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  • Writer's pictureMandira Antar

Tattoo symbols-The turtle and Tortoise

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

First thing when it comes to the turtle-symbol is to separate the turtle from the tortoise.

And this clarification is essential because i see in the web many tattoo designs as tortoise that are turtles and vice versa.

In fact, though they have many characteristics in common (obviously) and belong to the same animal family, their energy and meaning is not the same.

And that is because they have one very significant difference which is that the tortoise is a land animal and the turtle is a sea creature.

Dotting, colour, linear tattoo design
Turtle mandala tattoo design by Mandira

Turtles and Tortoises have been present on planet earth for the last 300 million years, so they have so much to teach us!



Turtle Myths and cultures

In Hindu cosmology there is a myth that the sky is supported by four giant elephants that stand on a giant tortoise (the Akupara). This is a common myth for the Chinese and Northern native Americans as well.

For Native Americans (Iroquois and Mohawks) earthquakes happen because the World Turtle is stretching :)!

The earth according to the Hindus

In Chinese culture, the tortoise is one of the four sacred creatures or celestial emblems - the other three are the phoenix, the dragon and the Ky-Lin.

It represents the North so this is why it is recommended in Feng Sui to place the tortoise on the northern part of your house in order to have it's effect activated. It is also the animal of winter, with the black colour and water element included in it.

For Polynesians all humans are born from eggs that have been laid by the World turtle!

In Japan, the spiritual turtle was a water creature called the kappa. Meeting with the turtle energy in Japan can give you 10.000 years of a happy lives.  

Tahitians consider the turtle as the Lord of the Oceans.

Turtle and Chakras“Chakra” is a Sanskrit word literally meaning "wheel."

The chakra energy system has seven basic energy centres, or energy wheels on the human body. Each of them is represented as a lotus flower with different number of petals and is associated with the energy of an animal, a colour, a shape, as well as a natural element.

The turtle is naturally associated to mother earth and the root chakra. But the truth is that the turtle combines the earth with the water element. This is why it is a healing symbol of the sacral (2nd) and root (1st) chakra. The turtle carries the element of water and unifies the earth and water element, living in both environments. The tortoise is more powerful in my opinion helping the base chakra with issues about survival, stability and perseverance.



Turtle as spirit / totem animal

The tortoise as spirit or totem animal carries all the beautiful qualities of the animal itself. If you feel connected to this animal (through dreams or meditation) then you should know that it calls you to stay grounded and be patient. The turtle has longevity, independence and stability as a "moto" and maybe you need this qualities in your life. It brings good luck and roots to mother earth. It reminds you to keep walking even if difficult, to follow your own path.

If you feel more connected to the sea turtle (through dreams or meditation), especially if you visualise the animal in the water, then you should know that it calls you to keep flowing. Patience and flexibility are the qualities you need in your life.

The turtle and tortoise remind you that your body is your home and you should carry it with love and gratitude!

Turtle - Tortoise tattoo design

The turtle is easy to position on and align with the body. It is because of it's shape that makes a wonderful mandala or watercolour tattoo. It is loved by all tattoo designers because it has those prehistoric, dinosaur-like characteristics and can be so cute in the same time.

Tattoos Source: Pinterest

Turtle / tortoise tattoo:

So based on all the aforementioned facts, would you choose the turtle as your next ink?

I certainly would! Everybody wants a kind of stability and security into their lives. The turtle will bring you many gifts and enrich you in many levels. Reconnecting with the turtle will help you address important issues in your life with a more centred and mature way.

It will help you accept life with all ups and downs, lessons disguised as misfortunes... it will make you more human. The turtle survived for millions of years swimming alone, placing her eggs on the beach to be hatched so that her babies walk back to the ocean with no guaranty of survival but the braveness of a warrior and a great trust in the natural law.

This is the power of the turtle, this is the strength that we bring in our lives when we learn to carry ourselves and our responsibility.



Turtle Body placement:

So where to place the turtle? The turtle needs to be somewhere in your body when you need more flow.. it could be heart for more love or the back to help you accept past issues... It can be placed around your hips to assist you in relationships and your sexuality. Your hands to enhance your creativity and action-taking.

The blue, orange, white colours will support your creativity and sensitivity... some red will make you more powerful and stable in your basic needs.

Mandala tortoise tattoo design by Mandira

Tortoise Body placement:

The tortoise is more earthly creature. Prefer a leg positioning in order to be more grounded and ensure your safety and trust. The turtle is sufficient, it moves slow but never forgets where she needs to go.

It is like the turtle is whispering that life is about the journey and you have to enjoy every step of it.

Ink a tortoise around your lower legs if you need to enhance your determination and independence. Or pick a design with black and linear elements and place it in a chakra that needs grounding. Maybe you need the tortoise near your heart to help you feel more trust and acceptance, maybe you want it on your arms to help you slow down and enjoy the ride more.

The tortoise trusts the earth to give her all that she needs. She will help you rejoice and calm down, reduce your stress and anxiety.


  • "Animals and Animal Symbols in World Culture" Dean Miller



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