The Great Turtle
and its Symbolic Universe

The Great Turtle is considered by many Aboriginal nations as a spiritual guide. It is present in the four directions of the circle of life, from where life begins and ends. From the four legs of the Great Turtle come four paths. Each one conveys a direction or a cardinal point and represents a season of life.

To the East is spring dominated by the colour yellow; it is the period of youth. To the South, white is predominant; here we find summer, the age of maturity. To the West, the red of the setting sun envelops the horizon; it is the place where one reflects on one’s life and its decline. Finally, to the North, black obscures the universe; this is death’s territory.

In Aboriginal culture, the turtle symbolizes longevity and wisdom. In addition, because it is both a terrestrial and aquatic creature, it combines, through its symbolism, the two sacred roles of indigenous women: the guardian of the earth and the guardian of the water.

In the mythology of creation of the Iroquois nations, the turtle and woman represent the foundations of humanity.

Jardin «Les 3 sœurs»
Adult turtles at the edge of a pond
Photo: Montreal Botanical Garden (Claude Lafond)

The Legend of the Great Turtle

In the beginning, the animals lived in peace and harmony until a violent quarrel erupted among them. The Great Creator, Kichi Manito, became angry and decided that he would flood the world in order to stop the disputes and create a better world.

The Evil Spirit, Wisakedjak, challenged the few animals who had survived the deluge. For the world to be reborn, he asked them to bring back a handful of earth to the surface. The loon was the first to dive, followed by the duck, and then the otter, mink and beaver. All were unsuccessful.

Next the muskrat tried his luck. It was only after three days, when everyone thought that he had drowned, that he finally resurfaced. From its half-opened paw a small amount of soil slipped out. Immediately it was placed on the turtle’s back.

Thus, the New World was born... floating on the Great Turtle’s shell.

Jardin «Les 3 sœurs»
Pergola of the Jardin des origines
Photo: Pierre Guzzo
Jardin «Les 3 sœurs»
Pergola of the Jardin des origines
Photo: Pierre Guzzo
LA SAINTE-CATHERINE
Pergola of the Jardin des origines
Photo: Pierre Guzzo

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