Serpent Handling Practice and History
May 19, 2008 9:36 AM   Subscribe

The Ediwina Church of God in Jesus Christ Name. Pastor Jimmy Morrow's spelling is often non-standard and this isn't the world's best designed web page. But it's remarkable for what it is: an insider account of the history and practice of a serpent-handling sect by a current practitioner.

For anyone interested in the more unusual expressions of Christianity in rural Appalachia, this site is a treasure. It includes video of Pastor Jimmy's preaching/serpent-handling, as well as his own recounting of the oral history of his tradition--a history that he traces back to early 19th century England. Most other accounts of snake handling go back no farther than the life of George Hensley, who began to popularize the practice around 1910. Jimmy's account of his sect has also been compiled into a book. Pastor Morrow may be the only person left who remembers these stories and is making an effort to see that they are preserved.
posted by Pater Aletheias (65 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
no matter what they may tell you, good Catholic boys handle thier serpents all the time.
posted by quonsar at 9:40 AM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Heh. I saw a bit about snake handlers some years back on a PBS special. The preacher had been bitten dozens of times. There was really something odd about them, like a photo that hadn't been developed properly. I can't really place the phenomenon, but it was like their existence in space-time had been blurred somehow. Damn weirdo literalists.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 AM on May 19, 2008


And here's the obligatory Wikipedia link for background.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:42 AM on May 19, 2008


And the obligatory link to the book Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington
posted by ornate insect at 9:46 AM on May 19, 2008


Damn weirdo literalists.

Yeah, but at the same time there's something intriguing about them (and I don't mean in that Euell Gibbons "Here we see the wild creatures in their habitat.." sort of way). I wouldn't want them running the country, but I'd be kind of curious to talk to them. I saw the same PBS doc you mentioned and somewhere in my apartment there's a copy of the book Salvation On sand Mountain which was written by a man who was deeply religious but in a far more mainstream way who encountered these people and became entranced with them. I read some of it, but then got caught up in something else. He also mentioned that the music at some of these services was really something, too. he described it as "a combination of Salvation Army and acid rock.' I'm kind of surprised that some wannabe Alan Lomax hasn't done a recording.
posted by jonmc at 9:50 AM on May 19, 2008


My cuz, Gerald, was bitten on the arm by a rattler and almost died in 1990 (I think it was) His mother made him seek medical attention. Gerald said his faith wavered.

It would be interesting if the actual Serpent the scripture refers to was a coiled horn used for music. So many things get lost in translation, you know.
posted by OXYMORON at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2008


He also mentioned that the music at some of these services was really something, too. he described it as "a combination of Salvation Army and acid rock.'

Got to the "Beyond the Serpents" section and watch the videos from another serpent handling church in Jolo, WV for a good sample of the music. Very bluesy.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:57 AM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


& from the wiki aricle's links is this Univ. of TN Press book: Serpent-Handling Believers by Thomas Burton
posted by ornate insect at 10:03 AM on May 19, 2008


Many years ago, when my summer job was as a radio station DJ, I got the dregs of the shifts, being a high school kid who got what was left after the lifers who gobbled up the morning and drive-time shifts. This usually meant I was working the late Saturday afternoon shift and the whole broadcast day on Sunday. This also meant I had to run the weekly religious broadcasts for the local pentecostal church.

Now, I never attended one of their church services, in spite of numerous initiations, but the radio show was pretty spicy by itself. The pastor had an auctioneer's rattle to his sermon that was droning and hypnotic: "NOW Isaytoeveryoneofyou THAT Godhasseenyoursins AND hewilljudgeyoubasedonthe WORTH ofyourheart..." He had several assistants who would come with him to give the occasional "AMEN" in the background. There was one such background fellow who could be reliably counted on to go far beyond the "AMEN" shout, this guy would go into full trance mode, speaking in tongues and marching around the studio like the 3rd Armored Infantry. He also came in a few times with an arm that was quite swollen and bandaged, so I once asked him what happened and he demurred with a mumble of "my faith wasn't what I thought, and the devil slipped in." I took this to mean he had hoisted one of the serpents and it had bitten him.

Overall, they were very nice guys, but I always felt like their view of the world had slightly larger border than mine, which allowed them to see all kinds of demons and angels on the periphery I couldn't see, and they were just trying to tell me just because I couldn't see what they saw didn't mean it could still see and affect me. I have the same feeling when I meet some of the more "out-there" folk artists. So while I may disagree with them on many points, I won't speak ill of them, at least they're testing their faith in a very real and personal way.

