Word of the Week (197): HOUNGAN (probability 19344), by David Sutton

Continuing the theme of priests, a HOUNGAN (or HUNGAN) is a priest of the voodoo religion. A female HOUNGAN is called a MAMBO, though this word is more usefully remembered as a Latin American dance resembling the rumba, since this can also be a verb: to dance the mambo.

Voodoo, though practised in the Caribbean, needs to be distinguished from other West Indian religions such as SANTERIA, which includes elements of Roman Catholicism. A male priest of santeria is called a SANTERO, a female a SANTERA.

A PUJARI is an Indian priest, deriving from PUJA, the Sanskrit word for worship. A BONZE is a Buddhist priest; this comes from the Japanese. A TOHUNGA is a Maori priest, or wise man with healing powers, much the same as the Hawaiian KAHUNA.

A KOHEN (plural KOHANIM) is a member of the Jewish priestly class, descended from Aaron. There is a variant COHEN with plural COHENS. Irish gives us the colloquial PATRICO or PATRICOVE, a hedge-priest i.e. a disreputable, vagrant parson or priest.

Finally at the far end of the alphabet we have the ZYMITE, a priest who uses leavened bread during the communion, in contrast to an AZYMITE who uses unleavened bread. I do not know whether there is a doctrinal difference here, or whether it's just a matter of using whatever's on special offer that week at the local supermarket. Do we have any (A)ZYMITES in the house who could enlighten me?


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