The deified residents of the Temple of Pythons, when released to find food, sometimes slither across the road into a Catholic church that once hosted Pope Benedict XVI. The local priest, the snake handlers say, is always good enough to call or bring the gorging reptiles back to their own spiritual home.
This is life in Ouidah, a mecca of spirits and gods worshipped by practitioners of Voodoo, a recognized religion in this former French colony in West Africa that is home to 9 million people. The religion has its own pope -- or two, depending on who you ask -- whose reign dates back to the 1400s and can be seen about town in his SUV.
This past Thursday, local banks and the post office closed as the town celebrated its annual Voodoo Festival, an event increasingly drawing curious foreigners. With its mix of beliefs and traditions, the Voodoo practiced here shows both a clash of cultures and the ability for ancient traditional beliefs to adapt to modern life.
Jean Zossoujbo, a guide at the Temple of Pythons, shows a python to a visitor to the temple in Ouidah, Benin, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Right: A Voodoo worshiper dances during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.