The animal kingdom represents incredible diversity and the broader cycle of life.
However, over the centuries, humans from different cultures and belief systems have attributed meaning to each individual animal, giving each one its own symbolic significance.
One of the oldest animal symbols known to man is the turtle. Turtles can be found in the mythologies of dozens of cultures, even dating back to the creation stories of certain religions.
However, turtles are also prominent symbols in modern popular culture, featuring in children’s cartoons such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Depending on whom you ask, the turtle can have several meanings, from wisdom to longevity and many things in between.
In today’s article, we will be exploring the numerous symbolic meanings represented by the turtle species, beginning with the theory of dream interpretation and ending with popular Greco-Roman mythology.
We will also be answering some questions about turtle symbolism at the end of the article, so make sure to read until the end!
One of the most frequently researched areas of symbolism concerning the turtle is dream symbolism. Many of us will have seen or interacted with a turtle in our dreams and wondered what this means.
When seen in a dream, the turtle represents harmony and good health, particularly in relation to your lifestyle and environment.
Because turtles are notoriously slow-moving, they may show up in your dreams as a reminder to take things slowly and move at your own pace. The turtle’s shell is also thought to be a protective symbol in dream theory.
However, turtles can also have slightly more negative meanings in dreams. For example, seeing a turtle in your dream can indicate that you have closed yourself off or feel the need to hide away from the world or other people.
We’re going to go into some more depth about the specific religious, mythical, and cultural beliefs surrounding turtles worldwide in this article, but before we do, let’s take a moment to explore how spiritual beliefs around turtles vary across the globe!
Far Eastern spiritual beliefs depict the turtle’s shell as a representation of heaven and earth. The domed upper side of the shell symbolizes heaven, while the shell’s underside represents earth.
In this way, the spiritual beliefs of far Eastern countries imply that heaven and earth are connected.
Western Christian beliefs hold more negative views about turtles. In fact, for a long time, it was thought that turtles represented destructive and malevolent forces, specifically during wartime.
Hinduism is a major source of spiritual beliefs concerning turtles. Hindu mythology speaks of a turtle called Chukwa, who created the world and held it up on its shell. In Hindu scripture, it is a spiritual crime to harm a turtle.
Turtle Symbolism By Culture
Cultures all around the world have different interpretations of what turtles symbolize. We will now explore the symbolic beliefs about turtles according to various countries and belief systems around the globe!
The World-Bearing Turtle
One of the most commonly-held symbolic beliefs about turtles is that of the world-bearing turtle, also known as the cosmic turtle or the world turtle.
In many cultures, the world-bearing turtle is considered an important part of religion and mythology.
It is believed that the world-bearing turtle is a giant turtle, the size of a planet, that came first when the Earth was created and then gave birth to everything else. This includes other animals as well as humans.
Hinduism is one of the main religions that supports the idea of the world-bearing turtle. As we mentioned earlier, the world-bearing turtle whose shell represents the heavens and the earth simultaneously is named Chukwa, or Akupāra.
A similar concept can also be found in Chinese mythology. In Chinese culture, there is a myth surrounding a great sea turtle called Ao, who holds up the skies with his legs!
Many North American Indigenous communities also believe that the turtle is at the root of creation and supports the world.
Specifically, this belief is common amongst the Lenape community, although it extends throughout many Indigenous North American tribes.
Turtles In Hindu Mythology
In addition to the symbol of the world-bearing turtle, Hinduism is the source of several beliefs about turtles.
Some Hindus believe that there is a turtle called Akupara who carries the earth on her back as well as the seas. Additionally, Lord Vishnu has an Avatar named Kurma, who happens to be a turtle.
The Turtle In Chinese Culture
Chinese culture and mythology are major sources of turtle-related symbolism. Turtles are thought to symbolize longevity, power, and tenacity in Chinese culture. The turtle is also thought to be a symbol of a long and prosperous life.
As we have already mentioned, Chinese mythology involves an enormous sea turtle called Ao, who holds up the world with its legs.
In Chinese creation mythology, a tortoise assisted the primordial being Pangu in creating the earth.
Chinese culture also respects the concept of the Four Symbols. The Four Symbols are four mythical creatures that are believed to represent the four compass points.
One of these creatures is the Black Tortoise. The Black Tortoise represents the Northern point of the compass and is a symbol of endurance and strength.
For anyone who is interested in learning more about the Four Symbols in Chinese mythology, the other three animals are the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger, and the Vermillion Bird.
One more specific element of Chinese culture where turtles feature is feng shui. For anyone who doesn’t know, feng shui is the art of arranging items within spaces to create the optimal balance and flow of positive, harmonizing energy.
