World Tree as Milky Way growing out of the back of a turtle

A very interesting motif exists in mythology from Mexico to New York and Canada: The World Tree and the turtle. In Maya mythology, the First Father or Hun Hunahpu as the Maize God is depicted as emerging or resurrecting through the shell of a turtle, symbolizing the earth. This reborn or resurrected figure is also solar, associated later with the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl/Kukulkan who is the morning star/Venus, as well as possessing many solar attributes. The motif symbolizes the solar “awakening” of the all-important and sacred maize shoot from the seed. This plant represents the World Tree, which is in turn the Milky Way in Mesoamerican mythology.

Far away in what is now New York and Canada, Native Americans of the Oneida tribe were depicting the sun at the top of a world tree growing out of the back of a turtle, while America itself was considered to be “Turtle Island.”

Interestingly, in Hindu mythology, the solar god Vishnu is portrayed as standing on the back of a turtle (himself) while churning the Milky Way using a serpent wrapped around the World Mountain (Mandara).

The Milky Way with the Maya World Tree superimposed on it, as the Maya viewed it. This configuration is the Place of Creation. The tree sits on the back of “the turtle of rebirth,” represented by three stones, which symbolize the stars in Orion’s belt.

“Clearly Orion was the turtle from which the Maize God rose in his resurrection (Fig. 2:17). The Milky Way rearing above the turtle had to be the Maize God appearing in his tree form as he does on the Tablet of the Foliated Cross at Palenque.” (Freidel, Maya Cosmos, 82-83)

For more information about Milky Way (and World Tree) myths, see The 2013 Astrotheology Calendar.


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  1. Interestingly enough, Orion’s belt is also an important feature in Egyptian mythology.
    But then I guess that shouldn’t be all that surprising considering how common mythological parallels are.

  2. Indeed, it is quite fascinating how similar many myths resemble each other. It is quite remarkable how civilizations and tribes that were so far apart from each other (Mayas, Native Americans, and Hindus) would think along similar lines in coming up with a similar icon: a figure, either plant or human, standing or sitting upon a turtle’s back. I remember the Hindu representation from my readings as a youth, but was quite unfamiliar with the New World native symbolism.

    Some people would make the mistake of saying that there was cultural contact between the Old World and the New World. But I think Carl Jung’s archetypes would be a simple enough and more probable explanation.

    1. Hello,

      You should also spend sometime in going through the many avatars that Lord Vishnu took. one of them being the Kurma Avatara during samudra manthan. You can search more on the internet platform.

  3. Kurma the Turtlle – Cloud of Magellan
    This myth of the cosmic turtle is suggestive of a high global ancient civilization, with accurate knowledge of astronomy.

    An astronomical explanation of this turtle myth can be seen in the observation of precession of the equinox, the spin wobble of earth’s axis. The north and south celestial poles, the poles of the earth, rotate every 25,765 years around central points in the sky, known as the ecliptic poles, or the poles of the sun. The North Ecliptic Pole is located at the left foot of the dragon Drago, and the South Ecliptic Pole is located at the Large Magellanic Cloud. Maps are available at Precession N ([url][/url]) and Precession S ([url][/url]).

    The ecliptic pole stellar positions have been stable for millions of years. The link to the turtle myth is that over the millennia, the South Ecliptic Pole, located at the Large Magellanic Cloud, is the stable point around which everything moves. As a readily visible large circular smudge, the LMC can readily be imagined as a turtle upon which the world sits, the ‘turtle at the bottom of the universe’.

    In a version of the Vedic myth, the turtle has elephants standing on its back, and the elephants support the earth. I see this as a parable for how our life is supported by the economy (the elephants) which is supported by planetary ecology (the turtle). But at the moment the elephants are forcing carbon dioxide into the turtle’s lungs, creating strong risk of global catastrophe.

  4. The turtle head is also related to circular images to resupply the maize god with its champion twins heads ( banished from the game initially ) to the passage way of reborn ancestor’s souls through the mouth of the White Bone Snake. The Tlaloc rain ( Chaahk) god cartouche ( a TWO HEADED TURTLE wearing a spondylus shell ear flare, like the ancient venerated spondylus shells traded by Pre – Incas and Incas. A similar cartouche of Chalchiuhtlicue has a snake body attached which is reminiscent of Peruvian Shipibo anaconda snakes , which are also amphibians like turtles and crocodiles. If the Mayans and Aztecs had ever encountered dinosaur fossils, there is good reason to guess that they supported evolution. The clouds ( ie the large Magellanic Cloud ) were what they perceived to deliver the water content of human organisms from rain. Water was perhaps what they thought energized the universe via the Milky Way and seasons via rain, wind and earth. Blood, the human equivalent of self – producing water, was needed to fuel the cosmos. Drums were played to herald the rain spirits end to end drought , especially in dry areas where the Moches, Mayans, Nazcas and other tribes. The stillness and quiet before rains would make drums reverberate somewhat like the echoes of bats as experienced in caves, cenotes ( sacred water reserves, rivers, etc ). Sounds were important in the ball game courts of Chcichen Itza as well as along the banks of the Amazon river were drum sounds were important links to the cosmic snake, turtle and universe. Clapping sounds like thunder which generally comes before rain. Clapping at the ball court echoed like thunder bolts. Sun rays along the Castillo pyramids reflect the sun’s power to dry the rain as well as to fuel cultivations. Terrestial bodies of rivers meander like snakes bodies which continue to writhe and move after decapitation. The equinox is like a pagan cross which represented the four corners of the supposedly flat rectangular universe whereas triangles were only certain areas affected by season changes. In fact, Orion, the turtle, is not only the “resurrection of the corn god” but also the cosmic symbol of the earth. So a serpent that eats sacrificed heads like circular opening to a magical belt to the turtle cosmos ( ie belts worn in the ball game ) , would be a direct portal and lined with the stars seasonally. Also, as the Maya had very little guano or natural fertilizers ( fish were used by Iroquois ) , sacrificial remains multi – purposed to enrich the soil where maize was planted. Unlike the Andeans who used terraces, the Mayans and Aztecs took far more advantage of canals, cenotes and natural land formations for crops. Ironically, many Mayan pyramids look like four dimensional land terraces but without any irrigation. Similar stone and mortar structures exist in dry and at sea level ruins all over Peru. ( Chan Chan, Lima ).

    As the Aztecs ate locusts, iguanas, algae, worms, cacti, duck and deer, there were few large animals like guanaco, alpacas, vicunas and the large snakes, crocodiles and birds of the amazon. Jaguars were a really meaty treat, to say the least. Large snakes and turtles could feed many hungry natives. Howler monkeys were also good protein sources in the Amazon. It seems to me that a large dependency of sea animals made terrestrial game more prized in Mexico. Also , Peru has more guano than almost any place in the world, so abundant fish meal and bird droppings were fundamental for fertilizing corn and potato crops in the Andes.

    There is doubt that scientists and archaeologists will find future links to Andean and North and Central American pre – Columbian cultures. And no matter whether the Bering Straight theory dominates or not, professionals like Tello, Larco and Murdock will be / have been monumental in resolving any doubts or questions. The similarities between Tiwantisuyo, Chichen Itza, and Macchu Picchu are astounding!

    1. Wow! Thanks for all that great info. Sounds like you’ve spent considerable time pondering these subjects. Impressive.

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