Turtles All The Way Down

by Harry Miller October 01, 2019

Turtle greetings Card design

Anyone who has ever read one of Terry Pratchett’s fantasy ‘Discworld’ novels will know that the fictional flat Discworld rests upon the backs of four gigantic elephants, who, in turn, spin the world whilst walking on the shell of the enormous Turtle, ‘Great A’Tuin’.  

Most will agree that Pratchett wielded a brilliant imagination, but the turtle / elephant concept was actually burrowed from the ancient ‘Cosmic Turtle’ (or ‘World Turtle’) mythologies, which can be found in Hindu, Chinese, and Native American cultures.  

In Hinduism the turtle seems to have many names and guises, one being Kurma, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  Another name for the weightlifting turtle is Akupāra, or Chukwa, with the accompanying elephants being named Maha-pudma.  The following quote is taken from from the ‘Siddhāntasundara’, (c. 1500), which was written by the Hindu astronomer and mathematician, ānarāja:                

"A vulture, which has only little strength, rests in the sky holding a snake in its beak for a prahara [three hours]. Why can [the deity] in the form of a tortoise, who possesses an inconceivable potency, not hold the Earth in the sky for a kalpa [billions of years]?"

In Chinese mythology, the turtle known as Ao not only supports the world but the sky too.  You see the heavens were once held aloft by Mount Buzhou, but when Gonggong the destructive water God destroyed the mountain, Nüwa, the creator God, had to slice the legs off poor old Ao, and used them to prop up the sky instead - how resourceful!         

The Native American version of events speak of a sky woman who fell through a hole in the heavens and plummeted down to the water world.  The water animals went to her aid and she was saved by climbing on to the back of a giant turtle.  Realising that the woman was going to need soil to live on, the other water animals dived down and gathered mud from the ocean floor to pack on the turtle’s enormous shell, and slowly and surely the world as we know it was formed.      

Pratchett isn’t the only author to borrow the mythical idea of a giant universe influencing turtle.  Stephen King has ‘Maturin’, the mystical turtle who spends most of infinity hidden away sleeping in his shell, only to appear every now and then when he has a stomach ache, and vomits up a universe or two! 

But if (and I say “if”) the world does indeed sit upon the back of a giant great turtle, then what you may ask does the turtle sit on?  Well, some say another larger turtle - in fact, some say it’s turtles all the way down! 




Harry Miller
Harry Miller

Author



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in News / Work in progress / Mythology

Tiger in Buckinghamsire!

by Daniel Mackie June 14, 2020

This is Mack's Tiger. It was part of a school project based on my work and a theme of animals in the natural habitat.  Mack created this on Procreate on his mums iPad

Read More

Owls at Night

by Harry Miller April 30, 2020

Owl Greeting Card The DM Collection

With the exception of artists, inventors, and teenagers - we humans are diurnal daytime creatures on the whole, and although it’s one thing to be out and about during the night in a street lit urban environment, it’s a very different scenario if you find yourself in, say… oh, I don’t know, a forest per se.  Where, if you’re lucky, you may hear the unmistakable cry or hoot of an Owl: natures very own nocturne, a stark reminder of the unknown peril of night, and a creature that has featured heavily in myth and folklore throughout the ages.

Read More

A Polar Bear's Tail

by Harry Miller April 22, 2020

Polar bear swimming in the ocean illustration The Dm Collection
Weighing up to as much as 800 kg - that’s roughly the same as 10 men - a male boar Polar Bear is the largest *hypercarnivorous land mammal on the planet.  In fact the largest specimen ever recorded was an Alaskan bear back in 1960, which weighed in at an astonishing 1,002 kg, and had a length of just over 11ft.  Now that’s a big bear!   

Read More