There is so much to learn and remember from animals about how to stay in rhythm with nature. And the humble turtle is a perfect example. Turtle symbolizes being connected to both earth and heaven. Turtle teaches us to have our heart to Mother Earth, to move slowly and with intention. Turtle medicine is about grace and perseverance. And she gives us the tool of measuring time on her shell.
Native Americans used turtle shells as their first calendars following the 13-Moon system. The number of segments on the outer shell of a turtle is 28, representing the number of days in a moon. There are 13 segments in the inner part of the shell of a turtle representing each one of the 13 moons in a lunar year cycle.
During the course of a year, there actually are 13 cycles of the moon each lasting approximately 28 days each. Our current system of measuring time (the Gregorian calendar) ignores this very obvious fact and arbitrarily uses a system with 12 months of varied lengths. Even the names used for the months of the Gregorian calendar are a hodgepodge of the names of gods and goddesses, ancient rulers (e.g. Julius Caesar, Augustus) and incongruent numbers. Consider that the tenth month in the Gregorian calendar, October, means 8. The phases of the moon fall at varied times of each month and vary from year to year when we use the Gregorian calendar. However in the 13-moon system, every moon is equal in length, the moon phases follow a pattern and the calendar is perpetual.
There are so many ways that we have moved away from doing what is natural in the effort to be efficient and competitive. Every opportunity we use to align ourselves with nature by making conscious decisions about how we live our lives takes us that much closer to inner harmony and world peace. The 13-moon calendar system is all about cooperation and honoring the natural order of the Universe.
I created an interactive calendar to teach children (and adults!) this simple way of tracking the time it takes our beautiful planet to travel around the sun. Because it honors both natural and universal rhythms, it allows us sync up while connecting us more closely with nature. When harmony in nature is recognized and honored we begin to see it reflected more and more in every aspect of our lives.
The System in a Turtle Shell
:: There are four 7- day cycles in a moon.
:: The beginning of the 13-moon year occurs July 26th on the Gregorian Calendar (G.C.)
:: July 25th (G.C.) is called “A Day Out of Time” which is exactly what it suggests… a day that wars ceased, debts were forgiven, and celebration was the order of the day. There are festivals held around the world to celebrate this day.
The pdf template for Turtle Time: A 13-Moon Calendar was created in black and white to allow you and/or your child to bring it to life with a bit of color. I would recommend printing out the template on cardstock and coloring the turtle the way you like. If you want to demonstrate the synchronous patterns of calendar, you can recommend that your child color the same days the same color through each of the four ‘weekly’ cycles so you get a rainbow effect, and it clearly marks the beginning and end of each seven-day cycle. Then the moons (i.e., the large segments) can be colored randomly or in a pattern of your choice.
To keep track of the time, choose three small natural treasures (small rocks, acorns, shells, etc.) Use one to place on the appropriate day (the smaller outer segment ring,) one for the moon (the larger inner segments,) and one for the moon phase (on the feet.) If you are using your moon calendar on the wall, attach each small treasure with glue to the head of a thumbtack. If you are using your moon calendar on the refrigerator, attach each treasure to a small magnet with glue. You could also lay the calendar flat on a nature table and just move the treasures along like game pieces.
The beginning of the new yearly cycle begins on July 26th. On that day, you would place one of your treasures on the number 1 in the outer ring, one on the 1st moon on the inner spiral, and one on the new moon phase. If you decide to use the calendar before or after the beginning of the year (July 26th), you can visit this link to find the appropriate day in the 13-moon system so you can begin your 13-moon journey right away.
Here is a short story to share with your children to help them begin to understand why following natural rhythm is helpful and to share what turtle teaches us all!
Long ago, humans lived in complete harmony with nature. They followed the rhythms of nature for survival but also because it felt right to them. When the cold winds blew from the North, they knew it was time to move to more sheltered environments to endure the cold winter ahead. They knew when and where to find abundant food when summer’s bounty was at its peak, and they knew never to take more than was needed so there would always be plenty. But over time, humans, being the adaptable and clever creatures that we are, discovered ways to be less reliant on nature. Most of these methods created a lot of disharmony towards nature because they involved hoarding resources and abusing Mother Earth. And most of these methods failed to consider the impact that these actions would have on their children’s children.
A wise girl named Kaya, noticing that a great separation was occurring between her people and Mother Earth, became greatly troubled. One day she was walking down by the wide river where she often went to watch the sunset, when she saw a great eagle perched in a tree above her. She remembered her grandmother telling her that the eagle is the messenger of the Great Everything. So she said to the eagle, “Would you please carry a prayer to the Great Everything for me?” The eagle nodded. “Please ask the Great Everything to help my people become more harmonious with Mother Earth again.” And the eagle flew off at once carrying the heartfelt prayer to the heavens.
When the eagle arrived to the heavens and announced the prayer of Kaya, the Great Everything — being compassionate and loving — responded at once to the wise girl’s prayer. The Great Everything knew that there was a creature on Earth that was the perfect for job of helping harmonize the two-leggeds on Earth with all of creation. This creature walked with its heart to the earth full of grace and perseverance.
On the way back to her village, Kaya tripped over what felt like a rock. But when she looked down, she noticed that it was actually the shell of a turtle. The eagle she met earlier in the day flew and perched overhead. Kaya looked very carefully at the shell and noticed something she had never noticed before in the many times she watched the turtles down by the wide river. The shell had 13 larger segments in the middle surrounded by 28 smaller segments. Kaya’s grandmother often reminded her to count the days between the new moons as a way to stay in rhythm with nature. Twenty-eight days passed between the moons just like the number of segments on the outer part of the shell. She also remembered that there were 13 new moons in each great cycle of the seasons just like there were 13 large segments in the center part of the shell. She gave thanks to the Great Everything for answering her prayer and reminding her of her wise grandmother’s teachings. And she gave thanks to the turtle for providing a way for her to count the days between the moons so she could teach her people to notice the natural rhythms of nature again.
To this day, the turtle remains a great teacher of living in harmony and grace. The turtle teaches us to slow down and notice the patterns of nature because bigger, stronger, and faster are not always the best ways. And above all, turtle reminds us to keep our heart to the Earth so we can notice the natural rhythms of this beautiful planet on which we live.
(Just for clarification: not all turtles have this same pattern. For example, sliders and box turtles have 25 outer segments on their shell and many sea turtles have fewer large inner segments.)
Elizabeth Sterling is a mom, writer, photographer, and peacewalker. She the author of the blog so wabi sabi and co-author to the blog threading light. You can find her photography, 13-moon calendars, and other odds and ends in the so wabi sabi etsy shop.