Conquering ophidiophobia

1043 Reviews

Star Travel Rating

4/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

Date of travel

January, 2024

Product name

The Temple of Pythons

Product country

Benin

Product city

Ouidah

Travelled with

Couple

Reasons for trip

Culture/Sightseeing

Sightseeing in Ouidah, the voodoo centre of West Africa, sounded like an unforgettable experience, although as I suffer from ophidiophobia, I was somewhat apprehensive about a visit to The Temple of Pythons. However, I decided it was time to conquer my fear of snakes and watched You Tube videos, so I knew what to expect.

A statue of a bare-breasted woman holding several snakes greeted us at the entrance and having entered the compound, we washed our hands whilst the mandatory guide told us about three deities in the courtyard. The first, was murals of a ‘Dangbe Dre’ meaning ‘Long Python’ which was the female snake, and ‘Dangbe Kpohoun’ or ‘Short Python’. The second was the Iroko Tree which had white material tied round it to represent purity and here, sacrifices of goats, and chickens would be made. The third was an upside-down clay urn called a Zingbin, which is turned over once every seven years when 41 virgins, or now more commonly menopausal women due to the lack of virgins, fetch water from the sacred river to fill it.

A white sheet across the door of a sacred house signified it was closed for worshipping, although to maintain its purity, entrance to menstruating women and anyone who has seen a dead snake is forbidden. Two other small huts had low doors so those entering had to stoop which displayed respect, however the purpose of the huts was unclear. At a third hut we were told the priest had to enter and exit through different door to avoid death.

At the circular python house, the guide brought out a relatively small snake which he put around his neck so I could touch it before I tried to relax as it was put around mine for the obligatory photo shoot. I eventually managed to smile but was pleased when it was removed. However, I felt incredibly proud of myself.

Before entering the python house, we purified our hands, and removed our shoes. As only one group at a time could enter, our time inside was limited, but this meant it wasn’t crowded. There were around 50 pythons which, to my great relief, were curled up in large heaps asleep. The pythons are let out on the last day of every month when they go into the village in search of chickens and mice, and if they don’t return on their own accord, the villagers return them.

As the voodoo religion believes in life after death, snakes do not die, they transform, but are buried outside the compound. Visit over, there was the obligatory shop, and then like the priest, we had to exit via a different door to ensure we didn’t die.

Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception
Opposite the temple was the large imposing Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception visited by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. Whilst he was inside signing a papal document on Africa, several dozen voodoo priests and their wives sat outside in curiosity and in a gesture of welcome. Unfortunately, the cathedral was closed, but the left-hand side had lots of external seating and an altar, whilst at the back, there was a large mural with portraits of all the visiting priests. A short flight of steps took us to a statue of Jesus on the cross and one of the Virgin Mary in a cracked glass case. Whilst the Pope is said to have visited the Temple of the Pythons, there appears to be no evidence to support this.

Helen Jackson

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