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Black Tortoise 흑구; Heukgu

In East Asian mythology, the Black Tortoise (흑구; Heukgu in Korean) is one of the Four Symbols, which are four mythological creatures that represent various cosmic constellations and elements. The Black Tortoise is known as Xuanwu in Chinese and Genbu in Japanese. In Korean mythology, the Black Tortoise is associated with the north, the winter season, and the element of water.

Also known as the Black Warrior of the North, the Black Tortoise is often depicted as a turtle entwined with a snake, symbolizing longevity, wisdom, and strength. It is believed to command the northern constellations of stars. In many depictions, the Black Tortoise is seen with a snake coiled around its body, which emphasizes its connection with the earth and its protective qualities.

This celestial Black Tortoise is said to be a guardian spirit, protecting against evil spirits and bad luck. It also serves as a symbol of courage, as it bravely faces the cold of winter—which is the most challenging season according to Eastern philosophy. In addition, the Black Tortoise is sometimes thought to be representative of the martial virtues because of its firm and steady nature, paralleling the solid defense provided by a shield in combat.

In Korean culture, the Black Tortoise is often used as a motif in various forms of art, and its symbolic protection and longevity make it a popular choice for talismans and other cultural artifacts. It has a significant role in Feng Shui and is often used in alignment practices for balancing the energy of a place to attract positive chi, or life force.

In terms of mythology, there are not as many specific tales about the Black Tortoise in Korean lore as there are stories about dragons and other more prominent mythical creatures. Nonetheless, the Black Tortoise is deeply embedded in the philosophical and cultural fabric of Korea as a symbol of the north and a guardian against misfortune.


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