Also, they brought me fried chicken which was very nice since I didn't get a lunch break.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:17 AM on May 19, 2008 [17 favorites]


Holy cow, jonmc. Your mention of Euell Gibbons sparked a long-dormant image in my mind from a mid-70's MAD magazine. It was a "secrets of famous people" article, and had GLoria Steinem waitin' tables in a truckstop, John Paul Getty cashing a Social Security Check, Kissinger reading "how to work on your charming German accent" and Ralph Nader polishing his Corvair. Since the magazine in question had come out around the time I was born, I wasn't able to place some of the people in the article, including the picture of Euell Gibbons sitting under a tree eating a Big Mac. My parents are rather conservative, and insulated, so they were no help; my eleven-year-old brain therefore assumed that Euell Gibbons was somehow related to some other fast-food chain besides McDonald's.

Now, in today's Wikipedia world, a twenty-plus-year mystery in my brain is solved.
posted by notsnot at 10:25 AM on May 19, 2008


I wonder what the snakes think about these guys...
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:26 AM on May 19, 2008


Damn weirdo literalists.

As a source of spiritual guidance through metaphor, the Bible is hugely internally contradictory. It is more viable as a source of literal instruction. Good on these folks for displaying such intellectual rigour.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:33 AM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Glad I could help. Odd thing is I was sort of copping a line from Richard price where he was atlking about how he researches dialogue for his books, but dosen't want to come across lik 'Margaret mead in a pith helmet,' but I didn't want to be too obvious, so I fiddled with it a bit.

I wonder what the snakes think about these guys...

They think they're delicious. (tangent: once at a block party, I talked to these two guys who had been hired to barbecue a pig for us and they told me about all the exotic fauna they had made into tasty goodness. They mention that rattlesnake was especially tasty.)
posted by jonmc at 10:33 AM on May 19, 2008


I think there's made-for-TV movie potential in this... snakes escape from a church in Alabama...but since they've been used in rituals for so long, they now have a taste for human flesh...
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:36 AM on May 19, 2008


...and they get on a plane.... for New York where humans are plentiful, but they try to escape and are pursued by this guy.

Have your people call my people. (note to self: get some people)
posted by jonmc at 10:38 AM on May 19, 2008


Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking religion!
posted by found missing at 10:40 AM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


...at least they're testing their faith in a very real and personal way.

If by "testing" you mean "rejecting non-confirming data"...
posted by DU at 10:47 AM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Got to the "Beyond the Serpents" section and watch the videos

These people look strikingly similar to the people at the after-hours minimal techno parties I sometimes attend. In particular, the guy with the big handful of writhing snakes dancing around reminds me of a guy who frequents the same parties that literally cannot stand still.

I dunno...I kind of love it and am a bit repulsed at the same time. A lot like drinking whole milk. And after-hours minimal techno parties.
posted by nosila at 10:48 AM on May 19, 2008


I wouldn't want them running the country...

Too late.
posted by contessa at 10:53 AM on May 19, 2008


I grew up not far from Newport. When I was a kid (like 5 or 6) my family attended a church that was evangelical, but not snake handlers. It was a very enthusiatic church and they were very strong in their faith. Speaking in tongues was not uncommon, nor was "holy rollin'", being just a little kid it just seemed very neat to me.

From time to time, members of our church home would come in with wounds on their hands. I was curious, but it was usually the older members of the church and it seemed rude to ask old Miss Caroline why her hand was swollen. Finally, after a few months of it, my dad decided to ask what the daylights was going on. It was revealed by the deacon and the pastor that some members had chosen to go to a snake handling church to "test their faith". For some it was successful, for others not so much. When my dad asked the pastor why he would allow his flock to attempt such a thing, the pastor responded that if their faith was strong there was no danger and he saw nothing wrong with it. He even went so far as to suggest Dad take us to the snake handling church to make sure that "our trust in the Lord was true."

My father, whose fear of snakes was vastly greater than his fear of God, decided right then and there that church, specifically that church, was for crazy people. Thus began the family ritual of going to Ihop on Sundays instead of church. Cause its way better when God shows his love via pancakes rather than snakes.
posted by teleri025 at 11:22 AM on May 19, 2008 [14 favorites]


By the way, this play about snake handling is pretty great. Keep an eye out.
posted by prefpara at 11:27 AM on May 19, 2008


If by "testing" you mean "rejecting non-confirming data"...

