Serpent handlers

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Serpent handlers

  1. 1. Article: Serpent Handling as Sacrament by Mary Lee Daugherty
  2. 2. Scriptural basis and practice <ul><li>Those espousing the snake handling practice base their belief upon biblical scripture: </li></ul><ul><li>Mark 16:17-18 </li></ul>
  3. 3. Mark 16:17,18 &quot;And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall 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.&quot;
  4. 4. <ul><li>“ Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” </li></ul>Luke 10:19
  5. 5. Characteristics <ul><li>Church services often include handling of venomous snakes (usually copperheads and rattlesnakes) </li></ul><ul><li>Also… handling fire and drinking water laced with poisons such as strychnine or arsenic </li></ul><ul><li>Some churches even handle scorpions </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Others…pass rags soaked in kerosene that are ignited and placed in glass jars or empty soda bottles. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Carl Porter, pastor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, has been handling snakes since 1971. Though bitten a dozen times, he continues to advocate snake-handling. When he opened his church 25 years ago only 15 people attended; there are now about 100 in his congregation.
  8. 8. <ul><li>Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Nix, right, purges herself of ills and receives blessings from friends Michelle Tancrede (left), 15, and Heather Allen, 15. </li></ul>
  9. 10. Snake handling at the Pentecostal Church of God , Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky 09/15/1946 (National Archives and Records Administration). The ceremony also included laying on of hands . Photo by Russell Lee .
  10. 13. Sand Hill Church sign in Del Rio, Tennessee
  11. 14. Who are they? <ul><li>Regular snake-handlers - those who handle at every service, 2-3 times/week - are commonly preachers . </li></ul><ul><li>Most who drink strychnine and handle fire also handle snakes. </li></ul><ul><li>Many who handle snakes do not handle fire or drink strychnine. </li></ul><ul><li>Also, members in general feel it is not an imperative of the Lord's faith to handle snakes; handling snakes is not a test of faith but a mandate from God . </li></ul>
  12. 15. History <ul><li>After the civil war, the economic situation in the US changed greatly </li></ul><ul><li>Coal was discovered in remote areas of Kentucky in areas where families had lived for many generations </li></ul><ul><li>Many families were run off of their land, forced to farm and survive in the mountains </li></ul><ul><li>Men stayed to work in the coal mines </li></ul><ul><li>The family unit was broken up </li></ul>
  13. 16. History cont. <ul><li>Methodist preachers were some of the first to preach to these very poor families </li></ul><ul><li>They found that these families needed to see something demonstrative, such as the healing powers of the laying on of hands. </li></ul><ul><li>Picture from 1867 </li></ul>
  14. 18. History cont. <ul><li>Ministers preached the miraculous and summoned the Holy Spirit to empower, the people bolstering moral strength through participation. </li></ul><ul><li>At the turn of the century, their was a movement against modernism that caused churchgoers to reexamine the literal words of the bible </li></ul><ul><li>These “Holiness” churches, whose roots stem from this time, wanted an experience that was hands-on and lead to a very physical representation of their faith. </li></ul>
  15. 19. Origin of Snake Handling <ul><li>The practice is believed to have started with George Hensley in the hills of Tennessee </li></ul><ul><li>Started sometime before 1910 while Hensley was preaching at the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee. </li></ul><ul><li>During Hensley's sermon about Mark 16 some men dumped out a box full of rattlesnakes in front of him. </li></ul><ul><li>Without missing a beat Hensley reached down and picked up the snakes, preaching the entire time. </li></ul><ul><li>Hensely died in 1955 from a….. </li></ul>
  16. 20. Serpent-Handling as Sacrament <ul><li>-ritual celebration of life, death, and resurrection </li></ul><ul><li>-proof of Jesus's power to protect and heal </li></ul><ul><li>-serpent as a symbol of victory over death </li></ul><ul><li>-dangerous (yet rarely fatal) </li></ul><ul><li>-hypothesis about the future of serpent-handling         --legality issues </li></ul>
  17. 21. Legality <ul><li>Snake-handling is outlawed in every Appalachian state except West Virginia. </li></ul><ul><li>In Georgia, under the laws of endangerment, it remains a misdemeanor to handle snakes without a permit, but the law is loosely enforced. </li></ul><ul><li>States west of the Rocky Mountains have no laws governing snake-handling. </li></ul>
  18. 22. Cultural Isolation <ul><li>-limited travel </li></ul><ul><li>-limited media input </li></ul><ul><li>-primarily oral/Biblical traditions </li></ul><ul><li>-life centered on church gatherings </li></ul>
  19. 23. The Approach to the Serpent <ul><li>not evil serpent of the Genesis story </li></ul><ul><li>serpent as life over death </li></ul><ul><li>sacrament </li></ul><ul><li>respect for the snake </li></ul>
  20. 24. The Faith <ul><li>willingness to die for beliefs </li></ul><ul><li>coping with and confronting real fears </li></ul><ul><li>seeking harmony with Nature </li></ul><ul><li>centered in small communities </li></ul>
  21. 25. Longing for Holiness <ul><li>dramatized in willingness to suffer </li></ul><ul><li>group support </li></ul><ul><li>power of the Holy Ghost and the courageous individual </li></ul><ul><li>ennobling experience of divine intervention </li></ul>
  22. 26. The Person of the Holy Ghost <ul><li>enables serpent-handling, speaking in tongues, preaching, curing diseases, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>transcending &quot;worthlessness“ </li></ul><ul><li>the &quot;great equalizer“ </li></ul><ul><li>creates a mood of openness and spontaneity </li></ul><ul><li>lends a sense of power to lives </li></ul><ul><li>approachable and relatable figure of Jesus </li></ul>
  23. 27. Symbolism of the Serpent <ul><li>suggests ambiguity and transcendence </li></ul><ul><li>varying representations </li></ul>
  24. 28. Churches and Services <ul><li>arena of empowerment </li></ul><ul><li>services often and lengthy </li></ul><ul><li>direct personal experience of God </li></ul><ul><li>outpouring of healing love </li></ul>
  25. 29. Holiness churches today <ul><li>symbolized not only by speaking in tongues but also in appearance </li></ul><ul><li>Women ordinarily wear long dresses and their hair uncut </li></ul><ul><li>Neither makeup nor jewelry is commonly worn. </li></ul><ul><li>Equally shunned is gossip, lying and back-stabbing </li></ul><ul><li>Use of tobacco, mustaches or beards is forbidden for men </li></ul>
  26. 30. 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 <ul><li>&quot; Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her: for her hair is given to her for a covering&quot; </li></ul>
  27. 31. Healing Power <ul><li>Belief in the healing power of the Lord proscribes any professional medical treatment or even over-the-counter medications. </li></ul><ul><li>A break with the belief in healing exhibits &quot;a sure sign of lack of faith in God's ability to cure the sick.&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>In some extreme cases churches have been known to ban eyeglasses </li></ul>
  28. 32. Conclusion <ul><li>a unique ritual in church history </li></ul><ul><li>new economic and social environment </li></ul><ul><li>ritual continues as a form of sacrament </li></ul>

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