A very interesting motif exists in mythology from Mexico to New York and Canada: The World Tree and the turtle. In Maya mythology, the First Father or Hun Hunahpu as the Maize God is depicted as emerging or resurrecting through the shell of a turtle, symbolizing the earth. This reborn or resurrected figure is also solar, associated later with the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl/Kukulkan who is the morning star/Venus, as well as possessing many solar attributes. The motif symbolizes the solar “awakening” of the all-important and sacred maize shoot from the seed. This plant represents the World Tree, which is in turn the Milky Way in Mesoamerican mythology.

Far away in what is now New York and Canada, Native Americans of the Oneida tribe were depicting the sun at the top of a world tree growing out of the back of a turtle, while America itself was considered to be “Turtle Island.”

Interestingly, in Hindu mythology, the solar god Vishnu is portrayed as standing on the back of a turtle (himself) while churning the Milky Way using a serpent wrapped around the World Mountain (Mandara).

The Milky Way with the Maya World Tree superimposed on it, as the Maya viewed it. This configuration is the Place of Creation. The tree sits on the back of “the turtle of rebirth,” represented by three stones, which symbolize the stars in Orion’s belt.

“Clearly Orion was the turtle from which the Maize God rose in his resurrection (Fig. 2:17). The Milky Way rearing above the turtle had to be the Maize God appearing in his tree form as he does on the Tablet of the Foliated Cross at Palenque.” (Freidel, Maya Cosmos, 82-83)

For more information about Milky Way (and World Tree) myths, see The 2013 Astrotheology Calendar.