Huyền Vũ 1: The Black Tortoise


What an image!  Strong. Long black hair. Fierce. And he’s holding a sword in one hand and something that looks like a candy bar in the other hand.  What a man!

I was curious what type of guy this was, so I did me some preliminary research aka googling.  Initial exploration yielded an  odd amalgamation of hodgepodge mythology mixed in with I Ching-esque magics that changed from region to region.  I was expecting something of the sort because let’s face it.  This dude is seriously ancient.  More reading, this time from real books that I purchased online, yielded much more.  For starters, he wasn’t even a human.  He was from the stars!

And no.  I am not talking about an alien from another star system.  I am talking about real stars—huge gas balls out in the universe, most specifically, the ones which make up the Chinese tortoise-snake astrological/astronomical constellation called the Black Tortoise (not sure why they didn’t call it Black Tortoise and Snake, but what do I know).

Black Tortoise is HUGE!  It takes up a big chunk of the night sky and encompasses all the stars of the western constellations of SagittariusCapricornAquarius, and Pegasus.  It is also the only constellation that is not called by its animal name, unlike the other three constellations that make up the Sky Mansions.chinese sky

See this?  We have White Tiger, Red Bird, Blue Dragon, and Black Tortoise aka Huyền Vũ. 

Black Warrior


It’s really funny, but Huyền Vũ does not mean Black Tortoise.  It means Black Warrior.  The reason why that is so, at least according to Chinese writings, is that the world turtle or tortoise is a slur or an insult, a term of abuse in China, sorta like calling someone a bastard or a mud-blood.  These are all derogatory labels you place on people who you would consider enemies.

  • Vietnamese:  Huyền Vũ – Huyền  means Black.  Vũ means Warrior
  • Japanese:  Genbu – Gen means black.  Bu, means warrior
  • Korean:  Hyeonmu – Hyeon means black. Mu means warrior
  • Chinese:  Hiouen-Wou – Hiouen means black. Wou means warrior 

Sound out the words from each language.  You are saying the exact same word, but using regional dialects.  It means the exact same thing.  Are you starting to see the pattern now?  This is the kind of pattern linguists look for when they tie very old words together.  More recent words will be different across regions, but ancient words will be very similar, or almost the same.

blonde81So my question is this.  If turtle/tortoise is such a derogatory word, why in hell would you name a HUGE expanse of the northern sky after the turtle, an animal that you equate with being a bastard child (a child with no father—illegitimate)?

If you really don’t want to use such a derogatory word as turtle, why in hell don’t you call it snake?  Why does nobody talk about the snake?  If it’s there, isn’t there something important about it too?

And since Taoism is so very respected, there is every reason for both animals to be recognized at the same time since the turtle supposedly represents the feminine and the snake represents the masculine.  Yin and Yang.  Isn’t the duality aspect of Taoist astrology a VERY important concept?  Why are these ancients treating this basic Taoist tenet with such indifference and lack of deference?

Since this was really starting to bug me, I decided to dig into Vietnamese mythology to see if there is any mention of a turtle.

I found two references.

Turtle Calendar

Back in Ancient Chinese historians have written that back around circa 2300 BC, the kingdom of Việt Thường sent to Emperor Yao a one-thousand-year-old tortoise (at the time, it was still living), which carried on its back an inscription in Chữ Khoa Đẩu, an ancient Vietnamese language of everything that happened from the time Sky and Earth had been born.  Emperor Yao had it copied and named it The Turtle Calendar.

Golden Tortoise

King An Dương Vương had been trying to build a citadel in the area of Cổ Loa many times, but no matter how many times he built it, it kept coming apart due to inclement weather, or fire, or flooding, or warfare between the neighboring areas.  So, he decides he is going to personally go to the temple himself and ask for divine help because it seems as if normal humans can’t handle it.

An old man with white hair was seen coming from the west and heading towards the temple gate.  The old man said in a firm and commanding voice, “If you build it like that, there’s no telling when it will ever get done!” The King, upon hearing what the old man proclaimed at the front gate, asked the old man, “I have built, and rebuilt, and rebuilt this citadel many, many times but it continually falls down, costing me so much in energy and resources.  Why is this happening?”  The old man replied, “There will be an ambassador of Thanh Giang (Sky Realm) who will come to assist your kingdom to rebuild the new citadel.  Only then will you be successful.  Wait for him.”

In a very short time, there was a golden tortoise that rose up out of the river.  It called itself the Ambassador of Thanh Giang and the first thing it did was to eliminate all the bad spirits and strange beings that had previously kept the citadel from being built.  Then, it actively assisted the king using knowledge and various magics so that the citadel only took two weeks to build from the ground up.  It is still standing to this day.

