The origin of pentecostal serpent handlers

The remainder of this essay seeks to outline how the contested explanations and justifications for handling poisonous snakes in religious meetings led to the creation of snake or serpent handling as a distinct form of worship both in the minds of pentecostals and in the minds of the wider American public.

Just as it took holiness-pentecostals nearly three decades to reach the consensus that snake handling was a distinct practice at odds with mainstream forms of pentecostal worship, similarly it took decades for the secular press to identify snake handling as something unique from holy roller religion.

The flame was blown out, the bottle replaced. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: As the church shifted its symbolic framework for interpreting the practice, critics rejected its spiritual significance that is, serpent handling in order to highlight its secular symbolic essence that is, showmen handling snakes to entertain unlettered Christians and unchurched skeptics.

Charismatic Christians found it increasingly difficult to practice their faith within the institutional framework of conventional Protestantism; consequently, many Pentecostals withdrew from their churches to form new ones. Since the s, much of the scholarship on serpent handling has tended to frame the practice as marginalized and at odds with the prevailing theological trends and ritual practices that dominated holiness-pentecostalism in the early twentieth century.

This documentary has entered the public domain and is available at the Internet Archive. Notwithstanding the charismatic outbursts in some 19th-century Protestant churches, the watershed of contemporary Pentecostalism came in the early 20th century at Bethel Bible College, a small religious school in TopekaKansas.

To answer these questions, one must trace the ways in which members of the church developed mechanisms for evaluating embodied signs, regulating their practice, and determining their relative value within their respective social structures.

Them That Believe: The Power and Meaning of the Christian Serpent-Handling Tradition

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. Snake handlers in Alabama and Georgia also trace their heritage to James Miller, a preacher who independently began the practice in in Sand Mountain, Alabama.

Hensley puked blood and thrashed about on the living room floor of one of his followers. This is likely because of the overlapping territory of the Assemblies with the Church of God.

Death in a box. Collins, Tennessee Snake Handlers Chattanooga: Members of the Church of God and other churches worked to build a community of believers simultaneously set apart from the dangerous and corrupting influences of mainstream culture and distinct from the extreme fractiousness of those who insisted that Jesus commanded the handling of poisonous snakes.

In this way, they read pride, showmanship, and illegality written on the bodies of snake handlers.

The Pentecostal Serpent

Although many Pentecostals were wary of administrative institutions and unwilling to subject themselves to external ecclesiastical control, various divisive issues drove them into denominational fellowships.

These displays of supernatural power attract crowds to the services, and some are favorably impressed with these things, while to others they are stumbling-blocks. You are encouraged to make free use of this publication. Latinos who took part in the Azusa Street revival helped spread the movement to Mexico, and a vital Spanish-speaking church movement developed there and in the southwestern United States.

Church of God Elders Council, October Tomlinson was especially concerned with signs, and dedicated a large amount of his prolific writing to the subject. As historian Mickey Crews has noted, Lee considered merging with the Assemblies of God and as a result downplayed the practice. 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.

As her fellow churchgoers anointed her with oil and prayed for healing, Hannah prayed her own prayer: By highlighting efforts to embrace or reject serpent handling, part one explores how the practice helped create important boundaries between legitimate and extreme forms of worship within various church polities.

For instance, such coverage downplayed the fact that outsiders frequently challenged people to handle snakes and drink poison, or it ignored meetings in which snakes were not handled.

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God has given them several object lessons that ought to teach them there is a limit to it. Summerford stood above him on the stage, eyes closed, hands up toward heaven.

As the Church of God fell in line with the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and other major pentecostal groups, serpent handling emerged as a distinguishing feature of a distinct form of worship over and against which all other pentecostals might define themselves.

As he shoved the snake back into a lard can, it struck. As far as the church was concerned, the handling of snakes was a dangerous expression of a corrupt secular culture of showmanship and individuality that needed to be regulated by state authorities, not by ecclesiastical discipline.

As the memberships and geographic boundaries of the Assemblies of God and the Church of God exploded in the late s, the two groups often found themselves in contact with one another and competing for converts.

The Assemblies of Godan organization of independent Trinitarian Pentecostals, was founded in Hot SpringsArkansasin in response to the need for better relations between the churches and the government.

Congregations can be found, however, from central Florida to Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Heaven Come Down is a television documentary film about some unusual worship practices of some Pentecostal Christians in Appalachiaincluding snake handling.

Part three turns away from the pentecostal-holiness press to explore journalistic depictions of serpent handling recorded in non-church affiliated sources from the s to the s. Next, as reporting on the practice increased, stories focused on the dangers of taking up snakes and sought to explain the seemingly pathologically irrational behavior of handlers with various psychological and sociological theories.

The population of serpent handlers has probably never amounted to more than a few thousand, and in the early days handlers likely numbered in the low hundreds.

Snake handling in religion

It is in this era that the secular press identified the distinct practice of snake handling.Feb 17,  · Handlers, he said, have an understanding that unless they feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit, they are not to pick up the serpent.

If they feel anointed by God, they must pick it up. "This is. Sep 09,  · That does not deter devoted serpent handlers. “For scholars of religion, the questions surrounding the Mark passage are extremely important for questions of canon formation and scriptural authority,” explains Yolanda Pierce, scholar of religion at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Oct 18,  · We wondered why the handlers are bitten so rarely, and why so few of those snakebites are lethal. Serpent Experts Try To Demystify Pentecostal Snake Handling The herpetologists at.

Jun 01,  · Pentecostal serpent handlers - they use "serpent" over "snake" out of deference to the Bible - are known for collecting dozens of snakes expressly for church services. At church, they’re also known to ingest a mixture of strychnine - a highly toxic powder often used as a pesticide - and water, often from a Mason jar.

[3] A third account of serpent‐handling in Appalachia develops the idea that serpent handlers are oppressed and exploited by outsiders, but it adds an intriguing interpretation to that observation.

Snake handlers are essentially fundamentalist Christians who follow a literal interpretation of the Bible. Their key text is the King James Version of Markwhich indicates that Jesus' followers "shall take up serpents" and not suffer harm.

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The origin of pentecostal serpent handlers
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