There is no "data" when it comes to faith. Either you believe, or you do not.

I'm certain that I have not been witness to a greater testament of faith than the chilly, fall morning when I had the opportunity to attend a snake handling service. Yes, they pick up and dance around with rattlesnakes. Yes, they shout out in tongues. But first, they have given over their body to the possession of God. When taken in with its full cultural, economic, and historical context; the religion makes perfect sense for those that practice it and those that simply respect it as the outsiders they are.
posted by wg at 11:37 AM on May 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


wg: Well put.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:42 AM on May 19, 2008


There is no "data" when it comes to faith

Which is why faith is an irresponsible and intellectually bankrupt mode of cognition.

the religion makes perfect sense for those that practice it

Only because they're operating from demonstrably flawed premises.
posted by greenie2600 at 11:55 AM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I couldn't see, and they were just trying to tell me just because I couldn't see what they saw didn't mean it could still see and affect me.
Ah, the refreshing smell of casting doubts and uncertainity in the doubtful minds, in order to get more flock to foot the bill!

Confusion aplenty between:

1. invisible to our eyes
2. invisible because it doesn't exist.

It may as well be that we don't see and understand the causes of something, yet that doesn't provide a proof that there ought to by an invisible, metafisical, supernatural, ominscent being doing whatever we still don't understand.And most people think religion=faith , but that's not true.

Yet if your promise to worship my priests, handle me goods and work for me, than you are so very right and beautiful and intelligent, who's better and more useful to me than you?
posted by elpapacito at 12:04 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


"IMA ATHEIST. I EM SMART! ESS EMM ARR TEE! SMART!"
posted by quonsar at 12:06 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Come on, you wankers. It's about snake handling, not about religion in general. Go shit somewhere else.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:07 PM on May 19, 2008


metafisical is my word of the day, by God...
posted by quonsar at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


How on earth is faith, a most general of terms, irresponsible and intellectually flawed?

There is such a vast amount of things that we do not know, and will likely never know. Why would you ever limit yourself to what we can seemingly prove or theorize on when the world is so much larger than that? Who are you to boil down a concept like 'faith' into one flimsy, negative, incomplete and useless phrase? You could do the same for something like 'love' or 'empathy' and it would be just as meaningless.

I'm tired of so-called 'intellectuals' shitting on things they refuse to understand or accept. Atheism is itself a sort of belief--you have faith in the existence of nothing--and reducing an abstraction like 'faith' in the way you have is what's truly irresponsible and intellectually bankrupt.

I don't want to participate in any sort of large-scale religious debate, but I would only mention that it is in fact possible to believe in a religion without literally believing its texts. See also: ANY RELIGIOUS THREAD ON MEFI.

I can't help but feel sorry for people such as you who exhibit such a lack of imagination and equally closed mind. What a dull existence.
posted by nonmerci at 12:09 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


prefpara, your link is messed up, so I'm not sure if you're referring to "Handler" by Robert Schenkkan, or "Holy Ghosts" by Romulus Linney. Both tackle the subject.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:11 PM on May 19, 2008


There is no "data" when it comes to faith. Either you believe, or you do not.

If data are irrelevant to faith, how can "testing" be applicable?

Believer: I have faith.
Pastor: Then put your arms into the snakes, my brother!
Believer: No thanks, I'm good.
Pastor: This is proof that you do not have the depth of faith that JAYSUS requires.
Believer: There is no "proof" when it comes to faith. I have faith that I have faith.
posted by DU at 12:12 PM on May 19, 2008


Pastor: This is proof that you do not have the depth of faith that JAYSUS requires.

quonsar: stop making shit up. there is no required depth of faith specified by JAYSUS. oh, and stop boinking your little neice.
posted by quonsar at 12:23 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


niece nephew. Fixed that for you and suchlike...
posted by Burhanistan at 12:28 PM on May 19, 2008


I'm working on my own version of this kind of religion. Only we aren't going to handle serpents, as they are just to fast. I'm thinking that the translation issues from the original material might be vague enough that I can have my flock prove their faith in god through the handling of other reptiles.

Specifically tortoises.

