Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Taking Up Serpents"

Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and Holiness. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia, spreading to mostly coal mining towns. Its practitioners call it "serpent handling" to be clear that it involves the handling only of venomous snakes. The practice plays only a small part of the church service of churches that practice snake handling. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Book of Mark and the Book of Luke to support the practice:

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)
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. (Luke 10:19)

George Went Hensley (1880-1955), a preacher who left the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) when the Church noticed him taking part in snake handling and set specific rules that made certain that that denomination would have nothing to do with those types of practices, is credited with creating the first holiness movement church dedicated to snake handling in the 1920s. Sister-churches later sprang up throughout the Appalachian region, including at the Mt. Verd Holiness Church in McMinn County - Athens, Tennessee.

Many of the later followers were brought into the belief through traveling preachers in the late 19th century, attracted by charismatic preachers who boasted great miracles and demonstrated wonders. James Miller, without hearing of Hensley's ministry, claimed he received a Revelation from God to handle serpents and baptize in the Jesus Only formula of Acts 2: 38 in the King James Bible. By the beginning of the 20th Century, snake handling had spread to Canadian soil, where a handful of Canadians embraced the Mark 16 revelation.

As seen in the photo-The handling of Serpents is best done to music!

1 comment:

Ross Warren said...

Hello, the image of George Went Hensley holding two snakes is fantastic. Do you happen to know who the owner is? I'd like to use the image for a documentary I'm helping to produce about snake handling. I'm at

Many thanks,

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