Serpent Experts Try To Demystify Pentecostal Snake Handling

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Listen to the program at the link below

Two weeks ago, NPR reported on a group of Pentecostals in Appalachia who handle snakes in church to prove their faith in God. The story got us thinking: Why are the handlers bitten so rarely, and why are so few of those snakebites lethal?

After the story aired, NPR was contacted by snake experts who strongly suggest that a snake's reluctance to bite a religious serpent handler may have more to do with the creature's poor health than with supernatural intervention.

The herpetologists at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo have been following the activities of Pentecostal snake handlers for years. They have watched hours of video of snake-handling services and examined snakes used in church.

"The animals that I've seen that have come from religious snake handlers were in bad condition," says Kristen Wiley, curator of the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, a facility in the town of Slade that produces venom and promotes the conservation of snakes. "They did not have water. The cages had been left not cleaned for a pretty long period of time. And the other thing we noticed is there were eight or 10 copperheads in a container that was not very large."

What's more, she says there was no fecal material in the container, which indicated the snakes were not being fed. Riley says a snake that may be dehydrated, underweight and sick from close confinement is less likely to strike than a healthy snake. Moreover, the venom it produces is weaker.

Written By: John Burnett
continue to source article at npr.org

21 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t understand why these snake-handlers aren’t prosecuted for animal cruelty. Confining and starving these animals is no better than dogfighting, and should be just as illegal. Animal cruelty charges would be one way to curb the practice without the religionuts being able to scream about “persecution”. It should not only be illegal to capture and confine these snakes, but handling them in religious rituals is stressful for the snakes and should constitute harrassment and cruelty as well.

    If these nutjobs want to really test their faith, why don’t they stand on train tracks and ask God to prevent them being hit by a train? Why don’t they jump off a cliff? Put their heads in ovens and turn on the gas? That would not only put their faith to the test – it would effectively put an end to their stupid cult.

    • In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

      I don’t understand why these snake-handlers aren’t prosecuted for animal cruelty.

      I was horrified when nearly all the rock pythons in Canada were exterminated after one allegedly asphrixiated two boys, an event never before recorded in history. There was no investigation if the snake really was the culprit before it was executed.

    • In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

      If these nutjobs want to really test their faith, why don’t they stand on train tracks and ask God to prevent them being hit by a train? Why don’t they jump off a cliff? Put their heads in ovens and turn on the gas? That would not only put their faith to the test – it would effectively put an end to their stupid cult.

      Wiki says that practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel 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)

      No trains or gas ovens in Bible times, and nothing about Killy McGee giving people the power to survive a jump from a cliff.

      I don’t understand why these snake-handlers aren’t prosecuted for animal cruelty.

      There’s stuff in the Wiki article about this, too.

      I had always assumed the snakes were milked of venom before a performance, which explained why there were so few fatalities. The reality is so much more horrid:

      In a follow-up call, I asked him how long his snakes usually live.

      “Average is probably three to four months,” Coots says.

      The Kentucky Reptile Zoo reports that well-cared-for snakes live 10 to 20 years or longer in captivity.

      • In reply to #7 by Katy Cordeth:

        Wiki says that practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke to support the practice …

        I like to bring to their attention that those verses at the end of Mark are not in the earliest copies, and appear to be interpolations added much later. Sad to think of people who have lost their lives over the years, because of some extra words a scribe thought would be inspiring.

    • In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

      … Why don’t they jump off a cliff? …

      Indeed! For is it not written: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone”? (Psalm 91:11-12)

      Jumping off cliffs would be a good alternative for these people if the concern for the welfare of the snakes they handle becomes too much of a problem. Cliffs are not harmed by any human body being dashed against them in cases where a jumper’s faith proves to be insufficient for angelic protection. One could say the same about gas-ovens, except that there seems to be no biblical reference to such contrivances; which means, I suppose, that there is no divine assurance of protection for those who, having turned on the gas, hold their heads therein.

      • In reply to #12 by Cairsley:

        In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

        … Why don’t they jump off a cliff? …

        …Katy’s: “…Irwin’s death by stingray attack…”

        I’m firmly with the snakes and stingrays, and those bulls too. Few people took the view that the stingray was just sending a targeted message, as I did.

        The wingsuit clip is an obvious hoax. The approach is too steep by a factor of about two. On the trajectory illustrated by the airborne camera the hoaxer would have landed on the shore. I suspect he popped his parachute just before the cut to the grainy splashdown.