On a good note, the worst we are likely to get is a good gumming, and then probably only if we are wearing green. On the down side, we will have to institute some safety protocols for lifting after a while. Some of those ground tortoises get really big.
posted by quin at 12:33 PM on May 19, 2008


Too fast, damn it.
posted by quin at 12:35 PM on May 19, 2008


I wonder what the snakes think about these guys...

"These rednecks taste like chicken."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:48 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


"IMA ATHEIST. I EM SMART! ESS EMM ARR TEE! SMART!"

It has less to do with being smart than you think, and more to do with honesty and integrity.

Come on, you wankers. It's about snake handling, not about religion in general. Go shit somewhere else.

So if someone posts an article about a specific act of racially motivated violence, we're forbidden from discussing racism in general?

How on earth is faith, a most general of terms, irresponsible and intellectually flawed?

Faith, by definition (see sense 2), means belief without regard for evidence151;in other words, drawing conclusions about things without actually looking at those things. I'll let you figure out why that's a flawed method of reasoning.

There is such a vast amount of things that we do not know, and will likely never know.

Agreed, but that has zero bearing on the veracity of the theist hypothesis. As elpapacito pointed out, "we don't understand this" does not equal "an invisible man in the sky is doing it".

Atheism is itself a sort of belief--you have faith in the existence of nothing

Nonsense. Atheism is the absence of a particular kind of belief. When evidence for a particular claim is lacking, disbelief in that claim is the default position. I am atheist with regard to gods in exactly the same way I am atheist with regard to invisible pink unicorns, Masonic conspiracy theories, and celestial teapots. There is no faith involved.

I can't help but feel sorry for people such as you who exhibit such a lack of imagination and equally closed mind.

Curious151;I feel exactly the same way about theists.

That said, I have no interest in turning this into a debate, either. So, to bring the discussion back on track: whatever you think of faith, the charismatic sects are strangely fascinating. As an armchair student of religion, I think the parallels between the world's religious traditions are very interesting. For example, certain strains of Catholicism almost seem like a Western version of Mahayana Buddhism (the analogy isn't perfect, but there are a lot of similarities), and the mechanics of Koranic literalism aren't that different than the mechanics of Biblical literalism.

However, I'm not aware of any non-Christian parallel to the charismatic churches. Is anyone else aware of something comparable in other religions?
posted by greenie2600 at 12:59 PM on May 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Which is why faith is an irresponsible and intellectually bankrupt mode of cognition

It's not a mode of cognition: it's protointellectual. Abstractive thinking is not the ultimate rule by which all things must be measured. What we have here is a ritualistic mode of mythopoetic imagination and creative process; practioners of religious ritual are not normally trying to supplant physics. There are however powerful elements of trance and psychosomatic suggestion in certain ecstatic forms of religious ritual (such as Pentacostal snakehandling or santaria/afro-cuban/afro-Haitian ophiomancy) and shamanistic invocation that may be more complicated and complex in their socio-physiological purpose and anthropological origins than is sometimes acknowledged.

It's like saying "dreams are an outmoded mode of cognition," i.e. meaningless and beside the point.
posted by ornate insect at 1:07 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


However, I'm not aware of any non-Christian parallel to the charismatic churches. Is anyone else aware of something comparable in other religions?

There are a number of religion across the world which include possession trance as part of the religious experience. Specifically Vodoun (Possession by Erika Bourguignon), which is a blend of Catholicism and the religions which came to the Carribean with the slave population.

While I was a student of the Appalachian Semester at Union College, KY (which was my 'in' at the snake handling church), I compared the possession trance of the local religions to the possession trance of Vodoun. Culturally, colonialism played a large role in the formation of Vodoun. Certainly, the Appalachian region has been an internal colony of the United States. When you have nothing left of your own, it is easy to turn your spirit over to your god.
posted by wg at 1:25 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


prefpara, your link is messed up, so I'm not sure if you're referring to "Handler" by Robert Schenkkan, or "Holy Ghosts" by Romulus Linney. Both tackle the subject.

Dude! My link *is* messed up! I was, in fact, attempting to refer to the Schekkan play, which I saw a few years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
posted by prefpara at 1:31 PM on May 19, 2008


I have no problem with the use of ritual, trance, mystical practice, &c, so long as it confines itself to the appropriate magisterium, i.e. the subjective world of aesthetics, morality, identity, and other things that exist inside our heads.

