These animals are a mixture of the sacred and profane, wisdom and patience. Showing us through their own behaviour that haste is always the worst option…

Turtles belong the scientific order of “Testudines Linnaeus, 1758” or “Chelonia”. They include aquatic species (freshwater or marine) while tortoises, herbivores equipped with powerful claws, are predominantly land animals. In the United States the name turtles tends to be used regardless of whether the creature lives in water or land whereas in Britain the turtle is a marine animals and the tortoise a land animal.

Oleg Turyanskiy, Off The Map Tattoo, Easthampton, USA
Oleg Turyanskiy, Off The Map Tattoo, Easthampton, USA

These creatures go from a minimum of just a few centimetres to a maximum of all of two metres while the turtle known as Dermochelys coriacea can reach a maximum weight of seven hundred kilos. The shell which protects it from external dangers is called the carapace for the upper part. The lower section is known as the plate piastrone.

The oldest species of turtle …

…dates back to at least 215/220 million years ago. Basically, to the time when dinosaurs still walked the earth. But even more incredible is that their evolution since then has been practically zero. Apart from never having become extinct, the turtle has remained practically identical to its ancient ancestors.

The art of being patient

The turtle is regarded as stubborn and positive as well as extremely patient and is basically synonymous with calm which will allow us control over our actions. Moving slowly, the turtle embodies the greatest secret of all: time is an illusion. So for the 18th century hermetic philosopher Dom Pernety the turtle was Art in its purest state.

Slava Starkov, Starkov Tattoo, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Slava Starkov, Starkov Tattoo, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Myths and ancestral cultures

In Native American culture, the turtle symbolises the Primordial Mother. A legend tells that while the wife of Father Sky was falling to our planet, a beaver gathered some earth from the bottom of the ocean and gently placed it on the shell of a turtle. The goddess landed unharmed on this makeshift and created the North American continent.

Yin and Yang

In Hindu mythology the turtle is still portrayed with an elephant on its shell. And elephant which bears the weight of the world. All because the elephant represents the male principle while the turtle stands for the feminine in a sort of theory of opposites or yin (black) and yang (white).

Betties Kler, Parnassus Tattoo, Camerano, Italy
Betties Kler, Parnassus Tattoo, Camerano, Italy

Masculine fertility?

The turtle is also a symbol of masculine fertility in African cultures which see it in terms of an aphrodisiac as well as an effective antidote for the evil eye. The Yoruba went even further, sacrificing great numbers of turtles to the gods, thus endangering the species in those areas.