Author: Thomas Burton
In some remote churches in East Tennessee and nearby states, Jesus’ words in the sixteenth chapter of Saint Mark are taken literally: “and they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”
Members of these churches describe themselves as Pentecostal-Holiness, autonomous groups of Christians with strong traditional religious views and a fundamentalist approach to biblical interpretation. Their strong faith is based largely on personal experience. Handling serpents and fire, laying on the hands of healing, speaking in tongues, and drinking poison are seen as acts of Christian obedience that demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the past these very religious people have often been distorted by the media as members of a “snake religion” or a “snake cult” because of their unorthodox beliefs and practices. Thomas Burton seeks to present a more balanced view of this generally misunderstood group in this in-depth study of serpent handlers and their religious culture. Using both oral history and scholarly research, Burton traces the evolution of Christian serpent handling from its apparent beginning in East Tennessee and explores legal and ethical associated with this and other unorthodox practices, allowing participants to speak for themselves through personal interviews. The result is both a dramatic presentation, though vivid photography, and a thorough analytical insight into the serpent handler’s culture.