It almost never does, though—and as soon as faith starts making unjustified claims about the things that exist outside our heads (e.g., "there exists an invisible man who controls the universe", "the earth came into being six thousand years ago", "snakes won't kill you if your faith is strong enough"), it most certainly does attempt to function as a mode of cognition (i.e., to answer questions whose proper domain is that of reason and the intellect) and to supplant physics.

Ophiomancy, eh? Googled it; was aware of it, but didn't know the name. The syncretic faiths (such as Santería) are pretty wild—kind of like spiritual creoles. On some level, I do love this stuff—it's beautiful in much the same way that music and art are beautiful. I just try to remember that emotionally compelling ≠ factually accurate.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:32 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Argh, can we please not veer off into the same atheism discussion we have every other week?

Is anyone else aware of something comparable in other religions?

The thing that sprung immediately to mind for me was Sufism, which reminds me a little of the serpent-handling thing in that it's using a sort of physical discipline to achieve a mystical experience (I'm thinking of the whirling-dervish bit of Sufism here).
posted by whir at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2008


Interesting Google link, wg...thanks.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2008


whir, that's the mevleviye type of Sufi - That's what I thought of too, and the Carribean Voudoun type religions. American Indian trance dancing. Seeking trance states through worship is - or was - pretty universal.

Thanks for the original links, PA.
posted by rainbaby at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2008


wg--seconding what wg said; pretty much every animistic and shamanistic folk religion includes a ritualistic element of trance and spirit posession, which suggests that the physiological and psychosomatic cosmography at work here is complex and universal: an attempt to attain something akin to an out-of-body experience or state.

Furthermore, the serpent itself is perhaps the most universal folk-symbolic metaphor for religious iconography in the history of humankind: it only becomes demonic b/c the Abrahamic religions were attempting to overthrow the Egyptian and Hellenic "pagan" religions where it plays a central symbolic role. The reason for its symbolic potency, its morphopoetic importance for spiritual alchemy and cosmic temporality, are obvious: it resembles the umbilical cord (in China it's a feminine symbol), it sheds its skin and thus seems eternally re-born, its body tapers off in both directions and thus implies infinity (hence the ouroboros), it slinks and dances to music (see the charmers of India), it is both destructive and constructive (reprsents the bridge between death and life), etc. And it even turns up as the symbol of American revolutionary spirit: don't tread on me.
posted by ornate insect at 1:42 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


I thought of Sufism too, and Vodoun, but I don't know of any religious practices (other than this one) that involve deliberately exposing oneself to potentially lethal danger. Well, maybe the Hindu sadhus who bury themselves alive, but the emphasis there seems to be less on a leap of faith and more on the development of bodily and spiritual self-control.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:44 PM on May 19, 2008


The Mevlevis and other whirlers (the Mevlevis are by no means the only Sufis that whirl) do not enter "trance" states. They are very much relaxed and at attention when performing their dances.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


(speaking as one who has performed them)
posted by Burhanistan at 1:46 PM on May 19, 2008


Burhanistian, are you Sufi? (no, I'm not going to challenge you to atheist combat)

In related news, this Youtube video of dervishes is pretty amazingly hypnotic.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:50 PM on May 19, 2008


In ancient Hindu symbolism the axis mundi is held down by a spike in a serpent. More on ophidian symbolism here. The serpent appears around the tree of life as a living branch or root so often in ancient symbolism it's not hard to see where the Bible gathered the association from.
posted by ornate insect at 1:53 PM on May 19, 2008


greenie2600: I'm a plain ol' Muslim who happens to be under the auspices of a traditional "sufi" order. The movements of the 20th century with the so-called universalist sufis have brought alot of misunderstanding.

But if you can see the faces on those Mevlevis, you can see that they are quite at peace, and seem to be with their "normal" wits, rather than being in some sort of Pentacostal-type frenzy.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:55 PM on May 19, 2008


I just try to remember that emotionally compelling ≠ factually accurate.

It may help you to keep in mind that most religious people don't turn to religion in order to factually describe the world. The majority are turning to it for that emotionally compelling part too, and only get defensive about the "facts" because they're told it's all or nothing. But integrate scientific advance into religion comfortably, and have respect for the ritual, poetry, community and reverence that they consider important, and many religious people won't mind a bit if the church position about this or that changes. What matters is connecting to something larger than yourself, & so on - not the worst instincts.
posted by mdn at 1:57 PM on May 19, 2008


And then there's tarantism, i.e. that which resulted in the Tarantella dance of Italy. Likewise, the Shakers got their name from their ritualistic ecstasies. And for more on glossolalia (speaking in tongues), see here.
posted by ornate insect at 2:02 PM on May 19, 2008


I wouldn't want them running the country...

