If you’ve read the post from the wild unknown turtle card, you’ll realise I feel quite strongly about the differentiation between tortoises and turtles. I have been wondering about why this matters so much to me and I think it’s because I feel very different energies for the two of them. The turtle is graceful and at one with the water and lets the current take it along. Tortoises are a lot less graceful and, for me, are so strongly associated with the earth that to consider them both together loses the elemental aspect of these creatures. We also have to think about what they eat, how they experience the world and how they interact with their environment and I find it difficult to do so if I do not separate them out.
That said, a lot of people do lump them together so the information here may be relevant if you’ve pulled a turtle card or vice versa.
So, tortoises, the ones that live on land all the time, what do we know about them? Well, they can live a very long time, in captivity they’ve been known to reach 200 and in that time they can get pretty big. But they aren’t fast growers which is fine when you have all that time ahead of you. This is also reflected in the speed in which they move about. They meander around slowly and steadily, a symbol of longevity and stability. Like other long lived animals, they are also a symbol of wisdom. You don’t make it to 200 without picking up some bits and pieces!
Their slow, deliberate pace reminds us to look ahead at where we are going, to think about our purpose. In a very day to day way, the tortoise reminds me to pace myself in terms of spoons. Do things intentionally rather than wasting spoons by frittering around aimlessly. You may be reminded of the tale of the tortoise and the hare; you will get there if you go slow and steady and not if you burnout. The tortoise also calls us to be patient, there is no rush here.
The shell is obviously an iconic part of the tortoise which is formed by it’s backbone I believe. It is heavy and thus the tortoise has to be very strong, and I wonder if it is their shell which slows them down. It offers protection which is of great importance but may also hinder it in day to day life. We all have our own forms of self protection, whether its avoidance, emotional walls or whatever, and I know that mine do regularly interfere with my life.
Whilst we’re playing the the metaphor of the emotional shell, consider the tortoise and how it sticks its neck out literally and literally pulls it back in. We all have times where we are feeling more confident and times when we are feeling like retreating into our safe place. Being surrounded by our creature comforts, having our home so available all the time, I know I would be tempted to never leave. I would spend far too much time hiding in my shell if I had my home on my back. Alternatively, the idea of carrying your vital possessions with you wherever you go may chime with you as a call to backpacking or to getting rid of things which weigh you down. These ideas all put me in mind of the hermit card from the wild unknown tarot, take time out for yourself to think and ponder before you act.
To carry their shell, the tortoise has strong legs with large stumpy feet and it lives close to the ground. This connection with the earth means they are very in tune with their environment and are literally quite a grounded animal. They don’t just retreat into their shell, many tortoises retreat into the earth through burrows which keep them cool in scorching heat. They can also survive fires by going underground. These burrows are also used for the tortoise to hibernate in. This is another example of the tortoise retreating, focusing inside, resting and gathering itself.
Like the bear, the tortoise is a very seasonal animal. As the weather cools, they start losing their appetite and then they will stop eating and even stop breathing whilst the weather is cool. When it starts to warm up, they wake up slowly, gradually gaining its appetite and energy. Then in the summer, in the hot weather, they eat and eat and sleep and sleep, piling on the fat ready for autumn to come again.
In terms of diet, tortoises are generally herbivores but I have heard that they will eat dead animals, including other tortoises, if that’s all that’s available. They have a slow digestive system and have been known to go a year without food and water. This is one reason why sailors used to eat them – they could load up a boat with live tortoises and then kill them as they needed fresh meat…
It was likely due in part to this demand (as well as many other factors over many many years) that Lonesome George ended up being the last of his kind, dying in 2012. Unfortunately for conservationists, poor George didn’t seem especially interested in sex and all attempts to get him to mate went unfulfilled. Whilst George was a symbol of extinction, an icon of the Galapagos, it is possible that he didn’t realise his own importance.