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the majestic dragon takes centre stage in Chinese culture and feng
shui, few realise the tortoise is just as important and powerful. As a
protector, the tortoise is even better than the almighty dragon!
Synonymous with slowness, the lumbering tortoise
is by no means stupid or clumsy as depicted in cartoons or popular
sayings. The gait of a tortoise is definitely slow and more sedentary
than fast-lane, but this creature is known for its tenacity,
determination and resoluteness.
"Slow but steady" or "slow and sure" are the tortoise's most famous
attributes. This plodding persistence symbolises all good things come
to those who wait and who are patient. While some prefer making their
first million before 25, others are content to build their career and
nest egg over time.
are universally loved and accepted by all civilisations. Though much
revered by the Chinese as it features prominently in feng shui, the
tortoise joins the phoenix, Chi Lin, cat and bat by being left out in
the Chinese zodiac. Still, it is famous for longevity and strength,
common traits found in many cultures.
In Hindu myth, the tortoise Chukwa supports the elephant Mahapudma,
which in turn supports the world. By coincidence, this belief is also
found in Chinese legends, whereby four giant tortoises support the
pillars of the universe.
The word for 'Tortoise' comes from the Latin word 'testudo',
meaning "shield" or protective cover. Ancient Roman soldiers used
entire tortoise shells to cover and protect their heads from flying
arrows and boiling oil when storming fortresses. They also used
tortoise shells as shields, forming an effective wall when attacking.
Slow & Steady Wins The Race
The story of the hare and the tortoise is well known among
children, teaching them the virtues of perseverance. In the fable, the
hare and the tortoise compete in a race. The hare shoots off like a
rocket from the starting line, leaving the much slower tortoise behind
in a cloud of dust. The over-confident hare was so far ahead, it
decided to rest under a shady tree, with the unfortunate consequence it
fell asleep. Meanwhile, the slow tortoise laboriously continued
plodding, passing the snoozing hare and reaching the finishing line
long before the awakened hare could catch up! A valuable lesson in life
that anyone can attain his goals by slow and steady means.
Achilles & The Tortoise
Then there is the famous paradox proposed by the ancient
mathematician Zeno in 425 BC called "Achilles and the Tortoise". This
question asks the fascinating question that does not seem to provide a
neat solution, thereby upsetting all precision-driven, mathematical
formulas. In a race between Achilles (the handsome hero of the Trojan
war) and a tortoise, Achilles can run ten times as fast as a tortoise.
Achilles gives the tortoise a 100-yard head start. In a real race
between a human and tortoise, the man easily wins, even if the tortoise
is half a mile ahead, but in theory, this seemingly easy race ends in
mystery, as Achilles simply cannot win the race. As Achilles runs the
first 100 yards, the tortoise runs ten. While Achilles runs that ten,
the tortoise runs one. As Achilles runs one yard, the tortoise runs
one-tenth of a yard and so on et infinitum! It proved insoluble till
the 17th century when James Gregory proved the existence of the
'converging series', where an infinite number of terms add up to a
The Tortoise In Feng Shui And Chinese Culture
Apart from being slow, the tortoise is famous for its longevity.
Many believe tortoises easily live to over a hundred years. Because of
their reputation, tortoises are believed to be able to see into the
future about what is in store. Burnt tortoise shells some ten thousand
years old have been found with questions written on the carapace. The
petitioner would inscribe questions about the future, the shell would
be burned and a shaman would interpret the markings.
The tortoise was also supposed to emerge from the Lo River in China
with the Lo Shu square that unlocked the secrets of the Pa Kua. The
tortoise carried the Lo Shu square of numbers on its back to Fu Hsi,
said to be the first emperor of China. Fu Hsi (or Lao Tsi as some
believe) is then said to have written the I Ching or Book of Changes,
from which most feng shui theories are based. Some of course believe it
is the Lady of the Nine Heavens who granted mankind knowledge of feng
The tortoise is said to conceal within its shell patterns all the
secrets of heaven and earth. The tortoise that swam towards Fu Hsi had
nine numbers, in the form of dots, arranged in a three-by-three grid
pattern. The numbers were arranged so that they added up to fifteen
whether lengthways, sideways or diagonally. Fifteen is the number of
days it takes for the moon to complete one waxing or waning cycle. The
succeeding Lo Shu square became the basis of Taoist rituals. Two of
feng shui's most powerful schools, the Eight Mansions and Flying Star
schools, are based on the Lo Shu square coupled with knowledge about
the Eight Trigrams, the Five Elements and compass directions.
The number of dots arranged on the tortoise's back are as follows
when turned into numerals; 492, 357 and 816. Place the three digits in
descending order and you get the Lo Shu square, with each line adding
up to 15.
The Four Symbolic Animals Of The Four Quarters
A powerful creature is supposed to be the guardian of each of the
four cardinal points of the compass. The Green Dragon looks after the
stars that appear in the East at dusk in Spring. Those appearing in the
West are under the domain of the White Tiger while those in the South
belong to the Red Phoenix. The Black Tortoise is in charge of stars in
Keeping Live Tortoises
Rearing live tortoises or terrapins at home is a great feng shui
generator. As the Black Tortoise rules the Northern sector, it should
be kept in the North of your home to bring maximum benefits.
Feng shui masters like Lillian Too are fervent believers of
tortoises as bringers of great feng shui into the home. She believes
keeping a tortoise will ensure the patriarch will live well past 80
years. The tortoise is also said to protect the entire family from
adverse changes in the neighbourhood and usher in wealth and
prosperity. In feng shui, the tortoise represents the protective
mountains of the North and is thus a potent symbol of strength. It
helps banish bad chi and deflect poison arrows.
As a general bringer of luck, the tortoise ranks as one of the best
energisers you can have at home. It is so multi-dimensional it even
helps children bring honours to the family, while safeguarding everyone
from fatal diseases.
They also make great pets. They quickly recognise family members
and can be very tame, chewing lettuce contentedly from your hands. If
you are unable to keep live ones, a ceramic, realistic tortoise can
suggest the same energies.
A hybrid between two of the most powerful creatures in feng shui, the Dragon-Tortoise
is revered for protection through the generations while bringing
excellent luck. All feng shui experts advocate one such sculpture
inside the home or office, preferably sitting on a bed of gold coins
with the dragon further clasping an ingot in its mouth. When Lillian
Too launched her inaugural collection of Auspicious Feng Shui Jewellery
by OE, the first ring she created was the Dragon-Tortoise.
"The Dragon-Tortoise ring
is my signature ring," she says. "It is one feng shui accessory we
should not do without, as it combines the awesome power of the dragon
with the shielding ability of the tortoise. The bravery, strength and
majesty of the dragon is immeasurably enhanced with the wonderful
descendants' luck of the tortoise, bringing luck to succeeding
Unlike the typical coiling dragon, only the dragon's head appears
in lieu of the tortoise's head. The rest of the body is that of the
tortoise. On its back is a much smaller tortoise, perfectly formed, to
signify a new, auspicious beginning. Naturally, the bed of gold coins
represents incoming, permanent wealth.
The following article is taken from the "Feng Shui World (Sept/Oct 2004)". To subscribe, please click here.