Our human nature is pleading for stability on all levels of life. Especially now, in the Covid era, where we don’t know where we stand and what expects us. But this lack of clarity is only a manifest of what we have been thinking and doing for a long time already. “Stability is not the ability to control yourself but to see clearly”, says Sadhguru, a mystic and yogi. Stability is not the ability to think but to connect and engage with real life.
One powerful prehistoric symbol of stability and grounding is the symbol of the turtle. It has been used widely all over the world, as a mythological element in societies with a very old tradition, ranging from Eastern and Southern Asia, across the Mediterranean Basin to Native America. People used to believe that the visible world rested on the back of a giant turtle which also carried the heavens. The shell of the turtle can itself symbolise the unity between the Earth and the Heavens.
That the turtle imagery is of such importance is not further astonishing, keeping in mind that it is one of the most ancient living creators on Earth. It has been around for hundreds of millions of years and has survived multiple ecological disasters and catastrophic events, including the one that destroyed the dinosaurs.
The turtle charm has its firmly established place in one region of the Old Continent: Thrace. In the lands of present-day Bulgaria, around the Black Sea coast, and in the Rhodopi mountains close to the border with Greece, we find magnificent turtle depictions, engraved in the rocks or sculpted out of stone.
Near to the village of Fotinovo (Kardzhali region), many rock-carved creatures in the shape of a turtle can be spotted lying in the sun peacefully. According to scientists, they have been here for thousands of years, dating to the 4th millennium BCE. Most probably they have been created for cult purposes. It is assumed that within the niches which define their bodies, water, wine or other liquids used to flow when people were performing a specific prophecy ritual.
This ritual is known and can be traced in the Begliktash complex, near today’s Primorsko on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Vessels with different liquids seem to have been thrown toward a high stone wall so that a mixture of them, which flew downward, could be used to make prophecies about what the year will bring and if it is going to be fruitful. It is more than intriguing, that in Begliktash we can see again a formation of stones which resembles the body and head of a turtle. It stands near the place where the Thracians made their prophecies.
These arrangements left by our ancestors are certainly not a coincidence. They show that the turtle served as a carrier of values and a “watcher” of the human deeds. It is a god-like creature whose still presence makes us recognize and experience wholeness and oneness with the world around us: A storyteller of how the Earth came into Being, and the cosmic power housed within a simple physical shape.
The closeness of this symbolism to the human core, which is eternal, can explain why a look at the standing and “watching” turtles in Thrace brings us in direct touch with stability. It lets us experience our inner landscape which is not a subject of change even in the most confusing outer situations.
In traditional Bulgarian weaving, the image of the turtle persists. It is used as a symbol of wisdom, longevity and ultimate eternity. It calls for patience in love when put on a bridal costume (or a modern bracelet – see https://michejewelry.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/grivna-sevda/), or predicts that a girl will get engaged soon.
Ultimately, I perceive the turtle imagery telling us:
Be patient! Know your inner strength! Have the courage to see that what is you will last forever… for it is wisdom that cannot die.
For more inspiration on the turtle symbolism in Thracia, see the very insightful short film by E. Dimitrova with Prof. Ana Raduncheva called “The rocks speak” on YouTube (in Bulgarian): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zphqLuSZMKo&index=94&list=PLD75F78FD989C3A75