Too late.


The people running the country have about as much to do with these impoverished people as Donald Trump does with the guy who cleans his office.
posted by jonmc at 3:12 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


mdn, a statistical majority (or, in some polls, a near-majority) of religious people do draw factual conclusions from religious mythology, at least in the United States. Check out this Harris poll, and this other Harris poll, for starters.

The situation is different in other first-world countries, of course.
posted by greenie2600 at 3:14 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


metafisical is my word of the day

Mine is neice.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:05 PM on May 19, 2008


I don't know of any religious practices (other than this one) that involve deliberately exposing oneself to potentially lethal danger

What about Scientology? Or even Jehovahs Witnesses? While they might not do the exposing quite so frequently, once you get sick refusing modern medicine in favour of some kind of snake-oil looks to me to be very similar.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:11 PM on May 19, 2008


How about rat worship?
posted by binturong at 4:23 PM on May 19, 2008


The situation is different in other first-world countries, of course.

Assuming the USA really is a first-world country. There is much about the US that's third-world. But that's probably a debate for another time.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:12 PM on May 19, 2008


So wait - the snakes belong to the pastor? I guess it never occurred to that they weren't just sitting around waiting for a rattlesnake to show up. Not to trivialize handling a venomous snake, but that seems kind of like cheating.

Snake handling is the prop comedy of christianity.
posted by smartyboots at 11:43 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


You and I, however intellectually superior we might consider ourselves, will likely never experience the same level of faith, trust, passion and spiritual-certainty these folks experience on a regular basis. Their faith is visceral, real, and tested. Yeah, she's a poor writer -- but sense the emotion and conviction in the following description:

"...Do you believe it now? I said Yes Lord. Then I started getting anointed in my hands and feet.... Then Jimmy come right in front of the bench with the big red copperhead and looked at me still preaching the word. I said Lord if I am to take it up you’ll have to do something about it, and at that time JESUS took all the fear away and I was anointed by the power of JESUS from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. JESUS said Take one step and I’ll do the rest. That perfect love just fell all over me. There was no fear there over the serpents. I just ran up there and reached out for the serpent and Jimmy gave it to me. It was just like a shield of blue mist smoke was between me and the copperhead. I knew what I was doing. I could see the big copperhead in my hands but there was just love there, not a bit of fear over the serpent was there. I was the happiest I had ever been in my life..."

Sitting in my sterile, plastic, college-educated, consumer, cubical-world -- its sad to realize that I'll probably never be as happy or spiritually-secure as her.

Once you get past the whole "aren't they silly for taking some old book so literally" you'll realize that faith, in its many diverse forms, is simply a poetic metaphor for the human-experience. Without studying a metaphor (...any metaphor, for that matter: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim...) we become shallower sentient beings.

I would hazard a guess that despite their poverty and their lack of education, these people drink more deeply from life's well than most of us.
posted by LakesideOrion at 7:24 AM on May 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's a very romanticized view.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:44 AM on May 20, 2008


Both passionate faith and rigid adherence to science are romanticized world views.
posted by LakesideOrion at 8:01 AM on May 20, 2008


five fresh fish: That's a very romanticized view.

Yes, maybe. But we shouldn't blind ourselves to the possibility of enlightenment from any source. It took me a very long time to fit these people and their worship into my world view, part of that being due to having grown up with them and not being able to remove myself from the equation. But I find their worship practices as interesting as any other transcendental worship, be it Voudon of Haiti, or the Peyote Cult of the Mescaleros or Kiowa or the ayahuasca priesthood in the Amazon. In the end, I just had to see past the mundane truth of the hard lives these people lived side by side with me and into the spiritual release and truth they find through their worship. There's something very visceral and sublime about taking religion or faith of any sort that personally and is all very interesting to me. You can argue all you want about the "logic" or source of faith, but it's beside the point to me.

I write this not as a practitioner of any religion, organized or not, or as any wide-eyed new-age initiate but as an interested student of human experience.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:18 AM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I could actually see myself giving this a go if the mood was right and the spirit was strong. But if you changed "handle snakes" to "handle spiders" then no, unh uhh, no way, never... I'd rather burn in hell.

(quonsar is my ominscent being)
posted by vronsky at 1:26 PM on May 20, 2008


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