The names tortoise, turtle and terrapin apply to different groups of turtles in the USA, but other countries either place them all in the same category or categorize them differently. All have the characteristic shell which is either made of bone or cartilage. There are over 250 species of turtles worldwide.
Turtle spirit animal symbolizes longevity and immortality in many mythologies around the world. This may be due to the fact that turtle always looks old with her wrinkly, dry skin and belabored movement. Even freshly hatched out of the egg, she appears elderly.
The association with longevity could also be due to the fact that turtles live for a very, very, very long time. The oldest known tortoise passed away in 2006 at 250 years old, and a Galapagos tortoise named “Harriet” recently died 171 years after befriending Darwin.
Science is backing what mythology already teaches. Researchers have found that the internal organs of turtles do not age, which is a unique gift in the animal kingdom. The fountain of youth may very well be in the genome of the turtle.
Along with eternal life, or at least growing to be very old, the meaning of turtle is coupled with wisdom. The archetypes of the sage and crone parallel the medicine of turtle spirit animal. Does having a turtle spirit animal mean you’ll live a long life? It probably has no bearing on your lifespan, but how about your soul?
Turtle spirit animal reminds us that we are ageless. She points out the timeless quality of our soul and patiently prompts us to recall the broader picture of centuries rather than seconds, lifetimes versus break times. You are being called upon to develop your own inner sage to guide you along the path.
Of course, turtle symbolism is about going slowly. That shell is heavy to carry and it limits the range of motion of turtle’s legs. We are all familiar with the story of the tortoise and the hare. However, this story is only one facet of the slow nature of turtle.
Turtle does not molt her entire skin at once like snakes do. She is always molting her skin in small pieces. Some members of the turtle family slough off the excess skin while others deposit it in layers as additional protective armor. This speaks of a gradual, continual and barely visible transformation. If you are hoping to wake up one morning and be a different person, turtle medicine suggests adjusting your expectations.
Turtle can stop the beating of her own heart, turning it on and off at will. Isn’t that amazing? The heart is often seen as a ticking clock, keeping time. We cannot escape the advance of time as our hearts must beat to keep us alive, but turtle spirit animal can teach us about how to slow down or even stop our perception of time. Ultimately, time is an illusion, a construct of the human mind.
Now is the time to let go of deadlines and forget schedules. Have you ever experienced one moment stretched over many? This is the meaning of turtle at work.
We all know the adage “slow and steady wins the race.” The meaning of turtle encompasses the amazing grace of patience. Patience is not simply suppressing restlessness or bearing annoyances, but settling into the “now” and embracing restfulness. Turtle spirit animal encourages you to check in on your capacity to be patient with others, yourself, and life, and she helps you further develop the grace of patience. Steady is not just about leisurely putting one foot in front of the other, but persevering in the face of obstacles that slow you down. The odds are against you on purpose so you slow down, develop an even temper, and practice diligent care.
Turtle is more ancient than alligator, crocodile and snake. She knows a thing or two about the beginning of time. Her egg was buried in the sand or mud by her mother and she was born out of the Earth. Stories from North America to China speak of turtle’s shell making up the Earth. Turtle is a key player in countless creation stories and the symbolism of turtle is synonymous with the Earth itself. Thus, spirit animal turtle carries the qualities of the Goddess, the feminine, earth and water.
The Hindu god Vishnu transformed himself into a turtle to re-create the world after the great flood that occurs every four billion years. The turtle carried an elephant which, in turn, supported the world. Scientists have discovered that turtle likely communicates using subsonic sound, in the exact way that elephants do. Elephants also live long lives and are heavy and strong creatures. One is a mammal and the other a reptile, but there is a strange sisterhood here that is worth contemplating.
Home Wherever You Go
Turtle’s shell is made of around 60 bones, some of which are actually the ribs and backbone. The bones are then covered by a skin of horny scales. Dome shaped shells successfully prevent predators from getting a firm bite around the shield. Other shells of aquatic turtles are streamlined for swimming.
Turtle cannot crawl out of her shell. She caries her home wherever she goes. Whenever danger threatens, she retreats inside this effective shelter. Spirit animal turtle beckons us to recognize our own inner sanctuary as well as our home, Mother Earth.
If turtle has meandered into your life, consider reflecting on what “home” is to you and how that idea has evolved over time. Then take some time to offer gratitude to the places on the outer and the inner that provide you with the safety and security of home.
“There is no need to hurry, no need to seek shelter elsewhere… It is a time when you are ready to let go of any expectation you have had about yourself or other people… There is not need to do anything but rest in the fullness of who you are right now… Savor this quality of slowing down, of coming to rest and recognizing that you are already at home.” – Osho in the Osho Zen Tarot
Learn more about the science of turtles:
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.