        Doubters may wonder why not one of those many spectators thought to use their phones. Funny how a world record attempt didn’t position any cameras on the ground to record the landing. Wingsuits are cool already without any exaggeration.

        • In reply to #15 by Len Walsh:

          In reply to #12 by Cairsley:

          In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

          … Why don’t they jump off a cliff? …

          …Katy’s: “…Irwin’s death by stingray attack…”

          I’m firmly with the snakes and stingrays, and those bulls too…

          Irwin’s death was sad, although I don’t know if he was interfering with the stingray in any way as was his wont or just happened upon it by accident. As for the bulls in Pamplona, if those are the ones you’re referring to, and the fatalities that have occurred as a result of snake handling, I’m with you. These people’s stone-age ancestors would have had the good sense to give venomous snakes a wide berth, and I’m guessing they didn’t play Spank the Smilodon Then Run Away Before It Eats You.

          Mind you, I was with the cockroaches when they got their revenge against this idiot. The writing on his t-shirt by the way translates from the Latin as ‘Truth and Justice’.

          Yep.

          • In reply to #16 by Katy Cordeth:

            In reply to #15 by Len Walsh:

            play Spank the Smilodon Then Run Away Before It Eats You….

            Irwin’s death was sad, although I don’t know if h…

            Irwin was our very own Aussie, cringe-worthy matador, who was always pulling the tails of animals. Like a bird Irwin ranged habitats from rainforests to reef, migrating one summer to Antarctica to pull the tails of baby whales.

            Stingrays are smart and placid, seldom attacking unless provoked or frightened. Irwin pulled tails once too often, according to the stingray, who declared self-defence. I thought a croc would get him first.

            Snake handlers, matadors and Irwins all enjoy solid support from their own communities.

        • In reply to #15 by Len Walsh:

          … The wingsuit clip is an obvious hoax. The approach is too steep by a factor of about two. On the trajectory illustrated by the airborne camera the hoaxer would have landed on the shore. I suspect he popped his parachute just before the cut to the grainy splashdown.

          Sadly, you may have a point, Len. As one of the commentators on the website remarks, the number of cutaways and lack of any uninterrupted footage of the flight pose grounds for doubt of the authenticity of the feat. Ah well, at least he did not claim to have been borne to safety by angels.

    • In reply to #4 by abusedbypenguins:

      Give these guys a few fresh coral snakes. Black mambas would demonstrate the survival rate of snake-handlers.

      Better yet- introduce them to a healthy Inland Taipan (‘Fierce snake’)…

  2. In reply to #6 by Roedy:

    In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

    I don’t understand why these snake-handlers aren’t prosecuted for animal cruelty.

    I was horrified when nearly all the rock pythons in Canada were exterminated after one allegedly asphrixiated two boys, an event never before recorded in history. There was no investigation if the snake really was the culprit before it was executed.

    The mob mentality and urge for revenge/justice is strong in our species. In the days immediately following the Australian naturalist Steve Irwin’s death by stingray attack, a number of these animals were found killed, by human hand, in what was considered by many a retributive act on the species for what one of their number had done to a national hero.

  3. I think the only ethical thing to do would be to:

    1. Revoke his license to own snakes since they never live more than a few months.

    2. For a small fee, perhaps the zoo could bring healthy snakes to the events to be handled under professional supervision.

    3. Handlers must sign a waiver, releasing the zoo or snakes from any liability.

    • In reply to #13 by Quine:

      In reply to #12 by Cairsley:

      In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

      … Why don’t they jump off a cliff? …

      People do, see it here. And, perhaps, they have made a religion out of it.

      Thank you, Quine. That was amazing to watch! Trusting in a specially designed wingsuit and all the calculations and training and preparation certainly seems better than invoking divine protection.

  4. Does this not say more about the congregation that the snake handlers? How ridiculously ignorant and gullible would you have to be before being fooled by someone claiming that God is protecting them from snake bites? Do these people have no life experience at all?

    • In reply to #18 by hiss:

      Do these people have no life experience at all?

      Very doubtful, this is hard nut, back woods Appalachia hard living, not Copeland’s dreamy ‘Appalachian Spring’. Hence, I can’t see animal control or “the law” coming after them, much less serving a warrant. Even in favourable circumstances it’s not easy to prosecute, and levy stiff fines (in the u.s.).

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