Believe it or not, where you place a turtle (either a real or decorative one) within your living space can have an impact on your energetic balance.
The principles of feng shui dictate that a turtle should be positioned near or in water due to the association between the turtle and the element of water.
Doing this will have a positive effect on your life and the lives of other people who spend time in your home.
African Turtle Symbolism
Africa is home to five of the world’s seven sea turtle species, so it’s no surprise that some of the most impactful turtle symbolism comes from African culture and mythology.
Many African fertility rituals use animal symbolism, specifically surrounding the serpent and the turtle. The serpent, in this context, harnesses masculine energy, while the turtle represents the counteracting feminine energy.
In several areas of Africa, the turtle is a symbol of infinite wisdom. This is possibly linked to the incredibly long lifespan of many turtle species, with old age having connotations with knowledge and wisdom.
The turtle embodies a lot of duality in African culture, being simultaneously considered to be a hero and a trickster.
In Nigeria and Benin, respect is shown to a specific turtle named either Ijapa or Alabahun, who embodies all of the above traits.
African folklore also features another turtle called Mbe Nwa Aniga.
This turtle relies on his intelligence to talk his way out of any difficult situation, embodying the symbolic wisdom and trickery of the turtle in African mythology yet again.
Turtle Meanings In Japan
If you’re looking for interesting turtle symbolism, Japanese culture and mythology are excellent places to start.
In Japanese culture, the turtle is widely recognized as a symbol of longevity as well as good luck!
The turtle is also associated with immortality in Japan. In general, the turtle is seen as an overwhelmingly positive omen in Japan.
It is associated with thousands of years of joy and contentment and with the Japanese deity Kompira, who represents merchant sailors.
Japan has a similar belief system to China when it comes to the prominence of four mythical creatures.
Just like in Chinese mythology, Japanese legend speaks of a Black Turtle called Gen-bu who provides protection from the North. Sometimes, this guardian animal is represented as both a serpent and a turtle.
Japanese mythology also says that both Jennin’s abode and the mythological Cosmic Mountain are held up by tortoises.
Ancient Egyptians On The Turtle
Much of Ancient Egyptian religious belief is centered around animal symbolism. While Ancient Egypt is perhaps better known for its affinity toward cats, turtles also feature prominently in Ancient Egyptian mythology.
The most prominent turtle in Ancient Egyptian mythology is Sheta, although you might also see this name spelled Shtyw or Shetwy.
This turtle is connected with the Egyptian God, Set, who is the deity of war.
Set does not have a great reputation in terms of Ancient Egyptian belief systems. Because the turtle is associated with this deity, they were considered to be malevolent creatures in Egypt for a long time, with an implied connection to the Underworld.
North American Indigenous Turtle Beliefs
Many North American and Native American cultures involve a great deal of animal symbolism, including the turtle.
Indigenous North Americans of the Northeastern woodland region, specifically, hold symbolic beliefs about turtles.
In the Anishinaabeg and the Haudenosaunee confederacy, there is a prevalent belief that a Great Turtle supports the entire world on the back of its shell.
Additionally, Indigenous and Native American beliefs involve the symbolic representation of the turtle as eternal, protective, and fertility-enhancing.
Ancient Mesopotamian Turtle Depictions
The ancient Mesopotamians had their own version of the turtle in their mythology. They believed that the turtle was associated with the god Enki (Ea) and that he used the creature to travel through space and time.
Enki, for context, is the Ancient Mesopotamian God of water, including saltwater and lake water. He is also the God of fertility, creation, intelligence, and mischief, all of which are consistent with turtle symbolism from other cultures.
Enki is represented by a turtle symbol on a stone tablet called the kudurru.
In ancient Sumerian culture, there is a myth wherein Enki sends a turtle to do battle with his rival, Ninurta, the God of rain. The turtle emerges victorious, demonstrating the strength and resilience associated with this animal.
The Turtle In Polynesian Culture
The turtle is significant in Polynesian culture, representing both fertility and longevity.
Again, these symbolic associations can be seen in many other cultures when it comes to the turtle, so while there are clearly many variations in the ways that different countries and belief systems view the turtle, there are also plenty of similarities.
Greco-Roman Myths About Turtles
Greco-Roman myths are incredibly popular, but did you know that there are several myths in this category that involve turtles?
For example, there is the Aesop fable called ‘The Tortoise and the Hare.’
If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the story of a tortoise and a hare competing in a race. The hare is overly confident due to the turtle’s slow pace, running ahead and then resting multiple times, believing that he will win the race regardless.
