Unleash the Hounds! (Off to the AAR Annual Meeting Edition)

Welcome to The Wild Hunt’s semi-regular round-up of news and opinion, unleash the hounds. As you read this I’ll be on my way to San Francisco, California to attend the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting. The AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, and their annual meeting has become a vital place to hear about the latest scholarship in the field of Pagan Studies (and just about every other religious and philosophical tradition as well). This year will feature an abundance of Pagan-friendly events, including the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s stellar-looking line-up of presentations. I’ll be attending as many Pagan-oriented presentations as I can, and will report back with some initial thoughts, photos, and hopefully some interviews. In the meantime, here’s some links of note to tide you over! It’s time for Operation Circle Care once again!

What Will the Pope Say to Vodun Leaders?

This Friday the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, will be heading to Benin for a three-day visit where he is expected to unveil an “important document” relating to the Catholic Church’s role in Africa. What makes this visit distinctive is that Benin is thought to be the birthplace of Vodun (aka Vodou/Voodoo), and it is the third largest religion in that country (after Christianity and Islam). Indeed, the pontiff’s visit will feature a “a speech to non-Christian leaders” which can only mean he will be addressing practitioners of Vodun in some capacity. The Religious News Service speculates that Benedict’s message may not be one of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation.

Ouidah is also an international center for the indigenous religion of Vodoun, or Voodoo, which is practiced by more than 17 percent of Beninese.

Quick Notes: Stonehenge, San Francisco Peaks, and Vodun

A few quick news notes to start off your Wednesday. Problems With Summer Solstice at Stonehenge: Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones lashes out at Pagans and other revelers who congregate each year at Stonehenge, noting the lack of (ancient) historical grounding and implying that it is only permitted now to avoid “public violence.” “Eighteen thousand pagans, druids and – for all I know – modern Aztecsgathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice. There were some drugs arrests, but judging from reports, English Heritage seem pleased with the numbers. Er, why?

Quick Note: The Rise of a Vodun Activist

The African country of Benin is thought to be the birthplace of Vodun (aka Vodou/Voodoo), and it is the third largest religion in that country (after Christianity and Islam). But despite the enduring popularity of Vodun in Benin, it has been slowly losing ground to Islam and Christianity, particularly in places like Cotonou, the country’s economic hub and largest city, where Christianity is prevalent. Enter Vodun priest Dah Aligbonon Akpochihala, a direct descendant of the semi-mythical princess Aligbonon, who’s become an evangelist and advocate for a new openness within his faith. “Mr. Aligbonon takes it a step further. He regularly speaks on radio and television in Benin, a priest with a will to electronically diffuse the wisdom of ancestors from centuries past. The aim, in his telling, is to bring voodoo and associated teachings out of the closet and up to date, just like with the rapid-fire training he is developing to create initiates in three months, instead of the usual three years.

More Vodou, Blame, and Commentary

Now that the initial shock of the massive earthquake hitting Haiti (see here for information on sending financial support) has filtered through the media, and the news-cycle starts to move on from Pat Robertson, more in-depth analysis and commentary are starting to emerge. Starting with more articles and editorials that explore the religious character of Haiti, like Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado’s essay for Religion Dispatches. “What I wanted to say is that Vodou is not some sort of sorcery, or the product of some “pact to the devil” (thank you Pat Robertson). I also wanted to correct his erroneous assumption that Haiti is a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian.”