals. According to many cultures, one can see this tranquility by observing how they bask on rocks by the shore on sunny days.
As per many beliefs, even in the deep sea, turtles peacefully swim by and are the ultimate symbol of repose.
These societies believe that turtles don’t engage in conflict with other animals. It is believed that in times of turmoil, one should turn to the turtle’s tranquility. Some cultures believe that watching turtles swim or looking at their picture may calm one down.
Many cultures believe that since turtles are semi-aquatic, they symbolize transformation from land to sea. According to some societies, most turtles live a dual life – underwater and on land.
It is believed that, over time, turtles have evolved and transformed – even as babies, they find their way from the earth, where they hatch and delve into the sea. It is a popular belief that going into the water symbolizes diving further into the conscious mind – an altered state from normalcy.
Therefore, some societies believe in transformation by transitioning back and forth between two states of mind.
People believe that a sea turtle crossing your path symbolizes bravery. It is believed that you will face challenges with courage and persistence, as I had mentioned earlier about a turtle’s steadfastness.
Many assume that seeing a sea turtle in your path encourages you to forge ahead because, eventually, all the doubt holding you back will flee your conscience.
People believe that when a sea turtle crosses your path, you can rest assured that you will achieve success in a new venture.
There are several legends, myths, and superstitions about turtles that most people believe. Here are a few common ones.
- Some cultures believe that a turtle’s death will bring misfortunes, illness, or death to the person caring for it. On the flip side, others believe that a turtle’s death can bring good luck if one performs the correct ritual or tribute to the turtle’s spirit.
- The Hindi believe that black and soft-shelled turtles represent dead sinners’ souls. They maintain that they were transformed into reptiles by a saint from the 13th century.
- In Thailand, it is a common belief that if you are sad or upset, free a turtle. This action will offer relief from the negative feelings you were experiencing.
- The Vietnamese claim that if you come across a turtle crossing the street, any plans you had in motion will be delayed.
- In China, people believe that when you pat a turtle’s shell, you will experience good fortune.
- Some Angolans believe that when you put a turtle shell beneath your door, you will ward off an enemy or rival.
- In modern times, people believe that turtles have a short life span.
- People with turtles as pets also believe that turtles need little to no veterinary care, unlike cats and dogs.
Turtle symbolism varies in different parts of the world across multiple cultures. I have highlighted some notable countries and cultures that revere the turtle’s spirituality and symbolism.
North Americans attribute turtles to positivity. Native American tribes believed that turtles created the earth – others claimed that the creator of the land put the world at the back of the turtle.
Delving into the water, sea turtles are associated with security and superb health – protection, and healing qualities. The Aztec tribes were under the belief that the turtle symbolized cowardice and boastfulness.
They believed that turtles were hard on the exterior but were vulnerable inside.
In Chinese culture, the turtle symbolizes protection. The Chinese believe that turtles carry the symbol of wealth, tenacity, wisdom, power, and longevity. Therefore, they regarded them as sacred animals.
In Vishnu and Feng Shui, believers place a turtle sculpture next to their door to ward off negative energy. In addition, they believe that when you put a turtle statue in your office, you will receive a promotion or professional reward.
The Chinese also connect turtles to good health. They believe that placing a turtle in the health sector in your house, for example, in medicine cabinets, brings vitality to the household. In Japanese culture, turtles are a symbol of longevity and good fortune.
The Celts and Hawaiians believed turtles represented encouragement and a getaway to the magical realm. They believed the turtle encourages one to explore ideas, express them, and forge on.
According to them, turtles drive one to a magical world that connects to its skin and shells. The Celts and Hawaiians also attach turtles to fertility.
Celtic Shamans use turtles to protect and ground themselves while traveling between the spiritual and earthly realms. In this region, the people believe the creator strapped the world onto the turtle’s back.
In Africa, turtles hold a special place in society. They attribute the turtle to wisdom. Nigerians believe that the turtle is a master manipulator with creative ways of evading situations while being heroic.
In Ancient Egypt, the people believed the turtle’s spirits could ward off evil and protect people’s well-being. In Africa, there is also the belief that the turtle has links to the underworld.
They attribute this to its strong water connection. In some African cultures, there was a prevalent belief that turtles exhibited healing power.
Some tribes proceeded to use part of the turtle’s organs to create concoctions that they believed healed sunburn and ocular diseases.
In addition, some African cultures believed the turtle symbolized respect for elders and prudence due to its wrinkling skin.
According to common belief, if a turtle is your spiritual animal, you are blessed with a rich understanding of the world. Some cultures believe that when a turtle spirit reveals itself to you, it will influence your human experience on Earth. It is believed that some of these manifestations include meditation and prayer.
At times, it is said that turtles present themselves in everyday life through art and media. Cultures claim that people whose spirit animals are turtles are well-grounded, good listeners, and have a sense of direction in life.
In most cultures, turtles are considered to be lucky charms. Some cultures believe that if a turtle crosses your path, you should pick it up and thank the creator for sparing its life for your good fortune.
Other cultures, however, associate turtles with bad luck. For example, some cultures believe that if you frequently see a turtle, its death will be a shared experience with you.
However, no matter the case, the Bible implores Christians not to put faith in myths but to train themselves for godliness, as mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:7.
Christians should aim to believe in the Bible as it is absolute and logical. God’s word and plans for humanity should be a Christian’s only focus.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.