The tortoise is recognized as a symbol of elderly wisdom in most African traditions. According to legend, its age and experience give it a cunning which no other animal can match.
The tortoise spirit is the spirit of the Hermit Sage. This sage retreats into himself, away from the world, and functions mainly as a storehouse of wisdom or a sacred wisdom keeper.
Master Of The Inner Universe
The tortoise’s gaze is directed inward, towards the inner Universe. Every person, object, event and occurrence is simply noticed as an outer manifestation or effect of the processes taking place in this inner universe. Because of this mastery in observing, interpreting and understanding the inner which has accumulated over years, decades or even lifetimes of practice, the tortoise is practically a library of spiritual and practical wisdom. An understanding of virtually anything and everything happening within the Universe is within the tortoise’s reach.
You could say it’s the weight of all this information – the weight of this considerably dense inner Universe – that gives the tortoise it’s characteristic slow movement.
Why Hurry? The World Can Wait
But the tortoise also moves slowly because it knows its privilege and its value. It is very aware of it’s unique role as Wisdom Keeper and Nature Librarian, and it’s importance is emphasized by the fact that persons and entities often make hazardous journeys climbing high mountains, crossing rivers and oceans and risking life-threatening dangers to seek the tortoise’s counsel and wisdom. Therefore the tortoise is in no hurry to go anywhere and doesn’t mind keeping the world waiting. It is secure in its role because the service it provides is indispensable. This natural oracle is well-protected by Nature itself – gifted with a hard, protective shell and thick skin. The tortoise has nothing to fear.
It always puts itself first. When it loses interest in the outside world or doesn’t want any visitors, it withdraws into its shell and ignores the outside world. It serves the Universe, but it cannot be pressured to serve. It serves at its own discretion.
The tortoise is not the only reclusive sage in the jungle. There are others, like the chameleon and the owl. However, the tortoise’s wisdom tends to be more earthy and practical, whereas the chameleon’s wisdom tends more towards the psychic, spiritual and abstract. Even when have the same opinion on an issue, they will often approach the issue from different perspectives.