And with this ONE specific instance, we have added the Ambassador of Thanh Giang to the panel of deities to be worshiped because OBVIOUSLY, the dude was a real guy and not a gas ball.  More than that, he was an immortal.  Who the hell else would claim they were from the Sky Realm and roam around under the water in a golden tortoise, other than a real honest to goodness immortal????

And now I was seriously interested.  I wanted to find out more about this very real dude, but what was seriously pissing me off was I couldn’t find the name of this guy anywhere.  Seriously.  I find it very hard to believe that he would be interacting with the King for such a long time and not ever let slip a name of any sort.  The only name we have to go on is Black Warrior, and that is what he is currently being worshiped as.

But let me be very clear.  We Viets don’t worship him as the constellation. Oh no. We don’t worship him as any of the various human princes who were incarnates of the constellation either.  We don’t even know who those guys were, to be honest.  We only worship him because he was an immortal who helped our King build a citadel.  In our book, if you are a helpful immortal, we will put you on our altar forever.


Let me clarify something else for the record.

We called the ambassador of Thanh Giang, Huyền Vũ, because of the tortoise-shaped vehicle that he emerged from, NOT because he told us that was his name.  Believe me, if he had said to the King, “My name is Huyền Vũ, I guarantee you it would have been faithfully recorded in triplicates by all the scribes kowtowing around the King and the Ambassador of the Sky Realm.

Since he did not tell us his name, we had to assign one to him, and since he came out of a tortoise-shaped gold floaty thing—that OBVIOUSLY must mean he’s from the constellation of Huyền Vũ.  Right?



Before King An Dương Vương’s time of reign (from 257 BC to 207 BC), we’d never even heard of this guy before.

Now, does that even make a bit of sense?  For a complex and prolific civilization like Vietnam to have never heard of this constellation or even this guy until ~207 BC?

It also doesn’t make sense for another major point.  Tortoises are very familiar animals to us.  In fact, tortoises are important to Vietnamese culture that we would have never forgotten such an important constellation, except we didn’t even know it existed until much later.

You know how much we revered and respected the I Ching, and we used the tortoise shell to do I Ching divinations back in the old days.  I can ABSOLUTELY guarantee you my ancestors wouldn’t have used the carapace of an animal that they looked down on and talked shit about and was embarrassed to use its sacred name.

This was an animal that also represents both heaven and earth to my people.  There are so many images of students using the carapace as small tables to learn how to write within a school setting because it also represented learning and higher education.  Ain’t no fucking way in hell it would have been so looked down upon and desecrated.

But I was still stuck.  I needed to find other information about this Black Tortoise, or at the very least, this Huyền Vũ dude.

Unfortunately, the tortoise calendar didn’t have anything to do with the northern constellation in the sky, and the GOLDEN tortoise was definitely not BLACK.  So here I am, trying to figure out what the heck would be close to something black in the sky that my peeps would be talking about.  So I looked at the I Ching to see if there is any mention of the turtle.

In the I Ching, there are 8 animals that represent the 8 trigrams.

Trigram Binary Viet Wilhelm Chinese Image Animal
111 Càn Ch’ien Heaven Sheep
000 Khôn K’un Earth Dog
100 Chấn Chên Thunder Snake
010 Khảm K’an Water Cat
001 Cấn Kên Mountain Bird
011 Tốn Sun Wind Rat
101 Ly Li Fire Monkey
110 Đoài Tui Lake Tiger

Nowhere in the I Ching does it mention turtle, so that was a no go.  I had to dig further into the past.  I had to figure out when the first mention of these constellations occurred.

And I found it.

In the book aptly named Chinese Mythology:  An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend by Derek Walters, he states:

The Dragon’s Heart, the Pleiades, and the Bird Star are the names of three of the lunar mansions which marked the central position of the Dragon, Tiger, and Bird.  As there was no identifying star at the center of the Black Tortoise, the appropriate place (the eleventh mansion) was called Void.” ~ Walters

I’m like…WHAT?  VOID?  You mean this void?  ??? What the hell kinda crazy ass constellation creator that would use a VOID (empty) area for the placement of the eleventh mansion?  That didn’t make any sense to me.  Why would anyone create a major constellation and center it around nothing?


By this time, I was ready to throw my hands up in the air like I just don’t care, but you know me.  I know I just need to keep reaching, and I will find something eventually.

I did.

