In rural regions near the Appalachian Mountains small communities of people worship in churches known for handling deadly serpents as part of everyday rituals. The practice of serpent handling is justified using a passage found in the King James Bible:
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17-18)
Other Christians dismiss these practices by saying the passage is not to be taken literally. They consider the people following all of the signs mentioned by ...view middle of the document...
Wanting to take up the serpent is a key theme in serpent handling. There is a strong desire to please God among the worshippers, by carrying out his word and obeying the scripture. This desire creates a feeling of strengthened belief and willingness in people to complete the task at hand. Believing that one can take up a serpent is just as important as doing the physical action in many cases. A participant, H16, describes the feeling that he just “had to” do it:
You have to believe it. It’s in the Bible. If you believe it like you ought to, you will go where it’s being done. You’ll desire to go and see it being done. And if you go to that place, at some point God’s going to move on you to do it. You may do it. You may not. If you don’t, that’s just between you and God is all I know. But I believe at some point, I believe God will move on you to do it, and I believe at some point, if you really believe it, and you’re going and seeing it done, and you go to a church where it’s being done all time, at some time, you’re going to desire to do it. (Hood 137)
This participant’s interview sums up what a large amount of the participants reported having experienced, a submission to God and a willingness to believe. In combination these actions allowed God to “move over them”.
Another important part of this ritual is an awareness of death. The media often portrays people using the practice of serpent handling as being somewhat ignorant of this consequence, but it is well known among serpent handlers that at any moment the serpent can and will strike. “No handler believes in a magical ability to handle without harm.” (139) As participant H16 puts it, “anytime you handle one, it could bite you, and it might could be your last bite.” (140) Death is certainly a concern among people participating in this practice but the benefits of pleasing God and creating a connection with him outweigh this concern.
A third common element of the serpent handling experience deals with the connection to God that many people experience when handling serpents and it has two components, faith and anointing. People who rely solely on their faith in God to take up serpents often still experience fear while doing it. Thus, the majority of people that practice serpent handling rely first on their faith in God, but secondarily on their belief in anointing. Anointing ameliorates this fear through four different components: the feeling of God moving over oneself, diminishing one’s awareness of surroundings, instilling indescribable good feelings and giving the worshipper a sense of empowerment. Participant H3 describes how he knew to take up a serpent and the feeling of the anointment on his senses.
It’s like a warmth that comes over you and it’s like you feel in your heart it’s alright to take up the serpent. And when you reach in there to take the serpent, you know what’s going on…yet the Lord’s in full control… His presence may not be very strong upon you, but yet you can...