Sir James George Frazer (18541941). The Golden Bough. 1922.
In this custom we find expressed in the clearest way a belief in the transmigration of human souls into the bodies of turtles. The theory of transmigration is held by the Moqui Indians, who belong to the same race as the Zunis. The Moquis are divided into totem clansthe Bear clan, Deer clan, Wolf clan, Hare clan, and so on; they believe that the ancestors of the clans were bears, deer, wolves, hares, and so forth; and that at death the members of each clan become bears, deer, and so on according to the particular clan to which they belonged. The Zuni are also divided into clans, the totems of which agree closely with those of the Moquis, and one of their totems is the turtle. Thus their belief in transmigration into the turtle is probably one of the regular articles of their totem faith. What then is the meaning of killing a turtle in which the soul of a kinsman is believed to be present? Apparently the object is to keep up a communication with the other world in which the souls of the departed are believed to be assembled in the form of turtles. It is a common belief that the spirits of the dead return occasionally to their old homes; and accordingly the unseen visitors are welcomed and feasted by the living, and then sent upon their way. In the Zuni ceremony the dead are fetched home in the form of turtles, and the killing of the turtles is the way of sending back the souls to the spirit-land. Thus the general explanation given above of the custom of killing a god seems inapplicable to the Zuni custom, the true meaning of which is somewhat obscure. Nor is the obscurity which hangs over the subject entirely dissipated by a later and fuller account which we possess of the ceremony. From it we learn that the ceremony forms part of the elaborate ritual which these Indians observe at the midsummer solstice for the purpose of ensuring an abundant supply of rain for the crops. Envoys are despatched to bring their otherselves, the tortoises, from the sacred lake Kothluwalawa, to which the souls of the dead are believed to repair. When the creatures have thus been solemnly brought to Zuni, they are placed in a bowl of water and dances are performed beside them by men in costume, who personate gods and goddesses. After the ceremonial the tortoises are taken home by those who caught them and are hung by their necks to the rafters till morning, when they are thrown into pots of boiling water. The eggs are considered a great delicacy. The meat is seldom touched except as a medicine, which is curative for cutaneous diseases. Part of the meat is deposited in the river with kóhakwa (white shell beads) and turquoise beads as offerings to Council of the Gods. This account at all events confirms the inference that the tortoises are supposed to be reincarnations of the human dead, for they are called the otherselves of the Zuni; indeed, what else should they be than the souls of the dead in the bodies of tortoises seeing that they come from the haunted lake? As the principal object of the prayers uttered and of the dances performed at these midsummer ceremonies appears to be to procure rain for the crops, it may be that the intention of bringing the tortoises to Zuni and dancing before them is to intercede with the ancestral spirit, incarnate in the animals, that