However, it seems that before the adoption of the Four Celestial Emblems, there were only three — the Feng Bird (or Phoenix), the Dragon, and the Ch’i-lin (or unicorn). Bronze mirrors usually portray cosmological patterns and symbolism on the back. Those of the Tang period (618 – 906 AD) show all twelve, or sometimes the 28 or even 36 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and those of an earlier period depict the four celestial emblems referred to above. But the very earliest mirrors show only the three: the Ch’i-lin, the Feng-huang, and the Dragon. Because of the astronomical significance, the White Tiger replaced the Ch’i-lin, and the Phoenix gave way to the Red Bird, which is of uncertain identity. Thus the Tortoise was a later but not the last addition, for many mystical texts refer to the northern constellation not as the tortoise, but as the Black Warrior. ~ Walters

And here, we can see exactly what happened.  Once the Han Chinese took over Viet knowledge base and astronomy, they changed everything so it would no longer be recognizable to later generations of Vietnamese.  Our kỳ lân was pulled out and replaced with the White Tiger because of some ‘astronomical significance’…

…pray tell, what the fuck was that significance?

madatuWas it also the same ‘significance’ that caused the removal of the Vietnamese thuồng luồng (kronosaurus) as well?  That’s a sacred animal too, by the way, and still within the Vietnamese grouping of celestial beings, along with the phượng hoàng ̣̣(phoenix), which also got removed for the same ‘astronomical significance’.

And hey, lookie there.  They inserted a tortoise!  But you know, tortoises are something that is part of the Viet traditions.  And you wanna know why tortoises are part of the Viet traditions and not the Han traditions?  One word.


Vietnam is on the coast of a warm ocean with plenty of opportunities to hang out with the tropical animals, tortoises being one of them.  The Hans were further north, and mostly land locked.  Tortoises were something that would be difficult to come by, in their geographic location.  In fact, my ancestors were selling tortoise carapaces to the Han for them to do their I Ching divinations for a very long time.  Before then, they used ox bones for divination.

Tortoises would become synonymous with the Viet culture, and since they’d been bad-mouthing us for so long, the negative association stuck!  Hey, why don’t we just change the name so the bad connotation goes away.  Yeah.  Great idea!  Let’s call him Black Warrior.


Oh forget it.

Nothing we can do about it now that thousands of years have passed.  We just have to live with it, but I really hate blatant plagiarism, don’t you?  We just have to move on and live well.  Living well is the best revenge, as someone wise told me.

So if there was no Black Tortoise back in those days, then what was the Black Warrior that my people have been talking about?  Interestingly enough, it had to do with the northern direction, but it’s not the north that is represented by the Black Tortoise.

Let me tell you what happened last night.

I was scratching the epithelial cells off my scalp last night because I was stuck.  I was digging deep grooves into my head, that’s how stuck I was.  But it got to be late, so I decided I was going to sleep on it.  In the middle of a bland and boring no-dream sleep, Old Dude pops in for a few minutes and said something along the lines of, you’re looking at the wrong north.  Look up and find North.

In the morning, I was like…WTF is he talking about?  Look up and find north.  Isn’t north always up?  Why does he always have to be so cryptic?  But then I realized something.  North is NOT always up.  North, on the globe, is left of the rising sun, which is a lateral direction.  The only way that we could look up to find north was…the north star???


It was literally, THE NORTH STAR.

Polar Star

Real quick low down on the north star.  It’s not always the same star due to what is known as precession of the Equinox.  I wrote in some depth about it in one of my previous posts Change Part 4: Cyclic Change.

The science of the I Ching describes this Wobble as the four seasons of the Primal Arrangement.  Since each cycle of General Precession is 25,700, if we divide this by four, for each season, we get 6,425 years per season.

In Book 2 of the Shuo Kua, the Wing goes into a description of summer.  It is the high point of the year, midsummer, or, in terms of the day, noontide.  Here is the place of the trigram Li, the Clinging, light.  Creatures now perceive one another.  What was vegetative organic life passes over into psychic consciousness.  Thus we have likewise an image of human society, in which the ruler, turned to the light, governs the world. [2]

According to the I Ching, we are currently in the Clinging Light, or the midsummer Li of this major 25,700 year cycle.

What I needed to find out was where the cycle hit, when Polaris first became our north star.  Sure enough, once I dug through my people’s historic accounts, there was a Dark Warrior that was mentioned, one they also called the north star.  It was named Dark Warrior because, well, it was not bright.  So I go back to the previous north star (before Polaris) and what do you know.  The previous north star was Thuban, a dark and dim dude we used to navigate by.

Thuban, a relatively inconspicuous star in the constellation Draco the Dragonis, is a fairly dim star, but this little guy was our very own Pole Star some 5,000 years ago.  How long ago was that?  That was when the Egyptians were building the pyramids.

Then I dug into the Black Tortoise constellation, which showed up much later, after the other three constellations had their names changed.  Here was when the Black Tortoise began to be deified, its designation was assigned from prince, to prince, to prince, who all claimed divinity by rights of reincarnation, from a constellation that was, at the very heart of its soul, VOID of any starlight.

This is getting too long y’all.  I will go into more detail about the mythology of this Huyền Vũ dude in a future posting.  Until then, hope everyone’s stars shine bright and dazzling!

Chinese Mythology:  An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend” by Derek Walters

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