Turtle mythology

“In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part …

See …

Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.

In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.

Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and star-tanned shoulders the Disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.” (Page 3 of The Colour of Magic)

The World Turtle or the idea of the Earth being carried on the back of a turtle is not an idea that is unique to Terry Pratchett. At the very least, the Chinese, the Hindu and the Iroquois have creation mythology that places turtles/tortoises at their center.

Hindu mythology

Hindu mythology has various account of World Tortoises, besides a World Serpent (Shesha), Kurmaraja and world-elephants.

The most widespread name given to the tortoise is Kurma or Kurmaraja. The Shatapatha Brahmana identifies the earth as its lower shell, the atmosphere as its body and the vault of heaven as its upper shell. (Wikipedia)

Hume’s “Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher and his elephant” suggests that that the story was already widely known at the time. The first known reference to a Hindu source is found in a letter by Jesuit Emanual de Veiga (1549-1605), written at Chandagiri on 18 September 1599, in which the relevant passage reads

Alii dicebant terram novem constare angulis, quibus cœlo innititur. Alius ab his dissentiens volebat terram septem elephantis fulciri, elephantes uero ne subsiderent, super testudine pedes fixos habere. Quærenti quis testudinis corpus firmaret, ne dilaberetur, respondere nesciuit.
“Others hold that the earth has nine corners by which the heavens are supported. Another disagreeing from these would have the earth supported by seven elephants, and the elephants do not sink down because their feet are fixed on a tortoise. When asked who would fix the body of the tortoise, so that it would not collapse, he said that he did not know.” (Wikipedia)

Chinese mythology

For the Chinese, the tortoise is sacred and symbolizes longevity, power, and tenacity. It is said that the tortoise helped Pangu (also known as P’an Ku) create the world: the creator goddess Nuwa or Nugua cuts the legs off a sea turtle and uses them to prop up the sky after Gong Gong destroys the mountain that had supported the sky. The flat plastron and domed carapace of a turtle parallel the ancient Chinese idea of a flat earth and domed sky. For the Chinese as well as the Indians, the tortoise symbolizes the universe. Quoting Pen T’sao, “the upper dome-shaped part of its back has various signs, which correspond with the constellations on the sky, and this is Yan; the lower part has many lines, which relate to the earth and is the Yin. (Wikipedia)

A character in the lore of many Indian tribes. This character is usually regarded as the animal on the back of which the world is carried. Occasionally known as Turtle, Tabakea, Tabakea or Turtle. (Mythology Dictionary)

The creation myth of the Iroquois peoples combines elements of the Earth Diver story with the image of a creator who descends from the heavens. Creation begins when a sky goddess named Atahensic plummets through a hole in the floor of heaven. This Woman Who Fell from the Sky lands in the primeval sea. To support her and give her room to move about, the animals dive deep into the sea for bits of earth. The goddess spreads this earth on Great Turtle’s back to create the land, and the daughter she bears there becomes known as Earth Woman. (Native American Mythology)

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About humanitysdarkerside

Bibliophile, small-time activist, ASD, blogger

Posted on 2014-12-28, in Other and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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