Meanwhile, the hare proceeds at a steady, continuous pace. In the end, the tortoise is the winner, and this is where many of us first heard the saying, ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ Many cultures associate the turtle with this same tenacity.
The Roman city of Aegina is also symbolized by a turtle. This is because the turtle is associated in Greco-Roman mythology with fertility, and fertility is one of the domains of Aphrodite, the Roman Goddess of love.
Turtle Symbolism In Aztec Culture
Aztec beliefs about turtles are fairly negative compared to those held by other cultures. Because turtles have hard exterior shells and soft bodies, Aztec symbolism views the turtle as cowardly and boastful.
They present a solid exterior but are vulnerable inside.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does The Turtle Symbolize?
As this article has shown, many symbolic meanings may be attributed to the turtle, and these meanings vary significantly depending on which cultural or religious beliefs you align with.
However, one thing remains true: the turtle is a very versatile creature. As such, we can say that the turtle probably symbolizes something different to everyone.
The main symbolic associations of the turtle include longevity, good luck, prosperity, and perseverance. A turtle is considered to be especially fortuitous as a symbol if it is in water – at least, according to the laws of feng shui.
What Is The Meaning Of A Turtle Following You?
If a turtle is following you, whether this is in real life or in a dream, you can take this as a positive sign!
This is especially true in Chinese culture because Chinese mythology states that the world and the heavens are held up by a giant turtle.
Turtles are also associated with protection and longevity in many cultures, so seeing one following you is probably a sign that good things are coming your way!
Are Turtles Good Omens?
According to many cultures, turtles are good omens. In Japanese culture, for example, the turtle is thought to bring both long life and good fortune.
With that being said, not all cultures recognize the turtle as a force for good.
The Ancient Egyptians believed that the turtle was associated with war and chaos due to its connection to the God Set, and Aztec symbolism portrays the turtle as a boastful, cowardly animal due to its tough outer shell that protects a vulnerable body.
Ultimately, whether you consider turtles to be good omens or not depends on your personal beliefs, which are likely to be shaped by the culture and mythology that you grew up with.
Is There A Symbolic Meaning To A Turtle Crossing Your Path?
Crossing paths with a turtle is not only a joyful experience at the moment, but it is a sign of good things to come! Many people consider a turtle crossing your path to be a sign of good luck.
However, a word of caution: if you are crossing a road and you see a turtle, it is best to move it if you can because turtles move slowly and are likely to be run over if they get in the way of traffic.
Be aware that some turtles, such as snapping turtles, have a very strong bite and can do a lot of damage, so proceed with caution. Also, be sure never to grab a turtle by its head or any of its limbs, as you might hurt the animal.
Who knows – maybe the turtle will be even more likely to bring you good luck if you gently move it out of harm’s way!
What Does It Mean If You Find A Turtle On Your Doorstep?
A turtle on your doorstep is one of the most promising signs the universe can send you. If you find, or dream of finding, a turtle on your doorstep, you can expect to receive good luck, prosperity, longevity, and support.
Your family life will be a good one, and your personal relationships will thrive.
Fun fact: the turtle is known in some cultures as the doorkeeper because it is thought to ensure good luck and protection when found outside a person’s door.
The same thing goes for finding a turtle (or placing a turtle) in a pond outside your back door because putting a turtle in the water, especially in this position, is advantageous according to the principles of feng shui.
Is It Lucky To Have A Turtle In The House?
According to feng shui, it is very good luck to have a turtle in your home. The luck is increased if the turtle is placed in an area with water because the turtle is associated with this element.
However, before you keep a turtle inside your home or in water, ensure that the turtle species is suitable for keeping as a pet and that you are familiar with its environmental requirements so that you don’t give it too much or too little water.
The turtle has many symbolic meanings according to various cultures. Many belief systems feature a turtle as part of their creation story, with several cultures featuring a belief involving a turtle holding up or representing the earth, sea, and sky.
Therefore, turtles usually symbolize longevity, eternity, and wisdom.
Most turtle symbolism worldwide is positive, portraying turtles as wise, intelligent, peaceful, and bringers of good fortune. In many mythologies, turtles are protectors and are associated with the natural world.
With that being said, not all cultures associate turtles with good things. The Ancient Egyptians, for example, viewed turtles as evil due to their association with Set, the god of war.
Moreover, the turtle’s intelligence is thought to be synonymous with trickery in some African regions. Some dream theorists also consider the turtle to be a sign of hiding away from the world.
Ultimately, you are free to choose which kind of turtle symbolism resonates most with you. It is worth bearing in mind that, in many cultures, turtles symbolize more than one thing.
For example, in Africa, the turtle may be viewed as both wise and mischievous.