Snake Salvation: One Way to Pray in Appalachia

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Andrew Hamblin handles poisonous snakes every Sunday in the name of Jesus. At just 22, he leads Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., a Pentecostal church that practices a rare, century-old Christian tradition of worshipping God with venomous snakes like timber rattlers, cottonmouths, and copperheads. He plays mandolin, loves zombie movies, receives food stamps, has five children, and now is he is a star in a new 16-episode National Geographic reality series, Snake Salvation, premiering Tuesday about Appalachia’s serpent-handling churches.


The show is bound to stir interest in the unique—and mysterious—Christian sect. There are about 125 snake-handling churches in the United States, and almost all of them are found in Appalachia. Snake handlers like Hamblin do not worship snakes. Instead they use snakes to show non-Christians that God protects them from harm. In church services, when they feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit come upon them, these Christians reach into boxes, pick up poisonous snakes and hold them up as they pray, sing, and even dance. The belief comes from a literal reading of Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of Mark: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Spiritual signs like speaking in tongues, holding venomous snakes, and even drinking poison or playing with fire may seem radical to many Christians. All Appalachian states except West Virginia outlawed the snake-handling ritual when it first emerged because it too often left people maimed or dead. But for Hamblin, the practice is a part of Jesus’ teaching as much as the Sermon on the Mount. “As we say down here when we preach, it is written in red letter,” he explains, referring to Bibles that print the words of Jesus in red ink. “It is in my King James Bible, and that is what I go by, the King James Bible.”

Written By: Elizabeth Dias
continue to source article at swampland.time.com

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  1. Typical Christians. Submissive to snake charmers and charlatan elixer salesmen while denying the works of mankind as god’s work instead of science. Has science discovered a cure for natural human insanity other than atheism?

  2. I feel sorry for the serpents. Why use and abuse them? They haven’t asked to be part of the snake-and-pony show. Just “drink any deadly thing” instead: use Jim Jones’ cyanide koolaid recipe.

  3. I feel a bit sorry for the serpent in the Garden of Eden. After it tempted Eve to eat the fruit, God banished it to crawl on its belly. Tough justice for a snake.

    Of course God reserved His worst punishment for humanity, cursing us for ever as “sinners”. Sinners have to crawl on their knees instead of their bellies.

  4. Hmm. How about challenging them with some mambo snakes, and concoctions of ricin or thallium …
    Bring in some people with throat cancer to be healed. Force them to acknowledge they do not measure up.

    They are trying to pretend they belong to some elect group simply because a snake did not bite them.

  5. 22 years old and 5 children already.Then there are the Duggars with their ever-growing brood of babies.

    Scary, the way these people are multiplying themselves.The last thing we need are bible thumping snake handlers by the hundred.

    All those mouths to feed and I somehow doubt that Jesus is going to do the ‘loaves and fishes’ thing again

    Critical issues like global warming need to be addressed and. dancing with snakes won’t make that problem go away.

    I think I’ll pack up some survivalist stuff and head for the mountains.NOT the Appalachians though.

    • In reply to #9 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      22 years old and 5 children already.Then there are the Duggars with their ever-growing brood of babies.

      Scary, the way these people are multiplying themselves.The last thing we need are bible thumping snake handlers by the hundred.

      I don’t think we need worry about their numbers multiplying.Most of them are in in line for a Darwin Award.

  6. I would love to see the Wetta workshop or some other SFX company make a really convincing RC (Radio Controlled not Roman Catholic) snake that talks thrown into the mix at one of these gatherings.

    • In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

      I would love to see the Wetta workshop or some other SFX company make a really convincing RC (Radio Controlled not Roman Catholic) snake that talks thrown into the mix at one of these gatherings.

      Yeah, I wonder if the church snake charmers can speak Slythern and would you need a cottonmouth to learn to speak it?

        • In reply to #16 by Agrajag:

          In reply to #11 by AlGarnier:

          “Yeah, I wonder if the church snake charmers can speak Slythern and would you need a cottonmouth to learn to speak it?”

          Ahem: “Parseltongue”.

          Thank you! I stand corrected. Parseltongue it is.

  7. “The show is bound to stir interest in the unique—and mysterious—Christian sect.”

    Because it’s a christian sect, they are “unique and mysterious”. Yet another example of the media’s cowardly “political correctness” in granting religion respect it doesn’t deserve. If it wasn’t “christian”, the sect would get labeled for what it really is: a bunch of ignorant crackpot hillbillies.

  8. When I was walking with my missionary neighbor the other day, I mentioned to him that verses had been added to the end of the Book of Mark, and that those had resulted in people being poisoned and killed by snakes over the centuries. That was in relation to the problem of what parts of scripture you take (or mistake) as either literal, or even true in general without evidence. I just emailed him a link to this article, and will be interested to hear if he is willing to discuss the subject.

  9. What the hell, National Geographic? What is this – your answer to “Honey BooBoo?” Idiot trailer trash slamming Mountain Dew and pork rinds on Saturday nights, banging Bibles and abusing snakes on Sundays? Way to play to the lowest common denominator. Snake handlers ought to be prosecuted for animal abuse and cruelty, and I don’t have any pity for those who get bitten. If these knuckledraggers want to really test their faith, why don’t they all go jump off a cliff or dodge trains and ask God to save them? Problem solved, and the snakes can live in peace.

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